Tamiya D.520 – Part II: Paint and decals

In our last article, I assembled the Tamiya D.520 with some Eduard photoetch bits. Now, it’s time to talk about painting and finishing the model, which, given my preference for paint, is surely going to be the easy part.

Yeah, about that…

The paint scheme

I chose to keep things simple and go with the box scheme. I didn’t want to ruin my model with the garish red and yellow stripes of the Vichy version, and I also didn’t feel like doing a lot of research, so box scheme seemed simple enough.

Why would you ruin a perfectly good plane like that?

The D.520 has a tritone camouflage scheme on the upper surfaces of cool grey and desaturated browns and greens. On the underside, it is a light sea grey. Fortunately, all of these are colours that can be effectively shaded with blues or blue-blacks, which would not only make the shading easier but would unify the model with consistent shadow and highlight colours.

An interlude on lighting

Speaking of shadows and highlights, I need to do a brief interlude on some stylistic choices that were influenced by my background in figures. I think this background gives me a perspective on things that most people who build aircraft don’t have. As an example, someone on facebook asked me what colour I used on the blue of the markings and how accurate it was. I didn’t really have a great answer because I used at least four different paints to highlight and shade it, and I don’t care all that much about accuracy in colours.

Consider painting red. The traditional scale model approach would be to find the red that is closest to the real thing and spray it on in a uniform, opaque coat to simulate the real thing.

Whereas, my approach is going to be very different. I’m going to use colour theory to figure out what colours I want to use to highlight and shade the model. With reds, I like to go with a coal black to start as my deepest shadow. I might undercoat from coal black to ivory, from shadow to highlight. Then from there, I’ll go from crimson in the shadows to a brighter red in the highlights, and maybe even into a desaturated orange before pulling it all back together with a glaze of red ink. This adds shadows and highlights, making the model pop, accentuating the lines, and adding visual interest.

This approach doesn’t really take accuracy into account too much, because I’m using five different shades of red to paint one red item, and the goal is to get a gradient from shadowed to highlighted surfaces and accentuate shape. Even if I knew exactly what shade of red was used on the real thing and had that exact match, I’m still going to be using other colours to shade and highlight that tone. So to me, it’s kind of absurd to try to precisely match colours when a simple red consists of paints from coal black to ivory with crimsons and bright reds and oranges in between.

I know this approach isn’t quite traditional, and I feel like it is very different from what I usually see on the tables at model shows. This is an approach more informed by artistry than pure craftsmanship and historical fidelity. That’s not to to rehash the pestilential “are models art?” debate, and definitely not to lord over mere craftsman with my artistic snobbery. After all, one can respect both artistry and craftsmanship and everything in between, and just because something is artistic doesn’t mean it is good — good craftsmanship can be more impressive than bad art.

But, I think this is an approach that gives my models a relatively unique style; I’ve had someone comment before that he could tell that my 109 was done by a figure painter. It also makes the model stand out from a distance, which I think has some advantages to it — I feel like a great model is one that can pull your attention at several feet away, and then bring you in closer to discover all the details.

Where things started to go wrong…

I primed the model, no problem. I went with a zenithal prime, as you do when you learned everything you know from painting figures, then started to paint the kit. The bottom sea grey colour went on nicely, but then it came time to get serious about the camo pattern…

Primed, and with all the little sub-assemblies ready to go

My first thought was to use silly putty for masking. After all, I’ve seen people use putty for masking soft-edged camo, they just lay it down in round snakes instead of trying to flatten it and get hard edges. Yeah, that did not turn out great. The colour transitions were an inconsistent mix of hard and soft edges, and it was just a messy paint job. Also, I varnished in between colours, but the varnish went on too thick and gave a weird texture, and there were steps along the paint lines. It was just a really crappy looking paint job, completely unsalvageable, and the sort that had me worried that it was completely ruined. But, not giving up, I bit the bullet and stripped it completely before going at it again.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I think I’m done with Vallejo varnishes. I generally use Reaper’s brush-on sealer as my varnish of choice as I find it sprays better than anything I’ve tried from Vallejo. The only downside is that nobody stocks Reaper paints locally, so I have to order it direct from the manufacturer. Fortunately, Reaper offers free shipping to Canada if you spend $75 on their website, and I’ve never ever had a problem with finding a way to spend $75 on the Reaper website.

Second time’s the charm

So, when my attempt at masking a soft-edge camo pattern went south, I remembered a saying that has helped me in times of modelling trouble, when things didn’t quite go right with the finish or when I don’t have the right decals. That saying is “fuck it, I’m painting it freehand.”

