I’m going to tell you how I recently learned to do miniature painting, and what I learned. Strap yourselves in for an informative narrative, sitting down ride!
I’m going to a Warhammer miniature painting workshop being run at the local bookstore one day in the school holidays. I’m pretty sure it’s not aimed at kids? Teens and adults do miniatures, not kids. I mean, my kid is interested in going too, but I’m not going to be the only adult there… I hope.
Thankfully, it turns out we’re all adults here (except for my kid). And even better, I know the guy running the workshop, though I didn’t know he was into miniature gaming; that’s just the luck of being in a rural town where everyone knows each other though. Not every person getting into it will already know someone there, but I recommend it for decreased terror at being laughed at if you stuff up. I have technically done miniature painting before, but it was over a decade ago when, I think a friend who was into it was trying to get a lot of simple ones done at once? I can’t even remember. But I am at least familiar with the basics of what miniatures are about and how they’re done. My kid meanwhile is completely new to this, so I’m really trying not to stuff up while pretending to know what I’m doing to help them out. The other two people at the workshop are an adult couple – someone experienced who gave it up as too expensive as a teen, considering getting back into it and is here as a refresher, and her husband who as far as I know hasn’t done it before. Also the instructor’s adult daughter, working on her own miniatures (since there weren’t so many people that help was needed with the teaching) and cracking jokes, keeping it informal, which was nice.
Learning about tools! I’ve picked a ‘Daemons of Khorne Bloodletter’ to work on (the kid too has chosen a Bloodletter, not this one), the others have space marines of some kind. The instructor is telling us about the most common tools needed to put together your miniature: flat clippers, craft blade, sanding files, to carefully snip out the pieces from the moulded set, and clean off any burrs from where it was snipped. Apparently he got some of his from Europe, but Games Workshop ones are good, and when it comes to sanding files, cheap store nail file boards are fine even though they don’t last as long. At home I have jewellery wire cutters that’ll do the job and a good scrap-booking craft knife – luckily, nothing so far is a particularly specialised tool and even best quality can be ordered online from anywhere these days. There’s infill, for any gaps leftover after gluing the pieces together – apparently white out is cheap and cheeky yet effective here, though obviously professional stuff is available. And there’s the glue. I left this until last because I give glue some glaring side eye here. I am experienced with several types of glue, as well as the ordeal of soaking and gently scrubbing off a layer of skin to get rid of super glue all over your fingers. This stuff is basically super glue from the sounds of it, though there’s an excellent applicator tool with a long very thin metal nozzle for very precise application, which is handy. It also shoots fire when a lighter is used to declog it. Nice. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, standard little plastic bottles of glue with acceptably thin enough (I guess) nozzles are easily available too – some Citadel Essentials packs are being used for the workshop, and they include some clippers and glue. Games Workshop is trying to get people in with easy starter packs, it seems.
Oh man, I’ve accidentally cut out two left legs here. Whooooops. Thankfully it doesn’t take long to snip out and smooth a right leg after paying closer attention to them this time. My kid needs infill around their Bloodletter’s butt where it didn’t get glued together very neatly, but it’s apparently hilarious that the figure now has a big white patch on the butt. Kids, I dunno. Anyway, they’re put together now, though I keep making slight adjustments to the head angle long after I should leave it alone. At least my experience gluing things together has come in handy as I’ve demonstrated being careful where to hold the figure while gluing and holding the surfaces together for a little while before letting it go (kids think glue is magic and works instantly? I don’t know). The instructor has told us how painting two miniatures at once is handy here, as one can sit and set while a second gets put together, then the first painted, then the second painted while first layer on first figure sets, etc. But we’re newbies here, and for sure cannot be trusted with multiple miniatures at once. We were also strictly advised not to jump straight to the cool boss figures but just practice on ‘the rank and file’ first. Good advice. Which also means we’re charging straight on with these miniatures after minimal sitting time, during which we were told about base coat.
