Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ten Years Gone: on Painting Averagely, Well

Probably the biggest challenge there is in turning yourself from a curious observer into a figure-buying, rules-ingesting, game-playing wargamaniac is learning how to paint.

For a first timer, picking up a brush can be intimidating. A quick google search or a visit to popular blogs shows that there are a lot of marvellous painters around, and if your figures are going to share a table or computer screen with those of others you don't want them to stick out for the wrong reasons.

When I started it was immediately apparent that I had - how shall I say it - 'limitations', and that these would necessitate my settling for an average standard of painting. This is the age of following your dreams, but it was pretty clear that there would be no Golden Demons (or Golden Poodles, for that matter) for me. I decided that my Prufockian point of difference would not be a beautiful paint job: it would be an average paint job done adequately, with massed troops to compensate for the lack of artistry.

In sum, I wanted my figures to look okay in the hand, fine on the table, and passable on camera.

The lead elephant in the room of course was how to get to that point.

Ten years later I'm still not there, but I'd like to think that some progress has been made. It has taken a lot of effort - and more false starts than I care to remember - so if I could go back to my younger and somewhat svelter self and offer a few time and hair-saving pointers, this is what I would say.

1) Choose good quality figures. Now that you are a wargamer, you will turn into a penny pincher. While there is an undoubted  attraction in keeping costs down, make sure you get good figures that happen to be cheap, not poor figures fairly priced. The effort it takes to get a low quality figure to look passable is out of all proportion to the money you might save on lead. Clean sculpting, good proportions, realistic poses and accurate equipment make the process a lot easier.

Oh, and don't be seduced by the charm of 'Old School' figures. There's not much charm in trying to turn 48 formless blobs into faces at 11:30 at night, I can tell you that right now!

2) Learn how to paint between the lines. Don't laugh. There's more to it than you think. You want your hands to be steady, but you can cope even if they're not. Yours will be a trifle shaky, but cutting out coffee while painting makes a big improvement. Bracing elbows or forearms on the table and holding your breath while doing delicate work will help too.* Another thing to save you some repainting: use the side of your brush tip in a sweeping motion. Don't go dragging paint everywhere using the tip.

Paint strategically so that the steps you do later in the sequence cover up your earlier mistakes. This will reduce the number of really steady strokes you need to make, and it'll mean you can paint more quickly early on in the process (and with a few beers if you choose).

* edit: as John says in the comments below, holding your breath is not so good - controlling your breathing is the aim.

3) Find optimal paint consistency. I'll warn you now, ten years down the track you'll talk about hobby stuff like an utter tool, but paint consistency is important, and finding it is something that comes with experience. The difference between an acceptable paint job and a poor one can be as simple as the consistency of the paint. If you have paint that is thicker and lumpier than you need it is hard to get your brush strokes accurate. Thick paint layers are noticeable on a figure and even if you can get your colours nicely demarcated paint lumpiness will detract from the overall effect (Cough. Parthians. Cough).

Paint that is too thin is no good either. It will run into adjacent areas, and highlights done with watery paint will settle into the low points and undo any shadow effect you've been going for.

Different paints have different optimal consistencies at different humidity levels, but when you get it right you will see it on the figure. The more you paint the easier it is to judge the consistency required and how best to get it.

By the way, don't mess about with Tamiya or Mr.Hobby paints. Go to the art shop in Burakuricho and get Turner Acryl Goauche paints immediately.

4) Find out-of-the-pottle/tube combinations of colours that give you a base, a shade and a highlight. You'll only have one that is really effective, but it's red, and that's just about all you need for ancients in 15mm. With your blues, purples, whites and so on you can get away with a base and a highlight, especially if there is a dip or wash in there as well.

5) Figure out brushes and brush angles that suit your painting style. It will take you a while to find brushes that you're comfortable with. Use two sizes for most work and a couple of others for specific purposes. Keep using the same brand and you'll find the best angles to hold them at, how much water they need, how often they have to be cleaned, etc. Knowing your brushes well will actually make your painting more efficient. Hey, don't roll your eyes at me, young man - I'm trying to help you!

6) Trial dips and washes. You'll find the dip method is very useful. Start using it right away.  It doesn't work for every figure or colour scheme, but a block-paint, dip, and highlight can turn out better results than other more complicated and time-consuming techniques (Cough. Thebans. Cough).

7) Sort out a painting guide for the army you are doing. If you know what you are going to paint, have an idea of the colours you will use and the order in which you will paint them. You can then slip into autopilot, rely on muscle memory, and concentrate on listening to Rory Gallagher (just you wait. Go get his first album from Tower Records and you won't look back. He's better than JP!).

Seriously, you don't want to be thinking about painting when you paint: it will burn you out. Give yourself a couple of things to play around with, but paint the bulk of it to a plan.

So, there you go, young Prufrock. Start working on those things now and you'll get a lot more figures painted more quickly - and to a more averagely adequate standard - than old Prufrock has. You can thank me later.

20 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jonathan - a further ten years from now and the lessons might all have changed!

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  2. Useful stuff, especially the point about having a level of ambition that's appropriate to the individual.

    And your ability to slip in a reference to Rory Gallagher does you credit. I never thanked you for the clip the other week, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks - there's always time for Rory :)

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  3. Some top advice, my good man!! The trial dips and washes made me chuckle, I've still got my suntanned Vikings in a box, which I painted 20 odd years ago......god they're terrible, but I can't paint over them.

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    Replies
    1. Hahaha, suntanned Vikings? Would like to see those!

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Bill - applicable to myself, but maybe not to others.

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  5. Nicely written (I am sure your day job helped this;)) and good advice. Some spots I could add or might disagree because of other ways, but spot on for your target audience.

    Cheers
    Kevin

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    Replies
    1. Cheers Kevin! You're right, there are other ways to skin the painting cat, that's for sure!



      Cheers,
      Aaron

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  6. The part about picking good quality figures is absolutely true; one can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear! Dodgy minis hang around half painted for years before being given away.

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    Replies
    1. Yes - I've been pretty lucky on the whole, but there are some that I would not touch again!

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  7. I agree with so much of this especially the figures, bad figures break your heart painting them, I too have limitations!

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    1. Cheers, Fran. You having limitations? I won't hear of it! But yes, I've really noticed of late how much of a difference the figure quality makes. I'm a bit late coming to that realization, obviously!

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  8. I think this is great.

    I also note down the paints I use so if I pause a project or add to it later, I can match it again and get back into it quickly.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Barks! Excellent idea.. I tend to lose paper notes these days, but putting a little painting guide on the blog has helped me to remember the essentials.

      Cheers!.

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  9. Excellent stuff! I would only add: Don't let the paint get on the ferrule of the brush. I destroyed far too many brushes before I learned that tip.

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  10. Nice beginners primer and sage advice from your lessons learned. The one thing I can add is that when you paint, don't hold your breath. Seriously. Breath at a regular rate. If you hold your breath while your brush is hitting the figure, you will start to shake.

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    Replies
    1. Cheers, John. I wasn't meaning holding your breath so much as controlling breathing. I'll add a clarification so there's no misunderstanding. Thanks!

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