Wednesday, 30 January 2013

WIP : Works in Progress

At the moment, you may be wondering why there aren't many pics of my latest paintjobs up on the blog.  After all, I've been painting, haven't I?

Well, there's two reasons for this.  One, I've got some fresh pics of some recently (and not-so-recently) completed models.  However, I'm no professional photographer, and other than a really brief intro course to Photoshop that I took about a decade ago, I don't know much about editing pics for online publication.  So, what I've done is take some pics with my wife's Nikon D60 SLR, and have sent them to a buddy of mine who is a semi-pro photographer (I say "semi-pro", as he still needs his other job to pay the rent).  Once I get the pics back, I'll post them up here, along with his email address if you need any similar work done.  Not to worry, he's not going to town on them (ie, he's not "cheating" the pics much like the editors at Maxim and Playboy like to do with their models), he's just trying to get the colours to be true to the actual models.

Below is a quick pic of my photo booth setup.  It's a portable setup I got at Staples years and years ago, and it does a decent job, although I think there are better setups out there now:

The booth is set up inside my painting cabinet.  That means all painting comes to a stop while I'm taking pics... it's a pain in the butt, and part of the reason why I haven't done any step-by-step painting tutorials yet.  It's just such a hassle to clear a space, set up the booth, set up the camera and tripod, and then reset my painting station once the pics are done.

The reason I set it up in there is that I've found that my painting lamps work pretty well for photo purposes.  I've got two of your standard desk lamps in there, with halogen daylight bulbs installed (they give off a nice "white" light, rather than the yellow-ish light from most bulbs).  The top light gets diffused nicely through the ceiling of the booth, while I use parchment paper on the front lamp to diffuse the light there.

While a SLR camera is not necessarily a must (I've taken great pics with my tiny Canon Elph, after playing around with the white-balance settings), the tripod is essential.  Put the camera on a 2-5 second delay, hit the button, and you will get blur-free shots every time.  With such a tiny subject, not even the best anti-vibration mechanism will be able to compensate for hand shake.

The second reason for not having any new pics of my works up is that I have project ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  I keep starting projects, then lose steam and focus, only to get all fired up about a brand new project.  Thus, I almost never manage to actually FINISH anything.  Here's a bunch of WIP (Work In Progress) shots of projects that have been abandoned like illegitimate children at a Catholic orphanage:

These Dark Eldar Mandrakes are only two of 5 models I started up for my army.  I reasoned that this would be a quick project that I could complete in only a session or two, thus building momentum and enthusiasm for the rest of the army.  Suffice to say, I got as far as cleaning the models, prepping them, giving them a black undercoat, with a light spritz of white primer from above to help me visualize the shadows and highlights.  I've got TONS of models that have only reached this stage...

This is a tower from the ancient "Battlemasters" boardgame (really old vets will recognize this guy).  I think it was a game designed by Games Workshop way back in the day, but licensed and produced by Milton Bradley (I could be wrong though).  I knew plenty of people who bought the box set just to get tons of cheap Empire and Chaos models, as well as this fantastic piece of terrain.  I managed to pick this tower up from a second hand sales table at a local convention for $8.  It was much much better than it had any right to be... considering it came from a toy company with lower standards than any gaming company would have had.  It went together very well, it seems nice and robust, and is sitting on my projects shelf with several shades of black to white.  This was my first terrain piece that I attempted with my airbrush... still not sure what I think of it though.  The near side presented in the photo was given a quick wash of black ink, after I had sprayed a coat of Purity Seal varnish all over the model.  The varnish was to make the surface a bit slicker, in the hopes that the ink would settle in the cracks and crevasses of the model better.  It wasn't exactly a wondrous success, which led to me shelving the project (for the meantime).

