Paintlog: Jumping Scale

For the past several months, as I’ve been building my painting skills and getting more and more into pure display painting rather than simply painting stuff up for the tabletop, I’ve been thinking of jumping up to a larger scale. Most of the figures I’ve painted in the past have been about 30mm figures for games like Warmachine. It’s not a bad scale per se, but it feels like there are a lot of details that are lost at 30mm, and a lot of shortcuts you can end up taking as a result. For example, it can be prohibitive to do anything other than just a dot to represent the iris and pupil of an eye, whereas in a bigger scale, you can actually represent these different parts of the eye and how the ambient light reflects off the pupil.

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Yephima, next to one of my first miniatures, a 28mm scale wizard in Winnipeg Blue Bombers colours

I’ve had a bunch of the 1/12 scale Naughty Gears busts from Scale75 sitting in my stash, but these are a little expensive for a first stab at a larger scale. Fortunately, I found something in my stash of 28mm scale Reaper Bones which could suffice. Yephima, Female Cloud Giant (#77162) is a 28mm scale miniature, however she represents what looks to be a 20 foot tall giant. So, in a “world’s tallest hobbit” type situation, she actually appears to be a normal sized human in what looks to be perhaps a bit bigger than 75mm scale.

And as a bonus, she’s only about $7 on the Reaper website, so if I screw her up, it’s no big deal.

Anyways, the first thing you need to know about painting Reaper Bones is that they are made up of a weird material. Bones were designed with D&D and other role-playing games in mind, so they were designed with a material that is very durable and low-cost so your DM can afford a whole stash of them and so they don’t get damaged from being handled by clumsy, cheeto-fingered gamers.

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This material has some unique properties. First off, it is rather soft, so when you are cleaning mold lines, you will need a very sharp knife. You also may need to straighten out some bent bits using hot water to make it pliable, then cold water to shock it into shape.

The most important aspect of this material, however, is how it interacts with paint. So long as it is clean (and you should always wash your miniatures with soap and water before painting), Bones material is designed to take acrylic paint straight out of the box. However, the material is also somewhat hydrophobic, which means that water will bead up on the surface. This is a problem because “thin your paints” is one of the first things you learn when painting miniatures. If you try to thin your paints with water, you’re going to have a bad time.

Fortunately, there is a solution. A first coat of undiluted paint will act as a primer and stick to the surface of the miniature, and from there, you can paint over it using paints that are thinned to your heart’s content. This article on the Reaper forums is required reading before jumping into Bones, and will save you a lot of frustration as you start.

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My skin colour palette. One of these colours is not like the other…

So, with a coat of white paint to cover up all the bare material, I dragged her out to the aviation museum to get a start at the local IPMS build day. When I paint skin, I like to start in the shadows and work my way up, so I took out my nice, #2 Raphael 8404 and my wet palette and got to work, basecoating all the skin with Reaper Soft Blue. From there, I worked up into my base flesh tone of P3 Khardic Flesh (93057), and into P3 Ryn Flesh (93059) and Reaper Fair Skin (09047) for the highlights. If you’re painting along at home, you don’t have to use these exact colours, but the principle remains the same. Start with blue, because your deepest shadows and certain areas of the skin are going to have a blue tone to them, then figure out your light source and work your way up through to your highest highlight, using blending and feathering techniques to get smooth transitions, and taking advantage of the slightly translucent nature of hobby acrylic paints as you go. And remember, Airbrush Flow Improver is your friend.

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Upon finishing up the first crack at the flesh and taking a look at her in some more natural light in the museum’s cafeteria, I realized that she was looking way too pale for my tastes. In some areas, her skin looked almost lifeless. Fortunately, I had an idea to fix it. I figured if I whipped up a glaze in a more pinkish skin tone, I could breathe a little life into the skin and also maybe smooth out some of my blends. However, I knew I also wanted to practice some freehand tattoos on her, which meant that perhaps it would be best to wait until the end.

One of the tricks with tattoos is that when they are very fresh, they have a bit of a harsh look to them, however once the skin heals from getting stabbed with a needle thousands and thousands of times, the tattoo fades into the skin a bit. If I were to simply paint the tattoos onto her using pure black, they would end up with that harsh, unhealed look. So, the trick here is to not go for a pure black; try a sort of greyish blue-black instead to avoid going too harsh. Also, by saving the glaze that I was going to do anyways to get the skin tone right until after I painted the tattoos on, that would give it a bit of a skin coloured filter to them and make the tattoos look like she’s had them for a little while.

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Before and after the glaze

Speaking of the tattoos, I ended up wanting a lot of practice a lot of different designs, so she ended up being fairly heavily tattooed. After the glaze, though, I thought she could use a little more something on the legs, so I painted on a fishnet pattern on the right leg, below the little band around her upper leg. For this, I used my secret weapon; a 10/0 liner brush and did a simple criss-cross pattern over her leg.

