Hobby Activities for Tough Times

We all have periods of time where we can’t focus on our hobby the way we’d like. We want to sit down and paint, but we lack big blocks of time, we lack space, or we lack the mental energy. (If you’re in this situation, please be kind to yourself!) However, not being to sit and paint for hours at a time doesn’t mean we can’t do something hobby related!

There are a lot of activities that are very useful to our hobby. Some of these may be things we’ve thought about doing, but we tend to put them off in normal times in favour of working on painting projects. Others might be helpful tasks we hadn’t thought of before. None of these are busy work. They are all activities that will support or improve our hobby efforts whenever we get back to those.

In this article I’ve made a list of some of these tasks. Some of these may seem like a big project to you, and they would be if you sat down to try to complete the entire task at once. Instead, try to think of these as tasks that can easily be broken up into smaller chunks of time. Activities you can easily start and stop that don’t take a lot of preparation or materials to do.

Box kit2 crA small organizer bin, old shoebox, plastic food container – there are lots of storage/transport options to create a project kit.

With a little thought, these can also be compact activities in terms of space. If space is an issue for you right now, you might find it helpful to put together a small bin or tray with the tools you need for just that task. Even a large box lid could work, though a plastic bin or wood tray is longer lasting and more water resistant if you have something like that available to use. Something that you can quickly pack up and put on top of a bookshelf or under a bed when you need to stop working for the day. If your task requires water, a watertight water holder with a lid like a mason jar can help with quick setup/cleanup. Use poster tack to attach brush handles to the side of your container so your brush bristles won’t get smushed when moving or storing your kit.

If time is a bigger problem for you, consider splitting up portions of your task into separate chunks of time. You could do some set up while you’re waiting on stuff while cooking, paint for a while later in the evening, and then clean up after painting while you’re getting ready for bed.

In general, try to identify the specific issues that are preventing you from being able to sit down and work. Then think about those and see if you can come up with creative solutions to help make these much smaller obstacles. Sometimes the biggest block is the way we think about and approach our activities. A session of hobby-related activity doesn’t have to look one particular way to be fun and/or productive. I have a previous article with additional suggestions for addressing time and space obstacles to hobby fun.

But now on to the list of activity ideas!

Paint Maintenance

I have a detailed article about how to maintain your paint. When I wrote the article I did paint maintenance on dozens of paint bottles over a few days time. That was a big project! But it is also possible to approach this as a much smaller project. Just work on five or ten bottles at a time. Put together a little kit of the tools you need in a bag or small box to make it easier to work in small chunks. Then once you’re ready to dive back into intensive hobby projects, your paints will be ready and waiting. This is a task that will save you money and frustration in the long run!

Paint maint kit crA kit of tools for paint maintenance a few bottles at a time. You can store the stirrers on a plastic lid/dish and reuse them once the paint has dried out.

Swatch your Paints

Swatching your paints means to put some paint out on paper or another surface to create a reference of your paint colours. Paint can appear a different colour when it is wet than when it is dry, so swatches allow you to reference the actual dried colour of the paint when making choices about what colour to use. There are a variety of methods for painting swatches that can provide you with additional reference information about your paint – how opaque or transparent a colour is, or what the colour looks like when thinned down for a wash or glaze. (Darker colours often look very different thinned down with water than they do when used full strength, so this is useful information.) 

Swatches cwPaint swatched onto index cards.

I’m hoping to make an article and/or video about the various methods for doing swatches soon. You may already have thought that you would like to swatch your colours but just not gotten around to doing it. (Guilty!) Now is a perfect time! As with paint maintenance, this is a task you can split up and work on just a few bottles at a time.

Goblin paintsPaints swatched on watercolour paper over black pen ink to more easily see level of transparency/opacity. From my Goblins project.

At a minimum, I recommend putting a dab of paint on the top of the cap/lid so you can reference the colour in each of your paint bottles. If there’s any chance you’ll be bringing your paints to conventions or other group painting activities, this is also a good time to write your initials on the labels or the bottoms of the bottles so you can easily identify your paints in a communal painting situation. 

Swatch regular crSwatches on bottle tops, initials on bottoms of bottles.

To swatch washes on the bottle, paint a section of the cap with white brush-on primer. Once it has dried apply the wash over that. If your washes are in containers with smooth lids, you could dab on some texture paste, prime or paint it white, and then apply the wash over that. (Assuming you have texture pastes on hand for use on bases, as many of us do.)

Swatch wash crWashes swatched on primer applied on bottle lids.


Do you have a big box of unassembled Bones Kickstarter minis? Or modular figures from a game or other source? Make a mini kit for assembly and work on that for 10-15 minutes at a time when you get a chance. Grab a small box, toss a few of the figures, some glue, some snips and anything else you might need, and you can turn this into a task that is easy to pick up and put down. I did this with my big box of unassembled Bones figures earlier this year when I was having trouble focusing on painting. Now I have a lot more options for figures to use for demos, games, and or paint colour scheme tests.

I enthusiastically recommend the exact glue in the picture below for your superglue projects.

Glue crRoll dem bones. In some glue. And then put them together.

Check your Brushes

If you’re relatively new to the hobby or have just a few brushes, you can skip over this one. Some of us end up with a lot of brushes. And our hobby lives might be easier if we took the time to weed through those and keep only the ones we truly like and use.

Make some sample strokes to be sure that your nice brushes still have good points. If they don’t, you can cut the bristles down shorter to create brushes you can use for stippling or drybrushing.

Do you have brushes that the ferrule has detached from? You can glue the ferrules back on. I suspect epoxy glue will last longer than superglue, but either gives you a bit more use out of the brush.

