How to stay motivated at painting

One of the things that a lot of people talk about when it comes to painting miniatures is motivation. A lot of people want to get miniatures painted, but find themselves lacking in the motivation department and as a result, end up with grey unpainted miniatures on the tabletop week after week. Personally, I’m hooked on painting to the point that I start getting the jitters if I go on vacation for a week and don’t bring some paints, so the idea that I lack motivation may be a little odd. However, I do occasionally find myself in a little rut with my painting or end up with a project that I have trouble bringing myself to start.

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When you’re this hooked on something, you don’t need motivation…

So, without any further ado, here’s some stuff that I have found helps with painting motivation.

1. Try New Things

Variety is the spice of life, and doing the same thing over and over is boring, which is why working on an assembly line gets real old real fast. If you’re getting bored with painting, perhaps you need to mix things up a little?

This can be done in a number of ways. You can take a break from painting an army in all its uniform colours and paint something like a mercenary model or just a random figure that you kind of want to paint as a palate cleanser. Or, you can mix in things like vehicles, warjacks, and special character models in between all your mook infantry wardudes. Or, within similar models, you can try new techniques.

Trying new techniques is also how you improve as a painter. Maybe this next model could be your attempt at learning two-brush blending, or non-metallic metal, or a new type of weathering or basing, or just some sort of new technique that would be good to add to your arsenal. This advice isn’t limited to aspiring competition painters either; even if you are just painting to play, there are plenty of techniques you can try out which will help you pump out better models faster. Things like rattle can tricks, new dry-brushing techniques, or sketch style are all simple techniques that cater to people trying to speedpaint an army. Or, you can try out new products such Army Painter’s colour-matching primers, or textured acrylic mediums for basing instead of sand.

2. Know your limits when assembly-lining

In most large-scale wargames, you have to paint a lot of mooks to fill out your army. While it can be tempting to line up 30 or 40 infantry models and paint them assembly line style, having too long of an assembly line can actually be detrimental to your motivation and result in you taking longer to finish the project. It’s pretty easy to get bored when you need to paint 80 boots, then 40 pairs of pants, then 40 tunics, 40 guns, and so on. Further, by doing it this way, you’re delaying those wonderful moments of satisfaction when you call a miniature finished, take a deep breath, and put it in its rightful place on your shelf or in your army case.

Yes, sometimes you have to just put your head down and get a lot of models done. I know that feeling; I’ve painted more than enough Man-O-Wars over the past several weeks to seriously need a break from steam-powered, heavily armoured medium-based Warmachine models. But I also know that while it is theoretically more efficient to make a big assembly line, my limit is about ten or twelve models at a time, and even less for very intricate models like my Necromunda gang. More than that, and I’ll have to split them up and finish a few at a time to prevent myself from going crazy. Not to mention that it starts taking up a lot of room on my painting table.

3. Manage your WIP

Speaking of having too many models on the painting table, managing your work in progress is a good idea. By this, I mean making sure you have the right number of painting projects on the go.

If you have only one thing on your desk, then that can help you focus and get it done, but it can also delay your progress. There are a lot of steps in miniature painting which involve waiting for something to dry, so if you only have one thing on the go, you’ll end up sitting there twiddling your thumbs while the wash dries, or more realistically, booting up some video game and then not coming back to it for the rest of the night. Or, there are times when you just mentally get stuck and can’t look at that one thing anymore, and you can take a break from it by working on something else.

So, it is good to have at least two projects on the go at any given time, but much more than that and you can start running into issues. Having too many on the go will clog your paint desk, and you may lose efficiency switching from one to the other all the time. Further, it can be a demotivator – when you have seven things to do, even just deciding which one to do first can be stressful and prevent you from doing any one of them.

 

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This is why my FLGS doesn’t accept credit cards.

4. Manage your backlog

 

This is related to managing your WIP. I made the laughable resolution last year that I was going to end the year with fewer unpainted miniatures than I started.

Again, this is related to the idea that having too much on the go can demotivate you. When you have a whole shelf full of unpainted miniatures, it looks like a monumental, if not Sisyphean, task to finish them all. Further, it can be hard even deciding which ones to paint, as any time you pull one model off the shelf to paint, you’re forgoing getting dozens of others painted.

While I don’t always pass my will save on the “purchase something shiny and new” check, one thing I do to manage my backlog is to avoid assembling and priming my models until I’m close to painting them. This way, with them still in their boxes, they aren’t sitting on my shelf, staring at me, begging with their cold, grey, lifeless eyes for some paint.

5. Set yourself up for success

A little while ago, I rearranged my painting desk. The big change was that I placed my portable spray booth for my airbrush on top of my desk and left it there. The result of that was that I now use my airbrush more, and because I’m using the best tool for the job, I’m more productive.

Sometimes, just making it easier to start your painting session makes you more likely to paint. If you have to clear off room on your kitchen table, pull out your models, pull out all your paints and brushes, get your paint water, and so on and so forth just to start painting, then you’re not likely to start painting because it’s easier to just boot up a video game and waste your whole evening doing that.

While not everyone has the luxury of having a permanent workstation where their works in progress can sit there undisturbed by pets and toddlers, the less you have to do to get started painting, the better. If you can get yourself a painting table, do it. And while you’re at it, set yourself up with a workstation where everything you need is within arm’s reach. This way, you don’t get distracted or lose your motivation because you have to get up and walk all the way across the room.

6. Do a little each day

The #hobbystreak tag, where people post what they’ve done each day on the painting front and try to get the longest streaks has been popular since late last year. Some people are up to 250 by now, which I don’t think even I could match. However, it is a great motivator to at least do a little each day. Not everyone can commit to hours-long painting sessions, but if you can squeeze in even a half hour before you go to bed and make painting part of your routine, you’re going to get a lot more done and you’re going to be less likely to lose motivation.

7. Celebrate small victories

When you finally bang through that unit of a dozen or more, you should celebrate that. Bask in that warm feeling of accomplishment. Take a picture, post it on the internet, and show your friends – you might even motivate them to paint, or get some valuable pointers. Maybe even reward yourself, such as buying yourself something like a new paint or basing product that you’ve been eyeing, or paint yourself a model that you’ve been wanting to paint but doesn’t fit in your current army project.

8. Join leagues and groups which promote painting

Extrinsic motivation is good, and leagues and the like can be a way to incorporate that into your gaming. I once was part of a league where you would get experience points for a model which could be used to purchase upgrades for one of your models on the table. As a result, I got Alexia and the Risen – a character model, a couple solos, and about 20 zombies – painted and my insanely powerful Marauder put the hurt on a lot of fools on the tabletop. Things like journeyman or slow-grow leagues which incorporate a painting reward are great for a community because they motivate people to get their stuff painted.

Alternately, there are plenty of groups online where miniature painters can challenge and motivate each other and celebrate each other’s work. There is the aforementioned #hobbystreak tag, but also there are things like the monthly Warmachine/Hordes painting challenges and various facebook groups where painters work to challenge each other.

9. #playitpainted

When it comes to Warmachine, I think it’s been over a year since I fielded my last unpainted model. Nothing motivates quite like a hard deadline, and if you really want motivation to get your models done, commit to only playing it painted. I’ve written before on why it’s good to play painted, but one thing I didn’t touch on is that if you tell yourself that you’ll only play with painted models and you have a new army list that you want to play, that’s going to motivate you to get them done. Especially if there’s a tournament coming up that you want to play that army in.