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Hand-painted fishnets

I also knew that for this project, I wanted to do red hair and green eyes. My goal was for her hair to look vibrant, so I went for a shade of hair that while it may not be realistic, is still appropriate for a fantasy figure, starting with brown, adding a dark wash, and working up to a bright red with a touch of off-white mixed in in places.

From there, it is a lot of my usual techniques to finish off the clothes and the mace such as blending in some highlights and using desaturated blues to highlight the black. Finally, I saved some of the highlights on the metals for the end, knowing that there is no point in working to get the metallics perfect on a display quality model only to ruin them with dullcote. I used my usual TMM brass strategy of working up through various golds to Vallejo Bright Brass at the highest highlight, and went over the silver bits as well.

Oh, and the base? I managed to source that from a little-known hobby company, and it came free with a bottle of orange juice.

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Final thoughts

This model was in the weird place of starting out as just a practice model, but as I painted it, I kind of fell in love with the sculpt and the details, and I began really putting a little more effort into it. As such, there are perhaps a few imperfections from the initial stages when I figured “oh, this is just a practice piece; I don’t care if the mold lines are perfect” which may have showed through until the end. However, I think she turned out pretty well overall. I’m pleased with the skin tone; for a first attempt at this scale, it seems to be pretty solid. The hair could perhaps use some work, as this is the first time I’ve tried to do hair at this scale and also possibly the first time I’ve gone for the fantasy redhead look. However, I’m more or less pleased with the tattoos, and feel that they, and the fishnets, add some nice character to this model.

For any miniature painter who is starting to feel as though things are getting a touch rote, I would strongly recommend picking something up in a different scale and trying it out. Taking on new challenges is one of the enjoyable parts of the hobby, and painting up Yephima here really helped rekindle some of that for me.

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The finished product

Baselog: Sexy Gorman

That’s a title that I never thought I would write.

Anyways, recently I finished up my first Privateer Pres model designed solely for display and not gaming purposes. For this undertaking, I figured I should go big or go home, so I chose the “di Wulfe in Sheep’s Clothing” VIP model from MiniCrate.

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Studio scheme

To be honest, I wasn’t really jazzed about this model when it was first announced. While I like what Privateer Press is doing with some of their mini-crate models in doing the gender-bending alternate sculpts, I just wasn’t crazy about the idea of a model wearing a sheep onesie based on a mediocre pun. However, once I got the model in the mail, she really grew on me. The sculpt quality is great, with a lot of crisp details and an excellent job on the facial features, and there weren’t a lot of mold lines to clean up. Further, the whimsical nature of the sheep onesie was something that I only began to appreciate once I saw it in person.

Of course, it is well documented that when presented with a studio scheme, my youthful anarchist tendencies tend to come out and I immediately decide to do something else with the model other than following the directions laid out by studio painters. This was no exception; my black sheep tendencies meant that I decided to go with a black sheep instead of a white one, as well as make a lot of the leather bits and straps that comprise the rest of her clothing black and shiny like my Zerkova2 rather than brown or grey.

That said, this article isn’t so much about the painting of the figure, because a lot of the techniques I used on her are things that I have been practicing lately for this purpose, and which I have covered in previous articles. This article is going to be all about that base. Specifically, the display plinth that I had made up for this project.

Quick Safety PSA: My process for this project involved a lot of cutting, filing, and sanding of resin pieces. Resin dust which is produced from these processes is nasty stuff, and you really don’t want it to get into your lungs. We want to be painting miniatures for a while, so make sure to take appropriate precautions for dust control and protecting your lungs.

So, once I decided that I was going to make this a display quality mini on a nice plinth, a couple considerations came to mind. First, I knew I didn’t want to go with a wooden plinth, because I just didn’t think it would go well with the steampunk aesthetic of Warmachine. Second, I started thinking about composition. I knew I didn’t want to just have her standing on a perfectly flat piece of ground, so I wanted some variation in elevation on the top surface. I also wanted to incorporate multiple textures, so I eventually settled on a vision of her standing on a sloping surface with some rock behind her.

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The first step…

Anyways, after browsing the internet for a little while, I settled on a 40mm square plinth from Dark Messiah Bases. These are black resin plinths that come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and have a nice, sleek, modern look which is a great start for a display miniature project, even if you don’t do a lot to them.

Of course, I’m interested in taking it to the next level, so I’m going to do some stuff to it. First, I took my jeweler’s saw and cut away a little piece on the front, just because for this project, I wanted to have it sloping slightly forward. Next, I created the rock formations out of bark chips. After cutting them to size, I drilled into them and pinned them to the base with some brass rod and plenty of gel super glue, just to make sure they would stay on nicely.

