In my last article, I listed some of the necessary supplies for miniature figure painting. In this article we will explore what to do with some of them, specifically the paint. When we get figures, many of us want to just begin slurping the paint on them and have a great looking set of miniatures. This never happens. I have had a few discussions with individuals that I had previously hoped knew better, that there is a great difference between a painted figure, and a figure covered with paint. Although each individuals' figures will look very different, each of us should be able to tell the difference when comparing the two.
It may be tied to our society that is based on immediate gratification, but many individuals wish to approach the task of figure painting with the immediacy of a television remote control. Click, it is done. Keep in mind that those individuals who seem to use this technique and get away with it have had quite a bit of practice. The more practice one gets, the less one is surprised by the twists and turns of the material. Developing a wide variation of styles for dealing with the illusion of different surfaces, can make the entire process go very quickly. In deference to the less experienced among us, we will not approach figures in this fashion just yet. It is best to begin with the basics.
Our first step will be to examine the figure. Notice several things about whatever figure is to be painted. Begin by looking at the details. Are they engraved with sufficient depth to easily see everything, or are some areas too smooth? Poor castings can be helped by a good paint job, but some are too far gone to begin with for paint to help much. selecting the best cast figures can prove more expensive in some cases, but the finished product can be worth it. Since many figures are packaged in clear plastic, this sort of examination can be initially done while browsing in a store.
Another thing to be aware of is the casting material. Lead is used in many castings, especially older ones. Because of certain legal, and perhaps ethical, concerns many companies that mass produce figures are switching to lead free alternative alloys. These companies also usually print that fact somewhere on their packaging. If the package does not say otherwise, assume that the figure contains a lot of lead, and handle it accordingly. Once primed, such figures are relatively harmless, and not dangerous except in extreme cases. They are small and interesting when painted, so keep them away from children who might wish to "taste" them. Wash your hands well after handling these figures before they are primed, never stick them in your mouth, and there should be absolutely no problem.
While examining your prospective figure, you may notice little bits of metal that do not seem to belong on it. This is called "flash." Flash appears when the separate halves of a figure mold are insufficiently tight, or casting channels may have been cut to either allow metal in or air out. Sometimes, a figure cannot be cast without a certain amount of flash present. Sometimes companies are good about precleaning the flash before shipping. Sometimes the trimming is up to you. This is why we always keep an x-acto type knife and a small file handy. This flash is meant to be trimmed. Just be careful not to trim so far that pieces of the miniature details are lost.
Something else that should be looked for at this point is warpage. Sometimes smaller pieces like arms and swords may bend during shipping. The focus here is to bend them back into place slowly and firmly. If they break, then be sure to epoxy them back on. This is one place where different metals have different qualities. Some of them will shatter rather than bend. Fortunately, the brittle metals probably will not bend during shipping anyway, and therefore do not need to be straightened. Similarly, these metals also resist reshaping in situations where one might purposefully bend the arms and legs of several figures into different poses to create a varied regiment of troop figures. Some people prefer one quality to another in certain situations.
Now that the figure is cleaned, we will look at one more aspect, the base. Is the base that it came with sufficient? Did it come with a slotted plastic base, or perhaps it has a round base and you wanted a square one for battlefield purposes? Prior to priming, the base should be addressed. If the base is fine for your purposes, then leave it. If you wish to glue a square piece of mat board to an insufficient metal base, I suggest that a liberal amount of wood glue be applied between the two surfaces. If the surfaces to be joined are metal on metal or metal on plastic then a good strong two part epoxy will hold them well. Do not be alarmed by possible discoloration of the metal in this case, you will never see it again anyway. If the surfaces are both plastic, then I still suggest epoxy, but model glue also works well by "melting" the surfaces together. This glue cannot usually be purchased by minors. Allow all glue to dry before continuing.
As a final note about slotted bases, please realize that glue can often seep around the edges and through the base onto a table surface. The same tenacity that epoxy has when holding bases to a figure can also hold an entire figure to a table. Put some heavy paper under the glued bases, and the worst thing that will happen is that the paper will have to be ripped off later.
Some people brush it on, some spray it. My advice is to spray it. This can cause a few problems but it will consistently make the task of painting simpler, while providing a more even coverage of paint. The more primers, paint, and sealers that we put on our miniatures, the more the original details are obscured and flattened. The trick is to cover the figure evenly without smothering it, and without covering everything else in the vicinity with primer too.
Spray paint can be tricky, especially when you are not old enough to buy it. Adults should use it with caution, while children and younger adults will need to have a more mature individual help them with this process. Since the propellants and paint medium are both flammable and toxic, always prime your figures outside where there is little wind, yet still maximum ventilation.
Many individuals have different approaches and rationale for their priming methods. This one is mine, if you find that someone elses works better, then use it. Just remember that this is where we want to do two main things. The figure should end up with a relatively even coat of primer to both seal the metal and help later paint adhere. Also, the primer will form an overall platform for the painting and lighting quality of the figure in question.
First, get a good heavy and stiff piece of cardboard that is at least 8" x 10" or larger. This will act as a tray and priming surface for the miniature. Multiple miniatures can be primed together on larger sheets of board. Just make sure that no figure is placed within about 3" of the edge of the board, and that there is about 2" between them.
Next, place the figures on the board in as centrally located a manner as possible. They should be placed in as face down a position as possible, with all figures in the same orientation. Many individuals suggest that figures be primed in an upright fashion. I usually find that this position is insufficient and I can easily end up with those hard to reach detail places, like armpits, insufficiently primed.
Make sure that the priming is done with a "flat" spray paint, rather than "gloss," if at all possible. Also, it should be done outdoors in a place where anticipated "over spray" will not be a problem. I go out into my yard on those few windless days in Oklahoma, and set the tray in the grass. The color of primer is not mentioned here because, as we will explore in later articles, you may wish to use differing primer colors for specific effects.
Spray paint should always be very well shaken before use. When the pigment is separated from the medium and propellant it creates a weak coverage, and repriming is usually necessary. Avoid this problem and shake it well both before and between spraying.
Start from the bottom of the figure at a low angle. Hold the can about 8" to 12" from the figure and give a couple of sweeping sprays in a tight arc. Make sure that the nozzle of the can is pointed both away from you and at the figures before depressing it. Then rotate the board about 1/6 of a turn and repeat the process from the new angle. Once the figure has been rotated around the the original orientation then set the tray aside for about twenty minutes to dry.
Always take a moment to clear your spray paint nozzle after priming. To do this, hold he spray paint can upside down with the nozzle pointed away from yourself and all others in the area. Depress the nozzle for a second or two to clear the paint medium from the tip. If you ever have paint harden in a spray tip, you will realize why it is easier to prevent than fix.
When the figures have dried, then flip them over and prime the front of them in the same manner as the back. Again the figures are primed in a rotating fashion, and again they will have to be allowed to dry before they can be touched.