Conclusions

Motivation is a fickle thing – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. And part of the reason why I’m writing this article right now is that my motivation to paint yet another Man-O-War is flagging a little. However, there are a lot of things you can do to help keep yourself from falling into a rut and falling behind in the ongoing war against the unpainted grey horde. Just rearranging your workstation and committing to painting a little bit each day can help with motivation and get your armies done in no time.

What I’ve been up to – Man-O-War new releases

So, I’ve had a bit of radio silence on this blog, and aside from some personal and family issues, people who know me well enough have some good idea of what I was up to and why my social life and wallet have both taken a hit over the past month or two.

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Lock and load… airbrush time!

That’s right; after a long wait, the new Man-O-War models for Khador released a month or two ago, and being a good son of the motherland, I had to pick up the full FA right away and start getting them painted. There’s been a lot of discussion online about the competitive viability of the Armoured Corps releases and what casters to pair them with. But, since I’m not actually good at this game, I’m going to talk about the most important part: the models themselves.

Tankers

The tankers are pretty cool and look powerful on the tabletop. The sculpts are sort of a cross between a Man-O-War and a warjack. They are mostly resin with a few metal bits, and they are not multi-kits, which is kind of a disappointment as I think these guys would have been prime candidates for a hard plastic multikit. However, the resin is pretty good. On both of these models, the head, body and legs are the same one piece, aside from a couple metal bits on the knees. They are distinguished by the weapons on the arms, as well as the big shoulder-mounted gun on the suppression tanker. They’re nice sculpts; I would say they are what you would expect for something halfway between a Man-O-War and a Juggernaut-chassis warjack.

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My tankers

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masking is fun… it’s even more fun the second time when your first layer of paint comes up with the tape

The shields pose the modeller with a couple questions. First, you’re definitely going to want to paint in sub-assemblies, and it can be a touch tricky to get the arms installed in a manner such that the shields line up correctly if they are being held together in front. Second, the shields cover up a lot of the model, so there are a lot of details that you won’t see as they’re being blocked from view by these big shields. On the other hand, they do provide the modeller with a decent-sized flat area which can be a nice canvas for some freehand. Personally, I used some 2mm Tamiya tape to mask off a hazard stripe pattern, then added some fun little subliminal messages in Khadoran runes to the effect of “Play it painted” or “3 Colours Min” before weathering. Additionally, I converted the arms on a couple of mine to repose the shields so that I at least have one or two where the detail underneath is a little more visible.

Aside from that, there were two minor issues I had with the sculpt. First, for some reason, my Siege Tankers weren’t quite up to the same level of quality as the Suppression Tankers, with more mold lines to clean up in some tricky spots on the legs and a couple air bubbles to fill. Since the issue is mostly confined to the legs, you can conceal any mistakes in the mold line removal process with mud and weathering, so it’s not that bad. Also, they’re far better than cleaning mold lines on the old restic MoW. The second issue with the models is that the shields themselves are paper-thin and you have to be careful not to damage them when you’re cleaning up the mold lines. However, there is a simple solution to that issue if you have share that concern or if you accidentally stabbed the tip of your hobby knife through the thing while trying to clean mold lines (not that I would do that) – take some plastic from a PP blister pack, cut it to an appropriate size and shape, and super glue it onto the back of the shield to reinforce it.

Solos, Units & Attachments

The Man-O-War Bombardier is okay. I mean, it’s a fine model and I didn’t have any quality issues, and the combination chainsaw grenade launcher is one of the coolest infantry weapons in the Iron Kingdoms, but it also doesn’t hugely stand out like the character models released – which is totally fair, because it’s a non-character model. Yeah, it’s a little plain compared to the other awesome releases in that it isn’t much of an improvement in the looks department from your average MoW mook, but it’s not terrible, aside from one little problem. It’s missing the small bandolier of rockets on the right shoulder that all the other Bombardiers have. This is a bit of a problem because it hurts the cohesiveness of the unit, and it just doesn’t feel right to see the officer without them. Typically, the unit leaders and officers are supposed to be a little more ornate on the details than the grunts, and without the bandolier of rockets, it’s actually kind of opposite as well.

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Bombardier Bombshell

Though, while I’m at it, I will touch on the conversion rules, as a lot of people are looking at the Bombardier Bombshell as a substitute and “is this tournament legal” keeps coming up. This is a cool model, and it’s one that I’ve used as the basis for a conversion a while ago, so it’s no surprise that with this awesome model in existence, people are going to want to use it to represent the most important model in the unit. However, since the Steamroller document specifies that the Bombardier Bombshell has to be used as a grunt, not the officer, and you can’t proxy in a tournament, doing so is technically not tournament legal. On the other hand, technically, anyone who makes a big issue about that is an ass, especially if it’s well-painted, because it’s such a cool model. Finally, if you really want to use her, I think there is a loophole. All you have to do is do a little conversion on her shoulder pads, making them a touch more ornate and looking more like the officer’s, and it’s now a conversion and not a proxy and therefore legal. Just don’t quote me on that if you get into an argument with a tournament organizer or one of the Wills at PP.

 

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Some of the new releases…

On the other hand, Dragos, Atanas, and the standard bearer are straight up awesome. Until now, the Greylord Forge Seer has stood out as clearly the most amazing looking model in Khador, but now he has some serious competition. Dragos has the heft commensurate with his character background as a big badass who dual-wields giant hammers, and has plenty of characterful details in the form of pelts, skulls, and battle damage. The ornate detail on Atanas and the Standard Bearers is just a wonderful touch, and I feel like it’s going to look really well when I finish it.

 

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Sorscha3. My first reaction when I saw the concept art was “shut up and take my money”

Kommandant Sorscha, aka Sorscha3 is great as well; they’ve captured the Man-O-War feel, but made some changes in proportion and design to make her distinct. With how the gun and the armour look, there have been a number of jokes at her resemblance to Samus Aran from the Metroid games, and I’ve jokingly inquired if I can use a tennis ball as a proxy. One thing I’ve noted as I paint her is that if you tilt her forward a little, you can really change the pose from one that gives the impression of Sorscha at the ready or slowly advancing to one that gives the impression of movement, as though she is running. I haven’t mounted her to the base yet, partly because for this model I’m preferring to paint her separately so I can get at all the tricky little places on the leg, and partly because I haven’t figured out my basing strategy yet.

 

Chariots

Image result for man-o-war assault chariotFinally, we get to the chariots. I was a little worried on this front for a couple reasons. First, they are sold by Black Anchor Heavy Industries, which is Privateer Press’ direct-order subsidiary for huge-based models. I was initially a little concerned on this front for two reasons. First, there are the well-documented concerns that the international WMH community has with BAHI and getting dinged with customs, currency conversion, etc. that raises the price of BAHI models. Second, I have seen some of PP’s large resin models suffer from quality issues as of late. That is not to say that PP’s resin models are bad; far from it. When the quality is there, they are great. But if you get unlucky and get a bad model, you can end up with a dumpster fire of mold lines, misalignments, and resin bubbles. Fortunately their customer service is great, but having to wait for the company to ship replacement parts internationally isn’t good for anyone.

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Pictured: Stupid conversion idea.

However, in this case, my concerns turned out to be not well founded. At about $85 USD, the models aren’t that expensive as far as BAHI goes. Further, they are multi-kits and you are provided with both gun and shield assemblies which appear to be relatively easy to swap out, so you only have to buy one kit to get both. Second, the quality was spot on. A couple of the horses had some small mold lines, but the rest of the twenty or so resin parts that make up two of these kits were great. And the horses don’t really matter to me because I have some stupid conversion ideas rolling round in my head.

