Most of what I'll be covering in this tutorial will be familiar to the majority of visitors, but for the few who find themselves where I did a year ago, with a pile of minis and only the faintest idea where to begin, I'll be covering the steps I take in preparing a figure for painting. We must begin by assuming that the piece has been clipped from the sprue and cleaned of flash. My favorite method of doing this is to use the back of an X-Acto knife, dragging it gently along the mold lines until they're scraped away. Many of my more experienced friends use files, but I'm sort of- faint of seeing, let's call it- and I have a tendency to file away bits of the sculpt while I'm at it. This is one of those situations where finesse trumps enthusiasm. It may be helpful to examine the piece in different light sources to ensure that you've got it cleaned thoroughly.
Next, I prime the mini with Army Painter primer. This is hands down the easiest working primer I've encountered, and it makes a huge difference. It sprays in an extremely fine mist, dries quickly, and, so long as the directions are followed, almost never runs. It also comes in a wide variety of colors, which saves time in the basecoating. I typically glue the bulk of the piece together beforehand, leaving off the parts which may be difficult to paint around/under later and priming them separately. Then I mount the figure on a cork, using a heated bit of paperclip. OBSERVE:
Using a standard cork from a wine bottle (available to teetotalers in the Portland area from SCRAP for the bargain price of 50 cents a double hand full), insert one end of a straightened paperclip deep into the cork and snip, leaving roughly a quarter inch jutting out. Heat the exposed end to red-hot with a lighter, and slide the mini onto it, letting the metal melt into the meaty part of the foot. Make sure you angle up the leg, or you'll have problems... When the metal cools, the plastic will hold tight around it, making a seal that is secure enough to work with, but easily broken when you're ready to mount the figure. This allows you to
approach painting from all angles, without worrying about wearing off or chipping the paint that you've already laid down. A lot of people simply base their figures before painting, but I find it helpful to have something more substantial to hold onto. Also? It let me post pictures. I know how much you people love pictures.
Next, I prepare my wet palette. Unless you're some sort of painting genius (in which case, thanks for reading this, sorry for the redundancy), I cannot overstate the usefulness of a wet palette. Model paints are extremely quick drying, and can be absolute murder to blend without water. A wet palette does most of the work for you, making it easy to get the proper water to pigment ratio without having to resort to the painful method of dipping and testing, dipping and testing. It's also great for mixing custom colors, since you can mix a large batch at once, snap the lid on when you're done for the day, and come back to it later without its having dried out. My wet palette cost less than ten dollars, and paid for itself in sanity.
There are a few tricks to its use, though. A wet palette consists of a shallow plastic tray and lid, a thin sponge, and a sheet of special paper which lays on top. When the paper is boiled for ten minutes or so, it becomes transparent and permeable, allowing water from the sodden sponge below to seep upward at a controlled rate. If the paper bunches or does not properly adhere to the sponge, or if the sponge is too wet, you can easily get conditions too wet or too dry for maximum efficiency. Thus, I like to boil the paper, lay it over the sponge, and apply hot water with a fat paintbrush in long strokes, end to end. This smoothes the paper and provides thorough contact with the sponge. I continue to brush it until the water stops soaking through, at which point I know the sponge is as wet as I'd like it to be. Squirt your paints on top, and get to work!
NEXT: Basecoating by Dummy