Althai Paints

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines


I love speed-painting, both competitive speed-painting at conventions and just for fun at home. I think it’s great as a palette cleanser between longer projects. It’s a good way of getting playable, tabletop-quality figures on the table quickly, and allows you to focus on overall impact and feel rather than on getting all of the details perfect.


In speed-painting, the name of the game is high contrast, dramatic paintjobs which will catch the eye from a distance. Don’t try to make the mini look good up close, that’s just not something you can really accomplish in an hour of painting. Go for eye-catching techniques such as lighting effects and freehand, strong contrasts, and a passable face, and don’t worry about quality blending.

For Karzoug, I went for a strong lighting effect—the mini basically begs for it. The other versions I’ve seen use ordinary flame-colored flames, so for my version I opted for a more unnatural fire, as befits a necromancer.


Unlike the rest of the minis I’m showing today, Karzoug was not painted at a convention, so I actually got to give him a half-decent prep job instead of having to deal with giant mold-lines and dusty primer, and I got to use my own brushes. (Bringing your own sables to convention speed-painting events is generally considered cheating.)


Every convention has its own speed-painting rules, but the basic idea is that everyone is given the same miniature—contestants usually have no idea what it will be ahead of time—and have to paint it as well as they can within the time allotted. You normally get 45 minutes; championship rounds often last an hour. Use of personal materials is generally not permitted, so you’re sometimes painting with really terrible brushes, though sometimes you get lucky. Provided minis are assembled and primed (often not terribly well, since the people prepping them have several hundred other minis to prep and don’t care much about the end result). Getting a decent finished product in this environment is challenging, to say the least. So please don’t judge these minis too harshly. 🙂


Zombies make very good speed-paints. Messiness is usually inevitable, but on zombies it’s a plus. This zombie was painted in the speed-paint at KublaCon, which only provides contestants with one brush each. My favorite speed-painting technique being two-brush blending, I had to improvise. Fortunately, if you are sufficiently practiced, it is possible to two-brush blend with a single brush. 😛


I had the good fortune of painting this anteater twice, in two consecutive years of speed-painting at KublaCon. He is a tiny one-piece mini, produced by Zombiesmith who are great for always sponsoring KublaCon mini events. Small one-piece sculpts are ideal for speed-painting, because it’s very fast to cover the entire mini with paint. This gives you plenty of time to pull off more inventive  decorations such as freehand, and causes me to occasionally annoy other contestants as I wonder aloud, “What am I going to do with all this time?”


In the case of this anteater (technically a Quar) and his large flat back, that would be freehand decoration, of course. The first year I went with “hell angel” (it was faster and easier to leave off the esses, and still makes sense) and a pentagram, which seemed appropriate for a gun-toting bad-guy. The second year I wanted to do something different, so I ended up going in totally the opposite direction with a peace symbol on tie-dye. The idea cracked me up when I thought of it, so I hoped the judge would like it too. Both placed first in their respective rounds.


This is Kubla, con mascot for KublaCon. For the championship speed-paint round, they always use the convention figure, which is fun and gives you some extra time to plan (not that I ever remember to use it). This was not my best speed-paint however, and I only placed third that year (2015).

Karzoug, Runelord (Reaper), 75 minute speedpaint

I did much better in 2016, when I managed to win all four of the rounds I entered, including the championships. This grot was from the first round I entered, and was a great little blast from the past. He’s another tiny one-piece model,  so I had lots of time to freehand in horrible ’90s-style checkerboards and hazard stripes. I think it suits the model.


You can tell I spent way more time on the front than the back. Strategy!

Sadly this grot and the tie-dyed Quar are the only figures I managed to hang onto from KublaCon 2016. One figure I gave away, and the championship round figure I either misplaced or it, erm, wandered off.


Privateer Press’ gobber rogue, another tiny one-piece figure! This was from the speed-painting competition at Gen Con, which tends to be a bit more competitive than the speed-painting at KublaCon since it draws a bigger audience. I’m really happy with how the face and the rusted daggers came out, and I stole the idea for flowers on the base from another speed-painter. Sadly he only came in second, but that was enough to qualify me for the championship round… where I again came in second. Phooey!


