Oh boy oh boy oh boy. That big Vampire box of unpainted miniatures has arrived from the Reaper Kickstarter! (1)
Then it sinks in. Painting this huge batch will be a daunting undertaking.
Fear not. There are some ways to approach this project.
1. Stay positive
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of figs you’ve ordered.
The thing to remember is this is a long term investment in your game. There is no deadline here.
If painting figs is new to you, look upon this as a learning experience — a chance to develop a skill with deep roots in the gaming hobby, reaching all the way back to the painting of tin soldiers for wargaming.
Approach this with enthusiasm and you’ll be rewarded with a set of colorful figs that will enhance your gaming experience.
Ask yourself: What’s in the box that really, really drew my interest?
For example: The item that sold me on this Kickstarter was the Clockwork Dragon sculpt. It’s going to be part of a steampunk themed diorama (that will include the Reaper Chronoscope fig my wife, the Motorcycle-Riding Librarian, had me paint in advance). Painting the Clockwork Dragon will be the first fig I tackle.
Likewise, you should pick the one fig that matters most to you.
- Did you see a must-have fig for your player character?
- Do you have a need for a specific monster in your game?
- Did the fire giant catch your eye because it’s just so darn cool?
Whatever the reason, take that fig and set it aside. That’s a special fig. (We’ll get back to it in a minute).
Now go through the box and organize the figs along the lines of your needs as a GM. Do you have a lot of orcs as opponents? Then think about moving them to the front of the line. Is there a rival NPC party that challenges your table’s characters? Select them from the assortment. Are you more likely to encounter vermin and goblins or giants and drow?
This process need not be itemized on a list. But it’s a good idea for you to go through the box and decide upon the figs that will be next on your “to paint” list.
3. Can you paint?
If you can, then grab your special fig and go to town.
If painting is a new experience for you, then go back through the box and find something simple to start on, say some of the small monsters or the townfolk npcs.
You’ve got to learn on something. And while there is value in learning to paint on your special fig, it might be discouraging if it doesn’t turn out as you hope.
4. Assemble a painting kit
Here’s what you ABSOLUTELY need: (2)
Water dish. Between putting paint on the brushes, you need to wash them clean.
Palette. I use a small plastic tray. Discarded plastic coffee container lids are useful. Paper plates work, as do scraps of cardboard. It’s all good.
Hobby knife. Used to remove seams from the molds. (A small file can also be helpful, but careful use of a knife can get you through.)
Brushes. At a minimum, you need a #1 or #0 brush. (If you feel like splurging, get a #10/0 or a #20/0 for really, really fine work.)
I recommend acrylics. They are water based, dry quickly and are forgiving (meaning you can paint over your mistakes). Generally, they come in three categories of quality. Here they are from least to most expensive:
Hobby craft acrylics.
Cost: 50 cents to $1 a bottle
Available: Discount retailers and craft stores.
Qualities: Paint lays on thick and may obscure fine details of the sculpts.
My take: I’ve painted hordes of metal minis using craft acrylics. Sensible choice for a beginner on a budget.
Cost: $15 to $20 for a starter set of about a dozen foil tubes.
Available: Craft and art stores, some discount retailers.
Qualities: These are designed for painting on canvas as an alternative to oils. While not as thick as craft acrylics, art acrylics still have a thicker consistency than is optimal for resin minis.
My take: I love to use these when I have a need for their brilliant colors or I’m in the mood to blend paints for a special color.
Cost: $4 per inch-high bottle.
Available: Game stores and some hobby shops.
Qualities: Applies a very thin coat; Reaper has its own brand.
My take: My preferred choice these days, especially since the local craft stores have started carrying brands of flow acrylics. Works exceptionally well with the resin Bones.
What’s The Fuss?
Why all the fuss about what category of paint to use? It comes down to how you plan to thin your paint. I’ve used flow additive in the past, and that’s a way to go. But fact is, nothing’s quicker or easier to do when painting than adding water to acrylics (even the flow acrylics) to get that thin layer of paint you want. When painting on primed metal, it’s an elegant solution.
