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!

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

Assembly

Theory – Posing 

Theory – Basing (as part of the structure)

Practice – Understanding Sub Assemblies and Dryfitting

Practice – Fixing the build

Optional Practice – Conversions

Painting

Theory – Colour Theory

Theory – Light and Reflection

Theory – Understanding Materials

Theory – The use of reference

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

 

 

 

 

Play it Painted?

I was having a discussion on twitter (that immediately got derailed) about what sort of painting projects can be fun, and I suggested painting up board games like Hellboy or Dungeon Saga, as board games stand in isolation.  No one expects the game pieces to be painted so its a nice stress free distraction, but armies for Warhammer 40K?  There’s a definite expectation that armies should be painted or at least will be painted over time, and that can sometime make it feel like work – I have to get this painted or I can’t field it.

Someone bounced into the conversation to say that thats not true.  GW don’t have any such barriers up, if you want to play with unpainted pieces you can, and any pressure is just from a few individuals in the community.  I’m afraid I can’t agree.

Now, I’m not saying that shouldn’t be the case!  I’ll happily play anyone if I think I’ll have a fun game.  But the hobby is definitely based around the concept of playing with painted armies.  Many people will flat out refuse to play unpainted armies.  Some stores won’t allow less than a three colour minimum.  Warhammer World events have a fairly stringent set of requirements that involve no bits from other manufacturers, fully painted, and these events are described as the “pinnacle of the hobby” by Warhammer World – which clearly indicates the aspirational goal for people in the GW community.  On twitter, you’ll regularly see campaigns to “#PlayItPainted”.  There’s a meme stratagem aimed at unpainted models that floats around featuring the face of GW painting, Duncan Rhodes.  Whether or not its right, playing with painted armies is expected in tournaments, in many stores, and by many players and the wider community.  Saying “you can play how you like” doesn’t help if opponents walk away and you can’t take part in events.

If you just want to play at home against a mate, you can do what you like.  If you want to buy into the wider community, you do have to go along with the general community rules, and at the moment, that would seem to be painted armies, or at least working towards that goal.

I rarely play, and paint far more.  I love painting.  But at the moment, things are stacked against those who don’t like painting but love the game, short of throwing money at commission painters.

And is the pressure to be at least moving towards painted minis bad?  Its a far more absorbing experience for me, and anecdotally many others when all the models are clearly identified in glorious colours instead of sprue grey where you can’t identify the weapons or gear easily.

Is there a good answer?  Introduce gaming tournaments where all that matters are results?  Deprecate the painting part of the hobby to make it more about the game?  There isn’t a perfect solution.

All I can do is enjoy painting my minis, and be willing to have a fun game whenever I can, regardless of how painted the opposition is.

Golden Demon Entries

Well, this year I’m certainly not entering Golden Demon, as time is a bit too stretched, the 11/12 May isn’t available to get to Warhammer Fest, and honestly I’m not a good enough painter right now!

I did think it’d be fun to pretend to enter though, and do a practice run for an entry next year, which might help out others thinking of entering too.  Golden Demon, unless you are just amazingly talented, isn’t really a spur of the moment decision to enter.  You need to read the guidelines, plan your entry thoroughly, and then put the pieces together to the very best of your ability.  There are a lot of concepts and information that can help with that planning process.

You can get the guidelines for the 2019 Golden Demon here.  Its well worth investigating the whole golden-demon.com site to get a feel for previous entries, the standard of painting and the popular styles.

I’ve gone through the last few years entries, read through the guidelines, and checked what some of the big name painters and the judges have said, and these are my loose thoughts on how to prepare:

  • Golden Demon isn’t purely a painting contest.  It’s a chance to express a core theme of the world you’ve chosen to paint in, be that 40K, Age of Sigmar, Horus Heresy, Bloodbowl or the like.  You can choose that theme, and show your own take on it, but it’s important to remember that in general you should exhibit a theme from the lore, not something 100% original of your own.  Its a public reflection of their world.  If you want to be creative, you have more scope with Age of Sigmar pieces where the lore isn’t as defined.  Looking at 40K entries, for example, in 2018, you’ll see top 3 pieces for Cadians in standard colours, Imperial Fists, Space Wolves, codex librarians, Salamanders, White Scars.  Implementing a central familiar scheme really well definitely seems favoured over uniqueness.

