As many of you may know, I have fallen head over heels in love with the art of painting tabletop miniatures, but it wasn't an easy road. It all started about a year ago when some friends and I had started a new game of Pathfinder, which for those of you who don't know is a fantasy RPG that essentially copied the rules of Dungeons and Dragons edition 3.5. Now this is not going to be a post about which of those games I prefer, though that will come in due time. The reason I bring up the game is because at that point in my dungeon-crawling, role-playing career, I was beginning to form my own opinions about how I liked to play and what improvements I would want to make if I ran my own game or if I was to start a new game. I already knew the characters I liked to play (fighters, barbarians and paladins are my jams) and how I liked to interact with the game world, but there was one thing that I just couldn't get over: my boring, generic, unpainted mini. After spending hours thinking of my character's strengths and weaknesses, his fleshed out backstory and the feats that would surely lead him to triumph over evil, looking down at his gray unpainted face was a complete disappointment. That day I decided my next game would have a miniature that was as vibrant and unique as the character he represented.
That game went on for a couple months, but we decided to bring it to a close because Pathfinder 2nd edition was released and we wanted to give it a try so to give our Dungeon Master a chance to study the new material we started a one-shot game of Starfinder (literally Pathfinder but in a sci-fi setting) and I actually DM'd my first game, but in between the hours of prep and play, I still remembered that lame unpainted mini. Flash forward to right before Christmas my gaming group was ready to set out on a new adventure in the world of Pathfinder 2, and I was ready to dip my toes into the world of miniatures.
The character I created was a half-elf barbarian named Tuvok who, unlike his full-blooded cousins, never mastered his emotions, constantly letting his human side burst through in fits of rage. I went to HeroForge.com which is an amazing site that lets you design a completely custom mini using their expansive library of races, features, armor and weaponry to make your own unique adventurer. Then, not knowing what I was looking for, I searched Amazon.com for a started set of paints and brushes. I ended up getting the Army Painter Dungeons and Dragons starter set pictured below along with a pack of various brushes in different sizes that cost around $7 for 20 brushes.
This paint set of 36 different paints was perfect for starting out and I would definitely recommend it for anyone just starting out in the hobby. The one thing I'll say that was kind of lame was that it was missing many of your basic colors like white, black and yellow, but there's a smaller set that is also made by Army Painter that includes those as well as a pretty nice paint brush for starting out as well. Another cool feature of these paint sets is they each come with an exclusive miniature so you can practice on something you might not buy on your own.
After all my purchases were ordered I decided to do some research online on how to actually go about painting my new minis. Youtube is absolutely the best resource for this as there are countless tutorial shows led by some of the best painters in the game. Miniac, Games Workshop and Tabletop Minions are all cool channels showing some great advanced techniques for once you get further into the hobby, but my absolute favorite show was Geek and Sundry's Painter's Guild hosted by Will Friedle from Boy Meets World. There are many reasons to love this show including Will's constant sarcasm and poking fun at the (sometimes socially awkward) experts, but the reason I found the show so valuable is because Will starts as a complete noob, and learns from some of the best artists in the hobby, which makes everything so relatable. He asks all the dumb questions I had in my head while watching and by binging through the episodes I was able to learn along with him. I cannot recommend that show enough.
Once all my supplies and my newly forged miniature arrived, I was excited to start painting. I spray primed my new mini and while it was drying I began to plan out what colors I wanted to use and once the the primer was solid I setup my work station. I don't have a desk in my room and the overhead light isn't ideal for painting, so I opted to paint in my attached bathroom; the light is bright so details are easy to see, there's easy access to water for rinsing brushes and I have a perfect shelf for letting minis dry. I'm not going to lie. My Half-Elf barbarian is painted like a basic bitch. See for yourself-
I used basic colors and slapped on some wash and called it a day. There's no real highlights other than those provided by the wash, his eyes are a mess, and his boots
and pants are basically the same color brown, but he was already way better that the unpainted minis I was used to. I was hooked.
As soon as the paint was dry, I was ready to paint another mini. I wanted to improve upon the techniques I had learned and try out new ones. At our next gaming session I showed Tuvok off to the group and asked my fellow players if I could paint any of their minis for them. Luckily my friend David let my paint his human monk for him and I was able to put together an even better color scheme with finer details as I learned to use the brush and I could see my techniques improving.
Each time I painted a new figure I would try out a new technique I had learned on Youtube. First, it was dry brushing, then it was layering and building up highlights or using complementary colors from the color wheel. I would spend hours looking at different minis at my local game shop trying to decide which would be my next project. I also started trying out new colors and brands of paints. I've used Games Workshops Citadel, Vallejo Model Paint, P3 and a couple others. The one suggestion I have in this regard is just experiment by buying a couple colors from each brand and try them out to see which ones you like. Personally, I love Vallejo paints. They seems to be the best priced, the best pigmentation and the most consistent. Citadel is my choice for washes and technical paints that I use for basing (decorating the bases of the miniatures to make them look like they're part of the world), but I found that their regular paints are usually too expensive (around $7 a color compared to Vallejo's $4), I end up wasting paint because of the design of the paint pots, and they are sometimes dried out from sitting on the shelves too long. In the end it doesn't matter what I think, you just need to try some for yourself.
Now I've been painting minis for around 4-5 months and I'm still constantly learning to improve. I've started using a wet pallet to keep my paints fresh, I got myself a painting handle to hold the mini in a comfortable position while painting and I even got a couple nice brushes (Windsor and Newton Series 7....soooo nice), but the most important thing is that I'm still not satisfied with my skills. I want to get better and better and better.
I know many of you may be afraid to dip your toes into the world of miniature painting because it seems daunting, but I will say that is has changed the way I play and enjoy tabletop RPGs. Now those long waits in between sessions don't seem so long, and the characters I worked so hard to create seem to pop off the table and come alive. I hope this helps convince you to take the plunge and start painting minis, whether its a single Dark Elf Rogue for your current game, a slimy grotesque Beholder for the campaign you're developing as a DM, or a legion of Ultra Marines for your next Warhammer battle. If you need advice on supplies to get or how to do certain techniques, I am more than happy to give my input because I've found that's my favorite part about this new hobby I've involved myself with: the supportive community that is always more than happy to help. So get yourself some paint, a couple of brushes and find yourself some minis, the world needs more heroes, and they're not going to paint themselves!