Monday, October 17, 2011

Improve Your Painting

Ask yourself a question. How much time do you spend painting per week? How much time do you spend gaming? Now compare. If you're like me, you spend many many more hours at the painting table than you do at the gaming table. So this post is going to be like a tactics article but for painting. It's about improving your painting. 

Lately I have been focusing on trying new things and pushing the limits of the quality of my work. I've been trying to get better at OSL, I've been pushing myself to use more cool colors (I usually stick with warm colors, it's my safe zone), etc. Those kinds of things take time to improve and most of all you need good feedback from your fellow painters. Unfortunately I have to do without real good criticism because I just don't have a lot of people around me who give me good pointers and criticism. Wish I did (know any painting groups in the DC area? let me know!)

So in the absence of peer-review, I've found a couple things have really helped me improve my painting. 
The first tip is to paint a wide variety of models. I did Blood Angels for Heroes of Armageddon, I'm working on my own Infinity collection, and I occasionally get a commission I can really go to town on. The variety helps me try new colors and new techniques. It expands my body of work and grows my bag of tricks.

The next thing is using a wet pallet. I started using a wet pallet in May of this year. I had read on Massive Voodoo that I should, so I did. Don't bother purchasing one from Privateer Press, you can make one for like 3 dollars or less. Mine was made from stuff I already owned so I basically spent zero dollars on it. 
It does two things for you. it keeps paint wet so you can close the lid with paint on the pallet and come back hours later and that paint is still wet, waiting to get itself on a miniature. VERY useful if you have a baby and you paint during her naps. The second thing, it waters down the paint for you. A lot of painters don't water down their paints (looking at you, Jawaballs). This is not smart. Painting straight from the pot wastes paint.  Leaving the paint pot cap open while painting dries your paints out. Plus just looks bad on the miniature ad paint straight from the pot is just too sticky to work with. Get yourself a wet pallet. You won't regret it. 

The next thing may seem obvious because it's light. I have two lamps at my painting table. Both with fluorescence bulbs. Before I had one and I was always missing parts of the models, like under the arms, or in a shadow somewhere. This happened because I couldn't see the details well enough, and I couldn't get light in all angles. So I got more light. It helped a lot.

The next thing isn't as obvious to most but it comes down to the basics of painting a miniature - Priming. 
Most people either prime white or prime black. Both have their pluses and minuses. White is great because it helps give you brighter colors but it makes if difficult create shading. Black, on the other hand, provides lots of shading for you but it dulls down the colors and makes painting yellow more time-consuming as you paint on multiple layers of paint.  

So instead I just prime in both black and white to get the best of both options. This is another thing I learned from Massive Voodoo (noticing a pattern?). We first prime the model in black and then we lightly prime it in get the shading you want and vibrancy of color provided by white. You can also see the details of the miniature better too. 

Oh, another thing that is a basic. Holding the miniature during painting. How do you do it? Do you just hold the base? Does that work for you? It doesn't for me. I've now taken to sticking my miniatures on to the tops of medicine containers using stick tack. It gives me a nice big handle for which grip the model as I am painting. There are other ways to attach a model to this kind of grip. Some people use pins, others you magnets...I'm thinking I might try to develop a way with magnets, as sticky tack only works for so long and isn't as strong a bond as I need. 

There are probably loads of other simple things one could do to improve their painting but these have worked for me. However, nothing is a substitute for hearing and heeding criticism. Accept criticism with open arms and really consider what people are telling you. That's the only true way to get to the next level. The same could be said for gaming tactics. 

Happy hunting, Shas'la, and happy painting. 


Simon said...

How do you attach the models to the bottles? I've tried this before but I always get glue on the base that looks bad or stops the model from sitting flat.

Lo-Pan said...

Great post, especially the reference photos! Massive Voodoo is a great site- I've picked up a few hints from there as well. My DKoK uses the two-tone priming approach, though I used grey and white, with the white coming from above. Word of warning- don't leave your wet palatte too long or it might start to get a bit stanky!

Now go finish your Siu Jian!

Old Shatter Hands said...


I should have described how I do that. There are a number of ways and I don't think glue is the best way, as you can damage the model in trying to remove it. I use sticky-tack and although it is an imperfect way to do it, as it can become detached easily.

Some people glue a magnet to the base of their minis (because they'll magnetize their models to a metal tray for carrying, etc) and stick metal washers to the bottlecap. Then the models just magnetize to the cap.

Other people actually pin a model to a piece of cork. There are many ways and you'll have to see what works best for you.

Big Bad Garou said...

You can always head out to Huzzah Hobbies or give us a yell when you want feedback. Been trying to up my painting skills also and would love feedback.

Vegel said...

good post, I had a similar journey, first it was thin paint, then wet platte, two lights, but on the prime bit I learned/found to use grey with black wash and dry brush white to get a black and white image of the mini.

