This Old Workbench #1
From the first time I painted a figure I knew I would never have enough time to paint all the troops I wanted. Lets face it with all the great figures available today in so many different periods a person would have to spend twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, all year just to put a dent in the pile! Well not having that kind of time at my disposal I concentrated from the first on developing methods of figure painting that were as fast and streamlined as possible with out sacrificing quality! I firmly believe that good looking troops weather they win or lose are a must, as complements on them can ease the pain of a battle lost! The process I’ll discuss here will be centered around prepping, priming, and finishing so no matter what style you use to paint your figures these tips will still apply. So lets clear off a spot on the old work bench and get to work!
The key to painting large numbers of figures is to use an assembly line process to speed things up. Instead of going through the different steps multiple times for all your figures you do each step once for the whole bunch!
Prepping your figures is one of the most important steps in the whole painting process. If you do a shoddy job here it will show up later and spoil your fine paint job or at best require some fixing and patching to make right. So take the time now it will save you time in the long run.
After selecting your figures, usually 5 to 30 depending on the scale and complexity, ( I’ve found that to many figures at a time can lead to burnout and boredom! ) you’ll need to clean up the mold flash. I’ve found that you can save some time using a hobby knife with semi dull blade, it will take off the flash without catching and digging into the figure. Try holding the knife at about a 45 degree angle and the blade pointed away from you. Draw
the knife toward you scraping along the mold lines, this will have the effect of wearing down the high edge and forcing the excess flash into the low edge. You’ll find this to be much faster than using a jewelers file and you wont have to remove as much metal to get the job done. As you clean each figure mentally note the detail and start to think about colors you will use and the order in which they will be applied. Next lay a large file flat on your table and while holding one end take a figure and draw its base back and forth along the file, this will allow your figures to sit flat when you mount them with out cracks and gaps that have to be filled with glue and flocking.
Now its time to mount them to a temporary base so that they can be easily handled while you prime and paint them. Trying to hold figures while you paint them is awkward at best and will cost time while you wait for one part to dry before painting the next. By mounting the figure and not having to handle it directly you’ll avoid smearing and smudging and can for example paint the pants while the jacket is drying! Over the years I’ve seen many different methods for mounting, Popsicle sticks, paint jar tops, coins, etc., some working better than others. After some trial and error I’ve come up with a system that works better than any I’ve seen so far.
You’ll need three basic ingredients for this style of mounting, a piece of Styrofoam sheet approximately 6″x10″x1″ but even some old packing material will work, nails,8 penny work very well ( a one pound box should last your life time ), and a hot glue gun ( believe me if you’ve never used one there great and well worth the $10 to $15 dollar investment, I got mine from Sears, its 15 years old been dropped half a dozen times and still works great!) To start dab about a pea size portion of glue on to the first nail then center the bottom of the figure on the nail. The glue will set in 3-4 seconds. Push the nail into the Styrofoam and go onto the next one. At first do one at a time, then when you start getting the hang of it space your nails out in the Styrofoam first( I split my figures into two rows lengthwise, about 1″ in from the edge )and then go down the line dabbing a little glue on and following right away with a figure. The reason for using a hot glue gun is two fold the glue cools and “sets” almost immediately holding your figure secure for painting, and with just a little pressure your figure will pop off and be free of any trace of glue unlike wood glue or super glues that usually require that you file the base’s again before mounting. The Styrofoam will hold the nails quite well and works sort of the same way a pin cushion does. When you start getting to many holes in it toss it out. I buy a piece about 2’x4′ and then cut new pieces as I need them.
You can also use the hot glue process for painting buildings, terrain, etc. For the larger stuff I use a wood dowel rod or piece of plastic pipe. Hot glue will form a temporary bond to almost any thing! Be warned if you get it on cloth it will not “pop off” but will get into the clothes fibers, pretty much for ever. Same thing goes for any porous materials. If in doubt try a test on a piece you can trash before hand.
You can also use the hot glue process for painting buildings, terrain, etc. For the larger stuff I use a wood
Now that your figures are cleaned up, mounted, they are ready to prime. No matter what anyone tells you if you want your figures to last you must prime them with a good metal or plastic primer and then finish them with a protective coating. Some of my figures are approaching 15 years old and they still look great despite many, many battles! I use spray primer on my figures, it cost a little more but the savings in time is tremendous. You can use any metal primers such as those used on car repairs, a can is usually half the price and twice as big as the spray primer produced “especially for miniatures”. It works just as well! no matter what people will tell you, I’ve got several blue ribbons to prove it! Once you have your figures setup into rows in the foam hold the can 8″ to 10″ away from your two rows of figures and make a couple of light passes. The first pass should be low at an angle across the Styrofoam up toward the bottom of the figure, next straight on, and third at a slight angle down toward the top of the figure. If you are doing this right the excess over spray should be also lightly coating the figures in the row behind. The paint should take only 10 to 30 seconds to dry and lose its shine between coats. Turn to the other side and repeat the procedure. Now spray lengthwise down the rows. Next rotate the figures 180 degrees and repeat the process. Your figures should be well covered by this time with out any runs and the detail intact. When priming this way you’ll have a tendency to paint your fingers while holding the Styrofoam, so I use a cheap dish glove on that hand to avoid “painters finger”. After you’ve finished painting your figures you can put on your protective coating with the same method used to apply the primer.
The nails are the best part of the system. By holding the end of the nail between your thumb and forefinger you can twist your The nails are the best part of the system. By holding the end of the nail between your thumb and forefinger you can twist your figure 360 degrees and with a little wrist movement and by holding the nail upside down get 360 the other way to. This will allow you to paint at a comfortable angel no matter what part of the figure your working on! Try twisting the figure while its in contact with the brush you’ll find that this has the effect of extending your stroke with out having to move your wrist and possibly causing waves in the stroke. This works great for long lines around objects like hat bands etc. Many point the stick will get in the way, or at best put you in an uncomfortable angle to paint. The head of the nail being smaller than the figures base and in line with the figure as opposed to 90 degrees like the stick so you wont have this problem.
When you finished up your figures be sure and give them a good coating of protective finish! Like I said before if you want them to last its a must! I see a lot of people take a lot of time painting the troops and never coat them, a few battles and they are already showing wear spots. In “Wargaming” we handle our pieces all the time, knock them over, etc, just the oil from you fingers not to mention that pizza can affect the paint!
I have always spayed mine with a good quality finish in matte, semi gloss and even gloss. Over the years I have found that dull coating gives some protection but its not really very long lasting as it forms only a very thin coating even with multiple passes. I now spray everything with a good coating of gloss that really seals the figure and then hit it again later with Semi or Matte finish if I need to. This will form a coating so tough that you can take and wash your figures without fear if need be!
By using some or all these methods you should be able get your raw recruits painted and on the battlefield faster than ever!