Think before you act. It’s always a good idea to go into a painting project with a plan. A great way to remember things is to use a mnemonic, which is a device of patterned letters that you can associate with something. For example, we know that “USA” stands for the United States of America. Or if you prefer, “UK” stands for the United Kingdom. In painting miniatures, I’ve been toying around with our own mnemonic for an easy method to remember a useful workflow.
For this article, I propose the mnemonic “CRAP” for better miniature painting. CRAP is catchy and memorable. My 3 year old talks about poops, pees, and craps all the time. It’s amazing for her, why not us?
If you’re a miniature painter, a scale model hobbyist, this post may enlighten you. Let’s figure out how the CRAP method can help you paint miniatures.
Keep reading (or CRAP-ing) for better miniature paint jobs!
How to CRAP for better miniature painting?
Here’s what C.R.A.P. stands for in miniature painting terms:
You can apply each of these terms for improving your miniature painting workflow. Check it out below!
C is for “Collect”
Painting miniatures is a daunting task. There are three basic things you should collect and have in a centralized place.
- Collect your thoughts. Don’t get hung up on the giant task ahead of you. It’s only a miniature, a tiny model. Break down your task into simple steps.
- Collect your supplies. Stay organized. If there’s a mess on your workspace, you’ll waste a lot of time finding what you need. Less mess, less stress.
- Collect your vision. You have an idea for your model/miniature. It could be a color scheme or motif. Collect those ideas and put them in a single place. Maybe you write them down in a notebook, or print them out as reference images. I use an iPad tablet to take notes and display color references. Whatever you do, place these things in a centralized place.
How to collect your thoughts?
Check out what I do.
When it comes to collecting your thoughts, you want to make sure you’re ready to do the job at hand. The easiest thing that will aggravate any miniature painter is distraction.
A great way to avoid distraction is to reduce big tasks into smaller ones.
The human mind isn’t designed to handle things in parallel. You can only do one thing at a time.
(As much as you’d like to multi-task, it’s been proven to be a myth).
If you want to avoid burnout with painting miniatures, you should also consider taking lots of breaks.
Motivation is hard to maintain, and even the best words of wisdom will fail you if you’ve got all your ducks flying everywhere.
Take it from me, collect your thoughts, then prioritize them. But do so that simplifies the entire project into it’s respective parts.
I suggest this:
Start with the easiest task.
For example, an easy task you can start with is to base coat. Base coat everything of the same color before thinking about the next color. This is the warm up thing you do. You may have a large idea for what you want to accomplish, but you’ll just dig yourself into a mental abyss.
A big project is merely a lot of little easy tasks added together. Start small to go big!
What about collecting your essential supplies?
Is your desk like mine?
I know that not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated hobby space. Not everyone can spread out their things in their home. For a long time, I worked on a coffee table in a cramped apartment.
One of the best ways to make painting miniatures and models more enjoyable is centralizing your hobby space.
If you’re unable to dedicate space, try and put all your essential hobby supplies in a centralized place or storage unit, e.g., a box or container. This way, when you’re ready to paint, you can quickly deploy your things to work.
I wish I had a photo of the storage unit I used more than a decade ago.
It is better to use fewer tools a lot, than a lot of tools a little.
Staying organized with your materials and paints will keep your efficiency high. More importantly, you’ll paint better because all your mental and emotional energy won’t be spread thin. This is also one of the reasons why I advocate trimming down to your most needed tools.
It all counts, you know.
Your energy to paint (or play) is limited.
When you need to apply primer to your models, be ready to do so. Have your primer somewhere you can find it. Here are some of the best and most popular primers. If you’re planning to airbrush, you’ll want all your airbrush accessories and media nearby.
Do whatever you can to keep your enthusiasm high when the mood strikes you!
How to collect your vision (your idea)?
Alright, so you have all your thoughts together and your supplies in a centralized location (in storage or on a dedicated hobby space). What do I mean about collecting your vision?
A vision is essentially the idea you have for your model. It’s not exactly a thought or mindset, but more like a blueprint.
Your vision includes what you think your model will look like when you’re finished.
Coming up with a vision can be hard for a lot of miniature painters.
Color is often a stumbling block.
Here’s some help for those who need help working out an army color scheme (e.g., Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar, Maulifaux, etc).
Before you paint any miniature, plan a little.
Then, take a few notes. They could be a quick jot on a notepad, or a photo you put on your computer hard drive.
Of course, if you’re copying the studio box scheme from the game or model company you purchased your miniature, then no worries.
Your job is done. Copy and paste!
For the original or custom paint job (most of you here do this), then create a simple outline.
The reason for a plan is you’re going to stop at some point.
There will be an unfinished miniature sitting there.
When you come back, you’ll want to know right away where to start again.
I don’t know many painters who can finish an entire paint job in a single session. Most don’t have the time or patience to do that.
