I have written a brief article on my painting station concerning the equipment I've collected to paint miniature models. I've been painting since 1996 (aged 12) and have slowly accumulated equipment over the years. Now that I have a full time job, I have done a bit of research on best practice and I have tested information from several sources. This article is primarily a comment and use of the research and purchases so that the reader may benefit from my experience.
Having good equipment won't make you a great painter; only practice will and time will. That being said, having good equipment can make a tough job easier, and will make painting more enjoyable- you spend more time painting and less time compensating for not having the right equipment.
These writings will also serve as a catalogue to help plan purchases if you want to upgrade your paint station and have the capital to do so.
This guide is a work in progress, and I welcome comments on optimizing my setup. I am sharing here so that those who paint may benefit from what I have learned over the years.
I have a full set of the GW brushes, but if I knew this before I probably would not have purchased them (they come in useful, but are no longer my main line brushes). Be wary of swallowing GW marketing material or marketing material from any one company, and be ready to look around for the best products from other ranges.
For myself, I use Windsor and Newton Series 7 Sable Miniature brushes, which I bought from Dean's Art Store on sale and had Fedex from the United States to Australia. These brushes are superior quality brushes that, if carefully looked after, will see many years of service. For detail painting, a brush will last usually 9 months of extended use, if cared for correctly. It is a good idea, when buying, to buy brushes in two or threes so that, if you notice the point deteriorating, you may retire one easily without halting your painting session. The sizes to buy are Number 2, Number 0, Number 00, Number 000, and they usually retail at $7USD each.
To clean these brushes, I use "The Masters" brush soap, which can be bought from good artists shops. To use this, open the Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver, and put a drop of water in the centre. Then stick your brush, in a circular motion and pick up a little soap. Finish cleaning by circling the brush bristles in small circles on your palm, and then washing off with water. If you are finished painting for the day, put one more light coating of soap and "twist" to form a sharpened tip. This will leave soap on the brush for your next painting session; wash before painting and marvel at how your brush keeps its sharp point.
Another useful item is paper towel, I pay a little extra for the most absorbent paper towel I can find. This is useful for both dry brushing and for general cleaning of brushes.
Once I dry my paint brush, I store it facing downwards in a pencil tin, which I also bought from Office Works. I have, in the bottom, a cellulose absorbent towel, and have two wires strung across the pencil tin to store my brushes as vertical as possible when I am drying them. So, after soaping my brushes and ensuring they have a fine tip, I put the plastic ferrule cap on them and store them vertically. This allows whatever water that has stored in the ferule to drip down the bristles, rather than keeping the ferule wet and weakening the glue; this extends the life of the brushes.
I do have Windsor and Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer and a tray to hold brushes so that only the bristles are dipped in the brush cleaner (the brush cleaner will strip paint off the handles of brushes!). It was an expensive purchase, but I also have a Holbein Brush Waster No. 6A; this is the tray that holds my brushes in the Brush Cleaning solution.
You may need more than one bottle of Brush Cleaning solution; you should wash your brushes once every thirty hours of painting, and each bottle (960mL, 32 fl. oz) is worth about four washes.
My palette is the Privateer Press Wet Palette with waxless parchment paper- this is not the cheapest choice as you can make a wet palette yourself, but everything is ready made and supplied and I am time poor moreso than money poor. I cut the parchment paper into small squares, because the paint tends to run and, if all the paint is one one large piece of parchment paper, the paints will run into each other. Cutting the parchment paper into small squares helps keeps the paint isolated.
The other advantage of having a sealable tub for a wet palette is the ability to close the tub and paint later- paint will stay wet and usable for a few hours after mixing on a wet palette, which allows consistent painting of whole regiments with one colour. What one needs to watch for is, when remixing, that the pigment and medium of the paint do not separate in a way that alters the colour.
I also have a GW painting tile for times when the thin paint of a wet palette is not appropriate, or when mixing larger amounts of paints (such as washes). The standard palette is good, and the best way to clean it is to use Simple Green and submerse the palette for a few days- after a scrub it will come out white and new. This is why it's good to have a few plastic GW tiles as a backup palette to the wet palette.
