What to do before even picking up a brush


New Member
May 12, 2009
Hey guys I wrote this for miniwargaming dot com when they were thinking about doing their current web book and had it open to the public. Well of course when you ask fifty people to write a book and dont give them any direction your going to be asking for a train wreck.... and thats what they got a wreck. needless to say they did in in house from that point on but I was left with this and I figure somebody should get some use out of it. If you know someone starting turn them onto this as it may help them.... maybe not who knows but here it is anyway....

What to do before even picking up a brush
Dale Fisher A.K.A. Bootleg Tattoo

So you have decided to try out this hobby of miniature painting and maybe even went out and bought a couple figures. But what should you do next? Rip open those blister packs and start slinging paint all over them? Or maybe you should ask the guys down at the game shop how they do their figures. And if you have friends that are into the hobby, you could talk to them about it. You could just try out some trial and error and hope you don’t waste too much money in the process. There are always books or web site articles on the subject that you could check out first. And there are a few hundred other things that you could do right now, some could be good while others might not be or might not work out so well and ruin your miniature. Then there is also the fact that you could end up wasting allot of time and money doing it this way, although I am usually one to suggest learning by making mistakes this is not one of those times. This is a hobby that is very specialized and jumping in with both feet without some sort of game plan will not give you a very good end result. No this is a hobby that will reward you for taking your time and learning as much as you can ahead of time, a hobby that follows the rule of the more you put into it the more you will get out of it. And you can learn several different tips and techniques on how to do this and I recommend doing just that, but there are several things you should do before ever picking up a paint brush and that is what this article is all about.

So you are asking yourself what should I do before picking up a brush. Well first let’s think about where we are going to be painting, and there are as many places you could do this as there are things to paint. Now if your one of the lucky ones you will have a room or place devoted just to this, although most of us will not fit into this category. Most of us will have to paint in an area that is used for other things most of the time, such as the dinning room table or a bed room or something along those lines. Now while there is nothing wrong with this you should give it some thought as some areas may be better than others. One of the things to consider is comfort, as you are going to be spending allot of time doing this and if you are not comfortable you’re not going to do it for very long. So find a spot where you are going to be comfortable, hopefully a place with not a bunch of distractions happening around you as the more you are able to concentrate the better your painting will turn out.

Now another thing to think about is lighting. Now I am not going to tell you that you need to run out and buy special lighting fixtures and special bulbs for them, although later on in your painting career you may want to do just that. But at first there is no need for that, just find an area where there is plenty of light so you are not straining your eyes to see what you are doing. As most models have a ton of fine detail, so if you’re trying to paint in an area with improper lighting you’re going to find you are straining your eyes and before long you are either going to end up with a headache, a new pair of glasses or a figure that does not look very good at all. Now if the area does not have good lighting bring in a lamp or two to brighten up the area, or move next to a window to provide more light. Now some articles will mention using natural light bulbs that provide light that is closer to sun light and that will make the colors appear more natural. Now these articles are right those kinds of bulbs are great but for someone just starting out into the hobby I would be more concerned with the amount of light over the type of light, which is something you can invest in at some point down the road. But for now let’s just worry about the amount of light over the type of light.

Something that is often overlooked is the height of your painting surface, and this goes back to the comfort subject. If the table you are working off of is too high or too low you’re not going to be very comfortable and you are not going to paint for long periods of time. And if that is the case that army of little men will take forever to get done. And while were here looking at table surfaces why don’t we think about protecting that surface for a minute, because if you spill paint on it your wife/mother will not be very happy with you. And lets face it spilling paint or splashing paint is going to happen at some point so take a few seconds before you start and throw down some news paper or some other kind of protection for your painting surface, you will be happy you did later on.

Another thing to think about is how you are going to be storing your painting station or area. If you do not have a dedicated area to work off of you’re going to have to pick up this stuff and put it away. Now some people have a mobile painting station, and several companies make something like this so you can just pick one thing up and place it on a shelf or under a bed or where ever. But not all of us can afford something like this but do not fret it is not the end of the world if you don’t have something like this, because with a little creative thinking we can overcome this issue. You can get a shoe box to store your equipment in, or maybe go find a Tupperware container that you can place all of your equipment into or something along these lines will work just fine. It does not matter what it is that you store your stuff in, be it a cardboard box you got for free or a tool box made just for this kind of thing, just get something to make pick up and storage allot faster. If you can get started and put away faster that leaves more time for actual painting.

