jessica dussault

Homemade D&D Miniatures

December 30, 2019

I used to play D&D with Daniel, an RPG enthusiast who has invested hours upon hours painstakingly painting miniatures to represent not only the party, but any potential individual or creature we might come across. When he moved out of town, cardboard chits just didn’t fill the void of his magical figures. I saw the opportunity to have a bit of fun and seized it. After many cryptic emails to party members asking about their characters’ hair and clothing, and a few weeks of testing various methods, a new brand of miniatures entered our campaign.

Jess and Wesley look at character sheet, miniatures on the table
Our longtime dungeon master, Wesley, looks over Jess's shoulder at the miniatures in action

I promised our DM, Wesley, that I would create a tutorial about how I made these little fellas in case anybody wants to try their hand at making similar miniatures.

The Original Party

After some amount of experimentation, I ultimately settled on clothespins as the base medium for the minis. What follows were the original brave adventurers who joined us on the dangerous isle of Cetaiaphus. Of their ranks, only Name saw the final adventure through, although Jacobite laid a lot of the groundwork. Not pictured: Gideon the disloyal, Casper the ghost, and Gug the pack lizard.

Allyriah the wolf, Auhrahh the air genasi ranger, and Krusk the half-orc
Allyriah the wolf, Auhrahh the air genasi ranger, and Krusk the half-orc
Jacobite the human desert druid, Ozzbecker the Aasimar warlock, and Name the half-elf cleric
Jacobite the human desert druid, Ozzbecker the Aasimar warlock, and Name the half-elf cleric

They are not perfect creations but as stand-ins for the theater of the mind they do a decent enough job. Plus, all your heroes will look cute! Your bad guys will also be very adorable.

Fig with bright red hair and a golden crest on her shirt, as well as a ghoulish grey miniature with wild hair and a bloody sword
Some miniatures pull the wild hair look off better than others...but I wouldn't tell it that to its face.

Step by Step Mini Creation

You’re gonna need some basic supplies before you get started. Below is the kit that I use. Despite picturing specific brands, I’m not endorsing a particular type, those just happen to be the cheapest option at the craft store I visited.

  1. Paper plate / cup for mixing and washing out paint
  2. Basic paintbrushes (no need for fanciness)
  3. Clothespins minus the pin part, cut to different sizes
  4. Toothpicks for detail work
  5. Budget acrylic paint in various colors
  6. Paint sealer — do not skip this!
plastic cup, paper plate, brushes, clothespins, toothpicks, paint, and sealant
The basic supplies, arrayed

The first step is to cut your clothespins. I used a bandsaw, but you could attack the problem in a number of ways, one of which would be to just simply order wooden peg dolls from somewhere online.

Once you’ve got the minis to the size you want, decide what the base color of your mini will be. I typically go with whatever their face / chest are going to be and then add the base clothing color over that.

A line of clothespin dolls in various states of painted base completion. Some are purple or mottled green.
You don't have the paint the entire base one color. In fact, I recommend spending a little more time on detail anywhere that the base coat might peek through on the final fig, like the right mini's scaly skin.

Wait for the base coat to dry. Now you can add the face at this step. I would not recommend adding details (like eyeballs) directly to the wood before there’s a base coat because the paint tends to bleed. I experimented with a few strategies but the one that works the best for me is applying the details with a toothpick.

Paint on the end of a toothpick dots an eyeball.
It's harder than you think to take a photo with one hand and paint with the other. Insert a joke here about dotting eyes and crossing Ts

Before you get too far, I recommend trying to sketch out what you want to do. I’ve decided to create some kind of cleric / paladin type character for this example.

Sketch of the front and back of a clothespin warrior
Sadly, the miniatures rarely turn out as detailed as my grand plans for them on paper

Guess our paladin needs some clothes. You may need two or three coats of paint before this layer starts looking solid. Despite the temptation, leave each one alone to dry before you start messing with another layer, or you’ll just smudge the paint around to continually reveal whatever is underneath it. Acrylic dries pretty fast so like, just go make a cup of tea or something, alright?

A miniature with shiny green paint imitating the drape of a cloak
The clothing layer, in progress

Once the layers are all done, it’s time to add a little detail work. I’ve tried using marker pens before, but I don’t find them to work as well as the ol’ toothpick and paint method.

First, I tested out a few colors with paint markers and regular paint and ultimately opted for regular paint. Fortunately, most solid colors (things you didn’t mix yourself) can be easily repainted to hide mistakes and tests.

Paint markers
Paint markers
Testing out a few colors
Testing out a few colors of marker and paint
Starting the hair
Starting the hair

One important note is, if you used paint straight out of a container for a base coat, it’s not hard to paint over mistakes. If you are mixing multiple paints together to make a particular shade, it’s a lot trickier to repaint.

