Use the Good Stuff!

Do you hoard your supplies like a watchful dragon? Do you have figures you’ve stashed away to paint “when you get good”? Do you have special paint colours too precious to touch? Did you go out and buy one of the fancy brushes that the painters you admire recommend, but you’ve been afraid to use it because you don’t want to wreck it? 

IMG 0985Narthrax says play with your toys! And also please finish painting me.

First off, I very much understand where you’re coming from! When I play a video game my inventory fills up with buffs and heals that I amass in a Scrooge-approved fashion. I try not to use them for regular game play, instead saving them for those real knuckle-biter moments. Whereupon I often forget or fail to use them because I’m not in the habit of accessing emergency supplies via shortcuts. So often they don’t end up doing anything other than giving me inventory management headaches.

I’ve tended to do the same thing in real life, too. As a kid I’d receive craft kits as gifts, and then never get around to using them. If I used them, I’d use them up and then I wouldn’t have that cool thing anymore. But in saving and not using them, I never got to experience the joy they were intended to bring. Even today I always have at least a couple of extra nice notebooks or sketchbooks tucked away awaiting the moment that I deem worthy enough for their use. And enough other art and miniature painting supplies to have some real world inventory management headaches. ;->

InventoriesGames have improved a lot over the years. My inventory management has not. (Also I’m very curious to see if anyone can name these games!)

I’m in my 50s now, and I’m trying to get a lot better about using and enjoying my possessions, so I guess it’s never too late! I’d like to suggest to my fellow hoarders who are saving things for rainy days and waiting to get ‘good enough’ that you should start enjoying your treasures now. Including your best figures and miniature painting supplies!

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Figures are for Painting and/or Playing With!

As far as figures go, I always recommend that, whenever possible, you paint quality made figures that you like. Even for practice. Especially for practice! Well sculpted figures can help you unconsciously study aspects of anatomy and properties of materials, like how cloth drapes over limbs and other shapes. With time you may internalize enough knowledge of how things should look to be able to use paint to cover up or distract when you have a sculpt with some issues, or do a better job when sculpting conversions. Painting something you like helps you keep motivated when you’re at a difficult stage in the process. When it comes to learning to paint, a poorly cast, pock-marked, dinged up surface is not the best choice to practice painting smooth blends, nor even texture-based paint effects like drybrushing and washes that depend so heavily on the sculpt itself. 

Beat up or poorly made miniatures cause issues for painters, but also for viewers. Few people can look at a figure and completely separate their opinion of the paint job from the piece as a whole, including how they feel about the sculpt/cast. This is always the case in the sense that our personal preferences influence how interesting we find even the concept of a figure – one person might love futuristic space figures and find fantasy kind of dull, and vice versa. But the general quality of the canvas is a factor in even being able to assess the paint work. Does that area look rough because of the painter, or the figure? Viewers aren’t going to spend heaps of time staring at something to try to make that determination. You and your viewers will spot improvements in your paint work and issues that you need to work on much more readily on a well-made figure.

Old school figures have a lot of charm and nostalgia value for some of us. If this is what you prefer to paint, go for it! However, even if this is the case, I do still recommend occasionally painting a newer figure. The larger scale and increased level of detail make a good canvas to more accurately assess your painting improvement. Then you can dive back into painting all those wonderful Ral Partha/Grenadier/Citadel classics!

First threeThe first three figures I ever painted. In the order I painted them from left to right. Was I getting better? My decision to practice on smaller scale beat up lead figures for my second and third attempts did not make that easy to figure out. (Painted in 2003, photos from 2005.)

If money is tight and you hardly have any miniatures in your stash, of course you need to economize and paint what you can afford! I’ll add some suggestions down at the bottom of this post for how to find inexpensive practice figures. For a lot of us, this is not our problem. We have plenty of figures. Some of us have far more than we could ever finish. And still we might hesitate to paint the really special ones in our stash. Or even just the general good stuff part of the hoard. 

There are some figures that are super rare and/or expensive to replace. It makes sense to put those aside until you feel more confident in your skills or need to paint a real show stopper for a contest or just feel drawn to paint that miniature. There are very few figures that dramatically appreciate in value, so it doesn’t make sense to sit on something just in case it’s worth something some day rather than painting and enjoying it. Keep in mind inflation and the cost of storage when you think about the idea of something appreciating in value, as well. 

If you’re super uncomfortable with the idea of painting the good stuff, here’s a way to start to ease into it. Paint standard release figures made by larger companies that have been in business for a while. The majority of these figures are not tough to replace even if that specific figure is no longer in production. Examples of companies like this are Reaper Miniatures, Dark Sword Miniatures, Ral Partha, and Games Workshop. Each of these has made limited/special edition figures or licensed figures that are produced in smaller number or for a limited span of time, and those may be harder to find or more expensive to replace. But the majority of what is in their catalog now will be in their catalog 10 years from now. (Games Workshop discontinues product lines, but it also sells in huge numbers, so much of their back catalog is available one way or another.)

