Wargaming Tradecraft: November 2010


Weekly Update

This week has been slowish as I've been a little busy, and celebrating Latesgiving with TheWife. There's another installment of Back to Basics with Black Primer (see Ron's post) and nice little post on spray priming your miniatures.

Massive Voodoo has a nice post on making realistic lenses using water effects. I'd imagine paint on varnish may work as well and I'll have to try it. http://massivevoodoo.blogspot.com/2010/11/tutorial-how-to-make-real-lenticulars.html

Dave Taylor has detailed instructions on making feathers out of green stuff: http://davetaylorminiatures.blogspot.com/2010/11/making-feathers-tutorial.html


Transform and... Ork Out?

Spray Priming Your Minis

A very important aspect of painting your minis is priming them. What we want to avoid is the photo on the right. The left half is primed properly, but the right is his fate a few moments later, blasted straight on from a can of primer spray paint that was too close, oh the misery. Look at all the primer pooling and settling into all the little bits of detail, destroying any hope this poor little Gretchin could get a decent paint job. Even a master artist is going to have a tough time of making him look alright when all the physical detail just runs together.

Now, lets see how you can avoid causing catastrophe from the very beginning - because trust me, there's a lot that can go wrong before you even start painting and you're better off stripping your models and starting over than trying to make due with a sub-par base coat. Most of the problems you'll want to avoid are human error or quickly catchable if you know what to look for.

I've already talked about paint on primer called Gesso. There are still situations where this is a better option than spray on primer and it is available in white, black or clear. I've already killed a Gretchin, no need to beat a horse too - hop over to that post and take a look (This is also the aerosol-free, eco-friendly route)

A quick word on priming, in case you're not aware, we do this because you'll learn paint applies to different surfaces in different ways. When we use Games Workshop (previously Citadel) paints, they're what is known as "acrylic" or water-based. These paints clean up better/easier and dry faster than oil-based paints, but the surface you paint on needs to be prepared.

  • A rough surface usually provides the best adhesion for paint, but you don't want it to be noticeably rough since a primer should mimic the surface it's put on.
  • When paint dries on a glossy or smooth surfaces, it will usually peel and flake off easily. (metal, plastic, glass, other paint, etc)
  • Some surfaces may be slightly porous, absorbing the paint applied to them. (paper, cloth, wood, etc)
  • Paints, gels and varnishes all dry differently and you'll find some brands are thicker or smoother, which can be a real pain to paint on top of.
Primer is the great equalizer, allowing us to paint on any surface however we see fit.

Ideally a primer should stick to the surface it's applied to, mimic the surface it covers, not obscuring any detail, while providing a good surface to paint on.

I'm using the model on the left to demonstrate the right way to prime. In theory, once it's covered in primer, while all the detail will still be visible the model will be a new colour (usually white or black) with a dull paintable surface instead of the somewhat shiny/smooth metal of the model.


Speaking of things that ruin a model's paintable surface, you'll want to make sure the model is clean. They're usually fine as they come from the manufacturer, but once we get our grubby little hands all over them, they start to get greasy, oily and dirty. These are all things that will cause primer (and paint even after you've primed any time you handle the model with unclean hands) to come right off the model. You should always have clean hands while modelling and avoid snacks that will dirty you up, but if you have to, use dish soap to clean your minis before priming them.


Primer from Krylon
There are a bunch of different primers out there and it really comes down to personal choice on what you want to use. Each brand usually creates a different surface, so it depends on what you like painting on - some will be too smooth and others too rough, so search until you find the one that's juuuust right. This search could be costly and you'll want to test new primers on older/used models you don't care too much for, but finding "your" primer brand is something that will stay with you.

The important thing is that it's PRIMER, not just spray paint. If you're not buying a product from a hobby store specifically designed for prepping miniatures, make sure the packaging says "Primer". Regular spray paints either won't stick to all surfaces (and need primer first) or won't create a nice surface to paint over. Misleading packaging aside, primers should always be something that preps a surface for more paint.

My product of choice is Krylon - Indoor / Outdoor Primer. You can find it at hardware stores like Canadian Tire... or, uh, the equivalent in your country. (or perhaps online) I keep cans of white and black around depending on what I'm going to be painting.

One massive benefit to going the hardware store route, rather than buying hobby store primer, is I find the quality is not only better, but the price will be cut in half.


First off, primer must be stored usually at room temperature. (unless room temp. for you is god-awful-hot or zomg-cold) Packaging will usually tell you what conditions to store the primer in. If you don't follow these directions, the chemicals in the primer can change as it sits and since these are pressurized containers, small paint explosions can occur. (this one's for you buddy ;)

The instructions should also tell you the best weather for actually doing the priming. To say "normal" weather is best, is difficult, considering that you could be reading this from anywhere in the world. Extreme temperatures and conditions are usually bad - too hot, cold, dry, wet, etc. Since priming inside is a terrible option as you don't want to be inhaling those fumes, this is another example of when using gesso and painting on the primer yourself may be your only option.