Mixing paints for hair
Mixing some white, silver, and grey to make the top layer of the hair
A not very flattering closeup of the hair
A not very flattering closeup of the hair

When you are doing hair, it’s worth taking a little time to do multiple passes layering a few colors. The mini above is not an example of some of my best hair, unfortunately.

Black and white cat sitting on my lap and looking at the camera
Connie wants to feel included, but she's dubious about the activity in general

Time to add some details work. I recommend just going after your mini with a toothpick dipped in a little paint, especially for dots. You can do it for lines as well, but they are never as neat as I want them to be.

Miniature with green clothing starting to come together
Detail work definitely looks better from a distance

I skipped ahead a little bit here, because I added a tattoo and a knife / short sword without taking any photos of it. After everything is dry, and I mean REALLY dry this time not just dry enough for another coat, you can add the sealer. I’ve tried skipping sealer before but your minis will be rough to the touch and the paint can rub off. The sealer doesn’t take long to apply at all and it helps your minis survive their rough and tumble life as adventurers.

It goes on white-ish but don’t worry, it dries clear. I’ve never had a problem with it. You can get shiny or matte varieties, but I find I prefer the shiny type.

Shiny miniature coated in multipurpose sealer
Temporarily shiny during the sealing process

At this point, your miniature is ready for anything — whether that be a campaign or a layer of clothes. If you are adding yarn, cloth, sequins, twine, etc, I do it after the sealer is applied. I have typically used super glue, but be careful lest you become affixed to your miniature. I’ve also found that some materials handle super gluing better than others. For example, the gluing did not go well with ribbon for this poor woman’s hat.

Two miniatures with attached fabric.
I'm fairly sure I left my fingerprints behind on that woman's hat when the superglue soaked through the ribbon. You can see glue coming through the cloak on the right, as well.

The very first miniature I made, I thought that I needed to make arms. I ultimately have decided that the arms looked dippy and I’d rather just have floating spears and shields without any arms. You might decide you’d rather go a different direction, and that’s fine, but here’s an example of my first and only arms.

Miniature with arms painted on the sides
Long arms

Gallery of Creations

In case you need any inspiration, here are a variety of the characters that we’ve met in our journeys. First up, a couple baddies. The biggest baddies are lurking towards the end like a boss fight in your blogpost.

Skeleton miniatures
Ghoul or zombie miniatures
We ran into quite a few ghouls during our tour of a Necropolis.

Some characters could be bad or good, but our paths crossed with all sorts of groups. Note, some of the soldiers’ faces are when I learned a lesson about putting detailed paint on bare wood.

Assortment of figs including tattoos, anvil, and armor
Gideon, Paggan, an unnamed smith, Matthias, and another unnamed character.
Soldier miniatures
The paladin in the middle was actually briefly a player character, but otherwise these are generic soldiers. I thought silver ribbon would look like cool armor for the fella on the right, but actually it looks like his enemies rolled him up and are going to dump him in a river.
Tabaxi or cat miniature
My friend Kelsey played a Tabaxi, Murr. I was pretty happy with how his face came out.
Tabaxi or cat miniature
I had fun giving Murr “Trill” style markings down his sides.
Pale miniature with horns and claws, a miniature created by pouring paint over it, and a plain fig with googly eyes
A tiefling, the Technicolor Swordsman, and an, goat, that Parker used his "rose tinted necromancy" on

So far, I have never yet needed this miniature in a campaign but I. CAN’T. WAIT.

Beholder created with pipecleaners and beads that look like eyeballs
Closeup of the beholder's face
Closeup of the swirly shades of dark green and bright yellow that make up the skin
A closeup of the textured skin of the beholder

Sometimes, you need something of a slightly grander scale. Then it’s time to get out the pipecleaners.

Pipecleaner shark
"You better believe there's a giant shark in an underwater session!"
Pipecleaner dragon
Cyrnaxus the dragon was made to scale against the miniatures. Fortunately, we never actually had to fight him (phew)

Storage and More

With the exception of Crynaxus and Sharky, all of my miniatures and their accoutrements fit into a case I picked up at the craft store which was intended for beads / jewelry pieces. I have ended up with other pieces besides the miniatures riding around in it, like a giant cotton ball spider, bones that I got from a “dig your own giant sloth” paleontology kit, and lots of mirrors and colorful buttons that can be used to mark status (poisoned, asleep, etc).

jewelry tote full of figs
Storage and transport
Buttons, cottonball spiders, bones, and mirrors

I hope that this post is inspirational for any of you sitting at home who have been looking for a strange and niche hobby! Best of luck with your inevitably cute creations.