Brushes crIn my defence, many of these are brushes to provide in classes and paint and takes and working on learn to paint kits…

Perhaps you have a few brushes with cracked lacquer on the handle that are uncomfortable to use. You could sand down cracked lacquer and/or coat it with gloss sealer to make the handles smoother and nicer to use.

Brushes with severely damaged and worn bristles can become mixing brushes. I try to mix paint with an old crappy brush I don’t care about to extend the lifespan of my nice brushes. Other jobs for worn brushes we no longer love as well are applying texture pastes, white glue, painting rough surfaces on terrain, etc. 

Even completely worn out brushes can have a second life. Some of the sculptors I know pull out the bristle heads and reshape the metal ferrules to make texture stamps. They also use the wood to make handles for custom shaped metal tools.

However, don’t feel like you need to keep every brush if you have some you just don’t like and don’t want to repurpose. Do not hesitate to just throw out some brushes you don’t like to remove clutter and confusion from your hobby space. Summon your inner Marie Kondo!

Brushes2 crIt’s clearly time for me to play the paint brush version of marry, kiss, or kill.

One of my current dilemmas is debating how to visually organize my brushes. Once my main working brushes wear out for fine painting, they still have years of life doing other tasks in them. But since the handles all look the same it can be difficult to identify which brush is for what! I’ve tried marking them with tape, but it often falls off or makes the handle sticky. I’m thinking about using dabs of particular colour paints on the ends of the handles. Ideas are welcome!

Tidy Up

Those of us who are lucky enough to have dedicated hobby spaces tend to let those spaces get cluttered and disorganized while we’re in the creative throes of a project. Those times when we don’t have a lot of time and energy for projects are great opportunities to spend 10-15 minutes here and there tidying up. Then when you come to a more creative time in your life, you and your space will be ready.

Sort and Declutter

If your workspace is tidy, what about your storage areas for all your hobby tools and materials? There are lots of other possibilities for organizational activities that you can do in short chunks of time that will help your hobby interests in the long run, though some of these might take more space than others.

Another thing I did earlier in the year was to go through all the bases in my collection. With one thing and another I’ve ended up with a LOT of bases. Eventually I’ll use a lot of them, but I don’t need to have 100 30mm round bases immediately accessible to my work area. I organized my bases so I have 5-15 of each given shape and size sorted into baggies/containers accessible in my day to day painting area, and packed the rest up to store in a box in the basement.

Organize bases crI used a photo organizer box from the craft store to organize my bases.

You may have other supplies of a similar nature. Do you need giant tubs of gravel and static grass accessible at all times? If you make a lot of terrain, you probably do. If you use only small amounts of these, it might make your hobby area more efficient to make small containers of each variety and store the larger containers somewhere else.

Catalog Miniatures and/or Paint

Have you ever bought the same figure or paint colour twice without realizing? Don’t feel bad, most of us have. We have a lot of little things to keep track of!

Periodically I’ll see a discussion on forums/Facebook/Discord about cataloging figures or paints. I think a lot of us have good intentions to do something like that, and then never get around to it. We’d rather be painting! Cataloguing your figures and/or paints is a great activity to do in short chunks of time and when you don’t have the time or energy to work on painting projects.

Jan antonin kolar lRoX0shwjUQ unsplashPhoto by Jan Antonin Kolar from Unsplash.

There are cataloging apps available. Some even allow you to scan UPC codes to auto-add products. Custom made spreadsheets are another option. There’s no ideal solution that will work for everyone. It’s more a question of figuring out what information you would find useful to catalog and which method of doing that works best for you.

This is something I don’t personally do, so I don’t have a lot of links and advice for, but you can get a lot of ideas by starting a topic in your favourite miniature discussion group. For a starting point, here’s a thread on paint tracking apps.

It sucks when you’re in a position of not being able to paint for long chunks of time. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do something productive that supports your hobby. I’d love to hear other ideas you might have for hobby related activities we can do when time, space, and energy are in short supply!

The Resolution We Need

Happy New Year! It has been my practice for the past few years to write something on the topic of hobby resolutions at this time of year. Even in ordinary times I like to keep that encouraging and realistic. I don’t think over-ambitious resolutions help most people in the long run.

Although we have turned the page to a new year, these are still not ordinary times. The challenges of 2020 follow us into 2021. Many of us are struggling with issues of money, space, time, and/or energy that are affecting our ability to take part in or enjoy our hobby in the same way we have in the past.

By jack muldoonFlat painted by Jack Muldoon from photo taken at the AMFS Show in 2018.

If you are struggling with your hobby enjoyment, I would like to make this suggestion for a New Year’s Hobby Resolution:

Be kind to yourself. Do what you need to do right now, and don’t beat yourself up about what you’re not doing.

(If you are someone who is coping with the challenges of these times by throwing yourself into your hobbies and would like ideas for more active hobby resolutions, you might enjoy my past New Year’s articles. One discusses the importance of setting goals based on behaviour rather than result, one talks about ways to deal with obstacles like space and time, and last year’s discusses why you should make friends with failure.)

If you aren’t able to paint miniatures because you don’t have the time, the space, the money, and/or the energy, try to make peace with that. It does not help to beat yourself up for not being able to do something you don’t have the ability to do right now.

Yes, sometimes we all need to give ourselves a little kick in the rear for motivation. But if you’ve been facing extra challenges for months, and expect those to continue for months more to come, you need to look at your life circumstances both on a personal level and on an overall level to see whether it’s reasonable to ask more of yourself right now. It might be the case that what you really need to give yourself is one less to-do item, one less pressure weighing you down. If you’re barely coping with some of the basic tasks of your life, it’s pretty reasonable to put a hobby on the back burner, however beloved it is.

