[Hobby] Painting Principles

I am a man of many principles (but only one scruple, which I keep in my wallet with the loyalty cards). These are a handful of the ones which have become Relevant to How I Do My Hobby. I’m going to try and explain each of them in about 100 words. I will fail to heed this restriction, because I over-write as a lifestyle choice, but hopefully I will fail in a manner that makes things clear.

Branding = Chod

Brand loyalty is a sign of closed gates.  If you can only conceive of building your Citadel miniatures with Citadel tools and Citadel glue, painting them with Citadel paint and basing them with Citadel sand, you’re in a terrible mind trap and you need to get out. These models are painted with an oddball mix of Vallejo and Citadel Colour and Formula P3 and Bob Ross’ art supplies – whatever worked.

Your Dudes

My wise and patient friends have taught me, and I agree, that it’s good to have Your Dudes, and to make them Yours. Imitating the house style of a proprietary manufacturer is a sign that you have the brain worms discussed above. You don’t need to paint exactly like the books. Neither do you need to chase whatever technique is currently fashionable on CMON merely because it’s what the good painters are doing and we all have to rush towards getting gud without thinking if it’s worth it.

Arm’s Length Painting

This isn’t Von’s Amazing Macrophotography Blog. I don’t paint things to look good under close-up 4000 dpi super-snappy camera-wrangling. I paint them to look good from the distance at which miniatures are traditionally viewed, i.e. arm’s length at best, while they’re on the table.

Three Chances To Impress

Every model has three chances to impress itself on the viewing eye. Firstly, as part of an army: a bunch of dudes who are all painted up semi-decently. Secondly, as part of a squad: a smaller bunch of dudes who are in some way discrete from all the other dudes around them. Thirdly, as an individual dude, discrete from the squads, yet still manifestly part of the army because of the common elements. Key point: not every dude has to impress on this level. Vehicles, monsters and characters have to. Everyone else can afford to blend in.

Colour Palettes and You

Better colour theorists than me have talked about the whys and wherefores of this –choosing paints and manipulating colour and putting a colour scheme together. Another really good theorist of the hobby has spoken at length about stylistic choices and selecting appropriate colours with which to make a statement. What it all comes down to for me is deciding what I want an army to look like and only selecting pieces which can fit in with that overall aesthetic direction. Or selecting an overall aesthetic direction which suits every piece I might conceivably include.

Lead with the scary bits

Iron Warriors have this so much easier, what with being able to slap hazard stripes on anything they feel like, but it still helps if the sharpest, pointiest, most murderiest bits of the model stand out somehow. This is Robbie’s old trick, which I attempted to adopt on my abortive Tyranid army and, to an extent, on my Retribution. I’m wondering, at the moment, if you can even use it to signal ‘bullet catcher’ status by not making a weapon/fang/gnarly bit stand out, or reserving the technique for special/heavy weapon guys and leaders.

Bases and Faces

I forget where I took this idea from, but it’s a good one, an alternative to the ‘scary bits’ approach above. If a model’s face looks good and stands out, it looks… well, ‘alive’, for want of a better word, sort of personal and personable. If a model’s base looks good and stands out, it’s easy to distinguish from the tabletop and it’s tied in to all its friends.

Bases as Extensions

I took this from Brian, the gentleman of ones, the man who would b. smoove. The base should be treated as an extension of the model. This means it should be treated with three colours and a wash at the very least, same as the rest of the model. It should also share its colour palette with the rest of the model. The visceral hate directed at those Goblin Green bases from the mid-Nineties is often down to Goblin Green having NOTHING in common with the colourscheme of the model above, particularly if that model sported the vivid shade of Blood Angels Orange which characterised the Red Period. Red/green clash. It’s an invitation to colourblindness.

There. I think that was relatively restrained, don’t you?

If you’ve made it this far, have a picture of my best paint job to date: the only model I’ve done where I think all these principles are successfully upheld.

Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast – still the best model I’ve ever done

Author: Jon

Sententious, mercurial, and British as a bilious lord. Recovering Goth, lifelong spod. Former teacher and amateur machine politician, now freelance writer and early-career researcher.

16 thoughts on “[Hobby] Painting Principles”

  1. A good read mate. I was only saying to my wife this evening while reading the most recent WD that I don’t understand why people would follow the citadel painting formula. That would take a big chunk of the fun out of it for me. I love doing my own thing with conversions and paint schemes. Although, I must say, I take a lot of inspiration from others in the hobby world.

    1. Same mate, same. I hope this post makes it clear that I’m dependent on other people (people who actually LIKE painting) for any sort of informed perspective and capacity to make decisions. I’m lost when I have to think for myself about paint…

    1. Indeed: I’ve allowed myself to forget this in the past and ended up with models which are in conflict with themselves. My Retribution looked lovely but for their inexplicable flock-and-snow bases; if I have one regret there it’s not carrying the Silvermoon thing through and basing them all on sandstone.

  2. Great post, Von

    Sticking to one paint brand is the worst thing ever, that I’ll agree completely with you on. Gonna go on a bit of a Wall of Text, but I’ve found, from personal experience:

    GW or scale 75 for metallics (the latter for more upmarket painting, ie comp pieces) ad P3 in my opinion, can’t make a metallic paint worth a damn. Vallejo is the same, but only for silver.
    Vallejo game’s tinny tin (tin bitz) is awesome to use as a basecoat before using scale 75 silvers on- gives a bit of an antiquated look.