Storing the primer wrong or painting in the wrong conditions can cause your primer to take longer or shorter to dry, (even drying as it flies through the air mid-burst) create a poor quality surface (such as being dusty, gritty or sandpapery) and do all sorts of other things you'd rather avoid getting all over your miniature. If you notice these signs, stop priming your models.

Where to Paint and on What

Outside, in a well ventilated area is the best place to do any priming. Priming inside will cause the paint to spray around, you'll inhale fumes, the whole place will reek of paint - it's not a fun time, and rather unhealthy.

There are a number of objects you can place your miniatures on and many people try and swear by different methods. When just sitting minis on a surface, you may also want to put some tape or sticky-tac under their bases so they don't fall over. Depending where you are, you'll want to make sure some newspaper is down and you're not spraying towards other objects, so you don't get paint all over the place.

  • A box
    • This is simple, and how I usually prime my minis these days. I use an old computer monitor box so it's wide enough to catch over spray and thin enough to store behind a couch. Also being thin and light, I can pick the box up and turn it to spray my minis from different angles.
  • Sculpting Wheel
    • Sculpting Wheel
    • These are the wheels used to work with clay and be able to turn your project while you do. Some are also raised up to be easier like in the photo.
  • Sticks and Wires
    • This can mean a paint mixing stick, popsicle stick, heavy wire, tooth pick, etc. The idea is you attach your mini to something that gives you a handle to hold on to and just spray at the mini in the air, being able to angle things any direction you want to. You'll need a surface to place the tacky stick on if you don't want to get paint everywhere.
    • There's a good tutorial over at A Gentleman's Ones on using a paint stick to prime.
  • Bags and Gloves
    • This is similar to mounting an item on a stick in that rather than spraying a miniature in place, you move the mini around. The difference being that you hold the mini yourself, keeping yourself clean by using gloves and/or a plastic bag.
    • Santa Cruz Warhammer recently posted a tutorial on using a plastic bag to prime.
  • Sprues
    • Some people like priming bits while they're on the sprue. Out of all the listed methods, this is the only one I'd actually say is flawed. The simple reason is that everything you prime is going to have 1-4 or more spots that isn't primed. It's also hard to clean mold lines off bits still on the sprue, so they're often left on by people who use this method.


In order to avoid destroying a model by over priming as I described above, when you actually begin spraying the primer on, keep the nozzle roughly a foot (12", 24cm - a ruler's distance) away. This ensures the paint will have spread out some and won't be travelling as quickly or with as much force as if closer to the nozzle. By using a gentler mist, the paint covers more area, does so evenly, and sits on the surface instead of pooling in cracks.

Once the nozzle is far enough away, you have to spray the paint. Don't just point the nozzle and press the button; this concentrates all the paint in one area. Aim off to the side of your mini, start spraying and make a single clean line from one side to the other to ensure a clean layer of paint. This you want to repeat from multiple angles around the mini so that you cover everywhere. Once this layer of paint is dry, you may have to lay the figure down so you can spray underneath legs, arms, weapons, etc.

Many people suggest using 2-3 very thin layers, thereby building the strength of your primer's colour with each layer. This is a great way for someone new to begin so you don't overdo things. Personally, I now use a single layer of a medium coating of paint.

Give your mini ample time to dry before handling it so you don't get finger prints on it or mark up the paint in other ways as it's drying. 

As a final step, you should always turn paint canisters upside down and blast them until paint stops coming out. (this will be very quick on decent quality brands) This cleans the paint out from the nozzle, preventing things from drying and clogging up.


A quick note here on stripping miniatures - as you get into different brands of primer, it may become harder to  strip the primer from minis. If you plan on repainting a figure, you want to be able to remove as much of the old paint and primer as possible, so small details aren't obscured from layering more paint over top. This may mean more scrubbing, repeated soaking and harsher stripping agents. I've found that darker primers are usually harder to remove than lighter ones. Since the whole point of primer is that it doesn't come off the surface you paint, some brands and colours/shades may be near impossible to fully strip, if at all.

When testing a new primer, you may want to take this into account, and attempt to strip something you've just primed. This is another reason I suggest testing primers on models you don't care too much for - just incase you can't strip them.

Back to Basics - Black Primer, Dark Colours

Here's the continuation of Ron and my Back to Basics series.

This week we focus on using black primer. The colours on your minis won't be as bright as if you used white primer, but that's just fine for painting with dark colours. As a reminder, we're using simple techniques that are easy to follow. These are tutorials designed to show easy ways to create table-top quality miniatures.

