[The following was my entry to HOP IDOL way back in 2011. I still think it’s one of the most useful things I’ve ever written, so I’m bringing it back under my own roof. Here and there you’ll find statements like this one in square brackets where I’ve changed my mind or improved my technique since originally writing this. Anyway, on with the show…]
I’m not a man given to writing hobby tutorials. See, my hobby is in essence utilitarian; a practice concerned primarily with getting models built, painted and on the board, looking suitably colourful and personal but not by any stretch of the imagination being works of art.
I don’t often enjoy reading tutorials either, because too many of them are either overly simplistic exercises in particular techniques or overly technical pieces on how to use an airbrush to perfectly highlight red in seventeen layers, which is fifteen more than I’m interested in painting.
What I always look for is the tutorial that’s pitched somewhere in between, toward the ordinary geezer who just wants something that looks decent and doesn’t take forever to do. With that in mind, here’s some advice on blagging it like a good ‘un.
For starters: prime with gesso. Gesso is amazing. Yes, you have to brush it on, and yes, that looks like it takes time; but if you’re anything like me, you have to touch up your spray prime jobs with a paintbrush anyway, and then that has to dry before you can start. The gesso can be slapped on before bed and ready to paint over in the morning; it’ll shrink to fit the surface of the miniature and it has a lovely toothy surface that takes paint very very well. I use Bob Ross’ brand, largely because one big tube of that’s cheaper than two little pots of anyone else’s for the same amount of marvellous priming goop.
[2017 update: it’s also thinner. Stuff like Daler-Rowney or Liquitex tends to gloop and gob up in weird ways – detail is lost and subsequent layers look weird.]
Also, prime grey. Black is great for metals and very forgiving but it eats light and obscures detail and flattens anything that isn’t painstakingly layered up. White is great for washes and brightness, but distorts some colours and doesn’t like metal and it’s really obvious when you’ve missed a spot. Both require too much layering and basecoating for some things, and priming some areas black and some areas white is fussy and needlessly complicated.
[2017 update: I’ve since come around to black primer – on models which are at least 80% metalwork – and white – on models which I want to have a sort of pale wooden tone, like my Revenants or Skorne. For the vast majority of projects I stick to grey.]
Grey gesso is neither one thing nor the other. It’s dark enough for metals to look good over, light enough not to deaden everything else, and it’s dead easy to prep in a manner that suits any colour you like. Witness, stage two!
Step two: stain the whole surface with a heavy glaze which picks out the details and allows you to cut corners later in the process. Look for the fiddliest details on the model – which, on Laris, are the filigree bits on the armour – decide what colour you want them, and then stain the model so that the fiddly bits end up at their ‘finished’ colour. As a bonus, this tends to tie the colourscheme together since everything has a trace of the original lurking underneath it.
[2017 update: if you’re not planning on leaving ANY areas in your basecoat colour, or if you’re in ANY doubt about what colour to use: black glaze on grey gesso. Also, when you’re using that pairing, it means you can leave drab cloth in a nice deep grey colour, which saves the assmongery of painting it.]
For Kaya and Laris, I started with Citadel Scorched Brown and a drop of Vallejo Glaze Medium. That stuff is a godsend, by the way; I don’t know where I’d be without it.
There are two ways to progress from here and which one I pick depends on how busy the model is – how many little details there are lurking around on it.
Basecoat: Inside Out
For crowded models, look for the ‘insides’ of the model – the recesses, the armour plates beneath the filigree, the things that you can’t paint without having to reach past something. Do those first. Never come back to them. DO. THOSE. FIRST.
‘Insides’ are often quite fiddly – the flat surfaces on filigreed panels, for instance – and so you need to do them first while you’re fresh. Trying to do them when you’re tired and cross and just want the model to be DONE for gawd’s sakes is a bad idea.
[2017 update – received wisdom says you should NEVER reach past something you’ve already painted. This is sound advice IF you are painting your models ‘properly’, i.e. if you plan to spend forever and a day picking out all the filigree once you’ve done the plates. This is not a guide to doing that. This is a speed painting guide, which means it’s trying to save you from spending forever and a day picking out small details. Now do you see why I’m telling you to do it ‘wrong’?]
Kaya is quite fiddly, so I did all her armour plating at the start. Note that I’ve done two colours here; the plates in purple and the bands/cloth in red. That’s your three colour tournament minimum laid down. Bosh.
[2017 update: I’ve recently taken on board the Warhammer-TV inspired meme “two thin layers, thin your paints”. My Night Lords have two layers of Vallejo Stormy Blue, Vallejo Glaze Medium and water in a 1:1:1 mix. This allows your basecoat to maintain some presence in the finished piece, and also gives you a bit more control over your paint – especially if you’re using one of those fancy Windsor and Newton or Rosemary & Co. brushes, size 1 or 0, for this bit.]