There’s a section in the guidelines that covers this, buried away in the FAQ.

“The background and setting are important as well. The judges will be looking at how well the entry fits in to Games Workshop’s different worlds and universes – a strong narrative can go a long way towards grabbing the judges attention.”

  • Should you convert your models?  Well, the guidelines give an enthusiastic yes, it’s fine, but it is critical to only use GW parts or completely scratch build.  However, looking at the entries over the last few years?  I’d actually say large scale conversions are discouraged.  Kit bashing, reposing, and the conversion or sculpting of one or two unique components would seem to be key.  Remember, Golden Demon does have other criteria, but is at heart a painting contest, not a modelling contest.  A really well done off the shelf model can compete with a a tweaked one, as long as the overall composition of the entire piece works.
  • Basing your models is tricky.  Looking through the history, you probably want some sort of display plinth, and your model should be solidly attached to the plinth to allow the judges to pick it up and examine the model.  In terms of the base around the models feet, the key here (short of dioramas) is to ensure that the base meets the theme of the piece, but doesn’t draw attention away from the core model.  Indeed, if the base composition draws the viewer’s eye back to key parts of the model, that’s ideal.  Some people can go nuts, especially for duel and squad pieces, but the real key is not taking attention off the model and matching the overall theme. 
  • Painting techniques – certain techniques come and go in popularity over time, and no particular technique seems favoured by the judging panel.  NMM and TMM techniques were very popular in 2018, but there were certainly entries that didn’t use them.  Edge highlighting was comparatively muted, and used generally as part of an overall lighting and layering strategy rather than a technique in its own right.  The important thing to note about techniques, though, is that it isn’t about a particular technique, but how well the piece as a whole is implemented.  Brushwork needs to be crisp and precise.  Blending needs to be consistently smooth.  Coverage needs to be absolutely consistent.  Lighting is also very important.  Every model I looked at on the golden demon website, you could clearly see was “lit” by a virtual light point, and every shade, blend and highlight worked coherently from that point.  The techniques to reflect that varied, but the core concept was clear.
  • Consistency – really high quality work across the whole entry is one of the big keys to doing well.  If any one style or technique lets you down, either make sure you practice a heck of a lot before your entry, or use different methods.  Any obvious change in standard will be obvious to the judges.  
  • Unique or Freehand work – this is an interesting one, looking at the entries.  On the whole, freehand customisations were limited.  Flames on a blood bowl players armour looked excellent, and were paired with a really solid paint job on the normal clothes rather than further freehand.  On space marines, iconography was a chance to show off, rather than free handing on lots of panels that would normally be chapter colours.  Basically, the entries that seemed to do well took little tweaks and pushed their complexity up a notch, rather than going overboard across the whole model.
  • Composition seems to really be key.  The entry needs to be balanced, draw the eye to key features, and reflect the dynamism (or lack off) of the central model.  Composing and assembling the piece to a very high standard (of course, with the highest standard on mould line removal, join marks and so on) is a large part of the battle.  It’s particularly tricky to implement this, and paint in subassemblies to allow easy brush access, while painting to exhibit a consistent light source too.  
  • In addition, you should be using colour theory to the best of your ability to balance the theme of the piece, and to break it deliberately for contrast spot colours to draw the eye to particular elements.  It’s tricky, and if thats a step too far, you can get a large chunk of the way simply by implementing an existing army colour scheme to the best of your ability.

I’m not a winning Golden Demon painter at all, but that’s my takeaway on the areas I’d look into if preparing to enter for the first time – in one line, you are looking to do:

consistent, high quality painting over a well posed model using strong colour theory and lighting concepts, reflecting a core narrative from a codex or novel.

The real highlight to win would be the Heavy Metal contest, where you all paint the same model with no customisation.  That’s truly down to individual painting skill, and the Idoneth Tidecaster in 2019 is really challenging, with a huge range of different textures to bring out, and the looser AoS lore opens up more colour options.  Fascinating!