 

Representation

I’ve been known to do a lot of gender-swapping conversions on my army, in part to balance out the gender imbalance, in part to represent the contribution of the daughters of the motherland, and in part because it’s a creative exercise in making the model very different while keeping the spirit and distinctive elements of the model intact. Man-O-Wars tend to be common targets for these sort of conversions, because due to their bulky armour, conversions are as simple as swapping out the heads.

But further to that note, I’m glad to see that we have a couple female Man-O-War models in this release in the form of Sorscha3 and the Bombardier Officer. I’m a big advocate of gender diversity in miniature gaming for a lot of reasons, ranging from grand political concerns about representation to the simple fact that the more diversity you have in a miniatures line, the more cool miniatures you have to paint and the more likely you will have at least something that everyone will like.

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Zarya: not your average video game girl… but still a badass.

Thing is, gender diversity means more than just the male/female ratio of your models. If you have a lot of female models in your line, but they’re all skinny white girls who are either lightly armoured ninja types or backline spellcasters, then that can be a bit of a problem. First, it undermines the goal of increasing diversity in a miniatures line. Second, there is a harmful stereotype in a lot of fantasy settings that women can’t be the tanky front-line paladins in full plate and are relegated to either sneaky roguish or backline support duties. A good example to counter this is Zarya from overwatch — she is a popular character is because she’s a big, physically imposing female character who plays a tanky role in the game.

 

I think Privateer Press has been doing a lot better on this front in recent years. I was a little critical of them in the past because while they had a reasonable number of female models in their line, a lot of them were kind of samey. They had plenty of high-DEF low-ARM models that fulfilled the wizard or rogue archetype, but not a lot of heavily armoured or really physically imposing female models (outside of the trolls, pigs and gators, who are all trolls, pigs and gators). Aside from the aforementioned questions of representation, from a practical matter, it made my still as yet unpainted Butcher2 conversion kind of tricky because it was hard to find a female model with the requisite body type from PP’s line to use as a basis for the conversion. However, there have been a number of releases over the past couple years that have filled in that hole quite nicely. Sorscha3, the Bombardier Officer, and Sofiya Skirova for Khador are all badass, and other factions have been feeling the love as well with models such as Gwen Keller and Beth Maddox in Cygnar, Cyrenia in Protectorate, and even Iona, the upcoming Circle warlock.

As a result, I think putting Sorscha3 in the Man-O-War suit was a stroke of genius. Not only does it expand the diversity of the line by adding physically powerful female models in Khador, but she’s one of my favourite characters and taking the lightly armoured, high def, extremely mobile Sorscha character and sticking her in this armoured suit really turns her on her head. Before she was teased, I was hoping that we would eventually get a Sorscha3 on a horse (Horscha?), but this is even better. Not to mention that it’s a welcome departure from the “this caster gets two friends” concept when some casters have gone epic as of late. Some people said it should have been someone like Harkevich instead who got put in the suit, but as much as I am a Harkevich fan, that doesn’t really make sense in the context of his fiction.

So, big ups to Privateer Press for this move to increase the diversity in their line through recent releases, and keep ‘em coming. Just don’t steal my thunder by releasing a Butcheress Mini-Crate before I finish painting mine.

Conclusion

Aside from the chariots, which are a little on the expensive side for those of us who don’t live in ‘Murica, these models should be considered a buy by just about every Khador player out there. I know a lot of column-inches in this article have been devoted to my tiny, niggling issues with them, but those are just that – small technical issues on otherwise awesome models that can generally be resolved with a moderate amount of modelling skill. Dragos, Atanas and the Standard Bearer are particularly wonderful models that rival the Forge Seer for the title of best model in faction, and the others are must-haves for anyone who likes steam powered badasses. And if you don’t, then shouldn’t you be playing Cygnar?

These are a few of my favourite paints…

One of the questions I see from time to time is which brand of miniature paint is the best between the half-dozen or so big brands in the paint business. A lot of people have their own opinions, and people will throw around names like Vallejo, Citadel, P3, and Warcolours. Ask that question in a painting group on facebook, and it’s like throwing a steak in front of a bunch of hungry dogs. Everyone is going to volunteer their favourite brand, and they’re all correct, for themselves.

Here’s the thing: while some people find the slight differences in formulation to matter, and others may have brand loyalty or enough OCD that they can’t stand the sight of two different brands of paint on their paint rack, for most of us, it doesn’t really matter. All the big brands out there that I’ve tried are pretty good, pretty similar, and aside from Citadel which is always a little more expensive for a little smaller pot, are more or less the same value. Just pick up something that is not too hard to get your hands on, and which you don’t hate the delivery method. That is, something that doesn’t come in horrible pots. For my money, Reaper MSP fits that bill nicely, but your mileage may vary.

That said, I feel like one should always experiment, and that there are some brands out there that have a few gems that are worth picking up, even if it’s not your usual brand and will look out of place on your rack due to having a slightly different shaped bottle than your Vallejos.

Vallejo Metal Color

Image result for vallejo metal colorSpeaking of Vallejo, their metal colour paints are hands down better than any acrylic paint on the market. Formulated for airbrush use, they can also be brushed on as well. With finely ground pigments so they go through the airbrush, they are basically drop and shoot and also give a very nice, smooth finish. With the brush, they have great coverage with a very thin coat. The only problem is they have something like 16 different shades of silver and one gold and copper. This is kind of disappointing for anyone who paints fantasy subjects, as we need different shades of gold to do true metallic metals or to just represent different shades of gold, brass and bronze. Further, unless you’re the sort of hardcore scale model aircraft builder who can tell the difference between aluminum, titanium and duraluminum (and knows which one is correct for the inside of the landing gear doors on a late-war Me 109G-6), you probably don’t need to pick up the whole line. The Gunmetal Grey is one of the darkest colours in the range and is a good starting point for a lot of true metallic metal techniques, so pick that up as well as a midtone and bright silver and that will probably be good enough.

P3 – Metals and paints

Image result for p3 frostbiteUnfortunately, there are two small issues with Vallejo Metal Color which prevent me from using them all the time. Since it doesn’t come in many shades of gold and is a little thin for some applications, I like to have a second metal paint as a backup. For this, I go for P3. They have a decent range of metallic paints, and their Molten Bronze and Rhulic gold are excellent rich golds.

But that’s not all; there are a few really nice colours in the P3 line that regularly make it into my repertoire. Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite are my go-to paints for highlighting black, and Coal Black is a greenish bluish blackish colour that has a lot of applications and is a very useful addition to your collection.

The one problem, of course, is their paint pots. I would love it if PP would do a CID on their paint pots, because pots are unpaintable trash and dropper bottles are OP.

Citadel Shades & Technical Paints

When I started this article, what did you expect? These shades are so popular among miniature painters that they’re regularly referred to as “talent in a bottle.” While I wouldn’t quite go as far as saying they are idiot-proof or a suitable replacement for talent, they are an amazingly useful product. It’s hard to describe, but whether it’s the pigment density or the surface tension, they just go on right. Nuln Oil is my most used, though a lot of people like Agrax Earthshade. Also, it may sound strange, but Druchii Violet is the perfect shade for brass and gold bits.

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Citadel also makes a line of technical paints, some of which which are very useful for specific effects. I wouldn’t necessarily go for their texture paints as that seems like the most expensive way to base your models and could be easily replaced with various textured artist mediums, but the others are good for specific uses. Typhus Corrosion is good for a quick addition of general grime, and Nihilakh Oxide is good for doing a corroded copper verdigris effect. Finally, Blood for the Blood God is a great way to make realistic blood, but be warned – it is very red, which is suitable for fresh blood, but not so great for dried blood. As a result, it’s better on something like the dagger of an assassin who just ganked a dude than an orc or skeleton who is too stupid to wash his blade after stabbing people.