It is also perfectly reasonable to feel sorrowful, or angry, or annoyed about not being able to do something you love. But you need to try to make a distinction between how you feel about not being able to do the activity versus how you feel about yourself for not doing the activity. Feeling guilty or getting mad at yourself isn’t going to help. (And while I do think it helps to express sadness and frustration about unhappy circumstances, constantly dwelling on things is also probably not helpful to either your peace of mind nor your ability to try to change the circumstances.)

If you are in this position, you are not alone! You may feel alone. I know that I often do. Sometimes it seems like everyone I know is furiously painting, or baking, or decluttering their house, or doing a hundred other productive things with all the ‘extra’ time we have from not being able to spend much time with friends and family. I need to remind myself that what I see of people’s lives on social media is not the whole picture. I try to take note of the fact that some people aren’t sharing much at all of what’s going on with them, so I’m not really seeing what ‘everyone’ is doing these days. After all, I’m not exactly rushing to Facebook to share photos of the piles of laundry I haven’t folded in literal months! Many of the people you don’t hear much from may be struggling a lot more than you might think.

IMG 0358My dining room is full of unfolded laundry and unplayed board games. And a random pencil sharpener.

Just a note about me commenting on struggles in the painting hobby when I have been painting throughout the year and posting pics and write-ups on what I paint. I still call it ‘the hobby’, but painting miniatures isn’t really my hobby at this point, it’s my job. It’s definitely been a struggle, too. I just don’t have the focus and energy to do some kinds of painting. The figure I’m painting right now is the exact opposite of what I feel currently feel capable of or interested in doing. Pushing myself to sit down and work on it feels like a Herculean struggle. It sometimes takes me literal hours to get my butt in the chair and start working. And then it’s another kind of struggle to stay there and keep working. I’ve had days where it’s been really tough just to get out of bed because I know that is what I have to work on that day, and I just don’t want to do it at all.

But I also understand the struggle of not mustering the energy to do a hobby that you love. One of my hobbies is playing board games. My husband and I own hundreds of them. In the times BC (Before COVID-19), we attended board gaming conventions and weekly game nights. We’ve been play-testers on games in development, and written articles published in national magazines. It’s a long established hobby. I’ve played a dozen game sessions since March. We’ve had more Kickstarter games delivered in the past few months than we’ve had evenings actually playing games. And I feel guilty about that all the time. How is it that I live with a fellow fan, own lots of games, and have all this ‘extra’ time, and yet I am not actually playing any games!? So if those are the sorts of feelings you have about not painting (enough) miniatures this past year, trust me, I do understand!

If you think doing some miniature painting would bring you joy, and you have the time and space for it to be feasible, try this instead of pummelling yourself with guilty feelings. Schedule it. Schedule a session of painting for an hour or two next week. Put it in your calendar or whatever you do to keep track of meetings and appointments. Do your best to fulfill that commitment to yourself. Think of that appointment with yourself as just as important as a doctor’s appointment or meeting scheduled with your boss. You and your goals are worth keeping an appointment with!

Estee janssens aQfhbxailCs unsplashI am suggesting that you literally schedule it in your datebook or phone. (Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash.)

When you sit down to paint, what should you work on? I suggest you pick a simple, low stress project, or something you’re super excited to get to, whichever approach you’d find most motivating and least intimidating. If it would help motivate you to keep the appointment or make it more fun, find out if a hobby friend will partner up with you and hang out on FaceTime/Skype/Discord/whatever. If you sit down to paint and you just can’t focus, try working on assembling figures, or priming, or another related activity. (I’m working on an article with suggestions for useful non-painting hobby activities that I’ll post within the next few days.) And if you still can’t focus and don’t want to be there, stop and go do something else. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Ask yourself to try, and as long as you try, you’ve fulfilled the commitment. Whether you end up working for five minutes or five hours, when you’re done make another appointment with yourself for your next session.

I hope that we’ll be back to normal soon. Back to normal life, and back to our normal geeky pursuits of gathering to play games and attend conventions. But in the meantime, please try to be kind to yourself.

Priscilla du preez k7KnkYqh5Zo unsplash(Photo by Priscilla du Preez from Unsplash.)

Thank you!

I also want to take this opportunity to say thank to all of you reading for your support. It’s been a tough year for me, and when I’m having trouble summoning the enthusiasm to write or do all the work of creating and editing images, it is motivating to know that there are people who find what I have to say interesting and helpful.

And an extra special thanks to the members of my Patreon! I appreciate the support more than I can say. I also appreciate that feeling accountable to all of you is a good kick in the rear if I’m really having trouble summoning motivation!

A Focus on Scarlet Study

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Today I’m serving up a small buffet of painting tips. These occurred to me while painting the Mistletoe Goblin from the Reaper 12 Days figures for 2020, but I hope they will be tasty tips to use all the year round.

Xgob frontLooking for some holiday love.

Painting Red

Many people find painting red frustrating. This topic deserves a deep dive at some point, but for now, here are some quick tips you can try to see if they help reduce the frustration.

Midtones Make the Colour
Generally speaking, you need to make sure you paint a fairly large surface area in the colour you want the viewer to perceive – at least 40-60%. So to keep the jacket looking like a brighter, lighter red colour, I needed to ensure that a large surface area was painted in those brighter, lighter reds. I needed to keep the light highlights and dark shadows confined to smaller areas. Likewise to keep the pants a dark red, I needed to keep the highlights to small areas and not get too bright with them. (Shiny surfaces and other textures work a little differently, but this guideline works for a lot of surface types.) This tends to matter even more with red than some other colours because neither light red nor very dark red appear classically ‘red’ to people, so you won’t feel as if your item is as red if you lose too much of those midtones.

Reds are Transparent
Pretty much all miniature paint brand bright reds are somewhat to fairly transparent. This is a property of the available red pigments that are non-toxic and not super expensive. Miniature paint brand reds that are less transparent will also be at least a little less saturated (bright/vivid) in colour. This occurs because the most way to make a paint more opaque is to add some more opaque pigments to the mix. Generally this is black and/or white, either of which reduce the saturation of colour mixes. (You can read more about colour properties.)

