Thursday, 17 March 2011

Getting better...

I was reading an interesting post on Ana Machowska's blog Painting Mum regarding the nature of taking advice. It's good and true stuff about how, if we are to get advice from other painters then we have to be brave enough to show our works even if we don't think they're very good. I wont dwell upon the point and will just give you a link for you to read yourself...

Painting Mum

Well, I'd like to take another part of the giving advice situation. The first step is to ask for advice. As Ana has demonstrated, the second is to show your work that it may be critiqued. Then there's a third stage and it's an important one. It's also, bizarrely, one that isn't always followed...

Follow the advice!

Given my level of experience and a number of Golden Demon awards, it's perhaps unsurprising that I sometimes get asked for tips on painting. I try to offer constructive criticism where I can but am often surprised by the reaction.

Probably the classic piece of advice I have to give is to thin your paints. I've lost count of the amount of people I've offered this advice to and it's one of those parts of painting that with few exceptions, separates the good and bad painters (and I'm sure there are those who defy this rule). But it's good, universal advice. And it isn't followed. The advice is given and then there's a blank look. It's like they expected me to say that there's a great secret to painting. The great painters have special brushes and paints that make your work amazing and if you switch to that then you'll win Golden Demon. But, alas, there are no tricks like this. Use good quality paints and brushes (and most miniature paints and brushes are high quality) and then you're doing the same as 'the pros'.

After the blank look comes the punchline... 'It's okay, I think I'll keep doing things my way. I'll get there in the end'. There's an assumption that painting is about putting in the grind and that if you do enough hours work then you'll be brilliant. It's not the case. It's a classic case of work smart not hard. The hard work will help but the smart work will help more. Work smart AND hard and maybe you get to stand on stage in front of a few thousand people and try not to cut your hand on the blade of the Golden Demon Slayer Sword (yes, that happened).

If you're going to ask for advice on improving your work from an experienced painter the chances are that the advice you get wont be flashy, exciting ideas like 'here's how to paint NMM' or 'this turquoise paint will turn your work up to eleven'. No, you'll get 'thin your paints', 'keep your colour scheme tight', 'simple and neat' or 'take a little care with the base but don't go mad on it'. Pay attention to this sort of thing and it's amazing how quickly people start to produce better paintjobs. And then, of course, comes the epiphany; that the advanced techniques are merely extensions of these basic techniques and that it's really not that complicated at all. It's all just painting neatly and with a little care and attention...


  1. im incapable of being neat in any respect nor do i thin mi paints much as the advice thats given bi so many - there again i aint going to change a thing after all these years - to busy enjoying miself ......

  2. Speaking of people who defy the rules...


  3. I posted a long and of course brilliant response to her blog, but then the internet ate it. I agree with her 100%. If improving is the goal then work has to be done. The fine, fine people of the net painting community have taken time, effort, and patience with me and helped me push myself. 'Course I have to actually follow the advice given and initiialy (and honestly still quite often) I need to swallow my pride and realize that the piece of metal or whatever I just sunk a week or two into painting still has scads of room for improvement. It is very frustrating to see people post their work, as for comments, then get defensive or worse regarding any remark given that might indicate the painter could improve some areas. Typically it's the raw beginers who get defensive in this manner. And usually I suspect that just like when I started on the 'net they've been painting for a dozen years perhaps so CLEARLY they know their craft and really need no help.