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Milliput sculpting

Next, it was time for some sculpting. I chose Milliput as my sculpting medium, because (spoiler alert) I knew I was going to do a lot of filing and sanding, and milliput works a lot better for that sort of thing than something like green stuff. I sculpted the slope of the ground in milliput, then added some in areas of the rock face where it needed a little filling out. I also made sure to sculpt outwards from the top of the base a little, because I wanted to carry the flat, vertical surface of the sides of the plinth upwards as though this base is a perfectly square cutout of the surrounding groundwork.

From there, it was a matter of filing and sanding the sides flat. Starting with a big old hand file and progressing to a sanding block with some very fine sandpaper, I took it down to a flat surface.

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Sanded flat

With the sculpting done, I primed the whole thing black, then used the airbrush to give it a coat of the straight black acrylic hobby paint of my choice. The rationale behind the coat of regular paint over the primer was just in case I needed to do any touch ups at the end; I wanted to make sure the black paint I used for the touchup matched the surrounding area.

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After the basic profile of the groundwork was applied, it was time to add some texture to the ground area. Some people glue sand or other grit down, but I like to use textured artist mediums. It’s probably a matter of personal opinion, but I find these to be a lot more convenient than using glue and grit as they are easier to apply and I don’t have to clean loose sand out of my apartment when I’m done. Further, you can mix some cheap craft paint straight into the medium and save yourself a step in painting that sand up.

I applied a quick dark grey basecoat to the rocks, and from there, it’s a matter of applying washes, dry-brushing, and perhaps a hint of dry pigments until you get something you are happy with. I like to give everything a dark wash and then work everything up with browns and greys and tans. Applying some dry pigments in a controlled manner can also help add just that little touch of colour variation to grey rocks and generate a bit of visual interest, which is a trick I touched on before but might write something focusing on it soon.

After attaching the model to the base, we need to add vegetation. This could be a whole article in itself, but throw on a bit of flock, static grass, tufts, and leaves, and you’ll end up with some nice finishing touches on your base.

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The finished project

Finally, I made up a little sign for the front just to take the whimsical, punnish theme home. I started out by cutting out a piece of plastic from a Privateer Press blister pack and doing a little sanding on the edges and roughened up the surface that was going to be the back a little. After priming it white, I took out my airbrush and a few different off-white colours in various shades of bone, ivory, light khaki, etc. I airbrushed a nice smooth base coat with one of them, then followed up with the others, putting a couple drops through the airbrush (with a drop of an appropriate thinner, of course), not bothering to clean out the airbrush between colours and just randomly spraying some patterns on. These slightly different colours are going to be a base for the sort of aged, uneven look that I’m going for with the sign.

Once I was happy with that, I cleaned out the airbrush, turned the pressure way down (into the single-digits), and pulled out some Scale75 Intense Wood ink. Aside from having quite possibly the funniest paint name in my collection (get it? because wood…), this colour, as its name applies, works really well to help create a realistic wood effect. In this case, what I did was drop some of it in my airbrush and shoot it onto the target at a very low pressure, which, similar to a wood stain, went on like a glaze and shifted the colour of the underlying material into a nice woody tone. Again, I wasn’t going for an even coat; I wanted to get some colour variation, so I sprayed it on in a sort of random pattern, varying the amount on any given point to get dark and light spots.

Finally, I shot it the sign with a quick spray of dullcote, as the Scale75 inks dry a little glossy when applied as a glaze. With the shine gone, I used freehand techniques to draw the skull and write on the sign. Here, I wasn’t too concerned with making the lettering perfect; I wanted the sign to have a sort of hand-drawn look as though it might be something spray painted on a wall by a graffiti artist.

From there, we can just glue the sign on and we’re done! With this neat display plinth, I’m looking forward to bringing her out to painting competitions as well as putting her in a place of pride on my shelf.

Paintlog: Obavnik Kommander Zerkova

Ah, Kommander Aleksandra Zerkova. A master of the dark arts, this blonde bombshell ruthlessly eliminates anyone who gets in her way, and looks good doing it with her tight leather outfits. Known in gamer circles as Zerkova2, the epic version comes with two Reaver Guards to protect her, and goes well on the tabletop with anything that can sling spells.

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Available from Privateer Press and your friendly local game store

I got the idea to paint her a while ago, as a possible counter to the ubiquitous Cryx Ghost Fleet/Dark Host pairing. However, in the process, I kind of fell in love with the model and had a lot of fun painting her up. Though I didn’t get a lot of photos, I felt that she did deserve a paintlog because I tried out some new and interesting stuff on her.

First off, one of the distinctive aspects to Zerkova2 in the studio artwork is the shiny leather. This was something that I haven’t really done yet, so I was excited to try it out.

