Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Painting Classes That Never Were, or Hello Miss Jessica?

Life sometimes gets in the way of my hobbies.  I hate it when that happens.  As I described on my other blog, I had to cancel my GenCon 2014 trip at the last minute.  In doing so, I lost out on money, planning, and expectations.  I also lost a chance to take a few miniature painting classes - something I've been wanting to do for a long time now.

Although I'm not a terrible painter, my work definitely leaves open room for improvement.  What I've learned has been mostly from looking at blogs or experimenting on my own.  I've never taken a formal instructional class or even painted with other hobbyists.  I wanted to change that at GenCon.  Amongst some of the activities I scheduled were the two painting classes pictured above: The Art of Painting Skintones and Painting Pretty Faces.  I wanted to sign up for more (so many to choose from!) but I kept encountering timing conflicts with other things I wanted to see and do.  The scheduling issues turned out to be a good thing I guess, since in the end I was unable to attend and would have lost out on even more money.

So while feeling sorry for myself and pouting from having to cancel my GenCon trip, I was cruising the internet to cheer myself up when I stumbled upon a new painting instruction video offered by Dark Sword Miniatures:  Masterworks Miniature Painting with Jessica Rich.  Though the price was a bit steep I decided to buy it.  Damnit, if I can't go to GenCon and take a few miniature painting classes there, I'll just bring the instructor to the comfort of my own home.  And what a choice of instructors:  Jessica Rich!  I have admired her work for some time now, especially her George R. R. Martin miniatures.  So yeah, I made a date with Jessica and asked her to come to my house....kinda.

I really didn't know what to expect when I began watching the DVDs.  I had watched bits and pieces of other videos on YouTube but wasn't all that impressed with them.  Most were just okay as far as video quality goes; nothing to write home about.  And that's unfortunate.  Painting is obviously a visual skill and without being able to see clearly what the instructor is doing, the usefulness of the lesson becomes somewhat dubious.

I'm happy to say that the DVD so far has exceeded my expectations.  The images are not exactly high definition but you can definitely see what's going on.  Jim (the owner of Dark Sword Miniatures) and Jessica seem to go to great lengths to ensure that the camera is positioned perfectly to allow the viewer ultimate access to the miniature being painted.  I would imagine that even in a classroom setting it would be difficult to get any closer than what the DVD shows.

I haven't finished the DVD set yet.  It's over 20 hours of instruction.  What I have completed has been a great help in refining my skill however.  I highly recommend the set to any miniature painter that wants to better their painting skills.  I think it has already helped improve my craft.

Here is a final thought on the DVDs.  They are not cheap at $60.  But after doing the math I found that it's actually an incredible deal.  The two classes that I signed up for at GenCon cost me $46 total.  Assuming that I could have arranged my schedule to include one more class at a similar price, I would have paid $69 for three classes and three hours of instruction.  By purchasing the DVD set, I not only saved $9, but I gained about 17 extra hours of one-on-one instruction on a variety of different topics by one of the industry's best painters.  Even if I group the chapters into like categories, the DVDs offer twenty different classes.  At $20 a pop....well, you can do the math.  I'm thinking that DVD instruction (if done correctly) is a much better bargain than attending a class.  Of course you do lose the interactive aspect of a live instructor.  It's beyond difficult to ask Jessica a question (she never answers).  At least if I need something repeated she's right there waiting for me at the push of a button though!

Here are the topics covered in the DVD set.

Disc 1
*  Introductions
*  Tools
*  Mini Prep
*  Color Theory
*  Base Coating and Blending (highlighting and shading)
*  Female Skin Tones & Features - Fair Skin

Disc 2
*  Female Skin Tones & Faces - Ruddy Skin
*  Female Fair Skin Face
*  Male Skin Tones and Faces
*  Painting Hair - White Hair
*  Painting Hair - Auburn Hair
*  Painting Hair - Black Hair

Disc 3
*  Dark Elf skin Tones & Faces
*  Difficult Colors - Painting Black
*  Difficult Colors - Painting Red
*  Painting Critter Fur
*  Painting Critter Eyes
*  Painting Wood Grain
*  Painting Feathers

