Ok, so you’ve started on the glorious path of the miniature painter, you have the taste for it and now you want more! You want to be better, faster, stronger. Well, maybe not the last two but certainly better.
After painting for more years than I care to count I’ve learned a few choice tips for improving your painting, but not all of them are from me, occasionally some incredible pieces of advice show up online from some world class painters. And no, I don’t always follow my own advice, but I try, believe me I try. So without further preamble here’s How to be a better Miniature Painter!
1: Stop watching WarhammerTV
Don’t get me wrong, WHTV is great, there’s lots of cool and amusing content there, but specifically, I’m on about the painting tutorials. If you’re a wargamer and you want a nice looking army in a short amount of time this is by far the best way to go about it, However, if you want to take your painting to the next level then I would avoid tutorials that use the ‘recipe’ route. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it means that there is a certain order of paints from a certain manufacturer used to achieve the desired effect (at its core, basecoat, wash, highlight). I know, when you’ve spent years painting that way, it can be really tough to break the cycle and I’ll occasionally reach for the Zandri dust/seraphim sepia/ushabti bone trinity to do skulls for tabletop stuff, but once you decide to push your painting to never before seen heights, then using a recipe will hinder your understanding of colour and therefore your progression.
2: Read This
Roman Lappat is a font of considerable wisdom, and his post from Massive Voodoo covers a multitude of subjects, including analysing your painting motivation and what keeps you from what Roman describes as ‘Happy Painting’ (at the end of the day, happy painting is what its all about, I have my ups and downs but I love what I do.)
3: Learn how to mix colours
This sort of ties in with the idea that paint recipes hinder your progress, because there is a tendency to rely on them after a while. The old saying “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” (possibly attributed to Pablo Picasso, but would he have said ‘pro’? not sure on that one) is brilliant, and to apply it to miniature painting (and specifically colour) If you get a good handle on how to mix any colour you want using primaries, secondaries, tertiaries etc, you can then start to use your premixed paint because you’ll have a better idea of how it was mixed and how to alter it.
But me just saying “this is what you should do” doesn’t really give you any ideas on how to go further does it really? No, thought not. One book I love to read is Dan Gurneys book Colour and Light, really it’s highly recommended, Also the Colour Mixing Bible is well worth a look.
4: Study the Masters
Fairly self explanatory this one, go to galleries and museums and just absorb as much as you can from the painting’s there, pick out little bits (My lawyer says I have to explain that I don’t mean literally pick bits off of priceless works of art) that you like the look of and try to incorporate the effect, colour or composition etc into your own work.
I’m not just talking about the likes of Caravaggio (A personal favourite of mine) or Davinci either. Study works from the masters of the miniature art too, People like Roman Lappat, Alfonso Giraldes (Banshee), Sergio Calvo Rubio and Kirill Kanaev are well worth studying. (This can also be a reminder to study absolutely everything else too, after all, the greatest master of light and colour is nature itself!) The only trap to beware of is comparing your own work to theirs and then sobbing into a cuppa for the rest of the evening. That’s a feat in of itself, but then you start to realise that these guys have been doing this for a loooong time, and to compare your work to theirs is pure folly. The guys over at Figurementors are fond of saying that “everyone is on the same path, it’s just that some of us are at a different point on the journey”, for myself that’s taken a while to sink in, but I’m getting there.
5: Practice Practice Practice
The importance of practice absolutely cannot be understated, just trying something once and giving up because its too hard or you’re not happy with the result won’t progress you as a painter, you’ve made the choice to take this as far as it will go, so now you need to put the effort in.
It’s worth noting that just mindlessly repeating the same thing over and over again won’t get you there, this isn’t as much of a problem with miniature painting, it’s not like piano playing where you can just repeat the same scale over and over, but still, be aware of how you’re practicing, break down what you’re doing and see how to improve each section, and try to get regular feedback from professionals you admire.
Patreon pages are good for this, although getting a tier with feedback sometimes doesn’t come cheap. Posting on Facebook groups can work, but a lot of them are aimed at army painters, and even with the ones that aren’t, you can’t be sure of the quality of advice you’re getting (some people on Facebook have really odd ideas about painting). In my experience sometimes its just worth asking a painter how they did something or if they would mind giving a quick critique of your work, some will say yes and some will say no.
Spray Primer: DON’T spray in short bursts. I saw on a discussion a few days ago that someone was suggesting short bursts from a spray can was the way to do it. I wanted to slap the commenter very hard because this assuredly is NOT the way to do it. You want to start spraying away from the model and do a long stroke across, only letting off the spray when you’ve gone past the model, this stops any crud, unmixed paint and dust firing onto the model and causing lumps and to stop paint running.
How fast you move across comes with practice, too slow and you’ll flood the model with paint, so it’s best to go fairly quickly to begin with and slow down as you get a feel for how the paints go on. And because this is the internet and someone is bound to question how I know this, I’ve spent some time spraying real cars, and the principles are the same despite vastly different paints and levels of detail.