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Painting Minis - Re-learning the Basics

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31 Jul 2023 15:53 #340115 by Shellhead
I always thought it would be really cool to have artistic ability, but I got a C in art class in grade school, and a D in art class in junior high. I also got in a bit of trouble in kindergarten because the teacher told my parents that I wasn't coloring between the lines. So I realized at an early age that I was never going to be any sort of artist, pro or amateur. Painting miniatures for a board game seemed like something that I would do poorly.

Board games started pushing miniatures in the early 2000s, and then it accelerated when Kickstarter became popular. I pride myself on my ability to figure out the general nature of a board game without having to buy it first, so I steered clear of any game that looked like it was just a shallow excuse to play with some painted minis. But then I started encountering really good board games that happened to include decent miniatures that really deserved to get painted. First I got Fury of Dracula 2nd, and then Space Hulk 3rd. I was fine with playing FoD with five unpainted minis, despite the occasional player confusion, but it seemed like a crime to not paint those fabulously sculpted Space Hulk minis.

As practice for Space Hulk, I painted my five Fury of Dracula figures. I'm not going to post pictures here, but I will describe how they looked when I peeked in that box last night. The colors were fine, and I even dotted each base with little smudges of red, orange, yellow, and brown, to simulate autumn leaves on the ground. But the fine details were not good, the faces looked shadowy and indistinct, and I had no clue how to paint the monocle, so it looks like a huge silver eyepatch. I moved on to the Space Hulk figures. To get warmed up, I painted all the portal bases metallic gray with a black ink wash and some brown splotches of rust. I did a decent job of painting the xenos, but stopped short of doing their claws and teeth. I was more intimidated by the space marines, so I basepainted all of the larger sections of red armor plus the metallic surfaces of some of the weapons. Then life got busy, and I never got back to them.

Then a careless friend snapped the wings off of Sergeant Lorenzo's fabulous helmet. (Said friend has this terrible habit of grabbing minis by the top, pressing down, and levering them before actually moving them, which is how he broke Lorenzo's wings off and also ruined some of his own minis. Sort of like how some chess players handle a piece as they are committing to a move, though chess pieces tend to be very solid.) I know that there is a compound that I could use to soften Lorenzo's helmet and wings, so that I could reattach them, and I could probably practice on some old sprues that I kept, but I have been procrastinating for years.

Now, all these years later, I have recently received an amazing kickstarter game with minis from my ex, and my friends are clamoring to play. It is a very expensive game, so I want to do justice to it by painting at least the 12 player character minis, and maybe the two dozen or so npc minis. I'm never going to be an amazing mini painter, but I hope that I can successfully apply the right basic colors in the right places so that the minis look okay from a few feet away. I have been reading numerous posts at various sites about how to paint minis, and have encountered conflicting opinions about various steps in the process. I am going to post my proposed approach in hopes of getting some feedback here from similar-minded gamers.

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31 Jul 2023 16:09 #340116 by Shellhead
My first group will start playing Vampire: Chapters on Saturday, August 18th. My proposed approach to paint at least the first eight player character minis by then:

1. Get out my old GW paints and see if I can restore them to usable condition with a bit of water.
2. Pick up supplies. Gray spray primer, dullcoat spray, some brushes, maybe some ink wash, and maybe a basic paint set if my old paints won't work.
3. Based on my available paint colors, I will work out a color scheme for each of these first eight minis. Ideally, I want to limit each figure to maybe five colors maximum, including skin color. The game comes with full-color character cards, so I will try to imitate the colors they used.
4. Wash the minis in soap and water, then dry. These minis are hard, gray plastic, so I think washing them may be crucial.
5. Prime the minis with a gray primer.
5. Basecoat the minis. In the past, I just did drybrushing for everything, because I was afraid that damp paint would run and go places where I didn't want it to go. If that is a bad approach, I welcome guidance in this particular area.
6. Apply some sort of ink wash. I am hoping to pick up some of the detail in these figures, but I don't want them to turn too dark or have heavily scarred looking faces. Maybe this step is optional.
7. Go pack with a tiny brush tip and paint in some details.
8. Spray everything with a matte texture sealant.

