First of all, the subtitle of this post should be “My Gateway to Miniature Figure Painting.”
After receiving Star Wars: Imperial Assault last Christmas, which I talk about in a different post here, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing in the game. The mechanics and gameplay of Imperial Assault have been outstanding in my experience, and I cannot get enough of this game. But the miniature figures that came with it are just bland. They are made of a gray, soft, rubbery plastic. And those of us who have seen Star Wars (actually, who hasn’t?) can quickly identify with the iconic white and black Stormtroopers, the Imperial Officers in uniform, the gun-slinging bounty hunters, and the huge brown fuzzy Wookies. So I set out on a quest to make these figures come to life — by painting them.
A quick Google search of miniature painting and some guides will lead to many helpful tutorials and resources. It turns out that there is already a big community of hobbyists who have been doing this for years, and I somewhat knew this already from my high school years when I really wanted to get into the Warhammer 40K war-gaming scene (I was so broke). I won’t pretend that I know much about the history of miniature painting, but I’ll guess it goes back at least to the days when people started playing role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons intertwined with people who built model trains and/or other dioramas. These people are creative, artistic, and passionate. I believe I have the first two, and I am starting to build up my passion for the hobby of board gaming and miniature painting.
One of the most helpful communities I happened to come across was the /r/minipainting sub-Reddit (Shout out to ya’ll!). Finding this community was like taking the plunge into the hobby or being thrown to the wolves, some really nice, patient, and helpful wolves. The side-bar contains links to beginner resources such as guides, tutorials, and terminology to get you up to speed with the vernacular. The posts are a collection of questions, advice, and works-in-progress complete with constructive comments and critiques. After reading many, many posts and being inspired and excited by people’s works and stories, I decided to purchase a kit instead of individual pieces of equipment. I decided on the Reaper Bones Learn to Paint Kit; the Amazon Prime shipping definitely didn’t hold me back.
Prior to purchasing this kit, all I really knew was it was a nice little case that contained an assortment of acrylic paints, two different types of paintbrushes, three unpainted miniature figures, and a short guide to painting the three figures. I purchased a helping hand with a magnifying glass and LED flashlight to help me get started. There was one thing I wanted to be aware of in starting this hobby, and that was spending. Knowing myself, I didn’t want to buy every little paint color, brush, accessory, or figure that I came across. I wanted to be reasonable with my spending.
When the kit arrived, I tore the box open and admired each content one by one. I started reading the guide, which first discussed preparation steps and paintbrush care. After washing the figures with warm soapy water and letting it dry, I was ready. The first lesson was to paint the Skeleton Archer which, like the other two figures, came in a white, soft plastic. Both the paint and the figures were manufactured by Reaper Miniatures. Because of this, the paints were specifically designed to adhere to the surface of the figures without the need for any primer. Most other figures will require a first layer of primer which will allow additional layers of paint to stick to the figure. Since the figures are made of a soft but durable plastic, some parts can come bent but can be easily fixed by dipping it in warm water, holding the desired shape, and then dunking it in cold water to make it hold the new position. I had to do this for the bow of the Skeleton Archer.
Getting started is probably the most difficult part of this process, in more ways than one. First, learning and comparing different products to initially order can be time consuming and confusing. Second, the actual act of starting your first miniature painting can be awkward and almost aimless. What should I use to hold the figure up? How should I hold it? Am I getting adequate light? Which colors and layers should I do first? In fact, miniature figures live up to their name. The first time you hunch over your miniature figure to start painting you’ll realize how small it actually is and you’ll get cross-eyed focusing on something so small and close to you. Nevertheless, these are all part of the learning curve.
The included instructional manual walks you step-by-step through the different techniques, colors necessary, and the rationale for the choices. In short, each figure will require a base layer , a wash, and highlights. The base layer requires at least two coats and is usually a color identifiable with the part or object you are painting. The base color should also be a color that can be darkened and lightened with subsequent layers. This means that you should avoid choosing pure black and pure white as your base layers because you can not go darker than black or lighter than white.
