Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Tools for Painting Miniatures

I post a lot about painting, but choosing and collecting the tools behind the craft can be just as interesting.  Here is a run-down of the tools that make my miniatures look less dull. For those looking for help building miniatures, I'll do a separate post about assembly tools and decals.


Brushes are the vehicle for all your artistic endeavor with miniatures.  They can also be really expensive! Most guides focus on what to do (and not do) with your brushes, so let me focus on how to buy them.

For starting painters, don't worry about having all the right brushes, and especially don't buy the expensive ones! Take your starter kit brushes, maybe a bigger one for dry brushing, and learn on them. Learn to draw the brush away from the point instead of stubbing it into corners. Learn to load up the brush less than halfway. Above all, wash it thoroughly and prevent paint from drying in the ferrule. You will screw it up eventually, and your beloved companion will split, and then you can bury them. Keep a few of these starter brushes around for applying washes. Here's a picture of some of my first brushes that have bent and split over time due to abuse. Time to retire them from detail work.

Time for retirement, old friends

Keep your old crappy watercolor brushes for applying shades and washes

You will hit your stride with the next set of brushes. Having graduated from the $10 twelve-pack of watercolor brushes, the world splits into synthetic and sable. Synthetic are just that: plastic bristles.  And they wear over time mush faster than natural hair. Citadel just released their latest STC set, but The Army Painter brush set is probably the best value for your money. It comes with enough variety that you can learn what brushes are your favorite (and some editions come with a free sable brush, neat!).  If you already have strong opinions or lack options at your local store, you may be able to find quality synthetics like this Princeton Velvetouch Round 2 for a reasonable price at art stores that aren't expressly for nerds. Expect to pay about $6-8 per brush. And don't stress about getting the tiniest of brushes for the detail. The important part of detail work is holding a point and not how big the brush is! Even with better synthetics, you will gradually see bent tips as you use the brush.  This is how synthetics wear, and it is totally normal. If you treat them right, your first synthetic should last a squad or 10 figures. You will know your brush skills are maturing when a fresh brush lasts a whole army.

My standard kit

Curling bristles are normal, and they can get into tight corners!

Standard drybrush kit

Finally we come to the joyous pinnacle of your painting kit, the sable hair brushes. Yes, these brushes are made with actual animal hair.  And they are superior in almost every way to synthetics, but their price also puts them out of reach for most people.  They hold their shape better when loaded up with paint, and their hairs hold more paint so you can cover more area without going back to the palette. You probably only need one sable brush to start.  Grow your collection slowly, and they will last you forever. A note that the Kolinsky Sable is endangered in Siberia and import is difficult at best. So you're probably not getting real Kolinsky sable for under $25 a brush. Here again, Army Painter wins for having the right brushes for hobbyists. I inherited my Regiment brush, and it is still going strong after a decade of use by my father. By the time you're ready for your next sable brush, you will have enough experience to know if you want to go all-in on the Winsor & Newtons.

A few notes on storage: Try to keep the plastic tip covers for all your brushes.  It's the easiest way to protect them from accidental damage in transit.  If you find your collection growing and cannot bear to part with your new friends, make or buy a brush case in hard plastic (if you don't need to travel and know they will always be sitting up) or fabric like the one pictured below.  I threw it together from duck cloth in about an hour on a sewing machine with basic measurements. Your local art supply or fabric store has something similar for sale.

Citadel Colours App

Available for both iOS and Android, The Citadel Colour app helps me create and remember my color schemes.  I can create projects, track my color inventory, and keep a shopping list of paints for the next time I hit the local game store.  It comes loaded with a diverse palette, but it only offers the Citadel range from Games Workshop. If you use dropper bottles from Vallejo or the new Two Thin Coats range from Duncan Rhodes, you're out of luck. It also doesn't have cloud storage, so switching phones means transferring your inventory, projects, and history as well (my scheme images come from doing CYA in case I lose my phone). Notwithstanding, it has worked to keep me organized.  I would love to know if there were some non-GW options available out there to cover the various paint brands I might use.


