Like a Pro
Part One: Getting Started
by Mike McVey
to the first installment in our online Dungeons & Dragons Chainmail
painting guide! This monthly series looks at what it takes to get started
in the miniature painting hobby. If youre interested in the D&D
Chainmail game (coming in October 2001) and are new to the
world of miniature painting, I will take you through all the techniques
and methods youll need to know to become a miniatures expert.
series isnt just for beginners, either. Even though Im going
to start with the basics, there still will be plenty here for the experienced
miniatures artist. If you have ever painted miniatures before, think of
this as a refresher course, and I guarantee that youll learn new
techniques and time-saving tips.
the most common reasons people are put off from miniature painting is
that they see beautifully painted models in hobby stores and say, "Id
never be able to do that!" Well heres a secret: Yes you can!
Just remember, the people who painted those display miniatures had to
start somewhere. Their first faltering steps were just the same as yours,
and this column is here to help you.
the next few months, Im going to introduce you to the world of painting
miniatures. Well start at the beginning and work our way up -- from
applying and mixing paints, through creating realistic shading and highlighting,
right up to special painting techniques. I cant guarantee youll
become an award-winning painter overnight, but if you follow the series
and put in a little time and effort, youll be surprised at what
you can achieve. And who knows? In a few months time, it may be
someone else admiring your work.
couple of columns will address what youll need to get started and
how to prepare your miniatures for painting. While you may be itching
to get going, its worth taking the time at this stage to get set
up right and learn some of the absolute basics -- it will serve you well
in the long run.
Will I Need?
you can apply paint to miniature, there are a few things you will need.
Most importantly, of course, are the paints and brushes, but you also
should have a palette (a surface for mixing paint on), something in which
to wash your brushes, and something to dry them on.
can be an area of confusion for those new to the hobby, as there are many
different types available -- oil, enamel, and acrylic to name but three.
Rather than go on about the pros and cons of each, I am just going to
recommend hobby acrylics: the sort that come in small pots or jars, and
not tubes of artists acrylic. These are bright, clean, and easy
to use and, whats more, provide by far the best results.
with a small range of colors. In fact, many manufacturers have boxed starter
sets aimed at the beginner. Acrylic paint is thinned with water, so you
dont need to bother getting special thinners. If you have to buy
paints individually, go for: red, yellow, blue, green, flesh, black, white,
silver, and a rich leather color to start with. You can build this up
later with other colors until you have a range you are happy with. I have
50 or 60 pots of paint on my desk, but in reality I only use about 25
on a regular basis.
are another medium ideally suited to miniature painting - but the
techniques used are a little more advanced, so well deal with them
in more detail later in the series.
paintbrushes are the tools of your trade; to a large extent, the quality
of the brushes you use will govern your finished results. That doesnt
mean that as soon as you take up painting miniatures you need to rush
out and buy the most expensive brushes you can find. There are plenty
of mid-quality artists brushes available that will stand you in
good stead when you first get started. I strongly recommend sable brushes
- they may be more expensive than synthetic ones, but they will
outlast and out-perform them if properly cared for.
is the most important thing: Look after whatever you buy, Im still
using some brushes that I bought several years ago. I would recommend
two brushes to start with - size 0 and 1. The 1 can be used for
general painting, and the smaller 0 is useful for awkward places. Two
golden rules of brush care are:
- Clean them regularly
and dry them thoroughly after use.
- Store them upright
in an old jar. NEVER leave them tip-down in your water pot, not even
for a few seconds.
leave paint on the bristles for too long either, I like to wash my brush
out every few minutes, even if Im still painting an area -
just give it a quick rinse, dry it off and dip it back in the paint. This
just ensures that the paint doesnt start to harden and build up
on the bristles. Dont throw old brushes away; once their "quality"
painting life has ended, you can still use them for other things, such
as applying glue to bases or drybrushing (a technique we will be looking
at in detail later in the series).
Bits and Pieces
mentioned earlier, youll need a palette to mix paint on, I use a
sheet of thin plastic card, but many people use either a tile or an old
plate. Ceramic surfaces are ideal, because they dont absorb water,
and even old dried paint will clean off with a little effort. Just as
long as the palette is clean and white, itll be fine.
an old coffee jar full of water to clean my brushes, and have a small
stack of paper towels to dry them. These are also really useful for removing
excess paint from the brush and cleaning up spills.
Do I Paint?
the great things about miniature painting is that you dont need
lots of equipment or space. My entire painting kit packs down into a small
shoebox (and Ive got far more paints than I really need). So that
means I can paint pretty much wherever I want. The only real must-have
is good lighting. Natural daylight is best; I like to paint right next
to a window, but not in direct sunlight.
peoples painting time is limited to the evenings, though, and they
have to rely on artificial lights. Fluorescent lighting is the number
one choice, and these lights are even better if they have daylight simulation
strips fitted. They give a softer, more even light than standard light
bulbs, which means they cast less shadow on the miniatures.
if you are lucky enough to have these lights, you will still need some
kind of desk lamp. The best sort is the kind with a long, positionable
arm, so you can move the light source to your best advantage. If you are
using a desk lamp to paint under, make sure its not too close to
your work, or the heat will cause the paint to dry too quickly.
other concerns about your painting area are that you work on a sturdy,
flat surface, and you sit on a comfortable chair so you dont hurt
your back. The ideal situation is to set up a permanent workstation, but
this may be a luxury you simply dont have space for. So get a good
sturdy box to keep all of your kit in when not in use.
also a good idea to cover your work surface with a couple sheets of newspaper
to protect it from the paint, and have some paper towels ready to mop
up any unwanted spills. Wearing old clothes is also recommended -
acrylic paint is almost impossible to get out of fabric, so dont
wear anything you would mind having paint on.
all you need, really! Its important to look after all your painting
kit and keep it clean and in good order. These first steps might seem
boring when youre dying to get on with the painting, but believe
me, youll get better results if you use the right equipment and
set yourself up correctly.
it for this month. Next month well start looking at how you assemble
your miniatures and get them ready for painting.
out "All the Small
Things," an interview with Mike.
sculptor and painter Mike McVey started out by just painting miniatures
for his D&D group growing up in the northwest Englands
Lake District. He worked for Games Workshop for 12 years as a miniatures
painter and manager of the minis painting team. He wrote four books about
painting and converting miniatures, along with a number of articles for
White Dwarf magazine. After achieving his goals as a painter, Mike
switched to designing miniatures, and in 1999 he joined Wizards of the
Coast's miniatures division. Here he has sculpted some of the D&D
figures for the new edition of the game and written a series of painting
articles for Dragon
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