In the Reaper paint lines, the Bones brand reds have the best coverage. Brilliant Red is a good compromise between decent coverage and intense colour. The truest, most vivid red in the Reaper line is a transparent colour, Clear Red. You can glaze it over red areas you want to brighten up a little to increase saturation. (I did not do that here, I think of Christmas red as being pretty saturated, but it doesn’t have to be the most intensely saturated red.)

Xgob back

There are some red paint art store alternatives that aren’t as transparent, but that is a topic for another day. For now, just be aware that it’s about the pigment, not companies mixing paint poorly because they’re being cheap. (More about pigment and paints here.) You’re just going to have to have a bit of patience when painting red because it will take more coats than many other colours. I usually annoy myself by being a little careless with my shadow placement and then having to spend more time than I’d like smoothing out transitions or restoring the midtone bright red.

Shadows – Don’t Paint it Black
If you only own mid-value reds and you mix your own shadow colours, I recommend not using black to darken red. It makes fairly dull reds and can be more difficult to mix with precisely. Experiment with dark brown, dark blue, deep purple, or mid to dark greens instead. You might be surprised at the interesting rich shadows you can create for your reds! On this figure I just used darker reds, and mixed in a bit of Blue Liner for the deepest shadows and lining. (Full recipe below.)

Xgob face

Highlights – My Secret Ingredient
If you mix white into red you get pink. If you mix yellow into red you get orange. Neither really mimics the appearance of a red surface being lit by brighter light. If you mix pink and orange together you get a salmon colour, and I find that salmon colours work great for highlighting bright reds!

The first time or two I experimented with this I mixed my own, and then I discovered a Reaper paint called 61131Red Dust. This has long since been discontinued, but now we have 9321 Red Neon Glow, and it works even better for the purpose. There is another colour you could try if you have it on hand – 9232 Bright Skin Shadow. This was very recently discontinued as well. It is also a duller colour. I would probably add a little orange to it, but it’s worth trying if you have some to hand and you want to test this kind of highlight colour on red for yourself before buying some Red Neon Glow.

My Recipe
To paint the Mistletoe Goblin, I laid out a full spectrum of red paint mixes from lightest to darkest. I used these mixes on both the pants and the jacket. However, I used different parts of the spectrum of mixes for the two items, and I used mixes in different proportions. 29840 Garnet Red is discontinued, but there are several darkish reds in the Reaper line that would work as substitutes. 9278 Gory Red (recently canceled) looks closest, but I think 9135 Carnage Red is also similar, just a little less dark.

IMG 0193

Red paints2

Reference the Real World

I received a pleased comment or two about having accurately painted the mistletoe. Many people confuse mistletoe with holly or ivy, other plants which are traditionally associated with Christmas. Both of those have dark, rich green leaves, but mistletoe has lighter grey-green leaves.

It is worth taking time now and then to research what things look like. Most of us feel like we know what a lot of things look like. We’ve spent our whole lives looking at things, right? So we must know what they look like. The general observations that most of us have stored up in our minds are often somewhat to strikingly inaccurate or incomplete. We tend to focus on just one or two aspects of an item. Like we know that mistletoe is green, but might not have accurately stored knowledge of exactly what kind of green. (For another example, think of a set of stairs you climb regularly at work or home. How many individual steps are there? Few people can answer that, even if they walk up that set of stairs multiple times per day. We often see things but don’t really see them.)

The more you look at and study real objects, the more ideas you’ll get for how to paint them. You’ll also increase the accuracy and the number of the objects in your ‘visual library’ – the objects you have really looked at and know what they look like. If you paint worn leather a lot, work on a miniature where you look at some examples of worn leather and you aim to match the way the colours fade and the patterns of wear instead of just doing it from your imagination. Then the next time you paint leather from your imagination, you’ll have more information to work with!

Dec6One of the watercolour mistletoe cards I painted.

I was familiar with mistletoe due to having painted some for Christmas cards some years ago. The painter in the tutorial I followed had some sprigs of real mistletoe to reference and shared them on video. She also described mixing the paint in some detail so I was aware of the desaturated yellow-green colours. I nonetheless did some online searching to refresh my memory of what mistletoe looks like. (I tried to find the video I followed to add a link, but if it’s still on YouTube I couldn’t find it. There are lots of others on painting watercolour mistletoe though!) There is also a difference in the appearance between North American and European mistletoe. The stereotypical Christmas mistletoe is based on the more attractive European version.


I spent some time talking about focus in the succubi wings article. It has been on my mind a lot lately as I work on putting together information for my ‘handbook of miniature painting’. It’s also something that I have historically not paid enough attention to in my own painting. So currently I am trying to focus on focus in my own work, and I figure it might be helpful to some of you if I share my thought process on that.

The Mistletoe Goblin is a simple example of trying to consider focus. To me the story of the miniature is in the goblin’s face and the hand holding the mistletoe, with a secondary focus on the box of chocolates. So how do I take that idea and turn it into paint on a figure?

IMG 0496

Ron (the art director at Reaper) and I agreed this should be a green goblin. Red and green are colour complements, and traditional Christmas colours, so I was starting off with a strong colour contrast advantage. But there were still plenty of ways I could have gone astray.

One issue I had to consider is that if the goblin is green, and mistletoe is green, how do I emphasize the face of the goblin as the main focus? Mistletoe is a light green, and lighter colours tend to draw more attention. Thanks to my research I knew that mistletoe is a more muted green. Muted colours draw less attention, so that was helpful. It also has white berries instead of red like holly, which would have been higher contrast.

