Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pewter, Plastic & Pigment: Getting Started

Well, it's time to kick off my new ongoing series of articles on all things miniature.  I tried to think of a cool, clever title for the series, but failed.  So I opted for catchy alliteration instead.

I've been nagging one of my best friends for the past thirty years to get off his ass and paint all those miniatures he bought in high school and which have been gracing  his game room, unprimed, ever since.  I was talking to him just last week and was shocked beyond belief to learn that he has finally bought himself some paint and brushes and is working on getting those childhood miniatures painted... a few weeks shy of his fourty-fifth birthday.  But better late than never.

I know he isn't the only one, either.  Despite my chiding I, too, have a substantial collection of unpainted Ral Partha and Grenadier miniatures laying about my basement.  I think that many of us do.  Perhaps it's finally time to see to them.

I was an avid collector of miniatures all through high school, but after I left home they got packed away in boxes not to see the light of day again for twenty years. Life just kept getting in the way.  First were my years in navy, living out of a duffle bag while at sea for three-hundred days a year.  Then came my impoverished student years, followed by my moved-to-a-new-city-and-don't-know-anyone years.  Then, about five years ago, I met a fellow at my local game store who was looking for a new player for his game.  I happily agreed to join the group and bought a new Reaper barbarian miniature to represent my character.  But I couldn't just show up with an unpainted figure.  What kind of first impression would that make?  So I also invested in a small collection of paints and a new brush and took my first stab at painting in two decades.

Garesh Krull - may he rest in peace

It was a crude and amateurish attempt, but I was proud of what was the best work I was capable of at the time.  It also renewed the spark of collecting and painting miniatures, which has become what I like to call my "hobby within the hobby."  It's funny to look back at this miniature, which I was so proud of just five years ago, and find myself embarrassed by it now.  Posting it for the world to see is kind of like dropping my pants in public, but it's a great example of how anyone can improve dramatically with a little practice.

For comparison, here's my most recent character miniature, GW's Prince Althran:

High Elf Prince Althran
My journey back into the painting hobby was slowed somewhat by my ignorance of the sorts of paints and tools that are now available as well as the myriad of painting techniques that I struggled to figure out on my own.  I learned by looking at examples of other people's work and tried to figure out how certain effects could be achieved.  And this is sort of the point of this series; to share my love of the hobby and provide the kind of advice I wish I'd had when I was starting out.  I'm by no means an expert painter - there are many, many people far more talented than I, and I don't presume to show anyone "how it's done," but rather to share what I've learned so far and what I will learn in the future as I continue to grow and improve.

"But I don't have time to paint!"

I hear this a lot.  Let's take a look at how we spend our free time on evenings and weekends.  How many hours do we spend watching T.V.?  How many hours playing computer games?  How much time spent trolling the internet and reading stupid blog posts about painting miniatures?  Most of these passivities (we aren't after all, actively doing anything, are we?) are thieves of time that leave us with nothing to show for it afterwards.  I've made it a habit to devote an hour each day to painting, and the time was pretty easy to find.  As I've become more engaged in my hobbies (working on D&D stuff, painting miniatures, and blogging), I've ended up cutting television and computer games out of my life entirely and don't miss them a bit.  This is not to suggest that everyone should do so, but it's pretty easy to eliminate one mindless sit-com or reality show each evening and spend some time with brush in hand instead.  You'd be amazed at how many miniatures you can paint in a month if you spend even 30 minutes a day working on them.

There's also a practical reason to get some paint on those miniatures.  You're sitting at the game table and it's your turn to act.  You lick the nacho cheese powder off your fingers and move that unpainted Grenadier mini across the table, roll a dice, then eat some more chips.  Repeat all evening.

Painting.  It's fun, it's relaxing, it prevents lead-poisoning.


The Happy Whisk said...

Great post, cool hobby. I love hobbies. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed the part about the cheese powder, too.

Sean Robson said...

Thanks, Whisk! I should have mentioned that once you've spent hours creating your masterpiece, the last thing you want is someone with sticky, cheese-covered fingers handling it. But I guess that's what sealer is for :)

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

Hm. Most of my minis look like your first one - crude and amateurish they may be, but I like them for tabletop. So I think that your first one looks just as good as your latest - just a different style.

I still can't do the eyes - blame my electrician's shake and bad eyesight, but I get the white dot on there. :)

Sean Robson said...

Hi ChicagoWiz: I plan to make a post on how I do my eyes - it's a combination of a sneaky trick I'll share later and a magnifier headset to aid my failing eyesight.

Kiltedyaksman said...

Hey Sean!

Ah the joys of graduate student life, eh?

That was a low time for my tabletop gaming too - it was also a spike in my PC game playing :)

Part of the reason why I started painting was to get away from my laptop. It worked for the most part.

I'm looking forward to your painting posts. I'm self-taught and could use all the help I can get. Do you have any particular techniques for skin?

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Sean - if you have a trick beyond the careful placement of brush tip and mini and the slow meeting of the two, that'd be great.

I set my standards to the 3 layers (base/shade/highlight) and a bit of detailing and Bob's yer Uncle kinda deal. Great for tabletop. I have done lighting effects and basing stuff, but for me, it's a slow process of learning. I'm not discouraged even though my results are closer to your first mini pictured than your second.

Sean Robson said...

@Kiltedyaksman: Indeed I do have techniques for skin and I have an entire post planned explaining just how I do it. Though, from what I've seen of your work, you already do a nice job!

@ChicagoWiz: You're way ahead of where I was when I started. That first miniature was only base-coated - no shading or highlighting. And lighting effects were far beyond my limited capacity. The important things are to enjoy painting, to experiment, and to take pride in your results; it sure sounds like you do and I'm sure you're work looks great.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Chgowiz, mostly. I think the first figure looks passable -- no worse than some of older figures from my days of "block paint & black wash everything." The lighting in your photo makes him look shaded.

The second one is very nice looking -- looks like that newfangled "non metallic metal" effect and a carefully crafted base. Good work.

I just paint bases black now because after flocking a hundred or so figures I realized that most of my adventuring is indoors.

If anything my painting has followed a bit of a bell curve -- terrible at first, very good for while (by the standards of the early 1990s; I think the craft has evolved since then!), and now just good enough for the table.

I wish I could carve out some time to paint every week but it seems to be feast or famine. I've barely picked up a brush since November, alothugh the winter months are normally better for painting.

@Chgowiz -- what I've seen on your blog is not shabby at all!

The Happy Whisk said...

That's true. No sticky cheesy fingers on the paintings. I'm looking at one of those electronic drawing pen things to do some graphics online. Never used them but like you, I like other hobbies, besides TV. That said, I really do fancy a good Lucy Marathon on DVD, from time to time. Wishing you a Happy Wonder Woman Wednesday.