Getting started with painting

There was an interesting thread on twitter where someone about to pick up a brush to paint miniatures for the first time got introduced to about 20 of the top painters, and me for some reason.  Unfortunately, I would have found the thread profoundly unhelpful, as it turned into quite a complex discussion of paint ranges, brush types and the like as all the painters started interacting.  It really didn’t seem very very helpful, and I thought “Maybe I could put down some of the things that would have really helped me decades ago when I picked up a brush for the first time, and address some of the phrases that get thrown around a lot.

Getting ready to start painting

If you are just getting ready to start painting miniatures, what do you genuinely need?

You don’t need a lot to give it a try.  There is a heck of a lot you can buy, but honestly, to give it a go, you basically just need:

  • some test models.  Faces are often quite hard, so helmeted models are ideal.  I’m assuming you are happy building plastic models – I’m just looking at the painting side.  If you aren’t happy, look for all in one models like Reaper Bones, or push fit models like the “easy to assemble” line from GW.
  • at least one general purpose reasonable quality brush.
  • enough paints to cover the basic colours of your chosen test models.  You’ll hear lots of pros and cons of various ranges.  Honestly, when starting off, any standard starter set is probably fine, or just get the mini paints you need from the easiest supplier for now.  I’d suggest at least one neutral or sepia wash, like Agrax Earthshade from GW or Army Painter Strong Tone, as this will really help let you see a big jump forward in your painting effectiveness early on.
  • a jam jar or mug to have clean water in to clean your brushes and thin paints with.
  • a smooth surface to use as a palette.  A plastic palette from a starter set, an old tile, palette paper, plastic from packaging.  It just needs to be pretty level and not going to absorb the paint.
  • Stuff to put down on your painting area to stop getting paint everywhere.   Newspaper, old paper, painting tables, it doesn’t really matter.  Just don’t ruin the furniture!

You’ll hear all sort of suggestions, and honestly there is a lot you can add or try.  But to start painting, I think that’s all you need, with one more thing.  Patience.

There are two ways this is important.  In the process of painting, you often need to step back.  Let a model dry properly before putting more paint on, for example, and make sure the glue is dry on a model you’ve assembled before you start painting.  It  seems obvious, but it makes a tremendous difference, and its easier said than done when you want to get cracking!

Second, you aren’t going to turn out award winning models overnight.  It’s possible to do really nice tabletop models quite quickly, and practice and experimentation can let anyone get to the top end of the field over time.  But if you aren’t patient, accept that you’ll get better over time, and work on the basics, you’ll never improve.  You’ll either burn out by trying too much too quickly, or give up in frustration.  If you can enjoy putting paint on the models, and aim to do a little better than last time, you’ll have terrific fun and improve surprisingly quickly.

Painting your first models

Ideally, you could pop into a Games Workshop store and ask them if you can give it a go.  They’ll provide a model and paints, and an area designed to let you sit down and give it a try, and talk you through it.  It can be a fantastic introduction.  Of course, that’s not always convenient.  So whats important?

Well, this is where it has to get a bit vague, by necessity.  I don’t know what you are trying to paint, or what paints you have to hand!  Its really, really useful to find some youtube videos of people painting those specific models so you can actually see what someone does.  However, there are a some general principles that can really help.

First, you’ll hear a lot of talk about priming or undercoating your model.  Anyone who is a bit more experienced in the hobby does this for everything.  Essentially, if you spray or brush the entire model with a paint designed to go between a hard surface like metal and other paints, you’ll find the other paints rub off less.  If you use a spray paint coloured primer, you can also cut out the need to put on one of the big basic colours on the model.  Honestly, though, this step isn’t really that important for most modern plastic miniatures.  Resin and metal models need it more.  If you are just giving model painting a go, I wouldn’t worry about it right now.  Even the latest introduction guides to painting, such as those found in Warhammer Conquest, tend to skip this step now.

