PSA: Stop varnishing your metallics!

Note: this article is going to be short on pictures because, quite frankly, it is hard to capture what I am talking about in photos or even videos. The best way to illustrate this is in three dimensions — try it out for yourself by comparing metallics before and after a coat of varnish!

Conventional wisdom in miniature painting dictates that the final step to any projects is to protect your work. Seal it in with one or more coats of varnish; perhaps a gloss coat or two for protection and dullcote to knock the shine off. This will protect it from the clumsiest, most cheeto-fingered gamers and ensure your hard work will live on.

Unfortunately, there is an issue with this approach and that issue is metallic paints. All too often, I see people kill their metallics with varnish. And I am no exception — it took me a couple years to figure out that dullcote makes my metallic paint less shiny, so I have a lot of winter guardsmen with mediocre metallics in my collection.

Display vs tabletop

Of course, if you don’t plan on touching your models, this is less of a problem. In fact, this is one of the reasons why a lot of display painters separate gaming models from display projects — the varnish that is being used to protect the model often can have unintended effects on the finish. A lot of display painters don’t varnish their models, which is why they don’t want you touching them.

If you are handling them, then there are two things to worry about — paint chipping and paint rubbing. While paint chipping might be able to be ameliorated slightly with varnish, generally the problem there has more to do with how well the primer has adhered to the model (and how well you cleaned all the mold release off). Paint rubbing, on the other hand, is caused by a mixture of skin oils and friction as you handle the model. By sealing out those oils and putting a layer of varnish overtop, you can protect the underlying paint from both of these factors.

Back to metallics

Whether you are going for display or tabletop, metallic paint is harder to work with than regular paint. In general, coverage is often mediocre so they often require an undercoat in regular paints (essentially doubling your work), they can be broken easily if you thin them, they mess up your wet palette and your paint water, they don’t flow quite as smoothly, and they chew up natural hair brushes, meaning you can’t use your really good brushes on them unless you are very rich and you don’t mind killing every weasel in Siberia.

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How could you; it’s so cute!

In spite of these challenges, we still use metallic paints for their unique properties. Namely, that you get a nice shiny metal effect and… well, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out why a matte varnish might mess with that shiny metal effect. And, if you are going through the trouble of using metallic paints to get a nice metallic shine then immediately kill that shine with dullcote, it should be evident that this is a counter-productive approach.

One other neat property of metallics is that I’m not sure why or how this is the case, but they seem to be more durable. I suspect something in the metallic flakes and pigments is a little more resistant to oily fingers and rubbing than regular paints. As such, they might not even need to be varnished.

So, for tabletop miniatures, there are at least three ways that you can address the problem of varnish killing your shine:

Save your metallics until the end

Generally, a coat of varnish is applied from a rattle can or airbrush. As such, you can’t really decide to varnish everything but the few metallic areas, at least not without a whole lot of obnoxious masking. Even if you are using a brush-on varnish, you want to paint everything on quickly with a big brush and not try to carefully paint around your metallics.

However, there is a simple solution. Paint the whole model, and give your metallics whatever base coat you desire (since one of the properties of metallics is that they often need either multiple coats or an undercoat to get good coverage), then do your varnish. Once that is done, go back in and paint your metallics over top of the varnish. The metallics should be tough enough to resist to the gentle handling we do on the tabletop, and even if they do chip, you have a solid undercoat underneath.

Save the highlights until the end

If you are still worried about the aforementioned cheeto-fingered gamers, you could varnish in your metallics, but save any highlights (be they true metallic metals or something simple like dry brushing) until the end. This way, you at least can get the protection of the varnish over the base coats while retaining the shine in the place where it matters the most — the highest highlights were light is glistening off the model. If your metallics do somehow get weathered from handling on the tabletop, the varnish will protect the undercoat and they will just look… well, weathered.

Bring back the shine with gloss varnish

Finally, if you did kill your metallics with something like dullcote, don’t fret — there is a way to bring them back somewhat. If you go over these metallics with a brush-on gloss varnish, that will help restore the shine. Unfortunately, it won’t be quite the same, particularly if you did a lot of TMM shading and highlights. A gloss varnish doesn’t have quite the same finish as metallic paints, but it is a lot shinier than a matte varnish. and will help make those metallics pop again.

Conclusion

While varnishing your tabletop pieces is a good idea to protect the paint from oily fingers, varnish will affect the finish. In the case of regular paints, the effect isn’t subtle enough that it isn’t a huge tradeoff. However, when it comes to metallics, that is a whole different ball of wax — you get less benefit from the varnish, and it can totally ruin the finish.

 

Bonus Content: Hutchuck!

Not much to say about him; I just finished my Hutchuck model as part of my push to clear out my WIP shelf before Christmas. The metallics on his club kind of reference what I am talking about; I put some work into doing good true metallic metals on them, and if I were to hit it with dullcote, that would kill the shine and I might as well just have done NMM using paints that are easier to work with.

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Down with the cult of Two Thin Coats!

A little while ago, I was having a game of Warmachine in the basement of my FLGS and a woman approached me asking for some painting advice. She had been using the traditional Duncan-style approach of base coat, wash, and dry brush, and she was starting to butt up against the limits of this technique. So, I showed her a few tricks with wet blending, glazing and inks, as well as sent her a link to Vince Venturella’s youtube channel because he is better at this than me, and it was like a revelation. In a very short time, she had greatly improved her techniques and started pumping out much nicer looking space marines.

The Duncan Way

If you are like most of us, you were probably taught to paint miniatures in the Games Workshop tabletop style, popularized by Duncan, the friendly host of Warhammer TV’s Tip of the Day. In this style, after assembly and priming with official Citadel brand spray primer, step one is to lay down an opaque base coat, always using two thin coats to make sure it is smooth and coverage is nice. Next, follow up with a wash to tint the shadows and some dry brushing to bring up the highlights. If you want to get fancy, throw on an edge highlight. Do a little basing, and you’ve got a perfectly acceptable space marine.

 

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Hey Duncan, I hope that isn’t paint water…

There is a reason Duncan teaches us to paint this way: it’s easy to teach. It’s not hard for complete newbies with no artistic training at all to understand that they should paint the blue parts blue then wash and dry brush. It’s all done in very discrete, easy to understand steps. Paint with A, wash with B, and dry brush with C. Conveniently, GW is happy to sell you paints A, B, and C.

Unfortunately, there are some issues with this approach. First, it works better on some models than others. For dirty skeletons where there is a lot of texture in the ribcage, you can get good results. However, if you try it out on a model with a lot of smooth armour plates, you can easily end up in coffee stain city. It is also a very limiting technique; it is very hard to progress beyond a certain point using only these techniques, and basically impossible to scale up to something like a bust.

Finally, it can be time consuming. Getting a smooth, uniform base coat where you stay within all the lines is difficult and involves a lot of very careful fine motor control. Particularly challenging is when you start trying to paint tricky to reach areas like armpits and the backs of shields, and you want to get a perfect base coat

Then, of course, you have to do it all again because two thin coats. And often two thin coats is a best case scenario; if you didn’t plan ahead and are now trying to paint yellow straight over black primer, you’re going to be at it all day.

And all of that headache and frustration over poor paint coverage for what? A perfectly smooth, uniform base coat that you’re immediately going to coffee stain with washes and then dry brush over?

In short, while this approach is easy to teach and easy to understand, it is often not the best approach both from the perspective of speed or quality in the long run. And while it might seem like I’m ragging on Duncan, that isn’t my intention. He has three jobs, all of which he is very good at:

  1. Show customers who are completely new to painting and modelling and have zero artistic background how to turn boxes of sprues into a tabletop-ready army that looks decent from a distance,
  2. Motivate them to get their armies painted through the use of instructional videos and a positive attitude, and
  3. Sell Games Workshop products
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It is possible that the above list is not in descending order of priority.

 

Why some people hate painting

The problem comes when new painters have the “basecoat, wash, drybrush” style beaten into their heads and it becomes gospel. They are never told that there is a whole world of techniques out there such as blending, glazing and the use of products like inks and mediums. Or, they are vaguely aware that they exist but think they are a bunch of very time-consuming super pro level techniques that they shouldn’t even bother trying because they are far beyond what they want to do for tabletop quality.

This right here is why I think a lot of people get frustrated with painting and feel it to be a chore. They struggle to get that perfectly smooth, opaque base coat, particularly when they are using weakly pigmented paints. That ends up being not only time consuming, but also less enjoyable of a process, particularly when you are on the ninth coat of red and it still won’t look right. And the end result is often less satisfying than they would like because of the limitations of this method.

And by clinging to this approach even when it isn’t appropriate out of either fear or ignorance, a lot of people out there are making painting more difficult than it has to be and sucking the fun out of what is an otherwise enjoyable hobby.

The Alternatives

There are a couple alternatives to this approach. Games Workshop being Games Workshop, they have developed a whole new line of paint for you to buy that promises to use magical paint chemistry to do it all in one step. There is also the sketch style popularized by people like Banshee and Matt DiPietro, where one starts with a zenithal prime, refines the value sketch, then covers everything with inks and glazes to tint it the appropriate colour.

Personally, my usual approach when not using my airbrush is to wet blend my base coat, doing base coating, shading and highlighting all in one step. This process starts with a zenithal prime. Airbrush or rattle can; doesn’t matter. You can even get a pseudo-zenithal by dry brushing the lighter colour on with a large makeup brush and focusing on where the light will hit the miniature. If you have an airbrush, you can also play with tinted zenithals. Perhaps you want some cool shadows and warm highlights, so you can make the shadows blue and the highlights ivory.

The zenithal does a couple things. First, it gives you an idea of where to place your highlights and shadows, so even if you aren’t confident with light placement, you can just follow the zenithal and get a decent result. Second, this preshading helps make the highlights brighter and the shadows darker. With the dark parts already dark and the light parts already light, you don’t have the sort of issues that you get when trying to paint a vibrant red highlight over black primer and wondering why it still doesn’t pop after seventeen coats of red.

Finally, this liberates you from having to do these smooth, opaque coats. If your paint is a little on the thin side and doesn’t have great coverage, that’s not an issue – it just means that the preshading from the zenithal will be more effective.

Paint like Bob Ross

Now it’s time to do some wet blending. Wet blending is simply the process of pushing multiple colours of wet paint around on the miniature itself to get shadows, highlights and other colour transitions. It is a technique that a lot of canvas painters like Bob Ross use when doing oil paints — how often have you seen him drop in some paint, clean his brush, beat the devil out of it, then blend his paint on the canvas or fluff some clouds?

