Thursday, July 19, 2012

Paint By Numbers Series: Brushes

Face it, we all miss Bob Ross.

Guest post by Gabriel Diaz

There is no piece of equipment more important in painting miniatures than your brush. This is your constant companion in all of your endeavors because no matter how cool a customization, base or background, unless you have a good brush to guide that paint onto the miniature, well it’s just subpar. This is something that most people learn over time because much like a wand in the world of Harry Potter, a brush is a lifelong companion to a painter.

If you go to your LGS or a website online, you’ll notice that there are a wide variety of brushes and, more importantly, brush makers. You have Games Workshop, Army Painter and Reaper, to name a few. Each of those companies has different types of brushes. Things like: Starter, Dry brush, Detail, Fine Detail and Basing brushes! I mean you could seriously spend a large amount of money just preparing to paint a miniature and not have even bought a miniature yet! It can be overwhelming and asking for advice can garner you several different answers with none of them agreeing. So you’re stuck. What do you get?
The foremost thing you need to know about your brush is, can it hold its tip? When you are getting ready to use a brush the first thing you need to do is get it wet, this allows for the different strands that make up the brush to pick up paint or pigment when you begin to paint. The reason you want a nice tip on a brush is two-fold; the first is that it allows you better control of where you want your paint to go. The second is that depending on the tip and the girth of brush it can hold more paint. The reason this is important is that you want to be able to get more than one brushstroke in for every time that you go back to your paint and replenish on the brush. Paint has a tendency to stick and it can also stick to your brush. This would make the brush begin to tinge all of the colors you’re trying to use with each other. So Blood Red might seep into the white you’re trying to apply and suddenly you’re staring at a pink Grey Knight, not very intimidating.
I’m going to break down three different companies that I’ve used in the time that I’ve painted. I’m doing only these three because they are the only ones that I have personal experience with and can be candid about, the rest? Well that will be up to you I suppose now won’t it?

Citadel/Games Workshop

Citadel is the grandfather of miniature wargaming in our current era. Yes there have been others who have done it in the past but Warhammer Fantasy and subsequently, Warhammer 40k, are the two games that have brought our community to where it is today. (We are all able to have opinions and while I would love to focus on this matter, this column is about brushes, so let’s just take this comment for what it is and table the discussion for later.) One of the reasons that Citadel does so well is because they try to not leave any aspect of the hobby out of their scope. Notice that I said that Citadel does well and not does things well, there is a difference.
Citadel has a set of brushes available for the hobbyist that you can purchase individually or in a set. The brushes range in uses: Fine Detail, Detail, Standard, Basecoat, Large, Wash, Stippling, Small Drybrush, Medium Drybrush, and Large Drybrush. They have also started offering the ‘Eavy Metal set which contains two brushes in a nice tin. Now when you look at the pictures of these brushes, don’t they look great? Uniform and just about perfect. I’ll be honest and say that I first used Citadel brushes when I started because they were supposed to be superior to anything else on the market.
Thing of it is that while they look great in pictures, in person not so much. I’ve bought the Starter, Fine Detail, and Drybrush brushes and I can tell you that I felt they were lacking. The first thing that I noticed with each these brushes is that the tips weren’t very wide. They could barely hold about three brush strokes of paint on them before I had to go back to the well. Shortly thereafter I noticed that they stopped holding a tip and instead began to either split or curl to one side or the other. This gave me little to no control in how I wanted the paint to behave. Finally, after I decided to buy another brush, after one use and one cleaning, the brush hairs themselves fell off of the brush. That’s when I felt that while Citadel may have a bit of everything, it didn’t mean that they did everything well. I found the brushes to be subpar and stopped using them for the important aspect of painting. I will admit that I still use a Standard and Starter brush, but only for priming my miniatures and for mixing my colors but nothing else.