Black can be a funny colour to paint sometimes, because what our eye reads as black isn’t usually not actually black. While we are taught in science class that black is black because it absorbs instead of reflects light, unless it’s some sort of crazy vantablack or the event horizon of a black hole, that’s not quite true. Black still reflects some light, and our eyes have been trained to read light reflected a certain way as black of varying shapes and textures. Our challenge, then, is understanding how light interacts with a black surface and replicate it at scale.

MatrixTrinity.jpgSo, let’s take a look at something black and shiny, such as Carrie-Anne Moss’ outfit from the Matrix movies. If we take a picture of it and look closely, we can see that the light reflecting off of some areas of her chest and arms is almost white. So, in order to replicate this and get that nice shiny effect, we are going to need to make sure our model has some sharp highlights.

Anyways, we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves here.

One of the first decisions I made on these models was the base. I decided I wanted to give them a little bit of an elevated base to give them a little more presence as I feel character models deserve it. So, I dug into the Reaper Bones collection at a local game store and found #77304, Male Thundernight, a big guy with a hammer standing at the top of a flight of stairs. It was a simple matter of slicing him off and doing a little sculpting on the top to fix up the area of the cut, and then inserting a piece of a paper clip through the plastic base, a layer of cork, the stairs, and into Zerkova’s foot.

For my colour scheme, I knew I had to keep the shiny black leather, and that I also wanted to have some light colours on some of the ending and details, mostly so that the shape of the model and all the fine details pop even from a distance. As such, decided to base coat all the black in Reaper’s Grey Liner, which is a paint that is very close to, but not quite black, and then do most of the details and edging in Amethyst Purple, which is a light purple that I use a lot for highlights on my purple army. And, of course, where you have purple, you have to have to have brass to go with it.

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Note the scar

One of the first things I painted was the face. For this, I used my usual strategy of starting with some very light grey for the eyes, placing the eyeball, and then working out, all the way from blue, to a darker skin tone, to the highest highlight at the tip of the nose. I added a scar on her right cheek from messing around with Orgoth stuff that she probably isn’t supposed to, and painted her tiny bit of hair sticking out from under her hat blonde.

Anyways, now we can return to the shiny leather jacket. As you will remember, I base coated it in Reaper’s Grey Liner. I didn’t use black, because I wanted to leave myself somewhere to go when it comes to shading it — after all, it’s hard to shade something with a darker colour when you’ve already used the darkest colour possible as your base. For my highlight colour, I decided to go with some desaturated blues, just to make the light on the cool side which I felt would go with the model better. I used P3’s Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite, which are two colors that I’ve found to be perfect for this sort of thing, though you can use whatever equivalent brand and colour you have available. The highlights were placed carefully with my brush, in such a manner that they would represent the point at where the light is hitting the jacket and reflecting off, as well as accentuating some of the… ahem… curves of the model.

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Green Orgoth glow is clearly there, but not overpowering

For the metals, I used my usual true metallic metal techniques, which worked out well and which I will write about at some point. The fur was a bit of a challenge; initially I wanted to dry brush it, but I found that there just wasn’t enough texture. So, after hitting it with some of GW’s Drakenhof Nightshate, I decided to work back up and highlight the fur with plenty of tiny grey and white dots in an almost pointillism-like technique, careful to put more white dots in the places where the light is hitting the model.  I added a couple subtle green glow effects on the badge on her chest and on her sword. I didn’t want to overpower the model with the OSL, especially because I was happy with how the face was and because I wanted to keep the focus of the light on the shiny leather, so I tried to keep it subtle, with only a little bit of green on the left side of her face and the fur near the badge.

With all that done, it was just a matter of painting up the base (lots of drybrushing and some dry pigments), sealing it, and showing it off.

Oh, and painting those two other jerks who come with her.

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Should you #playitpainted? (spoiler: yes)

I’d like to preface this by saying that my views on this subject have changed over time, likely in proportion to the percentage of my army that I have painted.  Also, as a single guy with no children, I recognize that I have a little bit more hobby time than some other people. Finally, I’m not writing this article to judge anyone or shame them for playing with unpainted armies… okay, maybe a little bit.

Warmachine has a bit of a reputation as a game focused solely on the tournament scene, with painting being an afterthought at best. Most tournaments don’t have any painting requirements, and there aren’t any soft scores like in Warhammer games. While the Steamroller packet strongly encourages the use of painted models and best-painted awards, this doesn’t always happen. Finally, between the complexity of the game and the focus on the competitive aspect, the sheer time requirement for someone to get to the level of “internet microcelebrity” can preclude someone from developing their painting skills because they’re spending their free time studying War Room rather than painting techniques.