Next, don’t paint straight from the pots.  Put a little paint on your palette, and add some water.  It should be about as thin as semi-skimmed milk.  When you paint it on, you may find it doesn’t cover very well like this, especially lighter colours like yellow, and the temptation is to just ladle on the thick paint from the pot instead.  It’s far better to build up the coverage from lots of thin coats of paint that flow precisely from the brush than blobby, over thick coverage that will invariably not come off the brush smoothly and spoil the painting between the edges of different colours.  This is where patience comes in, as you need to let each coat dry completely before doing it again too.  As long as you don’t rush, you can take it slowly, treat it almost like a complex but fun paint by numbers.

Make sure you use a nice clean brush at every stage.  Thin the paint with clean water.  Clean your brush regularly – not just when you finish a colour, but if using a colour for an extended period, rinse off the brush every so often to avoid paint drying in the bristles and affecting the paint going onto the models.  Make sure your thinned paints on the palettes aren’t drying up, but keep them at the semi-skimmed milk consistency by adding more water every so often.  Once again, having the discipline to stop after a period of time, clean the brush, then keep going with the same colour will really pay off over time.

Once you have a reasonably tidy set of basic colours (and they are dry!), add a little water to your neutral wash, and paint the entire model with it.  It’ll instantly add depth, shade next to the corners (which helps tidy up any accidental brushstrokes), and the model will suddenly pop.  You’ll have done a model, and it’ll look pretty damn good.  I see plenty of models that haven’t had a wash and haven’t thinned their paints, and honestly, just with this you can get pretty nice tabletop quality minis.

Of course, that isn’t all there is to it.  So what are the next steps?

Well, a lot of it is basically doing this to enough models until you become sure and accurate with your brushstrokes!  Every model will improve.  There are specific ways you can expand your painting though.

Next Steps – Painting

Again, be patient – try these, but 

Undercoating your Model

We skipped past this for your first few models.  However, it’s really useful to spray them with an aerosol (except Reaper Bones miniatures – never use an aerosol as the propellant reacts badly with the material – they don’t need a primer!)  before starting to paint for several reasons:  

  • You can spray it a light colour like white, and lighter colours will look very vibrant painted over the top.
  • You can spray it a dark colour like black, and colours will generally look a little darker and more muted.
  • You can spray it a grey and have a neutral starting point on a surface all different types of paint and technique will set well on.
  • You can spray the whole model the main colour of the model, and reduce the amount you need to put on by brush.
  • You can spray the whole model the colour that is hardest to reach with the brush, so you don’t need to worry about trying to do it later.

It’s a fantastic way of getting consistent results, or saving time. In addition, it makes a massive difference with resin and metal models, where normal paint often doesn’t adhere as well.  Even on plastic models, it can help, and certainly starting with a colour or a light, neutral or dark shade all has effects.

As a bonus, if you give a quick spray with a lighter colour from just one angle (like a white over a grey), you get fantastic underlying colour layering with no effort.  Bonus!  This is called Zenithal highlighting and you can find much more detailed explanations elsewhere.

Adding more depth

We’ve basically looked at doing a simple base colour and covering the whole model with a single simple wash.  That’s actually really effective!  But we  can improve on it!  There are several ways we can add more effective depth to our colours.  We can do something called layering – manually add layers of colours, so we might paint a green area of colour a dark green, then leave the recesses and paint the rest a lighter green, then paint the top level an even lighter green.  My recommendations for a next step here are to try using 3 layers at first for colours that are on large areas.  The more layers you use, the better it will look.

We can apply more targeted washes or shades rather than just using one shade over the whole model.  You can get shades in gloss and matt variants – using a gloss version over metals looks much shinier.  Using appropriate colours, like a flesh wash over skin does look a bit better.  Using a very dark wash over strong colours like lead or gold looks great (in GW colours, that’d be Nuln Oil instead of Agrax).  Using a coloured wash adds depth without changing the underlying colour as much – you can match colours and add depth without changing the colours tone as much.  My recommendations for a next step here are to use a gloss darker shade on metal, flesh shade on skin, and still use Agrax for everything else. 