This collection of ideas, plans, or ideas/references is especially important for complicated paint jobs. Or, more relevant, a simple reference photo may be great if you’re the kind of person who wants to go “out of order”.
Maybe on day 1 you like painting red, and started but didn’t finish. But, the next day you feel like you want to do the non-metallic metal (NMM) on the sword. If you try and go in order and finish the red, you’ve wasted the enthusiasm for painting NMM that day.
A collection of your vision into a plan will keep up your productivity.
Collecting your vision gives you an opportunity to leverage your natural motivation to paint miniatures.
R is for “Refine”
Okay, now that you’ve collected all your thoughts, supplies, and ideas into a prioritized area, what do you do?
Thin them out. Take only the best.
Do you know how you refine any clump of raw material? You heat it up and burn.
Burn up the bad ideas, the useless tools, and scrappy distractions.
The reason I say “burn” is because this process hurts. It hurts a lot.
I know why it hurts. You’ve invested all that time thinking and planning your miniature painting project. Now, I’m telling you to reduce your collected pile. All that energy you’ve expended, only to spend more to remove things from your stock.
Yes! Do it.
Do you know why refining is good?
What’s left behind after any refinement process will shine.
Gold, diamonds, they all sparkle and sheen after a refining process. Heat and pressure remove impurities. Tasty hard liquor takes on new flavors through distillation (i.e., heating and cooling raw components to purify the good stuff).
Do the same with your thoughts and materials. For example, light up your mini painting work with the best lamp you can find.
Only use the tools and ideas that are pure.
- Why buy that gadget, if it won’t do what you need for your project?
- Why think about other models in your collection, when your vision was for a single figure?
The other way to think about the refining stage of painting miniatures is that it’s a process of forcing you to stick to a singular goal. All your thinking and tools should be laser focused on the job. No more; no less.
A is for “Adapt”
Painting miniatures is a battle.
A blood soaked, bare-knuckled fight to the death.
Don’t believe me? Ask any miniature painter stuck with this.
Oh wait, that’s me.
No plan survives contact with the enemy.A wise person
With all the collecting and refining you did, when you actually sit down to work, you’ll find yourself in a new headspace. A battle space, really.
I’ve learned through a veritable walk through fire that painting miniature on commission (e.g., getting paid by people to paint their models) that there is no rest for the weary. You’re a professional now, and it takes a level of professionalism to get the job done on time.
But, you’re not a commission painter, you say? Well, you still want to get the job done right?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”Mike Tyson (2012), a badass boxer who bit off an opponent’s ear during a match
You’re going to have to adapt.
No matter what you do, at some point while you’re working on a miniature, you’ll discover a problem or challenge to overcome.
For me, it meant that I had to build a new workflow for painting large numbers of small Warhammer 40k tyranids quickly, but also find a place to put them when they were drying. I had to create an assembly line, a sort of factory. Check out what I did here to adapt.
Learning how to paint miniatures is a process.
For yourself, you will find that some paint colors, e.g., yellow, don’t cover so well. Instead of using your typical brush on method, you may want to base coat yellow using an airbrush (e.g, the Patriot 105 is my favored base coating airbrush) or a Citadel spray-on yellow.
Change your technique to fit the need. Adapt to the challenges as you discover them.
Be like the Borg. The Borg are an alien race (in the Star Trek universe) that adapt to incoming threats by assimilating technologies, cultures, and other living beings into their “collective”.
In other words, when you’re painting miniatures, instead of fighting challenges to your planned approach, roll with them. Take those difficulties and learn.
Not only does adaptation keep your productivity in high gear, you’ll enjoy the hobby so much more. There’s a joy in overcoming issues with something as challenging as blending two colors together.
Once you get the hang of simple blending techniques, for example, you can move on to more exciting advanced approaches.
P is for “Paint”
Ah, the simple things in life.
Capture all that hard work in a tangible form. Go paint the model.
I’ve been told that painting miniatures is a “Zen like experience”. A momentary period of time in your life that is pure bliss.
Certainly, an exaggeration. I’ve never gotten to that point of “bliss”, but it sure does sound nice.
Maybe this is what the psychologists call “flow“, a state of being in the zone.
You are not aware of your problems in life, just the brush and model in your hands. I suppose this the the goal for many who paint models: to enjoy that creative hobby in making something that nobody else has done, or will do.
Every piece you paint will never be painted the same way again.
Get in the painting zone.
Painting is a process of adding pigment to a surface medium. For a miniature artist, the paint is acrylic and the surface is plastic, metal, or resin.
In the great words of a shoe company, or the last words of a convicted killer before his execution: “Just Do It“.
Do you get paralyzed by big projects?
Sadly, I try to fit the entire task in front of me all at once and I freeze.
I freeze from fear. Instead of doing the things I want, I end up doing something else entirely outside my plan. Silly, procrastination.
Well, remember, it’s C.R.A.P., a mnemonic to follow when you’re not sure where to start on your miniature painting project(s).
Remember, the CRAP method: