One of my first dragon experiences was in TSR Endless Quest Book #2 the Mountain of Mirrors as a kid. The cover depicts a frost giant and a white dragon. Weaker and not as smart or large as the other dragons, the white makes up for its inadequacies with extreme cunning and savagery. Ive always rooted for the underdog, and I guess that extends to underdragons. (Unterdrakken in german)and so my love of white dragons was sealed. I don’t remember the plot of the book, or even the dragon itself (turns out its name was Fang and it played a fairly minor role) but I added a white dragon soon afterwards to my dungeons and dragons game. The characters killed the dragon of course, in epic fashion.Many years and many white dragons later, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a new, sealed official AD&D White Dragon by Ral Partha, manufactured sometime in the late 80’s or very early 90’s. A friend gave me a shoebox full of miniatures that had been collecting dust in his closet for years, and this was one of the highlights. Join me while I build and paint Bohemian the large White Dragon.
I should re-iterate that I make no claims to being a professional miniature artist, or even very good. My focus is on doing things Quick and Easy, and using what little skill I have to best advantage. Thus if it looks like I am taking short cuts, I am! If something looks poor or below average, it probably is! The beauty of this project is that even with inferior skills, little time, and patience, but a lot of fun, I was able to create a fine looking dragon.
Out of the Box
The dragon comes in packaging typical of miniatures from that time period: a clear plastic box glued to a cardboard back. A square of gray foam helped protect it and it did its job, 20 years later and it looks as good as new, though the plastic was a little dented and crushed. The dragon came in 4 parts – the body, each wing, and a length of curling tail.
The first step was to rinse it in soap and water. This is one of those tricks I recently learned that never occurred to me back when I was a kid – preparation goes a long way towards making a better final product, and the rinsing helps the glue and paint stick better. After that I spent a bit of time cutting away any flashing or extra metal. I probably could have spent more time doing this and sanding down some seam lines, and other preparatory cleaning. There are a few spots on the dragon that could have used more work, but my laziness and impatience won out, and I did a minimum of cleaning up the metal. Notice the dragons fore-claws for a good example of flashing that should have been removed.
Gorilla Glue (white) has the advantage of rock-hard adhesion. It however has a few disadvantages such as a 30-60 minute drying time. I overcame this problem by adding a tiny speck of superglue to one area of the surface I planned on gluing, and covering the rest with a thin film of Gorilla Glue. The superglue bonded in a few seconds, and held the dragon parts firm while the Gorilla glue set up. It worked flawlessly, and when the dragon was finally together, the strength of the bond is such that I am not worried about the wings or tail coming loose.
The other possible disadvantage of Gorilla glue is that is expands A LOT as it dries. It can form huge bubbles and if one is not careful in the amount of glue one uses, it can completely distort the angle and precision of the items being glued. Trimming off the excess glue can be done during the drying process and as far as the bubbles go, where they are not on the model (like the base) they can be pressed them down with the flat of a knife or the back of a paintbrush. The bottom line is to use very small amounts for detail areas where the items need to be in a precise position, and monitor the model during the drying process for any adjustments.
The final step to preparing the white dragon is to give it a base. In the old days, the idea of bases other than whatever stub of metal the miniature came attached to was foreign to me. In the days of 3rd edition (and now 4th) the idea of the 1” or larger base has grown to the point where I feel all miniatures should be on a base that is appropriate for the size of miniature. Small and medium miniatures are on 1”square (or round) bases, while large miniatures are on 2” bases, and huge miniatures on 3” bases, etc. When deciding where to get a base, I need look no further than the recent “Essentials” boxed sets, which contain cardboard tokens for use as an alternative to miniatures. Alternative to miniatures? What nonsense is this? I will take a large token from the new Red Box and paste the G-D white dragon miniature to it, how is that for using the new lame gaming fad, tokens? It turns out the box had a perfect large white dragon token to use.
The dragon now stood tall, wings outspread and tail whipped, on its new base, ready to be given the color of life.
Another thing I have learned to do as an adult which I completely disregarded as a youth was the idea of priming. For years I bemoaned certain colors or types of paints going on splotchy, not covering areas evenly, and generally being a pain to get a good coat of paint over an area. Only years later (while modeling plastic tanks) did I make the discovery that putting on a base coat actually alleviates this very real problem! With a good base coat, the miniature becomes easier to see, imperfections and tiny details stand out better for the brush, and the even coating of the primer allows all colors, even the thinnest metallic, to cover beautifully and fully.
There are many opinions about base coats, but because I like to keep it, quick, simple, and easy, I use a base coat that is similar or identical to the final color of the miniature, when I can. In general, the lighter colors are best for priming, and for usual multi-colored miniatures I have developed a light gray base coat I use for most. For this dragon, the choice was obvious: arctic white. The paint was thick and a bit on the chalky side, but even stark white, this dragon was already looking pretty sweet.