Using a very saturated green on the goblin’s skin would have helped draw attention to the face, but I didn’t want to use super saturated green colours for the goblin skin. Unless I’m painting something very cartoony, I like to desaturate skin colours at least a little. Just as real world people are very desaturated versions of ‘red’, ‘yellow’, ‘black’, ‘brown’, I apply the same principles to fantastic skin tones. You can compare the more muted greens on the Mistletoe Goblin with the saturated greens I used on the Ghost of Christmas Present in the picture below.

Xmas green comp

But by using more saturated greens on the skin than on the mistletoe, I could at least draw a little more attention to the face. After most of the miniature was painted and coming together, I also decided to add the touches of pinky-red to the lips, nose, and ears of the goblin. That brought the strong colour contrast of red/green directly onto the main area of interest of the face.

Xgob wipBefore and after adding some red areas to the face and ears.

Many of my other decisions were related to avoiding distraction in other areas of the figure. I painted the pants a dark red, and did not paint them with strong contrast between highlights and shadows. I chose black for the shoes and belt, and again pulled back a little on the contrast. Partly this was for character – with a hole in the shoe, these were clearly not well-polished new shiny black patent leather or anything! But it was also to avoid drawing too much attention away from the focus areas. The legs and feet add character details, but they are not a significant part of my story.

The ‘story’ I chose for my version of the miniature is just one possibility. It would definitely be possible to tell another story with this miniature that puts a lot of focus on the worn out shoes and half eaten chocolates, and that story would benefit from colour and value used in very different ways than what I chose. There’s not a ‘right’ answer to how to use focus on every miniature. The key is to think about the story/character you want to convey to the viewer and make choices that support that.

Xgob candy

I’m not sure if the chocolates and box end up pulling more focus than they should. It’s a small area and something we don’t see a lot on miniatures, so I was concerned about making it as identifiable to the viewer as possible. I painted a light grey and just highlights of white for the chocolate cups, but it’s still strong contrast with the dark brown chocolate and then both of those contrast with the gold box. Possibly I should have painted the cups a little darker grey and the chocolate as more of a milk chocolate. But I’m still doing a lot of work figuring this focus stuff out myself! This is where things get interesting and artistic. And sometimes frustrating and challenging!

Miniatures Shown in this Post

The Mistletoe Goblin and the Ghost of Christmas Present are both limited availability holiday miniatures. They are part of Reaper Miniatures 12 Days of Reaper promotion, which is running until December 8, 2020. For each $40USD (or equivalent) you spend at the Reaper store, you can choose one of 12 different holiday figures, or a Reaper ornament. So if you spend $80 you can pick out two, and so on. This stacks with the usual monthly promotion, so you also pick out one of the monthly figures per $40 you spend, so you’re getting two free metal figures with every $40 purchase.

I shared a post with larger images and links to painting info for the 10 options I painted. After December 8th, the remaining stock of figures will go up for sale individually.

12Days 2020 2 copy

Non-Metallic Gold and Painting Patience

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I had some thoughts about painting patience while I was painting the non-metallic metal gold on the Christmas Hugs figure that I wanted to share, along with my colour choices and some tips for painting NMM. Also if you’re trying to paint your own copy of Christmas Hugs and finding it challenging to identify all the gift items on the base, I’ve included a guide to what and where things are are near the bottom of this post.

Xdrag front2

The Patience of Painting

If you’ve been painting miniatures for any length of time, you’ve probably had non-painter friends and family look at your work in amazement and declare something like “I’d never have the patience to paint something small like that.” I’ve never really understood that remark. While the tools and techniques may differ between different art forms, the kind of patience it takes to sit quietly at a desk seems similar whether you’re painting a tiny dragon or a large canvas, and similar to lots of other creative hobbies, as well. 

Xdrag back

However, I definitely have found that different painting tasks require different kinds of patience. I’ve also found that it’s helpful to be aware of that and try to keep it in mind as you work. I think patience and expectations can get us into trouble with certain kinds of techniques. With many kinds of painting tasks, things start to look better pretty quickly. If you apply a wash and/or drybrushing to an area of texture, you can immediately see more detail and depth and it looks better. When you start layering or wetblending shadows and highlights onto matte materials like cloth and skin, you see results pretty quickly. A given area might look even better if you added more contrast or detailing or something else, but doing anything is an improvement over leaving it a flat coat of colour.

Xdrag faceI love this adorable little dragon! Julie captured so much joy and personality.

This is not the case for all types of miniature painting tasks and painting effects. Some effects do not look very good until you’ve done a lot of painting. I talked about this last Christmas with my experience of painting the source lighting effect on the Ghost of Christmas Past (below). I was painting the illusion of light being cast from a candle to the side of the figure, while I was looking at the figure under light falling from my ceiling lamp above. The figure looked wrong when it was only half painted because the appearance of the painted light on some areas contradicted the appearance of the room light falling on the unpainted parts. The contradiction prompted my brain to tell me to make changes to what I had painted. That would have been a mistake. I needed to resist that urge until I had painted most of the figure and could assess the appearance of the painted light over the figure as a whole. Once I got to that stage I was able to see that my mistake was in not having painted the effect of the light strongly enough. Giving in to the urge to tone things down in the early stages would have been a mistake on multiple levels.

Xm past bk front full

The Mental Challenges of Non-Metallic Metal

Non-metallic metal is a similar sort of effect. You cannot really tell how well it’s working until you get enough painted that you have some quite dark sections and some very light sections. The main visual properties that set metal apart from other textures/materials are that it appears shiny and reflective. Extremes of dark and light, particularly in proximity to one another, are a large part of what creates the illusion of a shiny surface. 