Personally, while I recognize that when they started out they had to do a lot to distinguish themselves from their main competitor, and while I see Privateer Press putting more of a focus on the hobby aspect in recent years, I feel that it is sad that Warmachine has that reputation. It’s not fair because there are a lot of great painters who play and paint Warmachine and a lot of really nice armies out there, but it’s also not totally undeserved given the number of grey armies out there and the fact that most Warmachine media focuses more on competitive tactics rather than hobby content.

Anyways, it’s a reputation that I think we need to shake off, and we need to do that by getting our stuff painted.

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A fully painted battlegroup advancing up the table, led by Kommander Strakhov

Why should you play it painted

First, painting is fun. It’s a great hobby, and I honestly don’t see it as a chore to paint my figures for a tournament. In fact, lately, I’ve been enjoying it so much that I’ve been having a hard time pulling myself away from the painting table to squeeze a game in. There isn’t much in this hobby that is more rewarding than admiring a fully painted army, and that sense of pride and accomplishment when you bring it onto the battlefield only to get mulched by some Cryx-playing jerkwad.

Second, aesthetics are a vital component of any sort of wargaming. While I’m not the sort of guy who is such a stickler for immersion that I will accuse someone of ruining a D&D game for cracking a Monty Python joke, it is a hobby which more fun and immersive for both parties when you both have fully painted armies. That fun and immersion is why we spend hundreds of dollars on models instead of playing with cardboard chits or just playing on Vassal. As such, striving to play fully painted will make the experience that much better for you and your opponent. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; even the Steamroller document, bible of the hardcore competitive scene, agrees with me on this.

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The document also “highly recommends” Best-Painted awards, and lays out alternate rules for tournaments with painting requirements.

Playing it painted also makes the game more attractive to bystanders. The visual aspect is the first thing that a newbie to tabletop wargaming in general or Warmachine in particular sees. It’s why companies like Privateer Press and Games Workshop put so many resources into art and sculpting; nothing sells models like cool models and pictures thereof on the box. We all want to grow our communities, and playing with painted models can help add some visual interest to our tables and catch the eye of potential marks to be suckered into this money pit of a hobby.

Finally, in a game like Warmachine, fully painted armies can make it easier for your opponent to distinguish models from each other. Our miniatures aren’t very big, and when they are just a big blob of black-primed infantry, it can be difficult to make them out at a glance from across the table. Especially for newer players who may not know the subtle differences between models enough to spot them on a black-primed miniature from a couple feet away. Further, sometimes you can paint your army to make it easier for both you and your opponent to distinguish the models. Personally, I have a system that clearly identifies my leader and attachment models with the most cursory of glances, which is of benefit to both me and my opponent.

As one bad example of this, I had a game a long time ago where I was playing against a Circle opponent who had both an Argus and a Winter Argus in his list. These are both two-headed dogs with a little bit of barding each, and the main way to distinguish them is by the fact that in the art, Winter Arguses have white fur like a husky. As you can imagine, “this one has brown fur, this one has white fur, and neither of them are painted” made it a little more confusing for me than necessary and resulted in the untimely death of some poor Winter Guards who made a tactical error as a result.

Are there excuses?

All that said, there are some legitimate excuses for not playing painted models. First, new players can’t be expected to have a fully painted army. It took me several months to manage to have a decent fully painted list in Warmachine. For a lot of new players, playing and painting motivate each other, and being told to pick up an army and then go away until they can come back fully painted means that they will never come back. So, it makes sense that a lot of new players are going to be rolling with unpainted miniatures for months while they feel out what kind of army they want to play and get up to speed on painting it.

Also, none of us are perfect, and sometimes life happens. Occasionally, we will have a unit that we really really want to play but is still on the painting table, or perhaps we want to try something out to see if it “earns its paint” before going all in on committing to buying and painting that list. Or we may forget a model at home and have to borrow or buy one on short notice. I don’t think committing to playing it painted necessarily means that 100% of your figures will be completely painted 100% of the time. While that may be a worthwhile goal to strive for, other factors get in the way sometimes, and that is completely understandable.

Further, not everyone paints to the same level of quality or at the same rate. I like to think my army is painted to a pretty high standard, so it does take me a little longer than someone whose idea of painting involves dipping a miniature in a can of wood stain. As a result, it may take me a little bit longer to get my army painted because I’m putting a lot of care into every highlight rather than just banging out something that meets the bare requirements. Being too strict on painting requirements can actually have an adverse effect, where players half-ass their paint jobs just to get them done and end up with something that they are unsatisfied with instead of taking the time to do it right.

Finally, there are formats such as journeyman leagues or other escalation type campaigns where collecting and painting new models are part of the game. I’m thinking of starting up a Minions army next time there is a Journeyman league locally, and quite frankly, I doubt that I will be able to stay completely caught up on my painting while participating in this league. That’s also completely understandable, because the whole point of the Journeyman League, aside from welcoming new players, is to collect, paint, and build more and more plasticrack.

