Hobby 101 - What Do I Need To Start Painting?

 Last weekend I got asked "How do you get started with painting as a hobby?" My initial response was "How long do you have?" In all honesty it's not something I've ever been asked directly before - almost everyone I've spoken to about the hobby has either been in the hobby, and thus already started, or are outside the hobby and have opinions ranging from "that's cool" to "how the hell do you paint the eyes on those, they're tiny!"

With that in mind, I'm now going to try and answer the question.

When I got into the hobby, about the time of GW releasing their LotR The Two Towers starter set, I got started painting using the Battle Games in Middle Earth magazine series. That gave me the paints and hobby kit (some of which I still use today!) to get started all in one go, so I've never done the get started thing with picking up starter hobby equipment.

However, I've had a look at what I have on my desk at the moment and what I use regularly.

I'd put my hobby gear into two sections - painting and modelling. Modelling is an easier one than painting, as there are so many different paint brands around, all offering different things.

If you are getting into the hobby for the very first time, you can't go wrong with a starter set. You get a decent array of paints, something apply them with and if you're going for a hobby set opposed to a paint set - such as the Army Painter Hobby Set, you'll also get yourself some decent quality gear in the shape of a file, knife, clippers and glues. Not everything in the set would be my first choice, but if I was looking to get started myself with minimum hassle, this is probably where it would be.

Glue - You'll need plastic glue (for plastic!) and super glue for working with resin, metal and the plastic/resin/PVC/stuff that Privateer Press make their Warmahordes plastic from. My personal choices are Revell Contacta Professional for the plastic glue and Gorilla Glue for the super glue. The Revell stuff is great as the aplication needle is so thin that you don't get stuff everywhere, which is great as plastic glue works by melting the surfaces it touches together, forming a solid piece. If the needle ever gets clogged, remove it from the bottle and hold it in some tweezers while heating it with a lighter. This burns out any solidified glue, just make sure you dump it in some water to cool down before you put it back into the bottle.

You also might find yourself in need of PVA glue. Don't bother with hobby branded stuff - get yourself to a craft store and grab yourself a decent sized bottle and some kids glue spreaders for a fraction of the cost. A apply mine to the back on an old blister pack first before applying onto a model/surface so that I don't swamp it.

Alongside the gear you'll find in the starter set, I'd say other essentials are a pin drill set for pinning (I use a 0.5mm drill and paperclips for most things - we've also got a guide to pinning and tab pinning here) and a set of metal files. There is one included in the set, but I find it useful to have different files with different angles on them - curved, straight etc. There are a couple of different types that are common, I personally prefer this variety over the bobbly diamond files as the latter leave a rougher finish when used on plastic. Once you've filed something down, if you want a smoother finish, grab some emery boards, which are basically fine grit sandpaper sticks and use them. I also find it useful to have a variety of sculpting tools around, like this set from Heresy Miniatures.

That should be everything you need to build your models. Sometimes models will have gaps where the sections don't join perfectly. These can be filled using Green Stuff or Milliput (dries with a harder edge than Green Stuff and easier to file down once dry but doesn't hold detail quite as well), while smaller gaps can be filled with liquid greenstuff.

When building miniatures, you should really wash them all prior to building in warm soapy water with an old toothbrush. This helps get rid of any release agent that may still be on the model from the molding equipment, and can stop paint sticking to the model. I'm lazy so only wash resin models, unless the plastic or metal has a greasy feel to it.

Once you have a miniature built, you'll likely want to decorate the base. There are dozens of options available to you - greenstuff press molds, sand, flock, static grass etc. My current favourite for both time efficiancy and look is to use ready made textures such as Vallejo Sandy Paste or Scale Color's Rough Paste, which can be slapped straight onto a base (using those glue spreaders again, or sculpting tools to get into the hard to reach places) and create instant texture. Alternatively, you can use it as a base to add extra elements, such as sand and small pebbles to add a bit more creativity, as shown in this little walkthrough.