This is another component of my half-heartedly started Dark Eldar army.  I gave these guys / girls a basecoat applied by airbrush, a quick spritz from above with a slightly lighter tone for a hint of a highlight.  The two models to the left had their armour highlights finished off, while the other two are still waiting for some more work.  The flesh loinclothes were painted up with a recipe of colours taken from the 'Eavy Metal Masterclass book (the purple shading glaze was quite the revelation to me, coming out much better than I had expected), and the rest of the models were finished up in colours that seemed worth trying out at the time.  Not so sure about that now... likely I'll redo the guns in completely different colours.  I also started painting the exposed face on the left-most model (basecoat and ink wash only so far), but I'm not liking where it's going... I'm probably going to redo it in much lighter colours... eventually.

This was a Dark Elf Sorceress model I started working on for my Fantasy Dark Elf army.  Again, this army is barely any further along than my Dark Eldar army.  It wasn't until I started painting this model that I realized that somewhere along the way, one of her fingers had broken off.  With a resigned sigh, I decided to carry on painting her anyway.  The skin is turning out a bit too warm for me (like she's spent a few weeks in Mexico), and the red that I used for a basecoat seems a bit too earthy in tone.  A few more highlights might fix this, and then I can go on to finishing the rest of her clothing, staff, and base.  One day...

An old Rackham Tir Na Bor dwarf that I started about 6-7 years ago, and has been languishing ever since.  I can't even bear to go back to this one... I don't even paint flesh the same way any more... I would probably either finish it off with a quickie paintjob, or redo the whole thing from the beginning.  Sigh.

Another Tir Na Bor dwarf.  Some preliminary shading going on.  I abandoned this project just after abandoning the other dwarf, only to go back to it about a year ago.  What I was trying to do was see if Matthieu Fontaine's contrasted metallics techniques would work on this kind of model.  If you compare the sword blade from the front (basecoat only) to the shot from the back (shaded with pure matt black and highlighted with the lightest metallic paint I had at the time), you can see the massive amount of contrast and implied shine that his technique had.  I was very impressed.  After proving to myself that it worked, I move on to other projects... perhaps one day this guy will get the finishing paintjob that he deserves...

Tabletop quality (non competition) models painted for my Sisters of Battle army (which has somehow won more than a few "Best Painted Army" awards).  Not bad, and oh so close to being finished.  The banner really intimidates me... friends of mine have come to expect some neat freehand stuff from time to time, and I can't muster up the courage to do something crazy here.  I think I'll need a major kick in the butt to get this done...

Sisters of Battle Rhino / Immolator Armour Personnel Carrier.  Airbrush basecoat, a little hint of airbrushed highlights, and then the start of some brushed in shading.  In order to achieve a vibrant contrast with the shades, I started with a dark blue instead of black, and only used black for the absolutely deepest recesses.  This is stupidly time consuming work, and since I have project ADD...

Sister of Battle Cannoness.  The leader of my army, so I needed to take my time with her.  Shading done like the APC above.  Metallics done like the dwarf above.  Sword blade was done with an airbrush, and finished off with painstaking brushwork.  I will probably have to rework the pistol to incorporate some green in there somehow, otherwise the bright sword unbalances the composition somewhat.  Green on the base will help too.  I should repaint the fur collar to a dark brown, otherwise the white hair gets a bit lost.  Banner needs completion... it's just roughed in, and needs some serious time to polish it up.  Again, it's time consuming work, and at this point I was really getting bored of working on her, so...

Anyway, lots of projects on the go.  Hopefully I can finish something someday, but I thought I'd take a few quick pics with my Canon Elph to show you all.  The most likely scenario is that some painting competition will come along, and that will motivate me enough to pick a project and finish it.  And while some of these models look like they're coming along pretty well, if I need to get them competition ready, I'm going to have to take some more pics, blow them up to the point where I can see every little mistake, and rework entire areas.  Keep in mind that most of the actual models are just over an inch in height... blowing them up to the size of your monitor is likely doing the paintjob no favours whatsoever.

Please comment and ask any questions you like.  I'll try my best to answer them.  Suggestions would be welcome as well.

And the real reason I can't get any models photo-ready / finished:

Monday, 28 January 2013

Drop-in Painting Clinic at GottaCon in Victoria... with Yours Truly!

