Back in my hobby youth I used to live in a small apartment with my wife. Priming miniatures in that tiny 3rd floor walkup was a pain between the fumes, overspray and not pissing off my wife. I had looked at Gesso as a primer for 1/72 soft plastic miniatures. It’s basically designed for painting on fabric. After painting nearly a platoon of WWII Canadians I was too chicken to test it and switched to 28mm metal. However, it was less of a pain for me than spraying so I kept using it on everything.
I’ve been in a proper house with basement and garage for the past six years and still prime by brush. I’ve gotten used to it and was surprised to discover that it had other benefits beyond avoiding the fumes of spraying.
The Brush Needs Primer
As much as I’m desperately desperate for more comments on my blog I’m going to A a Q before it gets A’d. I use Vallejo Primer. I have Black, White and Grey. I use Black for army-style painting and Grey for everything else. Which means I probably didn’t need to buy the Grey. Protip: Black and White makes Grey in all 50 shades. Mind blown.
Why not White, I’m going to pretend you asked? White gives a “brighter” result because colours don’t cover it very well, in the same way that Black makes everything darker. Which actually means that it takes more base coats to get even coverage over Grey. If I’m not planning on leaving Black in crevices for shading I prime in Grey.
The Brush Requires Practice
Brush priming is slower but don’t worry, you’ll get faster the more you practice. And I’m not just referring to brush priming either. You will become faster at painting because you will be more practiced at painting with a brush.
At first you will be tempted to scrub the miniature like the miniature was your teeth and your brush was your toothbrush, the primer is toothpaste and the mold release is plaque. With the same results – it’ll scrub the mold release away and activate your primer’s foaming action. Except in this case foaming isn’t a placebo effect to show you that your toothpaste is working, it’s how you ruin the finish of your miniature. Although, a little scrubbing when you do realize you’ve forgotten to wash the miniature does work.
No, you have to carefully follow the detail just like you would if you were painting, which you are. You want to be quick and you want to be accurate so you get an even coverage and not find missed bits when you want to start painting tomorrow and realize you’ll need another coat of primer. You also don’t want to over-brush the same spots so that the primer can settle and give you are good surface to paint.
All this practice really does make a difference. I came up with the idea for this essay when someone shared their basically painted WIP on Google+ and mentioned how long they’d been working.
The Brush Wants to Get Acquainted
Some people love picking colour schemes. I am not one of them. I have no compunction of copying studio schemes for my miniatures. I even started the road to historicals because I was frustrated that the Codex Astartes which dictated the colours and marking of Space Marine Chapters didn’t actually exist for me to reference.
If you were reading a blog of someone qualified to instruct you on picking colour schemes they’d probably tell you to take some time with the unpainted miniature visualizing where each colour is going to go.
How boring, who has time to go over every little nook and cranny of their miniature before they paint it? Well, it turns out I do, actually, when I prime the miniature. During the process I’m literally going over every scrap of the model and find myself making mental notes about the order of painting to avoid making a mess of finished parts of the model
Do I remember these when it comes time to paint? No, but that’s a whole other kettle of trout.
The Brush Cares About Your Health
I’m not going to belabour the point, but brush priming is much healthier than spraying. Well, there is a lot you can do to eliminate or mitigate the risks for using a spray can. Let’s say this point is that you can avoid wearing a respirator and going outdoors or making sure your room is ventilated when you use a brush. Quote Vader some other time.
The Brush is Consistent
If you spend enough time in hobby forums you’ll come across the occasional horror story of spray cans ruining miniatures or otherwise misbehaving. Most of the time this can be attributed to environmental factors. When you spray you mix your paint with the air in your environment and thus have to consider these factors when spraying. With brush priming this isn’t a concern.
Since I came to brush priming as a way to avoid spray cans I also apply varnish with a brush as well. It feels like that or every orange-peel primer disaster there are 10 fuzzy varnish apocalypses. Having to strip a bunch of miniatures to reprime is an annoying time-waste. Ruining a labouriously applied paintjob with a white fuzz is heartbreaking. Out of respect for those who’ve experienced it let’s have a minute of silence and then move on.
The Brush is Artisanally Crafted in Small Batches
While I’ll address the negatives in a little bit brush priming is going to be a small batch enterprise. Wash and your degrease your miniatures before you prime and then prime what you can paint. No more painting over dusty primer. No more back-breaking assembly marathons because you’ll be doing everything in small batches, artisanally, just like factory food.
The Brush Takes Time
At the end of the day brush priming is not for everyone. Some people just paint in such massive quantities that spray cans are the only feasible method of priming. These are the people that walk outside on a nice, crisp spring Saturday morning and think, “What, what wonderful priming weather. I think I’ll prime my next three armies.” The bastards usually have them fully painted by the next Saturday. These are the people for whom the 3 colour minimum was created, I tell myself to save my ego while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. It takes the same amount of time to brush prime each additional miniature while you can spray prime multiple miniatures at the same time.
Give the Brush a Chance
Everyone must make their decision based on their personality and situation. For me, painting in small batches and taking my team with each miniature means that priming is a relatively small part of my hobby time. Whether I spray or brush I won’t be able to paint that miniature until the paint dries so from my point of view there isn’t much of a time difference.
Hopefully some of the points I raised will encourage some painters to try their hand and brush priming. I really recommend the Vallejo primers. They are very forgiving and can be applied unthinned straight from the bottle. By which I mean, don’t thin them, they don’t like being thinned. It’s a chemical thing based on their formula, not their personal preference.
Here’s a video I managed to find which shows priming in action and touches on some of the points I made in this article. I like the cut of this guy’s jib. I think he used scrapbooking scissors.