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Painting tips for Newbies
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TOPIC: Painting tips for Newbies
Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years, 1 Month ago  
I'm feeling talky today!

Well, with all the prepainted talk, I got to thinking about my own progress as a painter, and I figured that there were some points that don't get enough attention, IMHO, and I wanted to jot them down, in case anyone is interested.

When people start painting, there are certain skills they hope to acquire, certain techniques which seem necessary for anything to be considered really well painted. You have to learn how to apply an inkwash, you have to learn how to drybrush, and if you also want to learn things like blending, or NMM, or freestyle, well you'll probably end up painting things that are highly esteemed.

But there are other things I also learned as I went, and those points are in some ways even more important, and get a lot less attention. And looking back at my early efforts, it seems to me that THESE, as much as inkwashing and drybrushing, are what those early minis of mine were missing.

So -- in no particular order --



One of the BIGGEST mistakes people make coming out of the gate. One small stroke of the brush leaves so much silver/primer staring back at you, even under the very strip you just painted. Solution? Glop it on until that hideous silver/primer is totally hidden!

Use very, very little paint, and you're textures will be better, your transitions will be smoother, your colors will be crisper, your details will be sharper. Be very stingy with paint. Which leads to....


I suppose it COULD, but don't be freaked out if it doesn't. It usually doesn't. That first coat is going to get washed and drybrushed and highlighted like crazy, so don't think you have to make this look like a final piece in one coat. Just get the base colors and BUILD. Starting with a much lighter coat than you really want, for example, is often a good idea, since your inkwash will almost certainly darken it a great deal. Sometimes you can achieve great effects by switching colors entirely -- paint an area white, and then give it a dark brown inkwash for a great leathery look, something that early coat of white would never have hinted at. Start with yellow and then use a green inkwash for a fantastic light green. And so on. You can sometimes begin with exactly the tones you want at the end -- but more often than not, that first coat is just a base, and you shouldn't expect -- or WORRY -- that it doesn't look at all like what you want in the end.

This is important with item 1 and with the next one...


These three really are the same point, repeated three times. That first coat will leave some of the basic mini shining through. The way you get the coverage you want is patient application of layer upon layer, slightly changing the tone as you go. Because of that, don't freak out when, after one coat, the thing looks really strange and not at all like what you envision for the final product. Rushing to that final product in one go means you've used too much paint. Even if the tones are right, your first coat of paint shouldn't give you anything that looks nearly complete -- expect it to take at least three passes before you've got something that looks remotely finished.


It sounds stupid to me now, but once upon a time, I thought the goal was "never mess up." If you did, you just lived with it. "How do those experts avoid spilling a little extra brown on the shirt when painting a strap?" I wondered.

Answer - they don't. A small slip of the brush will almost always happen at least once, and you'll end up with a smidge of the wrong color somewhere. Don't just sigh and think you messed up and leave it. FIX IT! Large mistakes can be tricky, especially when you've glopped onto an area that's already been washed and drybrushed and getting that exact blending to work again is tough. But if it's just a spot -- you don't need to do that much. Just get a spot of approximately the same shade and touch it -- it may not be as pristine as it once was, but it will be VERY hard to detect, and it's a lot better than having that horrible bright spot of the wrong color entirely!


Sometimes a figure just isn't working. It looks muddy. Colors aren't working together. It's just a mess. I used to toss these in a bin and give up. That was a mistake. If the color doesn't work -- start over! You don't even need to strip it -- just keep painting, changing colors until it works for you.

This is a big consequence of step 1, and a major reason why step 1 is so important -- don't use too much paint. If your coats are nice and thin, you can probably paint a whole new color over them and not lose any detail. It would be tough to tell you'd ever done it, most of the time. Sure, sometimes it's hard -- getting a light shade of green over an area that had once been bright red, for example. But often, it's surprisingly easy. That blue cloak doesn't really "zing"? Wash some brown over it, highlight with some red, you got yourself a much cooler red cloak, and now it works!

I can't count the number of minis I have that were generic, or messy, or just plain ugly, until I just added one zip of color, or switched one color, and BOOM! They were suddenly really interesting and cool. Don't give up until all hope is lost -- keep trying!