If this is your first time wet blending, I’d recommend doing some practice. Get out your wet palette (if you don’t have one, make one), and pick out some colours ranging from your deepest shadow to your highest highlight. I recommend P3 Coal Black, Sanguine Base, and Sanguine Highlight if you have them. Also, grab a bit of flow improver; this helps the paint flow, making your blends smoother and giving you a bit more working time. Play around with it on the palette a little to get a feel for it; try to take a dot of paint and draw it into a dot of a different colour, getting a smooth gradient between the two.

Now that you’ve done that, you can practice on something like a base or a piece of primed plastic. Put a bit of one colour on, quickly rinse your brush, put down the other colour next to it, and use the brush to mix them in the middle to create a smooth transition from one colour into the other. As you get comfortable, try adding more colours — perhaps do a three colour blend from a shadow colour into a base and all the way into your highlight, or try to do a smooth blend from shadow to highlight and back to shadow. Then, once you are comfortable with that, pick up a model, figure out where the shadows and highlights go, and repeat the process only on a model this time.

Congratulations, you are now wet blending. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Or, if you can’t parse my written instructions, go check out Vince Venturella’s video on the subject because, again, Vince is better than me at this.

This is a great technique as it is one of the fastest ways to lay down colours in a fairly smooth gradient. It’s not going to be perfect, but remember, we’re just going for good tabletop quality. Of course, if we want to take it further, we can — my display projects often start with some quick wet blends to lay in some colours and from there it is mostly a matter of refining it, smoothing out those blends and adding detail. For example, Boudicca‘s red hair and green cloak both started with a quick wet blend, and well…

But for something like tabletop, Hutchuck here is a good example of what you can do with some quick wet-blends. While I did wash some areas in order to emphasize the shadows in the folds and creases of his leather belts and Liefeldian number of pouches, and I do have some more work to do to add a little more weathering, OSL and metallics, this is what a quick wet blend with a little edge highlighting and darklining can get you.

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How many huts could Hutchuck chuck if Hutchuck could chuck huts?

As you do this more, you will find that some colours work better than others. Ironically, it is the opaque colours and that will give you the most trouble, because these colours tend to end up being a little chalky, especially if they have a lot of white in the highlights. Capes are one of the best things to practice on when you are just starting out because they tend to have a lot of intricate folds that react with the light in interesting ways. If you are impatient when it comes to waiting for your paint to dry, a hairdryer will take care of that real fast. Finally, always try to use the biggest brush you can get away with — a big brush with a fat belly holds more paint and lets you blend over larger areas with fewer strokes.

Oh, as for the areas that are hard to reach like the backs of shields, where people obsess over painting the back of the shield, the arm, and the straps all in their proper colours, all within the lines, before slathering it in Nuln Oil? Forget about them! These areas are usually shadowed, so just stuff some of your deepest shadow colour down in there and blend outwards into your base colours. You don’t need to obsess over details in shaded areas; in fact it makes a lot of sense from the perspective of composition and colour theory that shaded areas should convey less visual information. Take a look at some of Caravaggio’s paintings and look at all the detail and visual information he put in the shadows. There’s not much; it looks like the dude just threw down some dark colours and called it a day. And if he can get away with it on paintings that sell for millions of dollars 400 years after his death, you can get away with it on your space marines.

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That’s not Nuln Oil in the top left corner

But this sounds hard!

Yes, blending requires a bit of skill. You need to know some basics of colour theory and light placement in order to pick out the appropriate colours and know where on the model to put them. Also, you need to be able work quickly so you have time to push paint around on the model before it dries. But, it is a skill where a little time investment up front can pay huge dividends because you are getting multiple steps done with a few brush strokes. When I throw down a quick wet-blended basecoat, I’ve often got base colour, highlights and shadows done by the time the person doing the Duncan method is finishing his first thin coat. And it looks better too.

Admittedly, brush control is a thing, but with a little practice, just about anyone can do this and get good at it. Case in point, I have no formal art training and am not special in any way and I can do it.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to miniature painting, there are many different approaches and techniques. While the traditional Games Workshop style is effective in some cases, whether you paint for display or just for tabletop, if you don’t go beyond that, you won’t have a lot of tools. And when you find out the hard way that it is hard to turn a screw with a hammer, that can cause a lot of frustration and resentment.

Also, we need to seriously rethink how we teach new people how to paint. I get it, explaining colour theory and light placement to someone who is touching a paint brush for the first time is hard. But if all we teach them is to follow the Duncan way, then we risk boxing them in. Everyone can benefit from more tools in their toolbox, even if all you want to do is put an army on the table.

And then, hopefully, together, we can defeat the grey hordes.

 

Bonus Content: First Mate Hawk

YARRRRRR! First Mate Hawk be keeping ye salty dogs in check.

This was an interesting experiment with resin pours, to see if I could get a fish floating around in the water. Resin pours are all about the formwork; to be successful, you need to get something that is smooth-sided and has no leaks. So, I made the form by cutting up a pill bottle that was roughly the size I wanted, then taped it down to the base with some of the Tamiya tape — the white stuff for curves, not the yellow stuff. Since I wanted to have Hawk standing on a dock, I used a styrene tube to represent one of the posts. The dock itself was scratchbuilt out of plasticard, with a rod extending down that would fit snugly into the tube I used for the post.

To ensure the resin pour went well, I did the first couple of millimetres with Vallejo’s acrylic air-drying water texture. The idea here was that if I did have a leak, I would be able to fix it before finding it late in the process when my resin starts leaking out and ruins the project. Also, any potential cracks between the formwork and the base would be sealed in with this stuff, ensuring I get a clean pour.

My strategy paid off. I ended up doing about half the pour, placing my fish, letting it settle in nicely, then slowly and carefully so as not to disturb the fish, finish the pour. Once it dried, I broke off the forms and then did a second pour to fill the meniscus. In the meantime, I had finished painting Hawk and the dock and was able to glue them together, clean up the joint, and call it finished.

Two Great Shows: CapCon & OSAC 2019

As the leaves start changing colours, the model show season in Canada is starting to wrap up for the year because, to be honest, no one wants to leave the house in winter any more than they absolutely have to. However, over the past month, I managed to make it to two nice model shows in the Ottawa area: CapCon 2019 and the Ottawa Scale Auto Contest.

CapCon 2019

CapCon is run by IPMS Ottawa every other year and is one of the biggest model shows in Canada, on par with IPMS Hamilton’s HeritageCon. This year, I was on the organizing committee, so I got a firsthand experience of how the sausage is made, so to speak. I will say that being on the committee has greatly increased my appreciation for the work that these volunteers do (and greatly decreased my appreciation for Monday morning quarterbacking, but that’s another story).

CapCon is a bit of a unique show because it is held in a national museum. The Canadian War Museum is a great venue, being spacious, well-lit (weather depending), and having a certain ambiance with all the 1:1 scale models surrounding the competition tables. That does mean that CapCon is a little more expensive than other shows, but between the sheer number of models on the tables and with entry to the show also including unlimited entries and free museum access, you do get value for money.

This year, there were 692 entries, comprising about 750 models once you include dioramas, collections, etc. I believe this is slightly up from 2017. But, seeing as I was busy working a laptop doing data entry and making up the awards presentation, I didn’t really get to see very many of them. If you want to see pictures of cool models, go read the writeup on Model Airplane Maker, or check out CapCon on facebook.

One thing I was pleased to see was the growth in the figure categories. With about 80 entries, figures are a growing portion of this show. Also, my favourite category had the largest year over year growth and aside from an aircraft category that got split, was the most popular category in the show. With 24 entries in busts compared to the previous year’s five, I’m evidently not the only one who likes big busts and cannot lie.

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That’s… a lot of busts

Sadly, I have to keep my thoughts on CapCon short as I was so busy that I barely had a chance to experience the show. As for the awards ceremony, with the usual caveats that one shouldn’t focus too much on awards, I did pretty well for myself. While I didn’t win any special or theme awards, my balls and busts swept two categories (Busts and 1:144 Gundam) and I came home with a fairly heavy sack full of coins. I also didn’t really get much of a haul of kits or products, as I didn’t have time to shop in the vendor hall or watch the silent auction like a hawk as all the Beargguys slipped away.

OSAC 2019

While the Ottawa Scale Auto Contest is primarily an automotive model show, as a response to popular demand, they have been steadily adding additional categories and expanding into all sorts of non-automotive categories to the point where it is now perhaps 50% non-automotive. This year was the first year at a new venue, as between club tables, vendor tables, and a couple hundred or so models, they had outgrown their previous location.

One fundamental difference between OSAC and other shows is that there is no judging at and all the awards are decided by popular vote. Of course, there are pros and cons to both ways of doing it, and as Canadians learned last week, sometimes a straight up first past the post voting system can give unusual or unrepresentative results. However, the use of voting seems like it is a reaction to some of the issues that have been occupying my mind lately about model shows, namely the question of how to have the draw of competition without all the drama and negativity that competitiveness can introduce, so they get credit for approaching that problem.

Aside from a few minor administrative issues, it was a good show. I’m not sure what it is, but between the OSAC and AMRO shows, the car guys seem to have a more relaxed approach to the hobby which I like. I wonder if perhaps it has to do with their subject matter; after all, in a world of hot rods and custom cars, there is lot more room for creativity and a “why not?” attitude than with military subjects where there isn’t really a such thing as a low-rider Sherman tank with a chopped top and custom paint.

I was at the IPMS club table for a good chunk of the day, promoting the club and hanging out with the gundam guys at the next table, but unlike at CapCon, I managed to escape and take a look at the models, where I had a few good conversations and met some interesting people. As with CapCon, for more pictures, check out the recap on Model Airplane Maker, and keep your ear to the ground as the Hobby Centre or Ottawa Model Car Group will probably be posting show photos on their social media in the near future.

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This motorcycle was one of my favourite entries in the show. You need to have a near-perfect finish if you are going to do a lighted display like this, and this model didn’t disappoint.

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In the judged category, this XP-55 Ascender had that combination of excellent craftsmanship and unusual subject that I tend to appreciate. The XP-55 was one of a few particularly unusual WW2 fighter prototypes that the Americans toyed with briefly before returning to more conventional designs. Personally, I think it looks like what you get when someone says they don’t need instructions to assemble a P-40 Warhawk.

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There were a couple big paper ships. I chatted with the builder about them, and they seem like quite an interesting modelling medium. While they come printed in the colours you need so there isn’t any painting to do (unless I suppose you screw up), there is a lot of cutting, folding and gluing required to turn a booklet full of paper into a detailed model.

While I forgot to get a picture, Steve from Model Car Minion brought out some classic cartoonish Weird-Oh models. These are whimsical kits that are definitely a product of their time; that time being the early 1960s. I’ve often wondered who buys these and I suppose now I know. But seriously, it was nice to see these unique models you see on the shelf at the hobby store on the table and chat with Steve about them, and his use of straws from juice boxes as exhaust pipes was positively genius.

