Painting miniatures is not nearly as intimidating at it seems. It’s actually very easy to get attractive results with the right advice. In the first half our painting guide, we’ll talk about how to prepare yourself with the tools and the mindset to paint well. Check out our advice to improve your tabletop experience!
While there’s a fair bit of setup to starting the hobby, the first few steps can be cheap and easy. We’ve got some advice and direction that will explain how, compiled into two articles. This first article will help new painters lay the groundwork, describing not only the tools they need but also how to mentally and physically prepare to paint well. The next article will cover the nitty gritty of putting color on plastic.
- Making a Wet Palette
- Making a Painting Handle
First, here’s a little advice on how to mentally approach painting. It’s intimidating to start, especially if you compare your work to experienced painters. But one of the best tools a novice painter can have is the proper perspective on their efforts.
Mostly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It's easy to hide or cover up mistakes. If you get the wrong color on a part of the mini, you can cover it up later with more paint. Or, even paint over errors with your prime color to start over. Hitting the undo button in painting is easier than people think.
Also, give yourself permission to experiment. The experience and lessons you gain from making mistakes is way more valuable than many people think. It’s worth it to try and fail, because you can recover, learn a thing or two, and try again.
Just keep in mind that the end result is only part of the fun of painting. Actually painting, choosing colors and working with your hands, is intrinsically fun too. The act of painting may be more fun than looking back on your work.
Lastly, consider getting a practice model. Don’t use your favorite D&D or Warhammer model for your first project. WizKids makes a huge line of D&D miniatures that are highly detailed, pre-primed, and best of all, cheap.
Intuitively, steady hands are important to painting such small models. Thing is, everyone shakes at least a little. Fortunately there are ways to manage your normal hand tremor. There are some obvious self-care steps to take, such as resting well the night before, and waiting for caffeine to wear off.
But the technique that few people consider for shaky hands is their painting posture. This can vary from person to person, but positioning your hands, arms, shoulders, or your whole body properly will help a lot.
Generally, pull your arms inward to simultaneously relax and anchor them. Keep your elbows close to each other and close to your torso. Also, bring the bottoms of your hands together. This will provide close-up stability. Don’t be afraid to bring the model close to your face, either.
The ideal posture will be comfortable and reduce shaking. Some people like to sit up straight, some like to lean forward on their table, and some even like to lie back. It will be different for everyone, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit to find yours.
Just like anything else, there are cheap versions and expensive versions. The expensive brushes are usually worth it for seasoned painters. However, for practice, there are inexpensive brushes that will do 90% what an expensive brush can do.
Hobby brushes like these Citadel brushes are fantastic for starting out. They're high-quality and will last a long time, if used properly. Of course, art supply stores sell brushes, and often cheaper than hobby brands like Citadel. Cheap (or expensive) art store brushes are fine, as long as they have high-quality bristles in the appropriate size.
It’s a common misconception that painters need an expensive, super tiny brush to paint a miniature. This isn’t a great idea for beginners, though. Tiny, tiny brushes don’t hold a lot of paint and can’t cover a large area of the mini, making painting unnecessarily tedious. Instead, just a small brush will work better. They have a larger “belly” to hold more paint, and are much more versatile.
The important thing that a miniature painting brush needs is a point. The fibers should come to a point when wet, regardless how large it is. This will let the brush paint details as fine as you need, but also paint larger pieces of a model.
Making a Wet Palette
A wet palette is highly recommended for painting miniatures. It provides a staging area for your colors, to keep the paint nice and thin and allow you to mix colors. It's not strictly necessary, but because they can be very inexpensive and easy to obtain, and provide a lot of functionality, we're recommending it here.
There are fancy and professional wet palettes available at hobby and art supply stores, and these will work well, of course. However, many painting pros made their own wet palette from common kitchen materials.
First, get a plastic sandwich container, like a Ziploc or something close to it.
Second, find some parchment paper. It’s kinda like wax paper, but with an important difference. Parchment paper is slightly porous and will let water seep through, which is what we want. Wax paper is of course waterproof and won’t.
Third, get a square of paper towel. This will be like the sponge in a professional wet palette.
To assemble it, fold up the paper towel and lay it in the bottom of the sandwich container. Then cut out a square of parchment paper, large enough to cover most of the paper towel. It doesn’t have to be precise. Put the parchment paper on top of the paper towel, then add a little bit of water, just enough to cover the parchment.
And that’s it! This is the exact kind of wet palette that many experts use, made for just a couple of bucks. It even comes with its own lid to keep things moist inside between painting sessions. We’ll get into why and how to use it in the next article.
Making a Painting Handle
This is an optional step, but immensely useful and simple, so we’ll talk about it a bit. To make a painting handle, just find an old, empty pill bottle, and put some putty or poster tack or Blu Tack on the top. That’s it, that’s all you need to do.
You can stick the base of your miniature on the sticky putty, and hold the pill bottle while painting. This is a cheap and easy way to give yourself a lot more control while painting.
And, naturally, there are fancy painting handles available, as well, like these from Citadel. They're a little nicer, and if you plan on painting a lot, are worth the investment.
Putting the Fun in Fundamentals
So there’s some initial advice on how to get prepared for painting. These steps may seem extraneous, but it addresses a lot of concerns that new painters have. In the next article, we’ll dive into actually putting paint on a model, but these tips will provide a solid foundation that will make the next steps easier.