 GottaCon - Victoria BC Gaming Convention logo

Just a quick mention that I will be running a drop-in miniature painting clinic on Saturday and Sunday of this upcoming weekend.  It all takes place at GottaCon in Victoria, B.C.  Not only will I be at your disposal, ready to answer your questions, offer feedback and pointers on your paintjobs, and able to demonstrate just about any technique and tool at my disposal, but I will also be judging the painting competition. 

So if can make it out to Victoria this weekend, bring your models, bring your brushes, and bring a few paints.  I would love it if you pulled up a chair and took advantage of me (in all the ways that my wife would allow, of course).  This is NOT a formal lesson... this is for painters of ALL levels to come by and get constructive feedback in a friendly fashion, and hopefully together we can get your skills to the next level.

I've attended the last 2 GottaCons, and they have been a blast.  Whether you're into video games, RPG's, miniature games, card games, board games, or any other kind of game, this is definately the place to check out.  Great vendor area, great events, interesting guest speakers, and generally a fun atmosphere.

Hope to see you there.  For anyone who misses out, I'll be taking pics and posting them up here afterwards.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Quickie Paintjob: Christmas Tree Ornament

Just a quick pic and post of a miniature I quickly painted up for a friend of mine.  Phil's an old roommate of mine, and one of the moderators of Warseer.  He's also one of the nicest guys out there, and incredibly knowledgeable about just about everything (although military history is a particular specialty of his). And while he's a member of the Canadian military, he looks nothing at all like this:

Anyway, he and his wife invited us to their Christmas party, and rather than show up empty handed, I quickly painted up a spare Space Marine model I had kicking around.

It was supposed to be a Christmas tree ornament, and it was supposed to take about an hour or two tops.  Instead, I got a bit carried away experimenting and practicing my blending, and it ended up taking about 4 hours the night before the party.  The wire in the back is a paper clip drilled into the backpack, and I attached a loop of fishing line to it later.  I also added snow effects to the base, used a Christmas-y colour scheme, and freehanded a snowflake on one shoulder pad, and a Christmas tree on the other.  The "12" and "25" represent December 25th, to further reinforce the Christmas theme.  The model also needed some sparkle in order to catch the eye (the whole thing is only about an inch tall), so I used a mix of bronze and gold paint on the rim of the base, and gave that another coat of gloss varnish for extra shine.

It's a total geek gift, and I probably got more of a kick out of making it than Phil and his wife will get from putting it up on their tree.  However, in this day of crap made-in-China assembly line consumer crap throwaway gifts, I decided to apply a bit of personal effort and do something up by hand.  Yes, I know the model itself was pooped out of an injection-molding machine somewhere in the UK, but at least the paintjob and detailing was done with the finest Kolinsky sable brush and japanese precision made airbrush.  All inexpertly applied by myself.

Inspiration: Filing pics away for future study

While surfing the Net, I often come across pics of that warrant further study... you can tell at a glance that they deserve more than a cursory inspection in order to pull the most inspiration out of them.  Often it's of a model paintjob or conversion that I need to visually dissect for curiosity's sake, or perhaps try and reverse engineer the process ("Hmmm... how DID they do that!?").  Sometimes it's a pic of something NOT in the miniature painting world... a real life example of rust on an old tank, a forest floor in winter time, etc.

When I come across pics like that, I'll save the pic to my hard drive and file it away under one of many folders I've created.  Organized thusly, when it comes time to do a project, I'll look into the relevant folders to get some ideas on how I want to proceed with it.  For example:

When I came across this pic of an armoured Tir Na Bor dwarf by Bohun, I knew I had to try this scratched metal effect on one up my upcoming projects.

Apologies for the crap unedited quality of the pic.  I've got a photographer friend of mine working on editing a batch up these, and I'll have them up soon.  In any case, not knowing exactly how Bohun did the scratches on his paintjob, I experimented with thin black lines, followed by an ever finer underline in the brightest silver paint I could find.  This was to try and convey some depth to the scratch... the dark line would be the shadow, and the light line would be the light catching on the bottom edge of the deep furrow.  You can see I applied this technique to the metal headlight covers, the viewing port armour, and the bottom covers of the exhausts.  Of course, I got lazy and didn't apply the same technique to some other metal areas... namely the pintle-mounted bolter and the exhaust tips.  I could also have tried doing it to the black and red areas as well, but I decided to go for paint chipping effects instead.