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And speaking of unusual things, without a doubt the most unusual thing I saw at the show would be a Mussolini trading card at one of the vendor tables. I was almost tempted to get it and mount it upside down somewhere with Xs over the eyes because we apparently live in a world where Ace Ventura is feuding on Twitter with Mussolini’s granddaughter. 2019 is weird.

My OSAC haul

Aside from a couple plaques, I came away with an airbrush stand that I won in the silent auction, a polypod ball kit that a friend brought to me straight from Japan, and a ’64 Ford Falcon convertible. To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with the latter. It looks like a nice kit despite the dated box art, but I haven’t really done car models since I was about 10 years old, so I’m kind of between “not my jam” and “challenge accepted.” Since a ’64 Ford Falcon probably wouldn’t look right as a Mad Max conversion, I’ll probably have to go for the nice smooth showroom finish and maybe try out some worse-tasting paints than my acrylics. Of course, I’ll probably find some way to put my own twist on it; perhaps I’ll do something stupid like try to do all the chrome parts in NMM or work in some unusual shading in some area in the interior that no one will see.

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Also, I’m not really a Ford guy; my family has been GM as long as I can remember, so there’s also that issue. Oh well…

Conclusions

CapCon and OSAC were two great shows. While if CapCon sticks to their schedule the next show is going to be two years out, those in the area should circle their calendars for OSAC, and don’t let the name fool you – it’s not just an auto show!

 

Bonus Content: Batskiboat, featuring Julie Newmar

With a stack of AMT Batskiboats sitting around the hobby store at a steep discount, someone from the local Gunpla group got the genius idea of a little challenge based on the idea of seeing what we can do with this cheap, basic kit. Of course, time made fools of most of us and by the end of the challenge, only two Batskiboats were completed for the big show.

The Batskiboat was a boat featured for about a minute and a half in the 1992 movie Batman Returns. Which meant a minute and a half of waiting for Catwoman to make another appearance, but I digress.

This is a pretty simple kit, with only about a dozen parts. I spent most of my time on it correcting issues, some of which were my own fault, like somehow losing two pieces and having to scratchbuild replacements because I was too cheap to spend another $10 on a second kit, or me deciding that raised panel lines weren’t good enough and rescribing them. But, with enough sprue goo, milliput, sanding, and bits of plastic, I was able to get it together. While I was at it, I also did a little customization, greeblifying up the rear near the jet exhaust and adding seat belts to the cockpit.

Most of the painting was done with the airbrush, using the Nighshade Purple/Coal Black/Menoth White combination that I am particularly fond of to put a little twist on the jet black Bat-stuff. Afterwards, I cut out a Batman symbol stencil out of frisket and sprayed over it with some Green Stuff World Color Shift paints to get a neat effect and drive home the model’s bat-pedigree.

Finally, for a focal point, I decided to have Catwoman posing on top. However, I had a bit of an issue with my references. Batman Returns features a modern take on Catwoman, and while I wouldn’t kick Michelle Pfeiffer out of bed for eating crackers, as we all know, the only true Catwoman is Julie Newmar.

And since a 1/24 Julie Newmar wasn’t readily available, I decided to get some sculpting practice in. At the risk of being seen as one of those weirdos who buys Master Box products, I picked up “Marilyn” from behind the locked glass case at the local hobby store. I reposed her, rotating her right arm about 180 degrees so her hand was on her hip rather than holding onto the brim a nonexistant hat. I also left off the hair and hat which were fortunately separate pieces, preferring to sculpt that on myself. Then, after sanding and filing off some of the details on her clothes, I got to sculpting. Most of it was done using Brown Stuff aluminum putty, which is generally my putty of choice for organic shapes as I find its properties to be a nice happy medium between Green Stuff and Milliput. This process took several days, as I had to sculpt in in several layers, and let the putty cure between layers. I cheated on a couple areas, making her claws out of stretched sprue and her belt out of some Tamiya tape, but the rest is either brown stuff or the original kit details.

Catwoman’s outfit was painted in similar colours as the batskiboat, albeit with some work done with the brush afterwards to reinforce highlights and shadows. The skin tones were given an initial pass with the airbrush and some additional work with a brush, while the hair was simply wet blended and given some washes, dry-brushing, and painted in highlights. I wouldn’t say she was my best work, in part due to an unfamiliar scale, but considering that most of the painting was done somewhat hastily the day before the show, she isn’t bad. Finally, before doing the metallics, the entire outfit was given a coat of about a 50-50 mix of satin and gloss varnish to give her a little contrast and help focus the eye on her – not that Julie Newmar needs any help to catch one’s eye.

Sword, Brush and Boudicca – S&B 2019

September and October have been a couple of busy months at the evil lair that serves as the headquarters of Ice Axe Miniatures, so I’ve been falling behind a little on my writing. However, before it fades too far from memory, I wanted to talk about Sword and Brush 2019.

The Show

Sword and Brush is probably my favourite show within driving distance. While it isn’t the largest, it is focused almost completely on the art of painting miniatures and figures. Over the past couple years, they have been incorporating a wargaming tournament aspect, however not much in the way of games I play, so the figure show and the vendors remain pretty much the only draw for me.

And that is more than enough! With over 200 entries, the sheer number and quality of the models on display is over the top. Just about everything on the table is of a high enough quality to at the very least warrant a good, long look, and you could learn a lot just by closely examining some of the models and trying to figure out how the artist accomplished certain techniques or what went into his or her mind with colour choices and light placement.

In fact, I would say that it is almost intimidating going into a show like this and placing your work on the table. I’m not sure what it is – perhaps it is the fact that I have stared at the piece for dozens of hours while painting it, or perhaps it is in knowing exactly what went into it, or perhaps it is just a mix of imposter syndrome and a generic, self-hating artist attitude – but I found myself actually feeling a little out of place with my entries, wondering if I’m not just embarrassing myself by putting my stuff on the table next to some of the amazing models on display.

Some that I would like to give a shout out to are Paul Stockley’s Spitfire Pilot and Soviet female tanker. The Spitfire Pilot won best in show, and between all the straps, clothing, skin and five o’clock shadow, is just an amazing exploration of texture. Kyle Maitland’s “Exit the Actress” showed some cool effects with lighting and setting the stage, plus she had pink hair, which is something I appreciate on miniatures. This pirate shark dude was nice and whimsical, and Philippe Godbout, who I travelled down with, packed a lot of neat lighting and shadow effects into a simple, practically mono-textured subject.

(note: Images taken from the Sword and Brush website, because one thing I learned at this show is that I really suck at photography)

Boudicca

While I had a number of entries in this show, my pièce de résistance (see! All those French classes are paying off already!) was Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni. Boudicca (or Boudica, or Boadicea, or Buddug, or…) is a British folk hero who lived in the 1st century AD who was queen of a Celtic tribe in East Anglia. To make a long story short, the Romans messed with her so naturally she raised an army of over 100,000 Celtic warriors, burned down London, and made Nero consider withdrawing the Romans from Britain before her catastrophic defeat. In short, she’s pretty badass.

The model is a 1/10 scale resin bust from FeR Miniatures, which comes in a few pieces which are not hard to put together for those who are experienced with resin models. The spear and the sword are a little fragile, and while the mold lines are mostly hidden, you may need to do a little work on the one on her right arm. Overall, the model has that great combination of interesting subject, nice sculpt, and wonderful detail on the hair that makes it a great choice.

As for the colour scheme, while I am normally too punk rock to stick to a studio scheme, in this case, I didn’t have much of a choice. Obviously, if one is to paint Boudicca, one has to start with “a great mass of the tawniest hair,” as Cassius Dio put it in her day. Also, since this is a bust, I have to put in some neat textures somewhere, which means some plaid pattern with a lot of green in it would offer both an interesting texture and some nice contrast to the red hair. A bit of blue war paint is, of course, both historically accurate and a good way to make her look tougher. Add an off-white tunic, and you basically have the studio scheme.

Of course, there is more to colour theory and composition than just picking out colours. There is light placement, shadow, and highlight to consider as well. Since she is turning her head off to one side, I chose a primary light source somewhere between the direction of her head and the direction of her body. As for shadow colours, I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately, inspired partly by some pieces I had seen in real life (including a really awesome bust at the Southern Ontario Open that gave me a run for my money for Best in Show), so I tried to incorporate cool, dark colours like Reaper’s Nightshade Purple and Coal Black in the deepest shadows – colours a little more interesting than black.

Painting time!

After assembly, my first step was to give the model a zenithal prime to get a good understanding of shadow and light placement and shoot some washes up into the shadows to tint the shadows blue on most of the model and purple on the cloak. Now, I work best by roughing in all the colours then refining them down into the final product. So, my next step was to lay in some base colours, using my airbrush on the skin and tunic and wet-blending on everything else. The goal here is not to get the smooth, uniform basecoat like Duncan of Games Workshop fame teaches, but to quickly and roughly lay out your colour scheme and work in shadows and highlights.

With the base colours laid in, it was time to take out the nice brushes to paint. I followed my usual procedure of reinforcing highlights, doing blending and glazing to smooth things out, and adding in details such as the eyes, the lips, and the sword. Particularly nerve-wracking was the addition of the blue war paint to the face – the model was so close to completion and I had spent so much time on the skin tones that it was sort of like when you do weathering over detailed freehand; one of those times where you need to get over your fear of ruining something you’ve worked hard on and just paint bravely. So, I’m glad I didn’t let fear get the better of me, because that war paint definitely makes her look tough and badass.

The plaid was a new one for me as well; I started by laying out the pattern, then doing a lot of cross-hatching with a 10/0 liner brush in dark colours to fill in the plaid. Then more cross-hatching. Then some stippling. And some more cross-hatching. And so on. After several layers of cross-hatching and a little stippling, both to get the effect I wanted and to cover up my initial lines to lay out the location of the plaid, I came away with something that I was happy with – something that not only had a plaid pattern, but also had a bit of a rough texture to it. The effect kind of faded out in the back and in the deepest shadows of the cloak which may look like I got lazy, but that was intentional – shadowed areas probably shouldn’t convey as much visual information as highlights. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.

As for that wonderous hair, it was a particular challenge and something that I thought was important to get right. I don’t have a lot of experience painting red hair, especially not at this scale. So, after doing some research, I decided that I would work up from Coal Black in the deepest shadows, into a deep crimson, then a rusty red, then up through some orangey ochres and Reaper’s Blonde hair, and into off-white top highlights. Overtop my wet blend, I layered in some highlights and did some dry brushing and washes to get started. But I was kind of struggling to get it to look right. Even as I went over the dry brushed areas and started painting in the highlights and manually putting them in with the brush, it wasn’t quite looking right. Where I hit the breakthrough was when I decided to kick up the highest highlight using P3’s Frostbite, a very light, desaturated blue which is a go-to colour for certain highly reflective surfaces.

