Geeky Hobbies: Basic Mini Painting Tutorial #2

I did one of these about a year ago.  But I figured what the heck, I love mini painting, and whenever I post up pictures on Facebook I’ve always got people asking how they can get into it too, so I’ll do another.

The total elapsed time on this mini was just over two hours. That’s faster than I like to go.  I still could have cleaned it up in a few spots, but I needed him ready for a war game the next day. When you are starting out I really recommend taking your time, but if you are getting bored or annoyed, who cares? Wrap that sucker up. The important thing is that you just have fun with it.

For a list of equipment and supplies you’ll need, go to that link above. It’s really simple stuff. All the information on prep work and priming is also there, and this time I just want to concentrate on the fun part, the actual painting.

Because I neglected to get a picture of the mini I’m going to be working on disassembled,  glued together, or primed, I grabbed a couple others from the same manufacturer so you can see what they look like to begin with. The one of the left is bare metal. The one on the right is spray primed white, which is how our subject was primed. The quarter is for scale, because most folks don’t realize how tiny these are.

The mini I’ll be working on is from Infinity. This particular one is from an army with a desert setting, so I’ve been keeping their colors united with yellows, earth tones, OD green on the webbing and packs, and brown furniture on the weapons.

First, base coat:

Some people like to do all of one color first, taking it from base coat to shade before moving on to a different color. Or they’ll start on the inside of the mini and work their way out. I’ll do that if I’m really trying for something nice, but in this case I was going for good enough, quick. So in those cases I base coat everything to start.

I like to use a wet pallet, so that all my base colors are still available when I go back to them again later.

Notice the weird stripes of base color on the head. This is something new I’m trying, as per the suggestion of a really good painter (Steven Ivan Walk) who stopped by my page to offer feedback.  Normally I’d base coat all the fleshy areas red. But he suggested going with a light color up top (I went yellow) red through the middle (terracotta on this one)  and something like grey, green, or purple on the lower (stone grey here) That way when you put your flesh tone over it, it gives a nice subtle shading to the skin.

I’ve tried this a few times now as an experiment, and I’m kind of liking it. The mini I’m painting this time has hair and a beard, so you can’t get the full effect, but here is a close up of a totally different mini I painted using that technique that really shows how the three tone head base coat works. In this case I used purple for the jawline.

At the base coat stage I’m not super worried about having everything nice and neat. Things are going to slop over. I usually use one of my bigger brushes. Right now you are just going for a smooth, even coverage, and no spots of white primer sneaking through.

Once I’ve got everything base coated, I’ll use some washes to make sure everything is filled in nice, and to add a little depth and shade.

On this one there were so many lines on the clothing and gear that I wanted those to be dark, so I used P3 Armor Wash. It’s a sort of shiny black. Washes collect in the crevices and give you some definition.

When you apply a wash though, make sure you dab off any excess so that it doesn’t sit atop your base coat. If you do, it’ll dry as a big ugly blob. Or you’ll get these watery streaks over all your flats, and that’s just nasty. So I apply, then I just dry my brush on my rag, and then use it to dab off any excess. Repeat as necessary.

When you use washes, only apply them to the areas you want. So on this guy, since I was going fast, that was everything but the exposed skin.

However, once that dried, I decided the Armor Wash was a little too dark and unnatural looking for someone who was supposed to be a desert trooper, so I went back and hit the whole thing with a brown wash to tone it down. that’s what’s going on in the pic below.

One nice thing about using glued/primed kitty litter for your basing, you can just slop paint all over the base, and then let any excess washes get all over it. No worries, it’s just going to look like dirt and gravel. At the end I’ll usually hit the ground with some dry brushing and that makes it look great.

While that brown wash is drying, now is a good time to paint the fleshy bits. On this one I went with a Vallejo medium flesh. As you can see here even with one coat, because the base coats were so different there is color variation on the head, with the forehead being lighter, the area around eyes and nose darker, and the beard line dark… Only in this case the sculpt had an actual beard I painted woodstain brown, so that bottom portion was a bit of a waste.

Now we get to the time consuming part, eyeballs and faces. If you are painting minis with the goal of getting a playable army on the table quickly, pick a faction that wears helmets or is made up of skeletons. But once you learn how, faces really aren’t too hard.

There are a bunch of different methods for doing eyeballs and there are lots of tutorials out there. Many people get hung up on thinking they need tiny brushes for eyes. That’s not the case. What you need is a good brush that keeps a good point. And then don’t gob on a bunch of excess paint. You only need a tiny amount at the tip. If you end up with excess, just wipe it on your rag. Eventually you’ll get the hang of just having that little dot of paint on the end.

