I’ve been painting miniatures almost from the start of my life as a gamer, so about 25 years at this point. I’ve painted hundreds of miniatures of all different types over the years, but until recently, I could literally count on one hand how many dragons I had completed. Sure, I have a bunch still sitting unassembled, some more that are assembled and even primed, and a few more that I’ve started but never finished; but actual painted dragons that have gotten their coat of sealer are rare in my collection. Note that I’m not even counting finished bases. If we add in that parameter, the number shrinks down… to one or two.¹ So, it is with much excitement that I share this WIP of my newest completed dragon miniature, Narthrax.
Assembly & Prepping
Narthrax comes in six pieces and is simple to assemble. The pieces fit together so extremely well that I didn’t need to do any gap-filling!
After gluing him together, I added a base from Secret Weapon Miniatures, which I’m using it for its size and shape; the surface details are all going to be covered up shortly. To make Narthax more impressive, I added a customized 3D printed rocky base, making Narthrax the first miniature I’ve completed that incorporates printed elements. It’s not a tall piece, but even the slight increase in height and overall bulk makes a fairly dramatic difference.
Placing the printed section directly on top of the sculpted details of the Secret Weapon base left a large gap around the perimeter since it doesn’t fit flush. I filled in most of it using caulk, but I left a significant part of it open on the rear side, which will come into play when I finish the base work.
After adding the caulk, I applied sand over much of the base to give it more texture. This not only makes it more visually interesting and appealing, but it also helps disguise the fact that the lower part of the rocky base is a separate addition.
Priming & Basecoating
The normal rules for priming don’t apply to Bones miniatures. Unlike other minis (even other plastic ones), spray primer doesn’t typically work because the plastic that’s used for Bones minis usually reacts with spray primers and takes an extremely long time to dry (up to several weeks, as I learned early on). The best way to prime them is using the Liners from Reaper’s Master Series.² For whatever reason, their chemical properties cause them to adhere amazingly well to the plastic used for Bones.
Planning ahead, I used Blue Liner as this would work best with the color I’ll be using for the base coat. The airbrush worked like a dream for this in terms of cutting down time and eliminating visible brush strokes. Priming also results in all of the various basing elements having a more cohesive look.
This version of Narthrax is going to be a black dragon. Without getting into a scientific explanation, in nature, colors that we perceive as “black” are rarely, if ever, truly black; in reality, they’re actually very dark shades of brown or blue. Using a pure black on Narthrax would appear too harsh and unnatural, so I went with Nightmare Black (Reaper Master Series). At full strength, it has a virtually imperceptible bluish cast, although the blue becomes readily apparent when it’s thinned down. Using the airbrush, I applied this as the basecoat over the entire model. Another first: using the airbrush for significant portions of work on a model, and not just for priming.
Ok, so I’ve technically started painting in the last step, but I’m calling this section “painting” since I’m getting into it proper now, not just priming and basecoating. I decided to finish painting the base before turning my attention to Narthrax himself.
At this point, the Pareto Principle is in full effect. The bulk of the work still remains, but the effects, despite having a noticeable impact on the finished mini, will be fairly subtle for the most part (with the exception of what I’m going to do to finish the base, once painting is entirely finished). It’s difficult to see in the photos, but I added a wash of purple (RMS Royal Purple, I think) to the top and underside of the wings at this point to give them more depth. The purple is also in a similar part of the color spectrum as Nightmare Black, so it adds more color while still having Narthrax read as a black dragon.
Next, I built up highlights over the entire mini using the Dark Elf Skin (RMS) paint triad, a series of grays with a slight hint of purple — perfect for highlighting the other colors I’ve used so far. I drybrushed all three colors at full strength over the scales, claws, spikes, and horns, with increasing amounts of pure white paint added to Dark Elf Highlight for the brightest highlights. I pushed the highlights even farther on the claws, spikes, and horns, drybrushing more layers until I was eventually using white with just a tiny amount of Dark Elf Highlight. The drybrushing was by far the most time-consuming part of painting this mini.
The last phase of painting was finishing the eyes and mouth, and touching up mistakes. I still hate painting eyes.
I used a few layers of various RMS ivory colors on the teeth, touched off with a final highlight of RMS Linen White, to give them a more yellow tone in order to differentiate them from the other light-colored spiky bits on the other parts of the mini.
Painting now complete, I gave the entire model a couple of light coats of matte spray sealer, followed by a light dusting of a semi-gloss sealer on Narthrax himself to make his scales a little shiny.
I really tried to go to town finishing the base. I used a variety of basing materials, starting with a layer of flock, followed by clumps of Super Turf, and finishing with various colors of grass tufts. Finally, in yet another first for me, I applied several layers of Woodlands Scenics Realistic Water to the gap on the rear side of the base to simulate a small stream flowing from under the rock (told you I had something planned for this part!). I’ve only just started using it in the past few months, but so far Realistic Water has proven to be some really cool stuff! I’ve been pleased with the results I’ve gotten on terrain pieces I’ve tried it on, and I really like how it looks here.
This was a really fun mini to paint. I rarely paint multiple display-quality versions of the same mini, but I could see myself painting another Narthrax in a different color at some point. There’s an enormous number of dragon miniatures available. Many of them are really good, but Narthrax is one that stands out to me for a number of reasons. He’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that he’s unwieldy — in terms of both for painting and for gaming. There are many dragon miniatures that are impressive if for no other reason than their size, but they’re too large to be used as realistic foes for anyone but the most powerful adventuring parties. Narthrax could represent a fair challenge to adventurers of various levels. And I love his dynamic pose and the sense of motion that’s captured in his sculpt. It makes it tricky to find a good angle for a picture that captures everything, but it makes it a really interesting sculpt in real life.
I haven’t painted many miniatures in the past few years, and it’s been even longer since I painted one that I’ve been this pleased with.
1. In case you’re wondering:
- The plastic dragon from the old Dragon Strike board game, painted as a black dragon. I used silver paint for his teeth and claws which I thought looked really cool at the time!
- Red Dragon II from the old “Dragon Lords” line from Grenadier — made of lead!
- The White Dragon from Ral Partha’s AD&D minis line — the only one with a completely finished base as well!
- The Black Dragon (anyone else seeing a pattern here?), also from Ral Partha’s AD&D line, sub-categorized under the “Council of Wyrms” line of miniatures.
- The limited edition Ral Partha Dracolich. (Yeah, I was a pretty big Ral Partha fan back in the day). I painted the integrated base, but I never added a decorative base, which I think it really deserves, so while it could technically be considered fully finished, it could still use some more work.
2. As originally discovered and reported by one Buglips *the* Goblin, if memory serves correct.