Storage for Paint

I paint at both my house and my SO's, so this 48-bottle nail polish organizer is perfect for carrying almost my entire collection of paint pots or droppers when I'm being indecisive.  The important part of storage is being able to see the shade without having to look at the label.  Having a clear storage system that can corral a large collection while keeping them visible is ideal. Injection-molded two-sided plastic carrying cases for nail polish go by many brand names on Amazon, and they'll all run you about twenty-five bucks. I haven't found a better mobile solution than this, but I would also suggest similar nail polish storage for a workbench installation.  Both tiered shelves and wall-mount nail polish racks are going to be way more affordable, and see-through, than any miniature-specific laser cut racks you might find at your local game store.

Painting Handle

Whether you buy the Citadel handle or print your own, These little contraptions keep your mitts off the details until they are sufficiently primed sealed.  This is doubly important with Contrast Paints as it can almost be rubbed off like chalk when applied in thin coats and handled with your bare hands. You can even temporarily glue a base to a larger miniature like a vehicle so it can be mounted on the painting handle. Get one.  It's worth it.


The Wet Palette

I have used ceramic tiles and even tried Citadel's Palette Paper, but I will never go back now that I've started using a wet palette. The idea is simple: parchment floated atop a spongey pad allows water to pass from the wet pad, through the parchment, and into the paint. The paint doesn't bleed down into the pad, and instead stays hydrated as it dries from the top down. This flow retains water in your paint longer so it remains workable. But it also keeps your blends around longer without drying out, and it speeds up the "always thin your paints" advice that was key to so many of us making the leap from gloopy to gorgeous. Simply put, a wet palette will make getting paint onto models easier. Even if you have your doubts, you should give it a shot. And I'm going to show you how to do that as cheaply as possible. 

This is one area where I have not graduated to a professional solution because I'm so satisfied with how my DIY palette is working. The key is getting a truly air tight container like this now-discontinued Snapware. All it needs is a shallow depth into which you can lay something absorbent (like paper towels) and top that with a layer of parchment. The shallow depth allows you to have a low angle of attack with your brush.  You want this when rolling your brush or mixing paint around. The one I bought is deep, but the two-well insert can be removed with one well used as a wet palette and another used to hold the wiping cloth. The deep well is handy for transporting the paint itself.

On sale, it was cheapest of my options

All layers visible (palette, folded paper towel pad, and parchment)

All soaked up; you can see the water beading on the surface

If you don't want to DIY it, there is a $10 wet palette on Amazon right now that couldn't be any worse than what you're painting on. The Army Painter palette is possibly the most widely known.  It comes with a pad, sheets of their "special paper" that looks and feels like parchment, and brush storage.

Note: Since first publishing this, I obtained the Red Grass Games palette and have been loving it. Whatever you choose, get to it! It will change how you paint forever.


Susan Sontag once wrote, “Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” And the pandemic has only heightened the importance of good pictures to show your friends why you can't come out hiking on a Sunday morning.

My main photo rig is a photo tent lined with white polyester and a selection of backdrops that drape down the back in a long curve to remove seams from the finished picture.  In the past, I have built photo tents out of PVC and cotton, or vellum pasted to a rough frame of furring strips.  What really matters is the next part: I point as much direct light as possible at the walls of the tent in the hopes that it will diffuse through and evenly light my miniature from all possible angles.

For the camera, I will use a smartphone camera in a pinch, but I prefer a DLSR with a macro lens.  This combo gives ultra-detailed shots for individual minis. Remove the macro for group shots, and make sure you are lining everyone up in your depth of field. There are packs of lenses available for smartphones too.  They work, and they are a whole lot cheaper than a new DSLR just so you can take pretty pictures of your knick knacks, but you do you!

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!


Stop struggling with a yellow overhead light.  Get a portable or installable full-spectrum lamp or bulb like an Ott Light or LED strip.  If you haven't received your baby book update since Middle School, your grandmother's scrapbooking light is probably up for grabs! They are cheaper now than ever before, so buy one of your own rather than stealing hers. I combine the LED strip pictured below with a Costco-bought Ott Lite that even has wireless charging built in.