And finally, this is perhaps my favorite speed-paint of all time. It’s a bit impressionistic, but I managed really strong contrasts and the overall colors work pretty well. I’m especially happy with how the rocket came out. One of my painter friends complained about the very visible brush-strokes on the back, but those were intentional, to show the gleam of the metal, and also a bit of the texture (if you look closely, you can see the brushstrokes are horizontal on the nose-cone and vertical along the shaft of the rocket).


This was from the Wyrd championship speed-paint at Gen Con, where I managed to finish first, beating the woman who beat me in the Privateer Press championships (and collecting a bounty!)

P.S. I promise to be back showing actually-well-painted models (and not just well-painted-for-45-minutes models) later this week. I have lots of minis from the Gen Con painting competitions that I’ve been dying to show off.

“Black Arts”

This was one of those miniatures that sat around half-painted for a very long time, over a year in fact, before I finally finished it.


Initially I didn’t have the lighting effect, just red fabrics with black armor. The result was a deadly dull miniature with the cloak stealing all of the focus and the armor a muddy mess. It took me a year to figure out how to fix it, but when I came up with the idea of a strong green light from some dark ritual Fiona was performing, I knew it would be perfect.


I really like the result – it brings the focus back to Fiona’s weapon and face, where it should be, and also has a strong story-telling element when combined with the pentagram Fiona is standing in.


The old Fiona the Black miniature has a lot of things going for it, but I never much liked its spindly legs. When someone on the Privateer Press forums suggested doing a conversion with the legs from the satyxis sea witch, I knew I had to try it. Since the Satyxis have a matching pirate theme and the same sculptor (Werner Klocke) as Fiona, the converted parts work well together, and the result is a great, powerful pose.


I entered this mini into the Privateer Press painting competition at Gen Con, where she finished with a disappointing silver. I honestly think she deserved better than that, but I guess you can’t win them all.

Infinity – Tohaa

Infinity are a lot of fun to paint up. They are all very finely cast metal minis, with lots of bits so that you get interesting, three dimensional poses. The models are on the small side, so they paint up relatively quickly, but they are packed with detail which makes them look bigger than they are.

For this little Tohaa group, I decided to stay fairly close to the official color scheme, but I swapped the usual orange for green to give them my own spin.


They are not painted to a super-high standard, as I was focusing more on the color scheme and overall light situation rather than making all of the details perfect. I’m really pleased with how they came out though!


The leader was the most fun to paint up. She has a very nice face, and all of the areas are easily accessible when fully assembled making her easy to paint.


It’s kind of subtle in these photos, but I threw some red into all of the shadows on the white armor. With a giant red planet underneath her, you would expect some of the reflected light to show up in the whites of her clothing!


I decided on very simple basing—I really just scraped some putty around to give a rough texture, painted them quickly with mostly black and white, and then applied a bunch of red pigments to give a martian desert effect.


Apart from the neutral colors of the armor, the main colors are green and turquoise, so red was a natural color for the base as it’s a complementary color to both, making the overall color scheme “split complementary”. Adding red into the whites of the armor, as well as being ‘correct’ from the perspective of physics, helps tie everything together.


This guy was super fiddly to paint. He has a bajillion tiny details, and many areas are impossible to reach with a brush when he’s fully assembled while still being annoyingly visible. Also, there are six different fins that are too small to pin and all attach with an area of one square micron. I think I broke the fins off three times each while painting him.


He came out really well, but I basically needed to design a display base for the group just to avoid handling him any more and breaking more fins off. I wouldn’t want to use this guy in a game ever! Maybe I just need smaller drills so I can pin tiny Infinity bits.


Decided to add some quick weathering from the rocket exhaust. To Infinity and Beyond!


I would not want to run into this guy on a lonely rock in deep space. He looks hostile.

This group is one of my entries into the painting competition at Gen Con. I have six entries total (and maybe even time to finish one more), split between the general competition and the Privateer Press one. But I’m going to wait to share most of them after the convention. Sorry I’m such a tease, but I don’t want to give up the element of surprise for my main entries!

Four tips to level up your painting

These are some things I’ve learned that I think most miniature painters would benefit from keeping in mind when they paint. Anyone, even people who just started the hobby, can follow these tips.

