We Must Increase our Bust*

Reaper Miniatures has announced an add-on level for a set of busts in their current Bones 5 Kickstarter campaign (Late pledges available here.). To some people this may seem like an odd or even undesirable turn of events. I’ve been lobbying them to produce some Bones busts for years. I’d like to share my thinking behind that, and why I hope inexpensive Bones busts may help the Kickstarter and even the hobby as a whole.

Busts in Bones 5 KickstarterA set of busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie available in the Bones 5 Kickstarter.

There is a large and active segment of Reaper’s fan base, and the miniature hobby as a whole, who evaluate miniatures solely from their value as playing pieces in various role-playing and miniature war games. Apart from potential use as terrain and objective markers, the busts have little appeal as playing pieces, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone in this group to buy them.

In the miniature hobby as a whole, there are also a large number of people who only paint figures and do not play with them. This segment of the audience has a strong preference for figures in larger scale than gaming miniatures, and many of them also enjoy or even prefer busts to full figures. If you haven’t been much exposed to the painting side of the hobby you might feel like people who only paint are just a small number of people who paint at a very high display level. This is not at all the case. There are enough people who enjoy painting that there are clubs and large shows devoted to this side of the hobby all over the world. And those painters encompass the same range of beginner to expert quality of output as the painters on the gaming side.

World expo show roomWorld Expo 2017. Miniature enthusiasts from around the world traveled to Chicago to show their work. This large ballroom contained only a portion of the total entries and attendees.

Members of this side of the hobby have traditionally focused on historical miniatures, but many also enjoy fantasy and science fiction figures as well. In fact, the number of people participating in this area of the hobby who are interested in fantasy/SF has only been increasing over the years. Just as with gaming miniatures, there are a few larger companies with big catalogs that offer a mix of historical and fantasy/SF figures, and a lot of boutique companies with more select offerings. Two of the bigger companies are Andrea and Pegaso. If you take a quick look at the number and variety of figures they offer, you will be able to see that there might be a larger audience of people who just like to paint miniatures than you might have imagined.

That painter only audience currently has very little knowledge of or interest in the offerings of Reaper Miniatures. I am hoping that the addition of these busts to the Reaper catalog will inspire some of them to take a second look at Reaper’s product line, as they might also enjoy figures like the giants and dragons. If we can spread the word and get some of these folks participating in the Kickstarter, that will add more backers to help reach the backer goal unlock as well as adding more funds to unlock other goals, which will benefit also benefit the miniatures as playing pieces backers of the Kickstarter.

Dragon bust Julie Guthrie also sculpted this dragon bust that is available in the Kickstarter.

There is a third group of people who enjoy miniatures both for their use in games, and as artistic pieces to paint for display. Over the past 10 years, the interest this group has in busts and larger scale figures has ballooned. Once they were rarities to see as contest entries at conventions or in online galleries like Cool Mini or Not. Now they are much more common. But I think there are a lot more people who would like to paint figures like this than currently do. Busts are typically produced in resin, and resin production is expensive. Looking over the Andrea catalog, the busts seem to start at $60. I’ve seen a few boutique companies who offer them priced as low as $20, but $40 and up is pretty typical. 

I suspect there are a lot of people out there who are interested in painting a bust, but find the price point of $40+ to be too much to pay for something they aren’t sure they’ll enjoy or be able to paint a level they find satisfactory. In the Kickstarter, they can get three cool busts to try for a mere $12! And even when these hit retail, the price is still going to be much more palatable for an experiment.

Bust combo 600I did some quick B&W painting on this resin copy of one of the new Reaper busts to demonstrate how you can use paint to alter a sculpted expression. I was trying to make her look sad and grieving. The sculpted expression is much more neutral. Unfortunately my year of chaos means I haven’t had time to properly paint this wonderful bust yet!

Another great value of these is for teaching demonstration and study of how to paint miniatures, both for tabletop game use and display. There has been an explosion of great video resources online. As much as camera technology has improved in the past few years, it is still often difficult to make out exactly what someone is demonstrating on a gaming scale miniature. Reaper’s gotten in the game with their Reaper Toolbox videos, which you can find on Twitch and their YouTube channel, and their staff painter has mentioned that she tends to prefer painting bigger figures on camera because it’s much easier for people to see what she’s doing.

I teach and take a lot of classes in person, and suffer the same issue. Reasonably priced busts and larger scale figures are a boon to teaching miniature painting. I could much more easily demonstrate the texture technique I used to paint Delia on a larger figure, and students would have a much easier time practicing that technique on a larger figure. I have never taught painting eyes at a convention because the iffy lighting would make it too frustrating to see the demonstration or attempt to practice. The larger eyes of a bust would be a different prospect! Busts are common subjects for one or two day workshops, but have been too expensive to be practical for use two hour classes. Inexpensive Bones busts offer exciting possibilities for new subjects and improvements in miniature painting instruction.

