Painting miniatures has been an on and off hobby for me for the past four years, and in the six years before that, I painted some (but not well). I’ve done everything from tiny sculpted snakes to giant Fell Beast-mounted Nazgul, and a number of my older ones I’ve repainted recently(ish). However, even with all of that experience I still encounter the same feeling of “where do I even start!” that a new player faces when staring at a fresh project. Take this Bones model I just painted (I foolishly didn’t get a photo before starting to paint her).
When I started, she was all Bones-white (I didn’t even use primer on her, though I did paint a layer of black first). It took me a little while of sitting there trying to figure out what she was going to look like before I set myself to begin somewhere, anywhere, where I could break up the figure to get a sense of what was needed. Even for someone who’s been painting pretty seriously for a couple years, breaking the ice on the mini is a daunting task, and it’s even more daunting when you don’t really have a sense of where you’re going with it. Sometimes, a paint job requires serious trial and error, as with this one (we’ll call her Sarai) and with the dwarf assassin, Akorn. In both cases, it came down to “well, start by painting the skin flesh colored and the armor metallic and go from there,” figuring out in the process which colors don’t go well together (Akorn started out with a much brighter-white undershirt) or seeing where a solid block of color needs to be broken up (I ended up using more white than I expected on Sarai’s armor to make it deeper than just a ton of metal). This can be rewarding, but it’s also frustrating when you’re repainting the same piece of clothing multiple times just to see what looks good. Sometimes, especially for newer painters (and less artistically-inclined people like myself), it’s worth it to not go alone… and to get a guide. One of the most challening and rewarding exercises I’ve used for myself is working off of a model.
Now when I say to work off of a model, I should be clear that “model” in this case means “source material” more than “miniature,” since I know that word has a double-meaning here (why do you think I used this as the blog title? :P). I’m talking about painting Gandalf to look like Gandalf, or Merry to look like Merry.
This is where beginning with a wargame is actually quite helpful, especially one based on an existing property. Now I love customized armies as much as the next guy (I’ve basically redesigned how I paint my orcs from 10 years ago, though I’m not repainting the 50ish ones I have), but it’s much easier to paint something when you have a scheme to work from. It gives you some direction, which is always appreciated, but it’s also important that it gives you something to compare with when you’re finished. Now using a source image for feedback is far from the best method (getting actual advice from actual painters from your FLGS or school or some-such is always much better), but sometimes you don’t have access to good constructive painting feedback and so you need to make do. If you’re more or less teaching yourself, it can be very hard to see your weak points without some frame of reference—and because it’s your own work, so you don’t usually have enough distance to see the final product objectively right away. However, when you’re constantly comparing your work to an image—while definitely frustrating—you are constantly challenging yourself to make the painting more accurate and forcing yourself to employ more sophisticated techniques to reach an acceptable level of verisimilitude. This is essentially how I learned to layer paints to create depth and make my heroes’ attire look worn and weathered. Perhaps the best case of this was with Oldrian’s owl, Locke.
I’m fairly proud of that model, and it took much longer than a model of such a small size should take, but that’s because at each step I looked back at the photograph, picked out a color I could see in the bird’s feathers, and drybrushed it on. Without the photo, the owl would have been a couple shades of brown over some white, and would definitely not had any dorsal/ventral differentiation. This gave me the reference to consider including other colors to make the feather coloring richer than it might have otherwise been. And this is not just a skill limited to working on a reflection of something in the real world. Working off a model is an easy exercise that I’ve found helps tremendously at improving skill both with the paintbrush (getting some of those details right) and in designing paint schemes for your models.
This is especially useful should you ever consider painting models for someone else. As it happens, I painted my entire recent D&D party, many of them to specifications set by the players (some more so than others). However, my girlfriend has only started painting her own miniatures very recently, and so before that I was painting characters of her creation that she knew and loved—and had drawings of (she’s much more artistic than I am!) This was an exercise not just in improving my own ability (something I try to do with each miniature I paint), but also in painting minis to look the way she wanted them to and to match her drawings of the same characters. Obviously there were some changes thrown in based on the sculpts (some of which were more customizable than others), but here you can see some of those painted characters… as well as a couple of characters that she painted herself!
This was written more with the “non-artistically-trained-gamer” in mind (that being my paradigm), and so to them, I hope this post had some worthwhile ideas!
Check back next Monday, when I’ll delve into tabletop roleplaying game design.
I did have one other thing I wanted to mention. I’ve gone back to the blog post I wrote almost a year ago now, in which I created rules for last year’s D&D party within the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game rules. I’ve updated that post to include a few things, including Kieran’s full powers (which I’d kept hidden for spoiler reasons), Kara’s character (who was added), and a total update to the new Hobbit rules (which mostly revolve around updating spells). If you’re interested in that, here’s the link. Any feedback can go in the comments!
Also, because you’ve been so kind to read the whole article (or at least skim to the bottom), here are some dinosaurs.