That is all.
So, it’s been a while. As I’m writing this, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and while people are talking about reopening, I’m not sure the end is as close as some of us think and hope it is. Fortunately, I have a stable job with the ability to work from home, so I’m not suffering too badly, but this crisis has really started to get to me in a lot of ways, and I’ve found being able to focus on things to be a real challenge, so some things like content creation have fallen through the cracks…
Anyways I’ve talked about weathering a few times on this blog before. From simple painted on scratches and chips and sponge weathering, to the hairspray technique, weathering is not only a great way to make your models match the environment and tell a story, but also a really easy way to cover mistakes. Just keep that last part between us, okay?
However, a couple recent projects involved me experimenting with some new techniques, or at least techniques that are new to me, so I think it is worth revisiting the subject and talking about some of my recent projects. These techniques are, in my opinion, slightly more advanced than some of the simple techniques I’ve showcased before like painted on scratches and sponge chipping, however they are quite rewarding and actually don’t take that long to execute once you get the hang of them.
The Zaku Head
To illustrate, I’ve got a little project that I call “The Sands of Time.” It’s an Exceed Model Zaku head that was given to me about a year ago, and my idea was that I would do a little vignette of it having been abandoned in some sort of post-apocalyptic desert. Since I was thinking of painting it green, it was only natural that I would go for a Martian desert because of colour theory – red and green are complementary colours, so there is room for some nice contrast there.
The model itself was very simple; in fact I suspect it is a toy from a gashapon machine. I made a box for it out of thick plasticard and filled it with clay, and to make the model appear half-buried, I wrapped it with saran wrap and after it was painted, pressed it into the clay. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…
Salt chipping is an interesting technique that is very simple; aside from paints and an airbrush, all it requires is salt which you probably have at home or at least can steal from a McDonalds. Like with the hairspray method, the first step is to base coat your model in the colour of the chips. You could go for some sort of metallic like an iron or silver, do something a little rusted up, or even go with something completely out of left field if the object you are chipping is made from some exotic space-age material. In the case of this helmet, I just did simple grey metals, applied zenithally.
Once that is dry, what you need to do is use a big old brush and some water to get the surface of the model wet and sprinkle some salt on it. You can use regular table salt, or if you want to have fun, mix it up with salt of different grain sizes such as kosher salt. The salt will stick to the wet surface of the model, and remain in place as the water evaporates (which is a process that can be sped up using a hair dryer).
Once that is done, simply airbrush your colours on normally – working from shadow to highlight, using thin paints. When the paint is dry, knock off the salt with a stiff brush and you will see that the salt effectively acted as a mask, leaving little chips underneath where the salt was stuck to the model.
You can also do multiple layers of salt chipping – in this case, I laid down the green first, then masked off the white stripe and applied even more salt so that a large portion of the white would be chipped off and some of the chips would overlap the chips in the green coat.
The downside is that sometimes the salt can leave a funny texture on the surface. I think what is happening is that some of the salt is dissolving in the water, then as the water evaporates, tiny pieces are left stuck to the surface. While this isn’t necessarily bad and the texture could actually represent textures that are intended to be present on the surface, it is something to think about.
This one is pretty simple. With some very fine sanding pads, go over your paint, just giving the surface of the paint a little bit of distress. You can sand down through layers of highlights into base colours, or just scratch and polish the very top. This technique works really well in conjunction with salt chipping, as it can help take down some of that rough texture and expose some extra smaller chips that wouldn’t have been exposed from just knocking off the big chunks of salt.
The risk is that you can sand down too far and expose the plastic. But even that is easy to fix – simply get a couple drops of primer and a couple drops of grey metallic paint and paint some chips overtop. In fact, the places where you do risk going too far are generally places like corners and edges which are most likely to chip anyways. I do need to do some experimentation on this, however – I’m thinking perhaps a coat of varnish in between an undercoat and a paint colour might allow me to sand through the top layer of paint but not all the way down to the plastic.
Oil washes and filters
Most of us who paint miniatures work with acrylics exclusively, and for good reason – aside from the number of us who have had traumatic experiences attempting to paint space marines with those old-school square glass testors bottles, acrylic paints tend to taste better than things like oil paints, lacquers, and enamels. However, so long as you can resist licking your brush for a little while, a cheap set of oil paints can open up a lot of possibilities when it comes to adding finishing touches to models.
