Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Painting

I wanted to conclude this impromptu series with what you might find in my toolbox for the painting aspect of our hobby. More than just brushes play a part in producing a quality paint job on a figure, and we're going to touch on what I think you need to stock your own proverbial toolbox with to get the most out of your hard work and hours of dedication.


Let's dive right into the meat of the matter with what brushes to use, and when to use what style.

Below you'll see the basic breakdown of brush tip styles. From top to bottom it goes; Bright, Filbert, Flat and finally Round.

I'll use the Bright and Flat styles for nearly interchangeable purposes such as large flat surfaces on vehicles or anything else I want to lay a smooth, even coat down. I find that using a the Filbert or Round tips can give me a harder time at this on larger surfaces, and quite frankly, just plain take longer to accomplish the same task.

Filbert tip brushes I mostly use only for applying Weathering Powders. Not that they can't be used for other applications, this is just how I choose to use them. I like the more rounded, wide tips for this purpose. They hold a good amount of powder and distribute it nicely.

Round tips should be doing the backbreaking majority of your work when it comes to miniature painting. They are the most versatile of all the tip styles, and offer the most flexibility in uses, and the sharp points are great for detail work.

Let's not leave out the kind of hair that makes up your brush, Kolinsky Sable. The best brand for miniature painting out there right now would be Raphael Series 8404 Kolinsky Red Sable brushes. These are the cadillac of brushes, used by top miniature painters the world over. I just recently purchased a few myself, and while I won't pretend they aren't expensive, they are worth every penny. The must-have is a size 0, Round. This is your workhorse brush. I purchased a few other sizes as well for other uses, but you can do 99% of your work with a size 0 on a 28mm figure.

Now I only buy the Raphael 8404 Series for a few of my Round brushes. For the Bright, Flat and Filbert styles I purchase the Dick Blick Sable brand. They are a more affordable alternative for brushes that you might abuse a little more than the Rounds. Like the Filberts with Weathering Powders.

Brush / Bristle Protectors and a Brush Case

Protect your investment in quality Brushes!!! I can't emphasize this enough. When you buy your brushes, they should come with these little clear plastic tubes that surround the tips. Do not throw these away, and once you clean your brushes after using them, put these back on them. Following that, get a good case to store your brushes in once they are dry. Trust me, after spending a hundred dollars in brushes, spending another few bucks for a case won't kill you.


I've talked to multiple painters on this, and all agree on one thing... paint with two lights, using daylight bulbs. The lights should be positioned to either side of you, and above you, both angled down towards your painting station. This will give you a good saturation of light, eliminating any unnecessary shadows that harsh lighting will produce. The daylight bulbs will help you see the color of your paints accurately and not color them with a yellow tint like incandescent bulbs will.

And please, do not go spend your paycheck on specialty "hobby" or "craft" lamps. They are over-inflated in price. Go to your local office supply store and buy them there.

Wet Palette

A Wet Palette will keep your paints moist as the surface your paints rest on is a porous one, and underneath is a medium for holding water. Usually parchment paper, and sponge cloth or paper towels respectively. You can purchase one like the above picture, or make your own! We all know by now I'm lazy when it comes to making my own tools like this, so I bought one. The Painting Corps, however, has a couple GREAT articles on how to make your own, cheaply and effectively. Check them both out here and here. I use this for painting exclusively now, even when I'm not mixing colors as it saves my paint from drying out since I don't care to paint straight from the pot, and it also thins out your paints ever so slightly on it's own.

Paint Station and Storage

A good paint station keeps me organized. I use the new GW one as I just like it, and had a gift card to use up at the time they came out. You don't have to have one if you don't want, I just like it. Paint storage is also one of those tools that is more philosophy than physicality. Just have a good, temperature controlled (not your garage in the summer, or a freezer), place to store your paints in an upright position. It's the "Upright Position" we're paying attention to here. Storing your paints on their side will actually cause them to dry out faster.

Rinse Cups and Water

Before you hang me for actually mentioning Rinse Cups and Water as my final two tools, hear me out. Always use two Rinse Cups. One for standard pigment paints, and one for metallic pigment paints. If you rinse out your brush after using metallic paints in your cup, then start painting with standard pigments and continue to rinse out your brush in the same cup, you'll begin to transfer metallic flakes to your standard pigment paint surfaces.

