Last night I finally wrapped up the final steps of the mini painting marathon I’ve been on. Those final steps were the assembling and painting of the bases, the spraying of a final matte finish sealer/glaze on the minis and the glueing of the minis onto the bases. All done now. They are now playable minis that will get stored with my pre-existing mini collection.

The total cost on this little endeavor?
– Miniatures $71.55
– Shipping $6.50
– Paints $2.00
– Bases $3.49
– Shipping $1.50
– Glaze/Sealer $3.00
– Glue $2.00
– Brushes $1.95

Total – $91.99, let’s call it $92.

For that I received 360 or so miniatures in ten different sets. The sets were:

– Roman Legionnaires
– Mycenaean army
– Assyrian army
– Celtic army
– Undead
– Elves
– Dwarves
– Adventurers (this included a large troll that was easily worth the $7.95 cost all by itself)
– Orcs
– Knights

Not counting the troll (which I see as a sort of bonus) I spent basically $.25 each on the minis. I don’t think you’ll find a better deal on minis. Mini collections selling on eBay tend to run from $1 – $2 per mini for large lots of 100 or so, and most of those are usually common minis along with random uncommons or rares and aren’t generally composed of sets that can serve a particular purpose. So since I got pretty much exactly what I wanted and need for my RPG campaigns, I think the cost is more than reasonable.

Now, I received the minis last Thursday, but wasn’t able to open them and start doing anything with them until Friday. I’ve been doing a lot of painting since then. My guess is that I spent 45 hours on the project, which means I spent roughly seven and a half minutes working with each individual mini. In that seven and a half minutes I cleaned them up (removing plastic flashing or sprue remnants), painted at least 4 and up to 6 layers, dry-brushed roughly 1/4 of them and then assembled the base, glued them to the base, dunked them in varnish and then sprayed them with matte sealant. That’s a lot to get done in seven minutes.

I will post pics tonight. I got done too late last night to take photos and post them. I think they came out pretty well.

So, what did I learn from this nearly $100 experiment in miniature painting/collecting? Well, here’s a sort of list of lessons learned:

