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Miniatures Painting tools

Thoughts on miniature-painting brushes and brush care

I’m no expert, but I’ve done a good amount of painting over the past two months, and tried a bunch of different brushes, and I figured it was time to write a post about brushes.

When I got back into painting minis in February of this year, I already had a small stash of brushes: a single Armory set I’ve had for years. They’ve been abused at least as much as they’ve been used, because I had no idea how to use or take care of them.

My oldest brushes, what’s left of an Armory set from at least a decade ago

This set has been relegated to Jobs That Ruin Brushes — which is fine! There are plenty of those: priming, varnishing, decals, and bodging paint out of the jar and onto my palette. There’s nothing wrong with them, and if I’d taken care of them they’d still be solid brushes.

The one exception is the big guy in front, an Armory Series 10 Size 1 brush. This is my most-used brush by far, as it’s the one I use to get paint out of my pots and onto my palette — which happens dozens of times per miniature — and, since it’s then used to thin the same paint, as my primary base-coating brush for large areas. Paint is expensive; I hate to waste it. The bristles have the perfect amount of spring to them, it holds just the right amount of paint, and it’s not so large as to be clumsy. I love this brush.

Expanding the toolkit

Back when I started in on my Space Hulk set, and then a couple more times on visits to my local hobby shop, I started fleshing out my brush collection. For some reason the idea that I could buy really, really tiny brushes, and brushes with fine tips, had never crossed my mind before.

I just sort of thought most miniature brushes looked like this:

Why can’t I paint eyes with this brush? It is a mystery

I know, I know. I just used the one set of brushes I had; I didn’t like painting; I had trouble with details. It’s so obvious in retrospect!

So: new brushes. Fine-tipped brushes! I stuck with Army Painter and Citadel brushes, since I’ve always been happy with the quality of their stuff.

Two of my favorite brushes

These two, Army Painter’s Wargamer: Detail and Wargamer: Character brushes are two of my favorites. The Detail is my go-to brush for layers and highlights. The triangular handles are totally awesome, and I wish every brush came with them.

I have brushes stashed all over my painting area, and when I took that photo I left one Army Painter brush out: my drybrush.

Wargamer: Small Drybrush

This wedge-shaped brush, which has stiff, slanted bristles, has really upped my drybrushing game. Highly recommended.

Three excellent Citadel brushes

These three from Citadel have also been serving me well. The Medium Shade brush is perfect for the all-over wash/shade I use; if I wanted to shade only tiny portions at a time, I’d need a smaller brush. The Small Base and Small Layer I use exactly as intended. and they’re both solid.

Pro tip: don’t brush your teeth with them

I also got a tip from a fellow painter, and read some tips in different places, that helped me a lot as I was starting to build up a supply of brushes:

  • Don’t dry them tip-up, as water can sink into the ferrules and ruin them. From what I’ve read you can store them tip-up once they’re dry, but for simplicity’s sake I just store them horizontally all the time.
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm (but not hot) water.
  • Change your painting water regularly. I’ve come to like using Citadel’s excellent water cup in part because it’s small; its size reminds me to swap out my water often.
  • Never let brushes sit with paint on the bristles.
  • Don’t dip the brush straight into the paint pot. Instead, use a crappy brush reserved for this job to transfer paint to your palette, and then thin the paint a bit with that same brush.
  • Thin your paints! I just use a dab of water or two, depending on the size of the blob of paint I’m thinning (and whether I’m planning a second coat).
  • Don’t use your best brushes on metallic paints. I can’t avoid doing this sometimes, but I try to minimize it.

I didn’t read some of those tips until after I’d ruined — or at least shortened the useful lifespan of — several $6 brushes, but since I’ve gotten diligent about following all of them my brushes last much longer.

Cheap brushes do come in handy

ZEM brushes for painting around corners

I also picked up a set of ZEM brushes on Amazon because they were cheap — about 1/6 of the cost of a comparable Army Painter or Citadel brush. Their tips curled within a few minutes, and will never go back to normal.

But, like keeping brushes on hand for “garbage jobs,” these too have a purpose: jamming small amount of paints into cracks (which ruins the tip) and deliberately painting around stuff by using the curled tip as a feature rather than a bug.

Weirdly, the tiny guy in the front, a ZEM Golden Synthetic Round Size 10/0, hasn’t curled yet. This little guy is perfect for scrolls and banners, and perhaps it’s this limited use that has helped preserve him. It’s a great little brush for a dollar.

But still, these are in no way a replacement or go-to set for actual detail work.

Animal hair, synthetics, and taking the plunge

Once lockdown hit and I couldn’t go browse brushes, I decided to fill out some of the gaps in my set online. This was quite the rabbit hole — doubly so because I had no idea that many brushes, especially good ones, are made with animal hair.