The model was finished with a block of cherry wood for a plinth, and a sign printed off and painted over with inks and washes. So, with her completed, back to the show…

The Judging System

I’ve talked about judging systems before here, so if you want to get some background on this, I have a previous article here. Sword and Brush uses the Open System, where models are awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal based on objective criteria, rather than in comparison to other models on the table.

Sword and Brush only has a few categories, and entrants are required to group all their entries within the same category together. While there is no restriction on the number of entries per category, entrants can only receive one award per category. Generally, this is awarded to your best piece, but if you have multiple entries and there is no standout piece in your collection so the judges can’t decide which of yours is the best, you may simply be awarded a medal for your collection as a whole.

To be honest, I think this is the best way of doing it. The open system fundamentally promotes a healthier attitude towards competition, but it gets critiqued for taking longer to judge and requiring more award purchases. By only judging an entrant’s best work in a category, you can cut down both time and award costs. And, of course, the “best of” awards are done in the traditional competitive style, for people who like the head to head competition.

The Awards Ceremony

So, in the first category, Historical Figures, I sat there, patiently waiting for my name to be called. Last year, I had won a couple silvers and was hoping to repeat that achievement. However, the sense of relief at not hearing my name called for a certificate or a bronze was quickly replaced with shock and excitement when I didn’t hear my name called for a silver either. With Boudicca, I had earned my first gold medal.

The rest of the awards ceremony was a little anti-climactic; I picked up three more silvers in fantasy, vehicles, and fantasy vehicles and a bronze for wargaming unit. I know it’s not good to place too much value on trophies and medals, but seeing all the insanely good models on the tables and taking home a gold made all that imposter syndrome from earlier disappear. While, obviously, I have a lot to learn, it is a nice feeling to know that I can at least mix it up with the best of ‘em and not totally embarrass myself.

Now I just need to figure out how to top that next year…

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Bonus Content: Red Haro Ball

I haven’t painted much red. It’s kind of a tricky colour, because it’s so intense it can be hard to fit it into a scheme, and because you need to really master your colour theory to highlight it and make it look good.

So, I decided to rectify that. I had this little Bandai Haro/Ball kit which was kind of cute, however it was a little frustrating because there were a lot of hollow areas that I had to fill and sand. I also added a little greeblification under the one slightly ajar hatch with some styrene and a couple guitar strings. So, after many different colours of primers, paints, and inks, I came up with this little guy, with a primary light source coming from the top front right, a secondary source from the top back left, and some green glow coming from the eyes. Fun little kit, aside from all the hollows on the arms.

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So you want to go to a model show…

With CapCon 2019 coming up, and with model shows being popular this time of year, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little article about what to expect if it is your first time going to a model show.

Do you want to compete?

While competition is generally a big part of these shows, you can have a lot of fun just spending the day looking at cool models. These competitions can be organized in a number of ways, and if you want to enter into the competition, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

If you want to have a serious shot at winning a medal, you need to do your best work. Take your time and do it right, fixing any mold lines, nub marks, and other imperfections. Also, make sure you get your alignment right if you are building any sort of vehicle where things are supposed to be straight and level. Work on your finish, and make sure any paint and decals don’t have any glaring flaws. These are the sort of basic things that separate the contenders from the also-rans. Finally, don’t rush your build; that can be a recipe for disaster.

If your model doesn’t live up to this high standard and you don’t feel it is competitive with your peers… enter it anyways! There is nothing wrong with putting a model on the table, even if you don’t really have a chance. Never feel like your stuff isn’t competition-worthy. People go to model shows to look at models, and anything looks better than an empty tablecloth. No one should ever make you feel bad because your model isn’t up to their standards.

Read the rules

Most rules are pretty straightforward, but giving them a quick read can help prevent any unnecessary conflict. Don’t put the contest organizers in an awkward position by bringing in something that violates the rules; forcing them to make a decision on whether to stick to the rules or give you an exception because you lugged your models out and they don’t want to upset you isn’t fair. Also, figure out what categories your entries go into in advance. If you have unusually large models or displays, give the organizers a heads up in advance so they don’t struggle to accommodate them on the day of the show. Finally, if you want to compete, reading the rules can help you understand what judges are looking for.

Prepare in advance

So, you have your models built and your schedule cleared. Now, it’s time to make a couple preparations before the day of the show. If you are bringing models, a few days before the show, figure out how you are going to get your models there. Transporting models can be difficult because they can be very delicate, and there will always be people who make it to the model show only to find that a little piece has broken off. Do a little research into model transport solutions. If your models are firmly attached to a base, it can be a lot easier as you can simply stick the base to the bottom of a big tub with magnets or some sort of temporary adhesive. If not, then you have to improvise with things like foam and homemade jigs to hold them in place in the box so they don’t rattle around. Regardless, by packing your models a few days in advance, you can ensure that you have time to arrange smooth transportation to and from the venue.

Also, most shows have entry forms available online in the form of fillable pdf files. Download them, fill them out, and print them in advance. This will help smooth your registration process and give you more time to enjoy the show as you aren’t wasting time filling out forms or trying to figure out which category your models go into. It also helps the show organizers because judges aren’t subjected to the poor handwriting of the entrants. If you can also pre-register or pre-pay, that will save you some time on the day of the show.

Aside from your models and your entry forms, it is a good idea to bring an empty cloth shopping bag or two to make it easier to carry any purchases, raffle prizes, or trophies you are taking home. Also, bring cash. A lot of vendors, silent auctions, and raffles will be cash-only, and not all shows will have an ATM on site. Or, in the case of one show I went to, the ATM might run out of cash partway through the show, which, while a good omen for the vendors, may be frustrating if you need to refuel before another trip around the vendor hall.

Finally, make sure you keep yourself well-fed. Your stomach can seriously affect your mood, and not all shows have great options for food on-site. If you can grab a decent breakfast before the show, that could help keep your energy level up. Consider packing a lunch (or even just some granola bars and a couple pieces of fruit if you are going for a “big breakfast, small lunch” strategy), or research nearby restaurants so you aren’t scrambling to figure it out when your stomach starts grumbling.

The show

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Image shamelessly stolen from HeritageCon

So, you’ve made it to the show, boxes of models in tow. Your first order of business is to head to the registration table and get yourself all squared away with the show organizers. From there, if you brought models, head down to the main exhibition area and plunk them down on the tables. The tables will be organized by category and will generally have pretty clear signage, so make sure you put them in the right spot.

From there, there are going to be two main attractions: the exhibition and the vendors. Feel free to explore both of these at your own pace, but keep in mind that some shows close the exhibition hall for judging, so if you want to take a close look at the models, do that before and after the judging. If you’re in the exhibition hall, take a look around and admire all the work on display. See if there are any new techniques you can learn from the models on display, as taking a close look at a model and trying to figure out how the builder did something is a good source of inspiration. Admire the handiwork on display, but don’t get too worried if someone plunks down an absolutely amazing model in the same category as yours. And if you do see someone do that… complement his model and try to strike up a conversation.

Also, don’t just focus on the categories you like. Take your time and look at all the models on the table. This can help broaden your horizons and maybe pique some interest in subjects you might not think of. What’s the worst that could happen; you could find out that you think gundams are cool?

The vendor hall can offer some good deals on model kits, tools and accessories. A lot of the time, particularly if it is getting later in the day, the vendors don’t really want to pack stuff up again, so feel free to do a little wheeling and dealing with some of the smaller vendors that are just a guy selling his collection. Also, if there are raffles or silent auctions, that can be a source of cheap kits and the like.

Competition

In model competitions, it is vitally important to keep things in perspective. Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. By entering into the contest, you have agreed to accept the judge’s decisions, so no grumbling about which model should have won. No one likes a sore loser, and being a sore winner is even worse.

If you have a competitive personality, take some time the morning of the show and before the awards ceremony to get into the right headspace. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, awards don’t matter and in a 123 system, they are as much a measure of who else showed up that day as they are a measure of your objective skill. Expect to win nothing, and be pleasantly surprised when you do hear your name called at the awards ceremony. The worst thing you can do is get your self-worth all tangled up in awards and trophies; that way leads to ruin.

I think it is important to keep three things in mind at these shows:

  1. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off at a contest is a winner. Period.
  2. Finding inspiration on the tables is more valuable than any plaque or medal.
  3. The real prizes are the friends you make along the way.

Conclusions

Model shows are a great way to spend a day, and if you play your cards right, you can go home with some sweet deals on model kits, inspiration for your next build, and some new friends. Don’t worry about whether you win or lose, but be happy and humble if you take home some hardware.

Bonus Content: King & Country Russians

A friend had some King & Country collectible figures that got banged up in shipping. They were pretty gnarly, with two broken barrels and numerous chips and scratches. So, I took it upon myself to volunteer to “restore” them. And by “restore” I mean drop them in acetone and repaint them how I want. I scratchbuilt a couple replacement barrels, hit them with Stynylrez, and got to painting. I airbrushed a base coat of green, and followed that up with some additional brushwork to bring up the highlights. Everything else was done by brush, and the metallics were done after the last layer of varnish just to keep them nice and shiny. The faces were a little tricky and didn’t turn out great because the sculpts were kind of dated and beat up, but the owner was happy with how they turned out.

The Skill Wall and Display vs. Army Painting

When I started painting miniatures and figures, it was for gaming. I had a bit of a false start with Reaper’s first Bones kickstarter, but eventually I got hooked by way of a Warmachine starter set I got for Christmas one year. However, as I’ve moved more and more into display painting and away from just painting for games, I’ve started to notice some differences between army painting and display painting.

The skill wall

One of the concepts I have been thinking about in my display painting has been a “skill wall.” This is a point where you look at a model and, even if it isn’t perfect, you don’t have the skills to really do anything to it which will actually improve the model. At that point, you are best to call it done because any further work is just futzing around with it for little to no actual improvement.

To use an analogy, think of the skill wall as a physical barrier that you are trying to run towards. As you get better at running, you learn to run both faster (representing how fast you can put paint on a model) and farther (representing how good the final product looks). A painting competition is measuring the distance you go, and it is up to you to take it all the way as far as you can. We all eventually hit that wall, but if you want to win, you need to drag yourself to the outer edge of your skill and not just say “meh, good enough.”

When you are just starting out, I would argue that you should push yourself to the max with every model. Let’s face it, all of us when we started barely knew how to get the paint onto the model. In the previous analogy, we were the equivalent of a 500 pound man huffing and wheezing as we struggled to waddle the 100 metre dash. At that point, you need all the exercise you can get. But as we practice and get in shape, we can go both farther and faster. Maybe after a month of training, our skill wall is 200 metres from the start line, but we can now jog 200 metres in half the time it previously took us to waddle 100 metres.