Applying technical paints like snow and muck is 10x easier with a sculpting tool.  These also work with green stuff, so get a big pack of them and find just the right tool for those nooks and crannies. Moving around muck is also a good use for those small brushes you can no longer use but cannot bear to throw away.

Paint cups wit ribbed bottoms can be hell on your bristles, so go easy, Bob Ross. The wide bottom on the Citadel pot can help keep it from spilling pink paint onto the carpet of your room.  Do that too much and your partner/landlord might get stabby.

Even if you aren't painting regularly on a tile anymore, a ceramic well palette can help mix larger batches of Contrast or Washes. Cover the palette with saran wrap and it will retain water like a wet palette. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

DnD Table 3 and 4


Our gaming table has gone through many phases.  The first was an 8x4 foot sheet of plywood on some sawhorses.  We wrapped it in felt and stapled it down, but the felt kept pilling and it was hard to replace.  We chopped it down to 6 feet, split it down the middle and swapped vinyl for felt, but the legs were still hard to store.  The third mod was to replace the cumbersome legs.  The fourth was a new and lighter table top.

This has been useful for gaming, crafts and many other activities.  It is light weight and takes up very little room.  We keep ours in the garage and pull it out when we need it.

The Legs

Lowe's had some really nice seasoned 2x3's.  A few hours and chop saw got me a new set of legs.  The chief features of the table are its simple construction and plentiful leg room.  It has been a chore to find a good way to attach the top to there, however.  Overall, the legs have been maintenance and trouble free.  If I borrowed the design from somewhere, I have forgotten it.  If you attempt to replicate it, read all instructions first, measure twice and cut once, and always wear your safety glasses.

The cut list is basic and can be created from six 8 foot 2x3's, Not compound angles are needed, but the legs have angled cuts.  The measurements below rely on the geometry of your lumber being moderately predictable: Two 2x3's together should come out to 3 inches.  You may have to adjust the length of your interior cuts if this is not the case:
  • Outside Length: 72" x 2
  • Inside Length: 69" x 2
  • Outside Width: 27" x 2
  • Inside Width: 21" x 2
  • Legs: 30"+ x 4
  • Blocks: 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" x 4 (mine are from oak as that's what I had lying around)
  • Lots of 2 1/2" construction screws
  • 4x 5 1/2" Carriage Bolts with Washers and Nuts

Assembly of the top is also basic.  Remember to drill pilot holes for all screws ans work from the inside out:
  1. Inside Width -> Inside Length 
  2. Inside Length -> Outside Width
  3. Outside Width -> Outside Length
The legs can be tricky to position depending how high you want the table top.  For my 24" height top, the legs are 26 1/2" with a 75 degree cuts at both ends (making a parallelogram and not a trapezoid).  The legs meet in the center of the table top.  The math to place the hole precisely has been lost, but those inclined should have no trouble replicating it.  In general, slip your uncut legs into the slots between the Inside and Outside Length so that they meet in the middle.  At a point between 9 and 11.5 inches from the end of the table end, drill the hole for your carriage bolt through both Inside Length, the Leg and Outside Length.  Make sure the hole is not closer than 2 3/4" from the end of the Leg.  Thread the bolt through the hole and test your leg height.  Cut your leg into a parallelogram to maximize contact with the floor and minimize interference with the table top.  Position the Blocks to ensure the legs only rotate a certain amount.

If all goes well, you should have a sturdy and light set of legs to use as a base for any table top you can dream of.  The method of attaching the top to the base is discussed in the next section.

The Top

The latest addition was a lighter table top.  Previously, we used a piece of 3/4" Oak Plywood with vinyl stapled to it.  This was extremely sturdy and stable, but it was a huge pain to move.  I designed the new top to be light and attach directly to the legs.