Ron painted an Ork this week, pictured to the right. Take a look at his post on using black primer and dark colours.
  • We use black primer when we want to paint models with bolder shadows. Often, but not always, this will be paired with darker colours to compliment the shadows. Instead, you can use lighter colours for a stronger contrast.
  • If you miss painting spots such as crevices, it's not the end of the world - and sometimes that's exactly how you'll be painting. By not painting areas where shadow would naturally exist, you end up with deeper shadows.
  • A down side is that when painting, the black primer and shadows blend together, making it harder for you to see details. For this reason, I suggest new painters start with white primer.
  • Also, lighter colours (such as yellow, green, orange and red) won't be as strong. You may even have to apply a layer of their corresponding foundation colour (covered later in this article) or white.

When you're painting over a dark primer, you have to switch up the order you would normally layer your colours. As you paint more, you'll learn how well colours paint on top of each other. Foundation colours and some of the normal ones will always paint just fine over darks at their full intensity. Light colours (as mentioned above) will require a white base, a layer or two of a shade between black and the lighter one or just painting multiple layers of the light colour. (being careful to not layer things too thick and ending up with a clumpy or streaky surface)

With a light primer, I paint from the brighter colours down to the darker ones. With a dark primer, this is reversed.

As with my Striking Scorpion in my white primer tutorial, I start by painting the largest area of the model to get an overall sense of what the mini will look like. First, I've painted some of his armour plates a lighter Camo Green (which is still thick enough to cover black) then the rest of his armour with Catachan Green.

As I mention above, when painting over a black primer I leave plenty of areas untouched. Try to just paint the raised areas and not cracks, crevices, beneath armour plates, and so on. I've even left under the rim of his helmet alone.

Next up I paint the material between his armour plates with Calthan Brown foundation. Not many areas for this, but take a look at the fingers on his left hand - I haven't painted the entire fingers, I've just painted the tops, leaving the area between his fingers and at his knuckles black.

What I want to point out at this stage is how while orange is a brighter colour, it covers the black primer just fine. This is Macharius Solar Orange, from GW's foundation series of paints. These paints are designed to be layered on any colour, no matter how dark it is. Foundations are also thicker and must be watered down before use. Either a couple drops of water to the pot (and shake) or dipping your brush in water before the paint should do the trick.

Pay no attention to the purple on his gun - I certainly didn't forget to take a picture immediately after painting orange on the model... and these are not the droids you're looking for.

Below is the final step, which certainly wasn't displayed partially completed in the photo above at all. I've used Hormagaunt Purple, another foundation paint, and you can really see how I've just painted the raised areas.

Step 1 - Basic Colours

So here is the first step complete - just like my striking scorpion, it looks ghastly at this stage. All raised areas on the model are painted, while crevices are for the most part, left alone. I say "most part" because I've painted some bits more solid. (as you can see best with the orange areas) By doing this, particularly in areas that might be lit stronger, you get a mix of both deep dark black shadows and lighter ones that will be created during the washing steps next.

Now it's time for the washes. I talked in my "white primer, light colours" tutorial about using complimentary washes. Instead, to make things darker and blend in to the already deep shadows, I'll be used darker washes. This also makes the model look dirtier and gritty.

On this step, I've started with Devlan Mud to add strong shadows to the orange and brown areas. I paint the wash on not just the orange, but also into the black recesses around it. The effect ends up being subtle, but it tints the black with the colour of your wash. This softens the black slightly, but helps make the deep shadow seem believable. Also notice how the crevices within the orange areas are darker, but not quite so deep dark as the black shadows around them.

Next I've used Gryphonne Sepia wash to shade both shades of green. Again, apply it everywhere. I probably could have even applied a second coat of this to strengthen the shading.

This step is a nice example of washing with a shade that doesn't jive with the colour being washed. In the previous step, I used Devlan Mud, which is close to Black. A deep brown works to add natural shadows. Sepia though, is a brighter brown with a tint of yellow. As you can see, washes aren't just for adding shadow - this has also made the greens look dirtier.

Finally, I dirty up the gun with Badab Black wash. Once again, this adds a dark, dirty shadow, rather than just a darker purple.

Step 2 - Washing

Now that's two steps down, one final to go. He no longer looks intense and bright since he's covered in shadows from the washing. He does, however, look a little too dirty. When working with light colours and shades of for washes, you can get away with stopping at this step. Because of the dirty look created with the washes I've just used, highlighting is more important now.

There seemed to be a bunch of interest last time with lined highlighting. As such, I'll be a little bolder in this tutorial to make the lining stand out more.

To highlight and clean up the orange areas, I've used Blazing Orange. Essentially I've painted edges, corners and so on. This is an example of a brighter colour that wouldn't paint on black too well, but stands out with a few layers of colour in between.

Just a little bit of highlighting here; Some Vermin Brown to add a little light on the darker brown areas.

I highlighted the gun next, showing the use of a highlight colour that's the same as the base colour. (Hormagaunt Purple) This looks a little rough, partially because black is such a dirty wash that highlighting it isn't the easiest of jobs without a little blending and paint mixing.

