How Simple Techniques Make You a Better Artist

Stuck in a hobby or creative rut? Do you feel like despite all your effort your forward progress has come to a grinding halt? It may seem like you need to have that new workstation, watch another YouTube video, or get that fancy new brush, but deep down many of us simply want to create art better, paint miniatures better, etc. You can definitely improve your skills without overcomplicating your approach with more stuff, new gadgets, e.g., airbrushes, expensive paints, and complex techniques.

In this article, I show you why and how you should consider simplifying your miniature painting approach to become a more effective creative.


Simple miniature paint jobs aren’t really easy!

A solid, simple plan for painting miniatures combines discipline and patience.

If you’re impulsive, you’ll dive right into a project and get lost. Unless you’re talented, going into a painting project without any “vision” or sense of where you’re taking your miniature painting is a recipe for easy-discouragement.

You’ll hit a difficult section and your motivation will slump.

Limitation breeds creativity.

(You can play, free-associate yourself into a miniature painting project, but realize that if you want the greatest chance of improving and finishing a project, stick to a plan).

Instead, this is what you should try and do:

Intermingle a hard-to-paint miniature, e.g., something that you’ll approach with advanced blending techniques, like loaded-brush blending, or wet blending, NMM, with an easy project, e.g., a Warhammer 40k Space Marine that only requires dry brushing and washes.

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You should work on two miniature painting projects at the same time. A hard project and a simple, easy project.

If you’re already an experienced miniature painter, then you know the working rhythm of working on multiple models at the same time. The rhythm of hard and easy allows you to rest your mental capacity for a long-drawn out project with another piece.

Simply stated, you can keep your hobby motivation and skill improvement moving forward by using what physical exercise enthusiasts called “high intensity interval training” (or HIIT). Go into a difficult project with everything you have, then stop and work on something simple and easy.

Your mental reserves will metaphorically burn like your muscles do after a strenuous workout.

To keep things simple, stick with two miniatures: one complicated, the other simple.

Plan within your limits

You need to paint miniatures with the skills and tools you have in front of you.

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What are the ingredients you should consider:

RELATED: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR MINIATURE PAINTING ENDURANCE

To improve and get better at painting miniatures, remember the basics.

How simple miniature painting techniques makes you a better artist

Did you know that limiting yourself to simple approaches and tools will make you more creative?

When I was in college, I took a lot of art classes. I didn’t graduate with an art degree or anything, but they were a way for me to explore that side of myself. I learned how to acrylic paint on stretched canvas, draw, sculpt with clay, and work with metal scrap (i.e., operating an acetylene blow torch and flux-core welder machine). Lots of fun!

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Of all the technical skills I picked up, none taught me as much as this:

“Limitation breeds creativity,” said my favorite art teacher, a fame painters and advocate for HIV/AIDS patients in the early days of that epidemic.

At the time, little did I know the concept of creative limitation.

Creative limitation is the concept of how you purposely limit yourself to drive more creativity.

If you lack motivation, drive, and a sense that you’ve plateaued with your skill set, try and limit yourself.

I’ve done this for my photography by limiting myself to a single focal length (shooting only with a 40mm lens). I even went so far as removing color from my photography. You can see some of my results here.

To drive your creativity in painting miniature, try these limitations:

  • Use a single brush for everything. I use a size #2 synthetic pointed round like this one for everything when I feel the need to simplify my workflow and remember to the basics.
  • Restrict your color palette. I tend to recommend to speed painters to use less than 5 colors. Or, for an extra challenge, don’t use any neutral colors at all, like black or white.
  • Don’t use pre-made washes. I know the temptation to fall back on washes, especially the Citadel shades, which are easy to use and produce great results without a lot of effort. But, overusing washes can make you lazy, or worse, be very boring. Try making your own thinned washes with inks or oil paints.
  • Speed paint. Take 10 models, e.g., simple trooper models or board game miniatures, and try and finish painting all of them in under 2 hours. Here are a few tips to help get you started with speed painting miniatures.

How do you know you’re improving?

The idea that you’ll notice yourself improving is a paradox.

If you’re truly into your art, miniature painting, whatnot, then you won’t even care whether you’re “improving”. Your mind, body, and spirit are so absorbed into the creative endeavor, you’ll have no room in yourself to know that you’re getting better.

You are in flow.

Only when you stop, take a step back, and look in the rear view mirror do you realize how far you’ve come. You have to take a pause, a hiatus, to see what you’ve accomplished.

And, that is the discovery, the thrill, that I look for in my approach with creating things, e.g., a prized painting, a special photograph, or a piece of hard-earned writing.

Forget scientific data. Remember, your experience can’t be measured.

Look. At the end of the day, miniature painting isn’t a numbers game.

You’re not trying to get from point “A” to point” B”.

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There’s not Excel spreadsheet telling you how to add up all the gains and losses to a final bottomline.

No… art is about you. It’s your experience in the process. Remember to keep your ideas and work simple and you’ll enjoy whatever you’re doing a lot more.

A favorite photographer of mine likes to say (source):

“Protect your highlights. Embrace your shadows.”

What I think he means to say is that when you’re creating something, you’re going to have ups and downs. You’re going to feel great and lousy, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Instead, you should protect and cherish your achievements, and accept defeat.

The light and dark go together.

Life is not black and white, some say. But, really, it’s not a grey middle either.

Protect your highlights. Embrace your shadows.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to improve your art, miniature painting, whatever you prefer, then keep it simple. I’ve watched a young child draw with crayons for an hour, enthralled by the “mess” he was creating. In his mind, however, worlds collide and emerge unscathed.

The simplicity of basic creation is something we should all remember.

When you’re stuck in a rut, go back to the beginning. Simplify everything.


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