When should you commit to playing it painted?

Between those very good reasons to play it painted and those few caveats, I feel like we can lay down some rules as to when you should play it painted. Again, these are more personal things than anything hard and fast in the ruleset, but I’m throwing these out to start the conversation.

  1. You are playing on a stream on the internet. Seriously, if you’re trying to show off the game online, at least do it fully painted. The internet lasts forever, as will the shame of video evidence of your unpainted miniatures.
  2. You have been at this for a while. It’s totally okay for new players to not be fully painted, but if you’re coming in week after week with the same unpainted army for years, it might be time to pick up the brush and at least give it a go.
  3. You are playing in a very public place where you are showing off the game. If you’re at a big convention with a lot of people walking by, one of the goals of being there is to try to attract bystanders to check it out and maybe hook them into buying a battlebox and coming out on game night. However, if you have a bunch of grey plastic armies duking it out on flat terrain, you’re not going to have the same level of visual interest that is going to encourage new players to check it out.
  4. You are a community leader. With the destruction of the Press Gang program, who exactly is a “community leader” is not so well defined anymore. But this can include people who do all sorts of different things, whether it is organize tournaments, run painting sessions, volunteer to show new players the ropes, or talk about stuff a lot on the internet. However, these people tend to be ambassadors for the game, and as such, they should be leading by example and promoting the game. And part of that involves holding one’s self to a higher level of painting and sportsmanship than the average player.

Conclusion

Wargaming is better for everyone when we can all #playitpainted. It may not be a goal that we will ever reach, but it is good to aspire towards fielding only painted models. After all, the most important battle on the tabletop is not the fight between Khador and those filthy Cygnaran pig-dogs, but the ongoing war against the forces of black primer and bare plastic.

Fixing your pikemen

The Iron Fang Pikemen, whether they are in their vanilla or Black Dragon version, are one of the bread and butter units for a Khador player. They hit fairly hard, have reasonably decent stats, and between the UA, solos, and soon-to-be-released Sofiya Skirova, there are a lot of buffs available to them. Not to mention that there is a whole theme based around them, and a number of casters which excel at delivering them to their destination.

There is one problem, however, and that is the spears. If you have an older metal kit, you’ve got some very fragile spears that will bend and break if you dare take them to the FLGS for a game. If you have the newer plastic kit, they will just look droopy. Either way, you end up with either broken or just plain bad looking models. Then you start a game and run into even more problems.

The big problem when it comes to play with these IFP is that they are a melee unit with the shield wall unit, so they usually want to either be base to base with each other to get the benefit from shield wall, or getting up close to the enemy to stab them. Unfortunately, when we combine the long spears which overhang the base, a desire to be base to base with each other or up close to the enemy, and the occasionally ridiculous level of precision that the average Warmachine player is used to, we run into a bit of a problem. It’s actually quite difficult to place them down on the table where they need to go because those spears get in the way, and that can cause unnecessary frustration, and, if you’re playing on a clock, burn your clock time.

Fortunately, there is a way to solve both of these problems, and it works for both the metal and the plastic IFP.

Repose and brass rod

The best way to fix the issue with droopy or bendy spears is to replace the spears with brass or steel rods. These will be a lot straighter than the plastic spears, and a lot stiffer and more durable than the metal spears. However, if we’re doing that anyways, we can also repose them, such that they are holding their spears vertically, pointed upwards towards the sky, rather than downrange. The pose will still look pretty natural, and they will still look like pikemen with long reach, but the spears will no longer get in your way on the tabletop.

How to do this

In order to do this, you are going to need a few tools. A jeweler’s saw, a knife, a file, some pinning supplies, and a bit of green stuff or your putty of choice is going to be necessary in order to do this properly, in addition to the lengths of approximately 2mm brass or steel rod you’re going to need for the spears.

Before doing anything, cut the rod to the appropriate length. You can make these spears any length you wish, but if you want to stick to the original length, cut them a little longer than the original spear shaft, as they will be extending into the end pieces.

arm.jpgThen, you’re going to need to cut up the spears a little bit. Cut them away on either side of the hand and then cut off the end pieces, as shown by the red lines in the picture. You can throw out the spear, but keep the arm and the end pieces. Since we’re going to be drilling at these cut lines, it’s best to file down the remaining pieces, just so you have a nice flat spot to start drilling into, which will make positioning your holes easier.

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Don’t lose these end pieces…

From there, we can start drilling out the holes for where the brass rod goes. For the end pieces, this may be a little tricky because they are so small and you have to be fairly precise on both centering your hole and drilling at the right angle, otherwise you will either end up not having enough room for a big enough hole to insert the brass rod, or have the bit come out the side on the bottom pieces.

