Since late summer, I have devoted a great deal of craft time to painting miniatures for fantasy roleplaying — getting back one of the hobby’s crafting aspects I so much enjoy.
It’s a subject I’ve touched on before. But with new people entering the hobby all the time, I thought it might be nice to share some info for beginners — whether they are players looking for a fig to represent their character or gamemasters building collections for their own games.
In this installment, we’ll provide some tips on buying and painting that first mini.
In an article coming next month, we’ll consider strategies gamemasters might take in assembling a useful stable of adversaries and monsters.
Buying that first fig
This one is easy: Acquire the fig that most interests you, the one that best represents your player character.
Metal or plastic? Personally, I prefer painting on primed metal over resin. It’s how I got my start, one $4 fig at a time. But the fact is pewter figs today are far more costly than that. The quality of resin figs has blossomed in the last decade. Rather than make a huge investment in metal, I’d say start with resin.
But from whom do you buy? When it comes to affordable resin minis in the fantasy sphere, figs from Reaper and WizKids are market leaders in the United States. Reaper produces several lines of pewter and plastic figs, but I think the resin Bones, Bones Black or Bones USA are great places to start with. WizKids produces excellent unpainted figs for Wizards of the Coast (Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures), Paizo Publishing (Pathfinder Battles Deep Cuts), Critical Role (Wildmount) and its generic in-house line (Deep Cuts).
There are other fine mini makers out there — some with amazing sculpts — so I wouldn’t want to limit anyone’s selection. But I think you’ll find the availability and affordability of Reaper or WizKids good places to start.
First fig? I’d suggest that a novice painter might lean toward simpler sculpts, such as robed figures. (Reaper’s “Anirion the Elf Wizard” is a robed figure that can stand for any gender, race or class and is a great fig to learn painting technique on). Intricate details can be cool, but a simple fig that’s well-painted is nice too.
Assemble a painting kit
For myself, I got started in this hobby by going to the craft store and snagging some crafting paint brushes (sizes 1 and 3/0 are recommended, though I prefer having a 5/0 or 10/0 in the collection, too) and about a dozen acrylic craft paints across the color spectrum. Some big box retailers and general stores also carry craft paint now.
This is the most inexpensive route — just be sure to apply thinner medium or water to craft acrylic craft paints. Craft paints have a thicker consistency than required for 28 mm figs.
A lot of resin miniatures today don’t require priming. But, if you start with pewter miniatures, you will need primer for that initial layer.
I’m a big fan of Reaper’s Learn to Paint kits and its Starter Paint Set. Each usually sells for about $40.
Firstly, they include enough quality “flow” acrylic paints you’ll need to get rolling. Flow acrylics are a finer quality and better suited to miniature application than ordinary crafting paint. The Learn to Paint kits usually include a pair of brushes, a few minis, and “how to paint” instructions. Your local game store can help with ordering those if they don’t have them in stock. For the price of a rpg game book, you can get your feet wet in the hobby.
There are lots of good crafting videos for painters right now. Here are just a few:
I think Lyla Mev – The Mini Witch, is a fun site, and worth checking out. She offers tips across a range of skill levels. https://www.youtube.com/c/LylaMev
Black Craft Magic is mostly devoted to crafting terrain, which is interesting in its own right, but his advice on mini selection and painting is solid. tinyurl.com/y4enu9ap
Reaper, maker of both unpainted minis and a series of paints, has a huge selection of tutorials. https://www.youtube.com/user/ReaperMiniOfficial
I truly believe color selection for painting figs is a personal choice — and there are no “wrong” colors. (Goblins don’t have to be green.) But when painting any given fig, I’d suggest trying a limited palette, of five or fewer colors, to start with.
That said, here are two tips:
- Looking for flesh tones? Match your acrylics to Crayola’s Colors of the World. https://tinyurl.com/2p8ahnvy
- Color-coordinated outfits? I used to rely upon retail fashion catalogs when I needed color guides for painting clothing on figs. Well, print catalogs have gone away, but Elle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan are still around online. Check there for inspiration.
There is a whole glossary of painting terms to go with a variety of techniques: Layering, washes, base coats, glazing, lining, dry brushing, mixing and shadowing. The above online instruction can help in this regard.
The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is to take the leap into painting. Dip that brush in a dab of paint and cover your fig. Skill will come with time and practice.
Right now, just have fun putting some color to your little plastic person.