    Also I really admire the courage and effort of those who take the time to share their knowledge with people they are likely to never even meet in person. I've had people take the time to take images of my mini's and photoshop them to illustrate a point. How awesome is that? People (more than one!) have taken the time to download a pic of my mini, take a 1.2 hour or so to tweak the contrast or whatever and then show me exactly what they are talking about. Brilliant, and very humbling. I think I've improved greatly from when I started posting on the net in '08-ish and it's all thanks to the great people out their coaching me along with honest and informative advice. People who get these tips and choose to ignore them or get ruffled feathers from the posts really get under my skin. Keep up the blog Steve! I think I am off to base up a flamer monkey. Keep it real! -Scott Radom

  4. In my opinion apart from 'thinning your paints' one of the biggest tips to improving your mini painting is to study the work of others. Really 'looking' at the work of others can help to show you how to implement and use the more advanced techniques of painting on a miniature. Plus it helps to spark new ideas for your own work. Also try to keep a strong the focal point on the miniature with the use of good colour choice. Lastly listen to the constructive criticisms and advice of others.

  5. for me, like davek says to grow your skills is to look at the work of others - but also experience and personnel style develops over time - some seek advice and that can be positive - others can be so proud of their work that it is rather intimidating to share their results as there are so many critics out there that tell you to highlight this or that or change so and so colour unasked for - i love looking at painted minis and i get to see a great deal - the ones i love the best often do not fall into the current fad for overshading, falsely highlighted artificial looking miniatures but have a quality and simplicity which can be stunning to mi eyes - i see a great deal of stunning painted armies at tournaments usually never cited as being the pinnacle of the art of mini painting - i also see a great deal of work that occupies the opposite style of painting which does win praise - its not so much technique but spirit and character and i sometimes feel that there are so many critiques out there that this aspect of the hobby is somehow being missed .......

  6. Just yesterday I was looking at some of the miniatures J.B. painted that were in the "Heroes for Wargames" book. I think some of those were painted using oils. Whats I have noticed recently is that traditional historic mini painters and the new guys on the block, fantasy painters are merging meaning older techniques and skill sets like using oils are beening used more. I spent a fair bit of time last year learning how to use oils on miniatures so they are another tool in the arsenal. I also think the advent of water soluable oil paints has helped this.

  7. all those early miniatures were painted in humbrol railway colours thinned with white spirit - black lined with rapidograph pen [ which im using now as we speak ] - i had both time and eyesight in those days - the terchniques of shading were borrowed from french watercolours of flowers from the 18oo's - these i passed onto mike mcvey etc ... thinking on this a bit this morning and i have realised that what i do with minis is driven bi mi love of certain artists - rembrant, burne jones, turner, fred church , and even pollock - weird that, never occurred to me before this blog ....

  8. I've teached basic and advanced painting techniques in couple of Finnish roleplaying events known as RopeCon. I must say, it has always been delightful to witness how fast people can actually learn and embrace new things, just if their mind is on the right mood.

    But getting your trainees on the right mood is totally different story. It's more of chemistry between the teacher and the student. Probably needless to say that if the teacher is inpirational and giving his heart to what he does and teach on is more likely to put his trainees on fire - and on the right mood.

  9. Hello all!

    First of all - thank you, Steve, for mentioning my blog and my post here. I really appreciate it that such an artist even mentions me :)

    You are absolutely right - people expect a single hint that will allow them to make a breakthrough in their painting. Some kind of secret knowledge. But there is none.

    Of course, there are secrets in miniature painting that people sometimes don't share. It's the particular way one painter paints or does something. But it doesn't mean it's the best way or the only way. It's simply the one they chose for themselves. I still don't understand why they don't share the knowledge, but it's not my business really if they don't.

    I believe that advice and feedback can speed up your progress because other people show you what is good and what is bad from a different perspective than yours. It gives you instant cumulation of new facts and information. But you need to agree to use it if you want to take benefit of it.

    Just as you said, people sometimes ask and then don't follow your advice. They're disappointed it's no secret method of achieving instant success, and you're discouraged from posting more help because seeing your effort not being used is not very encouraging.


    I am really sad to hear about the loss of you lenghty comment. It's really bad luck :(
    I am always interested in what you have to say. You are one of the people who made some very rapid progress in your painting since I remember your first posts on the Chest of Colors forum and comparing them to the new ones.