Once the dragon was primed I let is set for a few days to insure the paint was completely dry (which should take only a few minutes to a few hours at most) and also because I wanted to look at it for a time while I decided how to go about finishing it up. Oh also, the weekend was over, and it would have to wait until another weekend rolled around before I could spend more than a few minutes admiring it and actually get to work finishing it up.
Painting the Dragon
The painting of the dragon was incredibly quick and easy, and only used about 4 colors, but before I go into this, just a note on paints. In the past, I had numerous tiny glass jars of enamel paints. A trip to the local hobby store was enough to make me realize that I would not be able to invest the many dollars required to get even a small collection started. The tiny bottles each cost over $3, and that would not work, especially since I needed EVERYTHING – brushes, thinner, etc. On the advice of a friend, I moved on to the cheap acrylic section, where I was faced with a wall of colors in larger tubes. These paints were approximately 10 times the amount of paint, for a fraction of the cost. Most of them were under a dollar.
If I had one complaint about the paints, they do not seem to mix as well with each other as my old enamel paints. I don’t know the reason for this, but often times, when mixing, I was left with an unattractive brownish miasma. This led to a second (and third) trip to the hobby store where I picked up more and more variety of color, to reduce the amount of mixing. Luckily there are literally thousands of colors of every tint and hue at the store, so regardless of what color you want, there are at least 5 to choose from.
So far, my methods have been quick and easy. During the gluing process I added simple. Now, with the paint purchase, I am adding one more trait to my list: CHEAP. The whole initial investment for my paint studio was under twenty dollars, as shown in the picture. This included 8-9 paints, 5 brushes, and a pallet. I am not including the Gorilla glue in the cost, and it was actually one of the most costly items. Good glue is not cheap.
I painted a second oat of white over the dragon, then I used three other colors. Periwinkle for the inside wings (I almost went with fuschia, tough call) I thought about making the outside of the wings another color, either periwinkle if I went fuschia on the inside, or light grey to accent the periwinkle, but in the end I left the outer wings white. It is a white dragon after all, and I wanted him to be white on white. The other colors I used were a vibrant blue for its eyes and tongue, and I painted its claws and teeth silver. Thus was the dragon painted, but not yet complete. Another couple of steps remained.
Finishing Up with a Wash and Dry
Let me just say up front here, this is my weakest point. I am not good at it, and after years of trying to get WW2 tank models to have a “weathered” look, I have to say that I am a complete failure. That said, even doing a bad job of weathering looks better than not doing anything, so I wash and drybrush as best I can.
Between the painting and the wash, I let at least a day pass. I know that the paints theoretically dry in minutes, but practice has shown me that when using water, newly applied acrylic is very susceptible to damage. Even a day later, if your brush is wet enough during the wash, some areas can be washed away, especially big protuberances and large flat areas. Here is what I do, I mix black (or occasionally some complimentary dark color) and I dilute it until it is as thin as water. Then I dip the tip of the brush into the paint, dip the tip into a glass of water, and lightly touch the tip of the brush to the area I want shaded. If I have done it right, the paint will flow out of the brush and into the crevices and corners near where I touched, and it will dry giving those areas an outline of black. If the paint is too thick, it will just glob up where you touch the brush to the miniature. If it is too thin, it will dry clear and be a waste of time.
Once the wash is done, I move directly to the drybrush. I can see the finish line, and don’t want to wait another day for drying, so I push on through. For a drybrush, I will take a lighter version of the color I want to focus on (this is hard to do on a white dragon, nothing is lighter than white, so I used white.) I get a little paint on the brush, then wipe most of it off on some paper, and lightly hit the raised and flat portions of the model.
When I was planning this paint job, I was intending on drybrushing silver on the rims and edges of the larger armor plates of the dragon hide. But as I started drybrushing, I realized white would be better. I didn’t want to make this dragon look anything like a silver dragon, and the white drybrush helped bring out the dragon darkened by the wash. I think the end results are acceptable, if not perfect. A better ‘finisher’ could have made this miniature really stand out, but I am happy with the results.
You thought we were done, but there is always one last step. In this case, it is the varnish, or protective sealant. This paint will not last long on a handled miniature without some sort of coating. They come in all shapes and sizes, from spray on to brush on, from matte, to high gloss. After experimenting with a spray matte, I was also extremely disappointed with the spray finishes. One quick squirt and a tiny miniature would be dripping with the stuff, and it would harden weird and in some cases even cause the paint to run.Im not so sure abou matte, either, it never felt totally dry, and it had no shine at all. I went back to the store and found a brush-on satin finish which I am delighted with. It gives just enough shine without making the dragon look like he is glistening wet.
There you have it, Bohemian the White Dragon from egg to major malevolence in just a few QUICK, EASY, SIMPLE, and CHEAP steps.