There are a few disadvantages to working with oils. First, you need some sort of oil-based thinner or spirits, preferably odorless as recommended by Bob Ross, in order to thin your paints, clean your brushes, or basically do anything with them. You do need to be a little careful with these solvents, as they can remove underlying paint if you are not gentle with them, but a coat of varnish between your acrylics and your oils can prevent this and give you a little peace of mind. Finally, artist oil paints are designed to dry by having some of the oils soak into the canvas. Since we are not painting on a canvas, it is important to prepare your palette in advance. Put a dab of each colour you will be using onto a paper towel and let it sit for a couple hours, allowing the paper towel to soak up these excess oils that would prevent the paint from drying if we applied it to a solid surface like a model. Otherwise, it will take forever to dry.
Oh, and don’t use a wet palette, for obvious reasons. Something about mixing oil and water. And while I’m at it, also don’t use your fancy kolinsky sable brushes.
For all this trouble, oil paints offer something that acrylics can’t really match. They have a drying time which is orders of magnitude longer than acrylic paints, which opens up a lot of techniques that are simply not available with acrylics. You can push oil paints around on a surface for hours without it drying, which makes getting smooth blends very easy.
One way to work with oils is to use it to create filters and streaking. Simply apply a dot of paint to the model, then get a clean brush and push it around – either downwards, to create a streak, or all around to tint an area. Since I didn’t take any good photos of this process, check out this video from someone who has done it more than me.
Oils are also useful for making washes. Consider a traditional acrylic wash. Even well-regarded products like Citadel shades can have major coffee-staining issues and can impart a messy look to models. And if you’ve ever tried to remove some wash from somewhere you didn’t want it, if you’ve waited longer than about thirteen seconds after applying it, it gets real messy. However, remember how oil paints take a really long time to dry? You can make a wash with them by mixing a bit of paint into some odorless paint thinner. This can be applied either using the traditional “slather it on” Nuln Oil method, or by dropping it into panel lines. The properties of the wash itself (I’m not sure if it’s surface tension or viscosity) that make it flow nicely along panel lines, and the fact that you have a long working time that allows you to easily wipe away the wash from places you don’t want it, something you can’t do with Citadel shades or Army Painter washes, and prevent coffee staining.
I do need to play around with oils a bit more and unlock some techniques, but as someone who is used to working with acrylics, they are proving themselves to be an interesting medium and one with a lot of potential.
Back to the head
The final thing to do on the head project was the groundwork. This was my usual artist acrylic mediums, washed and dry brushed multiple times to get colour variation and texture to show. To finish it all off was some dry pigments. Throwing some on there a little haphazardly, I was able to blend the ground and the model together and make it look dusty, as though it has been sitting there for a long time. A few final touches and it was done.
When painting models, weathering is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are some obvious caveats – it is important to consider which areas of the model will be subject to weathering and try to tell a story, and the amount of weathering one applies is up to the person doing the painting. However, even a little bit can go a long way and some techniques can be a low-effort way to make your models look better.
It’s also good to try multiple techniques. Even if they aren’t used for every project, or even not used very often, it’s always nice to have more tools in the toolbox. Salt chipping, surface distressing, and messing around with oil paints are all great techniques that you shouldn’t hesitate to give a go.
Bonus Content – Hope & Courage
Hey, remember when there were these massive brushfires in Australia and that was the worst thing to happen so far in 2020? Yeah… it’s been an interesting year. Anyways, Reaper did some brushfire relief minis earlier this year, and I thought it would be nice to do them up as a little diorama.
The minis themselves are two little cute koalas, one planting a tree and the other working away with an axe. I did have to remove the bases from the minis as they were sculpted on as one piece, but that didn’t take too long, and there wasn’t too much else to the minis themselves aside from a little work on mold lines.
The thing with these models is they are absolutely loaded with texture, which is great if you don’t like blending. While I started out with a quick wet blend and a little washing and dry brushing on the fur, the secret to these models is the thousands of tiny hashes that represent textures. Using my liner brushes, I simply made a bunch of little lines in light and dark colours over the wet blended base coat. These lines were done in the direction of the fur, and were in some cases guided by the texture already built into the model.
