anybody can paint minis, part one

You too can paint little greedy people.

While playing in the ongoing Red Box campaigns I found that many of our tactical situations utilized miniatures and dice as markers to clarify spatial positioning and marching order and things like that. It was the natural extension of figuring things out for fights and “picturing the scene” while playing at the table. Considering D&D’s storied history, using miniatures seems to have been a staple of the hobby back in the old-school days as much as it is in the current toy-heavy iteration of fourth edition.  We all remember the prophetic cover of the Red Box D&D basic set:

This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player’s imagination…”

But damn it, back in the day, those painted minis in the glass case at the game store looked so cool.

So fast-forward past my subsequent years earning a BFA and an MFA in painting and I am looking around the game table at our regular sessions. With up to ten people playing at a session, I was surprised to find that while many players had either a pre-painted D&D mini or a bare-metal representation of their character, practically no one was exhibiting the secret and profane art of miniature painting.

After bringing in my box of minis I found that there were a number of other players at the table who still thought painted minis where awesome but never had the chance to take a leap into the actual brushwork. I decided to plan for a group painting day where I could share all my hard-won information about painting little tiny people for those without the benefit of the supplies or instruction.

As a result I will be posting some outlines and advice over the coming weeks about how absolutely anybody can get started with painting their classic or new miniatures that they have collected. Hopefully this will allow even the most abominably unskilled artist to slap some colors on their nekkid mini, plop them on the table and be proud. Stay tuned.

13 Responses to “anybody can paint minis, part one”

  1. August 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    That mule in the background? That’s Bill the Mule, who abides.

  2. 2 Samurai
    August 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Is this His first appearance? I’m glad he’s still alive – if miniaturized – after being left with a clan of orcs.

  3. August 19, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    These are vivid, gorgeous pieces.

    Initially, I looked at OD&D as an opportunity to use my many, many miniatures, but the more I run the game the less interest I have in using miniatures with it. But minis have their upside, even in loose old-school play; now that we don’t use minis anymore, my players have a much harder time figuring out where their characters are in relation to one another, to enemies and to the environment. A map and markers of some sort may cut back on imagination in some ways, while in other ways they provide useful support to the imagination.

  4. 4 Samurai
    August 19, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Chris is a great artist.

    The way we use them in Red Box is about perfect, IMO. I don’t care for huge dioramas, beside the expense. Getting them together for marching orders and fights, with makeshift dungeon-morphs beneath them, works well.

  5. 5 Greengoat
    August 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I think one of the big impediments to using a lot of miniatures in our ongoing game is task of hauling them to a playing location instead of keeping them at a house or a basement. I have a small box that fits all the above minis in my sling pack and it can give enough markers for the players at the table. But as soon as you want to bring monsters for encounters to Cafe 28, it starts becoming a pack-mule situation with extra boxes to haul around.

    I recommend starting out with painting your own PCs and then bringing a ziplock back of cheap minis or markers to share as monsters. Keep on gradually adding new minis as the mood suits you.

  6. August 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    I felt like people in SoCal had very nice toys, perhaps because they could drive to the play location! But your box of minis rivals anything I saw there.

    Will your tutorial also cover how to take attractive pictures of your minis? Cause you clearly have that down too.

  7. August 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Man, those are sharp! I could never end up with finished quality even remotely close to that. Now, I just put my wife’s MFA in Painting to work…as long as I don’t mind a pink-robed wizard now & again!

  8. 8 Greengoat
    August 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I will give a couple tips on mini photography towards the end. I was surprised how well my $100 Canon point-and-shoot worked for the job. It has a manual zoom for adjusting the focal length to a couple inches away from the lens. Look for a manual focus setting on yours. The main trick is to use indirect sunlight, no flash, use a piece of paper that rolls up into the background, and take a lot of pictures so you can pick the least blurry.

    I am sure you can paint them as good. Repeat after me: It’s only folk art, I can do this.
    Your wife should be proud of your new-found dedication to visual expression.

  9. 9 Lord Bodacious
    August 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Personally, I also really like the idea of players having their own mini (or minis) to represent their characters, henchmen, and livestock. There is something really fun about everyone at the table pulling out a little box of choice minis to ooh, ah, and share.

    Goat – I’ve actually been meaning to buy one of those little foamy boxes that L’Samurois extols above, who makes that beauty?

    It would be sweet to get something like this to make a bunch of slightly more upscale markers for monsters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sq9r50EYJh0

  10. 10 Naked
    August 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    I want a bunch of nekkid lady miniatures for when I earn my first character-harem.

  11. 11 Greengoat
    August 20, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Lord B-
    Chessex makes the boxes:
    The divider foam is just right for the older 25mm that I have painted but might be a tighter fit for the larger 28-30mm that are mostly sold today.

    For neat & hefty markers you just need a 1″ paper punch and some 1″ steel fender washers to glue together. Use some colored pencils on some thick paper and you can draw your own cheap monster tokens.


  12. 12 Naked
    August 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Paizo.com also has miniature boxes, the small ones (14 figures) at about the same price ($12.95).

    Naked harem girls — (NSFW) http://www.skankgame.com/Painting101.html. Wow, people are really hardcore into this.

  13. 13 Scott LeMien
    August 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    More! I am the worst at painting minis!

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Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2010

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