Figures on a shelfWhich would viewers see best on a mantle or curio shelf?

One final value for busts is as gifts. A lot of people who paint miniatures like to give these as gifts to friends and family. A typical gaming scale miniature is too small to work well displayed on a mantlepiece or curio cabinet shelf. You’d need to build up an elaborate base or create a diorama to make them stand out. The picture above gives you an idea of what I mean. The Reaper mousling and Dark Sword woman in the middle of my sample display are painted to a high standard, but it’s challenging to even see what they are unless you’re quite close to them. The two busts and the Reaper Efreeti are much more suitable for display of that nature.

I suspect that part of the popularity of the Reaper Kickstarter dragons and giants is how well they work in this capacity. Busts also make great display piece gifts, are sturdy, and do not require time-consuming or fragile basing. They also fit into a type of art object more easily understood by non-miniature enthusiasts, so are more likely to be appreciated by recipients and viewers of that nature.

If you are interested in buying the busts that were added in the Kickstarter, you can make a late pledge through this web page.

Figures in this Post

The three humanoid and one dragon head busts sculpted by Julie Guthrie are currently only available via the Reaper Kickstarter. See the link above for how to pledge to receive these. They will release into retail channels some time in the second half of 2021 or first half of 2022.

The Random Encounter dwarf bust is available as a gift with purchase from FeR Miniatures, which also sells some other terrific busts (and full figures).

The mousling pirate is available in metal from Reaper Miniatures.

The female shaman is based on artwork by Larry Elmore and is available from Dark Sword Miniatures.

The Ziba the efreeti is available in Bones Black plastic from Reaper Miniatures.

*If the title of this blog post is lost on you…

8 thoughts on “We Must Increase our Bust*”

  1. I had already pledged to get the dragon bust, to *see* if it was something I’d like to do (I mostly paint for tabletop games). But you’ve managed to convince me, I’m going to up my pledge for the other busts, I doubt I will get access to something priced at the point where I feel comfortable *practicing* on it anywhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you enjoy painting them! For the price, it’s certainly worth trying to see how well you like it. Even if you later get some more expensive busts, you’re right that you’ll have these for low pressure practice.


  2. Easy sell as I already added 2 dragon busts and the elf busts in the kickstarter. I wanted 2 of the dragons so I could paint 1 for display and use the other to test color combos before painting full sized dragons (I never painted a white dragon and I’m not sure how I should go about it).

    I hope Reaper adds more variety to their bust line. I’d love some non elves and even non human busts. The more the merrier.


  3. I think it’s good that Reaper are using the Kickstarter to expand the types of models available in the range. It will be interesting to see the demand for these busts during the Kickstarter and also on release.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think retail is where the busts will shine. Paint class teachers will eat em up in scores. Normal bust painters will likely scoop up a few just to see how well the material compares to resin. I just hope we get some monster and maybe even a couple undead busts to go with them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That is the downside of dipping a toe in the water. Testing the market with just a few options means potentially missing some subjects that might do well.


  4. I have been painting busts for too many years to count. I started as a historical painter (using oils) and only discovered Reaper through their paints and Reapercon. I have a few of their minis, usually the ones from the con, I use them mainly for practice as even with high magnification, I can barely make out the features.
    Busts are fun. They are big so they seem easier to paint but you have to put in all sorts of extra details. A face may include 9 shades and highlights as well as 5 or more additional colors. All the wear and tear on leather belts can be represented. There are many fantasy busts now being produced, not only Andrea and Pegaso but Scale75 and FER as well as others. They are fun to paint as you are not locked into the uniform colors of a military figure, you get to use more purple.
    Your painting of the Maiden bust is really cool. I got that bust at Reapercon 2018 and haven’t figured how to paint it yet. It would be great to see multiple versions with different expressions, just done in black and white.
    Took your advice and committed to the Kickstarter. Now I just need patience to wait for delivery.



    1. Once the bust is in Bones and I can get a few more copies, that might be a cool experiment to try! I know there are painters who disagree with me, but my opinion is you can only shift a facial expression so far from whatever is sculpted. A lot of expression is based on the position of facial muscles, and most of that is determined by the sculptor. We can’t paint a mouth to look open for the look of surprise, as an example.

      I made up a chart for my advanced face painting class of the key markers for the main emotional expressions on the face (anger, sadness, etc.), and to demonstrate how to use that in painting miniatures I’ve done a few examples on gaming scale figures of shifting expression. I might be able to make a blog post with pics of those examples some time.

      I agree with you about the fun of detailing on a bust. I’ve tried some of the same techniques on smaller scales. It works to one degree or another, but it’s a lot more natural looking and apparent to the viewer on the scale of a bust.


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