If you’re used to painting textures and effects that start to look better as soon as you apply paint, it can be very difficult to make the mental shift when you start to work on effects that don’t come together until after you’ve put on a lot of paint. It can be difficult to force yourself to be patient when you start to experiment with more advanced effects like source lighting and non-metallic metal. After all, if you don’t have a lot of experience painting NMM, how can you tell if you’re doing it ‘right’ but you just need to get more paint on it, or if you’re doing something wrong that you need to change? The answer is that you don’t. So my advice is go through the process you’ve decided to follow at least once without making major changes while you paint. Then assess the end result and see what you think. If you identify problems, consider what changes you might make to the process to resolve those on your next attempt.

I sometimes find it challenging even as an experienced painter who has been painting NMM for years. As I mentioned in my recent article on painting succubi wings, my patience has taken a hit in this unusual year. I have had fun painting things that are relatively quick and simple, and have found some high level display stuff to be a mentally exhausting slog.

Xdrag left

With Christmas Hugs, I started by painting the gifts on the base. Some people might look at all that detail and not be too excited about the prospect of painting it. I found it perfectly suited to my current state of mind. It was a lot of little things I could break down into easily achievable goals. It didn’t require fiddly blending that takes forever. I have good light, good brushes, and a lot of practice painting details. I’m not saying that there weren’t parts where I had to position carefully or control my breathing to paint precisely. But painting the details went fairly quickly and I could see tangible progress hour by hour to have a sense of completion and accomplishment. 

That all came to a screeching halt when it was time to paint the dragon. The Reaper Christmas dragon collection already has two red dragons and one green. Given the amount of red and green I’d used on the base, I didn’t think either was a good choice to make sure the Christmas Hugs dragon stood out against her base. I often use warm gold as an accent colour for the Christmas colour schemes, so I thought that would be a good choice for the dragon, and I busted out my favourite warm gold NMM paints. 

Xdrag front

Knowing it might take a few sessions to paint, I also busted out my ceramic welled palette and sponges. I often use a wet palette during a session of painting, but I don’t find that it preserves the paint in good condition to paint over several sessions. I know lots of people use it that way, but it just hasn’t worked well for me. I can use it for small touch ups, but not for extended painting. When I want to use paint over an extended period of time, I use this porcelain palette with small wells. (Small wells reduce evaporation speed.) I fill the wells at least three quarters full. I add water to the paint as necessary for the opacity that I want, usually a drop or two. If it’s very dry, I might add a little drying retarder. I add water to sponges to the point where they’re not literally dripping wet, but they will expel water with any squeezing. When I’m not painting I put the sponges over the wells of the palette, creating a sort of ‘reverse’ wet palette. Even while painting I will often put a sponge over one side of the palette if I’m not using those colours to help slow evaporation. I tend to put shadows on one side of the palette and highlights on the other partly for this reason. Every now and then I check on the consistency of the paint and add a drop of water as necessary, and I reload the sponges with water once a day.

Succ2 skin paletteI bought mine at Cheap Joe’s, but sometimes I see similar palettes for reasonable prices on Amazon. Lab spot plates are similar.

Painting the hide of the dragon felt like much more of a slog than painting the tiny details. I had hoped to finish the dragon up in a relatively short amount of time, but as I started the second session, it became clear it was going to take me longer. I don’t know if that was a question of being out of practice with fiddly blending, the knowledge of the looming deadline, or just not being in the frame of mind to want to do it. All I can say is that it was aggravating. I spent a lot of time feeling like it just didn’t look very good at all. I questioned whether I should have started with a lighter midtone, or did I need to change something else I was doing? Luckily I have had enough experience painting NMM to know that sometimes it doesn’t start looking right until pretty close to the end of the process. I was able to refrain from making sudden poor choices during painting and instead convince myself to just push through and see how it looked at the end.

There are two suggestions I can make to help with the patience part of painting NMM. One is to paint a small area completely. This gives you an idea of how your colours are working with one another and what it looks like when it all comes together. Once you have that small part looking good, you can refer back to it to remind you what the end result will look like! I did this with Christmas Hugs. I started painting the dragon’s hide late in the evening, so I just mixed my paint, painted the end of the tail, and then headed to sleep. I had that end of the tail to look back at when I was questioning whether my colours were off or if the overall effect would work. While this trick works for NMM, note that it doesn’t work as well for all effects, like source lighting.

IMG 0173

The second approach is to quickly sketch in the light and dark areas with your paint. You can do this with rough layering, quick wetblending – whatever works for you. The idea is to paint in the major shadow and highlight areas where they need to be. The transitions between shadows and highlights might look rough, but placing them this way should allow you to get a good idea of whether you are getting a ‘shine’ effect and if your colour choices are working well. It gives you a quick way to judge whether you’re putting things in the right place, and to determine whether you’re using enough contrast between your darkest shadows and brightest highlights. This approach helps you avoid getting something that looks like stone instead of metal! I definitely recommend trying this approach if you’re newer to painting NMM and have been finding it frustrating. You can see an example of me using this technique to paint Caerindra Thistlemoor. This approach works well for a wide variety of effects, like source lighting, though often you’ll need to sketch in all the large areas of the figure not just one section like I did on Caerindra’s metal.

In this approach the second step is to refine the transitions and rough application, and then add smaller detail elements. This can still require patience, but you at least know you got things right in the big picture, which makes it easier to avoid the temptation to change something that doesn’t need changing because you’re afraid it isn’t working. In this approach, as you can see in the pictures of Caerindra, I don’t bother with small details like rivets until the refining stage of the process.

Xdrag nmm comboThe middle picture has shadows and the first few levels of highlight on the back plates, but it doesn’t look right because the lighter layers of highlights aren’t painted on yet. So for 80% or so of the time I was painting, things looked not great to me. I had to have faith about where I was going in the end to keep on with it.