Now at some point you are going to have to go out and get yourself some tools and supplies for this hobby. This part can be real daunting as the list just seems to go on and on and the more you look the more you will find. Now days it seems that every company and their brother makes supplies or tools and equipment not to mention do-dads that will make your life so much easier. Now some may do just that and some may just be neat to own but when it comes down to it at this point all you really need is some paint, something to apply this paint with and something to apply this paint onto, and that is about it. Now don’t get me wrong, all those tools have their purpose and place in our tool box, but when you are starting out not every bell and whistle is needed. Now were going to go threw all these tools and supplies and what they are used for but remember you do not need to rush right out and get all of this at once. (Well, unless you just hit the lottery and in that case call me and we’ll go shopping together) Start out slow and pick up tools as you need them or as you can afford them as there is no need to go bankrupt right off the bat, there will be plenty of time for that later. There is also the school of thought to buy the best tools you can afford, while others say to buy cheaper tools so you can afford more right away. I see merits in both schools of thought and the right answer is up to you, but if you choose wisely you can have a little of both sides and be happy with it at the same time.
Now let us think about what we will need to do so we know what kind of tools to go purchase or gather. Most of our figures or models will either be made of plastic or a white metal, which is a soft metal like lead or tin. And every great once and awhile you will run into ones made of resins or vinyl materials which are a little different and we will cover those in another article. Thankfully most models will be made of plastic or white metal and the tools for working with those are the same. Now most of the companies use a process or using molds made of two pieces, which will produce a fine line along the model where these two molds met together. This line is call a mold line (now you would never of guessed that huh?) and will show up real well if not dealt with. The two sided molds also are known to produce small pieces called flashing, which are either where material has slipped out along the mold lines or in the areas where they filled up the mold. Now these will be dealt with in pretty much the same way as the mold lines. To deal with these two problems most of us either use a hobby knife or razor knife as well as a set of needle files or both depending on the problem at hand. Now in this article I’m not going to go into how to do these as there are other articles in this book that will deal with these in depth all we are looking at is what you should be aware of before you start painting away. These mold lines should be dealt with as there is nothing worse than putting hours of work into a figure and then seeing a mold line sticking out like a sore thumb. Granted if you are not sure if this hobby is for you then by all means skip these tools until you figure out wether you are going to like doing this hobby or not. But once you decide that you have found your new hobby these tools are a must to rid your prized models of their mold lines.
Now we mentioned hobby knifes to get rid of mold lines but they also serve more purposes than just mold lines. One being getting the pieces of your model off the sprue, which is that frame work holding the pieces together in the package. Now sprues are mostly for plastic models but metal ones can have a type of sprue as well, although it is much smaller than plastic ones. This hobby can sometimes call for different types of blades or knifes, and trust there are as many out there as there are uses for them. At first I would not worry about getting every type they make, unless you find a nice box set on sale or you decide to go ahead and take the plunge and get the ones you think you are going to need. But check around before dumping all your money into blades and blade sets, trust me you could easily do it.

Now let us look at one of the most important tools of all that you will need your paint brushes. This is an area of the tool box that you can spend allot of money in, and it wont take long either. Now I am not going to tell you to run right out and buy the most expensive brush you can find, because trust me you can find some pricey ones. But what I will tell you is to buy the best that you can afford, because the better the quality of brush the better the end result will be. Now I’m not going to tell you that if you buy this great brush all your paint jobs will turn out great because that is just not the case. But what I will tell you is that if you practice hard that good brush will make the paint job look that much better. If you talk to twenty people you might get twenty different answers as to what the best brush might be, and part of the reason for that is personal preference. And for that reason you are going to have to try out a few different kinds of brushes to find one that you like the most, and don’t be surprised if you like one type for one job and another for a different one. Myself I use several different types of brushes for different types of jobs, from the cheapest type for things that do not matter as much, to real expensive ones for the ones that matter the most. Such as when I am doing terrain I will use a cheaper brush and paint than if I was working on a figure and this will just take time to learn which is which. So if you find some on sale at a price you just can not walk away from grab them as down the road you may find a use for them. Now if I had to suggest a specific brush for painting to a beginner I would say to look for a red sable brush as I have had good luck with those. But you may find that there is a different type of brush that will work better for you and your style of painting

Another question I get allot is what size brush should I use, and again that depends on the person and the job they are doing. Quite a few people think they will need a brush that has one or two hairs on it because our models are so small, which just is not true. Although I own brushes that are small as all get out as you get better and better you will find you can use bigger brushes that you ever thought possible. I would start out with a few different sizes and see which you like for each type of work you will be doing as the one you use for dry brushing will not be the same as the one you do your fine line work with. Again the more you do this the better of a feel you will develop as to which you should use so start with a few different one until you find one right for you.

The next tool for your arsenal would be the all important needle file set. These are a set of files of different shapes made just for us hobbyist, they are much smaller than normal files and will come in a set that will have many shapes to work with. Some will be round or half round maybe flat and one sided or two sided they even come in square shapes. Needless to say most sets have enough in them to have one for just about any problem area on your model. Remember those mold lines I mentioned? Well not only can you use a hobby knife to get rid of them but you may find these work better or with a little more control than that knife will ever give you. Myself I prefer them to a hobby blade for that job as I can control how much material I am taking off at one time. Again you do not need the most expensive set made but do get one with a good amount of quality behind its price.

Now for a tool may people overlook is a good set of clippers. These look like a pair of pliers for the most part but are made to clip pieces off of the sprue. This is a much safer than either breaking off your pieces by hand or using a razor blade to, and you are less likely to mess a piece up at the same time. Do not get me wrong I have taken pieces off by hand as well as with a hobby knife but using clippers will provide much better results and does not cost very much at all. So at some point look at a pair and work it into your budget.

