Reaper's Learn To Paint Kit #1 - Core Skills

Well, they arrived a little later than I'd hoped they would, but I did get my Learn To Paint kits near the start of this week, so I put aside the miniature that I'd started doing some work on in order to go through them, starting with the core skills kits (#08906). Even though I'd painted four other miniatures by this point, I thought it'd be best to approach it as a total beginner and work through the first kit step by step. After all, who knew what kind of bad habits I might've been developing, or what basic beginner knowledge I lacked?

The kit started out nicely enough with general tips on preparing the miniatures, basics of brush care, what extra things you should have that aren't included in the kits, etc. It was a good thing that I went through this stuff, though, because I hadn't noticed anyone suggest to mix paints using the ass end of the brush before. I think that mixing with the bristles was the main cause of why I'd sometimes get paint up into the ferule, and now I had a way of avoiding that aside from just using a throwaway brush for it! Excellent!

Anyway, once those basics were out of the way, it was on to painting the first miniature. I'm not going to go into all of the "process of painting" details like I did with previous miniatures, since there's nothing special about the journey as I was just following the instructions. Instead, I'll talk about what I liked and what I disliked about working on each one.

First up was #77018, Skeleton Archer:

Things got off to a little bit of a rough start, since the miniature's ankles were so deformed that it couldn't stand upright. Fortunately, I'd had a little experience with dunking Bones models in hot water to soften them and then in cold water to set them already, so it was easy enough to fix. Unfortunately, I didn't bend it enough in the other direction to counter the eventual stress relief, so it did go back into a reclining pose eventually, but it's slight enough to still be able to stand on its own, so I can live with it. There are obviously some bad mold lines (the one down the left side of its body is especially prominent in the third picture), but I didn't bother with trying to trim those down because I wanted to get on with learning to paint.

After base coating the bone parts, things took an interesting turn when the next step was to make my own wash by watering down the paint. I'd only worked with Citadel ink washes before, but after a little fumbling around, I managed to mix it up, and it worked pretty well. The coverage wasn't as good as Citadel's washes, nor was it as good about going into recesses by itself, but nevertheless, it got the job done fairly well. I think I'd still prefer to stick with specialized ink washes (hopefully ones that I make for myself eventually from matte medium, flow improver, and artist's ink, since that'll cost me less in the long run than sticking with ready-made washes from hobby paint brands) rather than just watering down paint, but it's good to know that I have this option for times when I want a specific color that I don't have at hand, like green.

The next steps were to drybrush the bone parts, first with the base color and then with a highlight, and while I had done some limited drybrushing before, this was my first time doing it on a large area. I think it suited the model very well because it's got tons of high points and recesses all over the model, which is exactly the sort of texturing that I've seen good painters say drybrushing works best on. The other nice thing about using this miniature for drybrushing is that it's very open (for lack of a better word), in the sense that the brush isn't likely to hit anything by accident if you just take a little care over the course of the dusting/sweeping motion. Having pretty much the whole surface of the miniature to work on also made it much easier to see the gradual build-up of the pigment and judge when it was enough. I still went a little overboard on the right leg and foot, but hey, I'm still a beginner at all of this, so there are going to be some mistakes to learn from.

Once the bone bits are complete, the instructions pretty much turn you loose, just giving a list of colors and/or mixes to use for each area on the rest of the miniature. This brought me to my first bad experience with the kit. I don't know if it was a problem with my specific paint bottle or a problem with that paint in general, but my harvest brown was kind of fucked up and extremely thin despite giving it a hell of a good shake (and if you've read my weekly workout recaps, you should know that I'm not lacking for the strength to shake up a 15 ml bottle of paint). I wouldn't be surprised if the paint itself was susceptible to issues since it required less water to make a wash from it than any other wash mix in the whole kit, but I expect it was just bad luck that I got a shitty bottle of it, too. Anyway, all of that is a long way of saying that it's not entirely my fault that the painting on the quiver is kind of splotchy, since I wasn't getting good coverage even after 3 or 4 coats of that shit.

Also, trying to sell that texturing on the base as grass is an exercise in futility. Just saying.

All of that done, it was on to #77042, Orc Marauder:

From looking at all of the models, this one was the one that I'd expected to be the most fun to paint, since it's striking a more interesting pose than the other two (not a high bar to clear, but I digress) and it's got the most variety in its details. Sadly, it actually ended up being the one that I disliked the most, after actually working on all of them.

