I’ve gotten many questions over the years from new hobbyists about what they can do to improve their miniature painting.
To keep it simple, here’s the top 10 things I would say helped me:
1. Do not substitute anything for time you spend with a brush. You learn to paint miniatures better by painting miniatures. Experience. Get it. Watching YouTube videos or reading instructional books are great ways to pick up information. But, nothing will improve your work like you actually doing it. Paint to learn to paint!
2. Learn to fail. Enjoy your work by disregarding the end-result. In other words, learn how to enjoy the process of finishing something even if the product you end up with isn’t something you’re pleased with. What is important is to “do it”. Learn how to silence the negative voices in your head that try to judge everything you do while painting. Learn to encourage yourself, whether this is positive self-talking, or simply expecting to fail. You will become better with this process and with practice you will become a better miniature painter.
3. Get and use good tools. Whether it is brushes or paint, you should buy the best you can afford. You will get frustrated if the tools you use slow you down or hinder your progress. Take it from me, don’t cheap out, if you want to improve your work. It can make a huge difference in both speed and outcome if your brushes and paint do what you want them to do on a consistent basis.
4. Sharp brush tips. Keep the tips of your brushes sharp and pointy. You want control and being able to apply paint in a consistent and reliable fashion on miniatures requires a brush that comes to a fine point. The best quality brushes hold their point (these are generally fine-sable brushes with Kolinsky hair bristles). The best classical mainstream brands are: Winsor & Newton Series 7, Raphael 8404, DaVinci Maestro. For hobby-oriented brushes with excellent quality try: Broken Toad or Artis Opus.
5. You only know what you know. Learn from many people. Go to workshops. Ask questions from different artists you admire. Miniature painting has many facets of style and technique. Each painter uses a different approach. Take this in, apply what you think works, but never assume you’re done learning. Another note, don’t think that you need to learn from professionals. You can pick up a lot from other new painters. As they grow, follow them.
6. You are free to do what you want. This is artistic license. As a painter, you are an artist and artists have a freedom in their creativity that you should exercise. Just because your miniature painting doesn’t follow convention, doesn’t mean it’s “wrong”. You can paint something realistically, and someone else might paint the same model with a cartoony style. If you want to paint something in a different style, feel free to use reference photos and copy that approach. Mix it up if you want to be different. But your painting is your expression.
7. Don’t paint yourself into a comfort zone. Use paint to add variety into your work. Variety could be from color, tone, and value. Don’t get bogged down by color theory and math. Try out different ways to make your paint work for your model. Paint with colors and shades that you like. If you follow a formula, then you may fall into the trap of a routine.
8. High contrast is more important than staying in the lines. Make sure you keep things bright and dark on the same model. Whether you’re doing an abstract approach or trying to keep the model cleanly painted, make sure your model has a wide dynamic range of bright and dark values. This will make your model “pop” and continue to have that 3D-look that draws the viewers’ interest.
9. Squint your eyes and change the perspective. Literally, squint your eyes at your piece. Can you distinguish the different parts of the model even with your squinted, fuzzy view? If not, you’ll probably know how to fix that. A model stands out when the viewer is able to distinguish its different parts at-a-glance. Make sure you understand that in some perspectives and viewpoints, the model might look better or worse. Turn the model sideways, upside-down, and every which way.
10. Do what is comfortable. Don’t share your work if you think it’s not ready. Don’t paint in a certain style unless you really want to try it. Drinking your cleaning pot full of dirty paint water is gross. Don’t do it.
Happy miniature painting!