Similarly, if you look at the robes that the female Koala is wearing, you can see that they are not perfectly smooth either – again, I started with a quick wet blend, but instead of trying to add layers of highlights and glazes overtop, I went back and forth with tiny hash marks overtop, in both highlight and shadow colours, to add some deliberate microtextures rather than make it a perfectly smooth surface.. Particular focus was applied to the highlights, as generally textures are more apparent in light than in shadow.
As for the tree, I sculpted it with paper clips and brown stuff. Originally, I was going to go for cherry blossom leaves to symbolize spring and renewal, even if that was a little anachronistic for Australia. However, as I glued the leaves on, I found they detracted from the models themselves way too much, so I changed gears and did the tree leafless and somewhat charred, but incorporated that theme of renewal with the pink flowers.
All in all, it was a fun little project and it felt good to simultaneously feed my painting addiction as well as give a little financial support to people who are having a tough time. I thought it turned out quite nicely, though I was a little dismayed that my original plan for the trees didn’t work out. I will have to take a class at some point on making realistic trees, but until then, I’ll just stick to grasses and shrubs.
I’ve been painting for a few years now, and lately, as I’ve been helping some newer people get into the hobby, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey. While I don’t really have much in the way of regrets, seeing all of my previous, not so good work as a learning experience, there are a few things that, had I known about them earlier, it could have smoothed out my hobby journey. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that they will help out your hobby journey as well.
- Try out new techniques as often as you can
When you are just starting out, there are a lot of techniques out there that are made out to be super-advanced things that are so far beyond your abilities that you shouldn’t even try them. You might know how to base coat, wash, and dry brush, but blending, sketch style, OSL, airbrush use, and so on are things that the masters do and you aren’t ready for yet.
Let me be the first to tell you that that is nonsense. While it takes time and determined practice to master certain techniques and get to the level of the guys who compete at major national-level competitions like Crystal Brush, there aren’t a lot of techniques in this hobby that you can’t reach a level of baseline semi-competence with by watching a few youtube tutorials and trying it out. The only one of these techniques that has a real cost barrier is an airbrush, but even then, the cost of a decent basic airbrush setup pales in comparison to the rest of your army (or armies).
Second, sometimes those techniques make for a better approach. Some models and colour schemes take better to certain techniques than others. Dirty skeletons are great for washing and dry brushing; Space Marines, with their large, flat surfaces not so much. These “advanced” techniques are not just for display painters – by trying them out, even if you are just going for tabletop quality, you might find that they improve both your speed and quality and reduce the frustration that comes with using the wrong tool for a job.
- Improvement is better than consistency.
When you are painting an army, particularly your first army, you will improve as you go. I did this, but as I started to improve, a worry started to creep in – was I breaking the consistency of my army by painting my new models better than my old ones?
Personally, I can think of two specific situations where I held myself back because of this, to my own detriment. First, I started out with a scheme of purple, white and silver for my warjacks, however I eventually found that the more brass bits I added, the better they looked. But, I was worried that adding additional brass would break the uniformity of my army. Turns out once I bit the bullet, my army just looked better. Second, with my basing, there were some times where I stuck to certain things longer than I should have because I was worried that if I did try new things and do better bases, then my army would look worse because the new models would clash with the old ones.
We should be conscious not to straightjacket ourselves with a need to make our armies consistent. An army is actually a good opportunity to practice and try new things. So long as there is some element of consistency in the colour scheme across all the models, your army will still look coherent even if some of your models are better painted than others.
Besides, if you are going for a best painted army award, judges often like to see progress, so that’s a plus.
- Use a wet palette (for non-metallic paints)
A wet palette is a great invention, and you can make a rudimentary one in five minutes out a couple bucks worth of things that you probably already have at home. A sandwich container, some paper towel, and a piece of parchment paper is all you need to get started. The paper towel acts as a sponge, and when the sponge is wet and the parchment paper is placed on top,
A wet palette will help keep your paints fresh throughout a painting session, and will open up a whole world of paint mixing and different techniques that are difficult when using a traditional palette.
- Zenithal prime just about everything
When I first started, I did a lot of research to figure out whether I should buy white or black primer. The theory goes that black is good because if you miss a spot it is less noticeable, but white lets you have more vibrant colours. I eventually decided on white, figuring that I just won’t miss spots.
It turns out the correct answer is “why not both” – by priming the whole model in black then spraying it from above with white primer, you can get the benefits of both. This effectively preshades the model, giving you a good starting point for shadows and highlighting, and is generally a much better starting point that all white or all black.
