The Lazy Mini Painter – Technical Pens

Well, the greatest cheat in the history of painting minis is probably … the humble technical pen.  That’s right … forget using a brush at all, and get out your pen!

Not just any pen, of course.  Technical pens are incredibly fine pointed (like 0.05mm) , use a high quality non-fading pigment ink, and are under £2 each.  Is it as fine as the most delicate brushwork by a gifted artist?  No.  Is it as really easy and good enough, and probably better than my normal brushwork?  Hell yeah!

Struggling to dot the centre of eyes without blobbing it?  Technical pen.  

Struggling to write on scrolls and banners?  Technical pen.

Want to do a complex piece of freehand?  Draw it in technical pen, and fill in the lines with the brush afterwards.

Tiny diamonds or celtic designs on Harlequins?  Technical pen.

Imperial Fists logos a pain to paint?  Draw them on.  Technical pen.

Tiny tattoos of Fleur de Lys or Eagles a nightmare by brush?  Technical pen.

Its such a quick, easy, fantastic looking cheat.  And if you practise writing a gothic style of capitals for a bit, its even better.  

Why doesn’t everyone do it, then?  Well, in some ways, this is a bit of a hobby dead end.  The very top end of the hobby goes significantly beyond the effects you can achieve with a technical pen, and unless you keep practising, you won’t get that good.  In addition, it is looked down upon by some others – its not “proper” painting.

Of course, for quick high quality results, we can use this to get minis on the table in a fraction of the time.  Its a easy, quick win.  And if you’re willing to spend a bit of money on it, you aren’t just limited to black pens either!  Its a definite win for the Lazy Mini Painter.

The Cheap Gamer – Picking your Paints

Well, as a Cheap Gamer, picking the paints to use can make or break the costs of a project.  Are there ways of making significant savings?  Of course, though you will need to look beyond the confines of a single provider!

There are three approaches we can take here.  We can:

  1. Simply look for cheaper alternatives for every paint.
  2. Go for the same quality end result, but accept that some things will take longer
  3. Accept a reduced quality end result to save costs.

What do we mean by this?  Well, as an example, lets take priming our models.  

Primers and Aerosols

Lets say we’re painting ultramarines, and usually spray our models with a primer, then a blue aerosol.  We could buy a 400ml can of chaos black or skull white primer for £10.40, and a 400ml macragge blue spray from a GW store at a pretty hefty cost (another £11.75) to do the job right.  We could buy the same cans from an online GW seller at a discount, maybe 10% (say £9.40 and £10.60), but we’ll need to wait for the order to arrive, and might need to put in a combined order with other bits if we don’t lose the saving in shipping costs.  We could look at proper all in one blue primers that aren’t from GW at all, like an Army Painter 400ml, and make a further saving, probably about another 10% on the can, and no need for a separate primer (£8.99).  Or we could really go for savings, and go with a top notch but cheap grey primer (500ml for £7.49) from Halfords, and accept that we’ll have to actually paint the blue onto the models ourselves, not just touch it up.  I haven’t included the cost of the blue pot here, as we’d need it for touch ups any way in all the other cases too.

What option would you pick?  In this case, we need to prime and base coat the model, so there isn’t really a great choice for option 3.  Priming and a basic colour is always going to be necessary!  We can’t easily reduce the quality of our methods (though some would argue the Army Painter primer isn’t as good a spray sometimes.)

The real choice is between option 1 – getting to the same point by looking for cheaper locations for the same paints or a different brand alternative, or option 2 – just priming the models in a standard colour like grey and accepting that we’ll spend more time and paint the base colour on ourselves.  Oddly, option 2 is probably going to lead to a higher quality finished product as well!

In the extreme case of the greatest saving here, we can knock around £15 off the project cost by adding manual painting time and using halfords primer.   In fairness, many people actually use the Macragge blue to prime, even though its not really a fully grippy proper primer, but even in those cases we’re saving a fair few pounds and going for a better colour base for the other colours with the grey.

We’re on our Cheap Gamer journey!

Choosing paints!

Choosing the actual pots of paint to use is a little harder, as we have a much wider range of options.

One of the hardest things here is working out which paints you actually need for the models in the first place.  The best advice I can give is simple.  Don’t worry about cost at this point!  I know that sounds like odd advice for the Cheap Gamer!  The key is making sure we make informed decisions to save money.

Find a paint scheme or recipe that you think will work really well for you.  It might be from a forum, a blog, the pages of white dwarf, whatever.  The exact paint range doesn’t matter at this stage.  The real key is knowing what effect you want to acheive.