The main point I want to make is that as you stretch your painting wings and move into painting intermediate and advanced techniques, your relationship with your inner critic might need to become a little more complex. Your inner critic is that little voice in your head urging you to tweak something a little lighter, add some of this colour over here, that kind of thing. It can you make decisions while you paint. But sometimes, particularly when trying something new and different, it can lead you astray.

It’s important to understand that your inner critic is calibrated to assess how your work is going based on your usual techniques and approach. It can be actively unhelpful when you’re trying to stretch to paint new effects or try new techniques. If you usually paint fairly matte textures with a low range of contrast (which is how most of us paint in beginner and early intermediate stages of painting), your inner critic makes suggestions based on how your work should look using that approach. It’s going to tell you that painting NMM with high contrast looks wrong and urge you to tone down your shadows or highlights. If you’re trying a new paint application technique, it will make suggestions based on your experiences with familiar techniques that could hamper you learning and understanding the new one. So if you’re used to drybrushing and trying to practice layering, it might prompt you to use types of brushstrokes or thicker paint or something that works better for drybrushing but isn’t great with layering.

It’s kind of like that saying about if you only have a hammer, you treat everything like a nail. Your inner critic is used to using a hammer. It can fight you when you’re trying to acquire and learn how to use a wrench. Sometimes it will tell you to use the wrench just to hit everything, like you do with the hammer. 

The ability to look critically at your work and be willing to make changes as you paint is an indispensable tool for improving! But sometimes what you need to do most to learn is figure out how to mute or ignore your inner critic while you’re trying something new. Try to just follow the tutorial or the process or your new idea through to the end as you originally planned, and resist the impulses to deviate that spring to mind while you’re painting. Then once you’re done, go back and look at your result and review the process you used to get it, and consider how you feel about both. Actually, I recommend that you wait a few hours or even until the next day to do the assessment. You can usually see things much more clearly once you’ve had a break from painting. Then you are in a good position to make decisions about whether you didn’t get it quite right and how you might need to shift or change things.

Non-Metallic Gold Recipe

People often get quite caught up in trying to find the ‘perfect’ colour recipes for NMM colours. I think that’s a bit of a red herring. I recommend you not get too distracted by colour recipes. The perfect colour for something can vary quite a bit depending on the colours used elsewhere on the figure. The gold I painted on this dragon has a lot of reddish tones in the shadows. It looks good with the rich green and red colour scheme of Christmas colours. It would look overpowering next to the muted colours I used on the succubi. The colours on the pillow in this post are similar to the colours used for the NMM on the succubi. The pillow has more brown tones in the shadows, and weaker yellow colours than the dragon. I used some of these same paints in the gold NMM I painted on the Christmas dragon and on Ziba the Efreet, but the gold recipe for Ziba used purple in the darker shadows to tie into shadows used on the rest of the figure, as well as some different paints in the highlights. 

IMG 0201The gold on the dragon is more vibrant. It would draw attention away from the faces and skin if I had used this recipe on the succubi.

IMG 0198

Usually any issues with non-metallic metal not looking correct has to do with values and colour placement. In theory, you should be able to use neon pinks and paint something that looks shiny and reflective like metal, though it might not make you think of a knight’s armour. ;-> Successful NMM requires a large range of value, with areas of dark shadow and bright highlights. Where you place those values is also very important to the effect. Our eyes are more likely to perceive something as shiny if we see dark shadows adjacent or near to light highlights. Not all shapes reflect light in that way, of course. Rounded areas like the dragons wings and knees (or round helms and shoulder plates) reflect light differently than sharper planes like the scales on its back (or swords or armour plates). Shiny surfaces reflect light differently than less shiny ones, so to really pull off the effect well requires studying the light reflection and understanding how it works on different shapes. But you can get a pretty convincing and attractive look even without that understanding if you use value extremes and judgement about where you place those values.

IMG 0192The paint colours I used. I didn’t use the 9256 Blond Shadow on the dragon. The 9071 Chestnut Gold paint I used was recently discontinued. 9256 mixed with 9071 Chestnut Brown would work as a substitute for 9073 Chestnut Gold.

Gold nmm paintsThe paint mixes I used. Unnumbered mixes are a combination of the colours to their right and left. 9073 Chestnut Gold is discontinued. Beneath that section you can see a swatch of 9256 Blond Shadow and a mix of Blond Shadow and 9071 Chestnut Brown that I think would work as a substitute.

One of the paints I used in this recipe (and on Ziba) was recently discontinued. I just did a test with another colour that is still available. It’s not quite as rich, but I think it should give a pretty similar end result used in combination with the other colours, as you can see in the photos above.

Identifying the Gifts on the Base

Julie Guthrie did an amazing job cramming a lot of fantastic geek-approved gifts into a small space on this base! When I first started prepping the metal figure and even after priming, I had trouble identifying what some of the objects are. Certain things can look a little confusing if you’re looking at the wrong angle. To help you avoid that frustration, I’m including some pictures with a guide to what each object is to help you out when you’re painting your copy of this fun figure.

There are several toy animals on the base. I chose to paint the bat and the dragon as if they were pewter miniatures to go with the brushes and paints, but you could paint them in any number of ways. There were a few small things that I weren’t entirely sure what they were and chose to paint as holly leaves.

IMG 0462

1. A pair of socks, a very traditional Christmas gift.
2. A toy bat. I painted this one to look like a pewter miniature.
3. 3d6 (or toy blocks if you’d prefer, the numeral is painted not sculpted.)
4. A toy cat.
5. Several paint brushes in a box.
6. A sock monkey.

IMG 0463

1. 3d6, or toy blocks if you prefer.
2. Three paint bottles.
3. Two more paint brushes.

IMG 0461

1. The tops of the paint bottles.
2. A large sack. For dice, maybe?
3. A small sack. For smaller dice!
4. A Thingmaker Mini Dragon. This was one of Julie and Bob’s favourite toys when they were children. I painted it as a pewter dragon though.
5. A Mr. Bones stuffy!
6. Delicious candy canes.
7. The top of the sock monkey’s head.