Ideally, as people who paint armies and hordes for games, as we paint more and more, we are both getting better at painting and getting faster as we learn the basics of brush control and all sorts of little tips, tricks and techniques to speed our work. We start producing better work, but it doesn’t take that much longer (and may even take less time) because we now paint faster as well. We might even find some shortcuts like using airbrushes, sketch style or contrast paints to take a different route which gets us better results faster.

However, once you start doing some serious display painting, things start to change. Eventually, you end up in a situation where, even though you have the brush control techniques to paint relatively quickly, your capabilities are so advanced that you could spend dozens of hours on a single model and not even hit your skill wall yet. But since dozens of hours per model times dozens of models in your army equals an unrealistic amount of time, the approach of always pushing yourself to the max on every single model may start to get problematic at some point.

Basically, at some point, no matter how good of a runner you are, it will still take a while to do a marathon.

From a practical perspective, since there are only so many hours in the day, you end up having to do one of two things when you are army painting. First, you start looking for techniques that save time rather than improve quality. You might do some sketch style or try out new airbrush techniques instead of slowly and carefully layering highlights. Second, you have to start saying “good enough” at some point, and this is where the whole concept of “tabletop quality” starts to come in (even though “tabletop standard” is kind of a confusing concept).

That sounds bad, but in the context of painting an entire army, it really isn’t. Yes, no individual model from your army will win a best single model painting competition (except maybe a centerpiece model you have kicked up to a higher standard), however that isn’t the point of army painting. To paraphrase Stalin, quantity has a quality of its own. A large decently-painted army with some uniformity in sculpts, colours and basing schemes, some nice pop on the highlights, and maybe a couple really nice centerpiece models looks rad as hell, even if random dude with spear number 37 isn’t the most impressive model.

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Pictured: Two small, rad-as-hell looking armies

All about the base

One other big difference between painting for a game and painting for display is the question of bases. In many wargames, base size serves an important gameplay purposes and measurements are made from the base. In Warmachine, this is a particular issue because tournament play requires round-lipped bases, which I am not really a fan of because the lip seems to take up a large portion of the area available for basing, and there are fewer third party scenic bases available than there are for the traditional GW style angle-lipped bases.

Gaming bases are generally pretty simple and utilitarian, often consisting of a flat plastic base with maybe a touch of simple texture or other scenic elements on top. There is an incentive not to build up too much height on their bases because taller models means they take up more room in your army transport bag, and it can get difficult at times to lug armies around to games.

Display painters often like to put their models on fancy plinths, which both looks nice and serves a practical purpose – where wargamers tend to handle their models by the model itself, display painters often don’t varnish their pieces and don’t want to touch them, so a nice plinth can serve as a convenient handle for when you do need to put them on the contest table.

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An early attempt at an almost-display level model that I could game with, before I started doing real display models. Note how the arc markings on the base are distracting from the model. This was basically my skill wall at the time.

In games such as Warmachine, there is also an issue with facing and arc marking. Since you are strongly encouraged to mark facings on your bases, this can become an issue because these markings can draw attention away from the model and towards the usually high contrast markings on the rim of the base. A plain black rim just looks better as it doesn’t draw attention away from the model and gives some nice separation between the table and the scenery on the base. This is why, in spite of encouraging players to paint arc markings on their bases, Privateer Press has plain black rims in all of their box art.

Finally, there can be practical issues with overly scenic bases. Games featuring true line of sight, where line of sight is measured to the model itself, can cause issues. It can be hard for your awesome character model to take cover behind a wall if he is permanently standing on top of a pile of the corpses of his vanquished enemies. In other games such as Warmachine, players tend to place an extremely high value on precision movement, so things like overhang and fancy, elevated basing can cause frustration. If you are trying to do something display-like that you still want to game with, the demands of the game can compromise your artistic vision.

Simply put, a gaming base looks underwhelming in a painting contest, and a nice plinth wouldn’t work on the gaming table. While you can sometimes get away with using the same bases, you eventually get to a point where you need to decide if you are going to use a piece for gaming or as a display piece and go one way or the other.

Varnish and protecting your paint

Finally, we get into one of the biggest differences between painting for a game and painting for display. Game models are meant to be touched and handled, display models generally aren’t.

This means a few things. First, display models can sometimes incorporate small, fiddly details that would be unsuitable for the sort of rough handling that a gaming model goes through, between transport and gaming. As one example, I saw a model of a tank for one of the WW2 combat games that came with two main guns – one to the proper scale, and a thicker one for gamers because the proper scale gun is too fragile for tabletop gaming.

And, we have to get into varnish. Since gamers tend to handle their minis a lot, they tend to appreciate thick coats of varnish. While I’m not sure to what extent the varnish actually protects the miniature (I would think primer adhesion would be a bigger culprit for chipping),

Unfortunately, when you are painting for display, a varnish can change the finish in ways that you don’t intend. Obviously, a matte varnish will destroy the shine of your metallics (do I really need to explain this one?). You can rescue it somewhat with a gloss varnish overtop, but it still won’t quite be the same as if you left your metallics in their natural state.

However, even with regular, non-metallic paints, a varnish can slightly change the finish of the paint in ways that you don’t expect. As a result, it is common for display painters to address this problem by leaving their models unvarnished, and simply not touch them, as they are not willing to risk sacrificing their hard work on getting the blends perfect only to have it be messed with by a varnish.

What does this all mean?

While they are very similar skills and incorporate similar techniques, I believe that army painting and display painting are different enough that we should recognize and celebrate both. There are people who aren’t going to win a painting competition because their skill wall isn’t far enough out yet. These people either don’t want to make the jump into display-only painting (especially when they are staring down a bunch of space marines they need painted for the next tournament) or they simply aren’t skilled enough yet to seriously compete. However, they can field very nice armies thanks to patience, practice and perseverance.

When it comes to wargaming, I’m a big advocate of rewarding and incentivising all aspects of the hobby. There is an attitude in some circles that tournaments are about game mastery and painting competitions are about display painting and never the twain shall meet in order to protect the sanctity of both. However, I feel this attitude is wrong-headed because it leaves out the army painters – the sort of people who may not have the skills to be competitive at something like Crystal Brush, but who have the perseverance to play it painted and to produce nice looking armies.

On the tournament side, this can be done in a variety of ways; some combination of best painted army awards, paint scores, or bonuses or raffles for fielding a fully painted army could work. On the display side, I think events like GW’s Armies on Parade are a neat way to allow army painters to showcase their work, compete, and get some recognition for a job well done. Space permitting, things like this could be incorporated into painting competitions, which would give army painters an opportunity to mingle with display painters and pick up some skills.

Final thoughts

While display and army painting involve a lot of similar skills, there are a number of significant differences that make them not always the same. However, that is not to devalue or diminish army painting; the patience and perseverance involved in painting an army is not unlike that of bringing a single model up to a very high display standard. And both should be rewarded and celebrated.

 

Bonus content: French Cruiser De Grasse

One of the raffle prizes I snagged at TorCan was a Heller 1:1400 scale kit of the French cruiser De Grasse. Construction started on this ship before World War II, and in the chaos of the war and the Fall of France, plans for the hull changed a number of times before it was finally finished as an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1956.

The kit itself was not very big and was showing its age. Instructions came on a single sheet of yellowed paper, and no decals were supplied. I ended up struggling to get the two halves of the hull and the deck in place properly, which caused a number of issues with seam lines. Most of the painting was relatively simple, with the exception of the helicopter landing pad at the rear which I painted onto the deck by hand. I used brass rod to fashion a pair of flagpoles at the front and back, each flying tiny French flags made of little squares of aluminum foil, and since I couldn’t find my ez-line, used one of my own hairs for the rigging.

Also, even though it makes no sense, I painted the plaque on the front using TMM shading because… reasons?

Warmachine: The joy of playing with noobs

I’ve been playing Warmachine for about three and a half years now, and I think it is fair to say that during that time, I reached a point where my love for the game started to wane. I’m not sure it was one specific thing, but rather an accumulation of a bunch of small issues, negative experiences, and constant exposure to the internet that caused my relationship with the game to sour.

This manifested itself as burnout. At some point, I stopped going to tournaments. I started finding them to be too stressful. Having to lug army boxes across town on the bus and spend an entire day at a game store just became too much. A one-day tournament is half your weekend. There could be long breaks between rounds where you have nothing to do but look at the wall of products in the store for the 34th time and struggle to manage your anxiety level. You eventually tire of the same basic scenario, only with six variations that have different geometry. You end up stressing out over your next matchup – am I going to end up having to play my next round against “that guy,” or the guy who brought the really scary list that absolutely dunks on my army and makes the game almost pointless? What if I lose list chicken and am trapped for the next two hours in a hellishly bad matchup?

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For the last time, Harkevich is not OP!

On top of all that, there is the pressure to perform. In competitive pursuits, all too often, how much you are valued in your community and your own self-worth gets tied to your win/loss record. So, you end up pushing too hard, stressing out over every little mistake, trying to git gud and not fall off the competitive play treadmill. And do it all on clock. And when you finally win… well, a not insignificant amount of the time, you are quickly reminded that it is no great accomplishment because this model in your army is OP, that model is OP, and your entire faction is the easy mode newbie faction that any moron can win with.

Between that and consistent exposure to negativity on the internet on top of some baseline social anxiety, I was starting to get burned out on the game.

It was against this backdrop that a coworker expressed some interest in wargaming. He was a Lego collector so we started by doing a demo of Mobile Frame Zero, after which I offered him a demo of Warmachine. Of course, the first step was that I would have to paint up a second army, but I figured it was worth it.

So, I got together some Cygnar models and met him in the dingy basement of my FLGS for a battlebox game. I compressed all the important rules down to one sheet of paper and gave it to him, explained a few things, and ran him through the activation of a warjack, letting his Juggernaut spend some focus beating on my Ironclad. Then, we lined up against each other with a simple scenario consisting of a single circle in the middle of the table, and bashed each other’s faces in.

He enjoyed it and came back for more. But, as we gradually worked up from battlebox games to 35 points with themes and more complex scenarios, a funny thing started happening.

I started having fun playing Warmachine again.

Fun? That’s heresy!

In the Warmachine community it can sometimes be easy to lose track of the idea that the game is supposed to be fun. If you’re on the internet, most of the media you consume is focused on competitive play. Just about all of the micro-celebrities who are worshipped in this community are people who have won major tournaments. When you get caught up in this scene, you often end up grinding out practice games, paying the same few scenarios over and over and it can start to get boring. Then you have to keep it up because there is always a new boogeyman list in CID that you need to either figure out how to play or figure out how to beat to stay on top. “This is Warmachine; it’s not supposed to be fun!” or something to that effect is a common joke, but there can be a grain of truth to it.

At some point, it can just become mentally and emotionally draining. Your hobby starts to feel like work, and you start thinking you would rather stay home and paint than go to a tournament.

