For over 20 years, I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons with the same core group of people. Throughout the years, we used items like army men, coins, and even a Blob action figure from X-Men: The Animated Series as our tokens on the battlefield. Luckily, as D&D became more and more popular, a mountain of high-quality miniatures have become available to the public.
And within that mountain of miniatures, there’s a smaller market of unpainted minis for people who really enjoy painting. In my years of tabletop gaming, painting minis was never something I did nor something I thought about doing. When it comes to art, I am, for lack of a better word, crappy. I don’t have a natural talent for it, and I get frustrated because of it.
So when WizKids sent me a bunch of Critical Role unpainted figures, I figured “what better time than now to see what this is all about?” What I thought was going to be a failure of hilarious proportions turned out to be one of the most serene and tranquil times I’ve felt during the pandemic. That’s not hyperbole.
I had plenty of unpainted Critical Role minis to choose from, and in case you’re interested, the single wide minis cost $5, talls cost $9, and double wide cost $15. I decided to choose something larger, as I have no idea how to paint. Could I have watched a few videos on mini painting or talk to some buddies who literally paint for a living on YouTube? Sure, but where is the fun in that? I’d rather dive in, head first, blind–much like I did while trying to watch anime for the first time.
I picked the Aeorian Reverser, as it didn’t seem like it needed an immense amount of small details. Considering this is one of the monsters from Critical Role, you can find the stat blocks for the Aeorian Reverser on page 284 of D&D: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. After learning a little more about the beast, I was nearly ready to paint.
I picked up some D&D-branded paints and a series of paintbrushes with various thicknesses, and the first thing I decided was to completely change the color scheme of the character. I didn’t want to do a paint-by-numbers here. I wanted to try and make this my own. After picking some paints that I wanted for the beast, I dove right in.
There was a bit of a learning curve right away. How much paint do I put on the brush? How do I spread it evenly on the mini? Luckily, this learning curve didn’t last long. I found my footing, and after a first coat–which didn’t go exceptionally well.
I was using the brush that came with the paint set, and had 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 highlight every little detail I missed or needed touch-ups on. In normal light, the first once-over looked pretty good.
I also wanted the base to be dynamic–something I feel like I didn’t do too hot at by the time I was finished. I did a base coat of green, followed by brown and black. I figured layering would work pretty well, as long as there isn’t a thick coat of paint. It just never looked exceptionally good to me, compared to the many pre-painted minis I already owned.
After I got 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 while I do have brushes with very fine tips, I didn’t really know where to go next. Sure, the teeth are white, a tongue is red, and the eyes can be whatever color I want, but where do I go from there?
Upon finishing those basic touches, I started doing a wash on some of the areas on the Reverser to highlight the muscles, using water and black paint. Looking back, I should have used the base color for that part of the Reverser, with some black, and watered that down. Then, I got some inspiration.
The paint should be telling a story, not just filling in the blanks. I imagined the Reverser has been murdering townspeople, and it was up to the other heroes in the party to take it down. But what would that look like? I put a red wash on its face to make it look like it was eating people. I did the same on its fists and forearms to give off the story that it was smashing people with its hands.
In the final pictures above, the paint still hasn’t completely dried, and HD cameras show off every tiny imperfection when this mini is actually two inches tall. However, throughout this experience, I realized something. Painting minis is the most relaxed I’ve been in years. I was focused and not worried about the end product while in the moment. I would sit around for a couple of hours, take a break, then come back and relax. I was away from my run-of-the-mill stresses for the day and just in the moment, painting some mythical beast created by a podcast that plays D&D.
After painting the Reverser and getting to a stopping point where I felt comfortable enough to write about this, I found myself on a Saturday night doing this all over again with another mini. Then, I found myself doing it with my son. I had accidentally stumbled on a new hobby, one of which, if I’m being completely honest, I had looked down on when I first started playing D&D in my late teens–a hilarious statement on its own merits. 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, I do. It is fun, tranquil, and a wonderful break from all the stresses of life. As far as hobbies go, 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 purchased them. Most importantly, while this is typically a lone hobby, I’ve found myself doing it with my son, at his little tiny table, talking about the monsters we were painting. Everything about this brand-new hobby of mine felt perfect. And while I may not be as talented at this as others I know that paint minis all the time, like Vee Muse, I feel really good about what I’m doing, and that’s all that really matters.