As a result, what I like to do is start by making a tiny divet with the tip of an exacto knife, right in the center of the piece. Then, I can start drilling with a small drill bit to get the hole started, and widen it to a smidgen more than 2mm by switching to an appropriately sized drill bit. Perhaps I just have some dull drill bits that need replacing, but I find this much easier than trying to go at it with a 2mm bit right from the start.

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A hole for a spear

Next, we’re going to need to make a space in the hand for the spear. For this, we’re going to need to drill out the remnants of the original spear using the same technique as we did for the end pieces. You can leave either a hole or a U-shaped channel to insert the spear into. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but so long as you don’t completely mangle the hand and leave a nice surface to glue the spears on later, it’s good enough.

Anyways, with those done, we can put the spears aside and get to work on the meat of these conversions — reposing the arms.

Reposing the arms

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The original poses of the bodies without arms

In order to get these spears pointed vertically, we’re going to have to repose the right arm of the figures. There are four techniques we can use to do this:

  1. Hot water bending (plastic only)
  2. Cut and bend (metal only)
  3. File and pin
  4. Pin and rotate

Hot water bending is the simplest, however it will only work on your plastic models. Simply dip the model in some hot water so the plastic becomes pliable, repose the arm to the position you want, and then dunk it in cold water to fix it. This is quick and easy, and doesn’t require any pinning or green stuffing, so if you can get away with it, do it.

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How to cut and bend

The metal equivalent is the cut and bend technique, which is useful for changing the position of elbows and hands. What you will want to do is take your jeweler’s saw and make two cuts into the metal at the point you want to bend it. You will want to make a V-shaped cut on the inside of the bend, and a straight cut on the outside. The V-shaped cut is so that you can remove enough material to actually bend the piece. Once you’ve cut away enough that the remainder of the material will bend fairly easily, simply bend it to its desired shape. Fill the gaps with green stuff or your modelling putty of choice, and as long as you left enough material, you should have a strong joint without having to do any pinning. This can be done on elbow and wrist joints to change the angle.

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The original (left) and the one with material filed off in preparation for pinning

Filing and pinning is another technique which is necessary on some of the metal models; mainly the ones holding the spears above their heads. This is simply a matter of making a pin joint at the elbow, but filing down one or both sides to change the angle of the joint from the original sculpt to the desired angle. In the picture shown, we can see how by removing material from the elbow, we can change the angle of the attachment to the arm. Then simply pin the forearm to the body as usual, at this new angle.

Finally, one can pin the model at its intended joint, but rotate the piece around the pin to get a new angle. This is useful on a lot of the shoulder joints, particularly on some of the plastic models, where simply rotating the arm around the shoulder will get a fairly realistic pose of a model holding the spear vertically.

All of these techniques, with the exception of the hot water bending, will likely require some use of green stuff. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to replicate the chain mail armour that these pikemen are wearing by inserting a blob of green stuff and poking it a bunch of times with a hobby knife to get a decent approximation of the intended texture, and most of these joints are in places that are not super noticeable such as armpits and the inside of elbows.

Finishing up

From here, it’s a simple matter of arming your pikemen. Take some super glue and glue the shaft of the spear to the hand and then glue the end pieces onto the spear. If you have a big enough hole for the spear that you have a little play, you may need to wiggle the spear around a little to get it just right. From there, simply slap on some shields, prime, and paint, and you’ll be enjoying your pikemen in no time!

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The “finished” product

Conclusion

Iron Fang Pikemen are a great unit and a pretty good sculpt, however they are let down by the spears getting in the way on the tabletop and bending and breaking. I suspect PP recognized this, as when they released Sofya Skirova, they had her posing with the spear held vertically. Also, I’m not sure whether they used a different alloy or simply made it thicker, but her spear doesn’t really bend like those of the old-school metal pikemen.

Anyways, this is a conversion that will likely appeal to both the hobby gamers and the hardcore tournament crowd, as nobody wants to fiddle around with their pikemen while the deathclock ticks down. If you want to get your pikemen on the table without those spears getting in the way, definitely consider making this modification and it will make playing your Legion of Steel list a whole lot easier.

 

My hobby resolutions for 2018

And now we get to the important part of the new year’s festivities: seeing how far I’ve come in hobbying over the past year, and figuring out where to go from here.

Last year was a good year for me. I’ve put a lot of work into learning how to properly highlight a miniature, wet blending, colour theory, freehand, weathering, and true metallic metals, and I think it really shows. Take a look at the difference between my two Grolars, and you can really see the difference, especially on the metallics and weathering.

