A Quick Guide to Miniature Painting Terminology

This guide attempts to define a lot of the words you’ll hear from seasoned painters when describing how to paint your model using acrylic paints.  Rather than being ordered A-Z, it’s grouped by the rough stage through the process, so you’ll find terms that are often used together grouped together.  The phrases are generally applicable, but generally refer more closely to GW terminology as the market leaders in miniatures.


Priming a model, or Undercoating, is applying a type of paint called Primer that goes on the model first, and is designed to grip to the surface, providing a base for the other paints to stick to.  It’s particularly important when painting metal models, as acrylic paint can chip off metal models easily if they are used heavily as game pieces.  The colour of this undercoat has quite an impact on colours painted over the top – black primer will tend to make the model feel subdued and realistic, while white primer will pop and be vibrant.  Grey colour starts with a neutral palette.  Some techniques will require specific undercoats to work – Citadel Contrast paints, for example, require a very light primer, normally a off white cream called Wraith-bone.  Some coloured primers will also effectively work as one of the main colours on the miniature, saving you a lot of time.

Primers can be applied by brush, airbrush, or by aerosol cans.  The latter requires a certain amount of caution – a small number of materials on the market can react badly to spray primers.  Reaper Bones in particular shouldn’t be primed by spray aerosols as a rule of thumb.

Zenithal Priming

Zenithal priming is an interesting concept.  Essentially, we aren’t going to cover the model with a single colour undercoat.  Instead we prime the whole model in a darker colour, and then pick a direction.  We then spray increasing lighter colours from that directly, moving in smaller arcs to cover less of the model each time, so the effects is to have gradation of colour from light to dark for the painting to go over, creating subtle shadows. 

Because this gives a gradation of colour from dark to light underlying the other paints, this can sometimes be referred to a zenithal highlighting.

Tabletop quality or Battle ready

Not every miniature is going to be a golden demon award winner, and if you want to field entire armies for games, you simply won’t have time!  There’s nothing wrong with painting to a decent basic standard that looks great at the average 3ft distance when playing games.

There’s no exact definition of what constitutes tabletop standard.  Perfectionists might call a beautiful layered and highlighted model table top, because they haven’t added a few last touches.  Tournament players sometimes use the minimum tournament standard as the definition of tabletop, which is a 3 colour minimum for tournament standard, but most people accept that normal tabletop standard involves basecoating the various parts of the models cleanly, together with at least one technique to add depth or highlight to those colours.  It might be a wash, or a drybrush, or the initial base coat may already include that depth with contrast paints, but some technique to accentuate the details.

Display Quality, Competition Quality or Parade Ready

Like tabletop standard, there isn’t really an exact definition of this.  Essentially, it involves painting the miniature to the best of your ability, aiming to produce a model that could enter a competition like Golden Demon, or be displayed on a display shelf.

Generally you’ll use multiple techniques to add not just highlights and shadows, but also simulate textures and lighting directions, and all the smaller details will need to be added.  For tabletop quality models designed to be viewed from a distance, painting eyes really isn’t essential.  For a display piece?  You’ll need to master all those additional detail techniques.

Parade Ready can be  a little lower than full competition quality – it essentially takes all the processes through 2 or three more layers or finer highlights to achieve a much better finish, but it may still fall short of a full Display Quality piece, and be closer to what some people call “High tabletop”


Basecoating is the process of putting an initial set of the main colours onto the model.  If you’ve sprayed the whole model in a coloured primer, like blue, all the blue parts may already be done!

There are some subtleties to base coating a model.  If you intend to “layer” your colours up, your first base coat will be much darker than the final colour.  If you intend to “wash” or “dip” your model at the end of the process, then your base coat will need to be lighter than the final colours.

If following a painting guide, the base coat will be the first colour in the process on each of the areas.

“Two Thin Coats”

This is a phrase often used in painting circles, and refers to the fact that it is much better to be patient, and build up multiple thin coats of paint to get a solid coat of colour than to apply thick paint that will dry unevenly, show brushstrokes, and flow unevenly off the brush, leading to mistakes.  Don’t take the name too literally – you aren’t aiming to apply two thin coats in reality.  You want to apply enough thin coats of paint to achieve a consistent colour, letting the paint fully dry between each coat.  Paint should be thinned to around the consistency of semi-skimmed milk.  With dark colours like black or brown, two thin coats will probably work perfectly.  If you try to apply a yellow over a black undercoat, you’ll probably need more!

“One Thick Coat”

Games Workshop have recently released a range of paints called Citadel Contrast.  These paints are designed to be applied straight from the pot, but actually dry as a very thin layer, effectively going on a translucent coat that recedes from the edges, giving the effect of a “base coat”, a light “drybrush” and a “wash”.  One thick coat just means you apply it carefully from the pot rather than thinning it down like traditional paints, and the way the paint  works means you only normally need to put a single coat on.  Do not deliberately try to put a “thick” coat on by slapping loads on.  That isn’t the intention of the phrase at all, and caused more than a few people to discount a wonderfully effective technique.


A wash is heavily diluted paint or ink applied over an area of a model – in some cases, a wash may even be applied all over a model to give a consistent tone and simple shading all over.  While it’s often used for large areas,  it can be applied much more carefully for specific effects like on hair.

  • Pin Wash – a pin wash involves applying a small amount of wash around tiny targeted areas of a model, like around rivets or bolts on a metal panel.  Its a technique most often used when painting vehicles as washes don’t work as well used over big flat panels.


Drybrushing is a technique where you apply some paint to a brush, then take most of the paint back off again with paper towel or something similar!  Now, when you drag the bristles gently over the model, only a little paint catches on the tops and ridges of the models, applying a quick and easy highlight.

Drybrushing used to be a more prevalent technique, but it is deprecated in the current very clean look popularised by Games Workshop’s display team, the ‘Eavy Metal painters.  Their own terminology guide relegates dry brushing to use on bases or terrain only.

Many experienced painters love drybrushing for organic materials.  The slightly random way the paint adheres to the raised surfaces gives a very natural look, and on surfaces like rock, bark, fur and hair, it can give better results than manual highlights for all but the very top painters. 

  • Over-brushing is an interesting variation on drybrushing, where you take off less paint from the brush, leading to the paint effectively covering the model except in the recesses.  I’ve also seen this referred to as slop-brushing.  Its a quick but effective technique for layering, especially when combined with a lighter drybrush afterwards.


Layering is the process of adding multiple layers of paint to an area of a miniature to achieve a gradation of colour – from light to dark, dark to light, or even across a spectrum in odd circumstances.  For a simple effect on a red cloak, you might start with a dark reddy brown, then paint a layer of mixed brown and red slightly higher on the folds, then paint a layer of of red higher again.  Advanced painters might put on many more layers of slightly different colours between the top and bottom of the range.  The more layers, the smoother the colour transition appears.

Layering is often combined with Blending to smooth the transitions between the different layers even more, or with a Glaze over the top to smooth the transitions out by filtering it through another thin level of paint.

In general, most painters will start with simply basecoat, wash and highlight or drybrush techniques, and gradually increase the complexity of their starting colour with additional layering over time.


Blending is the process of mixing two different colours together in a transition on the model.  Some people see layering as a form of blending, and use the terms interchangeably.  There are various techniques for blending colours effectively, including:

  • Wet blending – essentially, you paint some of one colour on, and before its dry, paint some of a second colour on, and mix the still wet paints together to blend together on the model itself.  It sounds simple, but can be very difficult to pull off!  
  • Feathering – feathering is a technique of using the brush in a gentle zig zag pattern, like tickling with a feather, to thin out a little paint over another to achieve a transition.  Because of the gentle erratic effect, it breaks up the sharp line between colours for a much smoother 
  • Two Brush Blending – Here you use one brush with paint, and one brush with water to thin out the edges – you’d often use feathering with the second wet brush to achieve the blend.
  • Double Loading –  load your brush with the lighter of the two colours, get the paint off the tip, then carefully load the tip with the darker colour.  Now, if you sweep the brush sideways, the colours will blend with the pressure of the stroke as they leave the brush. This is fast, but can be a little rough, and often softened with a glaze afterwards.