Reaper Miniatures

Reaper is a miniature company that puts out miniatures with a lot of character. They’re all metal minis and I believe that they belong to a game they have or were going to have. Personally I just like the way that they look. They have a certain aura about them that just cries for you to pay attention and do something creative.
They also offer paints and brushes. I love a good value so when I saw that I could get a standard, detail and fine detail brush from them for a fraction of what I paid from Citadel I jumped at the chance. Let this be a lesson to you now, cheap doesn’t equate to bargain, sometimes it just means cheap. When I opened the packaging with my brushes I noted immediately that the brush tips were already ruined. The fabric strands that they used to produce the brushes themselves were cheap and limp. They would barely hold one brush stroke of paint and would never give me the type of control I would need to give a nice paint job to a miniature. I bought two packages of this set of three, in the hopes that perhaps I had gotten a defective one by accident. While the tips were usable on the second set that I purchased, my first impression still stood. They were not built to make life easier for a painter and they may last as little as six months before I would have to go out and buy new ones.
Overall while I had complaints about Citadel’s brushes, Reaper’s were bad enough to not even be used to prime a miniature. The subpar materials used, the packaging, versatility and ease of use for the brush were just not there. I wouldn’t even bother using them to base a miniature. I was sorely disappointed and decided to really try and find a brush that would fill that gap that I needed to try and get better at painting.
You may think that I’m being overly critical but consider that if you’re learning how to paint or trying to improve your painting and you get a crappy brush, you’re learning bad habits. You may press down too hard to get that color on and you may start getting brush threads stuck on your miniature from the brush falling apart as you’re working with it. If you want to go to a tournament of any type, a painted army is always looked on more kindly and a well painted army will get more points toward that win. If you’re just doing it to relax, how stressful is it to find that the coat of paint you felt went on so well has begun to clump together because the brush didn’t evenly apply that coat?

Windsor & Newton

In my first column I called this hobby an art form; I don’t seem to be alone in that thought process. Windsor & Newton is one of the foremost companies when it comes to paint supplies for the canvas painter. They’re brushes can range from double to triple digits in cost, for just one! This is a well regarded company by many across the globe. So imagine my surprise when I found out that they put out a series of brushes specifically for the miniature painter.
Windsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Miniature Brushes is a line of brushes assembled specifically for us in mind. Now I won’t lie to you, they aren’t cheap. I spent over 20 dollars on two of them, and that was at an Art Supply website and the shipping was insane. However, as you can see in the pictures the quality of the brushes is outstanding. The tip is full and thick. It carries a good amount of paint when you need it to. It’s constantly a perfect tip so that you are able to get that control that you need so badly when you’re painting a border or giving detail and life to a miniature.
With getting a good brush you learn that there are certain things that you can do to keep your brush clean, keep the tip healthy and get that excess paint off of the bristles to the brush. There are several products that you can get at an art store that will allow you to keep your brushes for a very long time.
The thing that you have to remember when painting ANY type of miniature is that the details give the figure LIFE. Without that additional dirt, scratch, paint, and lens shine it isn’t real to you. Most people paint to impress others, which is great. But, before you do that you have to learn to impress yourself. At the end here I’m showing off the last miniature that I finished. The base was created by me and it’s a Death Company Assault Marine with a differing color scheme than usual. This took me about six hours, conservatively, but I enjoyed every moment and hopefully the figure looks better for it.
Next week I’ll tackle some additives that may be of use to you that perhaps you haven’t considered buying or even might never have been on your radar. Until then, keep your brushes clean and your colors crisp!


  1. Good post!! I recently switched to the Windsor Newton seris 7 m brushes and they are night and day over gws brushes!! Cleaning and conditioning soap by masters is a must with these brushes thou.

  2. This is Gabriel,

    Ellis I couldn't agree more and I'll make sure to make note of that next column!

  3. Reaper models are largely made for use in RPGS (Pathfinder, D&D), monster or characters :)

    They also have their own skirmish level wargame (Warlord). Also a Sci-Fi battlegamething called CAV - that I believe is on the back burner :)

    I have 2 of those reaper brushes (Learn to paint kit. Wonderful value - even if you toss away the brushes ;) ) and pick them up to do some OK layering when I want to avoid using my Series 7. How can a brush be useless for a base coat?

    1. Hello, Petter! I really like the Reaper stuff but haven't used any in 40k yet. Yeah, I too am not sure how a brush could be useless for basecoat but I mostly just use any old brush... I'm pretty hard on them and can't justify the money being spent on something I'll likely trash pretty quickly. Do you have a link for the Learn to Paint kit?

      I haven't had contact with Gabriel in a pretty long time but I'll pass your question on. Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...