Advice from a Crummy Painter: Preparing your Models

Some time ago (about a year I think) my beneficent GM Megan had expressed some interest in me writing an article or two about miniature painting as war gaming/painting is one of my hobbies. I have been painting up a storm as of late I thought it might be a good time do so. But I want to preface this with a bit of humble pie. I don’t consider myself to be that great of a painter. I started with little to no talent and my early jobs looked like Quasimodo after a bad spa day. I have been painting for about 15 years and only recently my biggest critic (my wife) has admitted she cannot say they suck anymore. I fully admit that there are a ton of articles by super talented people out there and I will whole-heartedly endorse you seeking their works out, but I hope that you find this series to be a decent starting off point. So here we go.

As the inaugural piece I wanted to cover just the most basic of things when preparing to paint miniatures. Just a few things have an impact on your first outing as a painter. If you happen to not be new to the painting process these will seem like no brainers, but it is a good thing to remember the basics.

  1. Clean your models – This encompasses not only cutting off excess pieces of material, sprue, etc.; but filing mold lines, inspecting for miscasts and other imperfections. And above all wash your models. When they arrive new almost all miniatures are coated with a fine to heavy layer of mold release. This is a substance that manufacturers use to aid in getting the newly cast models out of their form molds. It’s not an involved process to get the residue off. A simple soak and wash with warm water and dish soap is enough. Just be sure that the pieces are thoroughly dry before you begin.
  2. Prime – Carefully and thoroughly. A good prime job is essential to a good paint job. And there are a number of ways to go about it. The most common method that I have found it just a simple rattle can of spray primer. I use three different kinds but there are numerous forum threads and article on the matter. Other kinds and methods are brush on primer and the most expensive to start is airbrushing primer. All are valid options. I use the rattle can method as it fits in my price range.
  3. Have an idea of what you want to do – This is really all about choosing the colors you want to have present on your minis. Some war games require that your units or the entire army have a cohesive color scheme to make it easy to identify them as being in the same army. Others may not and the color scheme requirement is out the window when painting individual figures for Pathfinder, D&D and such. But beyond being consistent have an idea in your mind of how you want the final product to look. It may change a little as you paint, but keep a consistent picture in your head as you work. It will help.
  4. Wash your hands – Yeah, do this before you paint. The oils that we humans produce are the bane of painted minis. Over time the residue will erode the bindings and pigments in the paints and will lead to fading and easier chipping over time. And when it comes time to paint, I recommend doing everything possible to not directly handle the mini. The method I use is using a bit of poster putty to affix the base to an old paint pot. If painting the model in an un-assembled state use bits of paperclip to hold them. It will save you some heartache later.
  5. Assemble your minions – This can be done either before or after you paint. Some figures really lend themselves to being painted prior to assembly. I would leave it to your discretion on what to do; it is really a matter of personal choice. Also, prepare your work space. Get your brushes, paints, paint water cup, paper towels, etc. ready ahead of time. It helps to have a dedicated workspace for painting so you don’t have to set up and tear down all the time.
  6. Paint – To parrot Shia Le Bouf “Just do it!”, you can read about it all you want but it comes down to just painting. And then when you are finished with one model, start the next. I try to paint for at least an hour a day. Like any skill in life it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and the only way to improve is to do it, look at what you have done and then do it again. Then have someone else appraise your work, take criticism as a learning opportunity and try again. Look around for new techniques and apply them. Just keep at it and don’t get discouraged. The only bad paint job is one that is not attempted.

So there they are, some bare bones tips to help get started. Now one point that I cannot stress enough, is that in the coming months I will be posting more articles on the way that I prepare and paint miniatures. This is just the way that I paint and it may not work for you. And that is the thing of it. Paint can be a very personal thing to most people and it is imperative that you find what works for you. I just hope I can shed some light on your travels.

As always, thank you for reading and happy painting!

P.S.  – For some examples of the work that I have done check out my Google + page, under my name Patrick West. The vast majority of these are posted under the Warmachine and Hordes community.

Patrick is a veteran of RPG and table top gaming. He is currently a player in the Rune Awakening campaign and runs the 7th Sea game. Outside of gaming, Patrick is an aspiring writer and paints miniatures when time allows.

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