Wednesday, 4 March 2009

094 Painting my 'Average Guardsmen'

This is by way of a short ramble away from today's excellent tutorial post by Fade74 on Bell of Lost Souls.

It's entitled The Average Guardsman and it's a guide to basic assembly, simple conversion and (ultimately) 'average' painting: something I believe is easy to overlook. What follows is my take on it.
I have a few problems with my army - specifically the sprawling mass of infantry I call B and D Coy of the 1/24th Cadian:

1) I'm not a particularly good painter;
2) I'm not a particularly fast painter. Scratch that: I'm really slow.
3) I don't have (or make) a great deal of time for painting. In a good week I might get an hour -and-a-half in; in an amazing week I'll get in an afternoon at the weekend.

So in the past, I've looked into painting services, just so I could get a game-legal force on the table. I might still be interested in it this year, but here's the problem:

I just require basic, functional painting!

My troops are painted in flat colours. I use none of the following on my miniatures:

-- highlighting
-- shading
-- drybrushing (except on the rubble basing)
-- inks
-- stains
-- washes
-- blended colours
-- mixed colours
-- subtlety!

Why? Because (a) my earlier efforts would look pants by comparison, (b) I don't have ANY eye for colour, (c) I haven't enough skill to make it worthwhile, and (d) I don't have the time. All my paint goes on straight out of the pot, the transfers go on painstakingly slowly, I spray-varnish the miniature for protection, and then I base it.

Yes, I know that the new washes could be ideal for my Cadians. Yes I know that it makes sense to put the rubble on the base early on, but I want them to look uniform, and I'm a stubborn old fool. This is why I enjoyed Fade's post today: it aimed for good, achievable, 'average' effects - and that's what I aim for. I'm not saying my models are bad: I'm saying they're functional.

So why, when I've emailed very nice people to enquire about paying them to do my hobby for me (an odd situation by anyone's standard!), have they always stated something to the effect of, "Our basic standard involves upto three layers, basic highlighting and shading, and we'll even base it for you." I'm touched, but confused.

Is it beneath artists' pride, maybe, to offer such basic functional painting services? Is it a bitter pill to swallow, receiving an email from someone saying, "Please would you tell me the cost of painting ten plastic models badly"? - Because I'd certainly never mean it in an insulting way: I think the work these guys do is amazing!

I often feel like some sort of pariah for choosing not to highlight or mix my colours, and there must be others like me. Are we all ashamed? Is GW's awesome Golden Demon hegemony so overpowering that to use their paints straight out of the pot for anything other than Assault on Black Reach Ultramarines is heretical? I don't know.

But thanks to Fade for keeping it real in his first post. By the quality of the minis in the pictures, I've a feeling his painting will impress me regarless of the techniques he uses, and I look forward to reading it!

Thanks for bearing with me. I've lost my voice - maybe that's why I'm writing so much tonight...

- Drax

PS: In case this hasn't bored you enough, I'll be doing a self-indulgent step-by-step of my painting process soon. Thrilling, huh?


  1. I hear ya, bud. I too paint rather slowly and with an unpainted IG pile in the region of 200 models, it's either take forever or be less fussy. Like you I chose the latter.
    Paint straight out the pot, no mixing... although I do use the washes a little.

  2. I am also a member of the terrible painter's club. My Dark Angels are extremely low tabletop quality. I mean, really, I stink. It is unlikely I will ever get any better - I also have no visual aesthetic sense.

    But I keep doing it because I find painting (oddly enough) to be very relaxing, and because I would feel weird if I didn't have a painted army.

    Also, it feels good when someone tells me "man, your army is painted like crap" to kick their ass with it.

  3. Love the article Drax, I'm a little more pedantic over my paintjobs - but only for the 'special models'.

    Just a thought on getting more 'paint-time'...

    As a Dad, soon to have our second, I don't have a 'specialist den' to paint in, ironically this works in my favour.