With all the discussion of technique, sometimes it's easy to forget that the most expertly painted mini will still be bland or ugly if you've used bland or ugly colors to paint it. One thing that makes a mini look amazing, often, is the choice of colors themselves. Start to develop a sense of what colors go well together, play off each other. Sure, green and brown work for just about every elf imaginable, and blue and white are can't-miss colors on heroic mages. But try purple, white and black sometimes -- or grey and black and blue -- or yellow and white -- etc. Sometimes what brings you back to a favorite mini isn't necessarily the skill in drybrushing you've accumulated or the expertly detailed face -- it's the combination of colors that grabs your eye.

There may be more I've forgotten.

And I encourage others who paint to add to this list -- sure, it's important to learn how to inkwash and drybrush and some people won't rest until they've mastered NMM etc. But I think these other points are just as important, if not more so, and can make all the difference between an amateurish-looking mini and a really impressive one. And these are the things nobody ever seems to mention, at least I never knew them until experience, and a certain amount of wasted minis, taught me!

Minotaur Lord
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"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play."

-- F. Nietzsche
Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years, 1 Month ago  
L - All very, very good advice! I'll add a few additional points, if I may.

7. Check out websites and magazines devoted to painting minis. They'll often provide detailed step-by-step instructions on how they paint. One of the reason's I've bought Cry Havoc!, Rackham's magazine for Confrontation (and now AT-43) is that they usually have a painting guide as one of the articles. GW's White Dwarf magazine has numerous examples of painted minis, and some of the best come from coverage of Games Day and the Golden Demon painting competitions.
Some excellent sites for painting:

8. Prepare a space to paint, with sufficient light. A swing-arm lamp will help. Make sure you have a comfortable chair - you'll be there a while.

9. Get magnifying goggles or a large swingarm magnifying glass. When you want to paint small detail, being able to see it really helps.

10. Prep you minis before priming. Remove any flash or mold lines. Fine needle files are essential for this. For plastic minis, you can use an X-acto knife by scraping (not slicing) off the mold lines. Believe me, the mold line you barely see will become much larger when you paint the mini. Clean the mini with soap and water to remove any mold release agent, dust, or grit. This will make sure the primer adheres properly to the mini.

11. Prime your mini before you paint. Paint won't adhere well to bare metal or plastic. A thin coat of primer not only gives your paint something to hold on to, it creates a blank canvas on which to paint. You can use black, white, or grey, depending on whether you want the mini dark, bright, or in between. Citadel spray primer is a good choice, but there are many others from which to choose.

12. Get a good base coat on the mini. This is best done in thin layers, which is the key to all painting. If you try to use one thick coat, it will obscure the texture and detail of the miniature. The new Citadel Foundation paints use an extremely high pigment count so that the paint is opaque. I just used it recently to paint up a Fire Toad (an old Ral Partha giant toad), and it works wonders.

13. Clean your brushes frequently. If paint dries on the brush, particularly near the ferrule, you'll ruin the brush. Never let your brushes rest on the bottom of your water cup - that's another way to ruin a good brush. Oh, and don't forget which cup of water you're drinking from - that paint tastes nasty!

14. Wear an old shirt and pants when you paint, and have something to drip on besides your carpet.

15. Don't hold on to the miniatures itself when you paint. You'll wear away the paint you just put on. If your mini has a solid base, like those of the Reaper Dark Heavens line, use blue-tac to hold it on a strip of wood. If your mini has a tab, like GW or Reaper's Warlords line, hold it in a vise or vise-grips. If your mini has neither (because you plan to pin it to your base), drill it, put in a pin, and then use a pin vise to hold the mini.

16. Take frequent breaks when you paint. Most of the time you'll find yourself hunched over while painting, and that can lead to back aches. Walk around, stretch your legs, let your eyes readjust. Heck, you can even talk to your wife - it will let her know you're still alive.