    Post 2012 GW is good if you want some blending choices, but EVERYTHING IS A GREYTONE AND THIS PISSES ME OFF. No more pure red (blood angels red), pure blue (enchanted blue) and so on. This is where Vallejo Game comes in, filling the pre-2012 GW paint line with ease, bar silvers. VMC is good for coverage, but again lots of greytones (made more for military models). Will swear by Vallejo Model Colour- Deck Tan as the best white-over-black you can get. It’s a cream colour,but solidly covers black so you can work up a white/yellow/whatever.

    P3’s triad system is awesome, though many claim it stifles creativity. While it can, it’s up to us to experiment and it’s handy to have as you gotta get the basics down before you do the trailblazing. There’s a handy chart floating around that I’ve saved which really helped a lot- still pretty noobish on colour selection.

    What’s also worth noting is people should be aware that not everything is a pure black- and that one can make blacks that aren’t black. Example- mix 50:50 Umbral Umber with Coal Black. A dark orange (brown) mixed with a dark blue makes a black through complimentary colour theory.

    Can I say that red and green can also work- provided that one is darker than the other or at least greyed. It’s also how to build up a good green or red- example: mix 50:50 gnarls green with sanguine base- you’ll get an olive grey/black that enables great shading and makes the compliment colour pop. Now if it were a neon green with a pastel pink and lots of sound weaponry…O-|-c

    Damnit man, you’ve touched on my favourite bit of the hobby- painting!

    1. I take your point with ref. red/green, but you know as well as I do that the Nineties models weren’t so… careful… in their composition.

      The pure black thing… I really should have included that, because ye gods that’s a big deal for me. It’s very dark brown or very dark blue. Pure black always looks a bit artificial.

      I think Reaper has a similar triad system on which I’ve always looked with mild envy.

      PP’s gunmetal (Cold Steel) is OK but their golds are shite. I think I used a lot of Vallejo tin back in the day, but I’m buggered if I can find it now…

  3. Thanks Von, good post! (I only counted the number of words in one principle!)
    There’s over a dozen brands of paint on my painting desk at the moment and I couldn’t tell you the company/brand of a lot of my minatures. I agree with the majority of your points – and with the other one or two, I don’t disagree – it’s just something I haven’t considered before. You have made me think about a couple of aspects of my painting – particular related to bases.

    1. It’s more or less spot on! I think I only went about 40 words over the limit, which is pretty damn good for me.

      The bases often come as a surprise to people. I know I’m guilty of neglecting them or not fully thinking them through; this is definitely a Do As I Do On A Good Day piece of advice, if you see what I mean…

  4. A great discussion and all valid points for anyone trying to improve their painting. I think where using a single brand and using their schemes come into play are for those starting out as it allows them to focus on technique rather than the overwhelming selection of paints and brushes.
    But to get past that initial learning it makes a huge difference to branch out. I’ve switched all my paints to Vallejo and WarColors and love it. Testor’s glue for the win.
    Also, great point about the bases. Many of my first miniatures didn’t take it into account and blended into the base too much rather than have it accentuate the model.

  5. Nice. I’m particularly a fan of arm’s length painting, especially when you’re talking about a GW sized army.

    My favourite tip to give people is: don’t paint the eyes! You can’t see even a full-size person’s eyes from more than a couple of feet away, so all you should be able to make out on a model (which is meant to give the illusion of a full-size person who is very far away) is a dark area under the brows. At best. So that’s what I do, and may I say it looks amazing. At arm’s length.

  6. Thanks for your article, was a great read. I look forward to exploring your blog further. I am starting to branch out with paints, have always with models.

    Though is there not merit to following a paint scheme from fluff/brand to model your heroes from the fiction/storyline that you like? (Your point #2) Or do I have to check for brain worms? =)

    1. Thanks for commenting Steve: always nice to encounter a new reader!

      There’s a difference between colour scheme and house style. Colour schemes are part of the settings curated by the manufacturers of games, and there is certainly merit in following one if Your Dudes happen to be Those Cool Dudes From That Novel. However, this isn’t what I’m talking about in the post.

      House style is something else: an approach to painting any model which transcends colour schemes. For example, GW’s house style involves sharp edge highlights and layering. What I think of as the CMON style (and may not be fashionable any more) emphasises weathering, ultra-realism, and fine details which look best under macrophotography.

      These are fine and worthy choices IF you, the painter, make them of your own will. If you are trying to paint ultra-realistic fine detail with lots of weathering purely because it’s the fashion on CMON, not because it’s what actually Does Things for you, you have the brain worms. If you’re not painting because you think you have to use an airbrush or paint at least as well as Marike Reimer or whoever, you DEFINITELY have the brain worms.

      I don’t pursue that ultra-realistic style because I’m not keen on realism and I don’t feel obliged to Up My Painting Game to compete with people who do this for a living. As a kultur we have a tendency to strive for betterment, in a very workmanlike manner, and sometimes it’s worth remembering that this ain’t work and we don’t have to climb the mountain just because it’s there.

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