    I find painting in front of the TV is very productive, I can complete 5 models a night and my other half loves it as she has complete control of the TV remote. It's amazing how much of 'Dexter' you can absorb via glances and audio only. Plus I can actually sit through episodes of casulty without disemboweling myself.

    I have a box (cadian battleforce) with all the paints, brushes and bits in, plus a lamp, water stand and kitchen towel - five models a night (or one nice piece) and I don't miss the TV too.

    I'm in heaven.

  4. I should send you some pics of my old paint-jobs. "pants" doesn't even begin to describe them. :)

  5. People geek out too much about painting. Golden Demon is nice, but unrealistic. I'd really like to read a dossier on people that win and hear if any one of those people actually work for a living at a job that requires their full attention or if they have a life outside of their hobby. I really wish people would quit worrying about what their army(s) look like. The important factor is how much fun you have doing what you do. Life is way too short to spend worrying about this stuff and far too short to rate yourself by standard bars that are set ridiculously high by people who don't have lives for people that don't have lives. Man up. Your miniatures are kickass. Your blog is kickass. Now go kick some.

  6. I'd not be so hard on your minis. Then can hear you, AND they can influence the dice. I believe if your painting is pants, it's a really comfortable pair. And that in itself is something! I am looking forward to seeing how you paint your minis. It's always interesting to me to see how people go about it. Great blog, keep up the good work.

  7. Your models are excellent, so I wouldn't much worry about it.

    In any case, I find that a good base spray coat, details in different colors, "magic wash" (both for shading and a protective varnish), and possibly unit details serves very well. I get plenty of kudos for my models, and I don't use layers, highlights, or such things (though I'd like to).

    I think that too often people assume that unless their models look fantastic up close, they're doing something wrong. I think that's the wrong idea, though. Models should (IMHO) be painted in such a way that they look their best at arm's-length, as they will most likely be seen on the table.

    My models (for instance) look shiny up close, because the varnish I use isn't matte (it's a floor polish), but they really seem to stand out at a distance. If I used a matte varnish the colors would seem dead rather than eye-catching.

    I think you could put a Golden Daemon winning army on a table and my pitiful army alongside it, and if one had random 40K players as judges, my models (and yours) would at least tie and probably win so long as the judges weren't allowed to get within about 12".

    So, by all means paint for the sake of painting, but don't feel bad that your models aren't going to be featured in White Dwarf anytime soon (though they should be). What's important is that they look good on the battlefield, have a unified theme, but each unit is easily recognizable.

  8. I'm up there with you on this one as well. I'm not a talented painter, but I'm not a bad painter either. My big issue is time constraints as well. Being a military man (USMC Oohrah!) I can barely fit time in my schedule to sit down and paint my models. This is pretty bad... I've got around 100 models backed up at this point to paint. Thankfully I'm pretty much done building my army and can now focus the little time I have on painting it.

    I play Renegade Space Marines btw. Ironic is it not. :)

  9. Don't worry about the painting standards--as far as I'm concerned, if you put out the effort to field a painted army, that's 99% of what counts. Even if you think it's painted very badly, it will *always* be superior to an unpainted army.

    Call me elitist, but seeing games being played between unpainted armies just makes me cringe. If I see a painted army, I know that the player is willing to put in *some* effort, and that makes all the difference.

    And I have to echo suneokun...i can never paint without multitasking. The TV (or Red Sox on the radio) is always on in the background to give me something else to think about while painting.

    (and now I think you've inspired me to make a post about my own painting habits...)

  10. Wow! Great comments - thanks, guys!

    Eek: I'd use the washes too, if I were starting over from scratch. I love the new foundation paints - it means I can do flesh tones without a white basecoat!

    John: I love the process of painting too, and I get a huge kick whenever I finish stuff. This blog's been a great driving force (as I'd hoped) and the support of my dear wife also helps. I don't often get the chance to 'kick ass' with my lads, but I remember feeling awfully 'chuffed' the first time I fielded an entirely painted army (when I thrashed my mate's daemons). By the way, I loved your 'Atonement' review!

