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"Best way to improve painting skills..." Topic

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09 Jul 2018 5:49 p.m. PST
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Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 12:12 p.m. PST

I have been painting minis off and on for roughly 25 years and my skills have barely improved. In fact I decidely consider myself a "wargamer" and NOT a mini painter. It is a necessary evil I must endure in order to play games.

In fact, I detest painting so much that in the mid-late 90's when my overtime at work was plentiful I would pay for all of my minis to come painted! (Ah the good old days!).

Ive not given up on learning to be a "painter" though and am still trying to improvemy techniques. Im just venturing into washes and shading (yes, after 20+ years).

My question is, whats the best way for new (or old) painters to quickly improve their techniques? I know i will never be a "painter" who shows off my minis at TMP, but I would at least like to get them to a standard where I'm not embarrased to show them here. So, what say you?

1) Try, try and try (just keep on painting minis and your technique will improve over time),
2) Visist a game shop and ask for help or watch in house painters at work.
3) Watch online (Youtube, etc…) video tutorials,
4) Read online written tutorials (Dakka, Bols, Forge World, etc…),
5) Dont woryy about it. Slap on the paint and get palying!
6) Buy a book on painting minis.
7) Other.

Beowulf Supporting Member of TMP Fezian08 Jan 2013 12:14 p.m. PST


Chef Lackey Rich Fezian08 Jan 2013 12:17 p.m. PST

#1 you learn by doing. Having other tell/show you about their techniques is helpful, but it's no substitute for actually getting a brush and going to work. Amongst other things, it builds the confidence in your work you need to develop your own style.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with #5 if you're more interested in the game than the painting. That's a perfectly legit way to approach the hobby too – and you probably wind up a much better gamer than your average Golden Demon winner is. All about doing what you want – this is a hobby, after all, at least for most people. :)

richarDISNEY08 Jan 2013 12:17 p.m. PST

In my order,
5 then 1 then 2 then 3.
There is a few good DVDs on beginner painting, Hot Lead and The Wizard's Workshop are great tutorial vids.

Dynaman878908 Jan 2013 12:20 p.m. PST

All but the don't worry about it one.

Meiczyslaw08 Jan 2013 12:21 p.m. PST

8) All of the above.

There's a ridiculous number of techniques to learn in this hobby, and some of them just won't work for you. For me, I listen and learn techniques, but wait until what looks like the right time to use them.

For example, I kept hearing about wet-layer blending (I think it's called) and never got around to it until I had the paints that could do it well.

(And then I took a three-year break from painting, and all the paints dried out, and I'm back to base-layer-drybrush again. But that's a sad story for another day.)

That said, I've never bothered with the "magic wash" because I don't like using only one wash on most models.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 12:36 p.m. PST

"and I'm back to base-layer-drybrush again. But that's a sad story for another day"

Dude, thats been my basic technique for 20 years, lol.

John Leahy08 Jan 2013 12:47 p.m. PST

Want to really improve your work, quickly? Use the Future/Pledge Magic wash. Nothing I have seen or used in almost 35 years has had the fantastic results it has had. It would take a fair paint job into a good one. I look at my old paint jobs vs my new ones and there is no comparison.

Trust me and the thousands of other gamers who love it. Try it and judge for yourself.

Any questions feel free to PM me and I will help you any way that I can.

Take care,


haywire08 Jan 2013 12:53 p.m. PST

1) Try, try and try (just keep on painting minis and your technique will improve over time)

YES. Do not be afraid to experiment with different things

2) Visit a game shop and ask for help or watch in house painters at work.

It depends on their skill. They may just show you "The GW way" of base color, wash, highlight/drybrush, edge

3) Watch online (Youtube, etc…) video tutorials

I have been using this option a lot more lately for specific miniatures. I find Girlpainting and LBursley to be pretty good for blending tutorials.

The problem with youtube vids is that you end up with a camera focusing only on the mini and not things like the painting palette to see how much water they add or how they mix paint.

The problem with some is they do a quick, "this is how you do it" and then do a bucnh of what you really wanted to see off screen, so you might as well have bought a book or a read a webpage

I bought the Miniature Mentor ones and I think I was overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time.

Hot Lead's mini painting DVD is pretty good.

4) Read online written tutorials (Dakka, Bols, Forge World, etc…)

5) Don't worry about it. Slap on the paint and get playing!

Practice starts with this. Most painting starts with just laying down a base color coat

6) Buy a book on painting minis.