The penny was in there just to show scale of the model.  When showing pics of models to friends / family members who aren't familiar with miniature painting, it's often good to show them just how small the models are, otherwise it's hard to understand just why we spend so much time adding extra shading and highlighting to a model in order to trick the eye into believing the model is a full scale tank / person / whatever.

Interesting note about the Canadian penny: The Royal Canadian Mint just discontinued production of them last year, so the nickel will be the smallest denomination coin from now on, and they also f*cked up when they tried to put a relief pic of the Canadian maple leaf on it... professional arborists have now confirmed that the leaf they used was actually one from a Sycamore tree, NOT the maple leaf (symbol of Canada).

Sorry... that was my Sheldon moment (for you fans of The Big Bang Theory).  As my buddies at work like to remind me, I'm a veritable font of useless knowledge.

Anyway, lugging my computer over to my paint station is out of the question, and printing full colour pics of each inspiration pic would get expensive, so I often transfer the pics to my BlackBerry Playbook (but an iPad would work just as well).  While sitting and painting, I'll whip out my Playbook every so often to refresh my memory, and study the pics in further detail.  The portability of my tablet is also an asset, as I am often working on my models away from home (in gaming stores, at friend's places, classrooms, conventions, etc.).

So, instead of just surfing the Net, try collecting pics from all over, and use them as references to inspire your next project.  I often get all fired up and intensely motivated when I see something I've GOT to try out for myself, and that means more time at the painting table.  More time at the painting table means more practice, and more practice almost always means more skill developed.

But don't just slap away with a loaded brush.  Really look at your reference pics, study the cr*p out of them, dissect them in your mind, and then formulate a plan.  It may work out, it may not, but at least you'll be painting.  Often things work out brilliantly on the third or fourth try, very rarely on the first.  Patience is the key, but at least with a reference pic you've got something of a roadmap to success.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My work space: Studio in a box

Just thought I'd toss up a quick post about my painting workspace.  I've painted miniatures in all sorts of places: on the dining table, in a number of games stores, on home office desks, in my old studio, even on hotel room side tables (last minute revisions to contest entries at out-of-town conventions).  Really, there's only a few things you need to get half decent results while painting... someplace to sit, plenty of lighting, and access to paints, brushes, and other tools.  However, if you plan on making miniature painting one of your major time wasters (er, I mean, "hobbies and pastimes"), then you need to set up a place where you can paint comfortably.  You need to have a space where you can enjoy painting.

However, space is often an issue for most of us.  While I've had the luxury of having a dedicated art studio space back in my professional painting days, it's not really that easy when you're carving out a niche at home.  Especially when home is a fairly tiny "2 + den" 920 square foot condo (Vancouver is the 2nd most expensive place to live in the world based on average income... right after Hong Kong.  A 900sq ft plus change condo located in the far end of town goes for almost half a million dollars, and that's Canadian... which is doing much better than the US dollar most days. A detached home with yard in my neighborhood starts at about $1.2 million).

So, what does a married father do when he lives in a shoe?  Most people set up a temporary painting space on the dining table.  You spread a couple of newspapers down on the surface, clamp down some desk lamps, unpack all your supplies, and go ahead and paint until dinner time.  Then you box everything back up and tuck it all away in the back of your closet.  Often the set up and tear down take almost as long as your painting session.

If you are lucky enough to get a tiny corner of the home to set something permanent up, it's usually considered an eyesore by your non-hobbyist significant other.  Also, it's easily disturbed by children and pets.  Generally speaking, hobby knives and 4 year old kids don't play well together.  Paint is slightly more child and pet friendly, but your home might not enjoy being redecorated that often.

What I've got is something much nicer.  While not as luxurious as my old studio space, it works extremely well in my home.