A highlight is a lighter shade of paint painted over the normal colour that will stand out.  Sometimes layering can be described as highlighting, but in modern miniature painting highlights generally refer to sharper changes in colour than gentle layering.  It is normally intended to simulate the effect of light on the surface, but can be an artistic decision to draw attention to a particular part of the model.  There are many different type of highlight in miniature painting.  4 specific type of common highlights used right at the edges of panels by the ‘Eavy Metal team are:

  • Chunky Highlight – This is about 1.5 times bigger than your final highlight, and only slightly lighter than the main colour of the panel, building a transition.
  • Edge Highlight – This builds on the chunky highlight, and starts building the contrast.  For simple use of the edge highlighting technique, this may be the only highlight applied.
  • Final Highlight – This is the brightest highlight, defining the shape of the panel. It should be reserved for the most prominent edges, and help illustrate light falling on the model.
  • Spot Highlight – This is the last highlight, applied only at the very corners to initiate light catching on the hard surface.  On hard surfaces, this is generally very bright, often white.  Soft surfaces may miss this step, or use a softer colour contrast than hard surfaces.


Stippling is an interesting technique, using a stiff bristled brush or a dedicated circular stippling brush.  Essentially, you make sure the paint is loaded evenly, and then, instead of painting with brush strokes, you dab straight down onto the surface, using the pressure to govern the amount of transfer straight under the brush.  This is a fantastic technique for breaking up edges of overlapping colours when blending,  applying spots of colour for animals, or over a surface to apply texture to cloth.


A shade is used to define the form of a model, defining recesses.  2 types of shade as used by the ‘Eavy Metal team are:

  • Soft Shade – A soft shade is used to define softer shadows than the tighter recesses that we need to deep shade.  Applying gentle shadows to the folds of  a cloak with very dilute shade paints is a great example of a soft shade.  In many ways, soft shading can be a form of layering building darker colours down into gentle folds.  It can also be used to add contrast to normal layering – a soft shade with a hint of red on a green cloak in the recesses can be very effective if you study the colour theory.
  • Deep Shade – A deep shade (or recess shade) is only applied in the very deepest recesses of the model, like shading the fine panel lines on armour.  A useful tip is that diluted normal paint will give better control than using normal shade paints designed to be applied as washes.


A glaze is quite difficult to define.  Essentially, it’s a thin coat of a colour applied to gently tint the model.  Unlike a wash, we aren’t intending for paint to settle more in recesses and define shadows – we want to tint the area of the model evenly.  There’s no hard and fast rule as to how thin the paint should be, as that will depend on how well the starting paint covers.  Dark colours will need to be thinned significantly more than lighter ones for the same translucent effect on the whole.

Applying a glaze over gently layered colours will unify the tone and improve the colour transitions.  Glazes can also be used to make colours seem richer and more vibrant while preserving the subtle colour differences from layering or highlighting underneath the translucent glaze.

 NMM – Non Metallic Metals

Non Metallic Metals are a fantastic concept.  If you read a comic book, or study a lot of art, actual reflective metals weren’t available.  Using the reflections to simulate the colours we see on a gold, running from brown, though yellow, to pure white glints, we can paint the illusion of metal reflecting light from a particular angle.  It’s a very advanced technique, as to do it well you have to really understand light sources and how it reflects from metal surfaces.  Many people frown on the technique for tabletop minatures, partly as it is very time consuming, but also because NMM involves assuming the location of imaginary light sources.  Multiple models reflecting apparently different light sources because of their position in the game can look wrong to the eye, though they look fantastic posed together as a display unit.

TMM – True Metallic Metals

TMM or True Metallic Metals is synthesis of using NMM techniques to simulate metal from dark to light, with actual metallic paints!  Instead of painting silver straight on and then applying a wash, you’d paint dark metals to the very lightest metals as if you were simulating metal with non-metallic paints – maybe a very dark metal in the shadows, through gun metal and up to silver on the edges catching light from an imaginary light source, and maybe some brilliant white glints to simulate the normal reflections.  It can be tremendously effective, but requires all the expertise of NMM painting and understanding of light, combined with working with metallic paints, which don’t always flow as nicely as many acrylics.  But when done successfully the metals truly pop amazingly for display pieces.

OSL – Object Source Lighting

Object Source Lighting is a tricky concept to implement successfully.  Essentially you need to paint light sources on a model, like headlights on a tank or a candle next to a miniatures leg – but you don’t just paint the source, but paint nearby surfaces to take into account the brighter or coloured light.  A glowing blue sphere in a wizards hand might tint nearby surfaces blue as well, for example.  This might be achieved by glazing surfaces to tint them, or can be achieved in a very quick and effective way with an airbrush – spraying the light source with an airbrush gives a hit of colour in the centre fading out as it gets further away, and works perfectly for this effect.

#ParentPlayers 7

What is Parent Players?

Parent Players is a semi-regular meet-up with a group of wargamers who all have children and don’t often get to game. We plan the events months in advance so we can arrange childcare and make sure it’s in family diaries, and hope no emergencies, illness or accidents intervene!

As we’re all parents, we all are in the same boat, and it’s nice to play some really relaxed games and have a few beers with people who enjoy your hobby, understand the pressures you’re under, and are pretty relaxed about the fact you haven’t played a game in months and keep remembering the rules from 2 editions ago.

Most of the focus is on GW games, predominantly 40K. We meet up in Warhammer World in Nottingham on a Friday, play big games all day, retire to a nearby hotel where we get a few more beers in and play games like Fluxx, Coup, or Munchkin in the bar. The Saturday tends to be smaller games in Bugmans as it can be hard to get tables if an event is on, and some of us may be a little worse for wear…. (Just to be clear, beers are optional and several of the regulars are teetotal. Playing silly games is the important bit!)

Tables are harder to arrange since the events team stopped taking bookings, so it’s particularly hard to guarantee availability on the Saturday.  Several of us live close enough to be able to pretty much guarantee a decent spread of tables on the Friday at opening time.   It looks like there’s a Blood Bowl event on the Saturday. We’ve got the Fall of Imperius Terra (better know as the Warlord table) on the Friday, and Spyral Prime – a 6×8 monster city fight.  Of course, on the Friday grabbing extra tables tends to be pretty straightforward.  We also have J’Mgan Bridge – the largest table they have – for a big game on the Saturday, and I suspect a fair chunk of fun games will be happening in Bugmans too!

When is the next Parent Players?

The sixth parent players is still to happen on the 6/7th September, but the Seventh Parent Players is on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November 2019

What do you need?

Well, to play, you’ll need the latest rules and a force for the game. We’re definitely expecting Warhammer 40K, Blackstone Fortress (with TheFirstAutarch’s gorgeous set) Bloodbowl and Shadespire to be on the agenda – if you don’t have a force for any game you’d like to play, it’s not too hard to arrange to borrow one from one of the other people attending, but you need to arrange it in advance to ensure it’s there on the day. For 40K, we tend to play fairly fluffy 1750pts lists (but bring along 1000pts and 2000pts variants for some multiplayer shenanigans ).  If you can’t field a 40k army but want to try, a lot of us have been in the hobby for some time and can probably bring a spare … though it isn’t necessarily going to full of the latest models. Bloodbowl tends to be standard starter teams of 1,000,000 crowns, and Shadespire is generally standard gang starter decks.