Pay attention to where the light is coming from when highlighting and shading

Figures that are lit in a realistic fashion are much more believable than ones which are not. Everyone who can see develops an intuitive sense of how things are supposed to look, and when the lighting is off we will notice it and be bothered by it, even if we can’t put our finger on what the problem is.

When highlighting and shading, don’t just highlight the raised areas and shade the recesses, as this is not the way light actually works. Instead, decide where the light is coming from early in the painting process, and try to consistently and realistically light your miniature with that in mind. The three dimensional nature of miniatures is a huge boon here, as you can often just hold your figure at the right angle with respect to a lamp and use that as your guide.

abalam lighting

A photograph to use as a guide can be useful, especially for more complicated lighting situations with multiple light sources. For just one light source, you can usually get away with just holding your mini at the right angle without taking a photo. Can you see where I deliberately highlighted some of recesses of the folds in his shirt, where they catch the light? Can you spot where I missed some?

Don’t just add white to highlight and black to shade, and don’t just use pre-mixed highlight and shadow colors

The light around you is constantly changing. Things look one way in the morning, another way at noon, and everything is beautiful during the golden hour in the late afternoon. This should influence the colors that you paint! When you paint a miniature, think about the ambient light conditions and the mood you want to set. In a cold environment, you might add blue to both the highlights and the shadows in order to set the appropriate mood. If you’re painting an alien on Mars, you might keep the highlights neutral in color, but add red to all of the shadows because of the color of the ambient light. Always keep the environment, lighting situation, and mood you want to create in mind when choosing colors.

Too often I see miniature painters who always paint elf skin with elf skin, elf skin highlight, and elf skin shadow, or who always highlight by adding white. I won’t tell you never to do this. In art, all rules are meant to be broken. But it should always be a choice made consciously, not unconsciously because that’s what the paint is called.


When painting Ruby, I set the scene during golden hour. Both the direction and the color of the light are appropriate for a sun which is low in the sky. For the parts of the model lit by the sun, I added yellow to all of the highlights. For the parts of the model facing away from the sun, I highlighted by adding gray.

Smooth blends are for smooth surfaces only

A lot of miniature painters obsess over making their blends as smooth as possible, and a lot of this is energy which could be better spent elsewhere. Smooth blends are for smooth surfaces, and most of the objects in our lives have other textures than that. If you are painting a silk kimono, a polished ceremonial suit of armor,  or the skin of a pampered noble, then by all means try to make your blends smooth. But if you are painting a rough work garment, armor which has seen combat, or the skin of a warrior, your blends should not be perfectly smooth. Try to show the grain of the leather, the weave of the fabric, the varying structure of the stone, the lines and scratches from wear, where the paint has started to chip, where corrosion has beset the metal. These are more interesting to look at, and more fun to paint, than smooth blends on every surface.

khador_destroyer_1Do you see any smooth blends? Of course not! This ‘jack has been through years of war; there are no smooth surfaces left. As I was creating the lights and shadows in the white armor,  I did a lot of sketchy blending and left a lot of “bathtub ring” effects where an edge of paint dried. If you do this once or twice, it looks like a mistake, but if you build up a texture out of it, it just looks like weathering. For the turquoise ‘jack, I created an entirely different texture by highlighting with a lot of short lines of color.

Freehand is not hard

Some freehand is hard. If you’re trying to paint something which needs to be very detailed, very regular, or perfectly symmetric, you need to have good brush control. On the other hand, there are a lot of good uses for freehand that are not challenging to pull off. For example, try a cherry blossom pattern, rough graffiti, or something totally abstract. Even a simple border can add interest without being difficult to paint. As you get experience with easier bits of freehand, you can move on to more technically challenging subjects.


The zebra-skin loincloth on this axer was super simple to do. It’s just a serious of lines, and they aren’t supposed to be straight or the same width.

Abalám, revisited

When I posted Abalám on Putty & Paint, one of the comments I received was from Roman Lappat (of Massive Voodoo fame) who wrote,

Great piece. Love the light situation, even I think there are minor parts missing here and there, but this does not make the bust bad. If you want me to point out my thoughts about the light shot me an Emal 🙂

Let me just say I love this reaction. “I like this mini, but see some ways it could be better. I must tell the painter!” Constructive criticism is fantastic, and I’m thankful for all of it I can get, especially when it comes from as knowledgeable a source as Roman. As I wrote in Thoughts on painting competitions, constructive criticism is extremely valuable in improving your work.