After re-priming the model in the zenithal style, I used some very thin inks to brush on some general outlines for the camo pattern, just slightly tinting it to make myself a map for airbrushing. Then, I went at it freehand with my airbrush, gradually building up the colour from dark to light. I started on the bottom, and the only things I masked were the canopy and the bottoms of the wings and horizontal stabilizer when I went to do the upper surfaces.

I generally work from dark to light when I’m doing this, working with thinner paints as I go lighter, as it’s easier to add multiple layers with an airbrush than take them off. Also, with thin paints, you get a smoother gradient and can avoid that misty, airbrushed look. To place my highlights, I followed the zenithal prime, and focused my highlights in two ways. First, on a macro level, I wanted to highlight the upper surfaces, leading edges, and other areas that are highlighted based on the shape of the plane. Within that paradigm, I also wanted to add some modulation by higlighting the middles of the panels and leaving the panel lines a little more shaded. Of course, I also intentionally worked in some stippling and tonal variation, making sure not to apply a smooth, even coat, but rather something with a bit of visual interest.

See the subtle mottling and tonal variation on the underside

I did this one colour at a time, starting with the grey then moving into the greens and blacks. I did have to do some cleanup where the colours met, so it wasn’t quite as simple as 1-2-3, more like 1-2-3-1-3-2-1-2-1, but it eventually came out nicely. Finally, some Drakenhof Nightshade from GW was sprayed into the shadows and in the area of the panel lines to reinforce them and unify the scheme. A quick clear coat and I was in the home stretch, all I needed to do was apply some decals!

Mo’ decals, mo’ problems

The initial plan was that I would paint the stripes on the tail using a simple mask, then rely on decals for the remainder of the markings. Unfortunately, what no one told me was that the Tamiya decals from that time period were crap.

I applied the decals using all the best practices I could find online, and nothing I could do would get them to stick to the model and stay there. I had roundels coming unstuck and curling up, and my attempts to get them to stick just made things worse. And on top of everything, the roundels on the fuselage were applied over the white stripe on the arrow, but since the white wasn’t completely opaque, you could see the arrow running underneath the roundel. After struggling with it for several hours, I gave up on these craptastic decals and decided to use good old-fashioned paint instead.

Fortunately, the fact that these decals wouldn’t stick to the model meant they were easy to remove. About 95% of the decals would come off with a bit of masking tape, pressing it down over the decal and pulling it back up, and the other 5% could be removed with some gentle sanding using fine sanding pads.

The arrows and stripes were easy; they were simply a bunch of straight lines that could be easily masked. The roundels were a little harder, and I picked up a circle cutter and a template from a local art store to make a series of circular masks. As for the numbers… well, “fuck it, I’m doing it freehand” has been kind of a theme with this model, so out came the trusty Raphael 8404s.

Using liquid decals for the arrows…

Maybe it’s just that I had a bad experience, but I’m still suspicious of decals and would prefer to avoid them whenever possible. Even when they aren’t a god damn dumpster fire as in this case, it feels like there is just a lot that can go wrong even if you do everything right — they can silver, or you can get visible decal film, or they won’t settle properly. The decals could be old, or they could be crappy, or yellowed, or not quite opaque, or they could disintegrate the second they touch water. Maybe there is something I am missing, or maybe it is my inexperience with decals and strong background in painting, but it seems very much like to some extent, you are rolling the dice and taking your chances with decals while paint is more predictable.

The other thing for decals is that for all that, I’d still have to go over them to bring in highlights, shades, and tonal variations. Decals are generally flat and uniform in colour and my figure painting background means I can’t paint any single surface without using at least three different colours to highlight and shade it. It would look off to me to have all this tonal variation and weathering on everywhere on my model except for the markings, and things like white stripes are too stark for my tastes if they are pure white.

“I could just give up now and say it was captured by the Japanese…”

Weathering & Final Touches

Some light weathering was applied with the sponge technique. I did two-tone chipping, using the highlight colour of the paint (which was, of course, four different colours, depending on where on the camo the chips lay) and some grey metallic, applied mostly to areas such as the leading edge of the wings. The highlight colour chips were done first, while I saved my metallic chips for the end because, as I’ve said many times before, applying a matte varnish over a metallic paint kind of ruins the entire purpose of using a metallic paint in the first place.

To shade the panel lines, I mixed up an oil wash using white spirits and some black and blue oil paints to make it a blue-black. This was applied carefully over a coat of varnish, trying to keep it in the recesses only, then left to dry for a day before giving it another coat of varnish.

With the oil wash done and sealed in and my final coat of varnish down, I could finally pick out the metallic bits such as the exhaust, which was done with a mixture of Vallejo Metal Color and black ink. Exhaust staining was laid down with a mix of black and brown inks, ultra matte varnish, and flow improver, to create a transparent mix that avoids the glossiness and fragility sometimes associated with inks.

