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Tips - The Painting basics
Over the years I have discovered a list of techniques that are always useful. This article describes each of these techniques in detail. My hope is that by following these techniques, your painting experience will be greatly enhanced and your skills improve.
  1. Patience
  2. Bright Natural Light
  3. Clean Brush
  4. Secondary Base
  5. Two Hands Surface
  6. Tiny Amounts of Paint
  7. Three Color Minimum
  8. Contrasting Colors
  9. Undercoat/Overcoat
Patience is an essential. Concentrate on one part of the miniature before moving to another. Take your time and the results will be rewarding. If you become agitated then you should walk away for a while. Try to relax before continuing. Remember that patience is a virtue that can be learned.
Bright Natural Light
Bright natural lighting makes a tremendous difference. Dim lights strain your eyes and oddly colored lights will distort the colors of your paint. Most standard bulbs project a yellowish light. You may need to invest in a more expensive bulb (such a GE Reveal bulb). This will help make the colors on a miniature end up brighter and bolder. Some fluorescent lights and natural light bulbs seem to work the best for me. If none of these are available then try a brighter light bulb. Try to keep your lamp a couple of feet away from the miniature. Otherwise, heat generated from the light will make the paint dry faster on your brush. Also, ensure that the light is above the figure. This will prevent the need to turn your figure away from shadowcasting.
Clean Brush
Always keep your brushes clean. Wash a brush immediately after paint begins to dry or ball up on the tip. Clean your brush immediately after you complete a color. Try not to set the brush in water. This may cause paint to seep into the base of the bristles or may permanently bend the tip. Warm water and a small amount of soap will easily clean acrylic paints. Keeping your brush damp (not wet) will help prevent paint from drying too quickly.
Secondary Base
Glue your miniature to some sort of base before beginning to paint. This will help you to avoid touching the miniature, thus preventing you from accidentally rubbing off paint from a completed surface. I usually glue a miniature to a tongue depressor or popsicle stick before beginning. Some people use chunks of cork instead. Either method will enable you to twist and turn a figure any direction without having to touch it. Hold the stick instead of the miniature. Once painting is complete, simply break the miniature off of the secondary base.
Two Hands Surface
Unsteady hands are a common problem among miniature painters. A simple solution is to force both of your hands to touch one surface while you paint. I usually force my left pinky finger (from the hand holding the miniature) to press against the desk. At the same time, my right wrist or right forearm (from the hand holding the brush) is also touching the edge of the desk. This method should help steady your hands and may also take away some strain from your back.
Tiny Amounts of Paint
Avoid putting large amounts of paint on your brush. It is better to constantly re-dip the brush than to use thick blobs. This rule should help you avoid getting paint into the base of the bristles (which spreads the tip, rendering it useless for detail work). Small amounts of paint also helps to force you to apply thinner coats of paint. It is better to use multiple thin coats than to use one thick one. This helps you to avoid brush marks in the completed paint job.
Some people have difficulty seeing how much paint they are putting onto a brush. One way to work around this problem is to keep the paint under a bright light when you dip the brush. Light reflects on wet paint. When a brush touches the paint, a small circle light pattern should become visible around the brush. Dip the brush slowly and as soon as you see the circle pattern, pull the brush back out. You should only have a tiny amount of paint on the tip. This takes some practice, but is a valuable tip when utilized.
Three Color Minimum
The concept behind shading is to simulate the effects of light reflecting on an object. Light darkens deep areas and brightens raised areas of an object in the following way...

Deep Regular Upraised
In reality, more than three colors blend together to create this effect, but you should always use a minimum of three shades for each color. I refer to them as the shadow color (for the recessed areas), the base color (for the normal color of the object), and the highlight color (for the upraised areas). This will give a miniature the appearance of light reflecting on its surfaces.
Without this technique, light is still reflecting on the surface, but the human eye can't see it very well since the miniature is so small. By exaggerating the shading, you can create the illusion of light reflection. Example: you are painting a pair of medium brown pants. You could paint the deep folds with a dark brown, the rest of the pants a medium brown, and then a lighter brown onto the raised areas.
Contrasting Colors
The small size of a miniature means that colors need exaggerated in order to be viewed correctly. The best way to make a miniature stand out is to use contrasting colors. This will force each color to appear more vibrant. An example is the human eye. Some people have light blue eyes, but you shouldn't paint a miniature with this eye color because it tends to blend with the surrounding white. Instead, use a dark blue, brown, or black. These are much darker than white and are much easier to notice. Some typical contrasting colors are blue and yellow, green and orange, purple and yellow, red and green, etc. Therefore, a miniature with a purple cloak and a yellow vest should appear quite striking. These colors accent each other very well.
You should always apply an undercoat primer prior to painting and apply a protective overcoat to completed miniatures. The undercoat helps make paint stick (less chance of it rubbing off). White undercoats can also be used to brighten colors. Darker undercoats help to darken colors.
Without an overcoat, paint will peel, chip, and rub off much faster. I usually use a gloss spray coating for the protection. I don't enjoy the appearance of gloss on a figure, though. Therefore, I later dull it with a matte spray (my favorites are Floquil Figure Flat and Testor's Dull Cote).
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