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MINIATURE FIGURE PAINTING:  FAQ

What are miniature figures for?

Miniature figures have three primary uses: tabletop wargaming, markers for role-playing games, and display. 

Although there are exceptions, tabletop wargaming minis are usually painted to a basic standard of quality, where the painter wants to churn out a whole army with a common color scheme in a short amount of time.  Tabletop wargamers, like players of Warhammer 40K, stage mock battles according to a strict set of rules. 

Minis painted for role-playing, like those used by players of Dungeons and Dragons, can vary wildly in style, technique, and quality, depending on the needs and wants of the players, and how much time (and/or money) they're willing to spend. 

Display models, whether individual pieces, or complex dioramas, are typically very high-quality.  Professionally-painted minis can sell for hundreds of dollars.

How do you paint something so small?  Do you use a magnifying glass?

While some painters do, most (including myself) use only our eyes and small, high-quality natural hair paint brushes with hobby paints specifically made for painting miniatures. 

Very good lighting is important, though.  I have a small LED lamp that I use.  And Ott Lite is a very popular brand of lamp used by many other painters.

What are minis  made of?

Most miniatures are made of white metal (tin/lead alloy), pewter (tin/lead/copper/antimony alloy), or lead-free pewter.  Another popular material is resin (mostly polyurethane).  Recently, mini manufactures have expanded into plastic (polyethylene or hard polystyrene).

Just how small are they?  What scales do they come in?

The most popular miniature figure sizes are as follows:

mm 54 45 28 25 20 15 10 6
scale 1:32 1:35 1:64 1:72 1:76 1:100 1:200 1:300

Scale Photo
This is a photograph of a 28mm miniature in my hand.

Where do you buy miniature figures? 

You can pick up a wide range of miniature figures at your local gaming store, or order them online.  There are many, many manufacturers of miniature figures.  Most of the ones in my gallery are from Reaper, but I also really like Dark Sword, and Games Workshop is very popular.  Reaper miniatures can be purchased at discount from Miniature-Giant.com.

Do you use special paints?

The vast majority prefer water-soluble acrylic paints.  You can buy low-grade hobby paint at any craft store, but when painting at such a small scale, most artist prefer paints specifically made for the job.  The biggest manufacturers are Games Workshop (Citadel paint), Reaper (Master Series Paint), and Vallejo.

I like Reaper MSP the best, but GW makes the best metallic paint, so I own some of each.

What other painting supplies do you need besides paint?

To start off, you need a small, finely tipped brush.  Beginners may buy a cheap synthetic, but once you gain some skill in the hobby, you'll want to invest in some good quality natural hair (kolinsky sable) brushes.   I use Windsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brushes #0, and #3/0 and Da Vinci Maestro, size 2 and 0, all of which are available online at DickBlick.com

You also need a palette of some kind.  You can make a wet palette cheaply from any sealable plastic container, a sponge (or paper towel), and a sheet of parchment paper.  I bought myself a Winsor & Newton wet pallete, mostly because of the large palette surface it provides.  The palette keeps my paints wet for weeks, with the addition of just a little water each time I open it to paint.

What about sculpting?

I don't do any miniature sculpting (I tried, and I'm terrible at it!). Minis are usually sculpted from a two-part epoxy putty.  The most common of these is called green stuff because half of the epoxy is blue, the other yellow, and it turns green when mixed together.  I use green stuff to fill gaps between joints on assembled minis, or to sculpt simple conversions, or custom bases.

MamaGeek's Top 5 Mini Painting Tips

5. Create a comfortable workspace
Whether it’s a dedicated area or your kitchen table, make yourself a space where you can work comfortably.  Good lighting is essential, and it helps to have all your needed tools and supplies are on hand before you start.  I also recommend giving yourself enough time to get truly immersed.

4. Try out different supplies
Start out with a basic set of paints, brushes, etc., but try out different brands, supplies, and tools. Don’t just use what “everyone” says is the best, or what the "best painters" use. Different people have different experiences with different products, tools, and formulas, depending on their climate, budget, time, and ability. Find what works for you.

3. Get inspired
Look at others’ work, both online and in person. Don’t be ashamed of copying something you see that you want to learn how to do. We all steal ideas from each other constantly. And don’t just paint minis for utility. Sure, there will be times when you need to paint something for a game, for a competition, for a commission even, that you don’t really like, but to maintain your interest, you need to paint figures that truly inspire your creativity, so make sure you make the time for that or you’ll burn out.

2. Get involved
Seek out and join local painting groups and online communities. Show your work for critique. Ask lots of questions, and when you’ve learned something, share it with others.

1. Do it your way
This is the most important thing to remember as you get into the miniature painting hobby. There are endless tutorials out there on how to do this or that. There are professional painters who create truly masterful work, who share their way of doing things. Try all of them, then keep them or reject them, or mutate them into your own style and your own technique. There is not one right or wrong way to paint. Find your own way – whatever gives you beautiful results, or allows you to best enjoy the hobby. If you don’t, then mini painting will be frustrating and unfun.

  EVENTS

Games Day Baltimore 2010
Artist Preservation Group Show 2012
National Capital Model Soldier Society 2011, 2012

  HOW-TO
WIP (Works in Progress) step-by-step painting

Thief of Hearts

Blight Fang Dragon

River Troll

Gandalf the Gray

Troll Matron Beach Diorama

My Favorite Tutorials (External Links):

Photographing Miniatures (Cypher Studios)
Painting True Metallics (CMON - CoolMiniOrNot)
Painting Lava 1 (CMON - CoolMiniOrNot)
Painting Lava 2 (Dark Art Miniatures)
Painting Gemstones (Necromancer Tales)
Painting Fabric Patches (Necromancer Tales)
Aaron Lovejoy's Blending Tutorial  (Reaper)
Terrain grasses video (YouTube)
Painting Glass Bottles (Miniature Painting Guild)
Sculpting and Painting Fire (Jeffrey MacLeod)

  COMMUNITY

Popular Hobby Sites with Message Boards

WAMP Forums
Reaper Minis Forums
CMON (CoolMiniOrNot)

Websites of Other Artists

Talespinner Minis (Andy Pieper)
Rathcore (Stephan Rath, German)
Destroyer Minis (Marike Reimer)
Paintrix Miniatures (Jen Hailey)
Jeremie Bonamant Teboul
Guild of Harmony (Sebastian Archer, Mark Carlisle, and
                                  Weisern Loh)
Prestige Minis (Aaron Lovejoy) - Flash site
Blackmoor Minis (Angela Imrie)
Emuse Studios (Spanish)
Southern Fried Miniatures (Patrick Mark Hopper)
Minifreak Miniatures (Brant Benoit)
Miniature Painting (Rick Anderson)
Whimsical Minis (Angela Fischer)

  Contents Copyright ©2012 by Joy Schoenberger