Here you can start seeing some of the more obvious line highlighting on the darker green with Knarloc Green. If you want to use this method, it really is as simple as drawing lines and painting raised areas in a stronger colour.

As a final step, I line-highlight the lighter green areas with Rotting Flesh. For a subtler look, I could have used a darker shade or the original colour, but I wanted to make this style stand out for you.

Step 3 - Lined Highlighting

And so, he's done! Some drastic techniques like the bolder look of the lining appear better from farther away, so either stand up and walk a few feet away from your monitor or hang on a bit longer for the final image after he's been based.

Once again, 3 simple steps - Base Colours, Wash, Highlight using drawn lines. It's not a masterpiece, but it didn't take too long and would certainly look good on a battlefield.

It's worth mentioning another way he could have been painted - you could flip steps 2 and 3. It does mean you can't highlight with the same colours as in step 1, but there is a benefit. Since I used washes here that dirty up the model, the highlights currently come off very clean and bold. If the wash had been layered above the highlight, then the highlights would also be a little dirtier and a little more subtle.

I decided to base him up too so:
  • Mixed together some black and red sand from a party / wedding supply store.
  • Covered his base in super glue. (my choice for basing)
  • Poured on the sand and let it dry before shaking the extra off.

What you'll notice if we compare this Tau Marine (primed with black) to the Eldar Striking Scorpion (primed with white) is the stronger shading on the Tau and subtler highlighting on the Eldar. The Eldar doesn't have any black shadows, just darker shades of the colours on him. The Tau, however, has shadows that are literally just black, creating a strong contrast between these dark areas and the colour.

By introducing contrasts into your models, you end up with a bolder look to your army. The Scorpion could have been painted with these types of contrasts too, but had I painted those colours over black primer, they wouldn't look nearly as vibrant and I'm not a fan of layering white on black just to get strong colours. (For vibrant colours, I'd rather start with a white primer, rather than fight with layers of white/light colours, introducing streaks and thickness to the surface)

If you're thinking you could just paint some black on the scorpion or blend in some really dark greens to add that contrast, consider you'll be taking more time to complete the model - BUT you are thinking in the right direction if you want to expand your skills and experiment for yourself.

You of course could have also used washes similar in colour to what they're being painted over on the darker model rather than the black, mud and sepia washes. Remember, these tutorials are just demonstrating techniques - the sky is the limit for how you want to put everything together!

Weekly Update

Quite a lot of stuff going on this week.

I kicked off the week with how to clean mold lines and followed it up with info about hobby knives, how to sharpen knives and rust erasers.

I've also began my exploration of punk art with my post on bringing new painting styles to the hobby. There's been some great responses and I'll be following up on it.

I've made a few tweaks around the site, the first of which is cleaning up some naming confusion and making "Wargaming Tradecraft" stand out. (You'll notice this affects my feed settings too if your reader automatically updates and sorts by title) Topics have been cleaned up as well, less specific items, more categories. Under my archives, I've added a list of the 5 most popular items as a way for new visitors to see what might interest them. I've begun collecting links to miniature lines and custom sculptors on the Resources page. Finally, I've also added an "e-Mail" link under my Gallery link to the right. (It's semi-secured against spam bots, so fingers crossed)

Games Workshop has announced that this coming Friday, the tickets for Games Day 2011 will be going on sale.

MassiveVoodoo posted a really nice and easy tutorial for making stonework walls/floors. http://massivevoodoo.blogspot.com/2010/11/tutorial-making-brick-walls.html and another for making simple little buskets http://massivevoodoo.blogspot.com/2010/11/tutorial-making-bucket.html

And then there's this guy who goes overkill: http://www.009.cd2.com/members/how_to/nouaillier_a.htm
(but incredibly well)

More goodness over at From the Warp as Ron has a nice tutorial on creating your own custom Librarian models: http://fromthewarp.blogspot.com/2010/11/librarian-psychic-hood-conversion.html

I want to point out Gimnir's post on some of his dwarves:
Now THAT is an epic stand for minis on the field.

Take some time to read and see an excellent post at Double 0 Sven regarding taking photos of your battlefield: http://double0sven.blogspot.com/2010/11/secret-agenthow-to-create-atmospheric.html

I was impressed by this shot from Gibbtall on DeviantArt. He makes lava look pretty good. I'm pointing this out mainly for the fact that the colours aren't blended so you can see the steps used to create it.

While checking out some of the new adds to the HoP, I have got to say that TheBaron has made an awesome Nid drop pod: http://withoutwhichnot.blogspot.com/2010/11/pods-and-daemons-and-cryxoh-my.html

I really gotta get me an airbrush: http://my.deviantart.com/messages/#/d3352ds

And wow, just wow - you want to make a portal? Here's a genius method I found on Warpstone Flux, as originally created by John's Toy Soldiers/

Rust Eraser

This is a rust eraser - yup, these things actually exist.

