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How I paint miniatures

I use acrylic craft paints and craft brushes I purchase at Wal-Mart.  Most of my paints are Folk Art and Apple Barrel brands.  These paints can be purchased for around $0.50 a bottle.  The bottles are plastic squeeze bottles with flip top lids and contain 2 fluid (59 ml)ounces of paint.  The more basic colors can be purchased in large 8 ounce (236 ml) bottles for under two dollars American.  There are many paints put out by miniature companies.  I have only had experience with Games Workshop paint.  As near as I can tell the difference between cheap craft paints and the so called professional miniature paints is only in the price.  You pay much more for much less paint.  Some of the Games Workshop paints are better but some are worse.  I'm not going to get into technical terminology but I studied art when I was in school so I have a pretty good idea what paint is all about.  Many great mini painters swear by "Pro" paints but it has been my experience that craft paints work just as well.  Your mileage may vary but personally I'd rather have the extra money saved to spend on more miniatures.  I always use spray paint to base coat or "prime" my miniature.  I paint over black and use either a flat or satin paint.  Krylon brand is pretty good but I have had reasonable results from cheaper brands.

Step 1: Preperation
 The first thing you want to do after you remove the miniature from the package is inspect it for flashing and mold lines.  Flashing is any small pieces of metal that have formed during the casting process where the mold didn't fully seal or where there were vents to let air escape.  Often flashing will be found in joints or tight corners.  Mold lines are formed along the line where the mold comes together.  Mold lines are essentially flashing but in a very low relief.  You need to do your best to try to remove these lines.  I often use an X-acto knife to cut flash out.  I finish the area with a needle file or the blunt back of the knife.  Mold lines can usually be removed by dragging the blunt back of an X-acto knife along the line.  Sometimes needle files work well for mold lines as well.  Be careful when removing flash and mold lines that you don't destroy any detail.  After you remove the flash and mold lines glue the miniature to the base.  You may also want to fill the gaps in the base with a little epoxy putty.  For filling bases I use off the shelf Duro epoxy putty because it is affordable but you must be careful because it is toxic.  Read the package instructions before working with it.  The Duro putty smooths easily with some water but you need to work it quickly.  Some miniature hobbyist use the same expensive putties used to sculpt and convert miniatures to fill their bases.  To me however this is a needless waste when a much more affordable alternative is available.  Instead of putty you may try to cut down masking tape to cover the gaps in the base.  I have used it in the past and it works quite well.

Step 2: Prime the Miniature
 Now you need to prime you miniature with a base coat of spray paint.  You notice I am using black.  Most miniature painters use white.  There is nothing wrong with using white but if you chose to do that you will need to stop reading this tutorial and search out one that gives techniques for painting over a white base coat.  You will also notice I have employed a satin paint for this particular miniature.  Sometimes I do that because it is slightly smoother than flat paint.  I do not recommend you try satin if you are a first time or novice painter.  Stick with the flat finish paint.  It is much easier to control the paint and will take the paint a bit better.
 When spraying you miniatures be careful of the temperature.  You don't want to be painting them in a cold or humid area.  This can cause a number of complications with spray paint.  I usually try to prime my miniatures outside on a nice day.
 The best way to spray the miniature is to stay within about six inches from the miniature you are painting.  And try to spray horizontally to the miniature.  Don't get too far away from the miniature because that could cause the finish to become grainy because small droplets of paint will start to dry before they adhere to the surface of the miniature.  That will ruin the finish and make it nearly impossible to paint the miniature.  Conversely if you get too close to the miniature the paint may get too thick and ruin the detail.  Either way you will have to remove the miniature from the plastic base and strip the primer with finger nail polish remover.  If you have to do this never leave the plastic base on or it will be melted into a nice gooey substance.  Try and paint both the front and the back on the miniature at the same time.  When that dries you can set the miniature on its back and spray at a 45 degree angle to get the under side of the details.  When that dries flip it over and do the back.
 Sometimes I get really lucky and can go right into painting from there but more often than not I have to touch the base coat up by hand.  It is important that you don't just keep spraying the miniature to try and get all the spots you miss on the first half.  Too many coats of spray paint can eliminate subtle surface detail.

