2021 Benchmark Model Dwarf final paint job
2021 Benchmark Model: dwarf final paint job

2021 Benchmark Model Comparison

When working on improving any skill or hobby, oftentimes it is hard to gauge personal growth. You can become so deeply focused in your task that having the capability to step back and gain a larger perspective is difficult. Or in some cases the improvement may be so small or subjective it is hard to determine any improvement at all. This can lead to frustration, lack of motivation or even burn out.

How can you to solve this problem?

Last January I set out to try to solve this issue. I painted a benchmark miniature figure so that I may judge my improvement over the course of one calendar year. This benchmark was at that time the very best I could do in painting a miniature. I set no time limit and poured myself into it. The primary goal was to test if I could see a before and after of how far I developed as a miniature painter. 

So what is a benchmark?

Something that can be used as a way to judge the quality or level of other, similar things.

Merriam Webster Dictionary

So in this situation I used the same model painted a year apart to test their different quality levels.

Setting the Baseline

Here is an image of the model painted January 2021. If you want to read more about my thoughts about it at the time and painting read the 2021 Benchmark Model.

Painted dwarf miniature figure. Final collage of  painted 2021 Benchmark Model
2021 Benchmark Model: Dwarf

So the million dollar question, have I improved a year later?

Have Others Give Their Opinions

When I finished painting this model last week I will admit to feeling a bit deflated. I attempted to focus on painting the new model using a similar paint scheme in hopes that the comparison should not be influenced over preferred color. However when I placed the paint brush down at the end I was not Wowed. I felt no immediate pride or even noticed any significance in difference of my model. In my mind I could only envision where I wanted to go with the model and yet didn’t have the skill (seeing only the flaws not the victories). I couldn’t step back and admire what I could accomplish in the today.

So I decided to ask for help to take a photo to my friends, family, and fellow members of the painting community. The question was simple. “Which model is the newer one and why?” Could people see my improvement where I could not? Could people actually see the areas in the hobby I desired to improve upon in that year?

The conclusion was simple. Every single person who guessed my old model vs my new model was correct. No matter their background or skill set there was not a single person who guessed was wrong. Even non-painters saw growth.

Here are some of the various pieces of feedback and comments I received from different platforms:

Basing is fancier, the skin is smoother. In general fewer visible brush strokes.

The metal looks more like metal, than “gray”. The skin looks more natural, and less glossy. The basework is more complex. The eyes look more natural too. Overall, just appears to be a higher quality paint job.

Both are better than my painting. They look great, but skin on the right looks way better.

Looks like smoother coats. The eyes are better. Cleaner paint work on the rims of the pauldrons. Just all around more attention to detail on it. Some blending on the cheek bones it looks like

The Consensus

Significant areas of improvement were the base of the model which was vocalized as was fancier, more adventurous, and more complex.

It was also noticeable on my improvement with skin & eyes. The skin did not have a glossy appearance (Nuln Oil has a gloss version by the way). Also the layering of my skin was better. My work at setting a baseline with skin using the Hill Giant last year really paid off here.

Lastly my metallics appeared to be better. Did not appear as a basic gray but had sharper lines and better brush control with edge highlighting.

However there was also a repeated opinion that it appears that I am also making a stylistic change. Moving away from washes in the beard and cloth perhaps took away from the contrast and did not push the highlights as much as I did a year ago. Check out the comments.

I feel like the right one has sharper lines and colors so my instinct is to go with that one being the more recent one, but it almost feels a bit like a stylistic choice between the rougher more blended palette and the sharper more distinct style

This comment also gave some feedback on potential improvements with washes which I absolutely agree with.

Looks to me like the one on the right is the more recent one. The one on the left you used more washes, the one on the right more highlighting. There are things about both that I like. With the washing, I’d say try and go a little less wet, you have a lot of the ‘coffee stains’ where your wash dried to the edges and makes your ‘creases’ a bit of a mess. Less paint on the brush. BTW, a wash that is dabbed on a paper towel till mostly dry is essentially a glaze technique which looks like you did on the right guys face, looks great! One thing I like about the wash is you maintained a lot of contrast. To tighten up your highlights, thin the paint, dab from brush, and do multiple passes if you have to. Overall, I like the composition and I think with just a few tweaks you’ll have some new things to explore.

My husband even agrees that the beard in particular he prefers on the old model than the new one. This is something that I need to go back and work on for sure.