What makes this article super easy to write, is that a rust eraser works exactly like a real eraser. Be sure to stroke back to front when you're working near the blade. If you don't, the blade will shave the eraser.

I haven't really seen these around, but I got mine at the House of Knives. Perhaps other knife stores carry them.

A note on rust - rust isn't just something that grows on the surface of the metal. It actually eats the metal, digging slowly as the top layers come off. If you see rust, you'd best clean it as soon as you can. Rust is usually caused by water, but sometimes moisture in the air (humidity) can also cause it. If salt is added to the mix, reactions speed up.

Since it's an eraser, just rub it over the surface of the metal. Wipe / blow away the shavings that come off and keep working until you get rid of all the rust.

Just look at that photo! I've cleaned half the blade and not just the rust is removed but the metal is also cleaned. Incredible!

As a safety precaution, place some electrical tape over the blade's edge when you're cleaning the other end. (Since you'll have to hold the sharp end)

If you choose to do this, you're probably best to clean the back first, then the front. Then you can remove any stickyness left behind by the tape.

Sharpening Knives

An important part of the upkeep for your knives is making sure they stay nice and sharp.

Most people overlook the importance of sharp blades. Blades that are dull or have nicks and such, however, will not only be difficult to use, but it will also catch and skip. This can lead to injury, messing up the mini or even damaging the blade further.
The stone on the left is obviously too rough for knives as fine as we hobbyists use. The two on the right are the type for getting fine edges. I use two stones; while both are smooth to the touch, the middle one is a little coarser so I start with it, then repeat all the steps with the stone on the right which is finer.

  1. Wet the stone and keep it wet while you work.
  2. Place the sharp edge against the stone and tilt the blade back.
  3. Make sure the whole blade fits so you sharpen evenly.
  4. In a smooth motion with firm, even pressure, slice forward.
  5. Lift the blade, return it to it's start location and repeat.
  6. Use a smaller angle to get a finer edge.
  7. Repeat for the blade's other side. (same number of slices)
Typically, I'll make 5 slices at 45 degrees, another 5 at half that, repeat for the other side of the blade then do it all again for good measure.
After finishing with the coarser sharpening stone, I use the finer one and repeat all the same steps.

In the below photo, the angle on the left is too large. The middle angle is what I start with, roughly 45 degrees. On the right is the angle I end with, roughly 22.5 degrees.

When trying for a super sharp edge, don't make the angle too small or you'll end up with the main body of the blade touching the stone and not the edge of the blade.

This all creates a nice sharp edge on your blades. With enough work you can remove nicks, scratches, chips, add serration or even reshape them. I the below photo, I've curved the tip to get a little more usefulness out of one blade.

For concave shaped blades, you can also find rounded sharpening tools. (Similar to the sharpening rods for kitchen knifes) You use these the same as the stones except as you slice forward, also slide your blade sideways to sharpen the whole edge in a single stroke.

As my buddy Hex points out, after you've sharpened your blades, treat them right and protect them from rust:
"3in1 oil if you feel you need to, (machine oil ) otherwise I use a bit of virgin olive oil on mine (plain, not spiced lol). Veggie oil would work too. Wipe off excess"

As reader Loquacious points out, her knife came with a number of extra blades -
"Other than economy (which I do see a value in) what benefit does sharpening have over just replacing a blade?" (I'll assume these extra blades are the same, and not different shapes/sizes as detailed in my all about knives post)

  • Economical reasons are certainly one of the reasons to sharpen rather than replace. Keep the spares for times when you snap the blade.
  • There's a good chance you'll be able to sharpen your blades better than they come from the factory.
  • In the case of high-quality (or surgical quality) blades, these extra blades may be machined and sharper than we humans can easily do.

The tools and supplies talked about here are somewhat specialty items. You can try knife and art stores, (which might be able to order them) but will have better luck at carving (wood working) stores. Hardware and surplus stores that carry sharpening stones probably don't have any fine enough for hobbies, just axes and such.

Bringing a New Style to the Hobby

Barry Lees, Golden Demon 1993, Veteran's Category
Here are some thoughts that have been brewing for a while, sparked more after attending Games Day North America 2010. (Baltimore)

Recently, Lauby has been talking about things that have stirred up my thoughts again and I finally think I know the direction I want to start taking things. (Read his thoughts as of this posting in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) Get comfortable, and if you only have a little time, please come back to this post later.

I entered two pieces into the Golden Demon painting contest (both making first cut) and was slightly disappointed to see that a majority of the other entries seemed to blend together into a single mass. They look great up close; this is not intended to be a slight against the artists. But take a few steps back and most of the models disappeared in a sea of darkness. We all get it - in the grim darkness of the future, there is only war - and if there is one thing that Ron Perlman (narrator of Fallout) has taught us, it is that "War... war never changes".

