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  • L.L. Stephens

Painting Minis

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

For a time when I was a teen, I envisioned becoming an artist. Or a brain surgeon—that’s another story. Art has always called to me, though. I took an art class every semester in high school as one of my electives and they were almost always the high point of my day or week.

When I was 12, I won a Scholastic Gold Key Award for Art. The illustration that won was a landscape rendered in pastel chalk. As I recall, it had desolate imagery but hopeful colors. I don’t know what else the judges saw in it. My parents fought a lot, and my family life was in complete turmoil. I have few memories of that year. The painting is long gone. The award, though, offered a kind of affirmation teenagers crave. I was officially good at something.

Fast forward and I never pursued a career in art. Or writing, for that matter. My parents divorced and I lived with my mom. Dad didn’t pay child support. As the oldest, I found work and helped the family. Life is good at teaching lessons and I saw early on that writing and art were pipedreams; other careers would be far better for putting a roof over my head and food in my belly.

Writing and art would be my hobbies.

I earned a degree in a medical field, but left it when I married and had children. I took up writing for medical journals and, between bandaging knees and kid's soccer games, I began writing my magnum opus. I even published a novel during this time, before my marriage disintegrated and I re-entered the work force. Art, though, continued in hobby form. Home decorations. Crafts. Drawings for my stories. Maps. Handmade cards. Creativity in art can take a thousand forms.

Love being a surefire draw for the creative, I remarried and was introduced to gaming. That is how I came to express myself artistically by painting board game miniatures.

Board games where players enact characters [I love games where I get to be a character] often come with unpainted miniatures. Gray, terribly bland, but rather detailed, plastic miniatures. While okay for moving around a board, they can be hard to tell apart. They also just stand there and don’t evoke much wonder and excitement. I’m all about wonder and excitement. When my true love asked if I would be up for painting the minis, as we had seen artists do at the cons we attended, I piped up without hesitation. “I can do that.”

Art is something I can do.

Over the last several years my husband and I have painted minis for Defenders of the Realm, A Touch of Evil, and Last Stand (we designed these and had them made for the game). Our most recent minis are for the Marvel: United game. These are larger, chibi minis with amazing detail and have been challenging.

Painting a mini is a lot like writing. Where to begin? What base layers do I need to put down, and in what order, before I get to those highlights that make the mini pop? The act of laying down paint with a brush is a lot like putting down words. You gotta believe! Once you put that paint on the mini, it’s there to stay—unless you paint over it. That’s right… there’s editing in paint work.

I especially enjoy mixing my paints to achieve the perfect color, the precise saturation. Color is key to bringing a mini to life, whether the character is a bright and vivid paladin or a dark and gloomy mercenary. Even minis which are supposed to be monochromatic in appearance will have special details that bring them to life: accessories, symbols, teeth or claws or eyes.

Every mini painted is, after all, a thing of beauty, and an act of creation.

Here are some of the minis I’ve painted.

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