Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Miniature painting: my first attempt

A few weeks ago, in the Hot Deals forum on BGG, there was some discussion about the closing of The Game Castle - a FLGS in Anaheim, California. They were selling almost everything for 75% off. I noticed this announcement pretty early and informed my friend, AC, who you will recognize as one of the players in my roleplaying group. AC is a very serious RPer, but is also into every other kind of game. I told him about the closing sale and he went over multiple times to nab roleplaying books for himself. I asked him to look for some Reaper Dark Heaven Legends miniatures for me, and cited specific examples of the types of figures I like.

Travel back in time with me a few years:

I had recently joined an AD&D 3.5 campaign for which the DM wanted us to use miniatures. I took a trip out to The Game Castle, when the store was still located in Fullerton. I was looking for a miniature for the D&D game. While browsing the minis, I found that I preferred the style of the Reaper Dark Heaven Legends series. I found three minis representing three totally different types of characters so that I would have a selection when it was time to create our characters. These minis included a thief with a grappling hook, a bard, and a wizard.

I ended up using the bard mini for the D&D game. A few months went by and we were moving out of our apartment to a new home. Somewhere in this move, the thief and wizard minis were lost. I had the bard in my dice bag apart from the others. To this day, I have no idea what happened to the other two minis.

Back to the present:

I wanted to acquire a few more minis because they're both:

A. cool to look at
b. useful for fantasy roleplaying

So, Adam came back from a trip to The Game Castle with a load of discounted minis, most of them the exact figures I had used as examples. Talk about an attentive friend. Among these miniatures was a replacement for my lost thief figure. (Off topic: while AC was at The Game Castle, he also nabbed me a handful of Nodwick comic books I was missing. w00t!)

I decided that I wanted to try my hand at miniature painting. I like painting in general, although until now, my experience has mostly been decorating home-made didgeridoos and custom islands for Pirates CSG. I also did some custom tile mods on a few Maelstrom tiles. Now it was time to try miniatures. They look cool as they are - detailed metal figures. But with paint, they can look even cooler and more realistic. Also, if other players have colored minis (AC uses pre-painted D&D minis), the metal looks out of place.

So, I decided to do my first experiment using the thief figure. This figure is called Kurff the Swift and was sculpted by Sandra Garrity, who seems to do most of the best Reaper minis I've seen. I like this figure because he is wearing a cloak and carrying a grappling hook. It looks like he's out in the shadowy streets preparing to scale a castle wall or something.

I took pictures at every step of the painting process to share with you. The first thing I had to do was prime the figure. The only product I could find at the local craft store was a can of gray spray primer. I sprayed all the figures at one time, all in a row. Here's what Kurff looked like after a couple coats of primer:

When I paint, I use relatively inexpensive acrylics. They're easy to mix and dry quickly. Here are the brushes I used for this project:

That one in the middle was the most important one. I picked it up new for this project. It's finer than all my other brushes - a size 10/0. It seemed to do the trick.

Since the most prominent feature of this figure is the cloak, that's where I decided to start. I don't know a lot about miniature painting theory, but this seemed like a reasonable way to begin. I mixed up a dark gray and applied it to the whole cloak. It was tricky to get back into the crevices beneath his arms. I had to use my finest brush. Here he is with his cloak painted:

Next, I gave him a brown shirt with gold trim and pants his pants an even darker brown for some variety.

It was tricky trying to maintain a balance between dark colors (he'd want to avoid attracting attention) and variety of colors to make him interesting to look at. I didn't want to make him wear all gray, so I used browns. When I moved onto his boots, I used yet two more shades of brown. I'm not sure exactly how I blended each brown, but they were each different enough for my taste. I gave him a black belt with a gold buckle, a brown knife sheath, a sandy-colored money pouch, a reddish knife-handle, and a blue sapphire on the end of the knife handle. I would go back do alter some of these colors slightly with shading later. I also added a tiny reflection on the sapphire by creating a very white blue and carefully placing a single miniscule dot. I also colored and shaded the grappling hook at this time.

Now it was time to paint the rope. I mixed some colors together to form a yellowish brown color to give the rope a hempish look. You can see that I also darkened the gold of his belt buckle during this time.

The next phase included a lot of detailed steps. First of all, I used a very dark gray to shade the folds of the cloak, both front and back. It gave the cloak just a bit more character. Then, I used a light sand color mixed with some pink (and maybe something else, I can't remember now) to arrive at a suitable skin tone. I carefully painted his face inside the hood of his cloak, and his tiny fingers. I mixed up a reddish brown which I applied to the bit of hair sticking out the top of his hood, then dabbed his eyes with a super small dot of brown. Then, I created a dark reddish color to thinly line the crease of his mouth, creating the appearance of shadowed lips. Finally, I had to deal with the brooch holding his cloak closed. Here, I decided to spice things up by adding color. In my imagination, I decided that this was one feature he wasn't concerned about, but was pleased to display. The brooch was a golden item of value which he was proud to have possessed by his craft - complete with a sapphire in the center, to match the hilt of his trusty dagger. I dabbed a tiny reflection onto the jewel in the brooch, as I had with the dagger earlier. I may have done some other shading during this phase, but here is how he looked at this point:

All that was left now was to paint the base. I decided it would be cool to have him standing in a bed of gray, pebbly ground outside the castle wall he was preparing to scale. I started with a black or really dark gray. Then, I used lighter and lighter shades, dry brushing over each previous layer with a lighter color, until I was down to a few sparse light gray highlights. So, now he was pretty much done. I verified that I was pleased with all the shading and that there weren't any really obvious splotches or goof-ups.

Now that he was finished, all I needed to do was coat him with a protective layer of sealer. Fortunately, I already had some landscape glue/sealer which is designed for use with miniature terrains and such - I had used it to seal my Pirates islands. So, I took Kurff outside and sprayed him.

After the first coat, I decided he needed more. I couldn't tell if he was completely coated. So, I took him outside a few days later and sprayed him again. After this, I considered giving him another coat, but he looked pretty good, and I didn't want him to look too shiny and thick with sealer, so I chose to leave him with two coats. I can only hope that holds up. The ultimate goal is to keep it from getting the paint scratched off easily. We'll see what happens.

So here is the completed Kurff, finished drying and ready for use:

And for kicks, here's another pic - an outdoor shot of Kurff in action:

All in all, I'd say the final product is a big improvement over the original metal look. I'm pleased with the outcome. Next up, I'm working on a sweet-looking elvish archer.

Thanks for reading!

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