Feel free to critique everything about this game plan.

For what it's worth, one of the characters is wearing a classic red and black plaid jacket. Is that going to be too far outside my limited capabilities? And at least two of the characters are wearing glasses... any tips for how to do justice to the glass lenses?

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31 Jul 2023 19:01 #340117 by skieblue
As the owner of some dried up old Citadel paints my advice is - don't. They're not watercolours, they can't be reactivated with water (water dissolves the binder and makes the paints separate.) You could try adding lahmium medium or some other acrylic medium, but the effort to save years old paint to get substandard and frustrating is better served by getting some modern paints with much better coverage, pigmentation and consistency.

On that note, there are also dozens (and dozens) of youtube videos on a re-popularised painting style called "Slapchop". Those offer a quick and efficient way of painting with excellent results for minimal time. You will need to buy a set of new Citadel Contrast or Army Painter Speedpaint. The Army Painter ones are cheaper and 95% as good.

Alternatively, getting a set of regular miniature paints would also serve you well; my favourite brands are Vallejo Model Colour and AK interactive gen 3. another suggestion would be to look up the drybrushing technique and drybrushing over your grey primer, to help you do zenithal shading for "Slapchop" or basic painting. Hope it's helpful!
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31 Jul 2023 19:10 #340118 by Robert Facepalmer
I would suggest getting black and white primer to paint them in the Slap Chop style (fka Zenithal, underpainting, whatever it has been called for the last 400 years). Go on YouTube, search for 'slap chop miniatures painting' or whatever and check out a couple videos to get a feel for it, but most of the more board game-centered painters I know paint that way and they all talk about how much faster they can get things done.

Essentially, you prime black, then do a loose white prime coat on top to give everything a rough gradient. Then you selectively paint areas with a thinner paint to tone that gradient whatever color you want. Once a large area like a suit jacket is done, you can go back in and hit details like buttons or a pocket square, but the majority of the area should be mostly done.

For as much time as you save with zenithal painting, then you can 'afford' to do things like plaid patterns. I wouldn't jump in trying to paint it on the mini (Thomas Chartrand?), but after a few test runs on some scrap paper or something, you should have a feel for how to do it. If that is the character art you are trying to emulate, a thinner, more ink-y style would actually make that plaid pretty easy.

If the unboxing video I watched was accurate, the glasses aren't sculpted with lenses. They are just empty frames over the face, so it is 'paint a face' with the extra modifier of the frame. If you wanted to get real fancy, you might be able to flood the lens area with some brush-on gloss varnish to make a clear lens look.
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01 Aug 2023 08:52 #340119 by blatz
Slapchop is very quick and easy and looks pretty great. The best paints to use are either the Citadel Contrast paints or the Army Painter Speedpaints. These are super thinned down and formulated to behave sort of like a glaze and a wash all at the same time.

You could even just prime the model in an off-white like the Citadel Wraithbone spray primer and skip the slap chop process altogether for even faster (and pretty damn good) results.
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01 Aug 2023 10:59 #340120 by Shellhead
I really appreciate the feedback, folks.

Okay skieblue, I will definitely buy a new set of paints. I still think that I should prime with gray or even black, because the subject matter is vampires and other creatures of the night. I like bright colors in general, but it seems like the colors should be darker and somewhat muted for this project.

Somebody at this site raised the topic of contrast paints (for slapchop) years ago, and I looked into it. My one concern is that it seems like it would be difficult to fix mistakes made with slapchop, and I definitely will make some mistakes.

Yes, Robert, Thomas Chartrand is the vampire with the red and black plaid jacket. It just seems so ideal for a French-Canadian Brujah that I want to try to pull it off. Maybe I could use a very small square bit of sponge to dab in alternating squares of black, gray, and red to get that flannel plaid texture and color. You are right about the glasses, they are just frames on these figures, so I won't worry about lens and will just try to pick out the frames with a tiny brush tip, possibly go for a metallic finish like silver or gold.

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01 Aug 2023 12:10 #340122 by Shellhead
Pondering primer color again. If I prime white, I will be able to see the details of the figures more clearly, but my colors get too bright. If I prime black, I may be able to skip using an ink wash, leaving the primer showing where I would otherwise apply dark ink. If I use gray primer, am I getting the advantages of both black and white? Or am I just getting a murky compromise?