Now the next one is more of a luxury tool than a necessary tool as you do not need it to do this hobby but it will give you good results and that is a set of sculpting tools. Now there are many sets out there and I have seen people make their own out of house hold objects and that is just fine. Now what they are used for is to either fill gaps or to sculpt or resculpt areas of models to produce more or new detail or equipment. Now like I said you do not need to do this or might not have the ability to and that’s why I called it a luxury. If you do develop the skills needed to do this you will be amazed at the results you will get but do not rush out to buy these as they are not needed right off the bat. Now I would start of filling gaps and work up from there as your skill develops. What I mean by filling gaps is where parts go together there will be a small gap between the two pieces that you can put a material in to get a smooth transition between the two areas. A prime example is arms, allot of arms are not molded to the torsos so when you attach the arms there will be a gap that the shoulder line. Now if you put a filling material in there it will make it look as if it was molded as one piece.

Speaking of filling materials there are quite a few out there and each has pros and cons to them but out of all of them Green Stuff may be the most popular. Green stuff is a two part epoxy one part made of a yellow material and the other a blue material and when mixed together it turns green, hence the term green stuff. This can be shaped, carved, sanded, and other wise shaped into just about anything you could think of. Actually some people use green stuff to sculpt the original model that will eventually be made into the figures that we will later paint, but that is beyond the scope of this article. As far as you should worry about at this time is using it or another material to fill gaps and eventually add details to your models. And as I said there are many different types of epoxy that you could use such as green stuff, brown stuff, gray stuff as well as many, many others.

And let us not forget one of the most important items of all the paint. Now here is where the most opinions will rear their heads as everyone likes this brand over that brand and each thinks theirs are better than yours. Most if not all use an acrylic paint of one brand or another and each has qualities that the others may not. An example is if you go to a craft store or a craft section of some stores you will find very cheap acrylic paint which most of the time will be under a dollar. Now if you look at some of the brands in game stores they are three dollars and up for about one third the amount of paint. I can already hear you say well why would someone pay so much more for so much less and all I can say is quality. Yep that is it quality, and they are worlds apart from each other. Paint is made from a pigment and binders and the difference between paints are in these materials and the qualities of each. You see some companies grind their pigments more than others and that will result in a smoother paint than one that has coarser mixes. Now that cheap paint does have its place in your tool box. I use that cheap paint for terrain projects as I will be using more quantity and do not need it to be as high of quality as what I would use on a model. Now when I am working on a model I would not think of using that cheap paint on it as it would not be as smooth and end up looking much worse than if I used the more expensive stuff. I suggest that you ask around and try out a couple different brands and find one that works well with you and your style of painting. Myself I would look at the games workshop brand for my models and start experimenting from there but that is my opinion. And while were at it there is no need to buy every color right away as you are not sure you are going to stick with this hobby so buy only what colors you need for your current project and build from there. Trust me before long you will have every color under the sun and a few more that you custom blended yourself.

This is not every tool you could buy for this hobby by far but it is enough to get you started on the right track and as time and money allows you can add all of those fancy tools along the way. I only want to show you what you will need to get yourself started there is no need to break the bank right from the beginning. And trust me as you go along you will find many things that will promise to make your life better or easier and some may but I would rather spend my money on more models than more tools but that is just me.

In closing I will give you a couple more gems to take with you. First take your time this is not a race and the more you put in this hobby the more you will get out of it. Second being the longer you are in this hobby the more you will learn, well as long as you keep an open mind. As soon as you close your mind and think you have learned it all then your right you will never learn beyond where you are at that point. Do not be afraid to go back and touch something up. And what I mean by that is if you mess up and bump another area with your brush do not fret because as soon as it dries you can go back and touch that area up and make it look as good if not better than new. And last but not least do not be afraid to learn more. I have done this hobby for over a decade and I still read articles and talk to other painters to see what is new out there or what the next guy tried as I never know who is going to have the next big idea. And the most important thing of all is have fun because if you can’t have fun then what is the sense of doing it.
Ok i know that was a ton to read but hopefully it will help someone out there. if not well....I tried. and before yu can say it Yes I am not an author....I know that was just trying because I was asked to and then told well after all your work is done we decided not to go this way sorry bout your luck..... oh well live and learn.
I think that's great adivce and great food for thought. I like to read these types of things from time to time as it reminds me where i have come from and reminds me of some areas I still have room to grow. Thanks for taking th time to offer info that might help someone have a positive early experience.
Excellent stuff, if i can get my son to sit down for 5 seconds i will get him to read this before i let him loose on his next model. I'll just add "To paint a dinosaur" to the end of the title ;D. I'm always learning new stuff thats one of the great things with this hobby.

glad you guys liked it, i wrote it up for something else and it didnt get used so i figured someone might get some use out of it and sure enough....... thanks guys for the kind words

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