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Painting tutorial part 1: planning and preparation

I’m going to write a few posts describing how I go about a painting project in the hope that it will be useful and as something I can point people at when I get questions. This is just how I go about things. It’s probably not the best way or the most efficient way – of course you should use whatever works for you!

Throughout this I’ll assume that we’re interested in painting at the highest level. If I’m doing a quick piece for tabletop then I don’t go to these lengths.

I’ve recently accepted a commission to paint up a Dark Sword miniature, so I’ll be using that to illustrate each stage.

This post will cover the steps that I take to get to the point where the miniature is ready to paint. I’m sure it will be old hat to most people but I think it’s important to emphasise the importance of getting this stage right.

Planning

Regular readers will know that I sometimes don’t plan projects as thoroughly as I should. But with a commission it’s important to ensure that the finished piece will be in line with the client’s expectations.

For this project there was a fairly clear direction and I was provided with an example colour scheme and theme and asked to make it work with the Dark Sword miniature.

The miniature chosen was “male cleric with 2 handed mace” (DSM7447) from the Visions in Fantasy line, but the mace was to be replaced with the sword from “male knight with weapon assortment” (DSM7202).

I sketched the miniature and tested the colours on paper. This is a very quick way to ensure that the finished piece will work.

darksword_colours
After showing this to the client I submitted it to the Tate Gallery but curiously I haven’t heard anything back yet.

In this case I wasn’t too sure what to do with the integrated base but as this character was to be painted up as a member of House Targaryen from Game of Thrones, the client suggested more of a reddish colour as though he were one of the three guardians from the tower of joy.

Surface preparation

My best results have always come when I’ve really taken the time to ensure that the surface of the miniature is as smooth as possible before starting painting. My approach relies a fair bit on glazing and this doesn’t work all that well when the surface is rough. Happily with the modern plastics from GW the prep is greatly reduced. But even here there can sometimes be small imperfections – very shallow surface cracks for example, or areas where the sprue has attached to the model.

Metal miniatures almost always have a slightly rough surface due to the metal contracting as it cools following casting. For these after cleaning up flash and mould lines I’ll start by sanding with 400 grit paper, being very careful not to damage any of the details. It’s the largest surfaces that are most critical to get smooth. This step will make it obvious where any pits are since they will be dull against the rest of the surface, which will start to be more shiny.

For both metal and plastic I fill in any recesses using either liquid greenstuff (if shallow) or milliput (if not). I try to allow a day for full hardening and work on something else before returning with 800 grit sandpaper. It’s possible that the surface will still not be fully flat, in which case I repeat the filling and sanding process until I’m happy.

darksword_prep
Conversion and preparation complete. I had to re-sculpt some of the armour edges with a green stuff and milliput mix because they are very fine and hadn’t cast properly.

What about resin? My preferred approach with resin is not to buy it in the first place! Maybe I’ve been unfortunate, but pretty much all the resin I’ve seen has suffered to a greater or lesser degree from surface roughness, warping, mould lines through very fine details and air bubbles. If I’m forced to work with it I try to clean it up in a similar way to metal but being even more careful because the stuff is so damn fragile.

Once I’m happy to start painting I always give my miniatures a gentle scrub with a toothbrush in warm soapy water. I’ll generally have been handling them a lot up until this point and I don’t want any oils from my grubby mitts messing with the paint. After they’ve been washed I avoid handling the miniatures as much as possible. Generally I’ll mount them on either an old paint pot or a pin vice and hold that during painting.

Priming

For plastic minis I don’t bother with priming. I’m painting for display and I’ve never had a problem with paint adhering. Adding a priming step is just an opportunity for that carefully honed surface to become rough.

For metal and resin I use Vallejo surface primer, usually grey although I also have black and white. Sometimes I put this through my airbrush, but I find it has a tendency to clog up quite quickly so I often prefer to put it on with a large brush. Just a thin layer is fine – I’m not looking for a uniform coverage at this point.

For this miniature the obvious primer choice was black, so I put down a thin layer with a large brush. At this point I gave the miniature another inspection – some imperfections can become more visible once the shine of the bare metal is removed.

darksword_primed

All looked good for this miniature, so I went ahead and put some basic colours down for the base. I was drybrushing so I wanted this out of the way before I started work on the miniature. You can see that a bit of paint has found it’s way onto his boots. I may well go back and refine the base later, but the potentially messy stuff is out of the way now.

Next time: some actual painting!

Part 2 is here.

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7 thoughts on “Painting tutorial part 1: planning and preparation

    1. I do find paint sometimes doesn’t want to adhere to metal particularly well. I think you probably can get away without priming as long as you’re persistent with your base coat. Not much experience with resin so I haven’t really experimented with it.

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  1. For resin it depends on the quality and the mold release agent. Sometimes scrub as you will you will have to prime because paint won’t adhere. For example I actually sold all my TGG pledge minis that were in resin as they wouldn’t even take super glue to put them together o_O Something about their resin is funky and brittle and won’t degrease no matter what i used!

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