More Detailed Comparision

One thing I absolutely forgot I did when I wrote the 2021 Benchmark write up is I included specific areas of desired growth. Listed below. Lets go through and see which ones I succeeded in.

Aspects of Desired Growth

  • Fur: Can I learn to paint fur better that it could even dictate the type of animal it comes from? Potential area to improve skills and knowledge in drybrushing?
Benchmark comparison of personal growth for painting fur from 2021 to 2022
Left 2022 fur, Right 2021 Fur

No Change. This aspect I consider no growth. They were essentially the same with contrast paint used on the newer model and more drybrushing and colors used on the older model. None scream as a better approach but rather just different approaches.

  • Armor: Methods and ways of painting True Metallics in miniature figures. Can I make armor shine? What are the different types of metals?
1 year growth comparison of painting metal armor on miniature figures 2021 to 2022
Left 2022 metal painting, Right 2021 Metal Painting

Success! This area was commented numerous times as significant areas of improvement. Use off better metallics along with selective use of washes and significant improvements on brush control & edge highlighting shine here.

  • Weapons: How do I make metallics & weapons look more battle worn and dinged?
1 year growth comparison of painting swords on miniature figures 2021 to 2022
Top 2021 sword, Bottom 2022 sword

Fail? (Just Different) I personally think that the weapons look less battle damaged in the new model vs the old. The use of the wash on the sword really helped give more of an aged aesthetic.

  • Skin: Starting completely from scratch. Largest desire is to have growth and variety in skin tone for my miniature collection.
  • Hair: Much like skin I have not put much effort into growing or researching this area in miniature painting.
Side by side comparison of painting faces on miniature figures from 2021 to 2022
Left painted face 2022, Right painted face 2021

Success and Fail. In this aspect my skin and eye are significantly improved but the contrast off the beard was preferred on the old model. I am proud of where I started with skin but want to research hair more.

  • Cloak: Layering and contrast. Can I improve my layering? Make smoother transitions in blending the layers? What methods & techniques work best for me?
Painted cloak comparison of Benchmark 2021 model. Left 2022 cloak and Right 2021 cloak
Left painted cloak 2022, Right painted cloak 2021

Success. Improved blending was definitely an area off focus here. I worked quite a bit last year on glazing and next year hope to grow in wet blending. Also work towards improving those highlights.

Technical aspects I seek to improve upon

  • Improving Brush Control. Success
  • Zenethial Highlighting & Source Lighting, Success
  • Basing. Can I make the miniature tell a story, Success

Adjacent Goals

  • Improve my miniature photography, Success

3D Printing the Figure

  • Can I improve the state of the print itself? Success
  • Methods to improve post process clean up, Success
  • Note I did break a hand/weapon joint and had to use green stuff to clean it up again. Success no breaks

Of all the other areas I wish to grow I definitely feel like I hit improvements on each single one. This is a really good feeling.

Final Photographs

Paints Used

Not only did I improve in some painting skills, I also am happy that I have started a paint journal to keep track of paints used, notes, and thoughts during a project. Sometimes those notes are simple such as here.


I am super glad that I took the time to paint this model and do a benchmark test. Although I was disappointed the moment of completing the figure looking back only a few days I am excited about my growth in the hobby. This write up has also been immensely helpful to show me that I am indeed getting better.

One thing I definitely take for granted and need to articulate is the fact that along with improving my painting skill, I have sped up tremendously. While the original model was painted over 5 painting sessions this one was over 2. This is also an area of hobby growth.

I highly recommend a benchmark model if you ever feel like you are stagnant in your hobby or skill growth. This was a fun experiment and I am definitely going to be doing another one for this year and perhaps make it an annual thing. If you want a sneak peak as to what I’m working on make sure you follow me on Instagram.

Have you ever painted a benchmark? Can you see a difference? What should I focus on for the next year?

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. As always happy hobby.

Carrie, crazmadsci the crazy mad scientist.

Past Writings

8 thoughts on “How To Gauge Growth in Miniature Painting

  1. This is a great way of keeping track of painting improvement! It shows my age that my first thought was would I remember to buy six copies of the same figure at once! Of course with 3D printing this benchmark method becomes straightforward.

    1. This is for sure an area where 3D printing really shines. I admit I did 3D print this model just two weeks ago so it was super convenient. However for this year I do have two of the same model, so i’ll have to tuck one away for a year and remember where I put it which is always the hardest.

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