But, playing smaller games in a more casual setting with a friend was completely different. There wasn’t the stress of trying to perform at a tournament, because it was just a fun casual game and my objective was to help him learn and show him the possibilities of the game. We weren’t playing Steamroller, so we could set up whatever fancy terrain we wanted (including hills!) and create a little spectacle that looked fairly cool. Once he got the jist of it, we could finish a game in a reasonable amount of time, and if there was an early assassination, we had time to re-rack and try again. In short, we were playing for fun.

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Pictured: fun

The other thing is that at lower points levels, the information overload is lessened. One of the most challenging experiences in Warmachine is looking at your opponent’s list and realizing that you are up against an entire table of “what does this model do again?” At 35 points, there is still a lot of depth due to the caster and her interactions with the army, but the complexity is a lot less overwhelming when you aren’t up against the likes of multiple units and six different beasts, all with different stat profiles, roles and animi. Since you are less overwhelmed, you tend to have more complete of a tactical picture and can really play a good game with that engaging back and forth as the battle ebbs and flows rather than a “what just happened?” game where one feels “gotcha’d” into submission.

Fun is infectious

The other interesting thing about new players is that they often bring a sense of wonder into the game that has long since vanished from the heart of the veteran player. Everything is cool and new to them, and that excitement is contagious. Getting new players to try a power attack for the first time is just such an awesome cinematic experience that you can’t help but smile as his big ugly beast throws your giant robit at a swarm of infantry. Seeing the guy I’m getting into the game start talking about lists, lore and painting and getting excited about it gets me excited and has rekindled my passion for the game.

It also reminded me of why I, and likely why a lot of other players, got into the game. I didn’t start playing because someone told me that there was this intense tournament grind and maybe someday I could become the next Iron Gauntlet winner or go to the WTC. I started playing because me and the guy who got me a battlebox for Christmas one year went out one night had fun pushing our little painted dudes around. And also because I got the starter box and read about how Sorscha was this badass warrior wizard who commanded this awesome giant coal-powered robit to deliver a giant axe to the faces of all foes of the motherland.

The bottom line

New players are the lifeblood of a community, but judging by some of the internet chatter that I’ve seen, some players consider it a chore to onboard them into the game. Playing below 75 points in a non-tournament standard format and using lists that are a little watered down to provide an enjoyable experience rather than the optimum way to stomp someone into the ground is anathema to a certain section of the player base. If you are stuck on that competitive treadmill, taking a night away from practice games for tournaments to help someone who can barely allocate focus is a costly proposition.

However, new players are the lifeblood of a game like Warmachine. But don’t play a battlebox game with a new player for the game or for the “meta”; do it for yourself. Rather than being a chore, if you go into it with the right attitude, you may find bringing new players into the game to be more enjoyable than doing yet another 75 point steamroller game. And, if your enthusiasm for the game is flagging, seeing it through the eyes of a new player can help remind you what got you into the game to begin with.

Bonus: Hot take!

After a few 35 point games, I asked my coworker if he would like to move on up to 50 and then the tournament standard of 75. He told me that he was comfortable at this level and didn’t want to add to it for the time being. Which, it turned out I was completely fine with, as by this time, I had learned that Warmachine is much more fun at 35 points than at the tournament standard of 75.

Frozen Ninja 3D Cyborg Bust

Growing up as a Star Trek fan, I probably watched more than my share of episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. While they were in their last season when I started tuning in, the Space Channel was running reruns on a daily basis, so it wasn’t hard to get my fill of Delta Quadrant adventures with Janeway, Neelix, and the holographic doctor played by JohnnyCab from the Total Recall movie.

Of course, being a young man at the time, there was a certain character who was introduced a couple seasons in with the goal of appealing to my demographic. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can say it didn’t work. While the Borg had been kicking around since the days of Picard, and had by that time established themselves as the biggest and most fascinating bad guys in the galaxy, it was with Seven of Nine that we first got insight into how a person raised by the Borg would interact when no longer part of the Collective.

So, when I saw a kickstarter offering up a bust of a cyborg from Frozen Ninja 3D, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I would fail my will save and end up acquiring her.

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The Bust

Frozen Ninja 3D is a fairly new player in this game, using digital sculpting and 3D printing to make a master and casting resin copies based on that, which is the direction that the industry is going in. The company launched via kickstarter maybe a year ago. I’m not sure how much experience the prime sculptor has in the industry prior to launching this company though I did see him mention online somewhere that this is his first bust. Somehow, the model itself just has a certain feel to it that betrays its origins as a digitally sculpted model. It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly that is, but if it weren’t for the fact that the subject is up my alley, I might have taken a pass on it as it doesn’t quite have the same je ne sais quoi as some of the other busts in my collection.

I did make a few small modifications to the model. First, the original sculpt had a part of the hair that was really lacking any sort of detail, so in order to not have a big, smooth are where there should be strands of hair, I carved some detail into it. Next, I used half-round sections of plasticard and some glue and putty to add what are essentially glowing tubes or hoses of some sort into a couple of the wide gaps in her chest armour. Finally, I added an antenna to the cybernetic implant on the side of her head, which was just a piece of a paper clip cut down to size.

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Areas with modifications circled

And, of course, I did a zenithal prime with some cool shadows, as I do for most of my work. In this case, I left her head separate from her torso for the start of my painting, just to make the airbrushing easier and get under the hair.

Skin and Hair

For the skin tone, I wanted to do something a little different than my usual approach. Quite predictably, I chose to use Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager as my reference source. There are plenty of pictures available of her both in her Borg drone getup and half-deborgified from the episodes where she joined the crew, and a lot of them have been taken in the fairly neutral light of the starship Voyager as opposed to the overall darkness punctuated by green lights of a Borg cube.

The important piece of knowledge that I gathered from staring at pictures of Jeri Ryan (oh, the sacrifices I make for you people…) was that the skin had to look somewhat unnatural and have some cool tones in it to emphasize the artificial nature of the cybernetic implants. A Borg drone with rosy red cheeks and pink lips would just look odd. It also wasn’t smooth and uniform, having a lot of mottling and imperfections as dermatology and makeup aren’t huge priorities in the Borg Collective. I also wanted to go for something a little on the darker side as I knew I was going to be doing a lot of gunmetal and black leathery colours on this model, plus the facial structure implied to me that she may have been a little darker-skinned before being turned into a cyborg.

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I did here. It involved a lot of airbrushing and playing around with different colours – blues, purples, greys, various skin tones, and I think I shaded it with some Payne’s Grey ink shot from below, as well as stippled on some little imperfections with a sponge. Once I got something I thought looked interesting and was happy with, I decided to leave it well enough alone and not touch it for the remainder of the project because like anything truly artistic, I wasn’t sure exactly what I did and didn’t think I could replicate the process.

As for the hair, I knew there were going to be a lot of green glowing parts on the final project, so colour theory demanded something reddish. So, I went for an orangeish strawberry blonde. As usual, I started with a wet blend to highlight the overall shape of the hair, working up from some orangey ochre tones like P3’s Bogrin Brown and Moldy Ochre, to highlight colours like Reaper’s Blond Hair. I then followed up with some quick dry brushing and washes to get some quick shadows and highlights on individual strands of hair, and followed up with some manual highlights and shading to reinforce what I had achieved with the basics.

True Metallic Metals

With the skin tones done, it was time to move on to something else. Readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of the extra pop you get from using True Metallic Metal (TMM) techniques, but that they are also quite difficult because most metal paints kind of suck. So, I basecoated it all in Vallejo Metal Color’s Gunmetal Grey and got to work.

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Half-done TMM

With a clean basecoat down, what I had to do to get the TMM effects was to use inks to darken the shadows and use VMC Silver to catch the highlights. I eventually hit on a good way to do this; start by applying the inks from dark to light, then throw down a little silver in your highlight area. By drawing the silver into the inks and then blending the whole thing together a little, you can get a decent quick blend. With the inks being less shiny than the metals, you get a cool effect where there is more sparkle in the highlights than there is in the shadows, as there should be.

As for the colours, I chose to sneak a little bit of purple into my metallics – not enough to read as some sort of funky purple metal, but just enough to add a hint of a different colour to them (which, of course, is also not enough to actually appear in any of my photos because I’m bad at photography). I chose purple for two reasons. First, I felt it would contrast nicely with the orange hair and green glowing bits, creating a nice triadic colour scheme. Second, I had plenty of purple artist ink on hand as that is a shade colour I use quite frequently.

So, the typical highlight went from Black to Payne’s Grey (a nice desaturated blue-black) to Dioxazine Purple inks, into VMC silver. That was all blended together, then I would go back in and reinforce the highlights. As for where I placed the highlights… well, that was a challenge with all the flat plates on her armour. It was done using Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) principles, and placing NMM highlights can be an article in itself, so if you are interested, find someone who is better than me and look up her tutorial.

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TMM recipe. Liquitex and FW inks are very similar, the only difference is Liquitex fits on my paint rack.

Finally, for some of the edge highlighting, I switched to Scale75 as their consistency is a little more natural for certain techniques, and their Speed Metal is whiter than anything in the VMC range so it makes a nice highest highlight.

Other Details

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There were some parts of her armour that looked less metallic than others – areas like her stomach and some areas on her upper chest, around her collar. These I chose to do as some sort of futuristic non-metallic synthetic leather-like material. Whatever you might call it, I started from Nightshade Purple in the deepest shadows to have a subtle tie-in with the metals, then worked up to Reaper MSP Coal Black and P3 Coal Black, mixing in some P3 Menoth White Highlight into the highest highlight. It may seem strange to use the same colour from two different brands, but these actually have a different tone. While the hue is similar, P3’s take on Coal Black is a little lighter and more saturated than Reaper’s version so it is good as a higher highlight over a base of Reaper’s version.

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“Leather” and hair colours

In most of these areas, I applied this with the brush, blending my highlights and adding edge highlights. However, there were a couple areas where I wanted to get some different texture so I decided to do a little basic stencil work, using a piece of aluminum mesh to make a diamond pattern that I could airbrush over.

Finally, I added some glow effects around some of the lights and switches on her suit, making sure to make the source of the light the brightest area and glazing some green glow effects around where the surface might catch the light.

Final Thoughts

This was an interesting project. Not being one to play the more out there fantasy races when I do wargaming, I haven’t really done much in the way of unnatural skin tones. So that made for an interesting challenge. While it worked out on this project, it is still a little beyond my comfort zone as as soon as I got something that I liked, I immediately hit the eject button and decided that I wouldn’t risk screwing it up.

As for the TMM, this project did end up demanding a lot from me, and I’m still not sure I’m at the point where I’m getting perfectly smooth blends with metallic paints. They are just always tricky to work with, and perhaps I should have gone for NMM on this project instead. Working on the TMM really tested my endurance as it took a lot of pushing to get past the phase where your model looks like crap and you hate it, and in that phase I was getting frustrated with trying to blend metal paints.

