Friday, June 27, 2014

4 great ways to improve your painting skills

Painting is a key part of our hobby, after all, it is the look of the models and armies what got us here in the first place. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or have been here for a while, if you like or despise painting, these simple tips will help you get consistently better results.

Where do these come from? well with work, house moving, a pneumonia and a small kid at home, my gaming time suffered a drastic reduction (read: was terminated) and I was limited to painting and collecting. I found this can also be a social activity, with plenty of forums and groups you can share your progress with, and events that can drive your motivation to learn, like painting courses or competitions. This is the summary of the most important things I've learned in the last 6 months and that I feel have really made me progress:

1-Use a wet palette
If there was a secret tool ever to improve painting, that has to be wet palettes. Essentially it keeps your paint humid and makes blending a lot more easier. You can add some paints and mix them as you want - the more mixes, the smoother transitions will be. Even if you don't want to spend too much time in a given miniature, making a small color graduation is going to make that coat or fatigues look so much better. The improvement will be much more noticeable if you are still painting straight from the paint pot, as the wet palette will naturally water down your paints.

The wet palette is going to make the paint last much longer before drying, and by that I mean you can add some colours there and keep using them for some days. As long as there is water below, the paints won't dry.

The other great thing about wet palettes is how simple and cheap they are - all you need is an adequate surface, like an old dish or box cover, a sponge and baking paper. Check an online tutorial, like this one from Massive Voodoo.

2-Get a high quality brush
As most people out there, I've been using Citadel brushes for years and always been happy with them; they aren't that expensive, can last a while and generally get the work done. Nothing wrong with that eh? Well, I recently attended a painting course with master painter Volomir and if there was one thing he stressed all day long, was that it was imperative to use quality brushes! the best out there are the infamous Winsor and Newton series 7. Granted one of those costs like 3 Citadels but they are well worth the price. These brushes are very good at keeping a sharp edge and are extremely helpful for blending colors. I was hesitant at the beginning but after trying them, I know I'm not using anything else.

3-Study some color theory
Color theory is again something that most of us have a sense for but probably have never gotten too much thought about why some colors look good together (turquoise + orange on the example below ) or why that army is so catchy on the eye. At the end of the day, when we are painting miniatures what we are actually doing is trying to make a small scale look like it was much bigger, and because the light and color properties are much different in a 1/1 or 1/50 scales, we do things like edge highlightning or shadows. And the secret to great looking miniatures is creating contrast. Contrast can simply be shadow vs. light. lack and white, but can also be done in subtler ways like using complementary colors (wonder why Orks have red accents?), warm/cool and more. So my advice is read something on the subject and start playing with color combinations based in the theory: for example, use a complementary color for the shadows instead of a black (or even better, mix black with that complementary and a bit of the base color); choose color accents keeping in mind their relation with other colors (see the army above, the blue accent contrasts with the orange weathering), etc.

4-Attend painting competitions and courses
This mini really caught my eye on the Games Day 2012
Painting competitions can be a double edge sword - comparing your stuff to incredible pieces of art produced by professionals who have invested 150 hours in that piece alone can be hard, but also a great motivation. I think having the chance to see all that inspiration more than compensates the possible deception, and can be a powerful motivator in the future. Sure you don't need to paint all that well, all that you need is catch some ideas or concepts and try to apply them on your own. For example, I was blown away by the 'Eavy metal painted Sanguinor I saw on the Games Day 2012 but that is something I will not even attempt at the moment; instead I realized most faces were painted in a different way than the usual White Dwarf tutorial of base flesh color + brown wash, and have been making progress since in replicating those. Now I'm quite happy with the way I paint faces and while they will not win me a prize, I can look at those in my cabinet with some pride. So be prepared to be blown away and be positive - use it as inspiration not to demotivate you!

I was there... the day after this session
As for the courses, having someone show you how blendings and glazes are done will save you countless hours of trying on your own. My own experience was not so much of being a better painter after the course, but of having the tools now to become one. Sure my first attemps at blending like I was taught weren't great but even the first attemps already were better than anything I'd done before. Now I know it's down to me putting enough hours to get there. And let's not forget on the social side of things, it is a great way to get to know other people with similar interests and have a great time painting together. This can help you find a painting group, who said painting was not a social activity?

Hope this was useful, it really reflects my thoughts after doing those points myself, and I think this is the biggest leap I have ever made in painting. Have you had similar experiences or other tips to share?


  1. I typed up a nice little blurb here, and the internet ate it. Here is a quick summary.

    1) Thanks for this article. Always love some great tips!

    My tips
    1) Stop touching your models (oil from fingers bad).
    2) Don't just get nice brushes, but learn how to take care of them properly (cleaning, storage)
    3) Use sealant to not only protect paintjobs, but enable advanced painting techniques/weathering.

    1. Those are great tips, thanks! on #1, I'm actually collecting cork taps from wine bottles to use them as support for painting.


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