Up your game


On the left: A miniature from the start of the year. On the right: My oldest painted mini


There have been a few conversations with friends recently about how much I've improved over the last couple of years and what I've learnt and changed to improve and up my game. Of course being me, I figured this would make a great blog post!

Sooo... what have I done that's helped me get better? Well there have been a whole bunch of things frankly - many of which I am still working on. For this post, I am going to cover the things that I've done, roughly in the order I'd recommend. Having said that - many of these will have a parallel component to them.

Steady Hand

Ok so this one is not entirely in an individual's control... and also probably not so relevant to a lot of the readers of this blog but it was my first real step up in quality and so I've chosen to include it. I started painting minis when I was very young (about 8/9 years old). Back then my ability to get a brush to do what I wanted it to was really not very good. I have painted off and on ever since and most of that time I've struggled to get the brush to do what I wanted it to. It wasn't until my mid 20s where I really started adjusting and improving my ability to control the brush. There are a few things that can be done here to help:

  • Age - not in your control, but as you get older you naturally develop finer motor control and this helps a lot in painting.
  • Bracing - if you try to paint those eyeballs on a 28mm figure with your hands extended and unsupported - you're gonna have a bad time (don't pizza people - french fry). Brace your hands together and even against a table - limit the relative motion as much as possible. If you aren't painting for competition don't even worry about bracing against a part of the mini itself, it may rub paint off a bit of the figure but you can paint over that easily enough.
  • It's ok to overpaint - When you are painting your first few colours - go crazy, paint outside the lines - you'll be repainting those areas anyway so why sweat it? Give yourself license to mess up here; you'll make more progress, faster and give yourself more time to take care in the later stages.
  • It's ok to underpaint - That's right - totally contradicting my last line but if you prime black or zenithal, you're going to be able to get away with leaving a lot of the hard to reach recesses unpainted because they are naturally shadowed.
The last one was the hardest for me. Colouring in the lines is all about fully colouring... years of schooling taught me as much. If you hold the mini an inch from your eyeball - you can clearly see that it's not painted (especially if you are still struggling with blends), but it just doesn't matter - at a reasonable distance it will look right. Airbrushing helps a lot in learning to do this well (more below).

Psychology

This is probably an entire blog post of it's own but the headology of painting can be a massive hurdle to overcome. I have seen painters drop out of the hobby completely from frustration over a single miniature or bad performance in a painting competition. Those events are the trigger but the reality is that the underlying cause is generally a lot longer in the making. Keeping yourself in a positive mindset is a vital component to a happy and healthy hobby. Here are a few things that I feel are important components to staying positive in your painting:

  • Paint regularly - For me this means doing at least a little bit of painting or prep work every day. Of course this is a lot more than most people can really commit to (I work from home so I converted my commute time into painting time). Try setting aside one evening a week to develop your hobby. I have a a group Google Hangout that I run every Wednesday allowing others to join me so I am also chatting and catching up with people as I hobby.
  • Forgiveness - Didn't make your weekly session? Failed in a painting contest? Don't beat yourself up about it. Go out, take a week or two off and then come back and decide on a new project. Give yourself a date to do this so it doesn't keep slipping and on your return - try something unrelated to what you had been working on in the past.
  • Completion date - A friend in my old Blood Bowl group showed me how he painted on the underside of his figures - the date he completed them. I immediately started doing this myself. It allows you to look back and see the progress you've made (and you will make progress). It's a little thing but it's something you can go back to later on and look at a mini you just finished compared to one from a year ago and see how far you've come.
  • Dedicated Painting Space - Ok, this is not an option for everyone, but anything you can do to minimise the amount of time and effort it takes to get paint on your mini is a good thing. I am lucky to have a permanent set up right that I can just sit down at and get painting but in the past I've not had the space to do this. Even back then my main successes came from having a box or painting station that I could just pull out off a shelf, but on the table and get into it. The more work it takes to get started, the less likely you are to do it.
  • Set goals - For 2018, I decided I should try and average painting 1 mini/day - so get 365 minis painted up over the course of the year. That's a crazy target, but I am able to paint every day, I have a permanent set up and so far I've been doing ok (just over 150 minis about half way through the year). Why not start committing to painting one model a month, or one unit. Find something you think you could manage and then shoot for it.
  • Get others to help - I've already touched on this in a few of the previous bullets but go out there and tell others about your commitments, sit with others in person or on a video conference as you hobby. People are more likely to complete a goal if they are held accountable by others. For me this blog is a part of that - I tell the world what I'm working on and readers will call me on it if I fail to achieve what I committed to.

Thin your paints!

Getting into the really specific improvements now. Thinning paints is something I still struggle with. I am fundamentally lazy and a single thick coat just seems a lot easier... of course this is a terrible idea for a bunch of reasons - it looses details of the mini, it causes a blotch finish where the paint strokes often show up in the texture of the model.

Related to thinning paints is the use of a wet palette. I was so sceptical about these before I tried one. They seemed like an expensive gimmick. The reality is they are neither expensive nor a gimmick. A wet palette helps prevent paint drying out, this allows you to better control the thickness of your paints and extends the working time of your paints.