- Smooth, opaque base coats are a waste of time
Acrylic paints aren’t completely opaque; they won’t cover everything in one coat. That’s why Duncan tell you to use two thin coats. That said, trying to get a perfectly smooth, opaque, coat all perfectly within the lines (including in the hard to reach areas behind shields) is often a waste of time. Rarely in miniature painting do things stay uniformly one colour; we paint on exaggerated highlights and shadows in order to make the miniature look good on the tabletop.
So, if the end product is going to have colour variation on it, why spend so much time making the initial coat perfectly smooth and opaque? if you are using the traditional approach of base, wash and dry-brush, then the model is going to be covered by washes and highlights anyways so you won’t be able to see whether the base coat was applied smoothly or not.
Also, there are techniques that utilize semi-tranparent paint to great effect. Inking over a zenithal prime can be a fast way to paint your miniatures, and covering up your zenithal with a solid, opaque layer of paint renders the preshading elements of a zenithal prime kind of pointless. Or, you could wet blend your basecoat, doing basing, highlighting and shadows all in one. There are many ways to use the not-completely-opaque nature of paint to your advantage rather than trying to fight the properties of the medium, and we are seeing even GW embrace this with the recent release of contrast paints
Regardless, if you focus less on the base coat and more on the highlights and shadows, you will not only likely have better miniatures done faster, but you will be more likely to progress as a painter and enjoy yourself if you aren’t taking an approach that feels like a frustrating paint by numbers exercise where you try to get everything perfect only to slather it in nuln oil.
- Don’t varnish your metallics
Metallic paints can be annoying to use. Which is why spending the extra effort to use shiny metallic paints then hitting them with dullcote is kind of baffling to me. Sadly, it took me a long time to figure this out, so I have a large collection of dudes with dull metallics that just look grey and boring.
Just don’t do it. Metallic paints are fairly resilient by themselves, so you are probably safe to paint your metallics after you varnish. At the very least do the final highlights post-varnish to get that nice metallic glint, or try to bring some of the shine back with a brush-on gloss varnish. By simply changing the order in which you do things around a little bit, you can get much nicer metallics in little to no additional time because your final step isn’t cancelling out a lot of the hard work you did in the earlier stages.
It is often said that there is no wrong way to paint. While I agree with the sentiment, if you try to do miniature painting with a paint roller and house paint, you’re probably going to find eyeballs to be difficult and I wouldn’t be surprised to see you ragequit in frustration. I believe by starting people off on the right track and encouraging them to experiment with techniques, they can have the right tools in their toolbox to enjoy painting and be happy with their work. And, that will result in more painted models, which is why we are all here in the first place.
Bonus content: Warhammer is doll houses for nerds
In recent weeks, I’ve been working on banging out my projects in progress, and the largest among those, at least in sheer model size if not painting time, is my accumulated assembled, primed Games Workshop terrain.
GW terrain is expensive but fun to assemble. For some of the industrial terrain like the sector mechanicus pieces, they can be assembled in any number of ways, allowing you to make your own creations. I build these particular terrain pieces in accordance with the instructions, with the exception of blanking out the windows on the Warscryer Citadel with plasticard so I could paint it as though it was lit from inside. Also, I used some extra pieces from the citadel to use as walls and barricades.
Painting the Warscryer Citadel and the Bad Moon Loonshrine pieces involved a large makeup brush and a lot of dry brushing straight over black primer. By just doing a whole bunch of dry brushing, going from midtone to progressively lighter colours, and allowing the black primer to show through in the recesses, base coats and washes weren’t really necessary for a majority of the model. Washes and inks were used to tint some areas and add a bit of colour variation, and some dry pigments added the final bit of weathering.
For the Derelict Factorum, I more or less followed my guide from several months ago, including doing hairspray chipping on the large tanks. To finish it off, some GW Typhus Corrosion was dabbed on the lower parts, then I sprayed on some Reaper MSP Brown Wash to make the bottom few feet of the factory look as though it has gotten dirty through millennia of dirt and flooding in the underhive.
It’s that time again, out with the old and in with the new. And as someone who has a blog that I struggle to think of good content for, that means I have to do a new year’s post.
