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Frequently Asked Questions

This page is presented to help the inexperienced miniature painter get a grasp of the basics as well as act as a guide to even the most seasoned miniature painter. Most answers given were collected from the experiences and tips of John Stallaert, compiled from hours and hours of experimentation and practice. Many answers are not absolute, painting is an art and in art there are few absolutes.


1. How do I get started painting?

Get some paint, brushes, miniatures, and a space to do your work. There is no `secret formula' involved, and despite all the advice and information you'll get from this FAQ and other sources, the best method of painting is the one that works for you. If you prefer one type of paint to another, that's great. Painting is a hobby, not an exact science. Pick and choose, practice, relax, and enjoy yourself. Take advice only if you feel right about it. Be patient with yourself. Most painters have a box of the stuff they learned on, or have removed old paint and redone several of their miniatures. Good painting's a skill. Remember:

PRACTICE. Try different materials and techniques. Don't take anyone else's word for it unless you're sure - and the practice will do you good.

1.A. Are there books on painting available?

There are several, though probably not all publications will meet all painters' needs. The best descriptions and information available at this time are listed below:

Guide to Miniature Painting by Ken Carpenter, published by Alderac Entertainment Group, 1996. The cover price is $9.95. It's a full colour, soft cover booklet of about 167x260 mm. It has 64 pages (excluding back and cover), of which 8 are full paged advertisements, and handles basic and advanced painting techniques. All is explained quite clearly and demonstrated on miniatures from several brands. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the better books on the subject.

Citadel produces a Painting Guide which is a $1 pamphlet. It was also reprinted in the back of Golden Demon Awards , which covers the finalists and many entries in the 198? Golden Demon Awards , and also in Fantasy Miniatures , which is likely a later printing of Awards.

Citadel currently produces a book for its games called 'Eavy Metal available from this site . The book has a lot of excellent information, if you remember that the only standards you need to adhere to are your own. Some people love the way GW- painted miniatures look, others hate them. It's all a matter of taste.

The first edition of BattleSystem (TSR, trademark, blah-blah) had a nice, though thin, intro to painting with pictures of a work in progress.

The Armory Painting Guide to Military Miniatures. A 24-page pamphlet which costs $3.00 US. They also do a painting guide to horses which costs $2.00 US. Both are aimed at the wargaming audience.

Building and Painting Scale Figures by Sheperd Paine, available from Kalmbach Publishing.

Making Model Soldiers of the World by Jack Cassin-Scott pub: John Bartholomew and son Ltd 1973, 1977 Quite a good little book, covers design, sculpting and casting of figures as well as sections on painting. Due to it's emphasis on 54mm Napoleonic figures it has a very good section on horses.

The Encyclopedia of Military Modelling gen ed Vic Smeed, con ed Alec Gee pub: Octopus Books 1981, Peerage Books 1985 Large coffee table size book: has sections on all the major historical periods, the different types of figures available, equipment, vehicles, dioramas and displays. Sort of a collection of long articles from the Military Modeling magazine crowd.

Buildings for the Military Modeller -Design & Construction by Ian Weekley pub: B.T.Batsford Ltd 1989 Covers Ian Weekleys building techniques, more is spent on describing the subject than the techniques used, unfortunately, but very inspirational.

Brush Strokes Has been advertised in Military History Magazine, had reviews in MWAN and The Courier and had an article published in issue 61 of Courier on painting. Mail orders to World Games Network, P.O. Box 15834, Pittsburgh, PA 15244. Include $12.95 per copy, which includes shipping and handling, in check or money order.

See page 3 of this article for a pocket miniatures painting guide with a shading and highlighting chart for paints.

1.B. What kind of paint should I use?

This question has sparked some vigorous discussion from two major camps: acrylics and enamels. First, a description of what these terms mean:

Oil- or solvent-based. These tend to be a bit thicker than acrylics and require that you have "thinner" on hand for washing, thinning, and brush cleaning. These paints are often referred to as enamels, but some acrylics can be enamels as well, so when in doubt, read the label.

Acrylic paint is water-base and tends to be smoother, though if it gets dry it can become grainy. All you need to thin or clean up with this stuff is tap water. Discussion on the newsgroup rec.games.miniatures has uncovered that more posters prefer the acrylics to oils. (This author uses acrylics.) Again, a matter of taste.

The basic colours from which just about anything can be mixed are white, black, brown (you can mix this yourself, but it's a pain), red, yellow, blue, and gray (same as above). Metallics, various shades and hues, practically anything you can think of is available through one company or another. Start with the basics and expand as you feel you need it. Soon enough you'll have more paint than you ever imagined you'd need, and likely use every one.