Finally, I could pop on the little fiddly bits like the pitot tube, antenna, and propeller, as well as remove the canopy masks. A sigh of relief was breathed as I placed it on the picture frame I made into a base — while an enjoyable exercise, there were moments of complete and utter frustration that really tested my patience.

Final thoughts

This is a great kit of a beautiful aircraft, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone, so long as you are willing to either make your own masks or get some aftermarket decals. For $20 or so, it could be a nice weekend project. As for me, I’m happy with it and I’ll probably take it to the local model shows and see how it does, whenever the hell those start happening again because 2020 sucks.

Bonus Content: Jagd Doga

I won this kit at a Gunpla contest a couple years ago. It’s an MSN-03 Jagd Doga from Bandai’s RE/100 line. RE/100 models seem like a step down from their more mainstream 1/100 Master Grade models — perhaps the equivalent of a High Grade kit blown up to Master Grade scale.

Of course, the kit went together quite nicely, as expected for Bandai. This particular kit has a lot of nicely curved surfaces in line with the Zeon aesthetic. I find I prefer the Zeon mobile suits over the Gundams, as these curved surfaces are fun to highlight with an airbrush.

It was a fun build, larger than just about anything else I’ve done. I didn’t include the shield because I couldn’t find a way to attach it in a way that I felt didn’t look awkward or detract from the pose. I also left off the beam sword and didn’t use the clear rods to represent missiles in flight because I’m not a big fan of these sort of clear parts – I find they tend to detract from the realism, and there isn’t much you can do with paint to make them look right.

Finally, I chose to go with a paint scheme inspired by Quess Paraya’s version because… well, because I looked this thing up on the Gundam wiki and I thought it looked cool. And just for shits and giggles, I took a picture of it holding my airbrush.

Incidentally, while I was looking up reference material on the Gundam wiki, I had a good laugh at this guy’s name.

Zaku Heads and Intermediate Weathering

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…

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Salt Chipping

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.

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Vallejo Metal Color over Stynylrez primer

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).

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Saltier than your average Warmachine player

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.

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And with green paint applied, and most of the salt knocked off.

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.

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Double layer of salt chipping on the white stripe for double the fun

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.

Surface distressing

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.

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And after a little messing around with the sanding pads…

 

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.

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I didn’t get a great picture showing the effect of the oils, but you can clearly see on the finished product the effect of the wash on the panel lines — they were able to be done very cleanly with no coffee staining of the sort you might see with something like Citadel shades

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.

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Final Thoughts

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.

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.

 

 

PSA: Stop varnishing your metallics!

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

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

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

Display vs tabletop

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

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

Back to metallics

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

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How could you; it’s so cute!

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

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

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

Save your metallics until the end

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

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

Save the highlights until the end

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

Bring back the shine with gloss varnish

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

Conclusion

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

 

Bonus Content: Hutchuck!

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

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Down with the cult of Two Thin Coats!

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

The Duncan Way

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Show customers who are completely new to painting and modelling and have zero artistic background how to turn boxes of sprues into a tabletop-ready army that looks decent from a distance,
  2. Motivate them to get their armies painted through the use of instructional videos and a positive attitude, and
  3. Sell Games Workshop products

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It is possible that the above list is not in descending order of priority.

 

Why some people hate painting

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

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

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

The Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Paint like Bob Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s not Nuln Oil in the top left corner

But this sounds hard!

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

 

Bonus Content: First Mate Hawk

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

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

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

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

Sword, Brush and Boudicca – S&B 2019

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

The Show

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

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

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

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

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

Boudicca

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

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

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

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

Painting time!

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

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

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

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

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

The Judging System

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

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

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

The Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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Bonus Content: Red Haro Ball

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

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

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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?

Frozen Ninja 3D Cyborg Bust

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

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

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

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The Bust

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

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

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Areas with modifications circled

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

Skin and Hair

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

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

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

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

True Metallic Metals

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

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Half-done TMM

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

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

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

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

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

Other Details

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

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“Leather” and hair colours

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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Bonus Content: Cup Noodle Gunpla!

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

Painting is Good: A Response

So, a thing happened on the Warmachine internet today

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

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

Emotions

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

Everyone CAN paint

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

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

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

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

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

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Born this way!

Painting makes the game better

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

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

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

Painting attracts new players

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

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

What would I like to see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trash Talk: Not just for painting!

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

Warhammer School Clubs, Part 5 – Get your paint on!

The following article was written by a friend who works as an Early Child Educator in a before and after school program. It is about his participation in the Warhammer School Clubs program, a program by Games Workshop intended to promote the hobby within schools. This article is part two; see previous parts here.

