Don't Fear the Reaper | Print |  E-mail
Saturday, 26 August 2006
Bill Silvey takes a long, hard look at the Reaper Miniatures Learn to Paint kits, and lets us know how they're useful, and what he thought was not quite up to par.


When fellow Wargames@Nordalia contributor Don MacVittie said, "He's got a knack for painting," I was flattered, if not totally convinced. Truth is, you won't see my stuff in a Golden Demon competition anytime soon. That's not to say I haven't given greatness a shot over the years: If I'd stuck at it when I started with those awful Grenadier "Official AD&D" miniatures--and the equally horrific Polly-S paints that came with them--I'd probably have made something of my skills by now.

Ah well, hope springs eternal. Whenever I'm tempted to just buy a can of Krylon Green, blast my orcs and goblins and call it a day, I turn to Reaper Minis' Learn to Paint kits. Now, I'll admit, I was initially skeptical of these sets, viewing them as little more than an inexpensive way to get paint in bulk (and a couple of minis per box) and call it done. After applying the methodology presented in the instructions, however, I'm happy to say I was proved wrong.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The good news is that, if you have a little patience, the Reaper kits can impart valuable lessons on color mixing, shading, washing and so forth--old hat for many, but for ham-fisted folks like me, a goldmine. Of course, nothing in this world is perfect, and the Learn to Paint kits aren't without shortcomings.

While the first two kits can stand on their own as great starting points for those just learning to paint or for intermediate painters looking for a grounding in the basics, the third kit is pretty advanced. In fact, Kit-3 might have been better left for Kit-4, with another step between. We'd recommend a set on working with metallics, cloths and skin tones to bridge the gap to Kit-4's method of doing metallic effects without metallic paint.

We liked the easygoing tone of the instruction pamphlets. Beginning and intermediate painters are reassured that it's not the end of the world if they, say, over-wash or blend colors wrong. I recommend these kits to anyone in those skill ranges.

So without further ado, let's take a look at each of the three kits, what you get and how each helps burgeoning painters improve their craft.

Learn to Paint Kit-1: Armor & Fur (MSRP: $25.95)

This first kit starts off with a good, solid foundation (no pun intended): It covers doing basic work-ups on highly textured surfaces, in this example, Armor and Fur. The instructions make no bones about the kit's target audience--we found explanations for much of the basic terminology involved in hobby painting. For example, washes, dry-brushing and highlighting are all explained fully. The choice of miniatures for Kit-1 is ideal: the large, hairy Barrow Rat (02544) and mail-clad Anhurian Man-At-Arms (06023) are suitably sculpted, with many nooks and crannies to learn the trade on.

As to the paints, Learn-to-Paint Kit-1 comes with nine of Reaper's Pro-Paints line: Dragon White, Caucasian, Truesilver, Walnut, Dragon Black, Dragon Blue, Woodland Brown, Firehawk Red and Emerald, and with the mixing and washing methods given in the instructions, these "few" are really quite flexible, or at least enough so for a beginner. Additionally, two medium brushes (one for moderate detail work and another for a broader application of paint) are included, although if you're already at least somewhat skilled and are considering purchasing these kits for a few pointers, you probably won't have much need for the brushes.

The instructions are to-the-point. They assume no great skill possessed by the beginner (which, for me, was a good assumption) and explain upfront how everything works. I would have liked instructions on how to strip a miniature should you botch the job--easy to do with a too-dark wash--and pictures of palettes with the mixed colors on them. Still, given the instructions and basic miniatures provided, screwing things up would be pretty difficult. Worst-case scenario, you'll wind up with a pair of humdrum-looking minis instead of a pair of professionally painted characters.

As an aside, one of the nicer inclusions in the instructions is how to prime with a brush. As someone who's had his heart broken by orange peel (a condition where spray primer powders, bubbles or otherwise goes on badly due to humidity, or wind conditions if priming outside), it's nice to see a general description of how to prime by brush.