Each miniature painting book shows you a certain style. If you like that style, then sure.

7) Ask here. What are your weaknesses? What style are you trying to achieve? What are you painting?

This reminds me that I want to do a blog review of all my dvds and books…

Personal logo Dale Hurtt Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 12:54 p.m. PST

First, you need to steady your hand. That takes practice.

Second, you need to figure out what styles suits you best. I used to be a clean lines block painter, then a dry-brusher, then a washer, then a three-layer painter, now I am back to block painting. It is good that you are experimenting with washes. Keep it up.

Third, buy some good tools, like proper paint brushes of various sizes, and a desk magnifier with light (or one of those magnifier visors, if you can stand wearing them). Let's face it, your eyes have probably gotten worse.

Forget the magazines, wargaming porn, and other eye candy. It will only make you jealous. You will probably never do it that well. Do read the tutorials when people talk about "simple" techniques. Army Painter has some good ones like that.


Cornelius Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 1:01 p.m. PST

Practice, read a good book and buy a better brush. I found the last of those made the biggest difference.

Meiczyslaw08 Jan 2013 1:02 p.m. PST

Third, buy some good tools, like proper paint brushes of various sizes, and a desk magnifier with light (or one of those magnifier visors, if you can stand wearing them). Let's face it, your eyes have probably gotten worse.


Good brushes make a big difference. I don't know how much you're spending on an individual brush, but if you're having trouble painting, step up a grade. You probably don't need Windsor & Newton 7's, but you do want to get away from brush el cheapo from your local Micheal's.

Speaking of "el cheapo": a separate desk magnifier and a light works as almost well as a magnifier with a light installed, if you can afford the desk space, and don't mind rotating the figure to get rid of the shadows.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 1:04 p.m. PST

"Future/Pledge Magic wash"

Thanks, never heard of it!

Paint it Pink08 Jan 2013 1:07 p.m. PST

Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them. Make more new mistakes, and learn from them. Repeat until what you are doing doesn't feel like you are making mistakes.

If you don't know what your mistakes are, get someone to tell you what they are. Conversely, listen to people when they tell you that the mistakes you see are not important enough and won't be noticed.

John Leahy08 Jan 2013 1:07 p.m. PST

One other thing I have done recently is buy Windsor and Newton Series 7 brushes. I have not used them in my 35 years of painting. But they get so much great feedback I decided to buy a set. I have been using them for 2-3 months now. The thing that immediately stands out is how well the fine tips of the brush stay pointed. I also use the pink soap which helps maintain them. The things I can do with those fine tips is incredible. I own probably 70 brushes and still use them for some things. But when I need to be precise W&N is the way!
thumbs up



Meiczyslaw08 Jan 2013 1:15 p.m. PST

Dude, thats been my basic technique for 20 years, lol.

It's a solid technique for mass battles, where most folks are going to look at the figures four feet away, and only handle them briefly.

Where it falls down is display-quality stuff, where you want people to handle them and examine them closely. At that point, I can see the boundaries of the paint, like a cartoon. The whole wet-blending thing gives me an even progression from light to shadow.

The problem is: I'm not good enough to pull that off without really good paint, and I'm too broke right now to order 300 bottles of Vallejo to reconstitute my collection.

So, yeah, sad story.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 1:29 p.m. PST

You already made it clear that you don't like painting. To get well painted figures find something profitable that you DO like doing to earn the money to get someone who DOES like painting (and has got rather good at it) to do them for you.

I'm not joking – your painting will only really improve when it stops being a chore and you learn to like doing it. Only at that point will the experience – improvement loop really start to operate.

Shark Six Three Zero08 Jan 2013 1:31 p.m. PST

Base coat, drybrush hilites, dip and dull coat.

Jana Wang08 Jan 2013 1:38 p.m. PST

Well, if 25 years of #1 hasn't worked for you I'd say #2, find someone local who paints better than you and ask for help. Follow that up with #3 and #4, look around at techniques other people use, especially those whose work you admire, and try to imitate it. Finally, #7, get yourself to one of the conventions or events where paint classes are offered by the pros.