When I emailed Roman, he sent me a very helpful diagram showing the areas he felt the light was missing or not strong enough.

Roman's critique

Armed with this sketch, my brush, and some red paint, I went back to my figure, and intensified.


Of course, the lighting is also rather different between the two photos. I’m terrible at miniature photography, sorry! I think the new pictures are somewhat closer to life, but this guy is really tricky to photograph.


I followed all but one of Roman’s suggestions, which was the back of the helmet. It’s just so recessed that I didn’t feel it would receive very much light, so the very strong light that Roman suggested would look out of place. Also, you have to be very careful painting lighting effects in heavily recessed areas of a miniature, because you are fighting against the shadows of the miniature itself. In the end, I did retouch the back of the helmet, but with a dull, dark red, instead of the strong effect that Roman suggested.

I did add light on the rivets, but it’s subtle, and hard to make out in these photos.


In addition to following Roman’s advice, I also intensified in some areas he didn’t highlight. I made the light on the neck much more dramatic, since it looked flat and poorly painted in the original. I added light on the lower-most armor plate, as that was one of the areas that lit up in my original study but where I had not added a glow effect. And I intensified the light on all of the ropes and the sash, and not only the parts Roman indicated.

Many people, when confronted with criticism, are resistant towards it, and try to find reasons to ignore it. I think this is a very good example of how one can benefit from not only being open to criticism, but trying to look further, and explore how you can use the insight in the criticism to improve upon things that the critique did not specifically identify.


Now that I’ve posted the back view, Roman’s probably going to point out all of the areas I’m missing here! I’m joking of course, but in truth, I think I can guess which areas he would point out.

I intentionally took a lot of shortcuts on the back, because a bust like this will normally be seen mostly from the front. Also, I have a policy never to retouch figures after they win awards!


I entered the bust into the KublaCon painting contest last weekend, and was fortunate enough to win Best in Show and one of the People’s Choice awards. This is my second KublaCon win in a row, as Tribe Chief Morrow won Best in Show last year. KublaCon is a Crystal Brush qualifier, which means that my award comes with round-trip airfare to Chicago for Crystal Brush. This will be my second time going, since I lived in Chicago for the first year of the competition, but moved away and missed the other years.

Word from the judges is that the decision between my entry and the second-place winner was very close. This just goes to show the importance of getting feedback on your work. Without Roman’s advice, I probably wouldn’t have won.


Thanks again, Roman!


2016 Classes

This year I will again be teaching classes at KublaCon and Gen Con. I’m teaching Two-Brush Blending for the third year running, and a new class on painting the “tricky colors”: white, black, and red.
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Khador Extreme Battlegroup

I painted this group several years ago, but it took me a long time to take any decent photos (and even longer to remember that I did and get around to posting them, it seems).


This group won the best battlegroup award in Privateer Press’s 2014 Gen Con Grandmaster Painting Competition, and appeared in No Quarter 57. Unfortunately the picture taken by Privateer Press at the convention wasn’t that great. You can see it in my battle damage tutorial, which goes over the technique I used to damage the ‘jacks.


Then again, since it took me over two years to finally take decent photos of my own, I probably shouldn’t be complaining about what Privateer Press could do in the middle of a busy convention. Subtle white shading is hard to photograph, and the metallic work is even harder to photograph.


I’m really happy with how the metals turned out, especially the axe blades. Since the axes on the extreme ‘jacks are really big and flat, I knew I needed to do something to make them more interesting to look at. Painting them involved a lot of time-consuming back and forth between painting scratches and glazing over everything with inks, but the end result was worth the effort.


I had half of a hunter lying around from my Caine battlegroup, since I replaced it with a grenadier chassis, and a plastic Cygnar battlegroup box that Privateer Press gave away at Adepticon one year. I thought they would work well as battlefield rubble. Having a well-stocked bits box is a godsend for more ambitious projects.


Even though the models in this battlegroup are all painted using metallics, I used nmm to paint the destroyed Cygnar models on their bases. I did this for a few different reasons. First, I thought it would be fitting for the destroyed Cygnar jacks to be less shiny than the Khador ones, which were already quite gritty and corroded. Second, I thought it was a nice callback to the Nemo I’d entered in a prior year. And finally, I wanted to show off that I can paint both metallics and nmm (since many painters seem to stick with one or the other).