Lauby's posts made me realize I'm not the only one with woes regarding today's common style of painting. Something that came up was the idea of how human nature is to emulate until we get bored and find a new vice. I recall that when I was a kid, a lot of the great works of art I saw in miniatures were done in washed out sepia tones and lighter or brighter colours which looked great and was the reverse of today's landscape. However, much like today's work, it blended together when you put figures from different artists side by side because everyone was still painting the same style.

[Update: to reiterate and avoid confusion, this isn't about nostalgia. Some people seem to be confusing this as me saying everyone should start painting like we used to 15-20 years ago - let me point you at that last sentence: Even back then, when a whole bunch of models painted similarly are placed side by side, they still wash out and blend together. This is about adding diversity to the art. The Golden Demon photos I've included from the past are there to show that other styles have successfully competed.]

Matthew Parks - Golden Demon 1995, Slayer Sword
I'm going to point out a few pop examples as a way to help you understand what I'm talking about.
Sitcoms used to be prevalent on TV and then reality TV started taking over the airwaves. Over the last few years we have been seeing a rise in adult cartoons and low budget, amateur or specialty programming. As a long time fan of anime, I was happy when North America started airing shows like Lost to bring storylines to audiences rather than just trying to get as many episodes out of a series as possible. The TV landscape now is actually somewhat diverse.

Then there is the video game landscape, which for a while has been getting stale compared to the 80's and 90's.  Before awesome 3D graphics, all a game had to rely on was innovation, writing and game play. Designers had to work hard to carve a niche out for their styles and prove to the audience that they had something new and worthwhile - and they did, because they laid the ground work for every video game that's been created in the last decade. Then game designers began relying on pretty graphics instead of solid game play and storyline and quality dropped. They blamed pirates for low sales, making the assumption they weren't releasing garbage. A lot of what comes out these days is just rehashed from old ideas. However, there's a lot of indie developers, the "little guys", getting further into the game industry thanks to services like Steam which allows them to distribute their content and we are seeing some really innovative stuff again. (Things like Audiosurf or World of Goo)

Gary Taylor - Golden Demon
1995, Fantasy 3rd place
Neil Thomason - Golden Demon
1995, 40k 1st place
Actors already create something a little beyond reality. All those accents, dramatic pauses, exaggerated gestures and so on are exciting to watch.
A salesperson can give the perfect pitch to someone for a cheap, gas efficient vehicle and that person could still go buy the expensive, go fasta red sports car.
We read books, play video games and watch shows or movies nowhere near realistic and sometimes not even plausible because we enjoy the diversity and flight of fancy found within them.

Now, if the problem can be defined as "Everybody's art looks the same" then the question is "How do we change the current landscape of painting styles?"

We have to try something different. The longer we wait, the more stale things are going to get. I'm not saying everyone should stop painting dark and paint light, (then we still look the same, just brighter) but that we need to try our own styles rather than emulate what everyone else is doing.

The quickest method would be to have a bunch of great miniature artists switch up their style and encourage others to adapt to their own unique methods too. If a lot of us start trying new things, while it may not look great at first, it could open more eyes to the possibilities out there.

Any time a new reality is created, it must be given a certain style. Landscapes and the objects that fill them don't have to look "real" but they must be "believable". This is true in movies, tv, games, books and anything someone has dreamed up. Even cartoons like the Ultramarines Smurfs are believable to a certain extent. Maybe when our brain sees something that does not try to look real, it relaxes and accepts what is being presented to it. This is the creation of what's known as "suspension of disbelief."

Adrian Wink - Golden Demon 1991, 40k Vehicle
Miniature gaming universes have a background and a "look", part of that being how we the painters bring the models to life. (It occurs to me that maybe there's a reason much of Games Workshop's art is in black and white or grey scale; to leave our options open.)

The great thing about trying something completely new with a hobby is that it does not cost a lot of money. A model, some paint and an idea is a lot cheaper than a car manufacturer adopting electric. I suppose there is your reputation if the idea fails, but I would hope others would at least appreciate that something new is being attempted.

Before I continue, I should point out one clarification:
At this time, I still think an army should look unified. They don't have to be painted exactly the same, but they should look uniform. (Though this general rule is sometimes bent, for example, Eldar Aspect Warriors.) What I'm trying to get at isn't "paint every model differently", it's "develop and paint in your own style and not like everyone else."

The following are some examples of what I am talking about - worlds that are believable, however unreal they appear, followed by my thoughts on other techniques we could see improve and mix up the landscape...