Finally, while a wash really helps add shadows, we often want a point at the very edges of a model that have really caught the light.  There are two main techniques for this – drybrushing and edge highlighting.  Drybrushing involves putting a very light colour on the brush, getting almost all the paint off a brush, and gently rubbing the brush over the model, so the very edges pick up the lighter effect.  You might use a lighter gold or even silver on gold, for example.  This technique looks particularly good on natural substances like fur or mud, where the element of randomness looks right.  Be warned, though, dry brushing ruins brushes, and you only want to use older brushes or dedicated dry brushes for it.   Edge highlighting involves a very careful tiny line right along the very edges of hard surfaces, like armour, and can really make a model pop.  Don’t use it on soft surfaces like cloaks, though, as it’ll tend to make it look like a fixed shiny surface instead.  There are lots of guides to both these techniques, provided by a range of professionals and companies.  I’d recommend trying drybrushing as the easier next step unless you feel really confident in your brush work.  If you want to paint fast to do an army, definitely look more at dry brushing!

Basing

Basing models is a skill in itself, but there are ranges of texture paints you can paint straight on and look pretty good.  You’ll want to pick options based on your normal battlefield, and the army itself, but normally you can just paint the base a light brown, apply a texture paint, dry brush the texture paint a lighter colour, and then either leave it, or glue on some flock or grass effect tufts with PVA glue.    There are lots of guides to basing, and it makes models look more finished, but you can do this to plain bases, or buy resin or plastic detailed bases and simply paint them like the rest of the model.  I really recommend checking into more detailed guides when you want to investigate basing options, but its a fun area to explore.

Next Steps – Equipment

OK, you’ve painted up your first few models and got a hunger for it.  You know you enjoy it.  It’s time to think about spending a little more money on more than the basics.

Brushes

We started off with a single standard brush – probably a standard brush from Army Painter or GW.  Most normal brushes aren’t bad, but will degrade quite quickly.  Over time, investing in a  better set of brushes can actually save you money, and you’ll get more consistent results with your brushwork week to week.  It’s really difficult to suggest brushes, as it is a very personal thing.  Kolinsky Sable brushes are generally accepted to be the best in the industry, but the individual handles and performance are very much down to the individual.  

Army Painter brushes have triangular handles that some people love and feel very stable in the hand.  GW brushes are really easily available!  I personally really rate the Workbench Warriors set from Rosemary & Co, which have been my favourite.  As you get try different brushes, though, you’ll find you like the way some feel in you hand, and you’ll want to look for ones with similar handles.

Its well worth investing in some brush soap to keep your brushes in top condition – think of these like a good shampoo and conditioner for your own hair.  The bristles will degrade quickly with no care, the shampoo will clear paint off the bristles, and the conditioner will make sure the bristles continue to stay soft and flow nicely.  Master brush cleaner is easily available from eBay or Amazon.

As an immediate next step, I’d just expand your brush range a little, and maybe try  brush or two from different ranges to see what you like in your hand, before spending too much.  Trying a few fine detail brushes can be fun, and maybe pick up a drybrush or a big brush to slap paint on a tank or monster.

Paints

Ah, painters can argue for hours about different paint ranges, and again, much of this comes down to individual taste.  It’s worth experimenting with new paints every so often to see if you like them.  My biggest recommendation is to get paints that you feel last, that look right for you, and that are available enough so you can pick up more without too much trouble.  Acrylic miniature paints are pretty compatible between ranges, and especially as long as you wait for one coat to dry before putting on the next, there’s not reason to limit yourself to one company.

Speaking personally, I like a lot of paints!  I think Vallejo metallic paints look amazing, though the GW gold is great.  Generally I like the GW line, but I don’t like their whites which I don’t find last very well.  I really like Army Painter paints as a good cheap option for the basics, and I find their dropper bottles easier to be consistent with if I make a colour by mixing paints.

A good rule of thumb is to stick to whatever line is most easily available that you feel happy with, and if you aren’t happy with how a particular colour goes, try an alternative from a different line.

Equipment

There’s a lot of extra equipment you can buy.  Lamps, painting handles, specialist water jugs, paint tables.  Think about the space you have available, and reach out to people on social media for thoughts on specific items.  If you ask about everything you need, you’ll be flooded with too many possibilities.  If people discuss painting lamps, the remit is more manageable.