You’ll also need transport to Warhammer World, and somewhere to stay. We generally stay in the Holiday Inn near Warhammer World and several people have already booked rooms. Its certainly not compulsory to stay in the hotel if you want to arrange somewhere else, but we do have some cracking games.

It’s a pretty laid back event – some of us make up our own t-shirts to match our armies with our names and twitter handles, but again, that’s really not necessary.

How do I stay in touch?

We all can be found on twitter. I’m evilkipper and seem to be co-ordinating it at the moment, but the whole thing was the devious concept of thefirstautarch. Other regular attendees include oneoflots, avarrisxbox, grimdarkness40, bigbadbirch and alphadevilinak as well as horde of possible attendees who haven’t been able to escape the kids!

Say hi to any of us, and we’ll keep you in the loop on twitter with all the updates.

Basing your minis

Grantosaur over on Twitter asked a really interesting question about upping his basing game, and I found it a really difficult question to answer!  Why?  Because as a hobby we’ve moved to tutorials on doing specific effects like ice or lava, and don’t really talk about the basics of basing any more.

I thought it might be worth taking a look through my own ideas about basing in a bit more detail, and see if that helps at all!   This next discussion assumes we’re starting with blank bases, not custom bases with lots of detail already!

For me, basing seems to involve several distinct stages:

  1. I tend to add any bigger chunks of terrain designed to elevate the models.  
  2. I add texture.
  3. I add any additional detail pieces.  
  4. Next comes painting.
  5. Finally we add any final effects

Elevating the model

I have to admit, I fairly often skip this stage entirely, myself.   For heroes and leaders, it can look very effective to raise up a model.  It can also be useful for older models which are smaller than current equivalents to be raised up and get a bit more presence.

Obviously, this stage can get as complex as you like.  You might use a big chunk of a broken vehicle, build a plasticard set of stairs, or use any of hundreds of big bits of resin or plastic terrain.  

The two classic options that are easily accessible tend to be cork boards, broken and built up as rocks, and bits of slate.  If you are building several layers, especially if you have a heavier metal model going on top, I thoroughly recommend pinning cork into place!  Slate bases look really effective too, and can add a nice heft to the base of minis that can otherwise tend to tip.  Both can be picked up cheaply – cork coasters or tiles from hobby stores are cheap, and often also available in bigger options for army basing at DIY stores.  Slate can often be found really cheaply in DIY stores in the garden section as opposed to small expensive packs from hobby stores.

A good video guide for cork bases can be found here

A good video guide to slate bases can be found here

Adding Texture

As we enter the second stage, I think its important to mention that you shouldn’t be too rigid on the order you do things here.  You might want to paint some pieces that will be obscured later in the process right away, or you might want to skip step one entirely for rank and file troops!  That’s all absolutely fine.  

Adding texture is a really important step, though.  Unless you have a completely styled resin base, you’ll also certainly want to ensure that the ground feels like a real surface of some kind.  There are a myriad of ways to achieve this, and I don’t think any one way is better than another.  The important thing is to be consistent through a particular force.

One of the simplest  and classic ways to add texture is to add sand to the base,  using PVA glue to fix it into place.  You can mix up the texture by having a range of sizes of sand and tiny stones, and it’s very accessible.  Cheap sand from a  DIY store is easy to find.  I started basing models this way back in Rogue Trader.  You can then paint it to match the environment with a base colour, drybrush and wash, and it can be quite convincing earth or desert with ease.

Many of the GW texture paints mimic this effect with granules inside a paint, like Stirling Battlemire.  Its a fantastic time saver, though comparatively more expensive.  It looks genuinely good for churned earth.

Other texture paints go for another effect to simulate cracked, dry earth, using a technique often called crackle.  Essentially the thick paint contracts as it dries, exposing the layer underneath.  It looks fantastic for dry cracked earth, and for red martian ground you’d have to go a long way to beat the Martian Ironcrust look. To get the best effect, you need to remember to paint the base first, though, as it’ll be revealed through the cracks, or repaint the whole thing afterwards!  There are many hobby suppliers of crackle medium allowing you to mix up this effect with your own choice of colours to get an effect just as you like it, but it often doesn’t work very well or gives too fine an effect.  It can be worth paying more for a pretty guaranteed success with the GW technicals.

Another good way of adding bigger, more complex textures like cobblestones or roads is to use green stuff and sculpt the texture onto the base.  If, like me, you lack all sculpting skills, you can cheat with a press mould or rolling pin!  Greenstuffworld has loads of options to roll onto green stuff that you can then pop onto a base for a perfect texture.  Fantastic and cheap alternative to resin bases for a whole army, and lets you use different parts of the mold for variations over the different bases.   

Of course, you can combine these – have a sculpted paving stone surrounded by earth made from sand and PVA!  The combinations are endless, but your aren’t generally aiming for a masterwork here – the important thing is just adding that texture to make the base feel genuine.

Adding Details

Now, it’s a fine line when it comes to adding extra details to the base.  Too busy, and the base will draw attention away from the model.  Too sparse, and it can end up looking like you haven’t paid any attention to it.  Often a model will already come with some detail under a foot already, so you may not want to worry about it.

However, adding a skull onto the ground, a lost weapon, a piece of a rivals iconography, it can add just another little note of excellence.  One thing I loved on the dreadnought bases, for example, was the shell cases that looks like the default assault cannon had been firing and firing.  Nothing huge, nothing to take attention away from the main model, but a lovely little detail to sell the whole narrative of the piece.

Skulls are a fantastic default option, work for both fantasy and sci-fi, and are everywhere.  The 40k hero bases come with loads of them.  The 40k basing kit comes with loads of them.  Every pack of marines or guard tends to have spare helmets, serving much the same purpose.  An easy touch that makes the base just feel a little bit special and unique.

My rough guide tends to be add one detail piece onto a base up to 32mm.  Add 2 for 40mm bases, and add an extra piece for heroes (remembering to count any details underfoot on the model in there).  Of course, that’s just a loose guide.  Feel free not to follow it.  Honestly, for rank and file troops like Imperial Guard?  I might not add any.  But the occasional detail here and there does make a difference.


So now we have a base, maybe with some rocks made of cork or slate to give some height, with texture on the base designed to give a particular effect, whether that’s cracked ice, church tiles or churned earth.  We’ve got a few little details, like maybe a skull or a dropped gun, or a dribbly candle.

Now we need to pull it all together and paint it.  If you are doing this separately to your model, remember to take your models colours into account.  You want the base to generally harmonise with the colours on the models and be a little muted.  Too sharp a contrast can draw the focus onto the base and off the model, and generally that’s the last thing you want, outside of a dedicated diorama.

Final Effects

When you finish painting, the base still won’t look quite done, generally.  You’ll want to add a final effect like grass or snow, or maybe some UV resin for a water effect if the bases are set in a swamp.  A simple, easy way of getting great results is gluing the prepared tufts you can buy from a range of different vendors like GW and Army Painter onto the base.

Static grass or flock can look quite good and be quite quick.  Apply glue, cover the base, shake off the excess.  To get the most out of static grass, though, you do really need to run it though a static generator to get the blades pointing up rather than being glued any which way.  Its much much more effective, and you can pick static grass applicators up from Amazon. Its also bloody easy to give yourself a shock!

Another extra point beyond straight grass tufts is to apply the similar tufts with flowers.  Applied sparingly through a force, they give another source of detail and colour without being overwhelming.