Step 3: Block in the Large Areas
 Now you can go to painting the miniature.  Every miniature painter starts somewhere else.  Some paint the skin tones first then go on from there.  What I do is paint large to small.  I look at what color is going to be dominate and cover the largest surface area.  In this case the Jedi is going to wear a brown tunic and white pants both of which will have the same underlying color of a darker brown.  For simplicity sake I have also decided to use the brown for the belt but not the boots because I want then to remain black.
 Now that I know where I am going to start and what color I am going to use I start to block that color in with a fairly large brush.  To do this I load up the brush with paint then wipe most of it from the bush leaving the brush damp with paint but not dry.  Then I drag the brush over the areas I want this color to be leaving the black paint showing in the darkest surfaces.  After the first few passes I continue to repeat the process using lighter and more careful strokes as I go to pick out the largest highlights.  Things don't have to be perfect at this stage.  If you get a bit of paint on a smaller detail you can paint over it when you get to that spot.  Sometimes a miniature has more than one large areas that you may want to be completely different colors.  I usually try and block in all my large areas at the same stage.

Step 4: First Highlight stage
 The first highlight stage is a lot like the blocking in stage but more controlled.  Usually I have the paint a little wetter at this stage but only slightly.  Take the same color paint you used to block the color in with and mix it with a lighter shade of that color.  You can also mix in a little white if you don't have a lighter shade of your base color but it doesn't work well for every color.  For; reds, greens, and some browns it often works better to add some yellow.  On this miniature I have chosen a honey colored tan.  Note that I added more tan to the areas I want to be white and less to the areas I want to be brown.  What you want to do here is pick up only the large highlight areas leaving a transition between the base color and the black primer coat.  This will leave you with a smooth gradation between the shadows and highlights.  If you cover the base color completely the transition will be too abrupt.  On this miniature I also avoided the belt which I wanted to be the darkest brown.  The belt is still shaded and has definition.  Doing this kind of thing when you can will help you paint faster and have more painted miniatures to game with so when you are working out the color design for a miniature consider when you can employ this kind of shortcut.  It if most effective when painting in browns, blacks, greys, and whites but also when painting in reds, oranges, and yellows.

Step 5: Second Highlight Stage
 Now you want to paint the brightest highlights.  Only the very highest areas of detail.  Generally I get a fairly small detail brush for this and apply the paint in thin coats one highlight at a time.  Depending on the level of gradation you want you may want to quickly blend in a few stages of progressive lightless one on top of the other at this stage getting lighter as you go until you have a subtle gradation between the darkest dark and lightest light.  Sometimes I simply add one shade lighter color at this stage.  It depends on how things are going.  On this miniature I added two more levels of highlight to the tunic and three to the pants and sash.  The lighter you go the more careful and accurate you must be to preserve the subtle gradation.

Step 6: Block in the Smaller Areas
 Basically this is exactly like step 3 but you need to be more careful and use a smaller brush.  On this figure the I am blocking in the skin tones at this stage but avoiding the detail parts like weapons and jewelry.

Step 7 & 8: Highlighting the Smaller Areas
 Again this is like steps 4 and 5.  This Twi' Lek has white skin but I only apply white to the highest relief.  Skin is basically transparent so I try and capture that when doing a skin tone.  I tend to wet down the paint quite a bit and paint in several transparent layers blending and working my way up to the brightest tints.  I usually try and make the face the lightest area of the skin because it is the focus.  I also have done the boots with two layers of highlight on only the high relief areas because I want them to appear well kept but not glossy.  If I wanted them to appear ruff I would paint a larger area of them grey and have a more subtle variation between shadows and highlights.  If I wanted them glossy I would paint only a very light highlight on the highest relief areas with no gradation at all.  This is very tricky.

Step 9: The Details
 Now I paint in the very small details like weapons and jewelry.  Some of these may take more than one layer of highlight but others will only need one layer of paint.  At this point I also carefully paint the eyes.  Eyes are hard and take practice.  I paint the eye white then paint the black dot in the center careful to make sure I make it look as if both eyes are pointing the same way.  It is best to not have white showing around the black or the miniature will look surprised.

Step 10: Finishing the base
 Now I paint the base and add finishing details.  On this miniature the base ended up being a bit of an after thought.  I decided to try and reproduce the look of the bases on the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars miniature page.  So I grabbed my Anakin's Pod Racer model I use for kit bashing and went to work.  This would have been easier if I had done it before I primed the model and I had to prime it black by hand.  I wouldn't recommend doing this kind of fiddily modeling on a fully painted miniature but I'm not really sane so it's ok for me.  It worked out pretty well though it is hard to see it in this picture.  I plan to do an article just on bases in the future where I will talk more about this subject.

Step 11: Clear Coat
 Because we are painting these miniatures to use in a game and not just sit in a glass case and look pretty you need to protect the paint job with a clear coat.  I use a coat or two of clear matte varnish to protect my miniatures but I have also heard of people using a gloss varnish with a layer of matte over that because the gloss varnish is tougher than the matte varnish but the matte gives a better looking finish that looks more natural.

Well now we are done.  Have fun!