Once we have a list of paints we need, we can then …. go all Cheap Gamer!  We can look for cheaper alternatives for each paint.  We can accept some time compromises – going for standard alternative paints rather than base or foundation paints and putting on an extra thin coat or two.  And we can consider either mixing some of our own highlights rather than buying all the pots (risking a little inconsistency over the army), or just skipping some of the full range of layers for a slightly lower quality finish.  You can also skip some of the “technical” options if you are confident.  Honestly, the GW Drybush range is a bit unnecessary!  You can dry brush with just a little paint on the brush after drying it a bit on a paper towel!

In terms of savings by looking at different paint ranges, Vallejo paints, for example, tend to be around 40p cheaper a pot than the Games Workshop equivalent, and contain 17ml rather than 12ml of paint.  Army Painter tends to be around 70p a pot cheaper than GW, and you get 18ml.  P3 is about the same price as GW, but you get 18ml instead of 12, and they have fantastic coverage as a base coat.

The paint matching chart here is an absolutely tremendous resource.  Simply match the colours you need from your chosen scheme against the other ranges!

If you choose to save money by mixing some of your own highlights by adding white or another colour, there are some really useful tricks.  The first is simple!  record the proportions you are using!  If you don’t, you’ll find increasing amounts of variation of your army.  The 2nd is to use paints like Army Painter or Vallejo that come in dropper bottles, as it is just so much easier to remix the proportions again.  And finally, if doing it for a full army, consider mixing up a full pots worth and labelling it.  That’ll guarantee you consistency without remixing.

Once you have your full list of needed paints, I thoroughly recommend checking the available prepackaged paint sets from the various manufacturers.  They can offer major savings, and if your needed range matches quite closely, you can find targeting a particular set works quite well!  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “ooooh, that’s great value, look at all these paints” though.  Unless you are saving money on the actual paints you need, its a waste for now.

And don’t forget to take your existing paints into account.  Check what you have before you start buying!  Its very easy to forget you have paint X if you haven’t used it for a while, or its in an older box of paints.  Make sure you only actually buy what you need. 

There are times you may want to choose a dearer option.  Some paints are difficult ones to work with, like yellows and metals.  That’s down to you.  The trick really is to plan exactly what you want to work with, and think about how you can minimise the costs.  Honestly, just avoiding a situation where you need a paint that afternoon or waste hobby time, so you run out and pay the top whack, will make a big, big difference.

Do remember that even if a paint isn’t quite as good, or doesn’t have as good coverage, applying multiple thin coats will get you to a great result over time.  It might take a little longer, but generally you can achieve great results with pretty much any paint range.  And we’re aiming for good results at minimum costs!

Imagine if you need 10 pots of paint.  Just switching to Vallejo directly could save you £4 on the project over GW.  Army Painter might save you £7 if you can find all the right colours.  Mixing your own highlights and removing the need for just 2 pots could save you another £3.50 to £4.50.  And if we can find a close paint set rather than buying them all individually we might save another £2 or so.  Its not insignificant amounts, and this is just the paints!  We’re starting to see our Cheap Gamer approach pay off!

Again, this isn’t a criticism of GW paints.  They have a fantastic range of colours, excellent coverage and a tremendous range of technical options too.  They just aren’t the cheapest way to paint.

The Lazy Mini Painter – Highlighting

Well, the current style of painting is massively into edge highlights.  Its a terrific technique that really makes hard surfaces pop … and takes absolutely ages.  Heck, at the peak of the art of edge highlighting, you do multiple thickness of edge highlights moving to brighter and brighter edges as they narrow down.  If you want amazing looking models, wow.  If you have limited time and want models to see the tabletop, how the heck can you get this to work.

Highlights do draw the eye, and make a model pop.  Generally, though, its seen as an all or nothing technique.  You do edge highlights?  You highlight every damn edge on the model.  In many ways we’ve forgotten one of the meanings of highlight – to draw attention just to the important or pretty bits.

However …. we want good looking models for the tabletop, right?  Why highlight all of a model.  Instead, we should cherry pick a few spots where we want the eye to be drawn, where there is other details or natural model complexity.  Pick spot easily visible as if looking down at the model at 45˚ angle – shoulder pads, heads, upper chest, backpack top, maybe the gun.  You can reduce your edge highlighting time by a massive amount, still have figures that pop on the battlefield, and look like they’ve been done in a modern style.  Yeah, the legs won’t look anywhere near as good in an eye level display cabinet.  If you put them in a cabinet, put them on a lower shelf.  They will look cracking on the battlefield.

Take standard Cadians, for example.  Highlight the helmet, shoulder pads and gun case with a lighter green, and it’ll look modern and pop.  The foot guards?  Man, overkill.  The chest plate?  Much of that will be covered up anyway when the lasguns go on.  In terms of making a difference to the overall effect, you end up putting in huge amounts of time for minimal gain.

Space Marines can be similar.  Backpacks, helmet, weapon case, maybe shoulder pads depending on insignia.  All the other plates?  minimal difference for loads of effort.

