Logically, after covering the basics of getting paint onto your miniature, we can go on to topics and techniques such as washes, dry-brushing, and black-lining for improving the look of our miniatures. However I just wanted to take the time to talk about the really basic idea of using your brush right. On all these we will be of course discussing the typical 0 size synthetic brush that I recommended last week.
I teach art & design to kids in programs and to adults at a universities and the first common mistake that I see new painters do is that they just don’t know how to apply the paint to whatever surface they are working with. People have a built up experience of brushing their teeth, mopping floors, and painting their houses, so it is only natural for most of these new artists to shove their paint around and brush it about as if it was spackle that needed herding. They think of the paint as a substance that needs shoving around and wiping off, and this is true for new painters of canvases and for new painters of miniatures.
Painting for control and precision is a different experience. The goal is not to shove the paint where you want it to go, but to touch your brush to the surface and have your paint flow off the tip exactly where you want it. All the contact between the miniature and the brush should happen at the very tip of the pointed brush, so you can control where you put the pigment. If the bristles of the brush splay out , the paint mark becomes much more random and it’s almost impossible to retain control.
So what is required to keep your paint flowing off of the tip of your finely pointed brush?
- You need to make sure that the paint is the right consistency. When you put your drops of paint color on your palette you have to mix in water to make the paint able to flow from the bristles of the brush. Mini-paint that comes in droppers is thin enough to only need a bit of water to thin it down. The paint that comes in pots usually needs a little more thinning down. On average, you want to have the paint be the consistency of heavy milk. Paint that is too thick will form a blob on your brush and conceal your tip, it will be hard to control. Paint that is too thin will take many layers to eventually cover the miniature and the coat of paint is easy to rub off because the acrylic binder is too weak to keep the paint film. Some pigments are just more transparent than others. Resist the urge to slop a heavy coat of paint on when you are trying to get a red, orange, or yellow part of your mini opaque. Several thin layers are much easier to control and cover the miniature much more evenly. You can even put additives in the water to have the paint dry slower on your palette or flow more easily in the recesses. I have several different droppers of water with different drying times and surface tensions that I add to the paint, advanced fiddling but very useful.
- You need the proper light to see by and a comfortable position for your hands. Miniatures are small things you know and it’s hard to paint them, as it is, in broad daylight, so do yourself a favor and use a lamp. Painting under indirect daylight is the best, but any normal incandescent lamp can help you see better, especially in the evenings. Also find a comfortable position for your hands. For dine details like eyes, I find myself resting my wrists on the table edge to keep them steady but sitting up in a good work-chair should be enough for most of your process.
- Your brush needs to come to a point as you paint. Once you see the tip of your brush running out of paint, dip onto the palette again and make sure it comes to a point by either rolling the brush over on a palette by twisting your fingers or wiping that little bit of excess paint off with a paper towel. I always have a paper towel underneath my tub of rinsing water and every time I dip my brush on the palette for more paint, I gently wipe the excess off with a streak across the towel. You can tell by looking at the tip and seeing if too much paint is held by the bristles. This will keep a consistent paint load on your brush that you can get used to.
- Your brush needs to come to a point as it dries. You should rinse your brush out every once in a while to make sure none of the paint dries in the deeper bristles. You should never rest the brush in the water with pressure on the bristles because they will bend. And you should soap and rinse your brush before you put them away. Brushes become ruined (pointless) when paint dries in the bristles and splays them apart, so you have to use some hand-soap to rinse them clean at the end of the session. Warm water, and lather them up against your palm until no more color comes out. After they are clean, take a little bit of hand-soap and form a point on the brush with your fingers. This will help the brush to dry pointed when you lay it flat.
So that is how you keep a point going on your brush. And, in case you want to know, everyone has jittery hands to some degree. A little bit of practice just compensates for our own jitteriness when we are painting. So just ignore that excuse.
Next post we will get into some basic technique to make our lives easier.