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Painting Terrain

So far, I fail utterly at painting miniatures. I don't have the steadiest hand or best feel for the texture of paint, so when I see people's fully painted minis, I naturally assume they're wizards and will in due course be burned at the stake. But I've come up with some approaches to painting terrain and architecture which appear to work for me. And if like me, you can't paint details, here's a guide to how I do it.

The materials I use include:
  • Cheap acrylic paint, the thicker the better.
  • Kitchen sponges.
  • Maybe some paint brushes.
The first process I figured out working for me involves layers of stippling. Putting down multiple layers of what's essentially paint spatter gives this sort of natural stone look. To begin, cut the sponges into strips and pick at least three colors. For example, I often use dark, medium, and light brown or off-white or charcoal, medium gray, and white.

Dip the end of a strip of sponge into one of the colors and use it to stamp splotches of color on the surface to be painted. Complete coverage is unnecessary, as is smoothness. In fact, leave some areas blank and don't try to make an even coat. Between the thick paint and the coarseness of the sponge, you'll get a lightly textured surface, which has a nice natural feel to it.

Let the first pass dry (doesn't have to dry completely, just mostly; you want the colors not to blend a lot, but some fading into one another is fine) and repeat the process with a different color. Now there are two sets of overlapping splotches.

Let that pass dry and repeat with the third color. By now, the whole thing should be covered with a complete coat.

Repeat as desired in smaller passes, and possibly not letting previous coats dry as much, until it looks right.

I've also used this set of colors with an early pass or two of green to make a reasonably good outdoor look.

More recently, I've been working with dry brushing, a classical painting technique that I'm still practicing with. Start with two contrasting colors (for example, very dark and very light gray) and give the surface of the piece a full, heavy coat of one of them using a bit of kitchen sponge. You want a lot of texture here. Let dry completely.

Get a little paint of the second color onto the tip of the a brush, then wipe it across a paper towel or other surface. You want to get it to the point where it leaves a thin haze of paint. Then gently brush it over the painted surface. This leaves a very thin layer of highlights on the raised bits of texture, nicely setting them off. Not a lot of paint comes with the brush doing this, so you'll need to go back to the contrasting paint, brush most of it off, and put a little more on the piece repeatedly. 

This does takes practice, which I'm still working on. My dry brushing tends to be too heavy, but it's coming along.


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