It's a bit hard to make out from the pics, but I've got a corner wardrobe, configured as a computer desk.  It's set up in the "den" part of my condo (I use the term, "den" loosely... the space is half the size of most walk-in closets).  I've managed to cram two bookcases, the corner wardrobe, and a display case in there, with just enough room left over for two cat litter boxes.

Yes, I said litter boxes.  We've got two gargantuan cats the size of small beagles, one of which is diabetic.  That means he is in the room every few minutes, voiding his bladder.  Both of them are mongrels of some crazy combination of husky cat DNA (part jaguar, perhaps), and we also loved them with food a bit too much when we first got them years and years ago.  Yeah, it's one of the big drawbacks to the space, but I've learned to put up with it.

In any case, it's a miniature man/cat cave.  The wife is good with the setup, as we can close the door when guests arrive, and on top of that, I can close the doors to my studio in a box.  This keeps "the eyesore" out of sight, and also keeps my mess nicely enclosed and protected from the dust kicked up by the cat's litter boxes.

The great thing is that I spend a minimal amount of time with set up and tear down, since all I really have to do is open the doors up, swing the lamp arms out, and get painting.  Afterwards, I clean my brushes, turn everything off (lamps, airbrush compressor, etc.), and close the doors.  Simple, and quick.

I could easily see this kind of setup in a master bedroom or even a corner of the family room, if you don't have a spare space in your home.  If my bookshelves in the room were a bit tidier and organized, I daresay this space would be almost presentable (albeit with the help of some Febreeze).

I even keep an old laptop in the pullout drawer, along with a desk organizer I use for various tools (exacto blades, files, airbrush cleaning supplies, etc.).  The top shelves hold half finished projects, baskets of bits, spray cans, solvents, containers of pigments and mediums, and a few pods of really old paintballs (my other big hobby).

On the insides of the doors, I often post pics of things that inspire my current projects.  Sometimes I'll download a pic off the Net, print it out, then tack it to the cork boards there.  Other times I'll put up flyers of upcoming conventions and contests, along with the date I need to finish a certain project by.  My colour wheel is in there, for easy access and reference too.  And a few flashes (shoulder patches) from work, just to remind me where my real paycheques come from.

I'm also considering rigging up some sort of latch and padlock setup on the doors, so that I can really secure the wardrobe against unauthorized access to all daddy's toys.

I've also secured all the bookcases, display cases, and other tall furniture to the walls, in case of earthquakes (somewhat likely, as Vancouver is located on an earthquake fault) and monkey children (very likely, as my 4 year old loves to climb anything he can).

Anyway, I realize that I am quite messy and chaotic when I work, and my work space reflects that.  However, having a designated (and well defined) space tends to contain my mess... which is what my wife likes best about my setup.  It could be cleaner yet... perhaps some doors on my bookcases to hide the rest of the clutter, but overall it's much better than laying it all out on the dining room table.

Hopefully this post has given a few of you some ideas.  Our hobby is a demanding one, and no two people approach it in the same manner.  However, this way has worked out fairly well for me as a low-compromise solution.

Friday, 18 January 2013

SST #2: Taking Care of Your Brushes

One thing I've noticed during some of the painting lessons I've conducted was the poor condition of many painter's brushes.  Painting is hard on brushes, which is not suprising considering that the working end of it is just a bunch of hairs held together with glue and a metal crimp.  After only a few models, those hairs are subjected to more abuse than Steve Carrell's chest in "40 Year Old Virgin".

Since I always advocate buying the best brushes you can get your hands on (either the Windsor and Newton Series 7 brushes, or the Raphael 8404 Kolinsky Sable Brushes, but I've also had some success with the new GW Kolinsky sable brushes too), you're paying a premium for premium results, so you want your brushes to last.  Here are a few tricks and tools that are pretty much common knowledge for many painters, but not all:

1) Try not to let the paint go past the metal ferrule. You should work with the first half to perhaps 2/3rds of the way up the bristles.  If your paint reaches the metal ferrule (the metal shaft crimping the hairs together, it can work it's way into the base of the hairs.  Once the paint dries in there, it will push the hairs apart and your brush will start to splay out.  Now, don't panic if wet paint gets in there... just remember to rinse your brush thoroughly before the paint dries in there.