But, whether it is one of my best works or not, I made it over the hill and down the other side. And that’s really what matters at the end of the day.

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Bonus Content: Cup Noodle Gunpla!

So, I had somehow managed to acquire a couple tiny, special edition Gundam models that were produced for the 40th anniversary of Cup Noodle, a Japanese company making ready to make cups of noodles. So, here is Char’s Zaku and a Gelgoog in all their tiny glory.

Thoughts on judging

Whenever we go to a modelling competition, one aspect that always gets a lot of attention is the judging. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on the judging, and rarely is it the case that those with the most vocal opinions think that the judging was fine.

Now, I’m not going to get into the controversy over whether Jimbo’s P-69 Thundercat should have beaten Cletus’ Blackburn Bastard for best in show at the East Westington IPMS show three years ago, but I do think it is worthwhile to explain the difference between different judging systems and the pros and cons of each, if only to help out new people. IPMS USA is currently discussing switching from 1-2-3 to open system at their nationals, and the style of judging (if you even plan to make it a competitive thing) is one important decision for anyone looking at starting up a local show.

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This guy gets it

There are a couple important caveats to this article that I would like to address up front. This article should not be taken as me being salty over any decision at a recent show, or upset that any show doesn’t use my favourite judging system. That is not the case, and I’ve intentionally saved this for publication at an appropriate time in between shows so it doesn’t read like sour grapes or criticizing any particular show organizers.

Second, I think at the end of the day, it is important to keep things in perspective. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off is a winner, and the true prizes are the friends you make along the way. While competitions can be fun, getting too competitive about your hobby is a surefire road to misery and frustration (see: why I don’t do competitive Warmachine anymore).

Judging systems

The first, and probably the most established, judging system is IPMS style 1-2-3 judging. Here, there are multiple categories and a team of judges simply chooses the best, 2nd best, and 3rd best model on the table. While this may sound subjective, judges are trained to judge models according to standards laid out in the judging document. In these standards, craftsmanship is king. They have wisely chosen to avoid judging historical accuracy to prevent fistfights over the proper shade of RLM 69 or the number of rivets on the glacis plate on the real thing. And since they’re focused mainly on craftsmanship, they tend to be fairly objective – a missed seam line is a missed seam line, regardless of a judge’s level of affinity for the subject.

We also have the open system which is common in figure shows. Instead of competing against each other, modellers are competing against a set of objective criteria. There are generally Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals, and each entrant simply gets what the judges think their work deserves. This means that there can be any number of people winning any colour of medal – and zero is still a valid number.

Next, we have systems that are based on rubrics. This is common for Gunpla builders, and I believe it is often used for AMPS shows and paint scores in 40K tournaments, but I’ve never been to either of those. Here, there are a number of categories representing various aspects of a build – construction, painting, modifications, etc. Points are deducted for mistakes and added for things that are particularly well done, and at the end of the day, points are added up across all the categories and all the judges, generating a total score. This score can be then used either to rank the models most points to least, or give out awards to anyone who scores a certain number of point.

Finally, we have a simple people’s choice award, where attendees vote on their favourites and he who gets the most votes wins. The voter base can either be fellow entrants or the general public.

Of course, the differences between these systems aren’t always set in stone. Figure contests regularly feature best in show awards in addition to the gold-silver-bronze system. IPMS shows may use the open system for junior categories, so as not to crush the dreams of any young modeller. An open system can judge every model individually, or a modeller’s work as a whole, only giving out one award per category for his best work. And any show may incorporate a “people’s choice” award in addition to the judged criteria. Further, there are variations in these – IPMS contests can have “no sweeps” rules to prevent one person from taking home all the prizes in the categories, GSB style contests can judge and award every single model or an artist’s work as a whole, and rubrics can be either extremely detailed or very basic and can weigh different aspects of a build.

My thoughts

All of these systems have their pros and cons, and they are all heavily ingrained in the culture of the communities that have adopted them.

The IPMS style is nice and simple, and you can get a lot of judging done quickly. A simple glance over the table can greatly narrow down the number of models that are in contention and that a judge really needs to examine closely. However as anyone who has tried to organize a model show can attest, when you have very diverse builds, the sheer number of categories required to ensure that you have like competing against like, that there are not too many or too few entries per category, and that every possible thing that can show up has a category, ends up becoming a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention when the number of entries in each category is invariably much different than what you planned, judges often have to split or merge categories for there to be any semblance of fair competition. And then how the judges tweaked the categories on the day of the contest can be a bone of contention for those who didn’t win.

Further, there will always be some categories that end up being more hotly contested than others, so in some ways it is less of an objective measure. You can win first place in your category either by doing an amazing model and beating the other couple dozen amazing 1:48 aircraft, or you could be the only entrant in an obscure category and take home first place with a mediocre entry. I know that personally, the amount of hardware that I bring home at an IPMS show within driving distance depends about as much on who else shows up as it does on my quality of work.

There is also a risk of disappointment for those who don’t place. Anyone from 4th to last has no idea how well they did. As one example, I judged a competition a few months ago where we narrowed it down to the final four, figured out the winner and runner-up fairly easily, and then spend a lot of time deliberating over who gets the bronze and who goes home with nothing. If I hadn’t talked to the guy who was in 4th place afterwards, he may have been discouraged simply because he would have no way of knowing how close he was to placing.

Finally, because the IPMS style is comparing the models to each other, there are some logistical challenges. You need to have all the models on the table before you start judging, whereas with points systems and open systems, if the judges know they are going to have their work cut out of them, they can simply judge models as they arrive or get a head start before the entry deadline.

Open System

The open system has a lot of advantages. The main one is that you aren’t competing against each other, you are competing against yourself. How you do on the day doesn’t depend on who else shows up. This gives you a more accurate representation of where your skills are at, and it can help you set realistic goals, such as if you won Bronze one year, to go for Silver the next.

The open system also doesn’t require as many categories as the 1-2-3 system, which makes things a lot simpler. However, the judges tend to have a bit more work cut out for them as under a 1-2-3 system, a quick glance can often knock out a majority of the entrants who are uncompetitive and cut down on the number of models that need a serious look. The open system requires the judges to look at every model on the table (or, at least, everyone’s best work in a category) and give it its appropriate award.

I also think the prevalence of the open system contributes to the friendliness and mostly drama-free nature of the miniature painting community. When you are very rarely directly competing against each other, you are more invested in helping each other build their skills. When your friend wins a gold medal, it’s not bittersweet because he beat you to get it.

Rubrics and points

As for rubrics, to be honest, I’m not a big fan for a few reasons. First, I feel like they are popular because they have the appearance of objectivity, however I’m not sure they are actually that much more objective than something like the IPMS style, where there are no rubrics and the judges just confer and make a call. The theory is that simply choosing the best is open to favouritism, and points systems make things more objective. However, there is nothing preventing a biased judge from simply giving their favourites more points than the rest, either consciously or unconsciously.

Second, rubrics encourage people to build to the rubric if they want to be successful in the competition. Instead of simply approaching the build how they want, people end up having to tick off a number of boxes to get the maximum score or at least a competitive score in the category. For example, competitions that award points for conversions and customization may encourage people to do unnecessary modifications just so they can say that they did a conversion and get the points for that category. If the rubric isn’t well-designed, then you could have situations where it discourages creativity by rewarding certain specific style choices – for example, punishing an automotive modeller who enters a showroom clean car by giving him a big fat zero in the weathering category.

Can the people be trusted?

People’s choice is an interesting one and it makes judging a lot easier by simply removing the need for judges altogether. That said, in model shows as in democracy, the people can’t always be trusted. People tend to be attracted to the biggest, shiniest model with the most blinking lights. However, said model may, on closer inspection, have a ton of seam lines, alignment issues, and problems with the finish which are not apparent to the layman at a quick glance. Good models can get passed over simply because they aren’t the biggest, most eye-catching thing on the table. However, just having a show with a ballot can make for a much more chilled out atmosphere than a judged contest.

Feedback?

While feedback is good, not everyone wants feedback and not all feedback is useful. If you missed a mold line, being told to clean up your mold lines doesn’t really help you as a modeller. You already know you’re supposed to deal with that; that’s not new information for you. However, feedback such as new weathering techniques, suggestions on diorama composition, colour theory and lighting, etc., can actually help bring you to the next level.

I also feel that when it comes to feedback, some people are genuinely interested in improving their skills and progressing as a modeller, and some people just want to be salty that they didn’t win. They don’t want honest critique, they want to know why they lost and use it as ammo to grumble.

Again, I feel like the GSB system lends itself more to honest feedback because judges can tell you what you can do to bring yourself to the next level, rather than comparing your entry to other models and saying “well, Jim over there made something nicer.” Knowing what you can do to go from Bronze to Silver is much more valuable information than knowing which mold line you missed or what tiny flaw in your model caused the other guy to beat you.

If you really want feedback, track down a judge and ask him or her for it. Or, just talk to your friends and fellow competitors and get their feedback. Detailed feedback on a score sheet sounds nice, but it is onerous for the judges and it may not be as useful as simply having a conversation about your work with friends, regardless of whether they have a fancy judge title or not.

Prize Support

This is a tricky subject. I mean, upon initial glance, prize support is good, right? Everyone loves free stuff, and the more expensive free stuff, the better. If we can get hundreds of dollars of stuff and give it to the winner, then that’s great and it will encourage more people to join in, right?

However, there are some issues with large prize pools that may outweigh the draw of free stuff. When you have prizes like free trips to Japan to compete in the GBWC world cup or the $10,000 Crystal Brush, the stakes get higher and competition starts to get more intense. You can see this in things like Magic and Warhammer tournaments with large prize pools; by raising the stakes, you encourage people to be more cutthroat about things and increase the risk of salt and unsportsmanlike behaviour. IPMS deals with this by insisting that the prizes don’t have much if any intrinsic value – instead of wads of cash or expensive uber-kits, you are rewarded with a small medal or trophy, bragging rights, and the warm fuzzy feelings you get from recognition by your peers.

Further, in a smaller community, if you have a small number of people who are winning all the time, it can start to feel a little discouraging for the rest of the modellers. If you have entry fees and the same people winning all the prizes all the time, it can start to feel like same guy is taking your lunch money every day and this can encourage people who don’t have a chance to not show up, not participate, and not learn and grow by competing.

