A few weeks back a new D&D player at the game store asked; “Where should I start?” He was holding up a package with a plastic 28mm figure that looked like a mutant from The Hills Have Eyes, wielding a cleaver, laughing with a gap-toothed grin. He said he wanted to paint his new barbarian.
Pictured: A lovely sculpt by Paul Muller, The Dreg Butchers. AKA; NOT a Barbarian!
I explained to him that there are tons of painting guides online, but they range widely in skill level, and it can take hours of surfing to learn exactly what type of instructional you need. Painting a mini isn’t like building an IKEA shelf. There are no steps 1-5 with weird bubble men to demonstrate. In short; I couldn’t explain in 10 minutes or less how to paint his murder-hillbilly, may god have mercy on the party that gets stuck with this deranged “barbarian.”
So to make up for my incredibly unhelpful answer, which boiled down to “surf around online until you get inspired or give up,” here are a few reasons why there is no catch-all forum guide, and how searching for one can end in swift, depressing defeat.
Everyone’s process and resources are different.
For some, the creative process involves a quiet place to think, some classical music, and a blank canvas. For others; mind-shredding psychoactive hallucinogens. Whatever, man, we’re not judging.
What artists call “process” is reflected heavily in their online instructionals about how to paint miniatures. Most youtube painters I’ve seen sit at a work bench lined with proper tools, cutting mat, and a small warehouse of model paints. That’s perfectly fine for a professional studio, but a new painter might be rocking a pre-packaged set of model paints, with primary colors and a cheap brush.
Look for forums and instructions that don’t start with expensive tools or ultra-specific highlight colors. If the painter is using Smaragdine Undertone #43 (emerald green for pretentious assholes) then you might want to look elsewhere.
A Beginners’ guide might be an “Experienced Painter’s Introduction to Mini’s.”
There are truly sickening displays of talent hiding on model/miniature painting websites. As a community they are hoarding pieces of da Vinci’s soul, like Horcrux, which they tap into (read; squander) to recreating iconic Star Wars scenes at 1-64th scale. Every time one of these amateur painters completes a tiny fantasy masterpiece, Van Gogh slices off a body part in the afterlife. This means accepting advice from a forum savant can sometimes feel like the above image. It’s nice to see they can paint like the second coming of Michelangelo, but that still leaves me with an unpainted pile of plastic.
Look for how-to guides that don’t end with contest winning dioramas. It’s great to aim high. But starting out, you might want to try a few simple shading and dry-brush techniques before you’re dabbing highlights onto a goblin’s pupil with a single ermine hair (not a joke, this actually happens in miniature painting)
Case and point: This is the Black Moon’s Bane, which you can read more about here. And yes, if you look to the image on the right, those are 28mm creatures, meaning this thing is in scale.
Planning can overcome practice or talent.
They say practice makes perfect. But careful planning can make pretty-okay.
Plan out your paint job before you begin. Watch a few youtube videos specific to the model you’re going to paint, as well as the type of paint you’ll be using. Brushing by hand? Avoid masterful air-brush tutorials, because everything from the planning to the execution will be worlds apart from your standard pot-and-brush sets. Find step by step instructions for painting from base to highlights, and prepare your materials beforehand.
Approach projects like you’re Oceans 11 or Batman. Plan around your weaknesses. If you’re too unsteady to paint leather straps on your Glamazon’s bikini, cover everything but the straps in Silly Putty or clay, and go to town. If you can’t get mixtures right for skin, get store-bought flesh pigments and slather it on. For every painter who can freehand glowing runes on a mosquito’s ass that’s biting a 28mm Paladin, there are 10 of us cheating by doing prep-work.
Newcomers should paint and scratch-build like they have a vendetta against all miniatures.
The biggest thing I will stress again and again; go goddamn nuts with your projects, and don’t give up. And because you deserve it, I’ll share with you the secret to table-worthy game miniatures… Are you ready?
The players appreciate your efforts.
Players want to see new things on the table. They crave novelty, even if it comes in the form of repainted He-Man action figures. Any oddity, creature, or curio crafted out of foam and cardboard will hold their attention and draw them into the game. There is incredible value in having a physical representation of what the characters see sitting on the table. Imagination is amazing, and dungeon masters will always shoulder the burden of storytelling. But anything, anything you set in front of players will excite them, if only for a moment.
Paint miniatures like you’re a deranged god. Paint blue wolves and green fire djinns and clear epoxy water monsters. Bones figures come in plastic, so price isn’t a limiting factor anymore. Go sick, and enjoy yourself, because every time you giggle at giving a dragon a Joker smile, you’re technically practicing and adding to your skill.
And that’s exactly what a good hobby should be. Pure, unadulterated fun. That is, until the party encounters said Joker Dragon. Then it should be pure unadulterated terror, followed by pants-crapping and hiding behind the Fighter.
To make your Tutorial hunting easier, you can also check out the Tutorials Database on Reaper Miniatures.