Paint Like a Pro
Part Three: Applying the Paint
by Mike McVey

In last month's column, we looked at the basics of getting started in the miniature painting hobby: what equipment you'll need and how to set yourself up a painting area. This month we're moving on to the practicalities of actually getting the paint out of the pots and onto your miniatures!

Thinking Time

For me, the first stage in painting any miniature is thinking time. After I've got the piece I'm working on cleaned, assembled and undercoated, I take a little time to decide just how I'm going to paint it. You don't need to spend hours poring over the model, figuring out every minute detail in advance. You just want to work out the general color scheme -- what colors you are going to use and where they're going to go. The time spent cleaning and preparing the miniature is also great for this -- though I like to have the figure all in one piece and ready to go before I really start to consider the painting.

Color Schemes

Color schemes can be as simple or complex as you want, though I recommend that when you first start painting you don't try anything too complex. You need only come up with a color scheme you're happy with that is appropriate to the miniature. Of course, the easiest way to get started and avoid getting bogged down working out a color scheme is to use reference.

Using Reference

One great thing about D&D Chainmail is that all of the miniatures come with painted examples on the packaging. These illustrations are a really good starting point, especially if you are new to the miniature painting hobby. For other examples, I recommend that people look through books and magazines for inspiration. This is a good habit to get into. I keep a folder full of cuttings and photocopies -- just fairly random stuff that appealed to me on some level and made me think, "Wow, that looks cool! -- I'll use it on the next miniature I paint."

With D&D Chainmail, a lot of the hard work is already done for you: Each of the factions already has a well-defined feel, with color schemes and iconography. When I'm starting something new, I like to make sure I have plenty of reference material at hand -- including photographs of painted miniatures, artwork, and even written descriptions. In fact, I sometimes find written references really useful, as they get my mind working overtime. Another great source of reference for Chainmail are the D&D core rulebooks -- especially the Monster Manual. It features color artwork for every monster and race within -- a great complement to the artwork and miniatures in Chainmail.

Of course, you don't have to slavishly follow the color schemes used on the professionally painted miniatures and in the artwork. One of the most appealing things about the miniature painting hobby is the creative freedom it offers. So feel free to come up with new color schemes for the miniatures in your warband. Just remember that you want something that suits the character and feel of the faction, and that will give you an attractive and consistent look.

If you want to know more about the official color schemes of D&D Chainmail, I write a series of miniature painting articles for Dragon Magazine called "Role Models." The series thoroughly covers each of Chainmail's faction color schemes.

Mounting the model
makes it easier to hold.

Holding the Miniature

Once the miniature is cleaned, assembled and undercoated, you can begin the actual painting. Many people prefer to mount the model on something to make it easier to hold while painting. This helps to keep the model clean and away from paint-covered fingers. An old paint pot serves ideally for this purpose -- just make sure that it doesn't leak and isn't too top-heavy with the model attached. You can also use a small piece of off-cut timber if you don't have any old pots.

I glue the base onto the top of a pot with superglue, then pry it off when it's done and attach it to a fresh base. You need to be careful here. Try cutting the old base away with your clippers. Also, don't use too much glue when you mount the old base to the pot -- just a spot to hold it in place. If you're not comfortable using superglue, you can use some of the sticky putty that's sold to hold posters and pictures in place without nailing into walls.

Where to Start

For many painters the hardest thing is getting started -- knowing where to apply that first brushload of paint. To be honest, there are no hard and fast rules. Some painters start with the face, while others paint the face last. You just need to be logical about it: Some areas are hard to reach with a brush, so these need to be painted before surrounding areas.

I tend to start from the inside and work out. On a character model, I'll do the skin first, then work through the layers of clothing, usually finishing with the cloak or armor if the miniature has it. The only exception is that I paint the face last -- to me, this step brings the miniature to life and is really the finishing touch. An entire article dedicated to painting faces will appear later in this series.

Always use a palette.

Applying the Paint

There are a few golden rules to remember when applying the paint.

1. Never paint straight from the pot to the model. Always put the color on your palette first. Even if you are using the color straight, you still need to see the consistency and remove most of the paint from the brush before you apply it to the model. Too much paint on the brush is disastrous: As soon as you touch the brush to the model, all that paint will flood onto the miniature. A good guide is that the bristles should still come to a point when loaded with paint; if the brush doesn't 'point,' there's too much paint on there. Make sure that you use a clean bit of the palette, too.

2. Never paint on, or next to, paint that isn't dry. One of the best things about acrylic paint is that it dries quickly. But ensure it is totally dry before applying paint near it, or colors will mix on the model with very messy results! An old hair dryer serves as a very useful painting tool -- it can cut drying time to a few seconds.

3. Avoid using paint that is too thick. Thick paint can fill it detail on the model and obscure it. If it looks a little "gloopy," put it onto the palette and add a little water. I always thin my paints. I'd rather apply two thin coats than one thick one -- you get far more even coverage.

4. Look after your brushes. I can't emphasize this enough. If you buy good brushes and take care of them, you'll be paid back with the results you get and how long they last. Here are a few points to remember: Don't overload the brushes with paint -- the paint should never go up to the metal ferrule. Wash them regularly -- once the paint is dry on the bristles, it's not coming off. Never push or scrub the surface of the miniature -- draw the brush across the surface as if you were drawing. And never, never, never store them point down in your water pot!

An armchair helps
keep hands steady.

5. Keep your hands steady when painting. Most people's hands shake a little when they paint. You need to minimize this tendency if you want good results. Rest your elbows on the painting table and lock your hands together so that only the fingers holding your brush are able to move. This position also puts the model at eye level while you work on it. I like to paint in a chair with arms so I can rest my elbows and keep really steady.


When you are starting out in the painting hobby, your primary aim is to get the paint on the right part of the model with no overlapping or patchy colors. Just try painting all of the areas in flat, neat colors -- if you do overlap onto another area, simply wait until the paint is dry, and touch over again with the right color. At this stage, the thing to really concentrate on is neatness. Don't rush it either. Relax, take your time, and you'll get good results.

Remember: patience and practice.

In September, we'll start looking at the next stage of miniature painting -- using simple techniques to give some depth and realism.

Now, what are you going to paint?
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