This is a post that’s been percolating around in my head for a long time. I’m not a particularly skilled painter, but I like to think that what I lack in technique, I make up for in volume. Over the last 10 years I’ve painted many hundreds of miniatures, constructed tables full of scratchbuilt terrain, hosted dozens of games and generally done my best to create a fantastic and immersive tabletop experience for myself and the players I’ve interacted with.
That might sound like a humblebrag, but it’s really intended to show that you, too, can achieve all of those things. I’m here to tell you how.
Let’s start with painting. I am, as the title denotes, an impatient painter. I rarely paint large-scale models or centerpiece figures. I speed through almost everything, because I’m always in search of that perfect, fleeting moment, when I put down my paint brush and declare that a figure is *done*. Not perfect, just done. Here are a few tips that have helped me reach this goal, more often than not, over the years.
1. Prime in black
I prime virtually everything, from figures to vehicles to terrain, in black. Now, that certainly has an impact on my painting — certain paints require a little more attention to cover properly over black, and my brightest colors aren’t quite as bright — but it’s also allowed me to develop an incredibly reliable set of techniques.
In particular, I prime most of my figures these days using black gesso, applied with an old craft paintbrush. Using brush-on gesso, I find that I have a lot more control over the priming. It doesn’t take a whole lot of additional time, and I manage to avoid the fumes associated with spray paint (although I do still use spray paints for certain projects). And trust me: gesso creates a truly wonderful surface upon which to paint.
2. Use a limited palette
I know plenty of players who own hundreds of paints from a variety of hobby companies, and who agonize over the correct techniques for blending, shading, washing and drybrushing. I am not one of those people. I’ve been known to paint entire armies and warbands using just four or five colors — intentionally limiting my palette in favor of speed and uniformity. Again, the goal here is volume. Your fantastic paint scheme means nothing if all you’ve got to show for it is a really nice test model.
These Warhammer Skaven dudes, for example, were painted with just a few colors — gray/white for the fur, red for the cloak (plus a dark wash), plus a few highlights. They won’t win any awards, but they are perfectly serviceable on the battlefield. And I’ve got a dozen more just like them, ready for action at a moment’s notice for D&D, Song of Blades & Heroes, Frostgrave, or whatever.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t like effective paint schemes. To the contrary — I love a paint job that pops! But I’ve found that you can achieve that with a limited palette in most cases. And it allows you to explore a more complex palette of colors for appropriately awesome, large-scale miniatures or vehicles.
3. Use the dip
This will be heresy to some. But my painting output shot through the roof when I discovered the “magic dip.” Some people shell out $35 for ArmyPainter Quickshades, but I’ve gotten comparable results at one-third of the price using Minwax Polyshades polyurethane stain. In essence, the dip combines a dark pigment wash along with a tough, protective outer layer that gives instant results to even the most basic paint jobs. It’s most effective with earth tones — browns, tans, ochres, brick reds, etc. Here’s a Reaper guy I painted up and finished off with Minwax Polyshades Tudor Satin.
There’s definitely a learning curve to using the dip, so rather than trying to explain it myself, I’ll just link you to a fantastic tutorial that my friend Karl put together. Read it and be enlightened.
I can’t overstate the impact that the dip has had on my painting. Simply put, using the dip is like using an airbrush — it so thoroughly changes your painting method that it’s hard to imagine a time before you used it.
4. Don’t get bored painting armies
One of the Facebook groups I’m a member of is One Hour A Night, which is dedicated to motivating people to finish their voluminous hobby backlogs. It’s a great group, very focused on positivity. As you can imagine, a lot of the members are trying to paint large armies for games like Warhammer 40,000. Many of them have deadlines looming (“Gotta get three colors on these Tau by Friday for a big tournament!” is a common refrain). Over the years, I’ve neatly sidestepped this issue by avoiding army-sized games (defined here as any game requiring 60+ figures per side) in favor of smaller warband-sized games (a few dozen figures per side, plus a vehicle or two). (Sidenote: Remember when 40k was essentially a skirmish-sized game? Me too, haha.)
Even this past summer, when I was painting up my Night Lords army, I made sure to tackle it in bits and pieces, with breaks in between to build terrain or paint up weird, oddball figures. Like this creepy guy, which I’ve nicknamed The Flesh Engine.
What purpose does he serve? He’s not a unit, per se, in the 40k rules, so why did I waste time and energy on painting him? The answer, of course, is because it pleased me to do so. Not everything has to be about producing for your chosen army.
I’ve also set a personal goal of always having at least one new model to unveil at each game event I’m attending. So even if I’m hosting another game of One Page 40k featuring my heavy infantry army (which I’ve owned and enjoyed since at least 2010), I’ll try to paint up a new squad leader or a medic or a heavy weapon trooper just so I’ve got something new to show off. Small deadlines with discrete, measurable goals that you can be proud of are very important.
5. Start a miniatures blog
The blogosphere is calling … will you answer? Seriously, I derive tons of enjoyment and engagement from posting random words and photos here. I’m under no delusions about my meager readership — and I worked in digital publishing for a time, so I know just how much content it takes to build a reliable audience. I doff my cap to folks who have thriving audiences but I don’t think I’ll ever be prolific enough to join their rarified ranks.
Having a blog, though, is something of a digital business card that I can produce whenever I bump into like-minded folks on Facebook or web forums. It certainly helped build the membership of my previous game club, Chicago Skirmish Wargames.
But mostly I do my blog stuff for me, because I enjoy cultivating this little piece of the web. It gives me one more thing to get excited about when I settle in to spend my hour each night on hobby related stuff.
What’s your favorite shortcut or time saver? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks for reading!
I think the painting is great mate. Love the terrain too. I really enjoy painting but never used to. I’ve learnt to be patient. Not an easy lesson.
Great advice and thanks for the shout-out to my dipping tutorial! I do roughly the same thing, but I’ve unfortunatey often lost momentum getting bogged down in an army or a particularly large unit when I should have broken my painting schedule up with other projects. This is a great reminder to mix it up a bit.
Two more short-cut tips.
1) If you want to paint something that has to be bit brighter, white or light grey base coat works well. It can allow you to use washes or wattery paint for a quick false-highlight effect. For solid colors you may have to cover a bit more thorughly than with a black undercoat, but usually the dip will hide any missed crevases.
2) Colored spray paints. I haven’t used many of the mini-specific brands of spray, but there’s a wide range of camo colored spray paints and grey and red primers at the hardware store that can give you a prime and base coat in one step if green, tan, greys, browns or rust red are an option for your model.