The first thing I do is put down some brown into the eye sockets for depth. Don’t worry if they are a little too big right now. and your mini looks like a raccoon. That’s fine for now. Then I put white on top of the brown socket, so it looks something like this:

As you do this part, sometimes extra white will get onto their noses, brows, etc. When you’re starting out this is where you end up with the giant cartoon googly eyes. If you do, that’s okay. Don’t try to fix that with flesh tone just yet.  Wait until after you dot the eyes.

A tip on the paint you use for your eyes, paints are going to come in different consistencies, even those from the same manufacturer. If a paint is too watery, you’ll never get a good eye dot. Pick a smooth paint that will dot and stay.  Don’t use black for eyes. It almost always comes off as unnatural. I’ve used a bunch of colors, but in this case I’m going to use a walnut brown.

Take a little paint on the tip of a nice pointy brush, and gently dot one eye. Then examine it. If you ended up off to one side instead of right in the middle, that’s cool. Because now you just need to make the corresponding eye also off in that direction, so it looks like they are glancing to the side a bit.

On dotting the eyes, this is probably the one thing you’re most likely to screw up. But that’s okay. If you look at the pic below, you can see that his right eye looks pretty good (our right, not his) but the left eye is a little off. Its a little too close to the nose, and I also slopped a bit of it too low. This is actually good though, because now I can show that even when its screwed up at this stage you can still fix it.

If I really screwed up and he looked like he had a lazy eye, then I’d just fill the socket back in with white and try again. As long as you aren’t clumping the paint up, you can do this a few times before you’ve got too much paint in there. (and even if you do, you can take the tip of your hobby knife, scratch it out, and then just brown the socket again and start over)

So now lets fix those eyes like so:

What I’ve done here is switch back to my flesh tone color. Again, just a little bit of paint, and then I’ll drag it beneath the eye to tighten it up. I also will do the same thing above the eye if necessary.

It’s kind of fun that you can see that goofy looking left eye turn into a decent looking eye with just two brush strokes.

This is why I do the brown socket first. That area has a darker base, so even with this new flesh over it, it still looks like there’s some depth.

Just be careful not to drag it through your eye, because then you’ve obliterated everything. Though I have screwed that up before, and left it that way because it looked like they were winking and it actually looked pretty cool.

The under cutting and over cutting with flesh tones is the single biggest thing you can do to make your minis not have cartoon googly eyes. And it really isn’t too hard either once you get the hang of it. Don’t beat yourself up if they aren’t perfect. We are always looking at these super blown up photos to spot imperfections, but at table top distances unless you really screwed up they’ll be unnoticeable to most.

Once the eyes are done now I like to shade the flesh. Some painters like to do all the flesh shading first, then eyes, but I like to knock the hardest part out of the way first.


On this one, because I did the striped head base coat, there is already a nice difference between the forehead and cheeks (the iPhone camera isn’t really capturing the tonal difference beneath my hobby light, but I’m pleased) Mostly I decided to create some depth. I used Vallejo Burnt Flesh (it’s kind of reddish) in the creases around the nose, lips, and also inner ear. I also hit the muscles creases on the arms. Then I used a bit of White Flesh mixed with the Medium Flesh to hit the tip of the nose, the upper parts of the brow, the top of the cheeks, and the tips of the ears.

At this stage I usually take a close up photo to look for screw ups, like where the brown of the eye sockets is too much, or maybe I put some red on the side of the nose, or the beard is uneven, things like that.

Sometimes your mini will just have a sculpting issue with its face. Like when you’ve got a mold line or a scratch through an eye socket, or something like that. Don’t despair. That’s when you just get creative with scars, tats, or face paint. But this one was clean, so I’m calling it good.

Now that the brown wash over the body has dried, it’s time to get back to the big parts.

When I’m doing a mini fast, I don’t worry too much about techniques like two brush blending, and I save that for things with big open areas or armor plates. So in the above picture, I’ve just taken the same base colors I first used and painted it again on the high spots. The armor and brown washes have provided some shading in the lower parts.

Since I’ve still got my base colors on my wet pallet, I’ll begin to mix in a little white with those, and hit the higher spots. Basically, think of it like this. 100% gets base coated. 100% gets washed. 50% of that gets hit with the base coat again which is a little brighter. 50% of what you just hit with the base coat then gets hit with base + white.  It’s like half, then half of that, then half of that, until you are happy. It’s not exactly scientific or anything. Just keep shading up smaller portions with an increasing amount of white in your base until you are happy. You are just trying to brighten the high spots which would be getting more light with an increasing amount of white. This will add depth to your mini.

Sometimes though, you want the contrast and depth, but you don’t necessarily want to go white. In the pic below, you can see that I got a couple of different greens to hit parts of the backpack, pouches and web gear. It breaks up the monotone.

Also, in that pic, you can see that I started painting all of the buckles and loops. Usually on things like that I’m looking for little bits of contrast to make it pop. So for this color pallet I used a blue/grey (Panzer Aces Russian Tank Crew) for those bits.