    It was particularly impressive to see how you follow advice and take all suggestions into account. I also know from Mahon that he was happy to see that comments didn't get ignored, because you were a great example for others to follow.

    I don't know if you noticed it but I often need time to actually make use of the comments I receive for my works. That's because I usually try to do my best and even though people show me what can be improved or changed, I cannot see it. This doesn't mean I don't appreciate the comments - I often return to them and realize "oh my, now I see what these guys meant!". I need to get detached from the paintjob, need to gain some distance to it, need some time to pass so I can "digest" all the feedback. But it also proves how much people can add to the subject: They can see things I am unable to see YET. But after some time, I see what they saw then...

    I hope it's clear, because it may sound totally confusing in English. :(

    Is it you, John? I am not sure if my suspicions are right...

  10. yup tis me - hi and yes i go to your blog to - im a bit seperated from such a discussion as this, because im on mi own journey thats in a different place but one ive tried to articulate in white dwarf occasionally - this needs revisting as mi technique has evolved somewhat in the last few months - dont worry about your english, mine does not conform to what people think is correct .....

  11. .... but your Johnglish is second to none :D

    For me, getting better at sculpting (not painting) is about observing and trying new techniques and mediums.

    I find that if I try to be too neat the miniature loses something undefinable, possibly anima but not quite, but if I go too messy the mini is unworkable and wont cast.

    One day I'll be able to have the luxury of making something for myself that wont ever need to be cast to make money, so I can really let rip :)

  12. .... and I'm not sure I know how that relates to painting, but I have a hangover and it made sense when I wrote it.

  13. Well, the article assumed painting but all the points are entirely relevant to sculpting too.

    And Ana, nice to have you here. As for artists, I'm pretty sure you're better at painting than I am anyway :)

  14. well weve gone into hangovers now - thats something of a dim memory for me - but a small amount of lager or vodka just about does it really ..... best quality tho - a bit like paints really .......

  15. Applied techniques of others is always a fascinating subject and I am often in awe of those painters who can confidently re-apply and disseminate advanced techniques. Though I have to admit even after 30+ years of painting, when I sit down to start a new mini I always feel like a complete newbie. Any predetermined plans of technique soon fly out the window and the once fresh and orderly paint palette looks like something a five year old has had a go at. Once the torrid haze has calmed down, I look at the mini and am never quite sure what and how I did anything! I have tried to keep a journal but that just seemed to interrupt the process and now I just accept that I have a masochistic streak that makes me experiment on the fly and be unable to repeat anything more than once. ☺

  16. Steve, it took me a lot of time to find a system of keeping track of how I painted my miniatures. Taking notes in progress slowed me down and broke my concentration. Taking photos did the same.
    But these are necessary if I want to write tutorials.

    Now I came up with a system which I am still testing, but which works pretty fast. If it proves to be good, I will be happy to share.

    John, that's fantastic to see you posting your comments in the internet (and even nicer to hear that you know about my blog). I am very happy about it! Thanks for everything you contributed to miniature painting!


  17. cheers ana - i usually keep a very low profile on the net but steves a friend so trust comes into it and he has a perceptive and mature view of the hobby which is refreshing ......

  18. I'm living proof that thinning your paints isn't everything! Mine are often too thin... ;o)

    The other aspect is, of course, practice. When you're away from painting for a while or when you're just not painting that often, it is amazing how quickly your technique can fade. Sure, you know how it should be done, but often the smallest things will seem to grow out of all proportion and before you know it you have a complete disaster! ...and resultant loss of confidence.

    My biggest problems (apart from spending all my spare time on photography) are colour choice (I'm not talking about the main colours, but all the minis "accessories"), brush technique and getting those smooth blends in the right place. Often I'll paint a nice smooth blend (under my bright desk lamp) and take the mini to slightly poorer lighting only to see that my work is way to subtle for normal conditions. All that fine(ish) work is comletely invisible. Argghhh!