How to Paint Bases like a Boss

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Recently Reaper Miniatures sent me samples of one of the base texture inserts in their Base Boss 2 Kickstarter, and I took it as an opportunity to explore the variety it is possible to achieve with painting base textures and simple base construction/conversion. I used only paint and a few simple materials to create the different types of landscapes pictured below.

Base boss combo

I converted and painted most of these bases on my Beyond the Kit stream show, so you can watch video one or video two if you’d like more in-depth information about how I converted and painted the bases.

I customized one of the bases by cutting a piece out of another and gluing it on top of a section to create some variation in the height of the base parts. I used pumice paste to blend the seam where the edges met into the rest of the base. The same material is very handy to use on bases constructed from layers of cork. If you have some rough spots on a base you sculpted, it works well to hide those, or add a bit of dirt and texture on top of something like a cobblestone or pavement texture. 

IMG 2689

For the unpainted base to the above right, I also used some modeling/moulding paste. This has the same kind of thick consistency as the sandy texture/pumice paste, but it’s smooth. It’s a great material to fill small assembly gaps in miniatures, like the gap you often have when you glue a miniature’s feet to a base. You can’t truly sculpt either of these materials, but you can shape them a little with a toothpick and smooth them out with a damp brush. The modeling paste is the white substance on the left of the base, and the pumice paste is the beige one on the right. I demonstrate these and several other basing products in my Additives, Mediums, and Texture Pastes video.

IMG 2690You don’t need to look for these specific products only! Most larger artist acrylic paint lines include various kinds of texture pastes that are similar. (The product on the left is by Vallejo. I think they have changed their packaging and some of the options for their base texture pastes since I purchased this jar, but they still sell something similar to this.)

I customized a few of the bases with other basing construction products that are useful to have in your arsenal. You can make your own natural texture bases with products like fine gravel/sand and rocks. Combine them with the pastes above for even more variety! You can find the gravel mixtures sold by some miniature accessories companies. You’ll find an even bigger selection if you explore the offerings from model train supply vendors, like Woodland Scenics. These are often sold in much larger quantities than miniature painters need unless you’re making terrain boards. If you have local friends, you could go in as a group to buy a variety of items you split up amongst the group. For small rocks and shells, also look at hobby products in stores like Michaels and Joann.

IMG 2691The small rocks are from the flower arranging section of a hobby store. The rock and sand mix on the left was purchased as a miniatures product. The gravel mix on the right is a mixture of Woodland Scenic products.

Another way to enhance bases is by adding additional items on top. I used dried flowers on the two bases on the below left. I was aiming for the look of seaweed on the centre one. I used flowers and grass tufts on Finn Greenwell’s base for another example. I added a twig to the base on the below right to create the look of a fallen log. Sapling tree roots are another interesting option. Next time you’re out in the garden, pull a few up and dry them for basing. Dried tea leaves make a nice forest floor scatter. Herbal teas can contain even more interesting plant materials. Many of these natural products appear a little differently if primed and painted than when added to a base at the end, so I recommend experimenting to maximize your options.

Base flowersYou can purchase tiny dried flowers like these most easily by looking for those sold to nail polish artists. Bring along a miniature to check scale if you want to shop the dried flower section of a hobby store. If you don’t want to bother looking for twigs and roots to dry out, Woodland Scenics sells stumps and deadfall, which is what I used on the base to the right.

Now let’s talk about what you can do just with paint! When I first looked at the base insert, it put me in mind of various types of possible landscapes – desert, swamp, flat areas of badlands, even the surface of the moon! I studied some pictures of various landscapes for ideas and colour possibilities. Referencing real life scenery can be very helpful to better base construction and painting!

Cole freeman HoPZEG5jDA4 unsplashThis swamp picture by Cole Freeman on Unsplash is an example of the kind of reference I looked at.

Soon after I received the base inserts I saw that some other painters had painted them as lava, so I gave that a try.

It was super easy and fun to paint. I just started with white, and moved up through yellow, orange, red, dark red, and dark brown. I used drybrushing on the raised texture areas of drying lava, and layering on the molten lava.

Lava 400

For several of the bases I primarily used the basic techniques of washes and drybrushing. I added some additional shading along some of the edges.

Base drybrushLunar surface, Martian surface, snow and ice.