I avoid products made from animals wherever possible; many of the brushes in this post are made from animal hair. I’ll be holding onto them, just like I’m still wearing the last pair of leather shoes I bought, but I don’t want to buy any more non-synthetic brushes. So my search became one for a range of brushes that were both 1) good and 2) synthetic, and those two things apparently do not always go together.

Much digging later, I landed on the Princeton Velvetouch line, and my brushes came in the mail yesterday. Shipping was slow and everything is so uncertain right now that I figured I’d go all-in on one order and hope for the best.

Princeton Velvetouch explosion

These tend to be about 50% to 80% of what a comparable Army Painter or Citadel brush would cost, so not expensive but not cheap either. The 10 brushes I bought were $45 total. The reviews were good, the handles feel nice (that’s the “velvet” in Velvetouch; they’re soft and slightly grippy), and unlike a lot of other well-rated synthetic brushes they come in sizes small enough for use on miniatures.

The ad copy makes a pretty good pitch, too: “The NextGen synthetic filament in Velvetouch brushes is the result of seven years of research and development by Naohide Takamoto, a fifth-generation brushmaker and the grandson of the inventor of Taklon, the first artist-grade synthetic brush fiber.” Will it hold up? I guess I’ll find out.

I also snagged a tub of brush-cleaning soap, having learned that periodic cleaning with soap will help preserve their lifespan and reduce curling.

I’m a Dapper Dan man

I’m going to be a sad panda if these Velvetouch brushes are terrible. Stay tuned!

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: painting Sergeant Karios

This past weekend I worked in a bit of painting time. Somehow painting my first Blood Angels model feels more like the official start of my army than any of the preceding steps — buying, assembling, priming, and basing.

Audiobook as painting soundtrack

I’m listening to the audiobook of Guy Haley’s Dante (paid link), narrated by Gareth Armstrong, while I paint; so far I’m loving it.

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and it’s fascinating to me that three things are happening simultaneously while it’s on: I’m enjoying the book (Armstrong is a great narrator); it’s keeping me company while I paint, much like background music would; and neither book nor painting is distracting me from the other to the degree than I can’t comprehend the book or focus on my painting.

In fact, on that last front, paying attention to the book is actually helping me get into the Zen-like, relaxed-but-focused state in which I like to paint.

Fetch the Emperor’s bucket of Mephiston Red

As ever, Sergeant Karios is first into the breach.

For the Emperor and Sanguinius!

Compared to painting my Space Hulk Terminators, which had a fairly thick, years-old coat of spray primer and a poorly applied, and equally thick, base coat of red covering most of each model, this is night and day. Karios has my worst coat of brush-on primer, as he was first and I was still getting the hang of it, but it’s so nice and thin compared to the Terminators — and thinning my paints, using a proper fine brush, and focusing on the details are also smoothing the road.

Slow and steady: red done, magenta done, starting on gold

There’s also a definite quality difference between the cheap ZEM brush I’ve been trying out for base-coating and my better Citadel and Army Painter brushes. The curled tip on my ZEM brush is going to stay curled, so it’s been relegated to “open areas and spots where I need to poke between things” duty, leaving my better brushes for actual detail work.

Base edge color test

Along the way I took a poke at a Marine’s base with Mechanicus Standard Grey, and while not bad it’s too dark and too tonally close to the terrain color. Fortunately I’ve got more gray on hand now, and I have a hunch Danwstone will be perfect.

Sergeant Karios, fully base-coated

And on Sunday night, just as the light outside starting becoming too dim for detail work, I finished base-coating my first Blood Angel! Sergeant Karios still needs a full touch-up pass before his wash — but shit, that feels good.

Categories
Miniature painting Miniatures Painting tools Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Squad Karios bases, ZEM brushes, Citadel texture paints, Squad Dolos assembled

I know I’m posting a lot these days — I’ve been blogging for almost 15 years: posting twice a day, for one person, is a lot! — but I’m deep in the joy of this extended moment, of being a novice miniature painter falling in love with this hobby. Everything is new for me right now, even little things — like today’s new little things, blending paints and following a basing recipe.

Plus, you know, the whole family is stuck at home — like yours probably is, if you’re reading this around the post date and not years later. Not to make light of the situation, but late February has turned out to be a serendipitous time to get back into painting miniatures.

The larch

Before diving into today’s WIP post, I want to wish everyone reading this well. I hope you and your families are safe and weathering the COVID-19 pandemic as well as possible.