If you are concerned about whether something is hard to replace, take a look for it on Noble Knight Games (in addition to places like eBay.) You can see whether it’s readily available, and if it is not in stock, when it was last available. So I know that this Lady of Darkness that I’d love to paint again is indeed hard to find. That was from a licensed line and not a standard release Reaper figure. But even though they’re from a smaller company that wasn’t in business for a very long time, I have a decent shot of getting more copies of these Waggamaephs if I decide I need some more in the future.

IMG 0986In my defence most of these were acquired for a charity paint & take and raffle that had to be canceled due to 2020.

One of the things I love about Bones miniatures, and now for many people, 3D printing, is that I think it makes a lot of us much less precious about painting good miniatures that we like, even for testing and practice. It’s not quite as expensive or troublesome to buy/make another if you don’t like how you that first attempt came out.

Also consider that most miniatures can be repainted. Often you don’t even need to remove paint to take a second try at something. Unless the primer/paint was applied so thickly that it filled in sculpted details or added unwanted texture, you can just paint over it. I recommend dusting old figures well, and then spritzing or painting isopropyl alcohol over them to remove skin oils from handling. Acrylic paint adheres well to acrylic paint, so you don’t need to bother with primer unless you have areas of rub-off where the underlying surface is showing through. Occasionally you have figures that you had to paint prior to assembly that would be difficult to repaint. Or ones you’ve done significant conversions to that you might not be able to revise the sculpting of to match your current level. Just about everything else is fair game.

If you have figures that have had detail filled in or you just want to make a completely fresh start, you can safely strip paint and primer off of figures by soaking them in Simple Green cleaner. It takes some time and some scrubbing, but is safe to materials and you. (There are also quicker solutions if you’re willing to work with more dangerous materials and you’re confident they won’t damage your surface.)

IMG 1086My little tub of Simple Green doesn’t get a lot of use since usually I can paint over and try again without losing detail.

The last thing to consider is this. If you are the kind person who regularly gets excited about and acquires new figures, there are likely a lot of miniatures in your horde that you aren’t as enthused about now as when you purchased them. My tastes have changed considerably over the years I’ve been collecting miniatures. Advances in sculpting and production and the wider availability of larger scale figures and busts means that a lot of things I was excited about when I first started painting are not really treasures anymore. It makes sense to paint things you’re excited about now while you’re excited about them rather than to hoard them for years only to find they don’t really feel like treasures anymore.

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Paint – Use it or Lose it!

Apart from rare issues like lead rot, miniatures will last your lifetime, and more. I’m not aware of any issues other than extreme damage like crushing, caustic chemicals, or high heat that will affect pewter, resin, or plastic figures. If you aren’t yet ready to paint the things you love, they’ll be there waiting for you in your garage, attic, car trunk, or wherever else you’ve stashed them.

Paint is much more sensitive to storage conditions. It has a shelf life. Now paint can last! Paint hoarding is perhaps more of an issue for me than hoarding miniatures. I have paints that are upwards of 15 years old that are still useable, and I know there are people with classic paint far older than that on their shelves. But unless you get very lucky, you’ll need to do regularly do maintenance on that paint to keep it in workable condition. There’s no point holding onto the last bottle of your favourite colour for years if it’s just going to turn out to be a ball of goop once you do decide to use it. Note that a plastic bottle/pot is not a stasis field, so even if you have some that are brand new and unopened, it’s probably best to occasionally open them to check if they’re drying out or separating. I have a post on how to perform paint maintenance you may find helpful.

1155F954 2573 4DF7 B3A3 AFC2C55343B0 1 105 cDefine ‘too many’. 

One of the other differences with paint colours is that it can be a little easier to ‘make your own’ at home, in the sense of mixing paints together to create your desired colours. Colour mixing can be a little challenging, but with a little study and effort it is within just about anyone’s grasp to do. You should be able to find some online video or text guides to basic colour mixing theory, and then sit down and play with some paints and see what you can come up with. It will be easiest to colour mix match to a wet sample of your desired colour. Colours can subtly shift as paint dries. One of the functions my paint hoard has served is to provide wet paint samples to Reaper to recreate some long lost special edition colours!

You can also try getting some help with a colour mixing/replacement project. However, if you ask online, beware of people suggesting matches to long gone colours based on webstore swatches. Online paint swatches are, at best, a rough approximation of the hue (colour) and value (darkness/lightness) of a colour. Generally if you’re looking to match a colour that isn’t made anymore, you’re looking for as close a match as possible, and online swatches just don’t provide enough information to assess that. The explanation for why that is so is a bit long, so I’ll have to address that more thoroughly another day. 

IMG 0987These are not even the only sets of paint that I eagerly purchased in the past couple of years but have not found much time to play with.