Most of the stuff in this category beyond the actual brushes, paint and models are really very optional areas, and I’d recommend investigating them slowly if you feel a need.  Try a painting handle if you find your hand hurts while (or after) painting.  If you don’t have anywhere to leave paints set up, a little painting table you can pop on a shelf and take down for a session will make a big difference.  If you have a regular desk area to paint in, but its away from the window or main lights, look at daylight lamp options – and look at LEDs that aren’t hot to avoid drying the paints as you work!

Summary

Its such an individual hobby that it’s difficult to explain the range of options without making everything seem far too complex.  Start simple, add some complexities as you gain in confidence, exploit the fantastic range of painting videos on youtube and guides in magazines like white dwarf, stay patient and keep trying.  Its amazing fun, tremendously relaxing … and if you play games, is so satisfying using painted minis instead of bare plastic.

Sisters of Battle – Finishing an Era

Well, with two Sisters of Battle armies, and the ranges due for an update, it’s time to finish off the armies for good before starting anew.

Order of the Argent Shroud

I need to paint up:

2 Geminae to guard Celestine for the Order of the Argent Shroud.   I have some Seraphim, but they need to be converted with power swords and bolt pistols.

An Immolator – this needs to be bought, assembled and painted.

An Exorcist – this needs to be bought, assembled and painted.

3 Rhinos – these need to be bought, assembled and painted (or resprayed from previous projects)

Order of the Verdant Garden

2 Geminae to guard Celestine for the Order of the Verdant Garden.   I have some Seraphim, but they need to be converted with power swords and bolt pistols.

1 Canoness – I’d messed up one of the 2 metal canonesses, and its been stripped for repainting.

1 Seraphim – I lost one of my 10 woman squad some time ago, and need to replace her.

3 Repentia – I’ve generally been fielding them in a squad of 6, and never finished the last 3.  I need to finish these off.

1 Meltagun sister – I need this to finish off my white battle sisters squad.

1 Exorcist – I have a silver FW exorcist that I want to repaint for the green sisters, and replace it with a GW exorcist for the more classic Argent Shroud contingent.

1 Sisters Rhino – I have 2 rhinos and 2 immolators, but the last battle sisters squad could do with a transport. 

2 Immolator turret fixes – the two immolators I have were broken in an accident and sort of patched in the turrets.  With the Rhinos needed for the sisters, buying Immolators and using the turrets to fix these and then being able to use the rhinos with sisters icons rather than plain seems to make sense.  This is a bonus extra, though – the patch job isn’t terrible.

Bonus extras

With the range as a whole likely to be taken off the market, it’d be nice to add one or two of the missing models as well.  I think they’d be fantastic with Rogue Trader or Inquistorial warbands too.

Death Cult Assassins – at least 2, maybe a unit of 6

Crusaders – at least 2, maybe a unit of 6

Preacher with Chainsword

Missionary with Chainsword

Penitent Engines – at least 1, maybe a unit of 3.

As a final bonus extra, I could paint up a Canoness Veridyan in Silver and Green to add to each force.  I don’t need to, but I have the models and it’d be a nice touch.

Preparing for the Future

I need to paint up the new Celestine and Geminae for the new army, and Canoness Veridyan

Painting Bible – Fallen Angels!

Well, the Fallen Angels are ticking over nicely now, and I have some simple paints to get a decent result:

Base Armour – Chaos Black spray, Eshin Grey dry brush, Agrax Earthshade wash

Insignia – Army Painter Dragon Red, Agrax Earthshade Wash

Stone/Bone effect – Bone, Agrax Earthshade Wash

Guns – GW Leadbelcher, Agrax Earthshade Wash

Robes – GW Mournfang Brown, AP Oak Brown dry brush, Agrax Earthshade wash

Flesh – Bugmans glow, Cadia flesh tone highlight, reikland flesh shade wash.

Eyes – Administratum grey eye before the face reikland fleshshade wash

Bases – Stirling Battlemire, Tau Ochre dry brush, Agrax wash, GW grass flock, finish the base edge with Dryad Bark.

Effects:

Daemonic weapons and ear lens – GW Leadbelcher, AP Shining Silver highlights, GW Red Gem Paint.

 

Power weapons – GW Leadbelcher, AP Shining Silver highlights, GW Blue Gem Paint.