Vegel said...

good post, I had a similar journey, first it was thin paint, then wet platte, two lights, but on the prime bit I learned/found to use grey with black wash and dry brush white to get a black and white image of the mini.

Old Shatter Hands said...

Vegel, that certainly accomplishes the same thing, but it sounds like it takes a lot more time...anyway, looked at your blog. great stuff, great painting. You certainly know what you are doing.

Big Bad Garou, do you guys ever arrange painting days? I would love to come and paint if there is a gorup that gets together. Its a long drive however so just wanna make sure there is a regular group I could hang out with and paint.

Big Bad Garou said...

We can. Mostly what a couple of us do is challenge each other with a task and in a couple of weeks come in the models and give suggestions. If you start something up there I might be able to bring a few people.

Remote Presence said...

BBG, cool. Let me know when the next challenge is and I will come out wiht the finished product. timandlucka at gmailicus dot comicus.

Widthofacircle said...

No matter how many of these articles I read, I know that I'll go strip my farseer and repaint in an even worse fashion than it was before.

Thin my paints....? I do it.
Wet palette....? I tried it, couldn't get on with it - that and the fact the cat kept drinking the water
Hold the model up high....? I do it.

Despite all of this, I just suck at painting.

I revel in my inadequacy though, it means I get to keep reading good articles about improving painting skills.

G Red said...

Hello OSH, we met briefly at the NOVA 2010. Here are a few comments for you :) Of course you may already know all of this.

Ditch the newpapers. The ink rubs off onto everything. Get a white washable surface of some sort. Or make one from hardboard and enamel paint.

Add a tablespoon of 70% isopropyl alcohol to inhibit microbial growth in your wet palette. This solves, or at least significantly delays, the 'stink'. The whole point of a wet palette is to keep the paint from drying out, not to thin the paint for painting. Use matte medium, or color float or any number of products, to thin your paints. I find water with a little Murphy's oil soap works nicely.

Black primer is generally a bad idea. Black paint is the most abused pigment out there. People use black when they should use something else. (How do you shade black? There is no darker-than-black paint.) Use a gray or white primer (mix your own shades with Gesso. Forget about the spray stuff except for bulk priming.) Then a thin wash of a dark brown (burnt umber) or other color to show the details better.

I've recently discovered the Ott-lite task lamp. Very nice for painting. A good 6500K color temp light works too. Two lamps are a good idea, especially if you want to do decent zenithal highlighting. I am always appalled at how little value people place on good lighting. And appalled at the subsequent quality of their painting. Consider having your painting area simulate a light-box like that which photographers use.

For holding the miniature, the blue tac is good. Also, get some alligator clips (local DIY store, electronics/electrical department) and mini jumper cable clips. These make excellent holders for minis, and bits. You can fit handles to the alligator clips. (old paint brush handles work.) and a piece of electical tape over each 'jaw' to keep them from damaging painted surfaces. Never underestimate the value of a variety of tweezers either, especially the reverse action kind. And some sort of dense foam (not the stuff From GW blisters) for when you need to lay the miniature down flat for really fine detail work.

Reading glasses are nothing more than magnifiers. A pair, say at 2.0x or 2.5x, can really help with detail painting.

Finally, learn color theory if you don't already know it. (Had it pounded into my head from a variety of sources --Aunt who was art teacher, jr. high school art teachers, high school art teachers et al.) Believe it or not, but many of the techniques used in 2d painting (on canvas or what have you) work in 3d painting too. So any sort of 'how to paint' guides are useful. Never hurts to review the basics.

Marshal Wilhelm said...

This has become par for course with me.
Water paints.
Wet palette.
Twin lighting.
Magnifying glass x3

I have been trying P3, as I get 50% more paint, for the same price as GW paint.

I have also bought an airbrush, to use with my brother's compressor, and this is what I intend to paint my Retribution (because they will be that troublesome white we all fear) and Tau with it. Also it should be nice for my Templar vehicles.

This is a good post :)

I am surprised that someone of Jawa's fame, and ability, paints from the pot. I'd have said "he never would" :P

I am also taking to sticking a bit of metal from the sprues into the paint pots, to act as an agitator.

Old Shatter Hands said...

Marshal, I am considering buying an airbrush as well. I hope it works out for you. P3 is good paints, you might be able to see some of them in my pics. GW's paints are fine for my purposes as well. I have some favorites that I keep coming back to, and I like how GW paints keep their pigments when watered down, making good glazes.

G Red, We met? Wow, which one were you? Great tips! I really like the tip about reading glasses, I will do that!

On the priming, to each his own. I am really liking this method of the double spray white/grey.

Thanks for the detailed comment.

G Red said...

I was the guy who told you that your army, single miniature and, IIRC, your conversion were finalists for our appearance awards :)

We missed you this year though. No local painters were finalists for 40k appearance awards.

@ Marshall Wilhelm: I find that a couple of BBs dropped into the paint pot do an excellent job as agitators.