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  • Miniature Painting Tutorial: How to Improve (Basics)

    So you want to improve your painting skills . . . now what? I can guarantee you that the best artists out there didn’t become that way just from picking up a brush. Okay, there may be a very small handful with natural talent and who were able to see their skill improve much quicker than we non-super human folks; but, the majority of the top painters have spent many hours improving their skills. This article is compiled from things I learned from other artists as well as my own trial and error. Good luck and happy painting!

    Equipment is key - Without the proper tools, improving can be very difficult. Some essential items include:

    * Proper lighting – Have at least two desktop lamps. My preference is to have one with a daylight bulb as my primary lighting source and another with a regular household bulb sitting on a shelf shining down over the entirety of my work area.
    * Mini Files and super fine grit sand paper - To get a clean smooth paint job, you need a smooth surface. Mini files come in various shapes from round to flat to curved. If you're considering competition level painting, cleaning up the mold lines and uneven surfaces is a must. Fine grit sandpaper (300+ grit) will help smooth out uneven surfaces and give a nice shiny finish to apply primer. On a side note: Fine grain milliput can be applied in thin layers with a wet brush to fill in any pits formed during casting. A dremel with a brass brush wheel can also be used to smooth the surface of pewter miniatures, but when trying this for the first time, use an old mini so that you can get the feel for how it will affect the surface.

    • Good quality primer - Spray primers are an industry favorite but you have to be careful to use them ONLY under the recommended conditions. By this I mean in the right weather and at the right temperature. Using them in humid or cold conditions can cause the primer to create a lumpy texture which can be a real pain after taking so much time in smoothing and sanding a miniature. If it's cold outsite, I stick with the Reaper brush on primer. Side note: Brush on primer comes in very handy for touch ups. More than once I've accidentally bumped a mini into my lamp and chipped the paint/primer. With brush on primer I can just touch up the chipped area.
    • Proper brushes – I have yet to purchase a brush from the local hobby store that is of high enough quality to use in miniature painting. The Winsor & Newton Series 7 Miniature Brushes are made specifically for miniature artists. My preference is to use a size 2 for the majority of my painting and size 000 for fine details such as eyes. Try different brands until you find one that works well with your painting style.
    • Good quality paints – You can have the best technique around, but if you are using low quality paints you will never be able to produce high quality results. There are quite a few different brands available to miniature painters; from Reaper, to Games Workshop, to Vallejo; the paint you choose will have a direct impact on the quality of your work. My strongest suggestion on paints is to buy paints made for miniature painting, NOT the cheapo .79 craft paints.
    • Magnifying headset – You may look like a dork wearing it, but a magnifying headset can make a world of difference. You can’t imagine all the little details the natural eye will miss. My recommendation is to get a headset that allows for different magnification. Mine has lenses that can be adjusted out depending on the amount of magnification needed.
    • Ceramic pallet – This isn’t a necessity but it is much easier to work with than the tin pallets found at local hobby shops and a lot less expensive since you can just rinse and reuse.

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” - Is there a particular painter that you just love the style of? Well, don’t just look at their photos, really study them . . . then emulate them. If at first you don’t succeed try again, and again, and again. However many times it takes keep trying. And don’t limit yourself to just one artist. There are as many talented artists out there as there are styles and as you practice the different styles you’ll find that your own style will emerge.

    Maintain a painting journal – This will be the lifeline to reproducing your fabulous results. Some things to include in your journal are: Miniature name, colors/mixtures used, techniques used, freehand designs - anything that you may need to reference in the future.

    Give it a rest - So you’re finished painting and ready to apply sealer. Don’t be so sure about that. Once you feel that you completed the mini or even a section of the mini, give it a rest. By that I mean, let it sit for at least 24 hours before doing any more work on it. As your eyes adjust to details in the individual areas, you may lose sight of the overall quality. Letting it sit overnight allows your eyes (and mind) time to refresh and literally look at it with fresh eyes. It’s been my experience many times after doing this that I may have not blended as well as I thought or that I have one eye with a larger pupil than the other. With fresh eyes I can go in and touch up the necessary areas before committing to sealer.

    Lights, camera, action - If you have a digital camera that can do macro photography . . . use it! Even when using the magnifying headset and taking a 24 hour break, it seems like the camera can always find flaws that you never noticed. Now, getting great photos is a tutorial for another day. So for now, just focus on using the photos to improve your work. This photo is of a work in progress where I've indicated things that didn't jump out at me until I looked at the photo.
    Practice Makes Perfect - That leads me to the most important step in improving your miniature painting skills – practice, practice, practice. The top artists sometimes spend upwards of a hundred hours or more on one single miniature. Granted, it would most likely be for a competition piece, but the point is they put in the hours. No matter what you do in life, very few of us have a natural ability. Improving takes time and effort. “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

    Stephanie Sasaki
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. lizcam's Avatar
      lizcam -
      Erm....I can't read it. The white print on the light blue is too hard to see. Sorry.
    1. LadyArgent's Avatar
      LadyArgent -
      That's odd. The background you see should be the dark gray wamp background color not blue.
    1. exilesjjb's Avatar
      exilesjjb -
      I can read it fine, it a very good intro to top level painting well done
    1. frogimus's Avatar
      frogimus -
      Quite nice. Glad I'm not the only one that uses Reaper brush-on primer. I can't spray worth a crud
    1. mercius's Avatar
      mercius -
      Great tut Stephanie!
    1. Darklord's Avatar
      Darklord -
      Great article
    1. Ulfgrimr's Avatar
      Ulfgrimr -
      Great piece LadyArgent, all useful stuff.
    1. RogerB's Avatar
      RogerB -
      Good tute. I'll add that plastics need a higher grit paper than metals.
    1. Noddwyr's Avatar
      Noddwyr -
      Good tut. Brush -on primer is awesome in this cold.
    1. Halestorm's Avatar
      Halestorm -
      Great little tut thanks,

    1. Shaps's Avatar
      Shaps -
      Glad I found this, some great tips that I can use. Thanks
    1. seasonman's Avatar
      seasonman -
      Great tutorial . just need more patience and new eyes and ... well you get the picture lol. oh and more room Thanks it wasa great find .
    1. LadyArgent's Avatar
      LadyArgent -
      Glad you guys liked it. I just remember what a hard time I had figuring all this out when I started getting serious about my painting so I thought it would make a good article to have everything in one place. I fully expect that in six months I'll be creating part 2. Seems like I learn something new everyday in my painting.
    1. David's Avatar
      David -
      Excellent article Lady. Thanks for taking the time to produce this.
    1. surfer623's Avatar
      surfer623 -
      Really good thanks