Tutorial: The Top Ten

he continuation of the top ten methods of improving your painting...

Top Ten Ways to Improve Your Painting
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#5 Generate Visual Interest
Allow me to define what visual interest actually means, or at least what it means when I use it in this context. The human eye tends to follow objects and scenes in a particular way, moving along natural lines and colours. Something that has visual interest causes our eyes to linger longer, or to move naturally from one element in the scene to another.

When painting a miniature, no matter the technique, we are generating visual interest. Even basic highlighting and shading is adding visual interest, giving our eyes something to dance across and drink in. Examples of these visually interesting elements are tiny details on the bases, like bugs and mushrooms, and freehand on the miniature itself, such as filigree along the cloak or pants.

But when adding these elements, keep in mind tip #9 "Less is More" and stay focused on your work as a whole. Give it focus and cohesion.

Incidently, the face of a miniature more times than not makes for a good focal point, but whatever the focal point, make it as crisp and clear as possible. The focal point should stand out from the miniature. This doesn't mean having a face that is a radically different colour; it might simply mean that shading or a thin line of contrasting colour sets it off from the rest of the figure.

#4 Make a Plan, Stan
Actually, this applies to everyone and not just those named Stan: You may very well be gifted enough to begin painting without any idea of how to develop, decide things on the fly, and still end up with a top quality miniature when all is done. In truth, you are subconsciously planning each step and building on the previous stages as you paint whether you realize it or not. If you weren't, the miniature would be utterly chaotic and haphazard. You're merely replacing planning with habit.

Why is this bad? It's not actually bad per se, but it won't help you improve, and that's what this list is about. It's easy to get into a rut when painting miniatures this way. You get to a belt or scabbard, and automatically reach for a brown leather colour, or you highlight the skin and automatically reach for your standard flesh highlights. Knowing what works is certainly an important part of miniature painting, but to really break out of the routine and into the creative, you have to make a plan.

That's a scary word, especially for artists. "Plan, man? I don't plan, I craft. I create. Planning is SO corporate." WhatEVER! I'm not suggesting you draw up flowcharts and measure paints within a millilitre before picking up a brush. Just have an idea of what you want to do before you pick up that brush. Do you want the figure to have an overall cooled colour tone? Do you want him to have a magical weapon? Want to add freehand? Is this a caucasian character? Turn the figure over after you've primed and decide what parts are what -- sometimes it's hard to tell that a character is wearing gloves, or that those skin-tight pants would actually look better as flesh.

Don't forget to look over your choice of colours and see if they work with one another. Contrasts or complimentary colours? Non-metallic metal or metallic paints? Maybe you can answer these questions instantly, but asking them of yourself is what planning is all about. And I think that's what Paul Simon really meant when he penned the line, "Make a plan, Stan."

#3 The World is a Stage
...and so should you break your painting routines into them. Stages, I mean, not worlds. All too often, we're tempted to do more than we should in one go, whether it's cutting off a portion of a figure for a conversion or not waiting for the paint to dry before applying a wash. You don't have to take things slowly, but you should always break a large task into smaller tasks -- not only is it less daunting, but you'll also have better control over how the miniature turns out.

But wait, it gets better: Not only is this rule handy for painting, but it's an absolute necessity for sculpting with Green Stuff. It's practically impossible to sculpt at all over this wonderful epoxy when it's still soft and squishy, much less without damaging previously finished portions. Break a sculpting or conversion task into smaller stages: sculpt the basic form, let it dry and then add shape to it (such as flesh, skin, muscle, etc), let THAT dry and then refine it (or add clothing, hair, etc).

Now here's another kicker: Working on multiple figures is easier if you break the overall task into stages. For example, paint all the flesh on all the figures as "Stage One," then pick a second colour for "Stage Two." By the time you finish painting all the figures, the first one will be dry enough to move onto another stage. Plus if you're pressed for time, your goals are far more clear cut -- you can finish "Stage Three" on any given figure (or group of figures) rather than an arbitrary "do more work on figure X."

#2 Thin Your Paints
What's this all about? Paints straight out of the bottle are almost always too thick to put directly on a miniature. It's not necessarily the fault of the manufacturers (though sometimes it certainly can be). Over time, the paint in the pots will thicken due to being opened to the air. Thick paint can mean rough, bumpy spots or visible brushstrokes on miniatures. It can even mean obscured detail -- whoops, looks like THAT guy who was wearing chainmail now has a knit sweater. Hehe, damned paint!

Luckily, there are some very EASY ways to combat this. The first way is to always, always keep your brush wet -- not soaking, but just wet. Another thing you can do is to use a palette and mix in a little water or paint retarder. And of course, there's the lazy man's method -- put in a reasonable amount of water or retarder right into the pot and shake it up like mad. The goal should be paint that is no thinner than milk.

When the alternative is furry, gunky miniatures, you'll be glad you made the effort.

#1 Practice
The number one means to improve your painting skill has to have been obvious. Experience, as they say, is the best teacher. This is very much true of miniature painting. We all know this (or should).

It's all too common to make excuses to not practice. Unless it's laziness (in which case nothing is going to help you get better since you're not willing to put in the effort to improve), most of the excuses are lies we tell ourselves. Sorry, but it's true. Too busy? You may very well not have ten minutes to spare in a day, in which case it's clear that you've placed other things as being more important. There is not one thing wrong with that, but don't pretend you're "too busy" to paint -- go ahead and admit that other deeds are a bigger priority for you, or make the time to paint.

Practice is one of the hardest things to do because it means actually investing the effort and time into improving. Sit down and do it!


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