Priming minis used to stress me out because spray primer is so finicky, and I’ve ruined minis using it wrong. I’ve switched to brush-on primer (Vallejo white primer, paid link) . . . and apparently it still stresses me out. I think it’s because it feels too easy to mess up, and unlike a painting mistake it’s not trivial to fix.
Time to learn how to brush on primer!
After a couple of minis, I’d figured out a few things. One, this stuff dries faster than varnish. With the varnish, I can quickly do the whole miniature and then backtrack to pop bubbles, eliminate puddles, etc. With the primer, the top half of the mini is dry before I’ve finished the bottom half. So I learned to tackle a section, backtrack, and then tackle the next section.
Two, it’s less forgiving than the other two new approaches I’ve used since I got back into miniatures: brushing on wash/shade and varnish. This Vallejo primer is quite good about “self-correcting” — many bubbles will pop on their own, it settles into cracks a bit as it dries, and a thin coat works nicely. But if I dab it on too thick in, say, the vents on a Space Marine backpack and don’t notice it right away, I can’t fix it; with shade and varnish, it’s fixable for some time.
Three, I primed my first couple like they owed me money and I was going to beat it out of them with my brush. As a result, I over-primed them a bit. Once I figured out to put less on the brush and apply it with a lighter touch, the whole process went more smoothly.
As ever, I started with Sergeant Karios — the first mini in my Blood Angels army that I built, and the first for every stage of the process. Even if I mess him up, I like that he’ll always be special because he was the test pilot.
By my last, things were looking better: a lighter, smoother coat; many fewer bubbles and puddles; and less like an explosion in a cake frosting factory.
The saving grace here — I hope — is that I just finished painting a dozen Terminators that I’d 1) over-primed, 2) with spray primer, making them fuzzy, and 3) bounced around in a Plano box for six years after priming them, and they turned out okay. I can see some bubbles and pooling on my Blood Angels (note to self: Space Marine pauldron edges like to collect primer), but they look better than those Termies did.
Fingers crossed for the painting stage! I’ll be starting with the bases, and I have to say that putting together this post, and seeing Squad Karios up close in photos, makes me more optimistic than I was as I primed them.
I wanted to keep my painting technique fairly consistent across my Space Hulk set so they’d all look similar despite being painted over a seven-year period, but now I’m ready to try some new techniques with my Blood Angels army.
One is a simple switch to a brush-on primer, rather than the spray-on stuff. Another is edge highlighting, likely in combination with drybrushing. I dabbled a tiny bit with highlights on my Terminators and liked it, and I love how it looks on minis I see online. I recognize that my skill as a painter will improve over the course of painting my army, but I want to start out with a baseline that’s likely to stay reasonably consistent over time.
Since I’ve got a pile of old BattleTech mechs just sitting around, I figured I’d bust one out and use him as a test subject.
Earlier this month I posted about feeling a bit overwhelmed with painting options, and this experiment is a good way to narrow things down a bit: I’m going to try edge highlighting before the wash on one shoulder, and after the wash on the other one.
My guess is that highlighting after the all-over wash will look better. Let’s find out!
First, the primer
I’ve used Armory spray-on primer for every miniature I’ve painted since the 1990s, with mixed results — not because it’s a bad primer, but because it’s a spray primer. They’re sensitive to heat, cold, and humidity, so unless you can spray indoors your “priming year” can be quite short.
So: brush-on primer. I’m trying white Vallejo surface primer (paid link) because it has good reviews. My experience with their matt varnish (paid link) over the past few weeks has been excellent, so I’m expecting the primer to be solid.
After a single thin coat, including a follow up with an “empty” brush to pop bubbles and deal with pooling (just like I do with the varnish, and with washes/shades), you can barely see the difference between the primed shoulder pads and the bare metal. I suspect I need to do a second thin coat, but either way I know I should let it cure overnight.
The next morning I could see bare metal in a couple of spots I’d primed, so: too thin. I put on a second coat and left him to cure again.
Then I thought, what the heck: I’ll single-coat the head and sloppily single-coat the ax blades, giving me two more tests in one curing session.
A few hours later I wondered why I was doing a full cure for a paint test — let alone one that’s keeping me from tackling Squad Karios! So I grabbed my Mephiston Red base and Evil Sunz Scarlet layer and went to work.
One thinned Mephiston Red base coat later, here’s how ol’ Ti Ts’ang looks.
Right off the bat, this stuff is much easier to paint over than my old spray primer. I don’t know if it’s the nature of spray primer, bad technique (overspraying), or the seven-year gap between priming and painting, but when I was finishing up my Terminators I found myself fighting the pebbly/fuzzy texture of the primer. My money’s on me applying it poorly, but whatever the case it wasn’t fun to work with and it overwhelmed some of the model’s details.
Three primed bits enter
In terms of one coat of Vallejo primer vs. two coats, there’s a clear winner: one well-applied coat.
The shoulder pads got two coats, and I can see the primer overwhelming some of the finer lines and details. It’s not awful, but it’s not great.
The sloppy single coat on the ax blades left a bubble or two here and there, but smothered no details.
The properly applied single coat on the head (no bubbles) didn’t annihilate any details and was just as easy to paint over as the other two areas.
In hindsight I think I forgot to stir the primer for the first coat on the shoulder pads; I distinctly remember stirring it for the head and ax. Eh, my conclusion would hold even if I’d stirred it: two layers of primer plus a layer of paint is too much.