Badger Stynylrez Primer

Image result for badger stynylrezIf you’re airbrushing your primer, this is your go-to. It’s just drop and shoot, can be brushed on as well, and comes in many different colours. Be warned, however, that some people have reported issues with primer freezing in transit, and while Badger is taking care of it with their usual excellent customer service, it is something to be aware of. So if you live in Canada like I do and don’t have a local supplier, it’s probably a good idea to stock up in summer.

Reaper Brush-On Primer

Sometimes you need to brush on primer or do a little touchup, and for this, I trust Reaper’s Brush-On Primer. Since Reaper started out with metal figures, their primer is presumably formulated to work well on metal. I’ve never had a problem with this primer on metal, unlike certain others (Vallejo, I’m looking in your direction…). And while I’m on the subject of Reaper, their Punk Rock Pink is just a wonderful colour, and has found it’s way into my army because the only thing better than kicking someone’s face in is kicking someone’s face in while wearing pink.

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Conclusion

When it comes to miniature paints, there isn’t really a “best brand.” Some people may find a best brand for themselves, but even for those people, there are probably a few paints that are good enough that they are worth going out of brand for. There is really no harm in experimenting. And while you’re at it, don’t just limit yourself to hobby paints, sometimes the art store has some good products as well.

Nancy Does NMM

As I mentioned in my last post, my Nancy Steelpunch miniature from Scale75 did well at HeritageCon this year, pulling in a silver in the Fantasy Figures category. In addition to being a cool sculpt with the punkish undercut, goggles, and steampunk robotic arms that she is named for, Nancy represents an important milestone on my hobby journey. She was the first model that I had done using a non-metallic metal (NMM) technique, which was on my list of hobby resolutions for this year.

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Nancy

 

What is NMM?

Now, while figure painters may know what I’m talking about, I can already hear the scale modellers who read this blog scratching their head, so let’s take a step back hear and talk about shiny things. Take a look at this picture of a hatchet I found online. When our eyes look at it, without even thinking about it, our brain detects the pattern and registers it as a somewhat shiny steel colour. We instinctively know that the surface of this axe head is a more or less uniform, somewhat reflective grey metal. However, if I open up Microsoft Paint and use the eyedropper tool, we can see that the colours that make up the shininess are a little more complex. If I wanted to draw a picture of this axe head, instead of just taking out a silver crayon and running it over the entire shape, I would have to play a little with shadow and highlight colours to represent how the light hits and reflects off of the wavy surface of the axe. As you can see, particularly in the third and fourth colour I’ve picked out, the actual colours that make up this image are not uniform and run the spectrum from almost white to almost black.

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The strip on the bottom represents the colour of the pixels at the location at the end of the red line

Another thing you can do is simply take a hobby knife, ideally one with a scalpel blade, hold it under your work lamp, and turn it around in your hand while looking carefully at it. Look at what you see, not what you think you see. Your brain will tell you that the blade is a uniform piece of metal. But depending on how the blade catches the light, you might see a particular part of the blade appear as bright white or almost black or any shade in between, depending on if that particular piece of the blade is reflecting the light into your eye or not. If it helps, take a picture with your phone and look at that, looking carefully at the glints of light bouncing off the blade.

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Now, getting back to miniature painting, one of the keys to painting at this scale is that light doesn’t interact with objects quite the same way at these small scales. It’s why so much of miniature painting involves painting in highlights and shadow colours in order to convey how the light would interact with an object at scale. It’s also why just slapping a coat of metallic paints onto the blade of a sword just doesn’t look right.

Non-metallic metal is one way (but not the only way) to address this issue when it comes to models with a lot of metallic pieces. Non-metallic metals allow the painter to take full control of the interaction between light and the object and make it look more appropriate at scale. To do this, instead of relying on shiny paints, you paint the metal piece with flat colours, painting on all the glints and shadows. It’s called non-metallic metal because you are using non-metallic paints to achieve a metal effect, and it is similar to the techniques a 2D artist might use if he were tasked with drawing something shiny.

Sharp Highlights

Just saying “oh yeah, just paint on the glints and reflections” sounds like one of those things that is easier said than done, but if you understand lighting well, you can get a grasp on it. Even moreso than regular miniature painting, non-metallic metals are an exercise in lighting and contrasts. In order to be successful, you need to figure out where you want to place the light and apply some really sharp contrasts. Looking back at our scalpel blade, we can see that it is mostly a fairly dull, dark grey, with some near-white highlights where the light catches it. The green circle represents an area which is reflecting the light towards the viewer, while the red circle represents edges that are just catching a glint of light. By painting on this highlight and these edge highlights, we can convey the reflectiveness of the surface even by using flat paints. Further, the edge highlights also help the viewer pick up on the shape of the blade at a glance, which is good for making details pop.

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See how the circled areas look almost white due to the highlight.

Steel and Brass

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Not mine, just something cool I found CMON

One of the other interesting things about non-metallic metal is that you can easily paint metals in any colour using this technique. If you want to paint up, say, a figure of Iron Man from the Marvel universe, you can just use the various shades of red you have kicking around instead of trying to find red metallic paints.

This is something that is useful in the world of steampunk fantasy. One of the things I really like about Steampunk settings is that there is a lot of brass present on machinery and metal parts. This means that when you are choosing a colour scheme, you can add some contrast to your metallics by “alternating” between silver and brass colours. You can do steel parts with brass trim, brass parts with silver trim, brass rivets on steel plates, and so on. This allows you to really make details pop, and is something that I chose to take advantage of for Nancy’s mechano-fists. The steampunk mechanical arms are a key distinctive element on this model, and they are filled with plenty of little mechanical details that I wanted to be apparent even at a glance.

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Ultra close up of the mechano-fists

The Process

I was a little intimidated when it came to actually doing the NMM, so it was one of the last things that I had done on this model. When it came to choosing colour, as I mentioned above, I knew I wanted to have both brass and steel to pick out the mechanical bits. But for the steel, I decided to go for something with a bit more blue in it than traditional grey metal. This, I felt, would do two things. First, the blue steel would go well with some of the blue in her clothing and the hints of blue in the highlights on the black parts of her clothes. Second, the blue and brass would give me some nice contrast on the fists themselves on a cool/warm dimension.

So, to start off, I laid down some base colours. For the steel, I used a couple coats of Reaper’s Blue Liner, which is a dark blue that is very near black. Reaper’s Liner paints are formulated for blacklining, a technique where you paint thin lines in the cracks on models to separate distinct parts, and tend to have a little more flow to them than regular paints. However, I have found them to be good not only for priming Bones figures, but also as base coats for things that I want to paint near-black. I use their Grey Liner a lot for painting black, for example, as it is close enough to black to read as intended, but not quite black so it allows me to go into the shadows with a darker colour such as pure black.

Anyways, starting with a base coat of that Blue Liner, I next worked up to Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3, two colours which are somewhat desaturated blues, with the denim being a midtone and the frostbite being almost white. I applied the Gravedigger Denim to areas where I wanted it to be lighter, then followed up with some very sharp highlights with the frostbite — mostly just thin lines where the metal is catching a glint of light. Finally, I edge highlighted the figure with frostbite as well, to represent the areas where the light is catching an edge.

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Progress on the mechano-hands

For the brass, I did something similar. I did an initial base coat in brown, but didn’t like that so I went back to the drawing board and mixed some Tanned Leather from Reaper with some grey liner to get a dark, desaturated colour that still has some of the yellow-orange that I want to it. From there, I highlighted up to straight Tanned Leather, then Blond Hair (Reaper), and then a Menoth White Highlight (P3) for the highest highlight. As always, these are just the colours I used; you can use whatever you have on hand and mix on your wet palette (you are using a wet palette, right?) to get a similar effect.