This worked well with the extremely scratched effect I did for the turquoise parts, to make the Cygnar ‘jacks look extremely beat up and damaged, but in a completely different way from the Khador ‘jacks.


To get the bright glowing effect for the ‘jack visors, I first filled them almost entirely with green stuff, since normally there’s a big recess there. It’s very difficult to paint a believable glow effect in a deep recess, since you’re fighting against the shadow that the recess creates. Filling it first makes painting a glow much easier.


The rust drips are going “down” in different directions. I imagined that the rust would drip down and collect most with the ‘jack in its resting pose, and I tried to imagine what that would be when painting the drips.


The Khadoran runes on the ‘jacks’ shoulders read “Br’er Fox” and “Br’er Bear,” named after the main antagonists in the traditional Br’er Rabbit stories. The Cygnaran runes on the hunter’s shoulder pad say “Fire.” Warmachine faction fonts can be found here.


I painted the Juggernaut first, and I think it came out slightly better. Normally the models I paint later, once I’ve figured out my color scheme, turn out better, so this is unusual. But I think playing around with the whites a bit added an extra bit of texture and randomness that worked really well with the effect I was going for. It’s much easier to create randomness by accident than intentionally.


I painted Sorscha last, and she is much cleaner than the ‘jacks. I imagined the armor of a powerful and important warcaster would be carefully tended, unlike the warjacks.


I left off the ice-formation base she comes with, since it wouldn’t match the other bases, and instead sculpted something to match, using the head that belongs to the hunter on the juggernaut’s base.

khador_sorscha_3I said in my previous post that I’m planning to teach a class on painting “tricky colors”—white, black, and red—at KublaCon and again at Gen Con. I think I can consider my street cred for teaching that class pretty well established.

What’s going on with the blog?

I guess I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I’m working on competition entries for the summer convention season, and this year I’m going to wait to post them until after the conventions, in order to keep the element of surprise.

In addition to painting, I’ve been working on a couple of longer articles for the blog. One is a two-part article on color theory, which will talk a bit about the science of color, as that’s an element missing from a lot of the color theory articles you see. I’m a big science nerd, so I loved researching it. The text is mostly finished, but I’m also creating some visualizations for it, and the code for generating those is only about half done. So that will take a bit longer.

The other article is on painting tricky colors: white, black, and red. I’ve just started that one, but I want to finish it by KublaCon since I will be teaching a class based on it.

On that note, I will be teaching classes, both at KublaCon and at Gen Con. More on that shortly. I’m going to be teaching my two-brush blending class again, which I’ve now taught several times. It’s great fun to teach and my students seem to get a lot out of it. I’ll also be teaching a class on painting tricky colors, to go with the article.

One last note—I finally got a Putty & Paint account. Check it out at


I finished painting this sweet little bust from Hera Models. I might still tweak a few things, so if you have any comments or critiques, please let me know in the comments!


The more I paint busts the more I find I enjoy them. They are large enough to give you lots of room to work and play with things like textures and freehand, but they still paint up very quickly, and you can focus on the fun bits like the face.



Abalám ended up quite close to my initial vision. There were only two minor changes that happened as I painted. Originally I planned to have an Oni Kanji on his breast plate. I tried painting it three times, once in red, once in black, and once in gold, and each time I decided I wasn’t really happy with it; eventually I ended up just painting over it and bringing back the beaten metal texture I had. The other change was the shirt, which was originally painted as brown leather, then became yellow, then green, before finally ending up as black cloth.


Unfortunately the large metallic areas make this guy difficult to photograph. This set of photos came from my third attempt. I’m still not entirely happy with them, but they’re a big improvement over the first two sets.


The lighting study I did before priming him didn’t end up being quite as helpful as I hoped, but I did make some use of it. I wanted the red glow to be much stronger than the one in the study (which was just reflected light from a red coffee mug, not an actual red light source). Still, it’s a useful trick and I recommend it for anyone who has difficulty painting lighting effects.

I’m really looking forward to my next bust!

Just had to share…

Here is a great step-by-step tutorial of what is truly some of the best NMM out there. Thanks, Arnau!


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