Snow effects can look absolutely amazing if applied right, and UV resins for water effects can be absolutely spectacular.  That’s not always a good thing – remember, the base should be designed as the foil to the main miniature – not the star.  In addition, applying them over a full army can be very time consuming and involved – it can be worth saving them for specific models or heroes to help mark them out.


I like to apply a spray varnish at this point, to help lock the base in place and keep it safe when you glue the main model onto it!  That’s not for everyone, and if you’ve used shiny effects on the base, you’ll need to regloss the dull matt varnish effect.

Final Notes

It really helps to have a solid theme in mind while basing.  It doesn’t need to be exact, but if you set out to have all your Sisters of Battle look like they are within a Convent, then you can tie it all together.  Greenstuffworld temple tiles give texture to the base, you could use cork tiles to make steps that you cover with the greenstuff for the heroes, add dribbly candles for details, and paint in drab rock colours with the occasional gold inlay detail.    There’s loads of room to work with individual models, but you’ll tie your entire force together.

I often simply go with just matching my Realm of Battle board.  Churned earth, static grass, skull details, it all goes perfectly with the board I tend to play on, and makes it consistent between armies for keeping the theme between allied imperial forces.

The theme doesn’t really matter so much as the consistency, and that it should add a little interest without detracting from the models.  But over an entire army, those bases are determining a lot of the overall look!  Its worth spending the time to do them right.

Getting the most out of GW’s Contrast paints

Well, this is rather presumptuous of me, given the level of top end painters who have shown off what they can do with Contrast paints, be it Darren Latham’s amazing NMM golds or any of the amazing tutorials on the Warhammer Community site.  Having said that … I think there are a lot of painters like me, who wouldn’t class themselves as top end painters,  but are struggling to get the most of out Contrast.

From my perspective, there are two main areas you need to look at to get the most from contrast paints by themselves, and then you can also look at moving beyond contrast paints by adding a little something extra with other paint techniques after contrast too.

First, contrast is a translucent paint that is designed to recede from edges and heavily pigment recesses.  That means, first and foremost, your choice of primer makes a massive difference to the outcome. 

1.  Primer

Well, for the contrast paints to flow properly, the primer has to be smooth.  If you get a grainy undercoat, the contrast paint will lock between the grains and you won’t get any sort of decent shade at all, regardless of the colour.  Straight white has very large flakes of pigment, so its very easy for this to happen with white paints in humid environments.

Next, the choice of colour will make a massive difference, and can deal with one of the constant criticisms of contrast paint I hear.  Contrast paints as recommended by GW go straight over their wraithbone primer for a slightly warm vibrant shade. While more nuanced,  it’s roughly the equivalent of using a bright white primer, using vibrant layer paints, then putting a light coat of a sepia wash like Agrax Earthshade on it.   That’s very different to the grim dark tones that have been mostly popular over the last year.

Now, I started painting in the 80s when white primers and vibrant colours and pageantry was the order of the day!  I rather like that.  But you don’t have to use Wraithbone.  If you start with a grey primer (like halfords grey primer, or mechanicus grey), you get a fantastic muted effect that looks a lot closer to the current palette.  On the flip side, the edges aren’t as effectively highlighted, because the darker grey isn’t as high a contrast in tone with the recesses.

My thoughts on different primer combinations, from my own experiments and what I’ve seen others do on twitter:

Pure white – really vibrant effects, but hard to get the smooth undercoat.  Thinner contrast flesh tones can look a little washed out over the sharp white.  

Wraithbone – awesome vibrant colours with a warm hint.  An initial wash of agrax can add extra depth while keeping that lovely warm tone and crisp highlights.  Cracking!

Grey Seer – lovely vibrant colours again, but the cooler tone can leave flesh tones seeming a little more cadaverous, which is perfect for things like admech.  An initial wash of nuln oil can add extra depth while keeping that cooler, tone and the crisp highlights.  Brilliant!

Mechanicus Grey/Halfords Grey – muted colours, and the highlights aren’t as crisp, but we’re right in the colour tone for standard painting over black undercoats now.  An initial drybrush of wraithbone or Grey Seer depending on warm or cool notes will bring those highlights up really crisp while preserving the more muted vibrancy of the colours in general.  Perfect if you want to come closer to matching existing forces.

Leadbelcher – now we’re talking amazing coloured metals, with a metallic sheen thing through the translucent paints.   Absolutely amazing colours metal effects – using blues over silver for deep cool metallic blues is just fabulous, as are greens for classic chaos warrior effects.  Superb!  Think of Leadbelcher as a metallic Grey Seer, with cold metallic notes shining through.  An initial nuln gloss wash or shining silver drybrush (or both!) really takes this up a note to make it really pop.

Retributor Armour – More coloured metals!  Think of Retributor as a metallic Wraithbone, with warm metallic notes shining through.  An initial fleshshade gloss wash (or agrax gloss) with a light gold or silver drybrush really takes this up a whole other level for effectiveness.  Brilliant!

Zenithal Priming – I love zenithal priming, and it’s more effective with Contrast than any other paint type!  I would say, however, I think it works better going from grey, through off white, to pure white, rather than going all the way up from black – the black ends up with odd dark edges that don’t look right to my eye.  If you don’t know about zenithal priming, I won’t go into it here, but look it up – its a fantastic technique.

2.  Applying Contrast paints effectively

Let’s get the condescending part out of the way.  Contrast paints are a pain to clean up on your model, so you need pretty tidy brush work to get the most out of them.  If you slap dark contrast colours everywhere, you’ll need to repaint any overlaps with paint matching your undercoat, and that’s very time consuming, especially if you’ve gone an extra notch on your model by drybrushing or washing your undercoat first.

But it isn’t that hard!  I find contrast paints really nice to work with.  They are a really good consistency straight out of the pot, and apply like a paint, rather than running everywhere like a wash or shade.  The mistakes I see people making when applying contrast paints are:

  • Thinning with water – this is a major no no, and the contrast paints won’t flow right at all.  I even make sure my brush is pretty dry every time I clean it off.  If you want to thin the contrast down for a lighter colour, use contrast medium.  Add water, and it stops being contrast, and turns into a very expensive runny glaze.
  • Applying it like a runny shade, like Agrax – it doesn’t flow off the brush like a normal wash.  If you run a big brush over an area quickly, you’ll end up with areas of primer visible in recesses that haven’t been touched by the brush.  Let’s be clear – you apply it as if you were applying a normal base coat, in general.  You can use it as a heavy wash over another colour with the translucent nature – but you apply it like a normal paint.  I tend to fall for this one myself still!
  • Applying too much – this normally comes because someones either trying to apply it like agrax with loads on the brush, or because they haven’t checked into how to apply contrast and have taken the “One thick coat” line used when discussing it literally.  One thick coat means that if you have picked the right contrast colour for the job, you can apply it in one carefully applied coat straight from the pot.  It doesn’t mean you’re trying to make it extra thick.
  • Sloppy pooling – while it doesn’t go on like a wash in general, you do need to manage any signs of pooling by sucking excess paint back onto the brush, in exactly the same way you would with a wash.  And it dries faster than a wash, so you need to manage pooling faster.  I find breaking the application down to smaller sections helps me get better coverage and deal with any issues before moving on to the next.  Do one arm and check it over before moving onto the next, for example, rather than trying to cover both arms and legs in the same colour before checking it.
  • Not cleaning the brush enough – contrast can dry quite quickly, and is thinner than the paint many of use, though we probably should be thinning it more there 😉  Its important to clean the brush often or the paint can be sucked up and dry at the base of the brush, especially as contrast can dry deceptively fast compared to a wash.  If you don’t keep the brush fresh, your accuracy will get hammered quickly.
  • Shake the damn pots properly – contrast, more than almost any other paint, separates like mad.  It’s really what its designed to do on the models, so its no surprise.  But shake the pots up well or you get some bloody odd results.