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Colours used — Blue steel on left, Brass on right

Final thoughts

Non-metallic metal can be an intimidating sounding technique. However, once I got down to it, it actually seemed to be a little easier than I thought it would be. The main lessons I took away from it were:

  1. Understand where the light is coming from
  2. Go all the way from very dark to very light
  3. Use sharp highlights to convey glints of light

It’s also easier when you have something to go off of, so taking a close look at miniatures that have been painted with this technique or even just art of the figure that you are trying to paint can help you understand it better before taking the plunge. Even if you don’t plan on using NMM as a common technique in your repertoire, doing a few pieces in NMM can help you understand how light interacts with reflective surfaces like metals, and in turn help you with painting metallics in general.

As for me, I’ve got the Nancy Steelpunch 1/12 scale bust as well, so that’s going to be an interesting project…

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Painting woodgrain textures

In many historical and fantasy settings, wood is everywhere. Buildings, scenery, and even the stocks of rifles are often made of wood. This can pose a challenge for someone painting miniatures, figures, or any other thing where you are trying to make something that looks like wood but smaller. Like with flesh tones, wood is not a uniform colour; rather, it has a directional grain to it. Ergo, in order to represent that at the scales we are interested in, we want to include those woodgrain textures in our piece.

This sounds like a daunting task, but fortunately, there is a very easy trick to making your wood look great which doesn’t demand a high level of artistic talent.

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Note – for scale, those are 1cm gridlines

Sourcing your lumber

When talking about painting wood, one of the first things that someone might ask is “why not steal a bunch of wooden coffee stir sticks from Starbucks? They’re wood, right?” While that is an option, this is one of those many cases where using the actual item without any sort of painting or modification doesn’t quite give the correct result due to the effects of scale and lighting. Instead of looking like an actual piece of wood, it will look like someone glued a giant coffee stir stick to your model and may ruin the immersion rather than create a realistic effect.

Another option that comes to mind is carving the texture into a piece of plastic, but again we run into scale issues. Too small of a groove and it will be hard to see, but a groove barely a half a millimeter in depth at some of the scales I work at would represent an inch deep gouge in a board, which is something that we just don’t see in real life. Further, trying to carve these wood grains into a small, fragile piece like a rifle at a small scale is not an easy task.

Instead, we’re going to be painting the wood grains on. It sounds intimidating and possibly a little crazy, but so long as you have the right equipment and the right paints, it’s actually not too hard.

For this project, we’re going to need some acrylic paints in various shades of grey. We will need a light, midtone, and dark grey, as well as some black and white, though you can always mix up any shade of gray with the black and white if you want. Second, we’re going to need some sort of brown acrylic ink. I like to use Scale75’s Inktense Wood or Inktense Chestnut for this application, depending on the shade of wood I’m going for, but I’m sure there are some other figure painting inks or artist acrylic inks out there that can work. The Inktense Wood ink is great for raw boards, while the Chestnut is really good at representing stained, finished wood products like a hardwood floor, tabletop, or the stock of a rifle. Finally, we’re going to need at least one good brush with a fine tip – I recommend a small (perhaps 10/0) liner brush if you have one, because as the name implies, a liner brush is really good for painting lines, and the grains in a piece of wood are nothing but fine lines.

Hardwood floor base

In this case, I wanted to create a hardwood floor for Nancy Steelpunch, a 35mm (approximately 1/48, for all you scale modellers) scale miniature on top of a square, 25mm plinth. I had the idea of portraying her indoors, perhaps in a saloon or speakeasy. So, to begin, I created that floor by gluing a bunch of pieces of strip styrene to the top of my base. I chose to do it at about a 45 degree angle to the plinth, simply to generate a little more visual interest than if the boards were oriented parallel to the edge of the base. I also made sure to include a couple breaks in the flooring where one board stopped and the next one started. Since I wanted the flooring to look a little beat up as though she were in an old saloon, so I didn’t put too much effort into sanding down the edges where I clipped them, and roughened the plastic up a little with coarse sandpaper.

IMG_2538.JPGWith the flooring laid down, the first step is to prime it and paint it in your midtone grey. Make sure to paint in the direction of the grain where possible; after all, brush strokes look kind of like wood grains anyways, so if you paint in the direction of the grain, you don’t need to worry too much about getting a nice smooth coat.

Next up comes the process of painting on the grains in the wood, but first, a little discussion about the fluid mechanics of paint on a brush. Paint brushes store paint in the bristles and when you run it over a surface, that paint flows off the tip and onto that surface. Thin paints flow better, so by using thin paints, a brush with a fine tip but a sizeable enough belly to hold paint, and the proper brush control, you can paint some very fine detail.

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10/0 liner brush, nothing special, just an average, natural hair art store brush

This is why a liner brush is ideal for painting on woodgrains. With the business end having a very long, thin profile, you get a nice balance between a fine tip and enough volume in the bristles to store enough paint that you can actually paint a long, fine line before you either run out of paint or have it dry out on the tip. That’s why if you watch old videos of Bob Ross making his paintings, you will see that at the end of every show, he signs his paintings with a liner brush and some very thin paint.

IMG_2539.JPGSo, with thin paints and your trusty liner brush, start with a light grey and begin painting lines running along in the direction of the grain of the wood. The lines should be roughly parallel, but they don’t have to be perfect because wood is a natural product and therefore wood grains have some element of randomness to their texture. The lines shouldn’t all go all the way from one end of the board to the other, as wood grains on the surface start and stop. Further, if you have a break where one board stops and the next board starts, make sure to stop your lines at the end and start anew, as woodgrains don’t carry on from one piece of wood to the next.

IMG_2541.JPGOnce you’re satisfied with the woodgrain pattern you have generated, repeat the process, this time with a darker grey than your base colour to paint in the dark parts of the woodgrain texture. Once you’re done with that, feel free to follow up once more with just a bit of pure white here and there to get some additional contrast. If your wood has cracks between multiple pieces like on floorboards, you can also go in there with your liner brush and some pure black to get those to show up.

When we’re done, we should get something that looks kind of like a woodgrain texture only in black and white instead of colour. What we’ve essentially done here is create a value sketch – painting in the lights and darks of what we want, but without any actual hue or colour. This is where our inks come in. Inks are simply acrylic paints with a high pigment density, but with a very thin consistency, more like water than actual paint. Inks have a myriad of uses, and can be applied with either a brush or an airbrush or mixed in with regular acrylic paints.

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This is where the magic happens

In this case, we’re going to be applying the ink as a glaze. Using either a brush or an airbrush at a very low pressure setting, simply paint the ink over the entire surface of the wood, attempting to get a more or less consistent finish. If you’re using the right products and applying them properly, you will see the ink quickly colouring the wood and turning it into amazingly realistic looking wood before your eyes.

You may need multiple coats, and as always when working with inks, you need to make sure it dries completely between coats, but that’s it! You can always experiment with different inks and washes, adding additional hues, or putting different varnishes on top of the wood in order to get interesting effects like aged or weathered wood. Further, there is nothing stopping you from adding more lines and another layer of ink on top to get another layer of detail. But for this project, the colour and shine of the Scale75 Intense Chestnut alone gives me the hardwood floor effect that I’m looking for, so I’m not going to futz with it.