Personal logo Cardinal Hawkwood Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 2:09 p.m. PST

think things through..well visualise what you want it to look like and think about how to achieve it.And you have to like painting, or win the lottery

Warmaster Horus08 Jan 2013 2:17 p.m. PST

Having your friends rip.your work and rib you. You'll know youre getting better when the ribbing dies away and your pieces are actually used in games

Paint Pig08 Jan 2013 3:11 p.m. PST

Numbers 1 through 7 seem like good options thumbs up

There were some very strong paint clubs based in Ca. they are definitely a way to get some hands on help if your inclined that way, as suggested the Hot Lead video is an excellent learner dvd if your not the club type.

Reasonable equipment is a must (not the expensive stuff), dont use poor quality brushes and paints as you will be fighting your equipment and there is nothing to be gained from that.

Dont be hesitant about posting a picture of your models when asking for advice, it is much easier if we know the scale, complexity and brand of the sculpt when dishing out the tricks of the trade. grin

Lastly a lot of us have blogs or post pictures on TMP so if you see a blog or photo that has a style you like try pm'ing the painter, it never hurts to ask wink


Zephyr108 Jan 2013 3:18 p.m. PST

Do your painting one step at a time instead of feeling overwhelmed and trying to do it all at once…. ;-)

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 3:25 p.m. PST

Quit drinkin' that cheap corn whiskey!

Seriously, I had a lull about 10 years ago when my skills were absolutely stalled – what I did was start looking at and reading about/watching what others were doing, sorting out what I could and was prepared to do, and trying it out – only upwards since then, my friend!

Meiczyslaw08 Jan 2013 3:27 p.m. PST

Dont be hesitant about posting a picture of your models when asking for advice, it is much easier if we know the scale …

That scale one is important. If your figs look like Doozers, we won't criticize if they're 15s, but will if they're 28s.

Also, if you do post a picture, be clear if you're willing to take brutal criticism. If you post something without adding that caveat and somebody says, "those are great bases!" that might be a clue that there's something wrong with the figures' paint job. It might also mean that your bases are really good, but you remove the ambiguity if you say, "Be brutal," in advance.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 3:31 p.m. PST

Appreciate all the input so far. Most helpful.

Timmo uk08 Jan 2013 3:42 p.m. PST

I'd say the first thing to master as mentioned above is to steady your hand, this comes through practice. Once you can put paint down neatly then I think you can move on to the next stage.

I think a block painting plus a wash or magic dip style would be the next step I'd aim for. After that I think I'd probably use the washes sparingly and start to experiment with building up the depth of tone but adding mid tone to your previously flat colour areas. But first get the neatness nailed. Also I assume you use acrylics not enamels. If not switch to acrylics. Thin your paint with tap water. Keep asking questions here. You could find somebody's who's work you like and try to copy it.

combatpainter Fezian08 Jan 2013 3:58 p.m. PST

I do 1 through 7 as much as possible. In the "other section", I buy well painted master minis and study them while trying to copy the style.

Only Warlock08 Jan 2013 4:08 p.m. PST

Prime, Base Colors, Dip, Shake, Dry, Matte Coat, Play.

In that order.

Meiczyslaw08 Jan 2013 4:29 p.m. PST

Prime, Base Colors, Dip, Shake, Dry, Matte Coat, Play.

Alternatively, substitute:

Wash for "Dip, Shake". Or brush your dip on so you don't have to shake. (One of the ideas that I haven't tried is to use Future as your paint thinner for a wash instead of water.)

Highlight for "Dry". You can do the same sort of techniques with a wet brush (it'll save your brushes) but it'll take a little more practice.

Bandolier08 Jan 2013 4:30 p.m. PST

I buy well painted master minis and study them while trying to copy the style.

That's good advice.
The single best thing for me was to sit with a good painter and paint a couple of figures stage by stage. In one sitting, suddenly you realise you can paint pretty well once you know how. Then you might enjoy it more. For 99% of us, it's about technique, not art.

Mako1108 Jan 2013 5:11 p.m. PST

Given you've been at it for 25 years, I'd suggest doing a bit of reading, viewing of Youtube footage, looking at pics, etc. to learn other people's techniques, and to try them first.

I've only done a little painting as well, so have passable skills to a wargaming standard in most cases.

A nice dark wash, and lighter drybrush over basic colors will add considerably to the depth of your figures, at a bare minimum.

Getting some glasses, or an Optivisor to magnify the minis, so you can see and paint the details better is worth considering as well. Don't overlook good lighting too, since that is needed as well.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2013 6:12 p.m. PST

Variation on theme #2: Many conventions have painting classes. These ae frequently marked "Beginner," "Intermediate," or "Advanced." They may also have classes on specific things, like blending or faces.

