X Ways to Paint Faster
Everyone is busy and finding time for your hobbies can be a challenge. Miniature Wargaming can be made extra time-consuming if you insist on always playing with painted miniatures. If you are like me playing with unpainted miniatures defeats the purpose of playing a miniature game; there are few things a miniature wargame can do that a boardgame or video game cannot. One of these is the visual appeal of painted miniatures on detailed, three dimensional terrain.
Now, I’m not an ogre which would deny my opponent the right to play with unpainted miniatures nor encourage people to not play their if they want to. It is your hobby, your relaxation time and it is up to you how you wish to spend it. Still, there comes a time when miniatures must be painted. Whether it’s for a tournament or personal pride, the time comes to put paint to miniature and call it a day.
I like painting, and I enjoy stretching my skills to the very edge of my capability. Even so when it comes to painting ten or thirty miniatures for a game sometimes I just want to get them done. This is what I did for my Deadzone miniatures and despite the quick and dirty paint jobs they look good on the battlefield.
It really is a nice feeling having everything painted and so I’ve come up with some tips for painting faster. There are some obvious ones there, like practicing makes you faster, but I hope that I can provide some tangible tips which you can implement to see immediate gains.
Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast
Let’s get the clichés out of the way first, shall we? The more you paint the faster you will get, if you pay attention and are mindful of your brush. I know saying “practice” in an article about tips to paint faster seems to be a cop-out but it will actually be the underlying principal behind why some of the later, more practical tips works. The key to speed is getting rid of wasted time and improving your efficiency of movement. Assuming everyone moves their brush as fast as they are capable the painted with smoother, more efficient movements, will complete their work faster.
Assembly Line Painting
The first thing many people suggest is to paint miniatures in an assembly line fashion. They say paint one colour on all of the miniatures first before moving to the next. This is a fine idea but I suggest taking it to a higher level. When preparing miniatures to paint try to group miniatures based on similarities. I’ve found through trial and error that four miniatures is a comfortable number for my groups.
If the miniatures don’t have a set uniform and need to appear motley I’ll group the miniatures into a selection of disparate poses and then paint those uniformly. Spread across an entire unit it will appear motley.
Once you’ve made your groups mount each to a painting stand. Depending on the size and complexity of the miniature this will be 2-3 mounted to a craft stick. I then mount these to my painting stands which are empty candy tubes filled with sand or washers for ballast. These grips are great because they are easy to pick up and put down on a crowded workspace and are comfortable to hold when I am working. Another important advantage of mounting multiple miniatures to one painting stand is I reduce the amount of times I have to pick up and put down a miniature.
When I begin to paint my goal is to paint one colour to completion within a single session; that is base, shade and highlight. For large areas, such as the flesh on those Deadzone Plague models, I like to further break the task down into parts. That is, I will paint all the right arms, then all the left arms, then the heads, legs, etc. I find this prevents me from missing sections of a miniature as I go down the line.
The most useful part of breaking things down to such small steps is that you can pay attention to each step. As you paint each right arm try doing so with fewer and fewer wasted brush-strokes. A wasted brush-stroke is anything that overlaps already applied paint.
Not all basecoating is the same. Some painting tutorials insist on painting a solid basecoat, often in multiple, thin layers, before starting any highlights and shading. Afterwards the paint used in the highlight and shade covers up the majority of the basecoat which wastes the time spent basecoating. Let’s say that it takes two coats of paint for even coverage. The first coat can be a base coat, this I call flatting, and the second coats are the shadow, midtones and highlights.
Common wisdom holds that washes are a fast way to add shadows a miniature. This is true to an extent. Certainly the dipping method is fast and effective although I’m not a fan of the results. Washing can be deceptively time consuming if you consider drying time. When I paint miniatures I do not use a wash and consequently don’t have to take breaks in the middle of my session for things to dry. Washes applied with a brush takes me as much time, or more, as it takes to paint my shadows by hand; add in drying time and it doesn’t compare.
This one may be more of a personal preference but I don’t like drybrushing unless I’m dealing with a highly textured surface. Once again I find I’m just as fast painting my highlights as I would be drybrushing for a much better result. Drybrushing is a horrible way to highlight anyway since it only catches raised surfaces which generally means your highlights are going where your mid-tones should go.
Paint Accessories The Same Colour
This tip applies to painting non-uniform troops. In the past I’ve spent too much time thinking about what colour I should paint one pouch compared to another, and trying to make the boot leather different from the belt leather. In the end it’s not that important as these details are not going to be noticed in a group of miniatures, especially if large objects like shirts and pants are all different.
Forget Your Mistakes
Here’s a tip I’ve had trouble following from time to time: Don’t go back to fix mistakes. Unless the mistake is incredibly noticeable, like not painting the face, just leave it as it is. Rarely does a mistake bother me once the miniatures are out and on the table. If it ever does I console myself about the quantity of miniatures I have painted in the meantime since I made that mistake.
