It’s effective even in cases of long standing — oh, wait, that’s a different letter. Today’s letter is M…for MINIATURES!
In my previous article, I introduced you to the wonderful world of painting miniatures. I gave you a quick overview of the kind of things this column will be covering, and let you know what kind of tools you would need in order to paint your first miniature. Before you get started, though, you’re going to need to prepare your miniature to be painted. Below is a quick list of the things you’ll need for this. Several were explained in the previous article, but the rest were oversights on my part — sorry ‘bout that!
– An old, used toothbrush or nail-brush (nice to have but not completely necessary; this is explained below)
– A set of clippers or a hobby knife (X-Acto or the like; see below.)
– A long-nose plier.
– Needle files
– Primer (black, white, or grey)
– A breathing filtration mask
– Disposable (latex) gloves
– An old, empty box (or even a new box. S’up to you!) – I use an old U-haul “small box” approximately 13″ high and 16″ wide
– Your miniature
Important Note: For this first set of articles, I am assuming that you have chosen a one-piece miniature, and not one that needs to be assembled. Assembling a multi-piece miniature can be tricky, and I wouldn’t recommend it for your very first time. Besides, my How To Assemble A Multi-Piece Miniature article is still a ways off, and I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging!
So, you got everything? Good!
Open up your packaging; most miniatures come in packaging that consists of a plastic square or rectangle glued against some form of backing. I suggest keeping both the plastic square and the backing; the plastic will come in handy when it comes time to paint your miniature (it’s great for storing clean water with which to mix your paints), and the backing can help when it’s time to primer your miniature.
Now, look at your miniature. There will potentially (and commonly) be one or two “problems” with the miniatures straight out of the box. These problems are easily solved and shouldn’t alarm you. As an example, I’ll use the miniatures I showcased in my last article, the “King’s Guards” by Ral Partha.
Potential Problem 1: OMG IT’S BENT!!1!
Most miniatures are made of pewter. This is a soft metal alloy that bends (and breaks!) easily. What this means to you is two things: first, that you must be careful in handling pieces that stick off of the miniature (weapons, loose pieces of clothing, etc) because they *can* break if bent too many times. Second, it means that when you take your brand new miniature out of the packaging, its weapon may be bent all sorts of strange ways. Take a look at my merry band, fresh out of the packaging:
Now, this is not a reason to fret, nor to storm back to your miniature supplier with threats and interesting commentary on their mothers. Bent pewter is not the end of the world. For that matter, broken pewter (in case something snaps off while you’re trying to fix it) is not the end of the world either.
So how do you fix this problem? For now, you don’t. There’s another step you should take before you go straightening bendy miniatures. I’ll get into that after I’m done explaining these potential problems.
Potential Problem 2: My mini has weird extra pieces/spikes attached to it!
Most pewter miniatures are cast in a two-part mold. While it is being created, the mold is vented so that you don’t get air bubbles/pockets in your miniatures. Where these vents are located, sometimes you will get little spikes (or “flash”) that remain attached to the miniature. Take my fine fellow here, for example:
How is this problem solved? These little spikes are typically very flexible, and a few repetitive bends will take them off. Or, if you want to be extra careful to not damage the miniature, take a pair of clippers or a hobby knife and cut them off. Needless to say, if you choose to use the hobby knife, BE CAREFUL and do not cut towards yourself. Always cut away from yourself, take it slowly, and practice safe cutting!
Once you get the spikes off of the miniature, you can use your needle files to smooth out any leftover lumps or inconsistencies.
Potential Problem 3: My mini has a seam line running down its middle!
As explained above, miniatures are cast in a two-part mold. This can sometimes leave the miniature with a visible seam-line where the mold meets itself. If you paint your miniature without removing the seam, it can lead to a less realistic appearance to the piece.
Three out of four of my King’s Guards were actually pretty clean. The fourth one has a good example of a seam-line, though. I’ve actually pictured two here, one seam along the man’s hat, and the other, more clearly, along the bottom of the base:
So fixit! This is where your needle files come in handy. They come in different shapes and sizes to help you get at those strange angles and small crevices that you have to maneuver around to get your seam-line removed. Take it slowly, and if you need to take it layer by layer, don’t hesitate to do so. Slower is always better than faster when it comes to detail work like this.
Also, a piece of advice: Work over a hard surface, like a table or somesuch, and keep something underneath you while you work – newspaper, a paper plate…something that will keep little metal fragments from getting all over the place. Pewter dust is not fun to get everywhere.
If you really want to play it safe (and I always encourage safe practices!), you can run to your local drug store and get yourself a package of those breathing “filtration masks” – you know, the type surgeons wear. You should put that on while you’re filing, if you’re going to do a lot of filing in one go. I can only imagine that breathing pewter dust is one of the less-fun things to do on a Saturday night. Or on any night, for that matter. Just Say No.
These potential problems are common, and shouldn’t surprise you if you encounter one / all of them when you get a new miniature. Fortunately, fixing them is easy, and is just another part of preparing your miniature to paint!