The other problem with hoarding paint that you know you can’t replace again is you just become more and more hesitant to use it. Is this project special enough? Is this need great enough? And then at some point you may find the quality of the paint has degraded. I am often reluctant to use my very oldest out of production colours for fear the paints will be harder to work with or if I haven’t maintained them well enough they’ll add texture or something. I know that I enjoy painting with fairly fresh paint. If you’ve got treasured paints you want to try to match at some point in the future, paint out a good sample of the colour on paper to keep for reference, but then go ahead and use what you have now while it’s still in good enough shape to enjoy.

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Other Supplies and Tools

Scenic details, pre-cast bases, and bits are like miniatures – they’re not going to go bad. But also why not enjoy the ones you really love sooner rather than later? Yeah, it may be hard to replace that exact one in the future, but chances are good a new company is making similar or even cooler versions. The advent of more accessible 3D printing has vastly expanded the options for scenery and bits, and that will only increase I imagine.

Organize bases crOne of my few pandemic accomplishments was to reorganize my bases! 

Other supplies have a limited lifespan. Products people often don’t realize have a ‘best before’ date include two part epoxy clear resin and glues, superglue, and two part putties like Green Stuff and Milliput. These should be used within one to two years of purchase for best performance. Putties may still be useable after that date, but may be best used for bulking out underlying support shapes or base textures rather than fine detail sculpting. Some other products may still be useable after that time period, but the fact that the clock is ticking for products with a chemical component is something to be aware of.

Most products like static grass, brass etch or paper plants, plaster cast rocks or bricks, and so on are pretty durable, though some can be easily damaged if not stored properly. Many products made from natural materials like bark and dried flowers are also fairly durable, but may become more brittle and likely to break over time. But again, why not use these cool things on your projects now? If you use them up you can feel a sense of accomplishment over how much you’ve been working on your hobby!

Brushes keep a long time unless improperly stored. The most important thing for storage is to protect the bristle head of the brush. If it’s jammed up against the corner of a drawer or box, the shape will deform. You can sometimes recover it with some work, but it’s better to just avoid the problem. I have occasionally heard of natural hair brushes being damaged by pests, so you might want to use a secure container rather than loose in a drawer.

But we’re not here to talk about storage, we’re here to talk about playing with our toys. Unless they are duplicate backups of brushes you already have in use – use your brushes! Experiment with different sizes, different brush head shapes, different types of bristle material. You will likely find that some tasks are much easier and/or quicker with certain types of brushes. Use cheap brushes for rough tasks like painting gravel and drybrushing and use delicate expensive brushes for precision painting tasks. Take decent care of your brushes and they should last a while. And remember that today’s precision brush eventually becomes tomorrow’s work brush. A brush can serve you in one way or another right up until the point that the hairs are falling out or crusted in glue.

Brushes crSome of these are for classes and paint & takes. But also I have too many brushes. I’m not afraid to use the good ones, though! I couldn’t paint without them.

Tools will last for a long time unless used improperly or not maintained. I’ve had to buy a replacement set of Xuron shears because I used my first set on stainless steel paper clips and the product is not intended for that. On the other hand, 15 years ago I purchased a backup set of my favourite diamond files that I have yet to crack open because my first set is still going strong.

Of course there are supplies that wear out or run out with use – sand paper, pin drill bits, and so on. I’d rather have to buy replacements because I’m using them up being productive than have them stay pristine in a drawer because I’m not making anything!

How to Find Cheap but Good Practice Figures

I wanted to share some suggestions for inexpensive figures for those of you who haven’t yet acquired a hoard larger than you could ever paint.

One idea is to look to your friends who have more figures than time to paint them – game masters or people who have a lot of skirmish groups/armies. Investigate whether they would be willing to trade your time in painting some of their figures in exchange for them providing you with figures or other supplies.

A lot of board games these days are packed to the brim with well-sculpted miniature figures. And a surprising number of these end up in thrift stores or second hand shops. Good Will now has an online auction site as well. Miniatures are also sold in droves on eBay, though prices can vary considerably depending on the desirability of the figures and the optimism of the seller. Try searching for the term ‘lot’ combined with ‘miniatures’ or your favourite manufacturer or board game. Keep an eye out for people selling incomplete board games. If you only care about the miniatures you won’t mind if a few of those or other pieces are missing.

If you find a board game and want to see more pictures of the figures included in it, check out a site called Board Game Geek. Type the name of the game in the search, and the game listing will include lots of pictures of the contents. (This is also a great site to use to find board game reviews, rules clarifications, and more if you’re into board games.)

I’m guessing that there are also Facebook groups, Reddits, Discords, and more dedicated to buy/sell/trade, but since my problem is having too much stuff rather than too little, I don’t have specifics to suggest I’m afraid.

Use It!


I’d love to hear about some of the treasures in your hoard that you plan to use and enjoy!

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