Jeigheff08 Jan 2013 7:47 p.m. PST

Hi Uesugi,

Please forgive me if anyone else has already mentioned my suggestions.

First, do you have a friend or two who paints well, and whose work you would like to emulate? Ask those friends how they do things: everything, in fact. (You've already done that by posting this thread, and getting responses from others.) But I was blessed to have one gaming buddy who was my number one painting inspiration (several years ago) and who is a super-talented artist. I learned much from him.

My second recommendation relates to the first. If your community supports one, visit a meeting or two of larger-scale model-makers. Maybe 1/35 scale armor kits or 1/6 scale resin bust aren't your thing; that's okay, you'll still learn something. (I think it's kind of a shame that there's not much cross-over interest between large-scale modelers and gamers, but that's how it is.)

Third, I'd like to suggest that you study two-dimensional art which you like. This sounds tedious, but it really isn't. Do you like the look of Keith Rocco's French and Austrians of the Wars of the French Revolution in Mr. Rocco's paintings, or Ron Volstad's German soldiers of World War II in the Squadron Signal books? Try taking a really good look at the colors in two dimensional paintings, and think about how you might apply them to miniature painting. You might be able to use commercial paints like Vallejo, or might have to mix your own (I've mixed my own very dark blue indigo paint in the past, because I didn't know of any that were commercially available.) This can be a pain, but it also can be a really fun way of trying new techniques on miniature figures.

Pardon me for rambling. I hope I've helped.


53Punisher09 Jan 2013 3:39 a.m. PST

1, 2, 3, 4, 6, & 7: invest in good dvd tutorials like Hot Lead, etc. Same things I've all done at some point over the years.

Barks109 Jan 2013 4:17 a.m. PST

All of the above.

I've found variety is good for technique- I paint a few grim-dark things, a few bright and cartoony figures, a 6mm army, a 54mm single figure, a vehicle, a horse- each challenge will teach you new approaches.

CPBelt09 Jan 2013 5:07 a.m. PST

If you hate painting, what makes you think you will ever improve? That's the English prof in me speaking. This gives me good fodder for discussion in comp class today.

Sgt Slag09 Jan 2013 6:37 a.m. PST

Uesugi Kenshin, it depends on what you want to achieve. Are you looking for figures that appear at museum quality, at 3", or are you looking to get painted figures on the table, that look decent at arm's length? First decide what level of quality you want, then work to improve your techniques to achieve that goal.

If you want, "Good enough to game with," quality, then block paint, and Dip, or apply Magic Wash (look up both terms on the Internet: The Dip, refers to using MinWax Polyshades urethane-stain; Magic Wash refers to mixing a shading color of acrylic paint with Future Floor Polish, aka, Pledge with Future Shine, aka, Klear Floor Polish).

If you want cheap figures to practice on, use plastic Army Men: paint what you want, with/without primer; try different techniques (on 54mm figures, they're very easy to paint, and dirt cheap to buy); try different paints; try priming them with Gesso (White, Gray, and Black).

If you want to churn out finished mini's, block painting followed by The Dip/Magic Wash, is the only game in town. Couple that with assembly-line painting (group figures by pose; apply the same brush stroke on each figure, in succession, until completed; then move on to the next pose group), and you will finish large groups of figures at the same time. The block painting/with wash techniques, will be quick, effective, and extremely productive -- if that is the quality level you want to achieve. Cheers!

Iowa Grognard09 Jan 2013 9:27 a.m. PST

1. Find somebody who paints worse.
2. Compare
3. Profit

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2013 10:58 a.m. PST

"Getting some glasses, or an Optivisor to magnify the minis, so you can see and paint the details better is worth considering as well. Don't overlook good lighting too, since that is needed as well."

Too true. I do need to improve my lighting conditions as I almost exclusively paint at night.

As much as I hate to admit it I do need some type of magnification device as well. The eyes are good but not what they use to be.

@Jeigheff, thank you for the considerate reply! Good recommendations!

@Sgt Slag, no intention (or possibility!) of doing museum (or even GW eye candy) quality work in this lifetime. Im just looking to have good table quality minis that I would not be ashamed to post here at TMP.

I have bought two cans of "dip" (one light, one dark), but have not ventured to try it on any minis yet.

The "Magic Wash" is completly new to me. Just learned of it in this thread. Ill try to locate some and give it a try along with the dips this weekend.