So in which order should you tackle these problems? First, remove any spikes. After that, file down the remnants of the spikes as well as whatever seam line was showing.
I would suggest that you *not* unbend the miniature yet! I would move whatever I needed to, though as little as possible for the time being, because there’s one more step to take before you unbend the miniature, and that is….:
Clean the Mini!
Miniatures, when they are released from their mold, may still have remnants of whatever substance was used to keep them from sticking to that mold. A lot of people want to clean that off. I would like to go on record as saying you don’t HAVE to; I’ve painted quite a few miniatures without washing any potential residue off and have never had any problems with painting.
But, assuming you want to be thorough, just take an old toothbrush or nail brush, load it up with soap, and wash the miniature. Make sure to catch all of the little crevices, and wash behind its ear—-wait, sorry.
One thing you will definitely want to keep in mind is this: SUPPORT YOUR MINIATURE. Nothing is more frustrating than spending time removing the “flaws” of a miniature, only to wash it and have its weapon snap off because you didn’t support it before attacking it with your toothbrush. You don’t need any special equipment for that or anything; just make sure any potentially bendy pieces are supported against your hand before scrubbing them. If something does snap off, you can super-glue it back on after the miniature is dry.
Rinse them off completely, and dry them thoroughly. And *then* you can unbend whatever bendy parts need to be fixed. For something that needs to be straight, like a sword, you can use a pair of long-nose pliers to make sure it’s perfectly straight. Or, if you don’t mind that much, you can just unbend things with your fingers. It’s completely up to you.
Once your miniature looks the way you will want it to look – swords un-bent, seam-lines gone, no vent spikes – then you can prepare to primer!
Primer – What is it, and why do I need it?
Primer is, essentially, a base-coat to put on your miniatures before you start coloring them. It prepares them for painting, making sure the paint will stick better to the miniature, and increases the “life” of your paint-job. Think of it as extra protection to make sure your paint job will stay on the miniature for as long as possible. It’s basically created for the purpose of sticking to surfaces.
It’s also a great way to start planning out the colors of your miniature. A miniature that you prime in white will give you a brighter, more vivid end result. A miniature primed in black will hold shadows more prominently and allow for deeper coloring. A miniature in grey is, obviously, the middle ground.
Personally, I prefer primering in black, just because it makes the shadows much easier to play with. I can brighten and brighten and brighten from there if I need to create something vivid. One thing to note: a miniature primed in white will force you to be extra careful about making sure you paint everything; one missed spot will stick out to the eye.
Do you *need* to primer your mini? Well, no. You don’t *have* to do any of this preparatory stuff. But your miniature will look better and its paint job will last longer in the end if you do.
So, that said, let’s get to primering!
First, you will want to get a box. It doesn’t have to be huge; it just has to be big enough to safely spray into. As I mentioned above, I use an old, leftover U-haul “small box” approximately 16″ wide by 13″ high. You will also definitely want a breathing filtration mask; a lot of sprays can be poisonous and should not be inhaled! Primers usually come with warnings on the can – make sure you read the warnings and understand what it is you’re working with; some don’t even want you to make skin contact with the stuff. I typically primer using both a mask and gloves (which makes for some interesting looks from the neighbors, let me tell you).
You will definitely want to primer outside. The box is to make sure that you contain as much of the spray as possible and not hit anything else you shouldn’t (apartment managers get a little angry if you paint their walls….).
So. Gear up – mask, gloves, box, primer, mini. I also suggest taking the cardboard backing from the package your miniature cam in; this will help you turn the miniature without touching it and smudging the wet primer.
Set yourself up as follows: The box should be turned on its side, so the opening is facing you. Place the miniature ON the cardboard backing (or some other, similar, turnable object – an old, cracked CD case, or even that Yanni CD you got when you were drunk…), and place them both INSIDE the box. Like so!
When you spray, do so in light waves. You want the primer to be even across the surface. What I will do is spray one or two “test sprays” away from the miniature first, to get an idea of the coverage and the angle at which I will need to hold the can. I tend to hold the can a good one to one-and-a-half feet away from the miniature. Feel free to play around with the distance, though, and find what works best for you.
When you are finished primering one side (and make sure you look at the miniature from different angles to make sure you got the undersides of things!), turn the cardboard packaging (or CD case, or Yanni CD) to get at the next angle for the miniature.
Rinse, repeat until your miniature is completely covered. Try to keep the layer lighter rather than heavier; too heavy a spray will eat up a lot of the details of the miniature!
From there, take the box someplace it (and the mini) can safely air out for 10-20 minutes; you don’t want the fumes in your house. Primer stinks! Plus, yanno…poison.
Once it’s had a good while to air out, you can bring it inside to finish the drying process. Keep it someplace safe and out of harm’s (and children’s, and pets’) way. (Note that this is another good thing about using a spare CD or CD case; you can keep the box elsewhere and just bring the miniature in, since the CD/case will be sturdy enough to lift by itself; you don’t get that with the cardboard backing unless you’re lucky). If you want to play it safe, let the miniature dry overnight.
So settle down with a good book or a good movie and enjoy the rest of your day…for in the next article….WE PAINT!