A quickly drybrushed Paste base.
We've done the building and the base, so we're onto the painting. First up you'll want to prime the model. There are a number of ways you can do this - by brush, by airbrush and by spray can. I'll ignore the airbrush for now, as it basically does the same job as the spray can, just using whatever paint you put through the airbrush. Brush on primer, such as Vallejo Surface Primer, is applied in the same way as other paint - with a brush. This is useful for when it's too cold, hot, windy or humid to prime outside with a spray can.

My preference is for Halfords Grey car primer, which also comes in black and white. You can also get coloured primers, such as those from Army Painter or Games Workshop. If you're planning on painting an army that is the majority one colour and you can get a primer that matches it, it's a massive time saver as your base tone is already applied for you.

Now comes the tricky bit - paint, and how to apply it. The first thing I'd say on the subject is this - don't be stingy on your brushes. In most cases, you get what you pay for - be it a 10 for £1 set from a cheap craft store or a single Winsor & Newton 7 Series. You don't need many brushes and if you look after good ones correctly, they'll last you a long, long time, spreading your investment cost over time instead of buying new sets every few months.

When buying brushes for use with water based acrylic paint (most, but not all, miniature paints are water based - some are alcohol based, which require a synthetic brush), look for Kolinsky Sable bristles. There are many brands to look at - Winsor & Newton (their 7 Series), Raphael, Broken Toad, Wamp, Rosemary & Co - the list goes on. I've been using the Wamp Select Series for the past 18 months and love them, though I also have a Broken Toad Mk2 set (which they have trouble keeping in stock) that I haven't opened yet.

It can be quite daunting looking through a list of brushes and wondering which to use. The Broken Toad set takes that away as it gives you a set of 4 - a 2, 1, 0 and 3/0. If you are new to brush sizes, the larger the number, the bigger the brush. a 3/0 is a 000, or really tiny!

The delightfully presented Broken Toad brush set.

In a similar fashion, the Wamp series uses names instead of numbers to describe their brushes (though also offers their equivalent number), depending on the job they are designed for. On 28-32mm minis, I find myself most commonly using the Basecoat Brush (size 3) and Detail Brush (size 1), followed by the Fine Freehand Brush (size 2/0) for eyes, but most painters say that they rarely use anything smaller than a size 1. As long as the brush has a good point to it, you can do everything you need with it as it will hold more paint and not dry out as quickly as the paint in a much smaller brush will.

I mentioned above about taking care of your brushes and that if you do, they'll last for years. To do this, you'll want brush soap. Broken Toad do some, but 9 times out of 10, if you ask someone about brush soap, you'll get a link to this pot from Masters. It is an indespensible tool in a painters armoury and worth every penny - plus it'll last even longer than your brushes will. To clean your brush, simply dip into water, rub the bristles around in the soap until you get a slight foam then wash off the brush and dry on a cloth or kitchen paper, dragging the brush in one direction to help reform the point.

The one thing it is important to learn if you want your brushes to live a long, prosperous hobby life - never let paint get into the ferrule (the metal bit that holds the bristles). If you do, it'll dry there and interrupt the binding that holds the bristles in place, making you lose bristles and most likely, the all inportant point of the brush. If you see it happening, get the paint out of the brush ASAP!

Other things you're likely to need on your desk are water jars (I use 2 - one for metallics and one for regular paint - I also keep a bottle of fresh water there so I can draw from that instead of muddy paint water for thinning paints down), kitchen paper for wiping/drying excess paint from your brush, a good source of light (many painters prefer "daylight" bulbs and lamps) and a palette.