  • Nothing is more important than a good brush. I mostly used cheap brushes (bought a pack of economy brushes from Hobby Lobby for $1.95 for like eight brushes). You get what you pay for. When I started doing the detail work, I started going through brushes pretty fast. I could have done much better detail work, and done it faster, if my brushes hadn’t kept getting loose fibers that tended to leave paint where I didn’t want it, and if the end of the brushes didn’t keep curling up and/or bending into permanent contortions from the painting/cleaning process. A good brush costs a lot of money though… so I ended up mostly using up the cheap ones. When I paint minis in the future I will use better brushes.
  • Painting such tiny items with any level of precision and detail seems to be almost entirely a lesson in self-confidence. I tend to use a “dab-dab-dab” technique because I don’t really trust myself to be able to put the tip of a paint-filled brush on a tiny detail (say a tooth sticking up from a lip on an orc) and “paint” the brush along the surface, keeping paint only applied to the detailed item. However, when I did force myself to actually paint with the brush instead of dabbing at the mini with the brush, the results were invariably superior. Belts are a perfect example, With the right level of confidence I could get the tip of the brush on the edge of the belt and then draw a smooth, straight line all the way around the mini with virtually no paint leaking over from the belt onto the pants or shirt, and doing that took at most a second or two, and I was done. The “dab-dab-dab” technique almost always ended up with one of my dabs going awry and took several seconds to get around the entire mini. The more I painted, the more confidence I gained, and the more I was able to paint the mini instead of just dab at it. If I could actually get my head out of the idea that I’m going to spread paint all over the mini when I try to paint it, and just paint the dang things I need to paint, I would be a much, much better painter. Even after spending a full week painting, I still find it hard to make myself use the brush and paint the mini instead of dab at it. And to make matters worse, dabbing at the mini is what tends to wreck my brushes, which just makes the process more difficult. It’s amazing how much confidence and willingness to take a risk comes into play. Probably a life lesson there.
  • I found it much easier to do the painting with magnifying reading glasses on than to use the desk magnifying glass to do the painting. However, the desk magnifying glass has some clips on it that would be very helpful in painting if I were doing just one individual mini instead of trying to slog through hundreds at a time. So this is sort of a way to improve effeciency, not so much to improve quality.
  • Paint is much, much easier to apply if it is thinned first. So much easier that it’s sort of crazy. Unfortunately I never figured out a way to reliably and consistently thin the acrylic paint I was using. Water caused the paint to sort of get lumpy and inconsistent, no matter how much I stirred it, and rubbing alcohol created a weird metallic effect, had the same lumpy problem, and dried out in just a few minutes, leaving the paint crusty and unwilling to stick to the figure. If anyone knows a way to reliably thin acrylic paints, I would be glad to hear it. This was perhaps the single most frustrating part of the whole process, and was particularly bad on my flesh-colored paint mixes and my gray mixes.
  • Certain spray paints never seem to dry. I spray painted some other items along with these purchased minis and over a week later those I painted green and gray are still tacky to the touch and leave green marks on any other minis they touch. I am really amazed by the unwillingess of these paints to dry.
  • Certain spray paints are very difficult to apply the acrylic paint to. The acrylic simply doesn’t want to stick, requiring several coats at best, and the “dab-dab-dab” technique at worst. This was particularly frustrating since I was trying to learn to stop doing the “dab-dab-dab” technique and when working on a mini with one of the teflon spray paints, I immediately dropped back into that technique because it was the only thing that seemed to apply paint, and then found myself 20 minutes later on a completely different mini, still dabbing. Arg. Inertia….
  • Mixing paints to create specific colors is an art form all in itself. One I never remotely mastered. Especially on flesh tones. No matter what I did I could not come up with a flesh tone that didn’t look too pink, too dark, or like some totally unnatural color. I ended up with a sort of dark pink that I used for virtually all of the minis, but when it dried, it came out as a sort of bright pinkish-red that looked more like a sunburn than normal skin. I figured the varnish dunking would darken that and just went ahead with it instead of wasting more time on the fruitless search for an ideal mix of paints. For individual minis I will have to figure out this step because I can’t have all of my “special” minis look like sunburned lobsters.
  • Don’t hold the mini you are painting directly over the paint you are using. Because you will drop it, and when you do, you will have one entire side of the mini immediately painted that color. And trust me, it is dang near impossible to clean up that sort of mess.
  • Details on the mini are very hard to see. Even things that would seem to be fairly obvious. Like whether the mini is wearing boots or sandals. On the Roman Legionnaires I was certain that they had metal boots because the legs had a raised lip above the ankle, just as all the other booted minis did. After painting all 40 or so of the Legionnaires with gray “boots” and letting them dry, I realized when I was assembling their shields and weapons that they actually had sandals, not boots, and they had individual toes that I had not seen. So then the question became whether to leave it with the gray feet, or to attempt to remix the flesh color (see above) and try to paint them and then paint the complex weave of sandal straps on top of the bare feet. In the end I decided that these miniatures may have technically been Roman Legionnaires, but they actually represented soldiers of the “Hanorian Guard” in my campaign, and those soldiers wore boots. Leaving their sandal clad feet painted like boots looked fine unless you looked very closelyl at them, so I ended up just leaving them painted like boots. There were many other such things, such as minis who had necklaces or wrist bands that looked like gloves at first glance. This became a common problem and there were many times after completing painting I realized that I had painted gloves when there were none, or vice versa. Oh well…. you have to look close to see these things.
  • The varnish-dunking technique is amazingly effective. It hides a multitude of painting errors, and gives the final result a sort of glazed look that appears very professional. On the other hand, when dunking 360 minis, there is no way to keep an eye on how each one is drying so there are inevitable problems with varnish pooling at the bottom of areas and causing those areas to be darker and to hide details. If I were doing only a few minis, I would be able to monitor each one individually and use a paper towel or q-tip to wick away the pools of varnish that collect in certain areas, but with 360 of them, just the dunking alone took me about four hours, and there was no way to monitor each one and look for pools of varnish to deal with. So these minis have many examples of varnish drying in uneven depth across the surface of items like shields, banners, cloaks, etc. But in the end the good seems to outweigh the bad, and I did a fairly decent job of flicking off the excess varnish so that this was kept to a minimum. In fact my arm still hurts becuase each mini required from 10 – 15 arm and wrist snaps to remove excess varnish after dunking. That means I whipped my arm and wrist up and down a total of over 4,000 times in that four hours. I need to find a better way to do this, although if you are only doing a few minis, this is probably fine.
  • The varnish dipping approach tends to render several colors that look quite distinct on first painting into almost identical colors. So the browns, grays, purples, blues and greens I carefully painted to show the details of cloaks, pants, belts, etc. was quite frequently overcome by the varnish and everything came out looking like a dull brown, which greatly reduced the color variation that I was looking for. To combat this I ended up using two kinds of varnish, one for the darker minis and one for the lighter ones (mostly the elves, knights and barely clothed female figures). Finding just the right color of varnish is probably a quest all in itself.

So, probably a lot more lessons to learn, but this is a fairly good list. Was it worth the cost and effort? Well, I won’t know until I play with them. But at the very least I now have a whole lot of minis that I can use when I would have in the past used glass beads, pawns or other markers to show where non-player characters were located. That’s got to be an improvement.