You know all about your base coat layers if you do painting, or nail art. It’s an initial, plain, solid, all over layer, often white or black to help the proper colours show properly or be tinted the right shade, and not be tinged grey because that’s the colour plastic your miniature is made of. Spray painting it on is popular, but we’re not getting that fancy for starting out. I did white, though the people doing space marines did black, and now I’m worried I did it wrong. But that’s ok, I just have to experiment and see what works best for what I’m painting. In this case, Bloodletters are red, nice and easy. But what exact shade of red, you ask? I don’t know! Whatever red is in the Essentials packs. The boxes for the miniatures recommend specific shades, but we’re working with what we’ve got here. So my miniature gets a plain layer of red too. The space marines being done by the instructor and others are getting different colours already, and bits of armour painted separately, so I feel kind of like I must of missed a step, but it’s just because Bloodletters are more monochrome so far. I put some black on the horns and sword, and help the kid with patches that don’t have any paint and patches that have way too much. I am lucky at least to have had experience with paintbrushes, so I know that for something like this you hold them like a pen. Brush control, people!
We’re instructed in some painting basics, like using simple cheap plastic palettes to mix the right tone and not letting your paints dry out by leaving the lids off, and making sure you have a clean water jar for dampening the brush and a separate water jar for washing the brush (because it gets murky with different colours quick. You don’t want that near your paints. Dirty, dirty water). We get into some real artsy technical stuff too, like discussion of wet palettes (look it up, I’m not going into it here). Almost feel like I could attack a canvas at this point, but the basics of putting paint on something is similar all round.
Next was something I had heard of vaguely before, but not done – dry brushing. This creates a bit more shaded detail, so I was excited to learn it, for about five minutes. It is frustrating. You get a tiny bit of paint on a dry paintbrush and gently brush it on, but it takes a lot of practice to actually get the effect right. Kid gave up before long, and I don’t blame them, but my perfectionist streak and crafting background had me trying again and again and I did alright. Alrightish. Close enough! I did also get streaks of paint all over my hand where I was getting the consistency of the paint on the brush right, something that can just as easily be done on some scrap fabric or paper (something you should have handy anyway), but I have a habit of doing it on my hand (you should see it after working with puff paints where you have to clear the nozzle regularly). I still couldn’t get the bright yellow bumps (scales? Pustules? I have no idea what they’re supposed to be) the right shade, but it was better than nothing. The next bit is what I was really looking forward to . . .
The wash! If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s not a special soap – it’s pretty much a thick tinted liquid that pools in the crevices and helps bring out shadows and such. You just paint the whole miniature over with it, and it immediately ups the look by a hundred points. Obviously, I used a dark red. You can continue doing dry brushing and washes over a few layers, so I absolutely did that trying to get it right, but eventually decided to call it a day, relying on my mum saying I’m cool rather than being able to prove it with miniature painting right now. Oh man, I’ve put so many layers of wash on. Trying to get the general tone dark enough, and cover up some not very good borders where dry brushing didn’t work properly. It’s still good, it’s still good!
This was a fun day. Even if you’re unsure about getting into tabletop miniature gaming, the assembly and painting of miniatures is fun to do. It’s also damned expensive though, so if you can find someone else into it who’ll sell you some extras cheap or give you a go on some of theirs, that’s great. If not, scour the sites and stores for specials or discounts, or suck it up and be ready to hand over a chunk of cash for your hobby. I bought the rest of the box of Bloodletters we’d used since me and mine were the only ones to use it. There were eight more miniatures in there, and the box had been slated for the workshop anyway thanks to a heavy discount for damaged packaging (the instructor was paying for the workshop materials used) plus as part of the workshop we got a discount off a related purchase. I haven’t bought paints yet, but I will soon. I don’t think I’m going to get into miniature gaming, but my partner used to do it and is already eyeing off getting the kid into it in future years (right up until the running cost forces a reminder of why so many people quit it in the first place, *cough cough*). But I do love assembling and painting them.
It all just takes practice. The ones on the box look so cool, but they’re done by professionals. When you’re still starting out though, there’s the inevitable . . .
Why doesn’t mine look like that?!
Thanks to Harrison’s Book Country Mount Isa for their Warhammer miniatures painting workshop.