For a water pot, I use the GW water pot. I like how it has clips to hold brushes vertical, but I use this feature rarely (it may double as a brush washer or a brush drying pencil tin). In future, I plan to buy a water pot from an art shop with multiple compartments, as this will help separate paint between normal and metalic, and slow down the rate of contamination- this is good for less trips to wash your water pot.
To draw paints onto the palette, I usually have one nasty, cheap brush, which in my case is a Vallejo Trainbrush usually meant for drybrushing. Generally a medium sized, generic brush will do for drawing paint from the pot onto the palette. There is significant wastage of paint from this method, but it is the best method I can think of at this time, beyond buying Vallejo dropper paints.
The Vallejo empty water dropper with a red cap is a godsend- it allows you to apply precise amounts of water when mixing paints on a palette. This allows the moderation of paint consistency so that it is not too dry (hence streaky and cakes on, removing detail) or too wet (too wet and it acts like a wash, which is difficult to control). If you paint onto a newspaper, then one should still be able to see the text; it should be of milky consistency. This consistency can be varied of course for different painting techniques, but as a general rule, paint should be of the milky consistency when painted on using standard methods. At this consistency one still needs to bleed off a little paint onto the palette with a few strokes on a clean area before applying to the model.
Another item I find immensely useful is Windsor and Netwon Acrylic Artists's Flow Improver. One or two drops of this into the wet palette mixed paint is sufficient- any more and it separates pigment from medium and makes the paint too runny. This chemical makes paint flow better and take longer to dry, with a lesser diluting effect than water from the Vallejo dropper. I usually mix one drop of water and two drops of flow improver into my paint mix on my wet palette.
Travelling Brush Kit
The hardest item to replace is your brushes when travelling to your LFGS; you don't feel you're you unless you're painting with your nice brushes. That's why I usually bring a Jasart brush sleeve (that can be folded into a brush stand!) and brush soap when I am painting mobile. This protects my brushes and allows me to carry them to the local LFGS to paint socially.
When I start, all my paintbrushes face upwards but, as I use each paint brush, I turn it down in the sleeve so that the paint runs out of the ferrule, like my pencil tin in my section on paintbrushes.
For me, I have a rotating paint tower for my paints. It has five levels and can store 80+ paints, but I don't usually use the brush / tool storage on the tower. A spinning tower is great because you can sort your colours by colour and can spin to find them, seeing the colour immediately from the side of the pot. This makes storing and choosing colours a real job (if anyone has had to search through a tub for the right paint will attest).
You will need to dismantle and dust this tower periodically.
Lighting and Magnification
I went to Officeworks (a chain office supplies company around Melbourne, Australia) and they sold me a magification lamp with daylight globe. It is important to get a "daylight globe" because it will help you match colours correctly when mixing paints and painting on your miniatures.
The magnifying glass on my daylight lamp is a very useful optional extra that helps one paint the smaller and trickier details, such as eyeballs and gemstones. If your light comes with a magnifying glass it is very useful but neverthless not essential. The first time I looked through the magnifying glass the effect is amazing (you can see so much detail!) but I have been using it less and less; the light itself is the most important part.
My magnifier has an "even more detail" insert lens, but I use that even less because my hands are not particularly steady.
I use "extra hands" PCB holder with magification. Usually I use rubber bands to secure paper towel to the crocodile clips, to prevent damage to the model or to the paintjob. I don't usually use the extra hands for painting as much as holding the model in position while glue dries.
I also have a tub of Amaco All Purpose Sealer, which is a matt (non-glossy), water based sealant. . I have not used it yet, but my plan is, when I begin doing freehand extensively, to seal an area before I begin freehand painting. This will ensure that, if I make a mistake, it is easier to correct the mistake without damaging the underlying paintjob.
Finally, good music is important to have. Having a small music system near your painting station, and set up a playlist of "painting music". There's a reason that GW pumps heavy metal into their stores while you are painting at their hobby table; having good music helps get you "in the zone" and away from distractions. It's worthwhile to take some time off painting to set up a music player properly.
As well as painting to music, I've painted in front of televisions as well with a mobile paint station, but find that televisions are distracting, as are computers.