Im dfinitely looking to speed up my painting process to get multiple minis done in a week rather than just spending a great deal of time trying to get each mini "just right" (as I do currently!).

If I could even get up to getting 1 squad of 40k (10-ish) figures done a week I would be very content.

@all, thank you again for the multiple kind and helpful suggestions. I look forward to trying out the tips this weekend.


Oh Bugger09 Jan 2013 1:00 p.m. PST

The one thing I would suggest is do your basic paint job and amply wash the figure with undiluted nut brown ink. Set aside and leave to dry over night. Touch up the figure to provide highlights. It produces a very pleasing result.

Oh and do one unit at a time that way you can see the progress.

Grand Duke Natokina09 Jan 2013 1:10 p.m. PST

I can do an adequate paint job, but prefer the gaming myself.

TheWarStoreSweetie09 Jan 2013 2:21 p.m. PST

All of the above. The best way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.

And one way not mentioned in the original post -- take a class at any of the gaming conventions where they are offered.

TwinCities Gamer09 Jan 2013 2:56 p.m. PST

If you paint at night and you're over 40, lighting is part of the problem. I got a Daylight Triple Bright Lamp for Christmas and it is a HUGE step up over painting by a 500W work lamp. I've got a picture and link out the lamp on my blog: link

I also use cheaters that are higher than what I need to read a book. Good luck, Uesugi!

Elenderil13 Jan 2013 1:40 p.m. PST

Not much to add to the above really. I use a magnification and daylight lamp all built into one plus x3 reading glasses. That makes a big difference. The daylight bulb means I am working with the same light all the time.

I strongly suggest that you simply practice until you find a style and technique that works for you. Read everything that you find interesting and keep checking in at useful forems for more tips.

Bottom line is simple though, if you are not enjoying painting don't do it.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2013 5:06 p.m. PST

Thanks again for tbe overwhelmingly helpful, numerous, kind responses.

Im already putting them to good use.



horrid16 Jan 2013 3:14 a.m. PST


You have a mountain of good advice so far but I figured I'd throw in my bit because it takes all kinds.

I hated math and sucked at it. Over the years we condition ourselves to hate the things we don't do particularly well. My experience in public school with it was a disaster that I just slithered through by the skin of teeth. On a trades course I took years after the fact we had to take a mathematics component that had been produced by some American college. It started out with basics (what's a number, la, la kid stuff) but by the end of the book there were quadratic equations, exponents and all the hateful stuff that near flunked me all those years ago.

It wasn't that bad. Somewhere along the way I missed some fundamental (grade 7?) and from there it degenerated liked poorly placed building blocks. Going over it again I was able to learn and ended up with a final in the 90.

I'd suggest determining what you think makes you are a bad painter. At it's most basic can you paint inside the lines? If you can apply a base coat to all areas on the model cleanly your good to go. If not you may need to steady your hand by bracing to improve your brush control.

I'm not going to ramble through all the steps of painting a miniature (blending or NMM are still beyond my ken) but it's been my experience that I try to avoid things I'm bad (or believe) that I'm bad at. I wouldn't try to force painting down you throat if most of your hobby enjoyment comes from playing but would encourage you to take stock of the painting skills that you have and then see about addressing those that can be improved.

Good hobby isn't necessarily about accumulating scads of immaculately painted models as much about improving ourselves by taking up suitable challenges, learning from them and bettering ourselves.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2013 11:05 a.m. PST

Thank you for sharing Horrid! Your highschool experiences were very similar to mine, lol.

ced110618 Jan 2013 4:28 p.m. PST

I've only been doing this for a few months, and am doing 28mm fantasy, but…

* Reaper Learn to Paint Kits. New Bones kits coming out anytime now!

* Wet palette. Create a brown gradient.

* Winsor and Newton #7 brushes. FRPGames has the best prices and shipping. Dickblick is next.

* OllieKickFlip's Reaper article on blending.

* Anime music in the background! (:

* One hour a day for painting.

* Paint eyes!

* Color schemes and color theory.

Next up is to spend time with other painters. It's too bad that, while hobby paint companies put out paint kits, they aren't putting out more *how* to paint kits.

Personal logo Dasher Supporting Member of TMP28 Jan 2013 2:12 p.m. PST

1 and 2.
Painting with friends – or with people who beonme friends over painting tables – is a HUGE accelerator to improving your work.

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