Conclusion

With the right tools and the right techniques, this is an amazingly simple way to get some very nice and realistic looking wood effects on your miniatures. It can be useful for painting miniature furniture, bases, scenery, and all kinds of weapons from spears and clubs to rifles and shotguns. Hopefully this technique helps you out, as properly rendered wood can really kick up a project to the next level.

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The Joy of Painting Figures – presentation

I had planned to write something on painting woodgrain textures today, but I ran into some problems and didn’t get around to it. So, in lieu of an actual article, I’m going to throw up a link to a presentation I made on painting figures at a local IPMS meeting this week.

In short, I feel that figure painting can be an intimidating thing for a lot of scale modellers, and I see a lot of comments on the scale model internet to that effect. Flesh tones aren’t a uniform colour like the glacis plate of a Panzer IV, and people who paint figures tend to worry a lot more about things like lighting and colour theory than someone trying to make an exact replica of something, only tinier.

That is not to say that figure painters are better than traditional scale modellers. The sheer number of pieces and the level of detail in a model kit with all the aftermarket bling in it can get rather insane, not to mention the historical research involved to make it as exact a representation of the subject as possible.

The goal of this presentation was to demystify it a little — explain some of the basics of using acrylic paints (thin your paints, take care of your brushes, and just make a damn wet palette already), explain a little bit about the theory behind what goes into flesh tones, and share some techniques as to how I go about placing those highlights and shadows.

So, without any further ado, here’s the slides from that presentation.

“I painted that one-handed…”

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I recently suffered a fracture to my hand, which knocked me out of gaming and typing for about a month. The only silver lining was that as the pill bottles I use as miniature holders fit in my cast rather nicely, so I could still make some hobby progress. Assembly and major conversions were out of the question, but I was able to put a large dent in my shelf of shame.

Laril Silverhand

IMG_2480.JPGI mentioned in a previous post that I had started on Laril Silverhand (03803) from Reaper. Well, I managed to finish her up. I didn’t quite go for the full-on dark moonlit night as I originally planned, but I do think the OSL on the sword does a good job of conveying the scene and the heat of the sword as it was just pulled out of the furnace. Reaper minis tend to be a touch smaller than what I’m used to from Privateer Press, but not too much; Laril here was perhaps 10% smaller than the equivalent PP mini.

Anyways, for this OSL, what I did was I started by basecoating the sword with Vallejo Metal Color Gunmetal Grey. This is the darkest silver paint I own, and the VMC metals are nice and smooth. For the sword itself, I applied layers of red and bright orange, blending them out so they smoothly transition from bright, hot orange to warm red to cold steel. On top of that, I did a yellow edge highlight along the edges of the blade to convey its shape. For the glow, I started by figuring out where the glow of the sword would hit her apron, anvil, arm, etc. Then, I applied the highlights as glazes, starting with red and working up to brighter oranges and yellows as we get closer to the sword.

Man-O-Wars

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Drakhuns with dismounted versions

With the Khador Man-O-War CID in full swing, I decided it was time to start putting a dent in to the large collection of assembled, primed, airbrushed Man-O-War models that were in my collection. Man-O-Wars are basically elite soldiers from the Khadoran army stuffed into steam-powered armoured suits which make them extremely tough and also occasionally malfunction and scald them to death. I decided to bang out two Drakhuns (cavalry models, mounted on the world’s unluckiest horses) and a Kovnik (officer with a flag).  The Drakhuns are dragoon solos for Warmachine, so each model comes with two versions — one mounted version, and one dismounted version which can continue the fight after being shot off his or her horse. So with two Drakhuns and one Kovnik, that’s five models total.

 

Now, these models are very detailed, including certain –ahem- anatomically correct bits on the horses. So they were a bit of a time consuming project, especially for someone like me whose style often involves a lot of contrast, a lot of picking out details, and a lot of heavy edge highlighting. To distinguish the two Drakhuns on the tabletop, I did a couple things. First, I painted one horse grey and the other brown. Second, I did a head swap for one of them. Instead of the standard helmet, I pinned the head from Alexia, Mistress of the Witchfire on there, which I had acquired from the PP bits store. I chose this head for two reasons. First, she’s got a cool angry expression on her face. Second, the motherland requires both its sons and daughters to carry on the struggle against the forces of Cygnar and Cryx, so I like to represent a bit more gender diversity in my army than is normally in the PP Khador line. With Man-O-War, since they are covered up by such big, bulky armoured suits, a simple head swap is all that is necessary to convert one into a Woman-O-War.

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Man-O-War Kovnik

For the Kovnik, I didn’t want to do a purple flag because it’s my second one and I want to be able to distinguish them on the tabletop. So, I went for pink, but I chose a bit different shade of pink for the cloth flag than I did for the armour, just to convey that they are made of different materials.

 

The other thing with these Man-O-War models is that some of the older sculpts are metal, and the newer ones are plastic. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem, except for the reality of scale creep in PP’s sculpts. The old metal Man-O-War miniatures are just a little smaller than the newer plastic ones, so to make them look a little more consistent on the tabletop, I elevated them slightly, using a layer of cork between the feet and the base. It doesn’t totally fix the scale issue, but it at least makes the models a consistent, uniform height which works out well at a glance.

Sofya Skirova

IMG_2501.JPGKapitan Sofya Skirova is a badass. Let’s just get that out of the way first. As an officer in the Black Dragons, the most elite pikemen in all of Khador, she has to be. On the tabletop, she has a lot of special rules which mean that she just does not die and can tough out a lot of attacks and get back into the fight.

She was one of Privateer Press’ December releases as part of their new plan of giving every faction a little something around Christmas. I’ve been waiting for her to come out ever since they spoiled some of the character art in No Quarter, however I think it may have been a bit of a missed opportunity there; when I first saw her art, I was hoping that she would be either the daughter or the wife of Lord Kozlov, our new battlebox caster, but that’s something that I can just headcanon.

In order to convey this badassery, I decided to do something special for her base. First, it goes without saying that she needs to tower over lesser models on the tabletop, so she needs a little height on the base. This was easily accomplished with a lump of air drying clay, as well as my usual use of acrylic artist medium for texture.

Now, height is good, but to add a little badassery, I decided to turn it up a notch and throw on some debris — a couple shields from her fallen comrades that I had traded for, as well as some Menoth bits including a warjack head that someone threw in with a sale (protip: never say no to free bits). These were, of course, weathered up a bit to indicate the origin of said bits, and really help convey the message that Sofya is one tough cookie.

Iron Fangs

IMG_2491.JPGWhile I’m at it, I also banged out the Iron Fang Pikemen that I had previously assembled. Aside from the hell that is assembling, converting, and magnetizing a whole unit of metal pikemen, I decided to do a little bit of an experiment on these guys. Normally, I wouldn’t use my airbrush for models this small, but I figured that perhaps I could save some time and get good results by airbrushing the purple on, including the shadows and highlights, then going back and brush painting the chainmail with some nice, smooth VMC metals. The other thing I did was use very targeted washes. As I’ve gotten better and better at painting, I’ve been less and less reliant on slathering a mini in Nuln Oil. That is not to say that washes such as Nuln Oil are not useful, but there are a lot of times where you want to be more targeted with them than just an all-over wash. Here, I pretty much just washed the metals and fur and for the rest, just kept the airbrushed or blended highlights au naturel. Overall, this gave good results, and given the amount of time I’ve saved, I am definitely going to be doing a lot more airbrushing on smaller miniatures.