There’s just one problem. The Reaper Bones resin is designed to be used without priming — which is a big bonus — but paint that’s thinned too much by water won’t take to the resin figs. It just slides right off.
On the Reaper message boards there is a lot of help for folks looking for advice on how to thin paint so it sticks to unprimed resin figs.
What Colors Do I Need?
Here’s the baker’s dozen of paint colors that has sustained me.
- Dark Brown (for dark skinned flesh and leather)
- Caucasian flesh or peach (for fair skinned flesh)
- Light brown or beige
- Dark gray
- Bronze or silver (metallic of choice) (3)
But to each his own. If you’ve got more monsters in the mix than people, then you can swap in shades of green and brown and go without gold or flesh.
Experiment with mixing paints. White is your friend (and your enemy). The more you play around with mixing colors the more this is true. It’s unlikely you’ll get to the point where you are buying just the three primary colors, but the utility of this skill grows as you become more comfortable with the process.
5. Dive in
An advantage of the Bones resin figs is they do not require primer. Once you’ve got brushes and paints and a water dish, you can basically start painting. The first brush stroke of paint on a fig is the biggest hurdle. Just remember kindergarten, when you learned to color between the lines. Try to do that, and you’ll do fine.
Some things to consider.
a) Going solo. If you’re self-conscious about your early painting attempts, or you prefer the solitude of painting (just as some enjoy the solitude of fishing), you might prefer painting quietly, alone. Some find painting alone, free of distraction, to be a zen experience.
b) Painting party. Then again, if the goal is to get some paint on a lot of your figs for game play, you might enjoy inviting friends over to paint. Make sure you establish ground rules for a group project — such as that these figs are being painted for group use. (There is a tradition of paint and keep – that if you paint a fig – it’s yours to keep, so be clear up front).
c) Start small. I mentioned this before. Paint some easy figs, such as vermin or goblins or simple townsfolk before tackling your first monster or heroic character. Likewise, consider limiting your color selections, say three to five colors. That may speed up the process, challenge your creativity, but also keep each paint job manageable.
d) Technique. There’s plenty of advice on technique all over the internet, including on Reaper’s own website. Avail yourself of what people have to say about their methods. I tend to paint “flesh out,” that is, start with exposed skin and then paint layers of clothing. But you’ll discover your own methods over time. You’ll come across words like washes, lining, dry brushing and dipping. As you grow in confidence, you’ll explore those techniques as you gain confidence. But first, feel free to lay on some thin strokes of paint on a fig and see where that leads.
e) Get inspired. Don’t know what colors to use for a certain fig? Look at photos of completed miniatures for inspiration. Reaper and Cool Mini or Not have online galleries. I was never schooled in color theory, so when I look for complementary color schemes, I go to the JC Penney catalog, see what people are wearing and try to emulate that. I also have a couple of books of fantasy art that I reference from time to time. Of course, many game products are loaded with artwork that can be a reference, too.
6. Your special fig
Remember that fig that sold you on this Kickstarter? (For me it was the clockwork dragon.) Once you’ve got a couple of painted figs under your belt, try your hand at that special one.
Above all, don’t be discouraged. Painting is fun and rewarding. And that Vampire box is filled with a ton of wonderful painting opportunities. What types of paints do you prefer for your miniatures painting? What other techniques would you recommend for the Reaper Bones Minis?
(1) This advice need not be limited to recipients of the Reaper Kickstarter. Any batch of minis from any source will do.
(2) Each painter assembles their painting kit to suit, so different painters will tell you different things about what you’ll require. This is just the basics.
(3) What, no orange? Unless you plan on painting a lot of pumpkins, I’d take a pass on orange for your first paint purchase. Mixing red and yellow works well enough when the need arises, and you’ll get more work out of a light brown, sand or bone-white color.