Force Weapons/warp effects – GW Leadbelcher, AP Shining Silver highlights, GW Green Gem Paint.

Fallen Angels (#ParentPlayers)

Well, the first post on my army for the Parent Players meet up in April!  Its not very exciting, as it mostly covers initial research on colour choices and army contents instead of finished models or funky new techniques in progress.

At the moment, the plan is:

  1. Undercoat with Chaos Black spray.
  2. Basecoat with a dark red for insignia, gun metal (or leadbelcher) for all weapons, armour, pipes, bone for all odd bits like horns, tusks, skulls, Grey for robes, Stirling Battlemire on bases.
  3. Edge Highlight the black with light grey.  highlight red with vivid red, highlight leadbelcher with silver, silver the eye sockets, dry brush the bases ochre
  4. Agrax the robes, nuln oil everything else except swords and visors, which will use gem paint blue for power swords, gem paint red for daemon weapons, and gem paint green for force swords and psychic fire.
  5. add some flock to the bases.
    In terms of the units, I’m currently looking at using the Codex Astartes for the Fallen, as they are proper marines not like the Chaos Marines in the Dark Angels:
    Terminator Lord/Captain, with power sword/murder sword and combimelta.
    2 Sorcerers/Librarian with force sword and bolt pistol
    Terminator Squad with power fists, one heavy flamer, and sarge with power sword.
    Terminator Squad with powerfists, 1 chain fist, one assault cannon, sarge with power sword.
    2 5 man units of SM/CSM with sergeant with power fist and plasma pistol, 3 bolters, 1 plasma gun
    1 5 man unit of SM/CSM with sergeant with chainsword and plasma pistol, 3 bolters, 1 plasma gun
    1 command squad/chosen unit
    1 5 man Raptors/Assault Squad with sarge with lightning claws, 3 bolt pistols and chainswords, 1 flamer
    1 5 man unit of havocs/devastators with heavy bolters
    1 5 man unit of havocs/devastators with las cannons and missile launchers
    1 Helbrute
    1 Chaos Dreadnought with plasma cannon and power scourge – The Angel of Blades
      I haven’t got much in the way of vehicles sorted out, though I think I’ll have to add some rhinos and maybe a land raider in black.  I

‘ll magnetise the icons and use them with Deathwatch too.  

    I might also look at adding cypher as an inquisitor, and a deathwatch kill team all with DA plates just for fun.

The Lazy Mini Painter – Drybrushing

Drybrushing.  Its a technique that’s been popular for decades, but of late its been generally replaced by more layering, blending, and edge highlights.  So why are we mentioning it?

Well, first, its a really quick, easy technique to add depth to models, and quick and easy is really what we’re all about!   The results look very natural and organic, so these days they tend to be used only on materials like hair, or fur, but can be used all over a model for a quick result.

How can we use the technique to produce really nice modern looking minis?  Well, there obviously for natural areas like fur and hair, we’d probably use dry brushing anyway.

For armour, we’ll probably stick with a few edge highlights and a wash.  BUT!  There is a great sneaky way of using drybrushing that looks great on armour too.  Instead of using dry brushing as a tool to apply highlights on the raised edges, we can use dry brushing to simulate wear.

Take an Imperial Fist in yellow.  If we drybrush with a lighter yellow instead of highlighting or layering, it’ll look OK, but a little old school.  Its a quick result, though.  If we drybrush quickly and lightly with a metal, like silver or gun metal, it’ll look like the paints rubbed off on the edges in the battlefield.  Fast, quick, efficient, and looks great and also in line with a more modern look.  Do it after a few key edge highlights, and you have a modern looking, weathered mini in very little time.

We’ll also probably want to use dry brushing on our bases to add a little more depth quickly – drybrushing an ochre over brown is a fantastic mud effect and so easy to do.

Another useful trick comes closer to layering than dry brushing.  If you have a bit more paint on the brush than just the tiny amount you normally use for dry brushing, and apply it a bit more heavily, you actually get an effect much more like a slightly sloppy layer rather than dry brushing.  This looks pretty good on cloth – trousers, cloaks and the like, especially before a wash to unify the colours.  Quick, fast, effective.  Its the Lazy Mini Painter way!