You get much better at edge highlights as you go on – I always suggest edge highlighting, then washing, as it unifies the tone a little more, and makes any slight wobbles on the edges less apparent.  It lets you do them faster and less precise.  Again, thats not necessarily a good thing on a single beautiful model you’ve been painting for weeks.  On your tenth tactical squad of marines?  unless you are superhuman, you’ll be painting quick and make a few slips.

Honestly, for a very large army, you can get away with skipping edge highlights entirely.  For a modern looking army on the field, though, cherry picking your edges, and doing a single colour, not multiples, can actually makes the technique look more effective, matches up with other, more time consuming forces on the table, and is a good compromise on smaller elite forces.  Huzzah!  We can knock these out all day!  Armies are possible … the Lazy Mini Painter way!

The Cheap Gamer – Introduction

Well, alongside my Lazy Mini Painter posts, I’ve been quite inspired to look at how to hobby without breaking the bank.  You’ll find the two lines of articles will contradict each other quite a lot, though, and that isn’t an accident.  There are probably 5 main factors in the hobby.

  1. The time you have available to hobby.
  2. The money you have available for hobby.
  3. The quality of models and work you are willing to settle for.
  4. The experience you have in the hobby
  5. Your raw talent at the hobby

Generally, its not worth worrying about 4 and 5.  You can’t improve your raw talent at all, and experience just comes with time and practice.  So the first three are the important areas, where you can juggle your priorities.

Normally, you can’t really maximise all of 1 -3.  Its a compromise between time, money and quality.  Take bases.  You can save time on bases by using the GW texture paints and ready to stick tufts.  You can save money on nice bases by using things like sand, slate or cork and raiding DIY stores rather than hobby shops for those elements.  You can go all out for quality with a mix of custom resin bases and a whole range of customisations combined with painstaking paintjobs.

What you can’t do is get the absolutely best golden demon type base done in almost no time for little cost.  Its all about compromise.

This series is going to focus on saving money.  It’ll accept compromises on time, and to a certain degree, on quality (though it will try for a basic decent standard at least). We’re looking at decent tabletop gaming rather than Golden Demon standard hobby.

Its also going to focus on the purchase, preparation, and painting of models and terrain, rather than the actual gaming side.  Gaming is really down to taste, and these articles are going to be focussed on suggestions to game your way, but reduce the cost where possible.  Even minimising costs, it isn’t a cheap hobby! 

What sort of stuff will we cover?  Well, I’m afraid it probably won’t be great for a die hard GW fan – we’re going to be looking at cheaper options for paints, terrain, and ways of saving a little when we buy models.  GW are fantastic … what they aren’t is cheap!  This isn’t knocking them – if money is less important than time and quality, buying a full battle board and GW terrain is amazing to play on!    The GW paint range is top notch, but is also one of the most expensive.  And while we’ll still be looking at getting official models to allow us to go to tournaments and things, we’ll be looking at games stores that give decent discounts or recovering 2nd hand models from eBay.

Hopefully some people will find this a bit useful, and it’ll help me put my own thoughts and concepts into a decent structure for gaming as money gets tighter!

The Lazy Mini Painter – Proper Priming

OK!  Lets get this series started properly, and where’s better to start than proper priming!  Of course, I mean proper in the Lazy Mini Painter way!  Normally I’ll be posting these on a Monday, but as we’ve just had an introduction and no real content, I thought, what the hell!

Most minis tend to be primed in monochrome – white, black or grey – as a blank canvas for the colours to go on.  If you want to get models that look amazing, where every colour choice is perfectly balanced, thats definitely the way forward.

Me, though, I want to get things on the field ASAP.  They are going to be looked at from 3 feet away.  If the flesh tone is fractionally off, well, hell, no one will notice and people have different skin tones anyway!  Lets look at priming with coloured primer!  Thats a massive chunk of time saved – at least one base coat colour already done!

What colour should we prime models with?  The obvious answer is the one that makes up most of the models area, to save the most time.  However, the obvious answer isn’t always the right one.

The real key to saving time is to think about:

  1. The colour that is in the hardest to reach fiddly places.  Painting fiddly tiny areas actually takes far more time than slapping some more green on easy to reach armour plates.
  2. The colour that is hardest to get good coverage with from  a pot.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “two thin coats” is better than one thick one.  It is, but it takes twice the time.  If much of model is a light colour like yellow, or zhandri dust for Cadians, you can be better off priming with that for a quick, consistent finish, rather than spraying green for the bulk of the armour.
  3. The colour that goes under your other colours best.  I know, we’ve just discounted grey, black and white (well, unless they hit the other criteria, of course!), but the way colours go together is still important.  If you are doing mostly metals, priming in gold or silver is fine.  If you want to use glazes or gem paints, base coating with a metallic look is superb.  But if the model is mostly matt, lighter colours, you really don’t want to base coat with a metal, as you’ll find a slightly higher shine coming through.  If you are painting Cadians with khaki fatigues and bright red armour, you’ll find it hard to cover red with khaki than the other way around.