    Suneokun: Congrats on the impending second, and thanks for the ideas! We don't have a television, but Kate occasionally lets me paint or model as we watch a film on the laptop. I've done a similar thing with the box o' stuff before, but she's not too keen on bright lights in the evenings, so I tend to confine that sort of concurrent activity to applying transfers at the moment.

    Darksol: thanks! That made me smile. I cringe when I remember my efforts with my dear old 2nd Edition RTB01 'beaky' marines... but I don't half wish I hadn't flogged the lot to my mate in my teens.

    Anon: Thank you, thank you, and yes, I'll try. Nice use of 'dossier' too. Funnily enough, a kid in my school's year 9 won the UK Young Blood in '08. But then, it's that kind of school.

    Geek: Beautifully phrased - thank you.

    Docrailgun: Cheers, and I love the idea of distance-judging armies: genius!

    Schnitzel: I feel your pain. My father-in-law's an ex-USMC sergeant - a double-hard bastard and one of the nicest old guys you'll ever meet. USMC to the core. For my sins, I served with the British Army - hence my affinity with the Guard. A mate of mine (the hapless owner of the aforementioned daemons) is an officer in the Royal Engineers, and he's just gone out to the jungles of Belize for three months...I think he may have difficulty getting much painting done out there.

    Darkwing: You're right about the 'superiority' of a painted army, but I can't decry unpainted forces - that would leave me no games to play as my mates are all in similar positions (as was I for the longest time). Mind you - proxied forces can be a frustration...

    Thanks all!

    - Drax

  11. I am pretty much an unpainted player. It is often frustrating as a beginner when you look at WD and see these Heavy Metal painting guides which use 5 different colors on every single part of a mini. I do not have time for that. If I want to paint something I can maybe squeeze an hour in a few times a week.

    I currently have 3 tac squads out of 200 marines painted with just a heavy dry brush of boltgun, lich purple armor, and some colors for the random bits. I would probably highlight them if their was a premixed lighter shade of purple. So many shades of red and blue but purple you get Liche or Warlock(seriously pinkish).

    It might be along the evolution of the hobby within an individual. Right now I have sort of lost the desire to build ordinary models which I used to love. I have moved on to kit bashing and plastic modification. Soon I am sure I will be starting to work in green stuff. Then you get to the point where you have put several hours into building the model a couple of more giving him a nice paint job are not bad.

  12. Painting better isnt too hard when you use some tricks. I've dragged a friend from saying he's not capable of painting to being better at several techniques than I am.

    First off - dont restrict yourself to just GW paints, P3 and Vallejo will work great (any your GW minis wont burst into flames from having competitors paint on them, I promise :P) If you dont want to mix paints then take a look at other lines. For example Vallejo has a Dark Grey that is a perfect mid tone between Chaos Black and Codex Grey, no mixing needed.

    Second, try using GW washes and Foundation paints to speed things up - they work great and need no additional skill.

    Third, when painting armies like Guard, use the assembly line approach. Find something that will let you keep one squad together. A box with a lip on the edge or a (house) paint stirrer and double sided tape work really good. The idea is to keep all the members of the squad together for the whole of painting. That way it forces you to do say 10 men at once, and with all the same paints so they look like they belong together.

    And the single most important trick - the human mind/eye will innately fill in details it believes should be there. So cheat and instead of slavishly painting details, just paint enough to hint at what you want there. For example on Guard a little square or circle of gold and a red line connecting the gold to say the Aquila on the chest of the Guardsmen will look like a medal in much less time then it would take to sculpt the same in Greenstuff or to paint in the traditional three tone method.