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01 Aug 2023 12:59 #340123 by Shellhead
That Zenithal priming does look really nice. Maybe I prime with black and then do the zenithal priming with the Wraithbone color.
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01 Aug 2023 16:08 #340125 by skieblue
Grey is fine for most things - you can still drybrush white over it and get definition between the grey areas and the raised white edges. You could do black primer, but if you intend to use the "Slapchop" style with Contrast Paint or Speedpaint, it will require more rigorous drybrushing. Having done both, I prefer Grey.

If you wish to darken your minis down, you have a lot of choices ranging from Citadel/Army Painter's Washes/Shades to the Quickshade dip. The current darling for a gritty, grimy and dark look is a product from AK Interactive called "Streaking Grime" that requires a bottle of white spirits of the kind you use for oil painting. It's essentially an enamel wash that has a long drying time and can be cleaned off selectively. Whether that level of grittiness matches your vision is another thing.

Have fun!
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01 Aug 2023 18:38 #340128 by Kmann
The dude is kind of like the Bob Ross of mini painting. He shows how to get a mini table ready and then keeps going to show how to take it that bit further. Really great tutorials filled with useful tips and just enjoyable to watch.

The following user(s) said Thank You: Shellhead, Gary Sax, mezike, sornars

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05 Aug 2023 20:57 #340157 by Shellhead
Picked up supplies at the big local game shop. I was wearing my I Would Rather Be At Gen Con t-shirt, which provoked laughter from several female retail workers. It seemed that nearly all of their male counterparts were at Gen Con, or at least not working this shift.

I picked up an Army Painter Speedpaint Starter Kit, Army Painter Primer in Matt Black and Ash Gray. I would have preferred Citadel's Wraithbone for the zennial priming, but it was out of stock. I also picked up some Testor's dull kote, a starter kit of brushes, and one really nice brush. I also picked up some cheap brushes and a wet palette at a craft store.

Priming is a problem at the moment. I wanted to do it right after seeing Oppenheimer, but it's twilight out now so the lighting is wrong. I will set my alarm for 6:00 AM, when there is only a 23% chance of rain, which will rise to 53% by 7:00 AM. I could paint in my garage with the door open, but it's more about the humidity. Rain will continue all day tomorrow.

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06 Aug 2023 10:01 #340160 by Virabhadra
Make sure it isn't too chilly when you prime. Cold air can leave you with the dreaded 'dusty' finish.

I've watched several videos and I'm wondering if the 'zenithal' part isn't done better with an all-over drybrush of the light color rather than spraying it from the top. My experience is that classic zenithal - ahem, en grisaille - still misses a lot of neat details.
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07 Aug 2023 09:21 #340170 by Shellhead
I was supposed to do all of the base coating yesterday, after the primer dried. But instead I went to Barbie in the morning, to avoid a crowd scene. I figured that I could still get the base coating done in the afternoon, but I was strangely exhausted. I spent much of Saturday moving stuff around in my basement and then painting half of my basement floor with epoxy. During a renovation project last spring, I discovered that the second floor of my house was covered in asbestos tiles, so I paid professionals to remove them. Then I noticed that my basement tiles were nearly identical, but decided to seal them in epoxy instead of paying another $4500 for removal. So maybe I was affected by fumes from the asbestos, or more likely just tired from dragging boxes and furniture around.

So I have 12 days left before we start playing Vampire: Chapters, and I still need to base coat, ink wash, dry brush, and seal these minis. It is tempting to wait until next weekend to do the base coating, but maybe I should start work sooner, so I have more drying time after applying each color.
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07 Aug 2023 19:21 #340183 by Robert Facepalmer
How old is that Speedpaint set? The original formulation of those had a reactivation issue that might be problematic. (painting over the top of a Speedpaint layer could re-wet the Speedpaint, causing inadvertent blending)

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07 Aug 2023 23:19 #340185 by Shellhead
This is a Speedpaint 2.0 set, so hopefully an improvement over the original formulation.

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