Yore isn’t a news blog, or really a serious blog at all most of the time. It’s a creative outlet, it’s my hobby space, it’s something I work on when it’s fun. I figure you’ve got COVID-19 stuff coming at you from a million angles, so I’m going to keep doing what I do here: talking way too much about miniatures.

Stay safe out there!

Infiltrators, assemble!

After giving myself what I suspect was a glue-induced headache last night, I changed up my assembly routine a bit. Instead of trimming and gluing in small stages, which is more fun, I’m trimming every piece and then assembling them all at once.

The final four Infiltrators

I’m also sticking newly-glued minis in the bathroom with the window open and the fart fan running. So here’s a bathroom shot of Squad Dolos, fully assembled:

Squad Dolos

Sergeant Dolos is front left; the sub-squad leader (pointing hand) is back center. Since my current Blood Angels list doesn’t have room in it for either of the Infiltrators’ special units, the comms guy or the Helix Adept, I had to get a bit creative with the mini that the kit assumes will be the comms guy. (Weirdly, you don’t get the Helix Adept mini in this kit; it’s only in the Shadowspear box, I believe.) I used two Incursor arms, which are included because this kit lets you build either; he’s the sub-squad leader.

ZEM brushes

I also picked up some inexpensive brushes, a ZEM detail set (paid link), since I’m still pretty bad at taking care of my brushes. I’m getting better! But I’m still not great. These are under $2 each, as compared to a $5-$6 Army Painter brush — and available for delivery, which is handy since my family is sheltering in place for who knows how long.

My new ZEM brushes: 0, 10/0, 2, and 3/0

I used the 0 today and quite liked it. It’s got more bristle tension than some of my other similarly sized brushes, which is handy. After a short painting session, though (just skulls and rocks on 10 bases), the tip looked like this:

From what I’ve read, that “tip curl” is a hallmark of cheap brushes in general and cheap synthetic brushes in particular. Still not a bad brush for the price, but I’m now doubting how much I’ll like the finer-tipped ones — since a curl in those can really wreck detail work.

Basing Squad Karios

My first squad has a post tag of its own (they all do; so far that’s Dolos and Cain), in case you want to follow their journey from box of plastic to fearsome painting Space Marine infantry. Today’s step on that journey, now that their primer is cured, is to paint the little rocks and skulls I glued onto their bases and then apply texture paint.

Sergeant Karios, my test pilot

I don’t have a medium gray in my paint stash at the moment, and I want these rocks to be lighter than the texture paint (Astrogranite Debris) but darker than the drybrush color I’m going to use (Grey Seer). So: it’s blending time!

I did a 50:50 blend of Corax White and Mechanicus Standard Grey, thinned it with a bit of water, and went to town.

Rocks: done!

I use a dry palette, so I had to mix up a new batch after about five guys — which is fun, because the little variations in my batches will ensure that my rocks don’t all look like they came from Rocks ‘R’ Us. It tickles me to no end that the best way to get actual rocks to look like they belong with a miniature is . . . to paint them to look like rocks.

Next up were the skulls, in Corax White, followed by a quick Agrax Earthshade wash on them and the rocks.

Rocks and skulls: done

And after that, the texture paint. I gather than Citadel has reformulated this stuff in the past few years, and merged it into their Technical line (it’s no longer actually called Texture), with one of the results being that you can apply it with a brush. But as soon as I opened my pot of it, I was glad I had the Citadel Texture Spreader (paid link): the Astrogranite Debris is a thick, slightly dry paste.

I used the small end of the spreader for all of these. The large end looks ideal for wider bases, but on these I needed the little paddle.

Sergeant Karios

This stuff is fun. Like, really fun. I’m applying it now so I can wash and drybrush without ruining my minis’ legs, but lots of folks apply it last. Using the tiny end of the spreader I was able to manipulate the paint easily enough that I’d have felt just as comfortable doing with a fully painted mini.

After each one, I ran my finger around the edge of the base to corral any loose grit. (Once the whole mini is done I’ll paint the base edges, of course.)

Three down

This paint also feels like cheating. It’s a bit like the magic that occurs when you apply a wash to a base-coated miniature — poof, it suddenly looks a million times better.

Squad Karios, set to dry overnight

Even having not done the finishing steps yet (wash the texture paint > drybrush it and the rocks/skulls > possibly highlight the skulls > add tufts), these are already the best-looking bases I’ve ever done. Miles ahead of my past efforts with just glue and little rocks — and that’s 100% down to this paint. I love this stuff!

That’s probably it for tonight’s hobby session — but damn, this one felt good. As a proof of concept for my “plains of Armageddon” basing recipe, the rocks don’t stand out as much as I’d like — though I’m betting a nice light-colored drybrush will help — but otherwise I’m calling this concept proven. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after the whole process is complete!