Doom 3
To compare where we are currently at with most miniature painting, I would point to video games like Fallout 3, Doom 3, Quake 4 and so on. These are games striving to become ultra-realistic and while creating a spookier atmosphere they have also become darker. The detail within these games is incredible, just like in Warhammer, but also masked in shadow. A lot of the detail and effort that went into these graphics is lost to that darkness.
Quake 4
These are examples of games that did it right. There are plenty of other games out there that tried to appear realistic and failed. Games like these, we criticize.
Fallout 3

Sound familiar? When looking at realistic models, we usually have two reactions - awe and critique. Not only do we see all the amazing things the artists have done, but the longer we look at it, we start seeing all the little imperfections.

If you want to go down this path, that is still fine. Ultra-realistic art does look incredible, but shouldn't be considered the only option that you can aspire to. Just because everyone else is doing it, is not a reason for you to as well.

A Whole New World [World of Warcraft]
A game with 11 million people immersed in this universe nearly 24/7 has got to be doing something right. The graphics are obviously better than The Realm or Ultima Online but WoW got a lot of criticism early on for being unrealistic and somewhat cartoon-ish. It is difficult to create a video game that looks like real life, especially one of this scale.

Instead, they have created their own style for everything that players can accept and feel part of, rather than one that's not quite right and constantly having it's flaws pointed out. Believing the world you're immersed in is extremely important. By creating your own style and placing it in the context of a whole uniform system, things look right. Not only do they flow, but they trick your mind into accepting what you are seeing, rather than criticizing it.

By pulling art just a few steps away from reality and/or putting it into a context of it's own, you create your own world and tell the viewer what they should believe. Too far though, and things may look outrageous and unbelievable.

In retrospect, the miniatures I painted after my considerable amount of time in WoW may have been influenced by that world. However, I love these miniatures because when you're looking at them on the field of war, not only do they stand out and you can see the detail, but normal indoor lighting takes over and adds the shadows for me. It's actually a nice bold effect. (and yes, that Guardian IS rocking a Lascannon)

Warp Spiders, Guardians and D-Cannon Crew painted by Me

Razzminis - Chaos Lord
Outlining [Borderlands]
Cell shading has recently become popular and it's the act of giving 3D games a "drawn" look by outlining the objects in them (from the viewer's perspective) with black, like in a cartoon. This is sometimes bold with thick black outlines but Borderlands did it subtler than other games. Instead, there's a lot of detail on the models themselves and the old cell shading techniques are used just to outline, adding emphasis to details. It could be done in black or maybe even a much darker/lighter version of the detail's colours.

Before you pass over the model on the right, take a long hard look at it. There may not be the normal darkness of Chaos in there, but I guarantee you that if you're 6' away, looking down at him on a battlefield, you will see all the detail. I saw this mini while working on this article and it made me think of a practical example of how subtle outlining might look. Shading is not consistent and light does not appear to hit from the same angle. Instead there is an overall highlighting from borders and edges inward, creating a type of outline.
Sketching [Borderlands]
The other aspect of this game's art is that the open areas on the models have a bit of a rough sketched look rather than natural blending. Multiple colours and/or shades are still used, but rather than a gradual blend, there are more steps. This creates an interesting gritty / dirty / worn look.

I will admit to seeing this same technique used on TheWife's Ace of Cakes show (the same people that made the giant Squig cake for Warhammer Online) to create a life size R2D2 cake in the style of the Star Wars 3D show - shading and blending was done rough and streaked... it's just another way to do things.

Reduce Detail to Emphasize Detail
YuliaPW - Farseer Sketch
Similar to sketching, I have seen this style from time to time and Yulia just posted this art as I'm working on these thoughts, so I thought I would use this example. Basically, the act of reducing detail in less important areas causes the detail you do apply to stand out.
This could mean painting areas such as limbs out of focus, rougher, sketched, in muted (darker or lighter) colours to bring the viewer's eyes immediately to higher detail areas like faces, chests, insignias, etc.

In this example, this Farseer's face immediately jumps at you for the very reason that it's not lost among the rest of the image.

Black and White or Grey Scale with Colour [Sin City]

Sin City
Here is an idea I'd love to see en mass across an entire army. It might work better with fantasy than 40k, but I can still see it working in sci-fi. Picture an entire army done in bold black and white and/or softer grey scale. Shades of grey still leaves plenty of room for beautiful and detailed blending. Interesting, right? Some units could be painted softer greys while maybe shock troops and elites could have strong contrasting black and white.

The twist is to choose certain aspects of your models and give them colour. Eyes could be piercing greens, claws bloody red, insignias or tabards could jump right out at the viewer, heroes could be given more colours than those that surround them and so on.
Sin City

Sin City comes to mind because it plays with a lot of these contrasts. The whole movie is in black and white, but certain things are given bold colours to make them stand out.

I'm really curious to try this method out myself.
Raymond Mason - Foule Illuminée, photo by Me, Montreal Quebec
I'm guilty of not paying close attention to where the light source should be shining on my models. I've been trying to get better at this rather than just using generic highlighting techniques such as placing highlights on edges or central areas. If you consistently highlight with the same light source direction in mind, your army will appear more uniform. Usually this will mean a top-down approach. The guys over at Massive Voodoo talk a lot about Zenithal Lighting and have some great demonstrations on how it is done.