On guns and armor, as we are coming up on the end, I’ll often dry brush with a white/base color mix, or line something like that blue/grey on the highest bits to make them pop. In this case I went with some lighter browns on the furniture of the rifle and blue/grey on the receiver. Dry brush grey to make the lines on the mag stand out, and then on the armored glove knuckles and fingers too,, just because it looked cool.

I also put some teal blue into the little holes on the forearm armor, like it is some sort of screen display. On the other units in this same army I’ve done the same thing, and whenever they are bigger, I’ll do some white/teal along the bottom, and a single white dot on top (like a gem effect if you’re painting a fantasy mini) to make it pop.

Below you can see the gun’s detail work. That stuff is really fast and simple but it adds a lot. Anywhere you get carried away and paint over your shadow, that’s fine, just go back and hit just those deep parts with black wash or armor wash to give more depth.

I also did this on the leg armor, dry brushing that with the base color/white on the high bits, and then adding a bit of armor wash into the creases where needed.

Finally, I decided grey was too boring for the scarf (I guess technically it’s a shemagh, but that literally just means scarf) and just hit it with some red and white dabs. It’s all curled up, but I wanted to suggest a checker pattern. Then I brown washed the whole scarf area to kind of blend it all together.

That’s pretty much it. He was ready to fight. Total elapsed time was about two hours. After this I popped it off the holder and painted the outer edge of the base black. If he’s too glossy, then I’ll spray them with a matte clear coat, but in this case, I just left it. Even using these in games all the time, I find that chipping isn’t too much of a problem if you’ve got a nice solid spray prime beneath. And if they do chip, then it’s from an impact that was sharp enough the spray coat wouldn’t have saved them anyway.

On that topic, if you game with your painted minis, some will get broken. It is a matter of time. My son dropped my (well painted) Bashi the other day and snapped his arm off.  I just scraped off the old glue (the one thing super glue can’t bond with is already crystallized super glue) glued it back on, and when I get a chance, I’ll touch up the spots that got chipped back to bare metal. It’s not a big deal. But if you’re really really in love with  your paint job, you probably don’t want to game with them. Like if I spend ten hours on a mini instead of two, there’s no way that thing is getting used in a game.

A quick note on the holder. The ones that I’m using here are from Hobby Holder, and they work fantastic. You just use a little bit of blue tac to connect the base to the mini.

For the longest time I just held onto the bases with my left hand, and painted with my right. The problem is the bases are so tiny that you will eventually start to get muscle tremors in your fingers and thumb, and that will screw you up. So I switched over to using holders. Totally worth it.

Also, that bar that rises above the mini, it’s purpose is to give you something else to rest your brush or fingers against for stability. It is very helpful. This is the only piece of equipment I’ve added since that big list in last years post.

Mini painting is a very relaxing hobby, and you can get into it for fairly cheap. You’ll see a lot of really good painters out there showing off their amazing looking stuff, but don’t let that intimidate you. They all sucked when they started too. The more you do it, the better you will get. Just try it and have fun.

Next BOOK BOMB is 3/6/18, Tuesday, for Mike Kupari's Sci-Fi Novel, Sins of Her Father
I'm on TV! My Episode of Shooting Gallery Airs on 2/28 on the Outdoor Channel

10 thoughts on “Geeky Hobbies: Basic Mini Painting Tutorial #2”

  1. Thanks for the article. The tips on the flesh base coloring are helpful. I hate flesh and eyes I’m terrible at it. It’s cool to see you use and like the hobby holder. I picked one up myself but haven’t used it yet.

  2. Your minis look great! You’ve gotten very good at the hobby.
    I have recently gotten back into painting minis and crafting set-pieces and terrain for the gaming table. As you noted, faces and eyes are a real challenge and I will try your shading tip on my next project, thanks for the FYI.

  3. Not my sort of hobby, but it looks like you’re having a lot of fun and that’s a good thing!

    When are you planning to launch the rescheduled book bomb for Mike Kupari’s new book ? Amazon has the book being issued 3/6. Are pre-orders now good?

  4. I just finished the Monster Hunter Collection, you got Jim Butcher and John Ringo, congrats. A good read.

  5. Very cool. I never cease to be amazed at the detail you guys (mini painters) can get into such tiny figures. Just one thing: isn’t it a “palette”?

  6. That’s faster than I like to go.
    I’ve done multiple miniatures across a day, painting on one while another dried for a bit, and so on.
    I’ve also devoted myself to just one at a time over an entire weekend.

    Having said that, I haven’t painted a miniature in YEARS.

    You really have a talent for this, Larry. Definitely some jealousy brewing. 🙂
    (I’m still gonna read your books, though.)

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