Highlight Placement Is Key
My army-painting style doesn’t involve much blending. If I really want to blend something I’ll just apply a thinned-down version of my basecoat to my middle-tone, overlapping both the highlight and shadow. This is usually enough blending for me. For mechanical structures I will not blend at all and just make sure that everything pointing downwards is shaded, everything pointing upwards is lighter and everything in-between is my basecoat.
By placing highlights and shadows where they naturally occur the eye interprets the object as being 3D. The light from the environment will cast shadows at the same places and give the impression of blending. Proper highlight placement is a favorite subject of mine.
Selective Edge Highlights
Another mistake I see frequently is edge highlights on downwards facing surfaces. Not ever edge needs to have an edge highlight carefully painted on it. The dark shadow underneath should be plenty of definition, plus it’s not realistic. Heavily shadowed areas don’t need as much details and in some cases I will use the midtone colour as a highlight. These will appear to be highlights and save a step.
This tip always catches me off guard and I find myself constantly amazed when I re-learn it. You paint much faster when you paint miniatures than when you don’t. It may sound self-evident, and it is, but it is still true. There are times when I just don’t feel like painting for some reason. I’ve had dry spells of upwards of a year or more. When I’m not painting everything takes infinitely long to finish and the ennui can grow until it feels like I’ll never paint again. Finally, I’ll return to the hobby. I’ll paint one day, just for a little while. Stamina in painting fades fastest. Then the next day. Before long when I look at my workbench I am shocked to see progress made and the realization hits once again. If I want to finish painting my miniatures I need to stop worrying about how long it’s going to take and just finish them.
Well, I hope this article helped. When I wrote the title I wasn’t sure how many tips I had. It feels good to end on 10 and leave that X up there. Painting miniatures is supposed to be a fun, relaxing hobby and sometimes for whatever reason we put too much stress on ourselves to get our miniatures painted. Life can be short, just very slowly. When my workbench gets me down I like to remember one of my favorite Dota II quotes: Better to run than curse the road.
great tips 🙂 Remeber to takea step back and veiw your table top minis from the 3foot mark too. If it’s a display piece lavish it with attention. if not step back and that will help your judge when it’s done. TT requires good from far, but far from good in my books!
The “don’t edge highlight the downward facing surfaces” is one that I see people forgetting ALL THE TIME. It just looks wrong, and shows that very little thought went into the painting of the mini. Thanks for posting that!
I’ll see your ‘highlighting downward facing surfaces’ and raise you Steve Dean and Kev Dallimore:
I don’t take all that much satisfaction in naming and shaming, but these guys not only took improper highlighting almost as far as it can go, but popularised it as a ‘good’ method of miniature painting. I can’t help but think of it when I see Tyler provide any hint of a much-needed, much better alternative. These painting articles get bookmarked!
I don’t dislike their style because it is a style. It’s like complaining that Picasso’s paintings don’t follow human anatomy. If anything its the advice popularized by Games Workshop: Highlight the raised surfaces, shade the crevices.
Thanks for the response to this article. Based on this it makes me want to do some more. Anything specific you want to see. If I haven’t written about it before I may write how I paint step-by-step.
I vaguely recall they published something titled, “Painting the Foundry Way”, which helped popularize their style, particularly amongst historical wargamers.
I get it. Their paintjobs are “easy” to read from a distance, or with aging eyes like my own. It’s not technically challenging, and it looks about as good as it can get without really pushing yourself as a painter. But I know what you’re saying… it does sort of encourage lazy painters to “settle” and not get any better. And they start to think of it as the “proper” way of painting, whereas people should try and keep an open mind and see that there are other ways of painting too… many that are just as quick and easy, and may even look better.
Seeing extreme highlighted edges on surfaces that should actually be in shadow is another thing entirely. If the idea of mini painting is to simulate how light would contrast on a full size real object (a 6′ tall human instead of a 2″ tall miniature representation of one), then why the heck are you highlighting a downward facing edge?
Speaking of extreme highlighted edges, and a good example of one, there’s an article I wrote for my own blog several years back:
Apologies for linking to my own blog from yours… I know it’s typically considered bad form, but I figure it’s easier then retyping the whole idea out here in the comments section. I’m just hoping it illustrates the depth of my frustration with this particular painting trend.
I don’t think linking your blog is in bad taste at all. When people mention their own stuff without linking I usually ask them for a link. I’m glad you did it.
Edge highlighting isn’t the worst thing. Light collects on tightly rounded edges naturally. Link of a convex mirror, it sees a really wide area. Imagine a mirror which shows you the same amount of information but is flat. A convex mirror of a much smaller size collects images (light) from a larger area.
I took this quick cell-phone image because it so wonderfully how different facets gathered light:
Even downwards facing edges will collect more light than you would expect, just not the same amount as an upwards facing edge. If I am not fully painting with speed I will add edge highlights of appropriate intensity.
There’s another mechanism at work as well. Our human eye exaggerates contrast, especially if the brain thinks that there’s an edge. There’s an optical illusion of gray squares of different values. Each square is flat but they appear to have a slight gradient because your brain is increasing the contrast at the edges. In painting you’ll often see a flat vertical surface with hard edges be slightly darker at the top.
Anyway, I do really appreciate your comment, Kelly. Thanks.