This is somewhere you could switch things up, applying highlights as if the light source was in front of your models, behind them or even off to one side.

Scrap Tower, photo by Me
In the case of direct lighting, you could paint shadows solid rather than blending. Some say this is cartoony, but try shining a light directly on an object and see how the shadows land. An intense light source creates stronger shadows with less blending. Avoiding solid shadows is actually an example of how our hobby already usually chooses what looks better over what is real.

Finally, you can also change the colour of the light on your models. In Warhammer Fantasy, perhaps some evil ritual is casting a red glow or nasty Skaven stuff has made a green luminescence. In 40k, there are plenty of alien worlds with different suns and coloured atmospheres to shine any colour from the rainbow on battlefields. For example, a light brown wash over a whole model, Snakebite Leather in particular, can actually cast a bit of a sunset sort of lighting.

Playing with Colour Theory
Complimentary Colours
From 99Solutions
Analogous Colours
From Xara Xone
This doesn't have to mean using bold options like complimentary colours. (Colours opposite each other on the colour wheel - Red-Green, Blue-Orange, Yellow-Purple.) If you want objects on your model to stand out though, take a look at a colour wheel and choose something opposite the colour it will be near.

Another option is analogous colours. (Similar colours, side by side on the colour wheel - Red-Orange, Blue-Purple, Yellow-Green.) Every model in your army could be roughly the same colour or in the same shades.

Silent Hill the Movie
You've seen plenty of examples of this in movies where the characters are dressed in clothes similar in shade, tone and/or colour of the set.

Person Unknown
Photo by Me
Similar to analogous except using a single colour, photographers will often use the sepia setting on their cameras to take pictures with that old rustic look. It is basically greyscale, except from central colour, shade to black and highlight to white. Details on models could be painted darker or lighter shades of overall colouring - a Space Marine could have blue armour, light blue trim, dark blue knees, etc.

Art Techniques
Old Radio, photo by Me, added noise (stipple-ish) effect
There are also other techniques for creating and shading art, one being stippling. This means using dots and their proximity to each other to create the image and shade. Perhaps some kind of physically rough base coat could be used on a model and go from there.

Another is using lines " // " and/or hashes " ## " to shade rather than solid shadows or blending.

I'm not schooled in art, so my knowledge on colour theory and techniques is a little limited. I'll leave you with the suggestion of doing some research into ways artists will play with colours or try to find out how pictures that stand out to you were made.

Emulation of Artists

Vincent Van Gogh - Starry Night
Speaking of researching art, there are plenty of famous artists out there who have already created plenty of painting styles that could be attempted. If you research the various periods and the big trend setters, you'll find some dramatic shifts in what was considered art. Because of all the research that's gone into them, you should even be able to get a good idea of how their works were created and the best way to recreate them.

Why not treat your minis as a pallet? I'm not talking insignias and open space pictures, I mean paint your whole model in these other styles.

I'm also particularly interested in exploring applying this kind of art to minis.

This topic has spawned a whole lot of ideas in my mind, and I expect this to be the beginning of a sporadic series where I try to explore different painting styles. Really, who says that we have to approach our miniatures and constantly try to place them in the context of our reality? Not just because we're already talking about science fiction and fantasy settings, but also because we can treat these figures as three dimensional canvases.

From a practical standpoint, you've just seen a number of options for someone who wants to try some new methods - a few that specifically interest me. I'm not entirely sure where I want to go next on the theory end, but I do intend on exploring my thoughts as well as trying some of these ideas out.

I can only hope that these thoughts get your own ideas spinning and I'd be interested in hearing what you think and seeing any models you try. Whether you want to discuss this further or have me feature your attempts in a later update, you can reach me at: npluspluswargaming [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you think I'm off my rocker, I'd also like to hear from you - you won't convince me I'm wrong, but I am honestly interested in knowing what the opinions are of others and WHY. (If you're going to tell me every time we paint a model, we should try to make it as real as possible, you had better back that statement up.)

I've tagged this post with the label "punk_art" which is how you can keep up on or reference the series.
"Punk: a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans."
In the last 24 hours since posting this article, I've received over 1000 hits (Big thanks to Massive Voodoo for linking to it) and 4 people have shared their thoughts on it. I even added a large email link to my blog in hopes to receive some feedback This is a disappointing response and gives me the impression that for many people it's one more "cool" article they find online and forget about in a few days. I'm not going to walk away from this because I truly believe I'm on to something, but I think it speaks out again to the "status quo" or "routine" our hobby has settled in to.

If you are moved by what you've read here, please offer some feedback.

[Images in this post copyright their respective owners as credited in their captions and/or section headings. Golden Demon photos taken from White Dwarf Magazine.]