Still on the bench…

IMG_2509.JPGI have a couple projects still on my workbench. First off is Karchev the Terrible, or Special K as I call her. You will note my use of the feminine in this case; a friend had commented on my habit on doing gender-bending conversions in my army and, well, one thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was grabbing a jeweler’s saw and a Statuesque Miniatures head. She’s a woman in a machine, an old warrior kept alive by life support systems, magic, and the giant steam-powered warjack that she was bolted into because reasons. I’ve got all the base coats laid down, and the shading done on the base and legs, so I’m probably pretty close to done, all things considered.

IMG_2506.JPGFinally, my take on Scale75’s 1/12 scale Mary Read bust is almost done, after a little mishap with the parrot that ended up with me needing to break out the sculpting tools. I still need to highlight the metals, do a bit of work on the parrot, and do some miscellaneous touchups, hightlights, and shadows here and there, but she is getting close to done. This was a really fun project, so much that I spent more money than I care to admit on Scale75’s latest kickstarter. I’m hoping to be able to make it out to HeritageCon in Hamilton in a few weeks, and if so, I’m going to definitely enter her into the figures category and see how I do. That is, as long as I can get her done by then.

Conclusion

In spite of my busted up hand, it’s actually been a productive month in terms of my hobby progress, and I’ve happily finished a few things that have been on my shelf of shame for way too long. Something about not being able to go out gaming or do much of anything is one way to ensure you will get a lot of hours at the workbench, though I still wouldn’t recommend breaking your hand as a motivational technique.

What’s on the bench – Feb 2018

So, January was a bit of an odd month for me hobby-wise. On the one hand, I was either out of town or had company over for at least a week. Further, I was hit with some sort of nasty sickness which I would guess had a neutral effect on my hobby productivity – on the one hand, my productivity really decreased due to my illness, but on the other, there were a few days where I had to call in sick to work and was left at home with nothing to do but rest and paint models.

Anyways, I had finished some stuff off that had been on my shelf for a while, and started some new projects. I finished painting my Zerkova2 unit, completing her two bodyguards to fill out the unit. I also buckled down and finished my first pure display project in a while, my “black sheep” model that I had started on last year. In addition, I tried out a new scale with Reaper’s Yephima model, which turned out quite nicely.

Display models

IMG_2397.JPGFirst up, I’ve got Laril Silverhand (03803) from Reaper, an elven blacksmith with an eye patch. This is one of their old metal models, and she comes with a sword, hammer, and an anvil resting upon a log. I really like her sculpt; instead of portraying her as a waifish elf lady, they’ve gone a bit more realistic route and gave her the sort of muscle tone that one might expect from a blacksmith (even an elven one). I’ve got her installed on a base similar to the one I made for my black sheep, only smaller as I’ve used the 25mm plinth instead of the 40mm. In order to practice some different lighting effects that I might want to use for some of my Scale75 Naughty Gears busts, I think I’m going to try to portray her as working late, perhaps on a moonlit night. My plan is to have her mostly painted as though she is in low-light conditions, but with some orange OSL emanating from the sword, emphasizing that she had just pulled it out of the furnace and it is still glowing brightly.

IMG_2392Next is my 1/12 scale Mary Read bust from Scale75. People who pledged to the kickstarter may remember that this was the one that there was some controversy over, and which Scale75 had to resculpt due to a copyright issue. The kit comes in a few pieces, with the gun at her waist, her right arm, the two little dreadlocks hanging down from the front of her face, and a parrot being separate pieces. There are two options for the right arm included in the kit with her holding either a gun or a piece of fruit. The parrot is designed to go on her right shoulder, but one has the option of leaving it off as well. And I’m sure if you don’t mind doing a little bit of sanding and filling, you can easily leave off any of the other little pieces. I decided to go with the gun, and I haven’t decided what to do with the parrot yet. I think she might look a little odd with both a gun at her waist and one in her hand, but two guns is pretty cool.

Anyways, aside from the parrot, I’ve gotten her all assembled and primed, and I managed to get some airbrushing in, despite a minor mishap involving a small part from my airbrush and my bathroom sink. My plan is to bring her to an IPMS build day on the weekend, so I wanted to get all the airbrushing done on her in advance so all I had left to do was brush painting.

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When it came to choosing a colour scheme, I knew I wanted to do the gold filigree on her corset as shown in the studio scheme. I kind of wanted to go with purple, but I didn’t want to just copy the studio scheme, so I settled on a sanguine colour. Using P3 paints, I basecoated the entire corset with Coal Black from the airbrush, which I was going to use as a shadow colour. I then moved on up to Sanguine Base as my main colour, and highlighted with Sanguine Highlight. As a final highlight, I mixed in some Menoth White Highlight as recommended by the P3 colour charts. I’ll be brush painting her flesh tones, but I wanted to get this done with the airbrush to make it easier to place the highlights appropriately on the corset.

Warmachine Stuff

I’ve decided to take a little break from Warmachine for a variety of reasons, some of which have come to a head over the past couple weeks, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have some models on the shelf. I’m planning on going to the Southern Ontario Open this year, and aside from taking in as much hobby content as I can, I want to participate in their Champions tournament again. Champions requires a player to choose his or her warcasters/warlocks from the ADR list, so my choices are Sorscha1, Vlad3, Old Witch 2, and Kozlov. Sorscha1 was the first caster that I played regularly and you never forget your first, so she’s in my pairing for sure. Since I don’t have OW2, and I don’t have the models for a Vlad3 list, that leaves Kozlov as the other caster in my pairing. Since I want to do Kozlov in Armored Korps, that means I’ve got some Man-O-Wars to pull off the shelf of shame (where I keep my assembled, unpainted models) and get fully painted.

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Pictured: Shame

IMG_2396.JPGRight now, I have four Man-O-War models on my shelf; two Drakhuns, in both mounted and dismounted form. For these, I airbrushed the pink and purple, and am hand-painting the rest. I still have a lot of shading and highlights to do on both the dismounted ones, and the mounted ones are a little further behind. Also, for one of them, I picked up a couple Alexia2 heads from the Privateer Press bits store to do her unhelmented. It’s a bit of a slog because I’ve done another unit of MoW recently, but it will be nice to get them ready for both the Champions and the new goodies that will no doubt be released after the Armored Korps CID.

I also have a unit of pikemen along with Sofya Skirova started, but after getting them more than half done, I’ve kind of put them aside for now. I suspect it will still be a little while before I want to field a Legion of Steel list, and to be honest, I’ve kind of gotten tired of painting units. I’ll probably return to them after. Also on the back burner is Fenris, who I am doing a conversion on because I really do not like the original sculpt.

Finally, I did pick up some Farrow models, including Helga and some warbeasts for a journeyman league, however given that I’m taking a little break from Warmachine, I don’t see myself prioritizing them over the stuff on my shelf anytime soon.

Future Projects?

I do have a box of the Necromunda House Escher models that are just begging to be assembled and painted. I’m not sure exactly what Necromunda is or how it works, and I’ve never done the GW thing before, but they look pretty badass so that’s a thing. In addition, I’ve got some kickstarter stuff and other orders coming to me that I’m pretty excited about, as well as more Khador than I can shake a stick at to paint. I think I’m pretty set for projects for a while, and February is looking good for some serious hobby progress…

…or was, until I fell down the stairs today and may have injured my hand.

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Contrast & Colours – the basics

Disclaimer: I’ve never been to art school, or really studied colour theory that intently. Most of the knowledge I am about to impart is from painting miniatures for two years, and the occasional quick tutorial. So take it for what you will…

Ah, colour theory.

When I first started up my Khador army, I quickly decided on a purple, white and silver paint scheme. I’m not sure exactly where I got the idea from, but I knew I wanted something different from the studio scheme and thought that it might look good. And it did look all right for a first attempt, but the scheme was missing something.