On other bases, I used a lot of wet in wet painting. I used the properties of wet paint to get some of the swirls and whorls on the two swamp bases. First I applied a layer of undiluted paint fairly thickly. Then I heavily loaded a brush with a different value and/or hue of undiluted paint and gently touched it to the surface of the first layer of still-wet paint. I did this in a line along the water on the base with the log, and touched it to various points on the base with the flowers. I added a little drybrushing and extra shading as necessary to bring out details.

Traditional wetblending can also work well for painting many kinds of base textures. Textured surfaces like bases are ideal for wet blending experimentation and practice. The texture helps break up transition lines and oopses. If you’re frustrated with wetblending, grab some bases and give it a shot!

Base swampI painted the log. It’s a good rule of thumb to paint just above everything on a base. You can even add washes and/or drybrush the tips of static and clump grass to help add detail and unify it with your paint job. I thickly painted two coats of gloss sealer over areas painted as water to add to the illusion of the texture.

I think the one below ended up being my favourite. Which is kind of funny, since when I first started painting it, I was not optimistic about how the paint job would end up. I had used a very dark wash, and it looked like a dark brown lump. I went back in and lightened it up, and used it as an example on stream of methods you can use to add some colour variation to bases. Even subtle colour variation can add a lot to a base. Using a single colour to paint a base, then another single colour to wash the whole base, and then the same colours to drybrush the entire surface of a base makes everything very uniform, which can end up kind of dull to look at.

One way to add colour variation is to use a few different colours to lay down your initial paint layer. You can drop a little wet into wet like I did on the swamp bases, or paint patches of different colours next to each other and use the tip of your paint brush to blend the edges of them a little while the paint is still wet. Don’t be too worried if it looks kind of patchy at this stage. Use a wash of a darker values of one of your colours, and then drybrush up with lighter values of one of your colours. The wash and drybrushing help unify everything as well as bringing out the textures, but touches of the original colours peek through and add variation. Another way to add variation is by adding touches of another colour in a few places with a glaze/wash, or drybrushing/scrubbing in another colour in a few spots with slightly thinned paint. I think I used pretty much all of these techniques on this base, and you can see me put them to use in the video. (Go to minute 44:20.)

Dry earth wip finI started with an even darker version of the base on the left, and ended up with the base on the right. This base also ended up being a reminder to me of the necessity to persevere through an ugly phase and being willing to work on something and experiment to try to improve it!

If you’re interested in more information about the base inserts, they’re part of the Base Boss 2 Kickstarter that is ending soon. The focus of the Kickstarter is to fill in missing sizes of Reaper’s black plastic base offerings, but they are also testing the waters for interest in pre-sculpted base textures. I love pre-sculpted bases! They are a great option if you’re pressed for time, don’t have a lot of sculpting/base construction materials, or want a simple way to base a number of figures in a uniform texture. The bases I used on Baran Blacktree and Caerindra are resin texture bases I bought years ago.

The base topper textures in the Kickstarter include Lowlands/Lava, Sci-Fi, Skull, and Wood Plank. You can also see the cool ways several other painters painted the same insert I worked on the Kickstarter page. The base we received is number 75101 on the Lowlands chart. 

The Reaper texture bases are two part. One part is an insert that is designed to fit into a lipped black plastic base, as you can see in the photo below.

IMG 2517 cu

This is handy for a couple of reasons. One is that you can do all the messy stuff with the insert, and then just glue it into a clean black base that you don’t need to paint. In playing with the bases I was sent, I discovered that because the topper is thinner than an all-in-one base, it’s easy to cut it up to customize it. I used clippers and a hobby knife to cut up and shave the bases.

IMG 2686In the photo above, I cut a section out from one of the base toppers and glued it on top of another one to add additional height to a section. Then I used the pumice texture paste to blend the join, as I shown in a picture near the beginning of the article.

The Drunken Mermaid and Basing Materials

Fun in the Sun was one of my entries into the ReaperCon 2021 MSP Open. It was awarded a Gold medal, and the unexpected honour of being selected as the Best Themed Entry for 2021’s theme of pirates. Below are some pictures of the finished piece. Nearer the bottom of the article is information on the shells and other items I used to decorate the base.

Members of my Patreon have access to a PDF with extensive work-in-progress photos and information on all of the paint colours I used in thanks for their generous support. Their patronage allows me to keep this blog free for everyone to read. It takes a lot of time and attention to write these articles, and it takes more time and effort than you might think to find or create photos that help illustrate the points made in the text. I enjoy writing this blog a lot, and I love sharing information with other people to help them in their hobby journey, but I also enjoy paying my bills. I would not be able to write these articles as thoroughly or as often if not for Patron support.