How can you help yourself when applying contrast paints?  Darker contrast paints cover light ones really well!!  That means if you structure your painting from light paints to dark, being increasingly careful, you can really minimise any need to do any cleanup at all.

That doesn’t come to us naturally.  Normally with paints we paint from the lowest parts of the model up to the highest as its a little easier in terms of brushwork and clean up.  You need to forget that with contrast paints, apply them carefully, and go from light to dark to maximise the effectiveness.

In addition, you need to pick the right contrast paints.  Some paints give a much more washed out effect than others.  This is, I believe, by design.   There are light blues that seem too light and washed out but work brilliantly for tau skin, and magos purple seems designed for Genestealer Cultist flesh tones, not a deep purple.  Understand your paints before you apply them.  They each have a main goal in mind, I think, and are designed to be used out of the pot for that.  You can thin with contrast medium.  You can wait for it to dry and apply a second coat.  Always try the colour out before using it in anger or you can be very disappointed.

I love painting with contrast paints.  For me, applying paint quickly and neatly enough is fun, and because I see the model come to life without the “this looks terrible stages of base coats and highlights”, it maintains my interest painting the same colour over larger numbers of models.  My accuracy stays far higher than doing base coats normally, as I get bored and slop it on when I don’t get that instant result.

Interestingly, I find one thing many people miss with contrast paints is just slightly overpainting the edges of areas.  With the way contrast pools in the recesses and runs away from edges, its easy to have gaps between colours.  Running just slightly over gives you some lovely recess shading with minimal work, but just requires a light touch.  If you are just using contrast paints, remember you won’t be filling that gap with a later wash!

My final tip for application involved brushes.  Again, treat contrast a bit like a normal paint.  If it’s a delicate area, put it on with a smaller brush.  I find a size 2 brush with a decent point is working brilliantly for me generally, but I will happy use a smaller brush for smaller areas.  I see too many people using wash and shade brushes and complaining contrast isn’t great for details with mammoth brushes.   Interestingly, I find Contrast works better for me with a squirrel hair brush than the traditional sable, though both work just fine.  

Oh, and if you put a few areas of different primer on your contrast lids, then cover it with that contrast paints, you’ll know what it’ll look like.  The colour in the pot is way off!

3.  Going beyond Contrast

Honestly, though I love contrast … you can really improve your minis with a few extra touches.  

The first main area for me is metallics (assuming you haven’t done a metallic primer, of course!).  Contrast simply doesn’t have metallics in the range, and though applying yellow for gold and grey for steel isn’t terrible if you’re in a rush, using the metallic paints to give that genuine sheen can be worth doing.  Plan your contrast paints around the metal going on, and you can often find that you can speed up a lot of your painting as if the metal parts are going to get overpainted carefully, you can slap the other colours on faster around the awkward bits.  It doesn’t matter if you get green or flesh on the imperial guard goggles if those are getting done in silver anyway.  Again, careful planning reduces the clean up.  5 minutes before applying the paints can save you hours of touching up later.

The second main area is your initial assembly.  Contrast paints almost entirely rely on recess painting, and despite the marketing about “one thick coat” actually apply incredibly thinly, highlighting all the details on the model.  And that includes your mould lines, stubs from sprue cuts, and everything else.  A lot of that is often hidden slightly with traditional painting, especially if its slapped on a bit thicker than it should be.  Well, that isn’t happening with contrast – so spending a little extra time on the build will really pay off for the final outcome.

Third …. you don’t have to stick at contrast paints!  Do eyes with normal paints for coverage and control!  Apply extra edge highlights to increase the colour contrast and make hard edges pop even more!  Add a few details in over the top of bigger contrast areas, like buckles or buttons with normal paints.

Fourth …. a really nice trick can be to use a contrast paint more than once for depth, combining it with dry brushing or edge highlighting with the primer colour first to exaggerate the depth of colour from the recesses to the edges.  This can be amazingly effective, and can also combine colours really well.  If you use a dark contrast paint, drybrush it with the primer, then go over it with a lighter colour, you can really get some brilliant effects like light green edges over shaded black models, an amazing effect on Drukhari, for example. 

There will be loads more ways to add to models painted with contrast and to use contrast to improve your overall painting.  Hopefully this gives you a bit of an idea on using contrasts in simple, effective ways to speed up your painting, look effective in different ranges, and look at ways to take it forward too!

#ParentPlayers 6!!!

What is Parent Players?

Parent Players is a semi-regular meet-up with a group of wargamers who all have children and don’t often get to game. We plan the events months in advance so we can arrange childcare and make sure it’s in family diaries, and hope no emergencies, illness or accidents intervene!

As we’re all parents, we all are in the same boat, and it’s nice to play some really relaxed games and have a few beers with people who enjoy your hobby, understand the pressures you’re under, and are pretty relaxed about the fact you haven’t played a game in months and keep remembering the rules from 2 editions ago.

Most of the focus is on GW games, predominantly 40K. We meet up in Warhammer World in Nottingham on a Friday, play big games all day, retire to a nearby hotel where we get a few more beers in and play games like Fluxx, Coup, or Munchkin in the bar. The Saturday tends to be smaller games in Bugmans as it can be hard to get tables if an event is on, and some of us may be a little worse for wear…. (Just to be clear, beers are optional and several of the regulars are teetotal. Playing silly games is the important bit!)

Tables are harder to arrange since the events team stopped taking bookings, so it’s particularly hard to guarantee availability on the Saturday.  Several of us live close enough to be able to pretty much guarantee a decent spread of tables on the Friday at opening time.   It looks like there’s a Blood Bowl event on the Saturday. We’ve have J’Mgan Bridge – the largest table they have – for a big game on the friday, and their standard tables are easy to grab that day.  On the Saturday we have 3 standard tables reserved, even with the tournament on, and I suspect a fair chunk of fun games will be happening in Bugmans too!

When is the next Parent Players?

The sixth Parent Players is on Friday 6 and Saturday 7th September 2019

What do you need?

Well, to play, you’ll need the latest rules and a force for the game. We’re definitely expecting Warhammer 40K, Blackstone Fortress (with TheFirstAutarch’s gorgeous set) Bloodbowl and Shadespire to be on the agenda – if you don’t have a force for any game you’d like to play, it’s not too hard to arrange to borrow one from one of the other people attending, but you need to arrange it in advance to ensure it’s there on the day. For 40K, we tend to play fairly fluffy 1750pts lists (but bring along 1000pts and 2000pts variants for some multiplayer shenanigans ).  If you can’t field a 40k army but want to try, a lot of us have been in the hobby for some time and can probably bring a spare … though it isn’t necessarily going to full of the latest models. Bloodbowl tends to be standard starter teams of 1,000,000 crowns, and Shadespire is generally standard gang starter decks.

You’ll also need transport to Warhammer World, and somewhere to stay. We generally stay in the Holiday Inn near Warhammer World and several people have already booked rooms. Its certainly not compulsory to stay in the hotel if you want to arrange somewhere else, but we do have some cracking games.

It’s a pretty laid back event – some of us make up our own t-shirts to match our armies with our names and twitter handles, but again, that’s really not necessary.

How do I stay in touch?

We all can be found on twitter. I’m evilkipper and seem to be co-ordinating it at the moment, but the whole thing was the devious concept of thefirstautarch. Other regular attendees include oneoflots, avarrisxbox, grimdarkness40, bigbadbirch and alphadevilinak as well as horde of possible attendees who haven’t been able to escape the kids!

