As we continue to paint, we find that over time we pick up new tips, try out new methods, discover new paint combinations and otherwise improve our skills in many minor ways. This is wonderful for current projects, but there comes a point when some of our earlier armies begin to look a bit ragged by comparison to the newer paint jobs.
I'm starting to find this process is occurring for me now, and I've been trying to think up and experiment with ways that I can spruce up older figures without having to do a disproportionate amount of work on them. Of course, some really old figures (ebay purchases, etc) need to have the paint completely redone, but that's a topic for another day. For the types of figures I'm talking about here the paint has held up all right; it's simply that the original paint jobs were not very good, and that they don't match well with the newer output.
Here then are some of the ideas I've experimented with for improving old paint jobs:*
* Please be aware that these tips are for 15mm figures, so I don't know how transferable they are to other scales!
1) Washes. Giving a figure a wash can help to improve the look. I've used this for figures which originally had a flat paint job without much highlighting or shading, and have used both Future/Klear washes and my own version of 'the Dip' for this purpose. It's not a cure-all, but it's a relatively quick and painless way to add a bit of depth and consistency to a figure.
Plusses: quick; adds depth to colours. A universal wash helps to create consistency in finish, which can be helpful if different types or thicknesses of paint have been applied.
Minusses: can result in some bleeding if the wash is area-specific. Will mess up figures that were not well prepped or that did not have strong sculpt definition to begin with.
Verdict: Be cautious using washes with older figures. Make sure that the figures have decent sculpt definition to work with, and make sure that there is good initial paint coverage before you start. Don't use it on figures that have relied on paint (as opposed to the sculpt) to add detail. It works well on horses, cloaks, tunics and flesh areas that look a little flat or tired. This method is also good to add depth to hair, manes and tails, which often get short shrift in original paint jobs (or they did in mine!).
2) Highlights. Adding a highlight to areas of flat colour can quickly add life to figures. The highlights can be either painted or dry-brushed on. Highlighting is one of the best ways to bring older figures into line with newer figures.
Plusses: relatively speedy, adds oomph to a figure.
Minusses: there is opportunity for error in colour selection; it can turn to custard if the highlights are overdone or the paint off the brush is gloopy.
Verdict: Highlights are - in pretty much every case - essential to any spruce-up job. The highlights will add pop to the figure and make it compatible with your newer paint jobs (assuming you do use highlights on your newer paint jobs, of course!).
3) Repainting selected features. While the goal of this exercise is to get older paint jobs up to the mark as easily and painlessly as possible, there are times when a selective repaint might be useful to ensure consistency between older and newer figures in the same army.
Plusses: having all belts, straps, shield backs, boots, spear shafts and so on the same colour adds a sense of unity to the army. If there are different shades of brown all over the place consistency can be lost (which may not always be a bad thing, of course!), whereas the same shades used throughout bring uniformity.
Minusses: not every army needs consistency. Also, it can be a lot of work, and you may feel that the results are not likely to be worth the extra effort put in.
Verdict: uniformly repainting features that figures have in common is an excellent way to help blend newer figures in with older ones. It is probably not necessary in any other case, unless you had skimped on painting certain features in your earlier paint jobs.
4) Covering up missed areas. This is an essential. When I look back at my first paint jobs I'll often find places where I didn't properly cover up the undercoat. Typically, these areas will be between the face and the hair, or sometimes between the tunic and the arms or legs. Neck areas are also a danger spot. These definitely need to be fixed.
Plusses: gets rid of unsightly mistakes and oversights; hides poor original paint skills. Not much more needs to be said!
Minusses: it is fiddly and annoying. You need to match up the paints, and will need to repaint whole areas if you can't do so. It may require you to take figures off their original bases so that you can reach the areas that need to be touched up. It's a pain in the backside.
Verdict: it needs to be done. It's probably the worst part of the sprucing up job, but if you don't bother with this then you may as well not bother with any of it.
5) Finding a 'pop' feature and exploiting it. The idea of this is to find something on the figure or element of figures that can be painted brightly and highlighted nicely to draw the eye: headbands, a fine belt or strap, a cloak or helmet crest and similar things all qualify as potential pop features. These are the kinds of things that, if given a little more effort, can really elevate the appearance of an otherwise average figure or base.
Plusses: draws the eye and gives the appearance of universal attention to detail when the reality is that it's only partial attention to detail.
Minusses: can be time-consuming, and can be overdone. The temptation is to try and have everything pop out when at 15mm scale you only need one thing, or perhaps two on a command figure.
Verdict: an essential element, but not necessarily for every figure. We're dealing with large numbers of figures so it's the overall effect that's important. For someone of my limited painting abilities, less is more: it's best to find one thing to emphasise rather than trying to have everything on a figure 'pop' and in so doing reduce the overall impact.
6) Putting decals on shields. This is one area that is still in the 'thinking' stage. I need to get off my backside and order some shield decals, but it hasn't previously been a priority given the number of figures, rules and source books I've had - and continue to have - designs on.
Plusses: adds gravitas to a figure, not to mention a bit of historical accuracy. In my case, half-hearted attempts at shield patterns have detracted from rather than added to the figures I've painted, and to fix those up would make me feel a lot better about the armies in question (I'm looking at you, my Carthaginians!).
Minusses: fiddly; will require the figures to be removed from their bases for the decals to be attached.
Verdict: essential long term, but something I am still putting off for the moment - at least until I have to get cracking on redoing my Libyans!