Most like-type (acrylic or oil) can be mixed regardless of brand, but be cautious at first as some brands are incompatible.

There are other companies, of course, these are just the ones the author could think of right now. Most paints are available at your local hobby or gaming shop but two of the best, mentioned above, you can find right on this site. Paints may be bought by the individual bottle or in sets. If you buy a set from a shop, be sure that you can see all the paints before purchase. This way, you'll assure that you get what you're looking for and that the consistencies are good. SHAKE all paint before purchase, to make sure they mix up well. We examine our paints before sending them to ensure they are in optimum condition.

1.C. What kind of brushes should I use?

Brushes come in a myriad of sizes and several different materials. Sizes range from 1" to 20/0 or more. The more 0s the smaller the brush, generally, however companies vary in size so the only true scale is to look and compare. Materials are sable, fox, camel hair (which is actually squirrel tail, BTW), ox hair, and nylon. Round and flat are also available. Red sable is the painters' choice, usually. A large brush for priming and large areas, something between a 000 and 5/0 for smaller areas, and anything from a 10/0 to a 20/0 for fine detail. See our excellent top quality ranges from Rennaisance Ink and Citadel.

Drybrushing destroys good brushes so a couple of camel hair ones for drybrushing is a good idea. Again, look at them before you buy. Make sure the tips are smooth and end in a point and the sizes are right. A good brush retails anywhere from $3.00 to $12.95, so it's a purchase to take time over. Brushes of the highest quality are available from this site or at hobby and game shops, and often at crafts stores though the price may be higher.

1.C.a. How should I clean my brushes?

It depends on your paint type, mostly. For acrylics which are water-based, a good careful washing with warm water and dish detergent is fine. Remember to re-form the tips into points before storage. For oil-based paints, your best bet by far is to buy a bottle of thinner made by the same company as your paints.

Not all paint is formulated the same and thinner is often product-specific. Also, Badger brand "Air-Opaque ready-to-use- cleaner" for airbrushes does a wonderful job of getting dried paint off of paintbrush bristles, either acrylic or oil-based. It costs $4 for 16oz. (Thanks to Bill Gilliland for that tip.)

While we're at it, there are three 'nevers' to brush-handling:

  • Never let your brush rest in the water or thinner on its tip. That's the surest way possible to lose a fine point.
  • Never scrub a good brush across either miniature or blotter.
  • Never let paint dry on your brush. This'll fray the bristles into an unusable mass.

    When cleaning a brush while painting, gently rotate it against the side of the solvent/water container until the bristles stop exuding paint. A gentle wipe across the blotter before washing the paint out of the bristles both saves solvent/water from clouding prematurely and helps get rid of traces of paint you can't readily see. A clear solvent/water container is desirable so you can monitor its cloudiness and how clean the brush is becoming.

    1.D. What other equipment do I need?

    Not much. Something to hold your water/solvent (two of them if you're working with metallics, one for the regular paint and one for the metallic - keeps flecks out of the other stuff, and change often to keep from muddying your colours), a palette of some sort (professional, ceramic tile, old plate, even the plastic bubble from a large miniature or two - John Stallaert suggests the plastic lid from a large margarine tub or the like covered with foil. When done, strip the foil off and discard), and GOOD LIGHTING. Against a window is ideal, if not a good overhead light or adjustable lamp is a must. Paper towels or napkins - some for blotting your brushes on and some extras for the inevitable spill or splatter. Time - never enough of that so learn to paint bits at a time (also good so that one layer can dry before you put on another).

    Ventilation; All paints give off noxious fumes, whether you can smell them or not, and unless you like having headaches, you'll want lots of space, open windows, even a fan or two.

    The above are the needed things. Below are optional:

    A magnifying glass - useful for seeing fine detail. "I started using a magnifying visor (jewellers) which gives me 2x and flips up out of the way. Gee what a difference! Now I can easily detail those little things like dart feathers, buttons, and laces. They are a little expensive, but a good quality one can be purchased for under $20.00 and because it's on my head, I don't have to move around to get a good clear view, nor is a magnifying glass in the way of my brushes." (J. Stallaert)

    An X-acto blade can be helpful, tweezers can be invaluable if you'll be gluing, files and emery boards are used to remove sprue, mold lines, and anything else you don't want. Nail scissors get into places larger ones can't. As you get more practiced you'll start finding other things to use in your painting pursuits (such as toothpicks, popscicle sticks, dentist tools, a Dremmel or Foredom grinder and small brushes), so you'll acquire your own personal array in time.