  13. dude, i totally DISAGREE with everything you've said but thats because my hobby IS the painting, I dont actaully play the game! to be honest, all you'd need to do with the time you spend etc etc is water the paints down, so they dont go on blobby, and DO base before spraying the undercoat, it creates much less mess when you come to paint the base afterwards. I enjoyed you ramble though. check my IG out at and link me if you want, i'll link yours

  14. My painting is pretty horrid, because I'm more interested in fluff and modeling. I too paint simply and lazily. One way I've found, however, to distract from the poor quality of my painting is to strongly theme my army with unusual colors and conversions. My main armies are Fighting Tigers space marines (theme borrowed from, with the creator's permission) and a WWII-style jungle-fighting Guard force, in Australian bush-hats.

    In the first case, the orange and stripes make the models stand out, despite the fact that they're pretty sloppy. One reason I chose the scheme is that you don't have to paint tiger stripes with any sort of symmetry to make them look good. They take a long time to paint, but they don't take as much skill as you'd expect.

    The Guardsmen start as Cadians. I hack off the helmets and put custom-made bush-hats in their place. Then I spray green, do a hasty wash, and touch up the boots with black, the guns with metal, and the skin with brown. Done.

    Both armies look surprisingly good from tabletop level (ie, from above and two feet away). If you pick them up, you instantly see that they won't win any competitions. But I paint to game, not for display. Sure, I get marked down for appearance in RTs, but my opponents like my armies. And so do I.

    That's what counts, right?

    Oh, and I do all my painting while listening to BBC radio comedy or old movies. Very relaxing, and it makes the time go faster.

  15. I'm sure you don't paint slower than I do. It took me half a year to get myself to finish a squad. :p

    Whenever I finish a piece and look at it, first thing I see makes me go "argh, I screwed up here" or "I could've done this part better...", quite annoying, but I guess I'm a perfectionist, lacking skills to be one truly however. But I have to admit you get this little tingling inside when you get comments on your minis saying "Those look cool!".By the way, thanks for those comments! :) That's why I guess it's worth taking time and going through the pain that is laying all those layers on uniforms..

    It also always wondered me how can somone make oneself paint worse than he can just because that's what the customer demands. I don't think I could make myself do it. But well, never been painting comissions, so I guess I have no idea.

    As for your army, even if painting isn't exactly Golden Demon, you sure have some great conversions in there that make for a good looking army as well!

  16. Well as someone who paints for commission, its not so much painting worse then you can so much as not painting as many layers or such as you normally would. You dont paint worse, just not as well as you would, if that makes sense.

  17. Thanks, guys.

    Eriochrome: I know what you mean about progressing through the different levels of modelling - I now live for converting stuff, and although I'm not much cop with greenstuff I've managed a few bits and pieces with it that turned out okay.

    Evernevermore(1) Thanks for the tips. I'll often paint in the 'production line' way, but not so rigidly as you suggested: I might try that next time. I LOVE the foundation paints, but the washes will have to wait until I can play with new models. All the inf will be done in the same way now...

    Kings: Thanks! Mind you, you say yourself in your own blog that painting lots of thin layers takes ages!
    I love your stuff.

    Jennifer: Nice to see you visiting again - thanks. I checked out the Fighting Tigers of Veda: it's proper 'old school' (Rogue Trader era) marine style, isn't it?! And I'm liking the idea of judging an army en masse rather than scrutinising individual models more and more! I tend either to losten to BBC Radio 4 or - like you - listen to favourite old films. On Sundays, if my wife's baking, she streams the superb 'Old Time Radio' from the net, and that's always entirely pleasant.

    Haljin: Your attention to detail certainly pays off, my friend - I love the style of your models! And thanks for the nice comments.

    Evernevermore(2): I hadn't really seen it like that - thanks.

    Cheers, all.

    - Drax.

  18. The one exception to the "painting as an army" approach is heroic characters. Even with guard I like putting a little more effort to the heroes.

    Dont write off Washes, espeically Badab black, as you can always go back and use it on finished figures. A good way to see what its like is to try the wash on either a bare or primered figure. You might be suprised, I know I was


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