If you would like to receive PDF copies of the articles I write with high resolution photos and the occasional exclusive exclusive like this, please consider joining my Patreon. And now onto the photos!

Mermaid face

The figure I used in this piece is the Drunken Mermaid, which was sculpted by Christine Van Patten. Christine has some other fantastic sculpts available from Reaper, including the adorable Finn Greenwell leprechaun that has appeared on this blog before with tips for painting the colour green. Christine also has her own independent line of miniatures, Moonlight Minis.

Mermaid back

This figure was originally included in one of the ReaperCon 2021 swag boxes, but The Drunken Mermaid is now available for everyone to buy in the new Bones USA plastic. The Bones USA material is a little less immortal than Bones classic, though it still plenty sturdy. However, sculpts in the Bones USA material are also impressively crisp and detailed. (I’ll try to share more pictures and comparisons of Bones USA in the future.) The mermaid I painted was a metal master, since the production moulds had not yet been completed when Reaper sent it to me to share on my weekly Twitch stream, Beyond the Kit.

Mermaid front

The theme of ReaperCon for 2020 (online) and 2021 was pirates. The theme choice was inspired by the Savage Coast setting, a location in Reaper’s fantasy work of Adon. In 2020 Joseph Wolf wrote the Landlubber’s Guide to Brinewind, a city run by a consortium of pirates. The Drunken Mermaid is the name of a large tavern in that city. Copies of the Brinewind guide have sold out, but it is my hope that it will one day be reprinted or made available digitally, since it is chock full of fascinating characters and intriguing plot hooks that could be slotted into most fantasy campaign worlds.

For ReaperCon 2021, an additional sourcebook was released – The Landlubber’s Guide to the Savage Coast setting. The area is filled with nautical wonders and dangers, and the coast itself includes a myriad of ruins and mysteries, additional pirate towns, flora, fauna, and even more dangerous monsters. Copies of the Savage Coast guide are currently still available for sale on Reaper’s website.

(DIsclosure: I was the editor on both Landlubber Guides.)

Mermaid left

The sculpt of the Drunken Mermaid is based on an illustration Christine Van Patten did for the Brinewind guide. Christine actually created two different versions of the Drunken Mermaid art, and shirts with the artwork are available in black and white or colour designs on Reaper’s TeePublic site. (I bought  a blue shirt with the reclining mermaid colour art and I love it!)

Mermaid right

I chose to paint the figure as a living mermaid lounging on the sign and anchor standing outside the pub. It was a fun opportunity to use vivid tropical colours and explore lots of different textures like the corrosion on the iron anchor and the old wood of the sign. I referenced a lot of photos of different materials to study different materials and textures. I definitely recommend looking at reference photos before painting items! I have a second copy of this figure from my swag box that I am thinking of painting in a very different way…

Wip mermaid anchor top

One of the things I enjoyed most about painting this figure was the opportunity to finally use some basing materials that I had squirrelled away for years! I’ve written before about why you should allow yourself to use the good stuff in your collection. In the case of these and many other basing materials, it wasn’t so much that I was hoarding away supplies unwilling to use them, as it was not having previously had the opportunity to paint a figure they’d work with.

IMG 1602

The tiny seashells and rocks that I used were from craft type stores. Some of the seashells had already been painted, as you can see in the picture above, but I painted over them to make sure that all the basing materials looked in scale with the figure and matched the colour choices on the figure. (I’ve written more about why you need to paint everything on your bases.)

I recommend bringing a figure along with you when you shop for things like shells and dried flowers (which are can add a nice little touch to bases) at the craft store. Things that look very small when you’re browsing the aisles can look a lot larger when you get them home and put them next to a gaming scale miniature!

The white pumice is a product from Vallejo, though I think they’ve changed their basing paste lineup since I purchased this. You can also find similar products from acrylic paint companies like Golden and Liquitex. Golden’s pumice gels can be used for varying earth and sand textures, and Liquitex’s line includes a couple of sand texture options. The video of my Additives, Mediums, and Texture Pastes from Reaper Virtual Expo includes more information on these (and other) products.

The last item I used was in the bag on the left in the picture above – Star Sand. These are the shells remnants of tiny creatures that wash up onto the shore in Okinawa. I painted them to look like starfish on my base. You should be able to find some Star Sand for sale online with a Google search.