Disc 4
*  Painting Sheer Fabric
*  Painting NMM - Gold Armor
*  Painting NMM - Steel Sword
*  Painting Blood and Gore
*  Painting Dingy and Weathered Clothes
*  Painting Flames and Fire
*  Painting Gems

Disc 5
*  Painting OSL and a Magic Sword
*  Painting with a Limited Color Palette
*  Freehand - Tone on Tone Damask
*  Freehand - Brocade Borders

Disc 6
*  Freehand - Painting Tiny Portraits
*  Freehand - Painting Tiny Portraits Slideshow
*  Finishing Touches - Sealers and Basing
*  Jess Conclusion
*  Jess Dark Sword Gallery
*  Jess Other Manufacturer Gallery
*  Dark Sword Gallery

I hope you enjoyed my little DVD review.  Let me close with a few questions:

*  Have you ever taken a live painting class?  Was it worth it?
*  What are your thoughts on video instruction?
*  What (if any) other video courses would you recommend?

Thanks for your comments and most of all, thanks for reading!


  1. Interesting, I didn't know you could get such things...

    Must admit I am more or less 'self taught' though read all I could of how-to articles in WD and citadel journel of old, ... a spot of trial an error thrown in etc ...

    I'm no expert but try and achieve a nice 'tabletop quality'.

    1. Oh yes, I forgot to add reading White Dwarf to my resume as well. Back in the day when WD used to be useful I picked up many tips.

      Whatever you've been reading and watching Scott, it has been working. Your miniatures are definitely works of art. They may not be professional award winners but I would certainly place them well above tabletop standards.

      Keep up the good work!

  2. Indeed interesting, I almost bought the dvd set but I'm (was now ;-)) not sure if it was worth the price.

    1. I've been watching more modules since I wrote this post and I definitely stand by what I wrote....it's worth every dollar. I think you'd be more than happy with your purchase.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. I have one of the Jennifer Haley DVD sets - very good information and video quality was excellent. However i have found that for most of the painting i do i stick to simpler methods to get what i consider good quality gaming standard. Most of the higher level stuff i don't use as it takes too long to get a single model finished let alone an army. Very useful though if you want a couple of excellent characters in an army.

    1. You bring up a great point Mark. I should have mentioned it in my mini-review. Most of the techniques mentioned in the DVDs would definitely be overkill for army painting or quick tabletop characters/monsters/NPCs. You're correct though by saying that generals/leaders/characters would certainly benefit.

      Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading!

  4. I'm mostly self taught, as well, though I have to credit my Dad and several friends for a lot of information. I have never taken a live class but have seen a lot of video online.

    I think a live class would be great, simply for the interaction and feedback. Two of my friends and I used to sometimes paint together and I like to believe it made all our painting better.

    My feeling is that the Darksword DVDs are probably the best on the market. Without meaning to sound sexist, my favorite of the "Big Name" painters are all female (Jen Haley, Marike Reimer, Jessica Rich, Alison Bailey, et al). Overall, they seem to have a more subtle touch and a more realistic style. Maybe it just appeals to me.

    p.s. I like your choice of classes! Skin tones and faces are the hardest to get right. I've seen some beautifully painted minis practically ruined by bad skin/face/eyes.

    1. Back in the early 80s when I first started playing RPGs and painting, I used to sit around the table and paint with a few buddies that were also interested in miniatures. Unfortunately we were all the same age and skill level. We had a lot of fun together but I don't think we ever learned anything from one another. I envy the fact that you had an adult to help you.

      I'm thinking about trying for ReaperCon in 2015. I've been doing some research and it seems to be more miniature focused than GenCon. Maybe I'll finally get to attend a live class there.

      I agree about the eyes. Bug-eyed, cross-eyed, beady-eyed....you get the picture; they can all ruin a perfectly good mini.

      Thanks for the comments Jim and as always, thank you for reading!

  5. Thank you for the absolutely glowing review - I'm happy that my DVD set helped you level up your skills. :)

  6. Thank you for the absolutely glowing review - I'm happy that my DVD set helped you level up your skills. :)