Friday, May 7, 2010

Practical Painting

I've been asked a few times of late about my painting technique; not so much about how I put paint to figures, but the more particularly about the way I prepare my figures for painting. So, following on a recent trend in the gaming blog world, I thought I'd show a few shots of my painting desk. I'm lucky to have one of the bedrooms of our house given over completely to a painting and computer room (the latter half of which I share with my ever-patient wife). There is nothing particularly revolutionary about my painting set-up in general. You can see all of the usual suspects that inhabit most painters' desks: paint racks, drawers full of figures and other paraphernalia, brushes, tools, etc.

My painting desk. This is an old IKEA corner office desk with various wooden IKEA cabinets for storage.

The computer desk, as you can see, fills the adjacent corner of the room. This allows me easy and quick access to music, email, etc. I can also have painting guide images on the screen for easy reference, if necessary.

Two things, I think, set it apart from others. First, the lighting: I use three adjustable goose-neck lamps with daylight bulbs. Why three lamps? If only one is used, as I often see elsewhere, there is a strong potential for shadows when painting. I used to find that a single lamp created shadows on one side of a figure while painting. I had read an illuminating (?) article about photographing miniatures that advocated multiple light sources to mitigate the effect of shadows and thought to try it for painting as well. Because I have three lamps shining from different angles, I rarely (if ever) have any dark unlit areas when I'm working at the desk. As my eyes continue to fail me, I need all the help I can get!

Second, I use racks to hold my figures. Most painters mount their figures on something to allow painting without touching the figure. I've seen small wooden blocks, plastic bottle/jar caps, cardboard, etc. I've tried most of these in the past but I find them a nuisance. If I want to move my painting around the figure I have two choices. I can twist my wrist to accommodate or put down the figure and pick it back up again after having spun it about. I borrowed the painting rack idea from a friend many years ago. I mount my unpainted figures on 1/2" diameter dowels with a hot glue gun (so they can be easily and quickly popped off). The dowels sit in a rack, simply constructed of 1"'x 3" pine with holes drilled to hold the 6" long dowels. Six inches seems to be the ideal length: if longer, they catch on my wrist; shorter, they don't sit comfortably in my palm. The dowels allow me to easily hold the figure for painting. Because the holder is round, I can spin the figure in one hand without ever having to put it down while painting. I simply roll the dowel in my palm and fingers to access the entire figure.

Three of my painting racks. You can easily see how rough the construction is. I'm not particularly concerned with perfect angles and cuts. I can build one of these racks in about 20 minutes with the right materials to hand.

A closer look at the construction (cheap pine, carpenters' glue and a few small nails). The holes are drilled in upper and lower decks to accommodate the dowels. You may notice the last dowel on the right is on a bit of an angle because I misaligned the upper and lower holes. Oh still serves its purpose.

One of the dowels in my palm. You can see how easy it is to simply spin the dowel and gain access to all parts of the figure.

The racks also allow me to prime the figures easily. I clean and attach the figures at the desk, then carry the entire rack down to the garage for the spray prime (you can see many years of black primer accumulated on the racks). When the figures are finished, I can then take them back to the garage for their coating of spray sealer. As you can see, the racks are not precisely built, and nor do they need to be. My first experiments with building these took far too long because I was too worried about getting all the measurements and cuts correct. This is just not necessary. It will soon be covered in paint etc so there's no need to make a perfect little rack. One key to the design, though, is enough room between holes to allow mounted figures to sit atop the dowels without banging into one another (mine ar 2" apart and staggered to maximize the available space). You'll also notice that I have more than one rack. Usually, these are filled with figures in various stages of production. Just happened that I took these photos when the racks were pretty much empty (except for some 28mm WWII French). The racks sit to the side of my painting area. When I want a particular group, I simply lift that particular rack to the painting area under the lamps. I don't have to worry about moving a host of figures singly mounted on cardboard or some such material. The painting area is also left clear for other work when I'm not painting.

Thus, the grand design!


  1. those frogs look oddly familiar...

  2. Stephen ThomsonMay 7, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    you stole the rack idea from someone, I stole it to you, ad now Jon Holmes has stolen it from me!

    Soon painting with racks like this will be the norm, for sure!

  3. I like your set-up it is very similar to my own little study. The rack idea with the dowels is a very neat solution - I too may have to pinch the idea! See - its already spreading globally...


  4. I've been noticing hand cramp becoming an issue. I've heard using round holders like dowelling or nails helps. Must try that with the next project.

  5. Fantastic work, particularly on the converted dragoons.

    Best wishes