For a palette you can use anything from an old plate, a tile, an artist's welled palette - pretty much any surface you can put paint on/in really. The other option is a wet palette, and if you're starting out I'd recommend starting with this so it becomes a habit. You can buy wet palettes and lots of people do. Lots of people make them as well - we've got an article on it somewhere in the blog, as many others do. Most people use them so they can seal up their paint at the end of a session, come back the next say and still have it fresh. My current approach is borrowed from the good folks at the Miniature Monthly Patreon, in that I don't want the wet palette to keep my paints wet, I just want it to thin them out a bit.

With that in mind, my palette is currently about as simple as it gets. A lid (from my original wet palette tub), loo roll and grease proof paper that gets switched out every sitting. Each time I start, the same loo roll gets dowsed in water with the grease proof paper put on top, with paint applied to that.

Paint. It's something I've intentionally left until last, because I've been struggling on working out where to start. I can't remember a time of not having a vast selection of paints to choose from. It seems like every other time I order something or pass a hobby store I grab a couple.

There are so many ranges to choose from. Citadel (Games Workshop), P3 (Privateer Press), Vallejo, Coat d'Arms, Scale Color, Reaper, Darkstar, Warcolours, Army Painter, and they're just the ones off the top of my head. Each has it's own unique qualities and feels, and it's worth experimenting with different brands to see which one fits for you.

As far as choosing which colours to start with, if you've already got a starter set, such as the Army Painter kit at the top of this long ramble, you've already got a good start. I can't tell you which paints are the best, because everyone likes different ones. I love P3's Coal Black. Joe loves Turqoise. After having a painting lesson with Scott, I know he can't live without Deck Tan.

Generally I can't advise on what shades to buy, but I can say for certain that if you intend on using metallics, you can't go wrong with the Gold and Silver Scale Color sets - they're some of the best metallics on the market. If you don't want to invest in sets, they're available individually, but I'd also throw in the Darkstar Molten Metals to the mix as they are just as good.

You'll come across Inks, Washes and Glazes, which are all similar but different. Washes are generally painted straight out of the pot onto models - Games Workshop's Nuln Oil and Agrax Earthshade are particularly useful to provide instant shade on models. Glazes are the product of thinning down regular paint a lot to create a wash-like medium that you apply to areas in very thin layers, using them to smooth out transitions when blending or to slowly build colour. Inks are similar to washes but have a massively higher pigment concentration and almost always need watering down before applying to a model. They also usually dry with a glossy finish. The Scale Color Inktensity set contains some of the boldest, most vibrant inks I've used.

Scale Color's Inktensity set

Varnish is another personal preference - some people don't varnish their models, but if a model is going to be touched then to stop chipping and oil from your skin damaging the paint, most people apply some form of varnish. This can either be by spray can, airbrush or from the bottle, similar to priming. Most ranges have their own varnishes, ranging from Gloss (shiny shiny), satin (slightly shiny) to Matt (takes the shine off things). I currently use a mix of Vallejo Matt and Satin varnishes, with Satin applied to areas such as metallics and anything I want to shine, like leathers, while Matt is applied to everything else, so the shiny stuff stays shiny and the cloth, skin etc has a more realistic feel to it.

If you plan on painting an army, the best advice I can give is to find a scheme you like that you've seen on the internet or in person and ask someone how they would paint it. Ask on Facebook in a painting group like 'Eavier Metal or Miniature Painting Tips and Tricks. Go into a hobby store and ask the staff or the person who's army you like the look of. Find out what they use, how they do it, buy a couple of paints and see if they suit you.

Make use of hobby resources such as Warhammer TV. Almost every day there is a new painting video, be it a certain technique or a colour combination or just a general hobby hint, that even people who have been painting for years might not have thought about trying, or find a new way to adapt.

My final piece of advice would be to join a painting forum, such as The AmmobunkerWamp or Cool Mini Or Not and start a project log. This gives you a place to post your efforts and to get feedback on them, along with allowing people to see where you started and where you are at the present time.

If you're still here and still want to get into painting, then welcome to what I believe to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in life - creating art. It might not always go they way you thought it might, but when you finish a piece you're happy with, there is no feeling like it.

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