Here I've applied the Woodland Brown + Chestnut wash to the Barrow-Rat.

The Anhurian soldier gets his mail painted with a black undercoat, prior to a metallic silver drybrush. Have at you, evil rat possessor of Treasure Type C!

Learn to Paint Kit-2: Flesh & Cloth (MSRP: $25.95)

It isn't by chance that Learn to Paint Kit-2 is the second in the series. Much of what was taught in Learn To Paint Kit-1 is built on here, and this is both Kit-2's strength and its weakness. Those who have mastered Kit-1 can go at a miniature with confidence that lessons learned before are a solid foundation for all forms of miniature painting. On the downside, some of the points covered in Kit-2's instructions simply assume you have Kit-1. We'd like to see a bit of a refresher course, although much of Kit-2 is instructionally unique.

Like Kit-1, Kit-2 comes with an assortment of paints, in this case Ruddy Flesh, Oiled Leather, Dragon Black, Linen White, Blood Red, Sunlight, Kilt Green, Breonne Navy Blue and a metallic shade, Copper. Two brushes are also provided (but the same caveat applies here as above; if you've already got brushes, these are just extras). The instructional pamphlet explains how a nice mix of tanned skin is created and layered on each miniature with successively lighter highlights. I didn't believe that I could accomplish what I did with the techniques explained, but I used them to great effect not only with the included miniatures--02621, Laurana, Sorceress, and 02512, Tsuko the Monk--but with an unrelated Bugbear chieftain miniature (also a work in progress, shown below).

If you're like me and highlighting and shading flesh has stumped you, look no further. The flesh-shading and -highlighting techniques explained here are exquisite. Even if you use the tri-color system for shading, foundation and highlights, the basic techniques are still sound and can really help the overall look of a beginner's miniature.

In short, Learn to Paint Kit-2 is an awesome tutorial in giving highly detailed flesh a look that's really quite stunning.

Behold, my rendition of Tsuko.

And here's a work-in-progress, Laurana.

And finally, the aforementioned bugbear chief (also in progress, painted in the wee hours just prior to a convention!).

Learn to Paint Kit-3: Nonmetallic Metals (MSRP: $25.95)

The third and aptly titled Learn to Paint Kit-3 isn't the Gotterdammerung conclusion to the trilogy of how-to-paint kits; instead, while it builds on some of the techniques from Kit-1 and Kit-2, it mainly explores new ground and tries to cover brand-new techniques rather than combining those from the previous kits and introducing a few more.

I found Learn to Paint Kit-3 a bit unusual. The "subtitle" of the kit is Non-Metallic Metals, and it goes to lengths to explain how to produce shiny arms and armor using just grays, whites, blacks and surface highlights to make "mere" flat colors gleam. Does the effect work? If you're partial to the soft mirror-like highlights of professionally painted miniatures versus relying wholly on the effect produced by metallics, this kit is probably right up your alley. But I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the nine included paints (Desert Gold, Aged Red Brick, White, Warm Walnut, Oiled Leather, Dragon White, Granite, Slate and Olive) could produce effects as "shiny as real metal," so ultimately, this kit was a bit of a cipher. However, the included suggestions for hair and variegating skin tones--and the ever-troublesome bugbear for me, eye painting--were greatly appreciated.

One thing this kit does do right is explain where and how to find the brightest highlights on your miniature, so if you're into doing the highlights yourself versus letting light play on the surface (and the former is really what you need for a stellar job) we recommend you acquire this kit.

Although I haven't yet started the included miniatures for a whole workout of the proscribed technique, we've included a couple of shots of them completed by Anne Forester, the on-site staff painter for Reaper Miniatures.

As noted each kit retails for $25.95, and can be found through many online retailers (although I purchased these at an FLGS).

Here's Anduriel Brightflame, Elven Warrior; note the non-metallic specular highlights on the sword and armor.

And here's Tyden, Female Barbarian; her weapons are likewise highlighted.

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