Painting Poorly Vol. 1 - The Basics

In the Beginning...

So, I mainly wanted to write this series in my blog to everyone out there who's ever thought about getting into painting their miniatures.  If you're anything like me, you've thought, "Man, that looks like something I can do, let me look up some online tutorials."  The only problem with that is that the online tutorials are kind of like those cooking videos you see on Facebook.  You start off gung ho, trying to do something as nice as this:

But realistically, you only want to put in enough effort for this:

And the truth of the matter is, guys like Sorastro aren't really helping us out that much.  That's not to say that they're not a great resource.  If you are looking to spend a ton of money on name brand paint, get super frustrated with some techniques that you shouldn't be doing yet, all while listening to a calming British voice, then Sorastro is your man.  I mean, obviously I'm joking (partly), because in all seriousness, a guy like Sorastro is great at what he does, it's just that what he does isn't actually for beginners!

I have gotten quite a positive response from some of my followers about my painting (and I'm opening myself up to commissions), and I don't use hardly any expensive paints.  I mostly use stuff from Target, and whatever the hell's at the bottom of my wife's craft box (there's a LOT of ribbon, by the way).  So, I've decided to start this series as a way to motivate you, if you were like me, wanting to get into painting miniatures, but gun shy about buying all the stuff and crazy amount of effort that goes into each one.  Hence the name, Painting Poorly.  So, today, we're going over the basics...

1. Choose a Mini

This might seem like an obvious thing, but it can be difficult sometimes.  You get all these grand ideas of things that you want to paint with different iridescent shines and gradients, or sometimes you see a figure and think that it looks way too complicated for you to paint.  Well, much like most people's goals in life, if you wait until you're ready, you may never actually do it.  So JUST CHOOSE A FIGURE, in particular one that has some nice detail and strong solid lines.  Good strong borders between colors.  When you're starting off, you don't want to worry about things like gradients or lighting effects.  For this example, I've chosen the Werebear from Massive Darkness by CMON Games.

Now, the Werebear was not the first mini I ever painted, but it is one that highlights my methods well, so that's why we're going to be using him.

2. Get the Gameplan

My gameplan is always the same.  Make it look like the game art.  I've gotten into heated debates with other painters about this.  Sure, there might not be much artistic integrity in copying what another artist has already done, but you know what?  I'm not trying to be a freaking ARTIST.  I'm just trying to make my minis look cool!  

And I think there is some artistic validity to looking at in game art and trying to figure out what colors you'd need to use to replicate it, just like if a little kid were coloring with crayons and a coloring book.  You're not going to call them lazy for wanting to color a tiger orange are you?  Maybe you are, you MONSTER.  From whatever gameplan you decide on, try to pick paints that are as close to your gameplan as possible.

So, based on the amazing artwork above, I've picked picked this murderer's row of colors:

All of these are available from Target at $2 per 2 oz. bottle, which is a STEAL when you compare them to Citadel's prices ($5.75 for 12 ml!).  You'd have to spend $35 on Citadel paints to get as much product as you get at Target!

3. Prep Your Mini (and Yourself)

Okay, so this is one of the very FEW things I actually will front the money for and buy the name brand expensive stuff.  And that is PRIMER.  I use Army Painter spray on Matte White.  It's the most basic you can get, and I've tried other primers and they just don't have the same results that this does.  One can of this will run you roughly $15, but it's worth EVERY PENNY.

Now, you want to prep your brushes.  You don't have to buy really expensive ones (I bought the student learner pack from Joann's Fabrics for, like, $8) but you want to make sure the ones you have are at least size 2 and smaller.  I live right around size 1 all the way through 0000 range, and they all have their own jobs to do.  Much like Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

I save the smallest for the details, in the example of the Werebear it would be the flower attached to his headpiece, and trade between the others.  

4. All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Every now and then, I'll have one of my followers ask me why their minis don't look as good as mine, and inevitably, their first instinct is to buy "Better Paint".  And by "Better Paint" they almost always mean more expensive paint.  I hate to break it to you, but no amount of money that you give to Citadel will make you happy with your minis if you don't thin your paint.  When you're applying your basecoat, you want to make sure you thin out your paint with water.  I mean, THIN.  

You don't want it runny, but it's better to have some of the white primer showing through, and you having to reapply a second layer of paint, than to have the paint gunking up the sculpt and lose details of the mini.  You want your paint to be thin enough that it doesn't leave behind brush strokes, but not so thin that it drizzles down your mini.  Use smaller brushes on the edges like where the fur and tunic meet, and small details like the tongue and ropes holding the skull in place.  This way you can make as strong and clean lines between the different colors as possible, and if you bleed over into another color with a few dabs, don't be afraid to use your detail brush to clean it up.

The best advice I can give you is to be patient.  Start with the biggest section of color, for the Werebear, it would be his fur, finish that before moving onto the next biggest, in this case the tunic.  Sometimes this process takes a bit, and the devil really is in the details.  For example, the copper buckle on the Werebear's belt.  I very easily could have just left it charcoal, like the rest of his belt, but by taking a little extra effort and making sure that buckle has a strong layer of copper over it, the details really shine through.

5. Throw Some Shade

The other thing that I spend my money on is shades and washes.  I use Army Painter washes.  They run about $3 a bottle and they work very well.  For the Werebear, I've chosen Strong Tone.

I use my size 2 brush and really just try to go in sections of the mini.  Wait until the basecoat is COMPLETELY DRY.  This is SUPER IMPORTANT.  If the basecoat isn't completely dry when you put a shade or a wash on, it'll mix with the shade or wash and run all over the mini, messing up your basecoat AND your shading.

Start with the head, get that completely covered, move on to the arm, then the other arm, etc. until your entire painted mini is covered in the wash.  Yes, you want to brush this on, but you don't want to move it around TOO much once it's already on there.  This can be hard because your first instinct is that the wash is messing everything up, but just let the wash do what it does.  Moving the wash after it's started to dry can leave rings and weird spots and leaves the mini looking splotchy.

Once your mini's completely dry, wait a few hours or even a day, and spray it down with some spray finish.  I use Krylon Matte Finish which will run you about $9.  That'll protect it from basic wear and tear from play, and even storing it in a plastic baggy with other minis!

Before spraying it with finish, you could go in and add some highlights to your mini with some more of the paints that you used to basecoat with, but I didn't with Werebear, and you know what?  I think he looks pretty darn good.

5. Get it on the Table

At the end of the day, the minis that I paint are not going to win any painting competitions, and they may not impress any "Professionals" but your friends will probably like them, and if they don't, SCREW 'EM!  What really matters is that you had fun.  If you want to paint like a pro, then you have to spend the money, time, money, and effort, but mostly the money.  But if you want to get a mini that's ready to go on the table and look good (not great), then you can follow these steps.  And when it comes right down to it, that's the point, isn't it?  Getting your minis ready for the table.  Not for a display case.

More volumes of Painting Poorly will go over different aspects in future installments, so make sure you Subscribe and check back often!

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  1. Awesome and to the point. Appreciate you mention the shades, they're the "liquid talent" as they say ;) Looking forward to Vol. 2 and beyond.


    1. Hey, Sam. I'm glad you liked it. Hopefully you'll find future installments helpful in the future!


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