As I painted more and more warjacks, I would add a little more brass to them each time, painting a couple more metal bits in brass instead of silver, and they would end up looking a lot better. The brass seemed to go with my purple scheme much better than the silver, but I didn’t know why. That is, until I started looking at colour theory.

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One of these warjacks is a lot better painted than the other…

The first rule of colour theory

So, the first rule of colour theory as it pertains to miniatures is simple and is as follows:

Contrast is good.

When you’re painting at the tiny scales that we usually paint at in this hobby, contrast is key. I can not overstate this enough. Contrast is what makes a miniature “pop” from across the table. It helps the eye make out shapes at a glance, and it is what helps convey shadows and lighting at this tiny scale. It’s one of the few things that I kind of got right in my initial attempt at a colour scheme — all the white trim pieces on the edges of the model create an intense light/dark contrast, and help make the basic shape of the model pop in a way that is readily apparent even from across a standard gaming table.

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Now, there are many different kinds of contrast. Light and dark is one of the simplest and easiest to understand, but to go deeper, we’re going to have to look at a colour wheel.

The colour wheel

When it comes to figuring out what colours go together, the colour wheel is our friend. It’s basically all the colours in a rainbow lined up bent back upon itself so the red and the purple touch, and then arranged in a circle.

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A basic colour wheel

On this colour wheel, there  are some things that we can recognize from grade school and our Roy G. Biv. You have your primary colours, like red and blue and yellow, and your secondary colours like green and orange and purple in between. The colours seem to go together naturally, in that the red naturally flows into the orange and into yellow.

This colour wheel is also divided into warm and cool colours. As the name implies, colours close to the blue end of the spectrum are cool and colours close to the orange end are warm. Cool/warm is another form of contrast which you can add to your model. Further, when you look at a miniature, cool colours tend to fade back and warm colours tend to come forwards. This can be useful for shading and highlighting; for example, I often use GW’s Druchii Violet and Scale75’s Inktense Purple as shade colours for brass because I get those cool colours in the shadows, which contrast the warm brass and make it pop.

Saturation and shades

This is a great start, but there are a couple other properties of colours other than your basic hue. First, saturation is a measure of the brightness and intensity of a colour. The bright, fire engine red that you might see on a Ferrari is a very saturated colour, while a black and white photo has no colour saturation in it at all. As you can imagine, bright, highly saturated colours can attract the eye and really stand out against a desaturated background (again, contrast!), which is probably why they are so popular among makers of sporty cars. After all, if you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an Italian supercar, you might as well paint it in a colour that’s really going to turn heads.

Finally, you can create tones and shades by adding a white or black to a colour to make it lighter or darker. Again, this can create some light/dark contrast, however it will also desaturate the colour as pure whites and blacks have no actual colour to them so mixing them into your paints will naturally take down the saturation levels. If we add this information onto our colour wheel, we get something a little more advanced than the one above.

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The colour wheel from Adobe Color

Okay, so how do we use this thing?

This colour wheel can be a very useful tool for things like picking out schemes or figuring out what colour to paint a part of a miniature.

You have what are called complementary colours — that is, colours that are directly across the colour wheel from each other, such as red and green. Because these complementary colours are so far apart, the use of them can be a good form of contrast. A good example from real life history is the red stars and other similar markings on Russian tanks and aircraft from WW2. Because the red is directly across from the green on the colour wheel, bright red markings on top of some desaturated green camo create some nice contrast which, used sparingly, can really make those markings pop and draw the eye.

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Isn’t that a nice paint scheme? See the complementary colours on the markings? And the light/dark contrast on the white outlines that make the markings easily recognizable at a glance? No wonder Tamiya uses this scheme to sell models.

A complementary scheme is, as you can probably imagine, a scheme where you use primarily these complementary colours. These schemes can have a lot of nice contrast, as you can see from the example of the Il-2 above, however you do need to be a little careful with them. If you have the complementary colours both very bright and close to a 50-50 balance, you can end up with something that looks garish and, in the case of green/red, overly Christmasy. Where a complementary scheme can really work well is when you have a main colour and a nice, saturated complementary colour for things like trim, markings, and various other bits.

An analogous scheme is the opposite. It’s where you stick to colours next to each other for the colour wheel. For example, you could create a scheme out of shades of blue and cool greens that go together nicely. This is particularly good for models with a lot of earthy tones, such as the Circle Orboros studio scheme from Warmachine. In fact, you can even go all the way and create a monochromatic scheme by using colours of the same hue, just using different levels of tone, shade and saturation to generate different colours. You can also get a nice effect by painting up a miniature mostly in an analogous scheme, but adding a couple tiny accents in a contrasting colour, such as doing a wizard up with a blue-green analogous scheme and adding a red or orange gem at the end of his staff.

A triadic colour scheme is, as the name implies, the sort of scheme you might get if you overlay an equilateral triangle over the colour wheel. These kind of schemes tend to be nice and vibrant, and contain a lot of contrast and a nice variation of hue, though again, you may want to make one of the colours a little more dominant than the others so it isn’t too garish. Split-complementary is similar, except instead of an equilateral triangle, you’re creating a long, pointed isosceles triangle by choosing one colour at the point and two colours right next to the complement of the first.

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(clockwise from top left) Complementary, analogous, split-complementary and triadic colour schemes.

There are some other advanced schemes such square and rectangular, and other ways to generate contrast such as the use of different levels of saturation, different textures, gloss/matte varnish, etc, but these are perhaps a little more advanced and this article is getting a little long. The point is, by learning a little bit about colour theory and using a colour wheel to pick out a colour scheme, we can create a miniature that is pleasing to the eye. One of the most frustrating things that you can do when miniature painting is spend a lot of time working on painting a miniature in a scheme that just doesn’t work. In that case, no matter how skilled you are with the brush and how much time you put into it, you will left with a finished product that doesn’t look great and you will be frustrated because you don’t know enough about colour theory to know what’s wrong with it.

Resources

There are also some great resources out there for choosing schemes. Of course, you can always print off a colour wheel from the internet or buy one from an art store and tack it up in your workspace. Alternately, if you’re a little more tech-savvy, Adobe Color has an intuitive, easy to use interface and allows a user to pick a colour off the colour wheel and the type of scheme you want (complementary, triangular, etc) and the program will automatically generate some addition colours for your scheme for you.

Why did my first model look like crap?

Finally, we can return to my first warjack. It’s not a great piece by any means, and next to my newer models, doesn’t really look great. Part of that is because I just didn’t have the skills back then for things like highlighting, weathering, or brush control, but part of it has to do with my colour choices — particularly the addition of more brass bits.

The first model is almost completely in purple, white and silver. While the white trim contrasts the dark purple nicely and helps convey the shape of the warjack at a glance, there isn’t much else in the way of contrast. White is a neutral colour, and silver is basically a shiny grey, so the only actual colour on the model is the purple. This creates a bit of an imbalance, as there aren’t any warm colours on the model to contrast the purple.

In contrast, the newer model has lots of warm brass and golds. Gold is across the colour wheel from purple, so in addition to some warm/cold contrast, we also have the complementary colour contrast. Essentially, by adding brass bits, I blundered my way into a complementary colour scheme and just stuck with it.

Conclusion

Though it might help, you don’t need to go to art school to get a basic appreciation of colour theory. Now that you’ve read this article, you probably have a good start, and a little bit of reading on the internet can give you everything you need to know for the sort of hobbying we do.

Should you #playitpainted? (spoiler: yes)

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

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

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

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

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

Why should you play it painted

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there excuses?

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

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

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

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

When should you commit to playing it painted?

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

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

Conclusion

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