2) Don't use hot water to rinse your brushes.  The hairs are held together with glue and sealed with the metal ferrule.  Heat will soften the glue, causing the hairs to get misaligned.  Room temperature water should be good enough, unless it's an old drybrushing brush that doesn't need to hold a decent point.

3) When drying your brush on paper, drag it near-parallel to the paper, while giving it a slight twirl at the same time.  You don't want to mash the end of your brush on the paper, splaying the hairs all over the place.  By gently dragging it almost parallel to the surface of the paper, the paper will draw moisture from the brush, without damaging the bristles.  A slight turning of the brush while doing this will cause the hairs to form a nice point at the same time.  Also, see if the brush is leaving any colour on the paper.  If so, it'll probably need another quick rinse in clean water.  Any pigment still in the bristles usually means there's still a trace of paint in there, which can dry and damage the hairs.

4) Use brush soap at the end of a painting session to really clean the hairs.  Just like the hair on your head, a gentle soap will ensure any oils, greases, and dirt will be released from the hairs of your brush, making sure they're nice and clean for your next painting session.  I like to use Masters Brush Cleaner or Mona Lisa Pink Soap.  Both work amazingly well, although I'm finding the pink soap marginally easier to use than the solid block of soap in the Masters container, since you don't have to wet it down first.

After every other painting session or so, or if your next painting session will be a very long time from now, I recommend you give your brushes a good rinse (under room temperature water, of course) in the sink, gently massaging the hairs with your fingertips.  Before you lay them out to dry, work a tiny bit of hair conditioner into them.  Yes, I said hair conditioner... the same stuff you (or your significant other) uses in the shower.  What's good for your luxurious mane should be good for the tail hairs of the Siberian Mink (the poor bastard lost a chunk of his rearmost end so that you could paint miniature masterpieces).  Form the brush (with the conditioner) into a nice point, and it'll hold it's shape when dry, as well as strengthen the hairs and keep them supple for your next paint session.  Remember to give it a good rinse before using it again.  I'm partial to Pantene Pro, but that's just because I really like to spoil whatever hairs have been loyal enough to my head to stick around.

5) Trim away any hairs that refuse to form a point.  Most of the time, these traitorous non-conforming bastards will weaken at the base and break off on their own, but if they don't, take some pointy scissors and just cut them away from your brush.  If you don't, these f*ckers will make a mess of whatever part of the model you're trying to paint.  Like the hairs that grow too long for your ears and nose, I advise you kill them with extreme prejudice.

Anyway, I hope that helped.  In the end though, no brush lasts forever, no matter how much you love and nurture them.  Best case scenario, they get skinnier and skinnier as they lose a few of the weaker hairs, while maintaining a nice sharp point.  Typically though, it just gets harder and harder to maintain a nice point, and then they're good for nothing but drybrushing, mixing paints, and perhaps as chopsticks for really tiny hands and even tinier appetites.

When this happens, go out and treat yourself to a new brush to replace it.  You deserve it, and nothing is more frustrating (and time consuming) than struggling to do a decent paintjob with a crappy brush.  Our painting time is limited and valuable, and our models are not cheap either, so it pays to use the best tools we can get our hands on.  It'll save time and money in the long run, and you'll be happier with the end results.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Stupidly Simple Tips #1 : Good, Cheap Water Pots

In yet another effort to keep my poor neglected blog updated on a more regular basis, I've decided to post a series of super short posts I like to call, "Stupidly Simple Tips".  These are just little things that I've done a certain way, for so long, that I no longer give them much thought anymore.  Some things will be certain techniques, or methods, or even tools that many painters have been doing that seem to make painting life a little bit simpler.  Many of them you will already know, and some will be minor little "eureka!" moments for you.  Nonetheless, I hope that some will be of some help to you in your mission to become a better painter.

