Six pieces of advice for new painters

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.

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Pictured: My hobby journey

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

Down with the cult of Two Thin Coats!

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

The Duncan Way

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why some people hate painting

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

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

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

The Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Paint like Bob Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s not Nuln Oil in the top left corner

But this sounds hard!

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

 

Bonus Content: First Mate Hawk

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

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

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

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

The Skill Wall and Display vs. Army Painting

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

The skill wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All about the base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varnish and protecting your paint

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

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

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

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

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

What does this all mean?

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

 

Bonus content: French Cruiser De Grasse

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

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

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