I made a few resolutions last year; of course, I didn’t write them down, so I’m going by memory. From what I recall, my goals were:

Use a wet palette
img_2206.jpgHonestly, I don’t know why I needed to make a resolution in order to motivate myself to do this. It takes like five minutes to make one out of stuff you probably have at home, and it is a tool that very quickly made for a measurable improvement in my painting. Being able to keep my paints hydrated throughout a painting session has enabled me to really work with techniques such as wet blending and painting faces.

Paint something completely different

This one took me until November; after going to CapCon 2017 and hanging out with some of the people from the local IPMS group, I was motivated to finally finish a PZL P.11 that had been kicking around on my to do pile for a while. It felt good to finish something, and I have a P.23 in 1/72 and a P-40E in 1/144 scale on deck for the next time I need a little palate cleanser from figures.

Paint a display piece

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At least I got the plinth done…

Most of my pieces so far have been primarily for gaming. Even if they aren’t something that I’m going to bring to the game store very often, I’ve been using the proper, round-lipped Privateer Press bases with arc markings. This has been in part motivated by a desire to both play it painted and keep up with the Joneses, so while it has been good to build up my skills on my army, I haven’t yet done much which is purely a demonstration of my painting skills. However, I did do a couple miniatures as Christmas presents this year, and I do have something in progress, so I will say I’m about halfway there.

So, two and a half out of three isn’t bad for last year’s resolutions.

Resolutions for 2018

This year, I’m going to make some rules for my resolutions. Like with any goal, it is best if it is specific and measurable. If the goal is something too simple like “get better at X,” then it’s practically meaningless. Also, when it comes to hobbying, I feel like your skills tend to grow in spurts, with each spurt coinciding with when you go out of your comfort zone and focus on learning new techniques.

Also, I feel that resolutions should not be competitive. I could make a resolution to win a best painted award, but I feel that a lot of the time, a first place ribbon tells you just as much about who else showed up that day than it does your hobby skills on display. Though, in the case of an open system judging, it would be nice to take home a silver this year for something.

So, with that said, here are my resolutions:

Do a diorama

I have a couple diorama ideas floating around in my head, but with all the army painting I’ve been doing to build my skills and get painted models on the table, I hadn’t gotten around to them yet. Again, I’ve been focusing a lot on painting my army, and while I am painting it up to a very high standard and using it to build my skills, that means that I haven’t really put aside the time to hop into a diorama. I got a lot of tips at the Ottawa Figure Show this year on composition and groundwork, so I am looking forward to trying my hand at that.

Do a piece in non-metallic metal

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Look carefully… that’s not chrome paint

Non-metallic metal, the practice of rendering metallic objects with the use of non-metallic paints, carefully rendered to show the interaction of the light with the metallic reflections, is a technique that I really want to make a good effort at in 2018. I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress on my metals by applying true metallic metal techniques to my work. While I may end up sticking to TMM in the end, I feel like learning how to do NMM will help me understand light and how to capture the interactions between light, shadow and reflection in a smaller scale.

Try out glazes and sketch style

“Sketch style,” the technique of doing zenithal priming and a value sketch then applying glazes in a sort of paint-by-numbers technique seemed to blow up in the first half of this year. It seemed like I couldn’t browse through any painting group on facebook without people asking questions about or showing off their sketch style creations. This was a technique I hadn’t really tried, partly because of inertia and partly out of concern that it might be hard to get either vibrant, saturated colours or really apply colour theory to the shadows and highlights.

Anyways, I’ve played around with inks a fair bit recently, and I think it’s about time I start doing so in a bit more deliberate of a manner. I’ve got plenty of beasts and minions and other organic creatures that I think would be a lot easier to do with a sketch style approach than traditional painting, so I’m sure some of those are going to end up being guinea pigs for these experiments.

End the year with fewer unpainted miniatures than I started with

This might be trickiest one. There is something about buying more plasticrack that offers the purchaser a quick rush of endorphines. Unfortunately, that means that I tend to accumulate minitures as fast as I can paint them, if not faster. My stash isn’t completely out of control, but I would like to reduce both the number of models in my stash and the number of assembled, unpainted miniatures on my shelf of shame.

Post an average of once a week

When I started this blog, the idea behind it was to catalogue my progress and use it as a tool for sharing my knowledge. I’m probably not going to end up being one of those minor internet celebrities like Menoth John or the guy from Tabletop Minions. Especially not if I stick to the written word rather than get into the world of podcasting or video. But I would still like to keep it going, and keep putting out semi-regular content, if only to keep this catalogue going and hopefully help some people with their painting progress.

Final thoughts

When it comes to miniature painting, one of the best ways to get better is to set goals and practice towards them. There is a wealth of information and guides out there on the internet, and with some study, practice, and a bit of luck, 2018 is going to be a good year for my progression as a painter.

So, what’s your goals for your hobby progression in 2018? Let me know in the comments!