2019 was a great year for me in the hobby. I built up a lot of skills and was able to work on a lot of projects that I truly enjoyed. The highlight is definitely Boudicca and my trip to Sword and Brush this year. She was sort of the culmination of a lot of things that I learned and a lot of techniques that I had been practicing away at, and coming away with the gold at Sword and Brush was a very sweet prize.
Outside of figures and busts, a couple things stood out. First, in the world of gunpla, I built the Master Grade Ver.Ka Ball and tried out some new techniques on the finish. The lowly Ball is my favourite mobile suit; so many of the giant robots end up looking very busy and have a lot of style over substance, while the ball is simple and utilitarian. Plus ball puns are funny.
And in the world of historical models, my Spanish Republican 109 was finished early this year. It turned out quite nice, and I have another model airplane or two in the stash.
I was thinking about it over the past couple days, and while I could make some specific hobby resolutions — learn this technique, finish this project, etc., I want to go deeper. It’s been an amazing year of growth for me and I’m not sure where my brushes will take me next, so the resolutions that I want to share have more to do with having a healthy relationship with your hobby which will keep you in it longer.
Buy less crap
Let’s face it, if you are reading this blog, you probably have a giant pile of unpainted miniatures or unbuilt model kits lying around. You see cool stuff for sale at a good price, your imagination starts running, and pretty soon you end up buying stuff because you have an idea for a project that you might do sometime in the future at an unspecified date.
Yeah. We all do it, and it keeps the companies that make the stuff we love in business. But that pile can actually be a source of stress. Seeing your to-do pile stack up can cause stress, and it can make it more difficult to get started on anything because of the opportunity cost. Every time you start a new project, there are dozens of new projects that you feel guilty for not working on. Finally, there are better things to spend my money on than stuff that I won’t get around to for a long time. Especially considering that that stuff isn’t going to disappear. Unless it’s some sort of limited edition item, I can just keep my money in my pocket and order it when I’m ready to paint it.
Though, if Bad Squiddo kickstarts a Spanish Civil War line, all bets are off. Maximum pledge, right here.
Be less competitive
I’ve discussed before, but while I like going to painting competitions and model shows, I’m starting to get burned out on the competition aspect of them. It’s great to see tables full of cool models and meet new people, but the competition can get to you because when it comes to picking winners and losers, things can start to get unpleasant.
Fundamentally, I think it is because competition can bring out something unhealthy in us. I took Warmachine a bit too seriously when I started getting… well, gud is an overstatement. That caused a lot of stress and frustration as I tried to perform at tournaments and then get frustrated when I inevitably didn’t. It started ruining the game for me, and I don’t want the same to happen for painting.
So, this year, it’s all about feeling good about my hobby work without comparing my work to others. Win, lose, doesn’t matter.
Manage my social media intake
First, with all the amazing painters out there on social media, you sometimes end up comparing yourself to others and inevitably, someone will post something that will make you feel like you are coming up short. No matter what you paint, you’ve already spent dozens of hours staring at it so the other guy’s stuff looks cooler because of novelty.
Second, there are a lot of places on social media that are quite frankly about as pleasurable as ass cancer. Arguments, negativity, trolling… no thanks. There’s a few that I should probably cut out completely, like Lormahordes and the WMH General Discussion facebook group; others I plan to just manage and try to keep scrolling when someone is wrong on the internet.
Ignore the haters
And, of course, going with the above, haters gonna hate. Every once in a while, I get some negative comments on social media or wherever. I know when you step back and look at it, when your article gets 100 likes and one guy telling you to fuck off and go play 40K instead, that’s a pretty good ratio — 99% satisfaction isn’t bad. But I’m the sort of person where it’s easy for that one guy to get under my skin and next thing I know I’m arguing with some random person on the internet at 2am.
Haters gonna hate. I need to focus on the people I care about and the people who like my content more than salty internet randos.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about maintaining a healthy relationship with your hobby. With all the competitiveness, comparing oneself to others, and morons to argue with on social media, it can take effort to keep yourself in the right headspace to have fun. My goal in 2020 is to maintain that headspace and keep a positive attitude. From there, all else will follow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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,
- Motivate them to get their armies painted through the use of instructional videos and a positive attitude, and
- Sell Games Workshop products
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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)
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off at a contest is a winner. Period.
- Finding inspiration on the tables is more valuable than any plaque or medal.
- The real prizes are the friends you make along the way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?