I’m not saying that prize support isn’t appreciated or that free kits isn’t a nice thing to have, but if people want the prizes badly enough that it starts to negatively affect their sportsmanship and attitude towards the competition, it can be a double-edged sword. How much is too much, and if you do have a generous sponsor, what portion of the prize pool should go to reward performance in the competition versus participation prizes like raffles, silent auctions, and door prizes, is worth some careful consideration.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, given my background, I like the open system. However, I feel like at the end of the day, too much competition can be unhealthy and perhaps there is something to be said for doing exhibitions and pageants instead of competitions. Aside from the occasional outburst of drama due to disagreements with a judge’s decision, it is all too easy to fall into a trap of comparing oneself to others in a hobby that should be about relaxation and, if you want to push it, self-improvement. Regardless of the format of the competition, one would be well served to go into it caring more for the friends you make and the inspiration on the tables than the awards you win.

Painting is Good: A Response

So, a thing happened on the Warmachine internet today

While I am loath to start an internet fight, especially with someone who has way more pull in the Warmachine community, it seems as though I have been called out a little with a couple comments in the article that seem to be referring to my articles suggesting the use of painting as a tiebreaker or to grant small in-game bonuses for painted armies is a toxic attitude that has no place in the game.

So, I’m going to lay out my thoughts on the subject and provide, if not a counterpoint, at least a basis for some discussion that is hopefully a little more positive than the last time I talked about this.

Emotions

I will acknowledge here that this is a subject where emotions are running high. People who are trying to get painted but aren’t there yet can feel bad when others talk about how awesome it is to play it painted. Those who try to push for fully painted events or encouraging painting in organized play are occasionally branded “paint-shamers” (protip: don’t google “paint shaming”) and told they don’t belong. Even saying something as innocuous as “fighting the war on the grey hordes” can be cause offense. Some competitive players feel strongly that painting interferes with the purity of the competitive game and that models are and should be nothing more than stats on bases. And those of us who started with Warhammer may have had some traumatic experience arguing with a judge over the three colour rule or chafing at biased paint judging. In this sort of environment, I don’t have particularly high hopes for a non-heated discussion and am pretty sure that this question isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon but… I don’t know, I guess I’m enough of a masochist that I’m ready to wade into this pool once again.

Everyone CAN paint

First, I would argue that the occasional painting requirement isn’t as exclusionary as people say it is, for the simple fact that (just about) everyone can paint.

We live in a golden age of miniature painting. There are tons of products out there, from Army Painter colour matching spray primers to GW Contrast Paints designed to get your army painted up quickly. On top of that, the internet has made a ton of content available for free on how to get your army painted up quickly. Duncan can show you how to paint a space marine in 10 minutes, and if you don’t like the basecoat-wash-drybrush method, you can check out sketch style or just slather the thing in contrast paints.

Incidentally, I would guess that a not-insignificant portion of those who don’t like painting are victims of a bad experience when they were just starting out. Something like trying to paint Army Painter yellow straight over black primer because they don’t know any better, and then having a bad time, getting frustrated, and quitting. These are people who can be shown the light.

Perhaps there are a small number of people out there who have very specific disabilities that mean they legitimately can’t paint but which doesn’t affect their ability to play the game, however the intersection on that Venn diagram is so small that this argument isn’t particularly meaningful, and communities can band together to help those people. If someone I know wants to go to a fully painted tournament but has an issue like severe carpal tunnel, I’ll bust out the airbrush help him at least get to a three colour minimum quickly.

Now, “I can’t paint,” “I don’t want to paint,” “I don’t have time to paint because I have seven kids and work 12 hours a day,” and “I don’t have time to paint because I play six hours of Overwatch a night” are all fundamentally very different arguments, and this is where discussions often go south. However, before we dismiss the very concept of rewarding painting or having a fully painted event out of hand as “not inclusive,” we should recognize that “not having access to a painted army” isn’t some sort of immutable characteristic like the colour of one’s skin.

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Born this way!

Painting makes the game better

This one shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is. I feel like there is something about seeing two fully painted armies go at it that makes for more of an enjoyable experience for everyone. Privateer Press recognizes this; it is why they strongly encourage people to play it painted in the steamroller packet and put a lot of effort into promoting the hobby aspect of the game.

Further, I would argue that given the importance of target selection in Warmachine, painted armies improve competitive play. It’s a lot easier to pick out which dude is a solo or unit attachment at a distance when the armies are painted. Even if they aren’t well-painted or painted in the studio colours, just blocking in some colour or doing some dry brushing allows your opponent to pick out distinct shapes like the tiny emblem on the shoulder pads that the unit attachment has from across the table much easier than if they are looking at a sea of unpainted plastic or black primer.

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See how much easier it is to distinguish the UA and Leader of the Shocktroopers on the right for both players. Now imagine they were unpainted…

Painting attracts new players

I do think playing it painted does help bring new players into the game. I’ve been spending the past couple months getting a coworker into the game, and one of the first things I did when I embarked on that journey was painting up some Cygnar so I could play the bad guys fully painted against him. My feeling is that this, along with taking some care to make the tables look good, helped get him hooked much more efficiently than if I were to roll up with the blue plastic battlebox and duking it out on a table that looks like the battle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Now, he’s making his first big purchases and watching both battle reports and painting videos.

Further, if we are playing in a highly public space, such as a large, multi-game convention, then we are competing for people’s eyeballs with games like 40K, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars Legion, and X-Wing. By putting in an effort to make the game look good, we can attract more attention than if we were rocking grey plastic.

What would I like to see?

I’m not saying that you should have your army fed into a wood chipper if you dare show up with unpainted models, or that game stores should scold people who dare show bare plastic in public. However, all too often, it feels as though the hobby aspect is an afterthought in Warmachine, and as someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of the game, that’s something that is occasionally frustrating.

I think it would be nice to have something baked into the game or into organized play to encourage painting. The catch is, I’m not sure what that would be. I’ve thrown out a couple suggestions in the past like a small in-game bonus for painted armies or using proportion of models painted as a tiebreaker, but the negative reception that these ideas received in the WMH community (apparently suggesting an alternative method of doing tiebreakers is a “toxic attitude” now?) pretty much renders them a non-starter.

I do think having painting awards at the local level is a good idea. Unlike Jaden, I don’t think they need to necessarily always be raffles. The beauty of a painting award is that, unlike a tournament prize where there aren’t really any alternatives to just giving it to the person who won all her games, there are lots of ways to do a painting award and you can mix it up so everyone has a chance and you keep the competition fresh. Best army, best unit, or best single model. For unit or single model, you could require them to have been painted within a certain period of time so the guy whose Sorscha won Crystal Brush in 2005 doesn’t keep bringing the same model. You could decide by popular vote or, if you have one shark who is winning the painting competition all the time, you could enlist her as a judge and have her choose the winners and offer any desired feedback. Or, yes, you could have a raffle for everyone who has accomplished something like field a fully painted army or finish painting a unit in the last couple months.

I would also point out as an aside that, right now, the problem of having one or two people from the meta winning every time and being a discouragement to other players is a reality for tournament prizes, though it is rarely talked about. One of the guys in my meta won the big tournament at Lock and Load a couple weeks ago, so I have zero chance of winning any tournament that he shows up to (not that I hold it against him or anything). It seems a little unusual that the best player winning the tournament all the time isn’t seen as an issue, while the best painter winning best painted all the time is a reason why we can’t have painting awards. If, at a tournament, the only prizes are given for competitive performance, then you risk harbouring resentment when the newer or less-skilled players just have their lunch money in the form of entry fees taken month-in and month-out.

As for painting requirements at tournaments, I don’t think they should be necessary all the time. However, I would like to see a fully painted, premier-level tournament format officially supported by Privateer Press. Since they not only got rid of all painting requirements in their Masters and Champions format, but worded their packet in such a way that you aren’t allowed to run an officially sanctioned Masters or Champions event with a painting requirement, I haven’t heard of any fully painted event within 1000 km. In effect, the number of fully painted tournaments that I can go to has dropped to essentially zero, and that is kind of a disappointment for me.

I feel like the sort of big conventions that you plan your attendance at six months out are a great venue for a fully painted event. Since the people who want to travel great distances to go to these events are making travel plans months in advance, they have a lot of time to get a couple lists painted. With space and time for multiple tournaments, Iron Arena, and other programming, people who don’t have a fully painted army don’t have to twiddle their thumbs. For people like me, we are more likely to make the trek because a fully painted event is a special experience, and it’s not like we are ever going to qualify for the super top level invitational tournaments that do have painting requirements like WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals.

Trash Talk: Not just for painting!

The impetus for Jaden to write this article was a meme of someone making a disappointed face that his opponent was unpainted. First, I’m as guilty as anyone of using sarcasm in my writing and having it not be conveyed properly in text, or having a dry sense of humour that doesn’t always come across as intended. I’m sure the offending meme was meant as a humourous, tongue in cheek joke, however it was evidently taken serious enough to spawn now multiple articles in the Warmachine blogosphere.

However, if we are to talk about “paint-shaming,” I feel like that is only one small part of how we treat each other in the Warmachine community. Even if you consider the occasional tongue in cheek reference that I’ve made in the worst possible way, I’ve still taken a lot more crap for playing “easy mode” Khador (while Cryx, not Khador, was dominating the tournament scene, but I digress) or not being good enough at the game than I’ve ever dished out over painting.

There is a line between gentle ribbing, friendly trash talk, and stuff that comes across as disrespectful or bullying. That line can be in different places for everyone; I know for me, there was a time when I was doing more tournament play and I would get very sensitive to comments about how I only won because models like Harkevich or Torch in my army were OP because it was taken as an attack on my abilities at a point in my life when I still cared about being good at the game.

Further, internet meme culture is notoriously harsh, particularly in nerdy, niche communities like Warmachine. There are some forums and facebook groups that I personally try to avoid because they are a cesspool of negativity and they make me not want to play the game, so I can see why there would be a negative reaction to something like this.

So, are memes making fun of unpainted armies wrong? Maybe – after all, a little trash talk between close friends who know where each other’s line is is a lot different than going up to a random new player and bullying him – but is it any more wrong than memes portraying Khador players as unskilled mouth-breathers who just derp derp charge and win despite their lack of intelligence, or Cygnar players as whiny losers who don’t know what to do if they can’t crutch on Haley2, or Legion players as whiners who complain whenever they are told that there is a rule in the game that applies to them?

Conclusions

No, no one has to paint. However, Warmachine kind of has a reputation as the worst looking miniature game on the market and that’s not because the model sculpts are bad. I think finding ways to encourage painting that, while they are not judgemental, reinforce the idea that painting is a part of this hobby and is not a distant second fiddle to competitive play, is important. I’d like to see everyone encouraged to at the very least set having a fully painted army as an aspirational goal, because even in this golden age it does take time and sometimes you can’t get all your dudes painted before the big game. The more painted armies out there, the better it is for everyone.

Oh, and also don’t tell people who like painting or don’t absolutely hate painting requirements to go play 40K instead. That’s not helping grow the Warmachine community either.