What it takes to paint (anything) is a steady hand. Until you get your "hand", where it stops trembling and shaking because you are holding it out in an uncommon position, you are not going to be very decent in painting a 28mm figure or a portrait either. But, this article is not about how to steady your hand (only practice can do that), this is about how easy painting a 6mm figure really is.
First, a few notes. Most of the pictures that follow are magnified. The detail you can see much more than the naked eye can really discern. I point that out because painting "defects" look really bad in magnified pictures; the defects are, well, magnified!
I paint under a magnifier lamp, such as these on Amazon. Don't misunderstand: I do not do this because they are 6mm figures; I do not for all figure painting, including my 42mm troops. It is just easier on the eyes because it lights the subject and makes the details pop.
Here I have mounted three figures to a base, primed them, and laid down a layer of light brown sand to the base using white (PVC) glue. I used to prime all of my figures in black, but I have started moving away from that practice. In this example, I used a dark gray, but later experiments showed that a dark navy blue was even better. The idea is to prime using a darker version of the major color. We are going to use that primer color as a separator between other colors to help make them pop.
So, what's a spotter brush? It is a brush for making "spots" with paint, so the tip will not be "mushy". You make a spot by putting paint on the tip, moving the point of the brush straight onto the area where the paint it to be applied and press gently. Because the tip is firm, the spot should not be much larger than the tip of the brush.
Here I have applied two spots of white paint, one on the tip of each boot (areas circled in green; click to enlarge the photo, if necessary). If you refer back to the first photo you can see the figure's boots quite easily.
By the way, did I forget to mention that I am painting these as Ultramarine Space Marines? Blue and white will be the primary colors used, which is why I might have been served better with a dark navy blue as the primer.
Above you can see the unit before flocking (below, after flocking) at a distance where you would be looking at the table. You can discern the blues and the whites just pop. You can see the two halves of the helmet, and thus their "eyes" can be imagined. Any mistakes you made in the edging on the shoulder guards is just not discernable, but the detail absolutely pops off of the table and makes the figure. The heavy weapons team, with its red helmets and designator on their backpack, make them easy to pick out from the crowd. (The single figure is the Sergeant.)
In case you are wondering what rules I am using the answer is: I am not sure yet! The good thing about 6mm figures are that they are cheap enough, and quick enough to paint, that if you are not trying to get crazy with building huge armies for every game it is very doable to actually have figures painted and based for multiple systems. For example, I have these figures also painted and based singly, for 6mm skirmishing (see my battle report for In the Emperor's Name). That is going to be, maybe, 12 figures, per force type, per side. So, unless you have really extensive choices that is maybe 50-75 figures, which equates to about $20. Singly-based figures would also be usable for a Command & Colors type game where four single figures represents a unit.
These figures are to test out three company-level rules sets – Poor Bloody Infantry, Crossfire, and Five Core's Company Command – the first two of which I have had for quite some time and have wanted to play. Each stand can represent a portion of a squad (Poor Bloody Infantry) or the squad itself (Crossfire and Company Command). For Poor Bloody Infantry I would need about double or triple that to play a very basic game, while this represents the starter game for Crossfire and Company Command. (Guess which one will probably get played last?) So this basing scheme would probably require 36 figures per side for a starter force. Quadruple that to have some choices and you are looking at a $50 expenditure.
One of the reasons people look towards 6mm is reduce the space required for playing a game. I can understand that sentiment, given that I once lived full-time in an RV for more than three years. When I tell you that space was tight, I am not kidding. My typical gaming space was a standard 30" x 40" foam core board – an example of which can be seen here in one of my old 15mm DBAWI battle reports – so 6mm figures seem ideal for this. That said, I am one of those people that like to see figures a little more realistic to the ground scale. To be honest, that is one of factors that turned me off about Flames of War. The figure density on the table was just too high. It was not the number of units bought, but rather the number of figures on the small base sizes they used. I think that if I had played Flames of War with 6mm figures on 15mm base sizes I would have been much happier. (Tanks would have to be put on bases too, in order to ensure that they don't go tread-to-tread in an even smaller area, of course.) For me, now, that is why I keep coming back to 6mm: I use 15mm basing sizes and I find the figure density more aesthetically pleasing, at least for the modern era. Plus it is cheaper and I can paint the figures to an acceptable standard faster. That, and I can have figures based for multiple systems and not really fret over "wasting" figures.
Another aspect of 6mm aesthetics is proportionality. Most wargamer's pre-modern armies have their width to depth all wrong. Many rules acknowledge that by setting a unit's frontage to match a ground scale – for example saying that a battalion's real-world frontage is about 125 yards and setting the ground scale to 6" equals 125 yard, thus making the battalion's bases come out to a width of 6" – but the rules rarely reconcile that the unit's depth will be far greater in miniature than it real life. In the example scale, each inch would be about 21 yards, which would make a battalion about 1/2" in depth. Given than many pre-modern rules want double-ranked figures for aesthetic purposes, there is no way for them to fit, unless you are using the smaller scales.
Of course, another reason for 6mm is to get a "mass effect" by using large numbers of figures. I won't speak to that because: 1) I have never seen it implemented, so I have not been bitten by that bug; and 2) it sort of flies in the face all of my reasons above. Although I have 6mm for the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian War periods, I do not feel that I have been really successful in using them in those periods. Maybe that is because I still have not settled on rules that I like, so I keep re-basing them?
Well, my goal was not to "sell" you on 6mm, but to address some of the common objections that I have personally heard and read online regarding this scale. It may not be the be-all, end-all scale for me, but certainly it serves its purpose. I believe it looks better than paper, top-down counters (like with board games), and when the figure counts are low and the ground scale large (such as with Memoir '44 and the like). Larger figures with very small buildings just don't look right ...
If you were thinking about 6mm, especially regarding painting them, I hope this helped. If you have a painting hand at all, the scale really won't matter. Just get a magnifier lamp (you should have one anyway), smaller brushes, and paint with good flow (I use Liquitex Flow Aid to thin acrylic paints) and give it a try. If you like Science Fiction, Onslaught Miniatures has a really nice line of figures where the details are cast on and these techniques work well. Sometimes you can find the old GW Epic figures on eBay pretty cheaply too. I have a ton of them still, which is why I turn to them to playtest out new modern game systems.
The next post I hope to show my other interest – also a holdover from my RV days – paper miniatures. I think LitkoAero may have finally come up with a sensible paper figure base that is far better than their previous paper counter stand. More on that when the bases arrive.