The problems started right from the base coating, because of that damned harvest brown again. Also, the details on the actual miniature weren't very well-defined in some areas, so it wasn't always clear when there were supposed to be changes in material (e.g. I'm only now noticing that it was supposed to have leather straps between the metal plate on its back and the metal plate on its chest, because they just looked like big shoulder muscles on the actual miniature).

Washing it was a fairly straightforward affair, but the drybrushing was a nightmare. Actually doing it was made more difficult than the skeleton due to the prevalence of smooth/flat areas (most obviously the skin, cleaver, and shield), and it was very rough on the brush because of all the little spikey bits in the leather areas that are all but impossible to avoid hitting. If I was painting this miniature for myself, I would've restricted drybrushing to just the fur and maybe the chainmail, but since I was doing this for educational value rather than artistic merit, I followed the directions and hated just about every moment of it.

Finally, when it came to doing the "finishing touches" details, I ran into another issue. The texturing on the teeth of the actual miniature was almost nonexistent, so trying to do a brown wash on it was kind of an exercise in futility because it would just settle above and below the row of teeth with no real definition between each tooth. I tried it several times before finally giving up in frustration.

On a positive note, though, I do appreciate getting some extra practice with painting eyes. Mine are still coming out anime-sized, but be that as it may (and maybe it'll just become my signature style), I was pleased with maintaining the black line around the entire white of the eye this time, and the pupils turned out acceptable enough despite being drawn as lines instead of dotting in the whites. Leaving the eyes until the end is not something that I'd want to do for myself on a regular basis, but since everything was going to be highlighted with such a sloppy technique as drybrushing, it made sense to do that to avoid getting green or possibly brown highlights all over them.

The last miniature for the kit was #77148, Mangu Timur:

Similar to the skeleton archer, this one started out with me trying to fix the sword, since it started out looking like a squished banana. Also similar to the skeleton archer, I didn't bend it far enough in the other direction to compensate for the eventual stress relief, but on the whole, what it ended up being was still an improvement from where it started.

In the exact opposite situation to the orc marauder, I'd expected this one to be the most boring of the three (at least the skeleton was cute), but after the horrible experience I had with the orc, it was rather enjoyable to have something more straightforward. Nothing about the miniature was secretly tricky in the way that it was for the orc, and while it was easily the least suitable of the three for drybrush highlighting, the process of actually doing that wasn't the catastrophe that it was for the orc. All in all, if I was going to buy another copy of any of these miniatures to do again, it'd be this one.

The kit finishes off with Reaper trying to sell you more shit, which is to be expected, I suppose. I can see how the message would fall short for some people since the over-reliance on drybrushing through the kit means that you're likely to have wrecked one of the brushes that came with it, and someone who didn't realize that too much drybrushing was the cause of that could easily just think that Reaper has shitty products (especially if they also had to grapple with as much deformation of the miniatures as I did). Really, the kit should've included some kind of warning about how rough drybrushing can be for the brushes and/or a mention of how drybrushing is only being used as the sole highlighting technique because (inherent sloppiness aside) it's easy to do, even though it's really not a good choice for about half of the orc or about 80% of the fighter.

Nevertheless, for someone who's just starting out in the hobby, I think it's a pretty damn good introduction. As I said, despite having spent a fair amount of time looking at tutorials online prior to going through the kit, I still learned a few things that I guess were too basic for others to think that they needed mentioning, and if nothing else, having a few miniatures to practice on without the pressure of wanting to do a good job on something that you went out of your way to purchase has value in itself. You also end up with a decent selection of paints left over to do whatever else you want with (though there's no red, unless you happen to get some as a free sample from Reaper, like the bonus gory red bottle that comes with purchases in this month), and the carrying case even has plenty of extra space if you want to store other paints in there (more than 20 free spaces!). The cost of the kit is just about in line with what the paints themselves would've cost, too, so counting the case as making up the other little bit of the price still leaves the brushes and miniatures as effectively being free extras. In the end, I was glad that I made the purchase, and I hope the second kit ends up being just as much of a positive experience.

Up next, a free sample that I got with my order, #77229, Mind Eater:


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