To make a wet palette, get a tray, a chamois leather, some baking parchment and some water. put the chamois in the bottom of the tray, saturate with water (so it won't absorb any more but there's no water pooling) then lay the parchment over the top (this is prone to curling up - if it does just flip it over and it should lay flat). If this isn't clear, there are a bunch of tutorials online you can check out.

This is a fairly massive topic and ties into brush loading, brush strokes and paint consistency. I am still exploring this myself and will probably write an article going into it in more detail shortly.

Drybrushing

Ok so despite this often being touted as one of the most basic of skills - it took me a long time to do it correctly and also to appreciate it's value. The thing about drybrushing is that it's amazing - particularly if, like me, you are wanting to paint a lot of miniatures in a short space of time. For tabletop quality, you can simulate highlights with careful application of drybrushing. For a lot of miniatures - basecoat, wash, drybrush and you have a painted model!

Important components of successful drybrushing:

  • Use a crappy brush - the way you're going to be using this brush is going to destroy it so don't ruin a brand new Windsor Newton Series 7 on it.
  • Use an appropriately sized brush - this is kind of a universal rule but you want to use the largest brush you can control in the space you're working in. A smaller brush is just going to take longer to cover the same area and with drybrushing - it's going to make a consistent finish harder.
  • It is always better to overdo drying the brush and taking off too much paint than leaving too much on. You can always go back over the area to add more paint if you need. If in doubt - remove more paint!!! (This is where I really struggled).
  • You really want to use a thick paint to do this with - if you don't have a thick enough paint - pour the paint on to a paper towel and leave it for 30 min or so to dry out a little and make it easier to work with.
  • Think in terms of Heavy, Medium & Light drybrushing as the varying levels of paint. This will give you some standards to work towards and helps you drybrush over a drybrush (for a higher highlight)
  • Practice, practice, practice - it's only practice that is going to make you familiar with how the paint sits in the brush and will release depending on pigment and moisture. Painting onto your hand is one method I use to test to see how much paint is going to come off onto the model when you paint.

You may be wondering why I've not included washes in this article. That bottle of 'liquid talent' that everyone raves about. The thing is I often find washes become a bit of a crutch. The flow aid in them means they behave very differently to other paints.

Brush Care

Ok, I can't really emphasise this one strongly enough. LOOK AFTER YOUR BRUSHES! This is so important - I dedicated a whole blog post to ranting about it. My opinions on brushes has changed slightly since writing that post (I've bought a Series 7 brush and I still think they're are overpriced) but please read point 5 and take it to heart. Master's Brush Cleaner is great. I've also tried Jentastic's Drunken Brush Goop which is a little softer on the brush and roughly the same price point.

Light

Ok this is another super important, often under rated aspect of painting. When you're looking at spending £100 (~$140) on your hobby... are you gonna sink it into a new unit... or a lamp... (yeah I know there's no way you can get a whole unit of GW minis for $140).

The thing is... you should get the lamp. As someone reading this blog, I already know that you have a lead mountain of things needing paint... you don't need more (really you don't). The lamp on the other hand has the magic effect of showing how crap the stuff you've already painted is! What is the take away here? YOU SHOULD HAVE ALREADY BOUGHT A GOOD LAMP! The only reason that this isn't higher up the list is that you need to have the other skills down to really appreciate what the lamp is providing you. Sure you can paint in natural light but I live in the UK... we don't get much and before that I was in California where it's very direct, harsh light... a lamp is a convenient 'Sun-on-Demand Device'™. A lamp like the one I have even has warmth and brightness controls giving some more options for settings. 

Classes

Like Airbrushing below, this one is optional. It's going to introduce you to ideas and techniques you will probably never encounter without sitting down with other hobbyists in a class room. It gives you discussions, community and access to other human beings. Yes, they are expensive, particularly in comparison to what is available on YouTube / Twitch etc but I can assure you they don't compare. Start with some of the Patreon artists such as Flameon, Next Level Painting, Pirate Monkey Painting. The entry cost of these groups is usually only $5-$10/month and can give you access to a great community and load of old videos. From there, maybe try a class at a convention if you attend any before sinking the $100-300 of an in person dedicated class.

Again, paying for classes is not essential. Especially if the aim is to get table ready - but they are great fun and valuable experiences.

Airbrushing

THIS IS NOT ESSENTIAL!!! Ok with that disclaimer out of the way - for me, it's been indispensable in speeding up my painting. I now have control over not just priming and basecoating but a first pass at highlights and smooth transitions for major blocks of colours. And I can do all of it in a fraction of the time - especially when I have a load of models that have the same colours, they can just get hammered out one after another. My Space Hulk minis are a great example of this - I got an effect with the Termies I'd never have managed with a brush in less time that it would've taken to get a smooth red basecoat on with a brush. It also did the heavy lifting for the genestealers leaving me with just picking out the details and drybrushing on some highlights.

Airbrush rigs aren't super cheap and I don't recommend picking one up unless you know you will make use of it. Focus on the other categories in this list, get up to scratch on them and then splash out on an Airbrush and some classes on how to use it. For most things in the hobby, you can learn almost everything from YouTube videos but with an Airbrush - I really suggest you take a class and get some help in getting going. You can read about the class I attended here.


- Raggy, signing out