Say hi to any of us, and we’ll keep you in the loop on twitter with all the updates.

Getting Started with D&D

Some asked on Twitter what’s a good way to get started with D&D, and who you should follow to learn how to do it right.  I pointed them in the direction of some of my very favourite people, but their feed quickly exploded with loads of RPG advice, which if I was starting off, would have frankly been horrific.

When you don’t know what you’re doing and want somewhere to start, being told “There’s no wrong way to DM” over and over doesn’t help you get a handle on it.  Follow that up with loads of people saying “There’s no one right way to DM, but there are loads of faux pas you could make” to make it intimidating, and chucking people at the streams of highly popular DMs who honestly can’t have time for all the queries they get doesn’t help much either.

Part of the problem, of course, is for a lot of us, this is a long term hobby.  Its been over 30 years since I first sat behind the screen!  Remembering how it feels to kick off for the first time is quite tricky – and many of the problems I had then aren’t the same as the problems now.  Finding and affording hobby material without the web and with limited funds is a different to these days of the internet and being in a job with some disposable income to buy supplements.

So what advice would I actually give to some new starting off in D&D today, with a copy of the Starter Set?   Especially here, where I’m not suffering from a character limit.

There are some basics!  As a DM, you’ll not only set the scene and narrate the tale in the background, you’ll also be the arbitrator of the rules.  Now we’ll discuss this some more in a second, but it does help to have a reasonable grasp of the rules and the adventure you want to run.  Read through them, make sure you’re reasonably happy.  For D&D, if you just have the starter set, download and read through the free basic rules.  They don’t cover every race, or class, but you can quite happily play a full campaign with them.  Heck, they probably cover all the options I had when I picked up the main AD&D core books for the first time.

If funds are less of an issue, get the core books, though obviously thats more of an investment and you might want to see if the game is for you first, of course.  A few more sets of dice can help the session run smoother, but again, its not really essential.

What I’d recommend more than absolutely anything else is the mystical Session Zero!!!

Its actually not a mystery at all, but hey, its probably the biggest piece of advice I can give, so I felt it deserved a big reveal.  Schedule in a first session with your mates before you start the game properly.  Sit down together and have a chat about it.

It sounds so simple, but one of the biggest problems you’ll ever face in D&D, especially when starting out, is that a group of people all have different expectations of the game.  There’s a social contract between all the players and the DM that you should all be there to have fun, and not spoil each others fun.   That’s great … but if no one knows what anyone else is expecting, that’s almost impossible to manage.

Talk about what bits of the game excite them.  Are they looking forward to battles?  Roleplaying social encounters?  Not everyone will be the same.  What characters do they want to play?  Create or allocate pregenerated characters in this session, so they can read up in the free basic rules about them if they want too before the actual game.  Make sure no ones stuck with a character they don’t want to play, or that no one person’s expectation is totally out of whack with everyone else.

Another useful use of Session Zero can be to tone down their expectations too.  If they’ve watched things like Critical Role, you’re watching professionals using acting skills honed in a range of environments to not just play a cracking game, but entertain an audience.  Not every game can, or should, be that.  The game is normally aimed at engaging all the players, and is fantastic fun as long as everyone joins in. 

If you have a decent session one, everyone will be on the same page, expecting to have fun and knowing roughly what they are doing when you go to play.  And that is absolutely priceless when you sit behind the screen for the first time.

When it comes to actually running the first game … then wow.  The gloves are off!  Its for real!  You’ll have to find your own, to some degree.  If you stick rigidly to the rules, some of the players are likely to die.  That’s cool as long as they’re cool with that, so you might want to discuss that possibility in session zero.  If you fudge it too obviously, you’ll lose any sense of tension.  Finding a balance can be tricky.  Personally, I’d advise starting off playing straight by the rules, and let the dice fall where they may to start with, until you feel confident bending things at all.  And if you’ve explained that at session zero, people won’t feel aggrieved about things, or shouldn’t.  Though you might want to create a few spare characters with people in that a session zero just in case, so they don’t waste “real” game time.

There are some good rules of thumb for running a game.  Don’t keep looking up rules unless it seems something pretty fundamental.  If someone wants to try something cool, let them.  A fairly good rule of thumb to keep things running is if something unusual comes up, just set things to a difficulty (or DC) of 10, so they need to roll 10 or more on a d20 to pass.  That may seem too easy, but its quick, and you want the players to feel like heroes with their ideas!   If its something ludicrously difficult, you might want to make the DC 19 or 20, so they still have a shot, however improbable.  Let them feel they actually can do things!  That coming up with ideas makes a difference, and that cool things rock!

Keeping the flow going is almost always better than disrupting the game.  When you’re all learning, I’d suggest holding your hands up and admit that’s what you’re doing, so if you look it up after the game, you aren’t stuck by your own precedent, but say you won’t be rolling back the events of the game.  Keep things moving forward, keep it exciting, and avoid big rules breaks where possible. 

Another big thing I’d say, despite pushing to keep things moving in terms of rules, is just take time to enjoy it.  Try not to keep throwing stuff at the players if they are laughing and joking about something.  Join in.  Relax, and enjoy the game.  If it gets silly, you can give them a nudge, but let them take the time to actually enjoy the game.  Celebrate the first monster slain with them! 

After the first adventure, which might be over several sessions, you might run a new session zero.  make sure everyone is on the same page still.  Stress the positives and ask what they feel is working well and what they’d like to see more of.  Decide if you liked D&D enough to go onto a full campaign, and would they like to keep their current characters, or start fresh.  Think about buying or finding some new adventures, and investing in books and supplements.  But if enough people want to continue … you know, you’ve done it!  And done far better than most, too, as a lot fall apart early on.

What resources do I recommend to give you a feel for running a game?  Well the core books are full of valuable insights and information, of course, but they can be expensive to try before you are 100% convinced.  

I can spend hours reading Mike Bourke’s work on Campaign Mastery – he’s got a knack of making complex concepts really accessible.  If there’s any problem with his site, its that there’s so much on there you can easily get distracted fro the topic you were after!  There’s a fantastic beginners section I can’t recommend enough.

Sly Flourish has written a couple of cracking, insightful books, but again, I’d wait until after you’ve given it a bit of a go before getting too into books.  His blog on Building the Better Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master game is fantastic, with loads of great insights.

I’ve mentioned the basic rules already, but the main D&D website is packed with useful info and links to the community.  Its more focussed on getting newcomers into the game too, so it can be more accessible than some of the longer running hobby websites.  I’d particularly highlight the regular Dragon magazine free web/app for fun ways of getting slices of content without it feeling overwhelming.

Hopefully that helps a few people get started behind the screen.  Its certainly stuff that I’d have liked to hear, and I love to add to it with any other suggestions.





Assembly and Painting – Composition in Practice

Well, my chosen model for my year long entry is going to be the Genestealer Magus.  Why?  Several reasons!

First, I just love the mini, so hopefully that’ll give me the enthusiasm to power through doing it just as well as I possibly can through the year.

Second, a brilliant painter, Vidpui, has painted an altered version of the Magus for me, exhibiting lots of the points about the composition of an individual model and narrative for the theme.  Its a good thinking point for my own entry. Take a look at some photos of the Wakandan Magus.

Third, I can pick up the Magus for £12.  That’s not too expensive to do several versions over the year to improve step by step.  With a larger model, I’d have to do a single model, at best stripping it between versions.  

Fourth, its a really strongly posed model.  Assembled without any conversions, the Magus oozes character, from the pose marching forward, the balance between the staff and the off hand skeleton or skull.  There are large areas of cloth allowing both texture and freehand.  There are large areas of skin for smooth flesh tones, which with genestealer influence could be a range of interesting shades off normal.  There are solid ridged areas that could be painted as artificial or matching a tyranid hive fleet.  Flowing streamers convey movement, and gene stealer logos form the base of a triangle defining the model with the potent determination in the face as the third.  Lovely!

