The Basics Number 1 – Getting Ready to Paint
Work Area Set-upA good work area makes painting much easier and more fun. The first thing to consider is lighting, a well lit area helps you see the details of the model and lets you check your progress as you paint. Several light sources spread around the room helps to eliminate shadows. Try and use lights with as close to the natural spectrum of sunlight as possible – bulbs called daylight bulbs are available for both fluorescent and incandescent light fixtures and help you to see the true hues.
Select a surface that is at a convenient height for you – desk height works best for me but I also use an office type chair with height adjustment to help get everything just right. Cover that surface with old newspaper – you will have spills and spatters and newspaper slows the spread of the spilled paint allowing you to salvage minis and your clothes. Plus it is faster to throw out the top layer of the paper than it is to wipe down the surface. Newspaper may also save you from spousal abuse if you are painting in the kitchen or den when the paint spills.
Flashing and AssemblyAll figures require some cleaning and removal of flash before you can start painting. You will use a sharp hobby knife and a set of needle files for this. The lines running down a figure are from the seam where the two halves of the mold met when the figure was cast. A sharp knife will usually take these off followed by some gentle filing. The bottom of the base may need some filing to make sure the figure can stand up evenly. Figures requiring assembly will sometimes require a more durable attachment than glue alone can provide. In these cases you will need to pin the joint. This is done by using a very small hand drill called a pin vise. You drill a small hole into each side of the new seam and insert a small wire inside the holes running from one piece into the other to increase the strength of the bond. Then check the joints when the figure is assembled to see if you need to fill any gaps. Gaps can be filled with modeling putty or epoxy putty available at your local hardware. Plastic figures should always be washed before painting to remove any residue on the plastic. Any sort of dish detergent works well for this. Be sure the figures are completely dry before starting painting.
To Stick or Not to Stick?At this point put your figures onto popsicle sticks (craft sticks) if they are 15mm or smaller or put them on small squares of cardboard if the are 25mm or larger. This gives you something to hold other than the figure while you paint it which prevents smudging wet paint. If you are using sticks make sure the figures are spaced far enough apart along the stick so you can get between them with a brush easily. Generally about 1.5 to 2 inches apart. Glue onto the sticks or cardboard with white glue so they will be easy to peel off after painting.
PrimerThe first step in painting is priming the figure to provide a nice uniform surface for the paint to adhere to and to control the base color that you paint over. There are three basic choices for primer color: White, Grey and Black. There are a host of arguments for which primer color works best but I suggest you use black primer as a standard. Switch to white primer only if your figure is mostly light/bright colors.
There are several spray primers available or you can paint on your primer. My preference is paint on primer as the sprays can sometimes be grainy in texture. If you use paint on primer always thin the primer before painting. With either spray or paint on primer make sure that the prime coat is thin and does not build up to the level that it obscures detail in the figures. Allow the figure to dry completely after priming before you start painting.
Paints and BrushesAll the information presented here assumes you are working with water based acrylic paints. The selection, depth of color, lack of noxious odors, and ease of clean-up all make acrylics the best choice for the miniature painter. There are many brands of excellent acrylic paints readily available from game stores and art supply stores.
I suggest that starting out you purchase a good basic assortment of colors and experiment with mixing colors for lighter and darker shades. Mixing a bit of white paint into almost any shade will lighten it up. Once you have the feel for colors you may want to purchase more shades to save you the time of mixing.
Always take care of your brushes – keep them clean and pointed. Never stand brushes with the bristle side down in water cups or anything else as that will destroy a brush faster than anything. An assortment of brush sizes such as 00, 0, and 1 provides a good range to start with. Reserve the smallest size for detailing.
When you’re done painting one color clean the brush: first gently against the inside of your water cup and then lightly drag it across the newspaper and you will know the brush is clean when it leaves a colorless water mark on the paper. If you’re still getting color on the newspaper then the brush is still dirty.
Use a painting pallet. Don’t paint out of the bottle. Painting out of the bottle will make your paints dry out faster and can contaminate the paint in the bottle. Your pallet can be a simple item that you already have like the lid from a margarine container, or any sort of small item that will hold some paint. Inexpensive plastic pallets are also available at art supply and stationary stores. Add just a small amount of paint and dilute with water as needed to get it to the consistency of cream (not whipped cream).
Now your preparation is complete and you’re ready to start painting!