Today we’re talking to model miniature artist Alan O’Bryan (AKA Gorilla with a Brush), who’s been painting model miniatures for more than two decades.
Painting everything from wargaming minis to fantasy and sci-fi busts, his work always features small details that make them unique. Despite being a skilled and prolific painter, he no longer takes commissions and donates his proceeds to three of his favorite charities.
What do you make? What do you consider your best or favorite work?
I paint model miniatures (ranging in size from about the size of a quarter to about 3-6 inches tall). They begin as unassembled piles of plastic, resin, or metal and end up as (hopefully) some attractive pieces of artwork.
I tend to think of my work as trying to create 3D animations. I want my pieces to feel like they walked right off the page of some high quality illustration/painting of a fantasy or sci-fi world.
It’s really hard to pick favorites since I’ve been painting for quite some time. So you are going to get five. You asked for lots of pictures. You only have yourself to blame.
I recently completed this Wise Woman model from Spira Mirabilis, which I am quite proud of based on the realistic skin tones and the beading patterns and feather textures I achieved.
However, I also really love this Tribal Chieftain model from FeR Miniatures. I’m a big fan of gorillas (if that isn’t obvious), and so I knew I wanted to paint this miniature.
But at the same time it’s kind of basic (not a lot of room for different colors, not a lot of places for freehand details, etc.) so I was mostly looking at it as a palette-cleanser between other projects. The way the fur came out, some of the tones I was able to achieve, and the expression I captured in his face make this one of my favorite recent projects.
This model by Brice Savina was so much fun. My concept was “Santa on Vacation”. A quick holiday in the Andes to get a break from the snow. 🙂 I really love painting plaid/flannel/tartan patterns, and so any chance I have to add those textures to a model I jump at.
Those are all busts, which are very fun to paint. But I also am a big fan of 54 and 75 mm scale models. Here are a couple of recent ones from those scales.
First up is a model I painted for a friend of mine. This is based on her beloved D&D character, and it was really fun to take her concept art, descriptions, and passion and try to communicate them back in the form of a paint scheme on a great model by Black Sun Miniatures.
This is also a good example of some of my freehand work (the pattern on her shirt is painted on by me). Those details allow me to really put a piece of myself into each sculpt – something unique that is not going to be included in most people’s versions of the same model.
And finally, one thing I am kind of known for is painting fairly realistic tattoos on my models. Here is a great example of that on a barbarian miniature (manufacturer unknown).
Tell us about your workshop
My workshop is very, very fancy. It is… my dining room table. Haha.
My hobby time usually overlaps with my wife’s leisure time as well, so rather than have a workshop or painting station in a different area of the house (meaning I would be spending time apart from my wife), I paint at the dining room table, which is also in the same room as our main couch and TV. My wife can watch TV and work on her own hobbies, and I can still spend time with her and talk to her even while I’m painting.
The downside to this is that I am not known for having a very clean, tidy hobby area. I get too absorbed in my work and I just throw my tools everywhere. The upside is that it is right next to my record player and record collection (another hobby of mine), so I am always within arms length of great music while painting.
How long have you been doing your craft? Who taught you or where did you learn?
I first got my feet wet in painting miniatures in the early 1990s with HeroQuest. The picture above shows my first ever painted models.
I spent a bunch of time one summer painting up that set, but didn’t really know what I was doing (which is clear). I was also a kid – maybe 12 years old or so.
I picked it back up in 1998 at the age of 18, and had a little better initial luck. This was my first painted mini at that time.
I am basically self-taught. I am a slow but steady learner, and find I most enjoy studying others’ work and trying to think about how they achieved some result. I like to try it out and experiment rather than having someone sit down and teach me. I think I probably developed my skills more slowly this way, but I find it more satisfying.
So you could say I learned by sitting at my painting desk and just having fun… while watching a lot of movies, listening to a lot of music, and having a grand time.
