My First Miniature

Niilo concentrates on his second ork. Getting my kids interested in painting miniatures has always been something of a mad pipe dream for me. Previously they've been as uninterested as only offspring can be in their parents' hobbies, but this summer brought a change.

The Lure of Shiny Metal

We spent a week at the summer cottage and since it's impossible to lug the full painting gear there, I brought a set of figures to clean and assemble. I hate cleaning miniatures, but on the upside it's one of those jobs you can easily stop and start again when distracted e.g. by an urgent spousal requirement to fetch essential basic elements from a hole in the ground.

The kids cleaned these minis themselves, with only a little bit of help from me. Me cleaning scads of identical skeletons by the table prompted Saara and Niilo to relieve their boredom by watching other people work. Only this time, the work appeared to interest them. Saara (age 8) wanted to try doing the same thing. After a little discussion, I gave her the horse from an Essex 25mm Greek cavalryman, a needle file and some advise. Niilo (age 5) didn't want to be left out, so I gave him a couple of plastic space orks from an old Space Crusade set and another file.

Surprisingly, the miniatures were soon cleaned. I had figured to give the horse to Saara and get another mount for the rider (Essex still sells them separately), but she demanded to work on the rider too. The figure was an odd job anyhow, so I let her.

The First Brush Strokes

Undercoated with white gesso. Niilo's patience isn't quite long enough for the painting yet. Yes, they are those horrid Space Crusade figures. Time passed and the summer was over before we returned to the miniature project. But we did return to it. Usually I prime most things with spray paint, but since I wanted to maximize the kids' involvement, I had them prime the figures in white gesso instead. This also allowed me to teach and supervise the most important rule starting painters need to learn:

Do NOT dunk the entire brush in the paint pot!

Slapping gesso on doesn't take all that much skill, but it's good practice for brush handling anyhow.

The Prismatic Spray

She picked up the horse scheme from a book on horses I bought explicitly for the purpose -- for myself. For the next stage I varied their curriculum a bit. Saara, being older, would be taught the basics of block painting, washes and drybrushing. Niilo would paint the basic colors and then dip his orks in "magic wash". Both would be free to decide their own color schemes, I would only help in the technical matters.

Saara borrowed my reference book on horses and spent several evenings reading it. Finally she said she wanted to paint a white horse with black spots. Pippi's horse, I thought, a bit ambituous perhaps but okay. Wrong assumption! When the time came to paint the oatmotor, I found out that she actually wanted to do a piebald equine!

The finished product. I would have done some more shading, but it's her work. I had pretty much banked on her doing a simple monocolor "horses are brown" scheme, that's what I did when I started painting. Oh well, let her try. First we put down the white base and washed that with light gray. After the wash was dry, a quick drybrush with white restored the whiteness. Then Saara proceeded to paint the black patches and add a little highlighting with dark gray according to my advise. With a black mane and tail, the horse was pretty much done. I only helped with the eyes and a little bit with the harness.

Then the Greek cavalryman received a basic paintjob. Flesh and a dark green tunic. Saara also designated the boeotian helmet as a felt hat (experts apparently are divided on this) and painted it also green. We put on ink washes but in retrospect it was my fault for not giving inks with more contrast -- the result is a bit bland.

Saara insisted on the rocks on the base. Finally everything was glued together, varnished and flocked. I did the varnishing because I always use spray varnish these days, but she handled everything else. While there obviously are little faults and mistakes, it sure beats my first minis by a mile!


After dipping, which covers most of the missed spots. His color choices were perhaps not optimal for dipping, though. While I ofcourse knew that Niilo wouldn't be producing Golden Demons on the first try, it was an interesting experiment to see what quality a completely untrained 5-year old could produce with the veritable Philosopher's Stone of painting cheats, namely The Dip.

The first choice was the skin color. Niilo chose green. I asked why. He told me orks are green. How do you know? They just are. Thrice-damned Games Workshop brainwashing! Orks are people, not plants! According to primary sources... ahem, sorry about that. So, green it was. And then gold, lots of gold. For some reason the metallic paint was very fascinating. So fascinating Saara bowled over an open pot of green in haste to show a pot of gold paint to Niilo. I really need to make a tray for the paint pots.

The ork's back. Basing work is still not done. Niilo's painting is not very neat and the white undercoat isn't really the best choice for someone whose patience runs out before painting every spot, but a very earnest try nonetheless. The result was then dipped in a tub of Dark Walnut dip, which in retrospect probably should have been diluted a bit more.

The dip covered most of the missed spots and provided shading. The end result is probably what I would call a true "3-foot rule" figure.

Lessons Learned

Here's Niilo putting the strokes on his ork. This all went surprisingly well, and the children got a positive impression of it. I think I'll see them back at the painting bench. In my limited experience, there are two key issues when painting with small children.

Nobody likes watching paint dry, but children just can't handle it. Doing something and then being told you have to stop and continue another time is very hard for them. They want to see a finished product now. Keep the project small and try to emphasize techniques that don't involve waiting times. Focus on progress and don't stop to dwell on the mistakes -- fix them later.
Hand-eye coordination
Let's be realistic here. We're talking about children who are still struggling to write legibly. Quite frankly their hand-eye coordination is just not up to small detail work on 28mm figures, nevermind anything smaller. But they can handle advanced techniques, as long as precise brush placement is not a requirement. Neatness of handwriting is probably a good indicator of the readiness to start painting seriously.

Sucks! (6) Sucks by 6 votes Rocks by 39 votes (39) Rocks!

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