Wip mermaid anchor right

I was very surprised and honoured that this piece was selected for the Best Themed Entry at the ReaperCon MSP Open. The trophy I was awarded is super nifty. It is a super sized version of Barnabus Frost, one of the pirate lords of Brinewind. Reaper does not sell Barnabus in this size, but you can buy a gaming scale metal copy of this version of Barnabus, which was sculpted by Jason Wiebe There is also another metal version of Barnabus with different accessories wearing a hat, (which I have also painted) and a classic Bones Barnabus that is similar to the one standing on the trophy. Both of those latter figures were sculpted by Bobby Jackson

Mermaid awards

If you have some MSP Open medals you’d like to display on stands, the stand I used for this photo is an acrylic mini easel. If you use that search term on Amazon you should be able to find this or something similar. Since the medals come on ribbons, you could also hang them from hooks. I know it can seem a little self-aggrandizing, but I think it’s helpful to put your awards and trophies out on display. When you are feeling down on yourself or feel like you aren’t learning or improving in your hobby efforts, you can look at your honours to remind you of your achievements!

Medal stand

Quick Tips: Eyes, Triadic Colour Scheme, Cloth Patterns

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Painting the Asandris Nightbloom figure sculpted by Bob Ridolfi appealed to me because she is a great representation of a low to mid level character, the type of character I’ve played most often in role-playing games! Asandris is available as one of the free bonus selections with $40 US (or equivalent) purchase from the Reaper site, or you can purchase her directly. I’m going to share a few work-in-progress pictures and some tips that would be useful to painting her or many other figures.

July blue front2 600Other views of the finished paint job are found at the end of this article.

The Base

I used a mixture of materials to make the base. I have some base texture press moulds, like those produced by Basius. When I have left over epoxy putty, I use it in a press mould. I cut off some of the integral base of the miniature with a pair of flush cutting shears and glued the remainder to the plastic base. I glueed pieces of cobblestone texture from a press mould around it. Then I applied superglue and dipped the base into a mixed-size gravel mixture. I built up a few areas with additional applications of glue and gravel. To add a little more variation, I applied some fine sand texture paste in a few spots. I over-did the glue and gravel stage a bit for my original intention of having it look like an overgrown road, but at least it looks like a nice mix of earth and rock textures.

July metal baseThe grey parts are the epoxy putty cobblestone pieces, brown is the gravel, and white is the fine sand texture paste.

Colour Scheme

I decided a simple, classic colour scheme would be a good fit for a simple, classic character archetype like this. I chose to use the red-blue-yellow primary triad. Any decent colour wheel should generate triadic colour schemes. One of the challenges with getting familiar with colour schemes and using a colour wheel is that they generally refer to very bold saturated colours – cherry red, royal blue, sun yellow, would be examples of a red-blue-yellow triad scheme with saturated colours. But bright colours like those didn’t really fit my vision for the character. When a colour wheel/scheme talks about a colour like ‘red’, it means the entire family of red – brick, blush pink, terracotta, red-brown, all of those would be considered ‘red’ colours for the purpose of fitting into a colour scheme. So I picked colours that were weathered and worn examples of blues, yellows, and reds to use. I used slightly more intense versions of those colours on her hair, lips, and her jerkin to try to focus attention to the main area of interest – her face. The belts, scabbards, and wood staff are desaturated yellow browns to keep them from drawing too much visual interest.

July wip7 front 600You can see that the base echoes colours used on the main figure to tie everything together and help it appear lit by the same light source.

Don’t leave out the base in your colour schemes! I dabbed colours used on the miniature or mixed from those main colours on various sections of the base to tie it in with the figure as a whole. I used red browns from the jerkin shadows, yellow browns from the wood and belts, and mixed a green from the yellow and one of the blue colours to use on the base. I also glazed some dull blue colours and a bit of yellow here and there on the stone sections. You can also use one colour from your colour scheme within other colours. There’s a little bit of red brown shading on the staff to give the wood a little more depth.

The Eyes

Painting eyes on gaming scale figures can be a real challenge! One thing that can make it a little easier is to paint the eyes looking off to one side instead of aiming for a straight ahead gaze. This can also add a bit of interest or personality to a figure. Here I think it helps give her a little sense of being in motion, as if she had been looking off to the side and has just shifted her gaze before turning her head to look back in front of her.

July blue face cuClose up view of the eyes painted off to one side.

