For over 20 years, I have played Dungeons & Dragons with the same core of people. Over the years, we’ve used items like army men, coins, and even a Blob action figure from X-Men: The Animated Series as tokens on the battlefield. Fortunately, as D&D has grown in popularity, a mountain of high-quality miniatures has become available to the public.
And within this mountain of miniatures, there is a smaller market for unpainted miniatures for people who really love to paint. In my years of tabletop gaming, painting minis was never something I did or thought I would. When it comes to art, I’m, for lack of a better word, crappy. I don’t have a natural talent for it, and I’m frustrated with it.
So when WizKids sent me a bunch of unpainted critical role figures, I was like “what better time than now to see what this is all about?” What I thought was a failure of hilarious proportions turned out to be one of the most serene and tranquil moments I have felt during the pandemic. This is not hyperbole.
There were many unpainted critical role minis to choose from, and in case you’re interested, the wide singles are $ 5, the large ones are $ 9, and the wide doubles are $ 15. I decided to go for something bigger because I don’t know how to paint. Could I have watched a few mini-painting videos or talked to some buddies who literally paint for a living on YouTube? Sure, but where’s the fun in that? I prefer to dive in, head first, blind, much like I did when trying to watch an anime for the first time.
I chose the Aeorian Reverser because it didn’t seem like it needed a huge amount of little details. Considering that this is one of the Critical Role monsters, you can find the stat blocks for the Aeorian Reverser on page 284 of D&D: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. After learning more about the beast, I was almost ready to paint.
I bought some D&D brand paints and a series of brushes in different thicknesses, and the first thing I decided was to change the character’s color palette completely. I didn’t want to paint by numbers here. I wanted to try to make it my own. After choosing a few paintings that I wanted for the beast, I immersed myself in them.
There was a bit of a learning curve right away. How much paint should I put on the brush? How to spread it evenly on the mini? Fortunately, this learning curve did not last long. I found my place, and after a first coat which did not go exceptionally well.
I was using the brush that came with the paint kit and mixed paints together to get the earthy tones I used for the Reverser. Now keep in mind that the lightbox I’m using for these photos highlights every little detail that I missed or needed touching up. In normal light the first time over it looked pretty good.
I also wanted the base to be dynamic – something that I felt didn’t get too hot by the time I was done. I did a base coat of green, followed by brown and black. I thought the layering would work pretty well, as long as there isn’t a thick coat of paint. It never looked exceptionally good to me, compared to the many pre-painted minis I already owned.
After getting a base on the Reverser, which included a shade of green on the back and head and a shade of brown on the front, it was time to get into the finer details. I was nervous about this step of the process. I don’t have a steady hand by any means, and although I have brushes with very fine tips, I wasn’t sure where to go next. Sure, the teeth are white, the tongue is red, and the eyes can be any color I want, but from there where do I go?
After I finished these basic touches, I started to wash some areas of the inverter to highlight the muscles, using water and black paint. Looking back, I should have used the base color for this part of the inverter, with black, and toned it down. Then I got a little inspiration.
The painting should tell a story, not just fill in the blanks. I figured the Reverser had murdered some townspeople, and it was up to the other heroes in the party to take them down. But what would it look like? I put a red wash on his face to make it look like he was eating people. I did the same on his fists and forearms to say that he crushed people with his hands.
In the final images above, the paint still hasn’t fully dried, and HD cameras show every little imperfection as this mini is actually two inches tall. However, throughout this experience, I realized something. Painting minis is the most relaxed I have been in years. I was focused and not worried about the final product at the time. I would sit for a few hours, take a break, then come back and relax. I was away from my ordinary stress for the day and just now, painting a mythical beast created by a podcast that plays D&D.
After I painted the inverter and hit a stopping point where I felt comfortable writing about it, I found myself on a Saturday night doing it all again with another mini. Then I found myself doing it with my son. I had accidentally stumbled upon a new hobby, one of which, if I’m completely honest, that I looked down on when I first started playing D&D in my late teens – a hilarious statement in self. You can check out the Swavain Basilisk I’m currently working on below – my son chose most of the colors.
I never understood why people painted minis. Now yes. It’s fun, quiet, and a wonderful break from all the stresses of life. As for recreation, it’s not that expensive. The paint cost me $ 25 – which will last a long time – the brushes were $ 18 and the minis would cost $ 9 here – and there are cheaper ones – if I had bought them. More importantly, although this is usually a lonely hobby, I found myself doing it with my son, at his tiny little table, talking about the monsters we painted. Everything about this brand new hobby seemed perfect to me. And while I might not be as talented as others, I know that painting minis all the time, like Vee Muse, I feel really good about what I do, and that’s all that matters. really.
If you’re looking to try your hand at this as well, the first wave of Unpainted Critical Role minis launched in November. To find out if an LGS near you has one, check out the WizKids store finder.