Water is the last tool for the sole purpose to let you know that I don't use any other tool to thin out my paints or make them flow better. If you do, then that's up to you, but you shouldn't have to, it's as simple as that.

I hope this helps when taking a look at what you need to equip yourself... WAIT!!!

What do you mean I haven't mentioned the paint itself? Oh.. right. I guess I didn't, did I? Yes, that was on purpose. I'll go into paints and primers and sealants in another post. The tools above are pretty tried and true when it comes to needing them. When you begin to dive into paints, then opinions become a strong part of the article and I didn't want to dive into that here.

What do you use when painting? Something in your "Toolbox" that's not in mine? Share!!! That's the only way we improve sometimes.

- Tim


  1. Great post with some useful ideas. It has got me thinking and if you don't mind I have a couple of questions.

    Firstly the brushes, I have seen a lot of people say that a more expensive brush is better but how much better than say a standard GW one are they?

    When you clean the brushes do you use water or a specialist cleaning fluid?

    If it's a fluid does this help protect and shape the brushes? as seen this suggested before.

    Lastly I have looked at making or buying a wet pallet but they all seem to be quite hefty, smallest was 8"x6". Is this a hindrance to work with or does it help as have been put off by it being larger than I would need?

    Thanks in advance for the advice.

  2. How much better than a GW brush... Hmm.. I'll be honest here and admit that I've only had limited exposure to the GW brush range, and none since they re-did and re-packaged them.. a quote form their site on their brush range:

    "The majority of Citadel Brush heads are made from kollinsky sable, with the remainder made from dark ox hair and custom-cut nylon fibres"

    Unfortunately for me, I can't seem to find which ones are the sable brushes and which ones aren't! I will tell you with all confidence as both an artist by trade and degree, as well as a cheap sonovagun when it comes to art supplies, that a QUALITY brush is well worth the money you pay for it. Price doesn't always dictate quality, and my decision to use the Raphael 8404 line was based on me asking Mathieu Fontaine what brushes he uses. That, and a bunch of articles on From the Warp and other blogs. But I waited to ask Mathieu in person as a final confirmation, cause I'm cheap :P

    Right now to clean my brushes, I only use water. Cold water, with no additives, and I'm CONSTANTLY swishing it around in the water after every brush load of paint so as not to allow paint to dry in the bristles or get down to the base and ruin the brush that way. I've seen and read about success using "The Masters" Brush Cleaner, and you can find that at any art supply store. i haven't actually used it myself though, so it's hard for me to endorse it specifically.

    I don't use anything to help shape the brush, as the Kolinsky Sable hairs naturally shape themselves to some degree and keep that shape well, and then after I clean it for the last time, I will give it a final shape with my lips. Yup, I'm a brush-licker :P

    I did indeed buy the 8x6 wet palette and don't tend to find it's size a hindrance, though the next size up at 12" on one side is way too big for me to use comfortably, but I could see the point depending on one's workstation and preferences. Making your own with a piece of sponge cloth and small tupperware, sized to your needs and likes, is just fine as well. Totally up to you on that one. Remember, I bought mine cause I'm lazy :P GreyDeath at The Painting Corps makes his own and is an amazing painter.

    And hey, no problem, though I think I just wrote another blog post here... ;) Ask any time something comes to mind, I'm happy to help if I can!


  3. Thanks for the in depth advice think I will have to take a look at a wet palette if they have more pro's than the size of the palette itself.

    I will have to look into buying a cheap brush to do my mixing with as normally end up getting it too full and is a nightmare to clean off so probably my own fault that brushes die a quick death with me.

    If water and a high quality brush keeps them clean and in shape I'm more than happy to go down than route as me and chemical cleaners normally end up with me having accidents so that answer was a relief.

  4. Just a word of caution on mixing paint with the bristles of a brush... as you know it'll destroy the brush quickly, but it also will waste quite a bit of your paint as well. Try mixing with the back end of the brush. Works well for me, and saves me paint, especially on the wet palette as the paint doesn't dry out so quickly :)

    And the combination of water and a high quality brush will indeed save you those accidents :)

  5. Thanks using the back of the brush sounds like a plan will give it a try this evening as should have chance to do a little painting.