After the base layer comes the wash. As I have learned it, a wash is a darker tone of the base color that has been watered down. For example, where a gray base layer might require a consistency of one drop of paint to one drop of water, a wash will have a ratio of 1 drop of paint to 4-6 drops of water. The wash, as the name suggests, is a murky and watery mixture that should flow easily over the base layer. It shouldn’t paint over the base layer, but instead give it an initial look of being darker and wet. The fluidity of the wash allows it to reach deep cracks and crevices which give detail to the figure. As the water dries, a thin and darker layer of paint will settle over the base layer. This is my most favorite part of the painting process because it really defines the details of each figure, giving each one a unique personality, whether it is softness, grit, or some other texture.It is this process that brings out the links of a chain mail, the fuzziness of a fur coat, the grain of wood, and the silkiness of capes. In the Skeleton Archer, the wash brought out the depth and spaces in the rib cage and fingers and the texture of the wooden bow.
The final step, according to the guide, is to bring back the darkened areas to the base color and to add highlights. The wash process traces out the crevices, but it also darkens the overall figure. A technique called drybrushing is employed. As the name suggests, drybrushing is a way of painting that requires as little amount of wet paint on the tip of the brush as possible. Unlike the previous steps where the paint flows and sticks to the figure, dry brushing limits the amount of paint that goes on the surface of the figure. This process prevents the highlights from seeping back into the details and undoing what the wash produced. Additionally, this step allows you to pick and choose areas of the figure which may be exposed to more light than others. The highlights are applied with a lighter tone of the base layer in certain areas of the figure to suggest a source of light, generally above the figure. For example, the top part of a steel helmet, shoulder pads, or armor might be receiving more light, making them look lighter or brighter.
After finishing the Skeleton Archer, I started to work on the Orc Marauder. This figure will challenge you to be able to differentiate between different textures such as chain mail, fur, and leather. It also introduces a skin on a figure, albeit a green-colored skin. The picture here is an unfinished Orc Marauder. I got as far as doing the base layer and the washes for the whole figure. I did some minor highlights on the skin, specifically the arms and the chest. The rest of the figure will look dark due to the dark wash. I really wanted to paint my Star Wars: Imperial Assault Stormtroopers, and I couldn’t resist it any longer. The Force was too strong. Naturally, this means that the Silver Armor Knight has yet to meet a paintbrush, but it will in due time.
So what can I say about this Learn to Paint Kit? I can say after working on only one and a half figures (not even completing a second one) by just following the rules included in the kit, I felt confident enough to put that project on hold and jump onto the real motivation for this hobby: Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
The components are durable and versatile, and the techniques you’ll learn will be invaluable. Don’t even buy a new set of brushes, because I did, and the new ones bent at the tip. I am back to just using the regular ones that came with the kit, and they have been great and reliable. Just make sure to wash them thoroughly after each and every session.
If you want to get a sneak preview of what miniature figure painting is like, this is a great starter set. If you would like to take your painting to the next level, especially with non-Reaper figures, you might want to invest in some additional equipment. This will include a primer and some kind of varnish. I paint on my desk at home and did not want to airbrush my primer or use primer that came in a spray can. I chose Vallejo’s White Brush-on Primer and it has been terrific for my figures. In addition, I purchased two varnishes, Vallejo’s Matt Varnish and Gloss Varnish. These two varnishes allow me to seal and protect my figures with a matte look or with a glossy look (which seems to be common in the Star Wars Universe). Lastly, I bought The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver to help clean my brushes after each session and conditions the bristles while they are in storage. This is definitely not a necessity, but it is nice to have.
So would I recommend this kit to people interested in painting miniature figures? HECK YEAH I would! So check out Reaper Bones Learn to Paint Kit or share your experiences with it. While you wait for it to arrive at your house, I will be posting progress pictures on my Star Wars: Imperial Assault figures.
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