SST #1: My Favourite Cheap Water Pots
The Games Workshop store I used to work at long ago (Games Workshop Metrotown, based in the Metrotown mall in Burnaby B.C., within spitting distance of Vancouver) used to have a small painting table for staff and customer use.  Our painting placemats were comic book backing boards covered in comic bags (made for a decent disposable palatte too), and our wash water pots were simply plastic disposable cups (like you get for picnics or for crappy watered down beer at a sporting event).  They were fine in many cases... cheap, disposable, and held just enough water for a brief painting session.  However, they had many drawbacks.

First of all, they barely held any water at all.  We found ourselves changing the water out on a constant basis.  I guess this is a good thing for painting discipline... after all, you SHOULD be changing out your wash water whenever you change colours, or go from a flat colour to a metallic (metallic paints have little shiny particles in them that will contaminate your other paints).  However, the reality is that if you're on a roll, the last thing you want to do is to disrupt your painting momentum by going to the bathroom (or other sink) every 5 minutes.  A larger water container is required for power painting sessions.

Secondly, they seemed to always tip over.  Since the base was much narrower than the top lip circumference, that meant that they were always top heavy when full.  One remedy was to only fill them half way, but that only exacerbated the lack of water capacity problem.  Knocking over your water every time the table shook, or you were too focused on your model and tried a "no-look" swish of your brush in the water pot to clean it, was a major pain.  Stopping painting, especially to clean up your paint station, was a major waste of time, and really blunted any creative momentum you had built up.

At home, I found two cheap alternatives that worked much better.

First was the empty margarine / cream cheese / etc. container.  It was shorter and wider in body than the tall plastic beer cup, which meant it held a greater volume of water, and was very stable.  No more knocked over cups, fewer trips to the bathroom.  Also, it didn't resemble a drinking vessel, so I wouldn't accidentally drink from it if it was next to my cup of Diet Pepsi, or accidentally swish my paint-laden brush into my Diet Dr. Pepper.  Also, a big bonus was that I could use the upside down lid as a painting palatte that was easily washable and reusable.  On top of that, if I needed to take a short break from painting, I could turn my painting palatte rightside up, and use it as a lid for my water pot (it's original purpose).  If I came back to painting soon enough, the humidity inside the magarine container would actually keep the paint on my palatte fresh, and I could resume painting without wasting paint.

The only drawback to the magarine container was that they probably didn't look all that professional in a store's painting table... something about using my old recycled plastic containers plastered with nutritional info (or lack of nutrition, for that matter) would probably have been vetoed by my GW store manager.  Still, at home or on the road, it worked damn fine.

My other go-to water container is a large leftover jar.  Something smaller than a pickle jar, but not too small. I find that spagetti sauce jars seem to work fairly well.  Not only am I environmentally friendly again with the reuse of an otherwise discarded item, but it also holds a decent amount of water, is nice and stable (the weight helps), and the bonus is that the glass jar is transparent, allowing you to easily see how dirty your water is, and if there are too many floaties in it to continue painting with (I'm talking about bits of dried paint and metallic particles, not the other stuff, you sicko).

Again, you can use the old lid to seal the jar when you step away from your painting station (although it's a bit small for use as a palatte), keeping the water from evaporating or having dust contaminating it.  And if you're worried about looking like you're sponsored by "I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Butter" (as you would with the magarine container), the paper labels come off easily if you run the jar in the dishwasher one or two times.  I daresay this would work great in a store setting too.

That being said, I am becoming a big fan of wet palattes (which I will get into in a later blog post).  Right now, I'm using a converted P3 wet palatte (the only "original" component in mine is the container... both the foam and parchment paper have been replaced with the real art-store equivilants), but still using a glass jar for my wash water pot.

Anyway, if you're still using a dinky little plastic cup, give the magarine container and / or the glass jar a try.  Like all my Stupidly Simple Tips, it won't turn you into a Golden Demon painter overnight, but it might make life a tiny bit easier and painting a teeny bit more enjoyable.