Miniature Painting Techniques 101
Miniature Painting Techniques 101
Are you thinking about picking up miniature painting, be it for a tactical warfare game or an RPG campaign, and you’re not sure where to start? Or perhaps you’ve been painting for a bit and you’re not too happy with the results? Here are a few techniques that will help you make your figuring come to life.
Paint. Paint? Paint!
First, what are the different paints you will find on the shelves of a hobby store or online? For miniature painting, acrylic paints are generally used, with a handful of brands being available in Australia. Here at Gumnut, we offer a wide range of paints from Citadel and Vallejo, as well as Army Painter. Most paints can be classified into 4 general groups – primers to go onto the “naked” miniature and prep it for painting, opaque paints that are used for base and layers, washes for shading, and technicals for all sorts of effects - be is slime or rocky soil. Of course, there is more to it, but we’ll keep things simple for now. When picking paints for your next project, be sure to identify what exact use it is for, and do not shun away from acquiring washes. These will provide a fast and effecting shading to your model, creating that desired “3D” look.
Keep a clean canvas
This one is pretty simple – make sure the miniature is completely clean, the gaps are filled in and the mould lines removed. The tidier the surface the easier it will be to work with further down the line. You can use a number of tools to smoothen the mould lines, but a hobby knife will do the job. To fill in the post-assembly gaps, you can use Citadel’s Liquid Green Stuff, Vallejo’s Plastic Putty, or Milliput 2-Part putty, along with other brands. Once the miniature is as cleaned up and smooth, you can move on to painting.
Pick the right colour scheme
No matter how steady your hand is or how vast your product knowledge, if you pick colours that just don’t work - it’s all for nought. A little understanding of colour theory can go a long way, and help you choose a colour scheme that will pop. There is no need to delve deep into the vast study of the fine arts just to paint a few plastic miniatures but having a look at a Colour Wheel online would sure prove useful. This is a tool to not only understand what colours naturally look great together, but also more accurately predict the results of mixing two hues. Putting the chosen colours together on a piece of paper for a quick test won’t hurt either.
Choose the right primer
As the famous makeup artist and online personality Nikki Tutorials says, “not to prime is a crime”. Beginners are often recommended to go for a black primer. Indeed, oftentimes it is the quickest solution, just build up highlight as you go and - Voila! However, I recommend black primer only if you are going for a dark colour scheme. If you are opting for brighter pops of colour, you will inevitably have to apply too many layers of paint and diminish the amount of details. Red and Yellow washes won’t show up easily, and some less pigmented paints will barely cover the black until 4th or even 5th application. Use grey, light grey, off-white or white primers in most cases, and coloured ones if your miniatures will end up monochromatic. Bottom line is, black primers will let you paint faster, but often at the cost of overall quality.
If you are tossing between a brush-on primer and a spray, sprays are a better choice. The coat will be more even and thinner, allowing you to preserve more details of the sculpt. Additionally, since the primer is atomized into small particles, you run lower risk of producing bubbles. For best results, apply spray primer at room temperature with low humidity.
Blending is key
Blending is not just keeping your shadows and highlights tidy and transitioned, it is also considering environmental lighting that your miniature is exposed to. Ask yourself, is there a light source in the picture? Perhaps a flame, or a lamp? Or maybe there’s an eldritch glow coming from the sword in their hand? In that case, the objects nearest to it and all reflective surfaces will interact with that light and carry its colour.
There are many popular techniques in blending, but we’ll have a quick look at the 3 most often seen used, and perhaps the easiest.
Dry-brushing, if approached with care, is a powerful tool to make an eye-candy out of your miniature. This technique applies paint to the raised sections of your model, while leaving the crevices intact. Equip yourself with a dry brush and keep a light hand – a little pigment can go a long way. A very seamless and smooth transition can be achieved with multiple very light coats, as you shrink the area you are dry-brushing. Similarly, you can achieve a blended look by building up layers of opaque paint without the use of dry brush, or glazing with translucent paint – as long as each coat is light and the layers are very gradual in colour. Thinning your paint down to achieve this gradient is best with mixing or glazing medium instead of water – this will prevent it from being way too liquid and runny.
Another popular technique is Two-Brush Blending, or TBB. This technique, just as the name suggests, uses one brush to apply a small amount of paint to the miniature’s surface, while another brush will drag it out and blending it in while dampened with blending medium… or saliva. Indeed, your own spit serves as a great blending medium, and this technique is widely used by competitive painters. Be wary not to use it with unsafe substances! Luckily, most acrylic paint brands are non-toxic.
Feathering is another great technique that will quickly create a seamless transition. Deposit the paint in a controlled fashion where you want the pigment to be the strongest, then lightly “feather” it out in a zig-zag motion along the surface. The key is to not bring in too much pigment, and keep your strokes light yet precise. Similarly, the Loaded-Brush Blending involves feathering out the pigment, but you will “load” a single brush with two paints that you are trying to connect. Generally, those would be a darker colour and a highlight colour. Which brings us to non-metallic metals.
There is a wide array of metallic paints, from sci-fi magentas and blues to beetle-like purples and greens, to classic golds and silvers. But oftentimes, to really bring the metallic look to a sword’s blade or a polished armour plate, you’ll need more than just some silver pigment. Creating the play between dark and light transitions at one point and sharply contrasting them at another will create a vivid and life-like metal surface.
Non-metallic metals (NMM) is what will make your metals all shiny and chrome, with nothing but solid paints. We have mentioned previously that the miniature must be living in a scene – come alive in its world be interacting with it through physics. If there is a source of light or a brightly coloured item in the vicinity of a metallic object, it may very well reflect it. Of course we do not want to emulate reality – that would be incredibly difficult and largely futile but we do want to be inspired by how real object would look and react in order to “sell” the reflective effect through our painting. Another thing to keep in mind is how polished / scratched the metallic surface is. Be confident to weather your sword with scratched through the addition of abrupt dark and light fine lines, though be careful not to overdo it. Do not immediately challenge yourself by taking up a full armour piece (that’s scary!), start off with something smaller and easier first, like a nice bulky zweihander.
Matte varnish is the way
When it comes to varnish, I recommend opting for matte. A matte sealant will improve the contrast of your paintjob and reduce uneven reflections that often obscure details or mess with your painted highlights. For better results, use glossy varnish under the matte one. This will prevent “frosting” – an unwanted powdery effect that happens when it is too humid while the miniature is in the process of drying. Additionally, a blowdryer could help speed up the process and help prevent “frosting”. Just don’t make it too hot!
Bases bring the magic
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but here we go. Even a very mediocre paintjob will look rather impressive with a good base. Pop some textured soil, a bush tuft, and a couple of small rocks together, drybrush it - and suddenly, it’s like we’re being serious here. A middle-of-the-road fantasy warrior towering over a volcanic crack looks fierce and dangerous, and an otherwise unassuming elf ranger placed upon an overgrown temple ruin brings an air of magical mystique.
In conclusion, the key to becoming a better painter is trying things out, not being afraid to experiment, and most importantly not being too hard on yourself – mistakes will happen! Don’t start a new miniature if you think you’ve botched the one you’re working on – you will learn more by completing it or attempting to fix it that from starting anew.
- Gumnut Team