Miniatures Shown in this Post

The Christmas Hugs dragon and the Ghost of Christmas Past are both limited availability holiday miniatures. They are part of Reaper Miniatures 12 Days of Reaper promotion, which is running until December 8, 2020. For each $40USD (or equivalent) you spend at the Reaper store, you can choose one of 12 different holiday figures, or a Reaper ornament. So if you spend $80 you can pick out two, and so on. This stacks with the usual monthly promotion, so you also pick out one of the monthly figures per $40 you spend, so you’re getting two free metal figures with every $40 purchase.

I shared a post with larger images and links to painting info for the 10 options I painted. After December 8th, the remaining stock of figures will go up for sale individually.

12Days 2020 2 copy

Starting December 1st, if you spend $60USD or more, you will also receive a Paint Your Krampus kit that I wrote, while supplies last. The kit includes four paints, detailed instructions, and a Bones USA Krampus figure produced in Texas.

127157338 10159109620688057 4425396476104043702 o

12 Days of Reaper 2020

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, or just the annual bonanza of sales, the holiday season is upon us. As I’m sure is the case for many of you, some of my traditions are having to be put to the side in this unusual year. One tradition that has remained the same is my annual last minute crunch to paint some of the Reaper holiday miniatures. I’ve painted one or more of the holiday figures since 2015, and pulling out the red and green paints to paint as fast as I can genuinely is a part of my holiday season now! 

12Days 2020 2 copy

This year’s 12 Days promotion features a lot of the miniatures that I’ve painted over the years, as well as a couple of great new ones. I thought I would share photos of them in a single post to help people get a better view of the figures from different angles. I’m also hoping to write a couple of posts about the new figures with some insight on painting those that you might find useful in painting yours. 

The 12 Days promotion runs on Reaper’s site from November 27 to December 8, 2020. This year you can choose any of the 12 Days miniatures for each $40USD of purchase, or the ornament. This is cumulative, so you can choose two different figures (or two of the same) with an $80 purchase, and so on. It also stacks with the usual free figure of the month promotion, so you’re getting two free figures for each $40 of purchase. Remaining stock of the figures will go up for direct purchase after December 8th.

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This year I worked on an additional holiday project for Reaper! Starting December 1st and for as long as supplies last, each $60USD purchase will receive a Paint Your Krampus mini learn to paint kit that I wrote. You need to supply your own brushes and black and white paint, but everything else you need is included in the kit. The Krampus figure is made in Texas from the new Bones USA plastic.

But enough of all that, let’s get to pictures of the charming holiday figures!

First up one of the new figures this year – Christmas Hugs. I love Julie’s holiday dragons, and this one was extra fun to paint due to all the great geek gifts on the base. I’ll post in a day or three with a ‘map’ of the objects on the base to help make it easier for you to paint a copy of your own. In the meantime you can check this Facebook gallery for more views and info on the base.

Xdrag frontSculpted by the Dragon Lady herself, Julie Guthrie.

Xdrag back

The other figure that is brand new this year is the Mistletoe Goblin. Worn out shoes and a half eaten box of chocolates haven’t stopped this optimist from looking for love. More view angles available in my Facebook gallery.

Xgob frontI believe this was also sculpted by Julie Guthrie. If not it was her other half, Bob Ridolfi.

Xgob back

One of the first Christmas dragons, this one has a little hoard of presents that I wouldn’t mess with if I were you. I wrote a post describing how I painted the wrapping paper and with more views of the figure

Xmas dragon face fullSculpted by Julie Guthrie, of course!

Xmas dragon2 wings full

Tinker the Gnome is doing his best to get everything ready in Santa’s workshop. You can see some additional angles in my Facebook gallery.

Xgnome front fullSculpted by Bobby Jackson.

Xgnome back1 full

If dragons get into holiday mischief, imagine what cat dragons can get up to… I have a post with more pictures and some background on painting the figure.

Catdragon left fullSculpted by Julie Guthrie. And you can tell she’s lived with a few cats over the years!

Catdragon right full

This little Stocking Dragon is very excited about what treasures might be found in the stocking. I wrote a post describing how I used the sketching or blocking in style to paint this figure.

Xdrag face2 fullJulie Guthrie once again had the honours on this one.

Xdrag back full

A fun twist on classic Christmas characters – the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. I have a post on how I painted the light effect on Christmas Past. I answered some questions on how I painted Christmas Future’s black dress. There are individual photos and more angles in my Facebook gallery.

Xm ghosts bk fullBob Ridolfi did a wonderful job sculpting these very characterful figures.

Xm ghosts bk back full

And one more cat dragon. Painted to resemble one of my cats. My cat doesn’t actually mess with the Christmas tree, but he gets himself into trouble in lots of other ways, so he was definitely the right cat for this modelling job. If you’d like to paint your cat dragon with a pattern, you might find this post on painting fur patterns handy. You can see more angles in my Facebook gallery.

Xm cat bl face fullJulie Guthrie sculpted this. I suspect Julie may have lived this.

Xm cat right2 full

And lastly, a couple of pictures of the Krampus I painted for the Paint Your Krampus kit. Ron Hawkins, the art director at Reaper, did a wonderful job laying everything out so it’s clear and easy to follow. The copy I painted was a metal master, but I have since seen the Bones USA version and it looks fantasy. A slotta-base version of this figure is available in metal if you’d prefer it in metal or the kits run out. This is a different Krampus sculpt to the one in the Bones 5 Kickstarter.

Krampus blue front fullKrampus was sculpted by Jason Wiebe.

Krampus blue back full

I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving recently enjoyed your holiday despite the changes and challenges, and I send my good wishes for holiday fun to come.