Any advice for beginners to your craft?
I think there are two primary pieces of advice I would give. Certainly there are lots of little tips and tricks you can pick up, advice about paints and brushes, YouTube videos you can watch for getting started, etc., but I think these two things are more important than any of that.
1. Focus on getting a little bit better with each miniature you paint. That means comparing each model YOU painted to the previous models YOU painted.
Don’t get caught up in comparing your work to someone else. Chances are those people have been doing this for a very long time. You’ll get there. If you think you will produce a masterpiece your first few tries, you will get disappointed. Just keep learning.
It’s a slow, gradual progression, but if you understand that going in, and embrace the process, you will be amazed at how much you can grow and how much fun you can have along the way. Use others for inspiration, but never comparison.
2. Paint models you really, really want to paint. A lot of people get into the hobby via some game, like Warhammer 40K or Warmachine. But then they find themselves quickly locked into painting identical models with identical color schemes over and over and over again.
This can really put a damper on both your creative enjoyment of painting and your ability to improve (rather than improving, you are purposely using the same techniques and colors to make everything “match”).
Even if you still want to paint armies for gaming, keep side projects active where you experiment, have fun, and push yourself. There are so, so, so many cool models out there, and nothing helps you improve, makes the process more fun, or yields more satisfying results than working on a sculpt that really inspires you.
Who/what inspires you? Any shoutouts to fellow makers?
Oh man… too many to mention!
Bryan Shaw (@aegisarising) for first inspiring me and pushing me to improve back in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Brain Gazzolo (@BrianPaintsAZ) is a great painter, a great friend, and maybe the best human on the planet.
Michael Mordor (@Goblins_Mordor) for all of the work he does to inspire and support new painters.
I could keep going…but I’ll stop there, or else the list will get to be 300 people long.
I will do one more shoutout – to my niece and nephew Cailyn and Landon. Newbies who just recently started painting miniatures, and who I hope keep it up and find as much pleasure in the hobby as I have.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One funny story is how I once won a painting competition without even showing up. (Kind of.)
At the Las Vegas Open one year I won the Master Craftsman Award for the best painted army. We showed up on Friday, the first day of the convention, and I played some pick-up games with my Trollbloods army, and I played two games that night in a team tournament. I then packed up my army up and left it in the hotel for the “real” tournaments that weekend, which is usually when the Master Craftsman is chosen.
I spent Saturday just socializing, playing board games, shopping, etc. because I am not very big into the competitive side of gaming. That night I got a Facebook message from someone telling me I needed to get back to the convention center because I won best painted…from a bar…with my models packed away out of sight in my room.
My friends said my models were so good they just needed to be in the building to win. I am not sure about that, but it was a very funny (and unexpected) occurrence.
These are some of the models from that army. They were designed to look like cartoons come to life.
On the more serious side of things, a few years ago I shifted away from taking any commission projects and these days I just paint for my own enjoyment. However, I do occasionally sell a model or run a fundraising event, and in those cases the money goes to charity. I support three charities with my hobbies (all highly rated charities with small overheads, with at least 85-90% of donations going directly to support their services):
The Gorilla Fund International: https://gorillafund.org/
They support scientific research of wild gorillas while also investing in education and support for locals in the areas where gorillas live to help them run sustainable farms and earn their livings without destroying gorilla habitats. They also protect wild gorillas from poachers.
Arizona’s oldest and largest no-kill shelter, the AAWL helps thousands of animals find forever homes while also engaging in a ton of community support and education programs.
The Arizona Pet Project: https://azpetproject.org/
This organization runs spay and neuter services for communities and helps cover vet bills for animals who would otherwise die of treatable conditions or end up in shelters because families cannot afford their care. This helps the animals stay with the families who love them while also reducing shelter overcrowding.
If anyone wants to donate and support one of these great causes, it would mean the world to me. And I’ll send you a pile of awesome gorilla stickers.