Basecoat: Mess First
For Laris, I opted for the other route; doing the messiest bit first.
This technique emerged when I was still priming black and needed to do huge areas of plain metalwork while picking out the details for later stages. Before I did anything else, I’d drybrush the whole model with some metallic or other. This would lay down a basecoat for the metals, and pick out the details so I could see what I needed to basecoat in ‘proper’ colours.
If you’re going to drybrush or overbrush or wet blend or anything mucky like that, do that first. You don’t want to be messing about with sloppy paint and quick brushwork when you’ve already meticulously done the armour plates right next to where your paint’s going.
[2017 update: again, the Night Lords are an example of this method in action. All that trim/cabling/greeblestuff got a drybrushing or two with Formula P3 metallics and a layer of brown or black ink over the top before I touched anything else.]
A Note On Wet Blending
My general rule with techniques like wet blending is that if you have to convince yourself that the last stage has made a difference, you’re done. With Laris, I achieved what I wanted to in four stages, blending dark and light greys up and down. A quick test of a fifth stage on his shoulder revealed no real difference that I could see, so I called it a day. You don’t have to do this sort of thing in fourteen stages just because some tutorial says you do. Look at the model in front of you and ask yourself if you’re happy with it. If you are, stop.
Whether you started with the fiddly bits or the messy bits, take some time to make sure that all your base colours are applied to the places where you want them. This is also the last possible moment to think about composition and make sure that – for example – you haven’t painted Laris to look like his throat’s just been ripped open. Whoops.
All the base colours now get a nice drop of shading on them. There are two ways to do this: either carefully select and control an ink for each colour on the model, applying them with a small brush, or slather the whole thing in Nuln Oil and hope for the best.
I generally do the first one on characters and centrepiece models, and the second one on rank and file troopers. I’d say “anything that’s not likely to be picked up and looked at” but I know from bitter experience that people will grab Random Chaos Cultist #42 half the time, so the criterion is more “how many times will I have to do this before I’ve finished the job?” If the answer is “more than three” I say “fuck it” and apply Nuln Oil.
What happens next? Well, that depends. Are you tired and cross yet?
IF you are NOT tired and cross, AND there are still some areas showing primer, i.e. stuff that’s not part of the core colour palette, like Kaya’s skin, hair and cloak, THEN basecoat and ink those. This is also a perfect time to fix things like Laris’ ears not being painted at all.
IF you are tired and cross, THEN start doing bases. They’re messy and you don’t have to think as hard.
Fine details and fixing
Small areas of off-palette stuff like skin and hair and gems should be done in as many layers as it takes for you to stop noticing the difference, and no more. Eyes are a dot of colour – a neutral off-white or a glowy primary colour – and a dot of ink over the top, either black or matching the primary colour but usually black, because that automatically black lines the eye and makes it stand out.
For Kaya, I did three layers on her skin and hair. Basecoat, wash, and another flick of the basecoat as a highlight. Done.
Of course, sometimes the paintbrush will slip while painting bold ginger hair, even if you are painting inside out and not reaching past anything like a good drone. This means you’ll have to go back and either lightly scrape off the layers or paint over them.
Kaya’s face was so delicate that I figured a scrape was called for – another layer would have deformed the detail too much. As a result, my Kaya now has something of a skin condition. I put it down to living in the woods, miles away from the nearest moisturiser, which I suspect Morvahna probably hogs anyway. She looks the type.
A Note on Bases
[2017 update: my stance on bases has changed substantially since 2011, to the point where I’ve actually ripped out my advice on choosing colours for bases. There’s a whole different post in this. The important part, for speed painting purposes, is the part that remains.]
Your models represent soldiers. They are engaged in battle. They are going to get mud on themselves at some point, so flick the base colours casually upward to stain shoes, trailing cloaks and dragging knuckles. Don’t overdo it, we don’t want anyone looking like it’s been squeaky bum time, but don’t fash yourself about keeping the boots clean.
Now. Details on bases. This might seem like fuss and effort, but look at it this way. A boring base with only one thing done to it makes the miniature look flat and tired and, more crucially to our purposes, makes it obvious that you weren’t really trying. Blagging isn’t just about phoning it in – it’s about hiding the extent to which you’ve phoned it in. The important thing is not to spend ages on techniques, and instead to make the most out of each stage you’re using. You have your PVA glue out anyway, so go nuts and put a couple of different bits on there. Even Blood Bowl teams can have flock and static grass.
There you are. These models aren’t going to win any painting contest, unless it’s the “you actually bothered to paint your stuff” random draw, but they’re done, and they’re done fast. I painted Kaya in a couple of hours, in between stages on my Pureblood, and Laris took a little bit longer as his blends had to dry for a bit. You’ll note that I had three ‘centrepiece’ models on the go at once – if the paints are out, don’t sit there watching them dry, do something on something else. Use that time and that flash of mojo while you have it.