The Cloth Pattern

I wanted to do a little something with her dress. Sure she’s an adventurer, and a low level one at that, but she can still enjoy a little personal decoration as most of us do! I had the inspiration for the pattern from character clothing in the Lord of the Rings Online game.

355px Dot LeafbottomI wanted to try to create an effect like the pattern on the skirt above.

I started off by using a stipple brush stroke to add the highlighting and shading to the dress. The stippling technique can be used to create a range of results. I have used in the past with a very small brush, uniform application, and a LOT OF DOTS to create textures like this. With a more dynamic range of colours and applying a lot of dots I you can get something like Madame Delia’s dress. You can apply it more loosely with a larger brush to get hammered metal or scuffed leather effects that work particularly well on larger figures like giants or busts. I used a brush stroke along these lines for the leather on Asandris’ jerkin and boots. In the case of the dress, I was going for a rougher woven look, so I used a smaller but not super small brush and applied the stipples somewhat haphazardly. This is one of the techniques that is I find challenging to explain with words and pictures, maybe some day I’ll be able to show it on a video. There is a bit of a WIP example on the Madame Delia link above.

July dress test combo 600Dress pattern tests.

The underlying fabric look was just one element of the pattern. I also had to create the diamond shapes or criss-crossing lines. Here I was on less familiar ground, so I did a couple of tests on another figure. Painting flat lines with the tip of the brush as on the above left did not result in the look I was after. It might work well for more of an embroidered decoration look, or a strongly woven pattern like a tartan, but it didn’t fit with the soft woven pattern I was aiming for. So I experimented with doing lines of stipple strokes on the above right. That looked like more of a woven effect to me, so I used that technique on the figure.

July wip4 front cu 600In this picture you can see the base fabric texture stage on the sleeves, and the addition of the diamond pattern on the skirt.

Additional Views

July blue face 600

July blue back full

July blue right 600


Paint Colours Used

For the most part I painted from darkest colour to lightest, though there were a few areas where I added additional shadows such as the hair and the staff. To save time I use paints straight from the bottle as pre-mixed layer steps whenever I can. So it would be entirely possible get similar colours using a smaller set of paints and more mixing. I am not suggesting you need to have all these paints to paint a simple colour scheme like this!

NOTE: Colours in italics are out of production. Colours in bolded italics are currently out of production but are available for preorder in the ReaperCon HobbyBox. (And will be available for sale outside of the boxes on the main Reaper website closer to ReaperCon 2020.) Turkey Brown will likely be available to purchase again during the next Winter holiday season.

Skin: 9224 Redstone, 89542 Shoanti Sienna, 9494 Gnome Flesh, 89540 Taldan Pink, 9487 Yellow Mold

Jerkin and boots: 9307 Red Liner, 9235 Red Shadow, 9223 Redstone Shadow, 9224 Redstone, 9225 Redstone Highlight, 9494 Gnome Flesh. Glaze with 9663 Big Top Red.

Blue cloth: 9229 Worn Navy, 9230 Soft Blue, 9056 Templar Blue, 9231 Heather Blue, 9057 Ashen Blue, 89529 Hobgoblin Blue. Diamond pattern: 9317 Moonstone Blue, plus a little white.

Belts and scabbards: 9199 Russet Brown, 29829 Golden Brown, 9429 Rich Leather, 9075 Buckskin Pale. Glaze 9691 Turkey Brown on belts and scabbards. Glaze 9074 Palomino Gold on side pouch.

Staff: 9429 Rich Leather with a dab of 9231 Heather Blue to dull it down. Then add 9075 Buckskin Pale for highlights. Added a bit of 9199 Russet Brown for shadows.

Cloak: Base of 9109 Ruddy Leather. Washes of 9307 Red Liner, 9685 Corporeal Shadow, and a little 9066 Blue Liner in the deep crevices. Then highlight up with 9109 Ruddy Leather, 9305 Tarnished Copper, 9232 Bright Skin Shadow, and a touch of 9306 New Copper. 

Hair: 9429 Rich Leather, then 9199 Russet Brown for shadows. Highlight up with 61101 Terra Nova Tundra, 9074 Palomino Gold, 9075 Buckskin Pale, 9039 Pure White. Glaze with 9095 Clear Yellow mixed with 9247 Saffron Sunset.

The greys of the non-metallic metal steel and stones on the base were mixed from colours used on the figure. Mixing a little bit of colour used elsewhere on the figure into standard neutral grey paints would work as well.