It often is still the obviously choice.  I’d base coat Sisters of Silence and Adeptus Custodes in gold, Grey Knights in Silver, and so on.  But black goes on really easily, looks nice and glossy over metal, and silver looks good in joints (and is fiddly to reach) with a wash.  You might want to think about using a silver or gun metal primer for Death Watch, not black, even though its mostly just the arm at first glance.  As a rule of thumb, priming with lighter colours will save you more time than darker ones.

So we’ve primed our models, and got a chunk of the base coat down … and the hardest part of the base coat too.  Is there any other ways we can speed things up during priming?

Well, its really a trick during model assembly, not priming.  Build the model in sections, and prime the sections in different colours!  You don’t want to be spending more time doing sections separately than it takes to use a brush, of course – that takes away the whole point!  But there are a few key assemblages that can really save time.

As a rule of thumb for infantry, you can probably assemble the bulk of the model.  There are three bits you might want to look at priming separately:

  1. Heads.  Now, I wouldn’t normally bother for marine helmets – they’ll match the armour (unless its something like blood angels with blue yellow helmets in an assault squad!)  But in the case of armoured models with an unarmored head, spraying the heads separately with a flesh tone, then gluing them in place afterwards, saves buckets of time.  It can be a bit painful to paint lighter flesh tones, and we’re probably going to be looking at dips and washes, and not waste too much time on layering, so lighter tones are what we need!  Its also easier to do different hair shades over a lighter flesh.  Painting blondes over a dark or metal colour is painful!
  2. Backpacks.  Why backpacks, I hear you ask?  Aren’t they the same colour as the rest of the model normally?  Indeed they are, but in 40k, particularly for marine types, they are bulky awkward things that are painful to spray around.  You’ll often find you waste loads of time touching up fiddly areas that haven’t got great coverage because of these.   You’ll probably save more time giving them a quick spray front and back separately (with a blob of bluetack or playdoh to let you glue the contact point).   It also lets you use a different colour if that’s useful – Dark Angel veterans are sometimes easier to base coat for their robes, and then you can save time on the backpacks in dark green.
  3. Weapons.  Why weapons?  Because these are generally gun metal regardless of the rest of the model, and like the backpacks, block the sprays coverage quite a lot if attached.  You can get your weapon base colour down as well as your core models, cover the whole model better with primer, and waste less time touching up fiddly bits that are hard to reach with a brush.

If you do this, priming (and assembly) will probably take a little longer.  But base coating, the dullest part of painting models, will generally be between 50-75% complete before you even pick up a brush.  And if you want to get a game in sooner rather than later, you aren’t fielding grey plastic already or plain black primed models even at this stage.  Even better, unlike brush work, spraying is just as easy with a whole army full of models as doing a unit of 5.  If you have to manually slap one colour of paint on 100 models, it can be soul destroying – most people find doing a unit is about as much as they can cope with at a batch.

We’ve talked about priming in colours – where can we get them?  I love the GW metal aerosol sprays, and the small range of coloured sprays match their paints, of course.  For general coloured spray primers, I get on with Army Painter sprays, though some people don’t like them.  And if you have an airbrush, you can even mix your own coloured primers, as well as exploiting Vallejo’s extensive range.

Fantastic.  Its what the Lazy Mini Painter is all about – getting armies ready to go!

The Lazy Mini Painter – introduction

I often see guides and tutorials on all sorts of techniques to paint minis better and better.  Fantastic convoluted techniques that take you to the golden demon awards and back.  And if you master them, your minis will look truly fantastic.  

That isn’t what this is all about.  Like many gamers out there, my hobby time is limited, and I like to play with armies that look pretty good on the tabletop.  I’m getting better as a painter, and I like to push my limits on occasion, but I just don’t have time to do that on a regular basis.  So how the hell do I get armies out to play?

This is where the Lazy Mini Painter comes in.  There are fantastic techniques to paint models quickly and efficiently, that look at least OK.  These are great tricks to have in your arsenal.  Some people will look down on some of the shortcuts – but as long as you’re ok with a solid tabletop army, who cares!  I honestly believe as long as you do the painting yourself, it’s not cheating – it’s just a different approach.  There’s nothing “better” about doing everything painstakingly with a brush.

Don’t expect anything too revolutionary – a lot of these will be techniques you already know, but applied to minimise the amount of time needed.

Priming, washes, dips, drybrushing, highlighting, quick basing, combining techniques.  It’s all to come.  The plan is to publish a timesaving article every Monday, to inspire those who haven’t achieved a #miniaturemonday tweet this week!  And for those more interested in painting as well as possible, it’s still worth a read.  The theory behind the techniques can still be bloody useful!