To the Emperor’s highlighting salon, brothers!
First, the pre-wash highlight areas.
Evil Sunz Scarlet is subtle. I don’t have GW’s recommended color for a second-layer highlight, Fire Dragon Bright, so I grabbed my closest analog for another experiment: Wild Rider Red, my drybrush color for my Space Hulk Terminators.
That’s much less subtle! My line is pretty bad, but even though the paint is notably orange the actual color pops nicely.
Time to shade
Next up is an Agrax Earthshade wash.
Pre-wash, the Evil Sunz Scarlet looked too subtle to my eye. But post-wash, it’s more visible. Still somewhat subtle, but not bad.
But look at the contrast between it and the Wild Rider Red — and between the Wild Rider before and after the wash. The Agrax knocked the orange right out of it, but it still pops noticeably more than the Evil Sunz.
I don’t think he knows about second highlight, Pip
Okay, after a few minutes of drying time it’s the final stage: a single edge highlight on the bits that have been base coated and washed, so I can compare those effects (and the two different highlight colors).
In the head/shoulders photo, the left half — as you look at it, not the model’s left — was highlighted after shading; the right half was highlighted before shading.
I can see why GW recommends shading before highlighting, and that color combination. Particularly at arm’s length, the post-wash highlighted portion pops more and has clearly been highlighted. The pre-wash side is more muted, and at arm’s length I can’t even tell it has highlights.
Let’s peek at the ax. On the front of the ax, left is post-wash highlighting and right is pre-wash (again, the photo’s right/left). On the back, it’s reversed: left is pre-wash, right is post-wash.
In the photo, the Evil Sunz Scarlet pre/post look about the same. At arm’s length, I can tell the pre-wash side has been highlighted — unlike the head and shoulders — but I still prefer the half that’s been highlighted after the wash.
The back is too orange in both versions. Even though 40k minis — where I’ll be trying out the combo of wash and highlighting I land on here — are pretty over-the-top, this blade looks downright cartoonish. That’s not inherently bad, but it’s not the effect I’m after.
One last data point, since I’ve got a freshly painted Blood Angels Terminator from my Space Hulk set handy.
I prefer the GW-approved color combo to my old one (which I was expecting), and I prefer the edge highlighting to drybrushing. Even though my edge lines suck! That’s something I can work on.
Summing up this whole little experiment:
One coat of Vallejo primer, stirred and applied with care
Edge highlight my base coat of Mephiston Red in Evil Sunz Scarlet after the Agrax Earthshade wash
For crisp edges, like armor plates, I prefer edge highlighting to drybrushing
And hell, I may even take a crack at doing a second finer edge highlight in Fire Dragon Bright, too. Time to paint some Blood Angels!
I know for folks who paint miniatures regularly finishing a couple is no biggies, but for me as an amateur rediscovering my love of painting, who hasn’t finished a miniature since 2012, this is a big day.
Two days ago I washed Brother Scipio and throne boy, my first time doing a full-on wash with multiple shades involved. Yesterday I wrapped up their drybrushing (and re-dotted Scipio’s eyes with Moot Green, since my wash had made the green pop less than I liked), and today I sealed them both and took the last two bits of “stuff” in the Space Hulk box — the chalice and R/C shrine-thingie — all the way from base coat to touch-ups, wash, and drybrush.
I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been trying to be more subtle in my drybrushing. Maybe I swung too far in the other direction? I’m not sure.
Onward to sealant
I’m using the top of the empty Chessex dice box as a palette, since the Vallejo stuff comes in a dropper bottle.
I’ve never brushed on sealant before, only sprayed it on. This is slower, but (as with washing) I have more control — and I don’t have to wait for the weather outside to cooperate, or risk destroying a mini when I assess the humidity/etc. incorrectly.
I used Vallejo matt varnish (paid link) because its Amazon reviews showed photos of sealed minis that didn’t look sealed — which is my goal with all my minis. I applied it with a medium brush in large sections, then backtracked with a second brush before it dried and poked out all the bubbles, redistributed it where it was too thick, and generally made sure no mess was left over.
This is a great varnish. My Termies aren’t completely dry yet, but the sealant is just baaaaarely visible. (When they’re dry, these two are going in the lightbox for a celebratory post.)
I think the little mobile shrine is for the Librarian; the chalice is part of the same mission as throne boy, I believe as an objective.
My Blood Angels Terminator colors
It surprised me how many separate pots of paint/shade went into my basic paint jobs on these Terminators — 14 plus primer and sealant:
Primer: Armory white spray painter (which I won’t be using again in the future; I’m switching to brush-on primer)
Base coat: P3 Morrow White and Khador Red; Citadel Lothern Blue, Leadbelcher, Moot Green, and Auric Armor Gold
Wash: Agrax Earthshade, Seraphim Sepia or Reikland Fleshshade, Nuln Oil
Drybrush: P3 Arcane Blue and Marrow White; Citadel Wild Rider Red, Mithril Silver, and Liberator Gold
Sealant: Vallejo acrylic matt varnish
And compared to someone more experienced, who uses layer colors, possibly multiple drybrush passes, blending, etc.? This is peanuts, color-wise.
The last time I finished a miniature, according to my BGG notes, was in 2012. Eight years! My dry spell officially ends today, with two 100% finished, play-ready Terminators.