Much like the legs, the top was stick framed using flashing from Lowe's.  This time, 1x2's provided a good base, and Kreg Pocket Hole joinery held everything together.  Along the center line, two lengths are abuttewd to provide enough surface area for the hinges.  Instead of heavy plywood, I used a thin luan top.  All this was wrapped in vinyl again (the most successful table covering we've had thus far).  Unlike previous folding incarnations, the vinyl was split in two pieces and each half of the hinged top was wrapped separately.  The cut list for my 6' 6" top is below.  The Inside Stiles are not required to be the listed lengths as long as their total lengths come under 72".  I placed them so they would fit between the blocks in the legs and help the top align to the legs.  Your mileage may vary; see lessons learned below.  As always, your local dimensional lumber may vary, measure twice, cut once, and always wear your safety glasses:

  • Outside Stile: 78" x 4
  • Rail: 19" x 8
  • Inside Stile (Ends): 17 7/16 x 8
  • Inside Stile (Center): 37 1/8" x 2

Assembly is a little trickier than the Legs.  With your pocket hole jig, join the Outside Stile to the Rails at both ends.  Use the Inside Stiles to locate where to place the inside Rail.  Add the Inside Stiles to make a double-layer of wood in the center of the table-top to better brace the hinges.

With two halves of a table top in hand, it is time to locate the hinges.  Match the hinge location to your legs so they won't interfere with how the table sits flush.  The vinyl wrapped on the side that will be the center of the table will need to be relieved where the hinges will go.  I chose to wrap after attaching the hinges.  I now feel this was a mistake. In the pic above, I've routed out a place for my hinges.  In practice, I didn't need to do this.  Just clamp the table halves together after the vinyl is in place, locate your hinges parallel and centered on the joint and screw in place.

I have tried many things to secure the table top with a minimum of fuss.  Right now, I'm using machine screws and associated sockets sunk into the top.  The screws thread through the legs and into the top.  They require climbing under the table.

Lessons Learned

  1. I would decide on a method of attaching the table before I started building.  The primary candidate is a Sash Lock.  Placed correctly, it would easily lock the legs to the table top without climbing under each time.
  2. I would avoid insetting the hinges.  Instead, careful placement would allow the hinges to be used without interfering with the mating of table top and legs.
  3. I would wrap the vinyl completely around the top so all stapling was done on the bottom.
  4. I would not tell my gaming group how much better this version of the table was until after it had proven itself.  I have gotten no end of grief every time I climb under it to hook the two together.  What are friends for, eh?

Bonus Shot: Plans

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Slight Diversion...

Pic from the ending of our group's campaign. This is the finale of Cormyr: The Tearing of the Weave where the black dragon monologues about making a deadzone of magic for miles around before getting slaughtered by the PCs. The players started saying, "We're dead, aww crap" as soon as the Gargantuan Black dropped on the table, but it was soon swapped for a more economical Large Steel Dragon as a proxy (wasn't able to get the Large Black Dragon from D&D Minis in time).

This shows a little bit of my DM style: lots of props and terrain. Dungeon Tiles make up most of the room. Plain kid's blocks give elevation and represent simple shapes, the red counters represent sacrifices for the ritual to tear the Weave and are by Chessex. The minis are a mix of Reaper and DnD Minis, some I even painted myself. In the very center is a piece of fabric my wife taught me how to gather to form a rough ball of Weave stuff.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fimo Monsters

Assassin Vine

Shambling Mound, "Poop Monster"

Above Miniature Points: Fimo x2 (1) + Special Techniques (Fimo armature, synthetic grass) x2 (10) = 11
Current Point Total: -200

I created these monsters as part of a recent campaign from Sculpey III. The Assassin Vine is my favorite here. I made it around an armature of wire that held together pretty well, even after the oven. The white sphere is a will-o-wisp. I attempted to use the blond synthetic grass and failed miserably. We'll see how it works next time. The third is what my group affectionately calls "The Poop Monster" and was my attempt at a Shambling Mound. It nsupposed to be covered in lichen and have rocks for eyes and teeth. The rocks worked well, but the lichen never got done by game time. We'll see if I ever get around to finishing it.