In terms of the composition, lets look at the standard GW image from the front.  First off, look how the curved tip of the dagger points back to the staff.  Its a brilliant touch in terms of the composition.  The staff runs down, so your eye is naturally drawn back to the centre of the model.

The staff points down at the base, as does the streamer, bringing the attention down to the ground and back into the striding feet.

The overall pose has a clean line of motion straight forward, and is centered by a triangle of  gene stealer logos and the face.

The composition is balanced, strong, and clear.  The base allows reasonable space to customise it without needing to go bigger, and will look good on a plinth.  We could set the base up to look like a tyranid infestation, the red dust of a mining colony, or the inside of a hive world corridor.  There are lots of options, and we can select something to contrast or enhance our overall colour choices.

With the cheaper model, we could possibly do colour trials before settling on a final choice, and we can certainly do a zenithal prime on a model to indentify where the highlights fall.

Given the need to tell a narrative straight from the core canon of 40K, We want to look at colours that highlight the links to classic gene stealer blue and purple.  GW seem to use red as a unifying spot colour and for gene stealer iconography, with a blue colour for hybrid clothes.  Green, as we can see from Vidpui’s terrific model, is a fantastic contrast to reds and oranges, and orange would be a fantastic link to traditional mining colours.  Lots of food for thought, and we need to look into colour theory and light in more detail to make some informed choices.

Assembly and Painting – Composition

Lets start off with the really hard one – Composition.  Composition is basically EVERYTHING that makes up your finished mini, and as such, I suspect I’m going to revisit this post lots of times as I go through the individual stages.  Given that, why am I tackling it first?  Because we need to have an overall eye on the goal when we go through each of the individual stages.

Every choice you make as you assemble and paint your model is going to make a difference.  If I pose and sculpt a miniature to look brooding and evil, and then paint it in cheery bright colours, it won’t be as potent as matching at overall theme.

A word used a lot in Golden Demon (and I’m going to refer to Golden Demon a lot in this process, as I’m going to try to use this to build a Golden Demon entry for 2020) is Narrative.  Your finished model is going to tell a story, and thats what the whole composition should be about.   In the same way that the best writers say “kill your darlings” to remove passages you love but don’t add to the story, you aren’t looking for excuses to use your favourite painting techniques or colours.  You want the model to tell the best overall story possible.  That isn’t to say you can’t use your best techniques – just don’t use them where they don’t work with the theme for the model.  Obviously a smart move for a painting competition is to work out your very best techniques and build a theme that really uses and highlights those!

Now, for Golden Demon, we’ve also got to make the narrative for our miniature tie to the world of Warhammer.  We can enter the best miniature in the world, but if it’s a Khorne Beserker in pink armour sipping a cup of tea, it doesn’t match the underlying official narrative of Warhammer.  (Incidentally, I love pink Beserkers – I just might not choose it for a competition judged on official themes!)

So, how do we tell a story, and what makes up the composition of our finished model?  We have an assembled model which is posed to reflect some underlying intent.  The pose should also be designed to draw attention to key elements of the miniature – if you plan to spend 90% of your painting time on one of the best faces the world has ever seen, you don’t really want the pose to emphasis a plain sword – you want the pose and lines of the model to draw the eye to that face!  You also don’t want the lines of the model (or overall diorama) to draw attention away from the model unless its to something specific elsewhere on the model or base.  We’ll talk about posing in detail, but its really a key part of the composition, and you need to take your final goal very much into account when posing a model.

We might have used some custom parts from other minis to customise the model, or gone as far to sculpt or alter the miniature.  We shouldn’t make these changes in isolation without thinking of the overall composition.  Putting a massive siege weapon on one army of the model may look cool in theory, but might make the whole model look unbalanced and clumsy.  Generally, most of these decisions are made for us when assembling a mini out of the box – when we start customising, we need to think much harder about the overall balance of the piece.  Is the miniature too busy?  Is it too plain?  If its plain, do we want to add details to the sculpt, or use the space to add details with the brush? If we haven’t thought about the overall goal, the end result will fall short of other pieces, regardless of how well each individual change is executed and how solid the paint job is.

Colour theory is a fantastic basis for picking the colours we want to paint with, allowing great choices for contrast and complementary colours to really build a fantastic, unified model.  But we still need to pick those colours in relation to what we intend to achieve.  A dark knight painted in bright blues won’t be a dark knight!  A battered, weary warrior painted in really crisp bright white won’t look like they’re straight from the battlefield.

A really important aspect of painting a display piece is understanding light sources – where the light should fall.  Where the shadows lurk.  Its very easy to mechanistically simply darken recesses and lighten raised points, and that works well for a tabletop mini, but when painting a display piece you need to go a step further and really work with light.  The process is still fundamentally the same, but the lightness of colours will be affected by where the light originates, not just the folds of the miniature.  And those choices of light sources again need to tie into the narrative.  Is there an unworldly glow from the minis eyes and hands?  Are they standing in the dark, illuminated by a nearby fire?  if they are simply on the field in the sun – where is that sun beaming down?  Where should the metals be reflecting that light?  These choices all tie into the story your piece is telling.

That ties into the next piece of theory – understanding the materials you want the miniature to exhibit.  Is that armour metal?  Bone?  Leather?  Is it hard or soft to the touch?  Is it woven, and need to exhibit more texture when painted?  What animal is that fur from?  Do you need to think about patterns like leopard spots?  Is that leather old and cracked, or new and shiny?  There are lots of painting techniques to reflect the possibilities.  If you don’t think of the overall composition, though, you’ll have jarring elements.  A weary battle scarred veteran with shiny new leather boots and battered armour?  That doesn’t quite gel.  Black and white zebra stripes on that leather cloak may look amazing, but animal hide patterns on a civilised knight will again tend to jar against the overall picture.   If we’re painting a glass bottle, do we need to paint the contents as well as the reflective surface?  And if that’s a liquid, it’ll look very wrong if you paint it so its an angle on the finished mini.  Liquid tends to stay level – what is level for this piece?  That may not be down for unusual magical or sci-fi environments – if you paint a zero-g piece, the liquid in the bottle actually runs around the internal surface, rather than being level!

Basing your miniature falls into painting for some, and assembly for others.  You may want a simple base to avoid detracting from the mini.  The base may be fully part of the story.  In some complex dioramas, the terrain on the base may be the key element of the story, and the minis only there to highlight a reaction to it!  No matter how simple or complex the base, though, it needs to tie into the story of the whole piece.  Having pristine grass underneath a being of molten lava doesn’t really work.  Having a delicate water elemental on a lava base will look wrong too, no matter how well done the elements are.  Basing is often forgotten or done as an afterthought, but it should be tied to the overall narrative.

In short, while we need to understand a lot of different concepts that we need to execute well to put together a fantastic model, we also need to keep our eye on the overall theme.  We need all of the elements to work together to tell our story.  We are composing a narrative, not slapping some parts together and executing separate painting techniques.  We all do this, but its often quite rare to step back and do this consciously … and for a top level piece we need to make decisions for the best results, not expediency.  If I just have standard flock, that’s probably what I’ll use for the base of a tabletop piece for a game next week.  If I’m painting for a competition, I need to use the best basing material for the piece, even if I have to order some or sculpt something from scratch.

Further reading suggestions on Composition

Creative Twilight has an excellent article here on composition in miniatures, touching on many of these points.  Well worth a look.