17. Enjoy the process, and the product. The Mona Lisa wasn't da Vinci's first stab at painting, so don't create unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. Tell yourself that you're just getting started, so take your time and enjoy what you do. With time, practice, trial and error, your skill level will rise. Enjoy every part of the process.
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Make Mine Master Maze!
Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years ago  
Hey guys,
Keep up the great tips.

Having seen the great work both of you do with your minis, its good to hear from you :)

I'm just starting to get into painting myself and would love to hear any and all tips from great masters such as yourself :)

No matter how simple the advice may seem, anything and everything you have to say is greatly appreciated :D
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Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years ago  
Thanks for the great advice. The reason I haven't painted any minis is the fear of not doing it "right". One thing though. What is NMM?
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Is life so dear,or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it,Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death
Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years ago  
NMM = "Non-metal metal"

It's a recently-popular technique for painting metallic surfaces with non-metallic paints, attempting to recreate the mirror-like sheen of chrome that fantasy painting often uses -- getting the right curves of light as if the mini's surface were reflecting a lightsource, for shields, armor, weapons, etc. In other words, instead of just painting gold or silver paint on a mini, using a complex combination of whites, blues, blacks, etc. If you google the term, you'll probably get all sorts of great examples.

For awhile it seemed as if nobody was ever going to paint armor any other way, but there's been a rising tide of backlash against it from some quarters, mostly because it got too popular, and it got to be the only way to get high scores on CoolMiniorNot. ;)

Minotaur Lord
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"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play."

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Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years ago  
All GREAT tips here!

One other thing I've discovered about finishes, from working with International Plastic Modeler's Society/USA members.
PAINT can change the appearance of MANY sins, but NEVER covers them! Kradlo said it up there; clean up your seams and mold lines, and wash down the model before priming!

I have a few Space Marines I did when I first got into gaming (stop shuddering!) and one thing that got me RAVE reviews from fellow gamers was that I used BRIGHT colors on my Marines. I used an Uncle Sam color scheme - Blue tunic, White legs with a Red strip down each outside 'seam'. The Eagle on the chest (or whatever decoration was appliqued there) was done in Gold; the eye-lenses were Red. Lots of Gunmetal and Silver wherever possible and plausible. The Captain's cloak was Ultramarine Blue outside and lined with (I Think!) Lich Purple.
Now, I am the FIRST ONE to say that the VERBAL description of this paint job sounds like CLASH CITY - but it WORKED! Especially after a good Clear Gloss Coat with Testor's MM Acrylic, and then a Brown Ink wash. The gloss coat made ALL the armor shiny, although I had to touch-up the cloak with Dull Coat; the Ink gave just the right shadows, not so dark/dingy as a Black wash would have done.
IF I find the Captain and remember to take a pic, I'll post it here; he actually looked pretty good.

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Jim Kratzer, a/k/a The Mad Yank
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Painting tips for Newbies 7 Years ago  
One quick thing I want to add --

Some of these tips are good for experienced painters, too! In just the past few weeks, I've had to remind myself of my "don't give up" advice, luckily it was fresh in my mind since I'd just started this thread...

I had a Confrontation mage that started out life in green robes -- but my highlighting was too aggressive, making him cluttered rather than detailed. And the highlight was too mint-green for my tastes. So I decided he was already a figure I was never going to display, might as well take a big risk, and I washed him in dark blue and started over. He's still flawed, for other reasons, but I like him MUCH more in blue, and he'll get a lot more attention than he would have in my "abandoned minis" bin! DON'T GIVE UP!

I similarly swapped heads on two GW Empire wizards because their arm poses seemed much more appropriate for heads on other mages, and I also came close to giving up because I'd forgotten I wanted a drybrush base coat on my GW Fortified Manor, and once I painted the foundation stones I remembered that I wasn't going to go in that direction. I feared the stones were too shiny and the paint too thick to preserve the detail on them, even after drybrushing, and I very nearly tossed it in a box -- but I kept going, and I'm really happy with it now.

DON'T GIVE UP. It's amazing how much you can do to improve a piece you aren't happy with, without having to strip it down completely. If you're very careful with applying thin coats, you have LOTS of time before there's too much paint on the mini to continue.

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"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play."

-- F. Nietzsche
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