The Main Event! Basecoats, Washes, and Dry Brushing

Little introduction-by-way-of-housekeeping first: I had a great conversation with the manager of the local GW.  It sounds like the school programs are really taking off in North America, which is great to hear. He also explained why there was no primer in our kit: GW wants to send out the kits as quick as possible, so that educators get them as quick as possible. That means that a lot of being air-shipped to schools, and for that reason they don’t include aerosol cans in the package. Abaddon black was never intended as a primer, and the manager was nice enough to offer to help prime any future pieces for the program at the store. So I apologize for my griping before about the lack of primer; it was only a lack of primer because they were so quick to send us our pack and experiences may be different in other groups.

Anyway, back to the regular show…

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Basecoating

This is the most basic of the lessons the children learned, and at times the ones that needed the most reminders. That’s because this is the stage that most of the children stayed in for a while.  

First we went through how to use paint brushes properly. Although art is in all of our programming, the children have never really shown how to “properly” use a paintbrush when you’re trying to keep the paintbrushes in good working order.  So I explained that we need to just use the tip of the brush, and make sure never get paint anywhere close to the ferrule (ie, “that gold metal thing at the top of the brush bristles”).

For the most part, that lesson was taken easily.  The hardest to internalize was “thin your paints.” For kids, they’ve been trained to just dip a paint brush and splash it, so it’s going to take a while for them to unlearn those behaviors.  There were some thick paint jobs in some places, but luckily not too many details were lost.

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Children learn at different speeds, so we did base coats over quite a few weeks, not just one session.  The first time there was the most enthusiasm from the children, but that slowly waned, and some kids took a week off here and there (particularly, although not only, the boys when some other group not involved would organized more sporty games between themselves.)  

The first session one young man had a bunch of difficulty involving comparing himself to others. “It doesn’t look good, I hate it,” he kept saying. His base coat wasn’t even bad, it’s just other children felt more confident in what they were doing, using more colours and doing smaller details. He wanted to quit, and I went a little harder on him than I should, saying that if he quit he wouldn’t be welcomed to continue and his model would have to go to someone else who wanted to join the club. I admit that this was the wrong tactic, and we (the other teachers in the room and myself) talked to him afterwards to reassure him and invite him back. I gave him some extra attention the next couple of sessions and he became more comfortable in the club setting.

Washes

We did the washes in two groups –  it wasn’t really planned, but a group of boys took some Wednesdays to play, while a group of primarily girls wanted to focus on painting. This meant that we had the girls finish with their washing and dry brushing first and then we fished the group of boys second.

The first thing that I did wrong was that I tried to split up a bottle of Nuln Oil that I bought for the group into smaller containers. This would allow more than one child to have some wash at a time. Well, those smaller containers seals were not as good as they could be, and one tipped over and spilled all over the bottom of our painting box. The others started to dry out and make a weird rubbery rim around the containers. I poured what was left back into the original Nuln Oil bottle, losing a third in the process.

The second mistake that we made was using the new Nighthaunt Gloom like a wash or a glaze.  The paint wasn’t as translucent as I had thought, since although its as liquid as wash/glaze, it has a lot more pigment. This meant using it straight out of the bottle covered up more than I expected. The first couple ghosts were a little darker then we planned, but we figured that we needed to water it down a little to make it look good.

Still, the children found it pretty straightforward when it came to splashing wash all over their models. Our young man who was discouraged when it came to basecoating really took to washes. He did his Stormcast Eternal all in Leadbelcher (a dark silver) and the wash really made the details come out.

The best part was that the young ladies who volunteered to be the “Master Artificer’s” role went to help the other children after being shown how to do it. Up to that point, we really hadn’t utilized any of the child-led roles, and it was great to see the excitement of the girls in helping their peers.

Dry Brushing

The biggest thing the children had difficulty learning was that “less is more” when it comes to dry brushing.  A few didn’t work the paint off the brushes enough when it came to applying it, thus putting but brush strokes back on their figures.

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For most of the children, that was fine – especially the children who did one or two colours only for their base coat.  But one young lady got very frustrated when her dry brushing covered the shaded areas that she worked hard to finish, to the point of walking away from her figure and not coming back to finish it.  

At this point, we had run four or five weeks into just painting, and some children were getting pretty tired of it and were looking to move on to something else. It was time to put some finishing touches on our figures and start something new.

Still, I think the majority of the children really got something out of the process. The process of painting a miniature is much different then the kind of painting that they are used to. Adding a third dimension changes the equation. Allowing them to come and pick up the different techniques at their own pace helps in developing those skills in a way that is in tune to how the individual child learns.