Warlord Games has a fascinating piece on How to Diorama, which covers lots of aspects of the overall composition, and I find a truly valuable reference.

Arcane Paintworks has a fantastic article focusing on integrating basing into the overall composition of display pieces here.


Assembly and Painting – The Craft

One of things we generally aren’t good at in the hobby is actually looking at the wider craft, skills and knowledge that underpin our fascinating pastime of assembling and painting little models.

That isn’t to say we don’t share skills and knowledge.  We do, all the time.  So many terrific painters will demonstrate individual techniques, or answer questions about specific paint recipes, or explain why they did something specific.  There are cracking tutorials out there for painting all sorts of different materials, colours, faces, animals.

So what do I actually mean?  Well, we aren’t often great at stepping back and looking at the overall process, and providing a wider context for those individual techniques, so I thought it might be interesting to try to do just that.  I’m not a naturally artistic person in many ways.  I can replicate techniques, and understand theory.  I’m good at the craft of hobby, rather than art, and so putting together a wider understanding of the field helps me attack top end work in a solid, methodical way.

I’m not looking at the gaming side here, purely assembly and painting, with the goal of producing the very best miniature I can at the end of the process.  And looking at it very much as a process, trying to understand what choices we should make as we go through.

Here’s a preliminary list of areas where I think I can put things in context and maybe put together useful links and examples to actual techniques.  I’m going to try and go through these all step by step over the coming year as part of putting together a Golden Demon entry  for 2020.  Lets see if we can make things as methodical and common sense as we can.

Theory – Composition and the iterative process


Theory – Posing 

Theory – Basing (as part of the structure)

Practice – Understanding Sub Assemblies and Dryfitting

Practice – Fixing the build

Optional Practice – Conversions


Theory – Colour Theory

Theory – Light and Reflection

Theory – Understanding Materials

Theory – The use of reference

Theory – Basing (as part of the overall paint theory)





Lessons learned from the Salamanders Charity Army

Well, with the launch of a new charity army being mooted by @vidpui and @nerodine , I thought this might be a really good time to go through everything I learned by doing the Salamanders Charity Raffle back in 2015.  I’ve mentioned some of this on Twitter recently, but going through it step by step might help others looking at doing a big hobby charity event.

First, be aware it is a pretty major commitment in terms of space, time and money, and once you get other hobbyists involved, backing out isn’t really an option.  You have to be damn sure and have the enthusiasm, time, and financial ability to see the project through to completion.

Space, time and money?  Isn’t it for charity?  Won’t people be doing things for free?  Well, if you are putting together a charity army, you’ll need to store the finished minis somewhere as you gather the completed minis from the community.  You’ll need acres of time chasing hobbyists, co-ordinating who is doing what mini, reaching out to stores for support, setting up and ensuring the legality of the raffle or auction, reaching out to hobby media to ensure the project is spread as widely as possible.  And in terms of money, you’ll need to travel to meet hobbyists, post minis around the world, and probably donate a fair few models for painters to kickstart the process.  Its not a trivial task.

Second, you need a cohesive theme for the project.  We were lucky in many ways, as the  concept tied really neatly together from a random twitter discussion.  Salamanders are the most humane and kind of the various marine armies, and the green themed with the WAAC colours (our chosen charity – Wargamers All Against Cancer) raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK.  It also allowed standard marines to be donated, and lots of people had extras they weren’t using, or could impulse buy donations in stores easily.  In addition, Salamanders are pretty well liked by people in general, but aren’t a common army to see on the tabletop – that made them really desirable as an army for people to want to buy raffle tickets.  If you pick a more niche army, or one that some people more actively dislike, you’ll sell less raffle tickets.  Eldar, for example.  I love them, but some hate them.  Fewer people will have extras lying around to donate, and people who don’t like pointy ears won’t buy raffle tickets for them.  

Its surprisingly hard to get a good theme, because the enthusiasm in the early days will be painters who want to donate and paint what they think will be fun.  People with different skill levels will want harder or easier colours.  People have preferences for different paint ranges.  They certainly won’t be thinking of what people, especially gamers not painters, will want to buy raffle tickets for.  You need to get a theme that captures that enthusiasm and has sales appeal, with ideally a tinge of nostalgia.

Next, be aware that there will be problems!  It seems obvious, but you’ll be dealing with volunteers, who will forget things like posting minis.  Some people will get very excited and promise more than it turns out they can afford – and if you’ve promised a big ticket item as part of the army, you’ll either have to hope the winner is understanding or make up that shortfall.  In the case of the Salamanders army, we had two big vehicles promised that never materialised in the end, the charity raffle side of things got kicked off early by a mistake in co-ordination with the WAAC side, and at least one unit of troops got lost in the post.  Its going to happen.  Make sure your timescales have plenty of overruns, and that you are communicating clearly with everyone in the projects and on the charity end.  If discussing the contents of the army publicly, make damn clear that its subject to the donations and can change at any point.  You’ll also probably experience a few interpersonal issues.  Some hobbyists simply don’t get on with some others – there are certainly some on twitter I find difficult.  Who will be most valuable to the project?  Who do you prioritise?  I’d always recommend prioritising reliability, enthusiasm and interpersonal skills over big donation promises or pushy people trying to dictate the project.

In terms of a charity raffle, its pretty safe in the UK to run one as long as, oddly enough, every ticket is the same value.  If you sell them at £2 each or 3 for £5, you can fall afoul of the law pretty quickly.  We made that mistake on the Salamanders raffle initially, and I ending up donating extra personally to cover each of the early mistaken amounts to keep it consistent.  You have to try and ensure you don’t fall foul of international participants violating their local laws, so you need the blurb to at least say this is down to the individual.

How will the prize get to people?  If international chaps are involved, a full army can cost a lot to ship?  Will you absorb that personally?  Suggest shipping costs for international winners?  Suggest handing the models over at a meet up (which is how we delivered the Salamanders in the end).  If you haven’t worked that out early on, once people are buying tickets you can’t easily spring costs onto them.

One tip that made a massive difference to the Salamanders charity raffle was down entirely to @paintysim‘s knowledge and picking up the slack when I was struggling to keep the project going – she, without any exaggeration, saved that project and probably doubled the final charity total.  She reached out to stores, and arranged for them to sell tickets and display some the fantastic army in store, as well as significantly increasing the scope of the project with their donations.  Of course, it helps them in terms of publicity, and you’ll have to absorb costs travelling to stores and sorting stuff out – and if you reach out to multiple stores, how will that be handled?  Where will you draw the result?  Will it promote all the stores fairly?

Ensuring an overall look and feel by basing the models consistently really helps …. but you’ll need to base up a heck of a load of models coming in from all over.  Again, time, costs arranging meet-ups to do it, that wasn’t insignificant (and for the Salamanders army, again down to @PaintySim organising it all).

You need to keep the wider community involved and enthused at every stage, or they’ll just forget about it.  So you’ll need to maintain something like a form of blog, co-ordinating project reports and pictures from everyone involved in the process to build excitement for the amazing army being put together.  You’ll need to target bigger names among the painters if you really want to get a few top end pieces to really excite hobbyists to buy tickets as well as gamers after a painted army to play with, and a lot of painters don’t have spare resources.  You’ll need to provide the minis in many of those cases, and you’ll have to track offers of donations of minis to match against offers of minis to paint.

Timing wise, you want to allow plenty of time for donations and minis, and also allow time for raffle sales.  Ideally you want to time the draw away from major national or hobby events, otherwise interest will be significantly lower.  Overlapping sales with the army production period can be risky if parts of the army fall through, but may be necessary if timescales slip.

It is a major effort and a lot of work.  But seeing the community all pull together for you as you do something like this is tremendously rewarding too.