Wargaming Tradecraft: Get Yourself a Notebook


Get Yourself a Notebook

[Originally posted October 28th, 2011]

This is a very handy tool when you're painting armies... I don't know about you, but remembering how I painted something 6 months ago (sometimes even a week) can be tricky. So get a notebook and keep simple notes about how you paint something if you expect to have to paint it again at some point. (Or even if you don't)

I usually don't bother with this when I'm painting single models - BUT, armies look really nice when they're painted with a uniform colour scheme. Some variances are okay, but generally, you'll want them to be similar. Those similarities are what you should keep track of.

For example, I have notes for every version of the Eldar Alaitoc armour I've painted, and their accessories. (For reference, there've been 3 - heavy armour w/ chainmail, a newer style similar to aspect armour, and the newest sleeker style.)

I spoke about this sort of thing a little while back when I discussed Organizing Colours While Painting.That article was about planning ahead and pulling out all the colours for a mini before you get started AND lining them up in the order you'll use them. This will give you an idea of what your mini will look like, what colours you need, how the colours will look together, etc. Essentially, it's this order that you want to keep track of.

So, what sort of notes do I mean?

As you can see, it's just a point form list.
After some of the lines, I make other notes in brackets - usually what's a wash or h/l (highlight) but sometimes one or two more words about how it's applied, mixed, blended, etc.

Paint models one at a time without worry

Another reason to do this is it allows you to paint models one at a time, rather than assembly line stile. If you paint one colour on every model in the unit, then move onto the next colour, and so on, YOU WILL BURN OUT. It also doesn't allow you to get creative and blend. Keeping notes lets you focus all your attention on one model at a time, and you'll be healthier for it.

Colour Matching

Something that I've started to do is paint a splotch of paint beside each step.

As I use different brands of paint and manufacturers change their formulas, (Like GW did recently) it becomes important to have a reference for colour matching. This way, if I don't have the exact same paint down the road, I can find or mix it up later.

Speaking of mixing, if one of your steps involves a mix of paint, this should be MANDATORY so you know what the mixed colour looks like.

My Short Hand

The following is a list of the short hand I use in my notebook. What's important is it makes sense to you. Start by spelling it out and as you use your notebook more, cut it down to safe space. I think the first one I shortened was "highlight" to "h/l".

I'll also use verbs like light, slight, heavy, thin, thick, etc to specify specifics in the formula.

Used to paint TheWife's Crystalline Affliction army
  • ab
    • Airbrush
  • b
    • Base
    • A thick covering layer, usually only used in the first few steps.
  • bl
    • Blend
    • Mixing or tinting on the surface of a model to create a gradient from one colour to another.
  • c
    • Contrast
    • Intentionally make this step stand out from the previous ones like a really dark shadow or an extra bright highlight.
  • hatch
    • Hatching technique
    • Rather specific style like used on Thagrosh.
  • hl
  • Leader of TheWife's Crystalline Affliction army
    • Highlight
    • Targeting raised parts on a model like edges and corners.
  • pigment
  • s
    • Shade or Shadow
    • Targeting recesses of a model like creases in cloth.
  • tone or tint
    • Modifying the Tone or adding a Tint
    • A thin layer meant only to shift the colour of the existing surface.
  • w
    • Wash
    • Covering the area with a wash. If the paint listed isn't a wash, also thin it until it is.
  • watered
    • Adding water to thin a paint, but not as thin as a wash.
  • ___  +  ___
    • To indicate 2 paints mixed together in roughly equal parts.
  • # : #
    • A ratio to indicate 2 paints mixed together, but more of one.
    • " 2 : 1 " would mean twice as much of the first paint than the second paint.
  • >  or  }  or  ]
    • Blend
    • A line connecting two steps to suggest doing a smoother blend than usual.


Here's an orc pictured that I painted as a defeated opponent for the bases of my War Walkers.

I'd never really painted Orcs before, but I had a good time doing it. There were only three of them, but I knew that if I came back to paint more down the road, I'd want them to look similar. (Though I'm starting from scratch with my Hordebloods as I want the army to have it's own style)

My Eldar style was much bolder, less blending, but here's the notes I kept for them:

Probably the most complicated painting steps I've used was for my Space Hulk Blood Angel. I used 17 layers to paint the orange armour alone.

The following are my notes from that project. You'll see I crossed things out as things change, and put some colour down as targets for later.

Excuse the water damage... there was this flood, and I'm lucky to even have this notebook still.


  1. Excellent advice. I had to take notes on the death wing or I would have been lost on my second model as 27+ colors and variations are involved in a basic terminator from start to finish and in very specific steps.
    The same can be said with my ogre, which being painted in a unit to unit batch process, can easily be messed up if I skip a step on a unit.
    This is something I never did when I was new to painting and I found myself having to do a lot of repaints to make things uniform when I should have been moving on to the next project.
    Anyone out there who thinks they have some sort of "rainman" memory for painting should try to use the notebook just once and then note how often they catch themselves skipping or missing steps, they will never go without notes again.

  2. I really need to start doing this. I've never had an issue until recently remembering a paint method or color used. The more armies I collect the more different paint schemes I do and going back to an older army is getting tough to recall.

  3. You mentioning batch processes jogged my memory on the other thing I wanted to mention, and I've updated the article... basically, I find that painting a whole unit at once (one colour, then the next, and so on) burns me out faster. By keeping notes, you can focus on one model at a time.

  4. Funnily enough, I lost enthusiasm for my hobby projects when I stopped obsessively chronicling thoughts, techniques, tactics, conversion ideas, bits of background and so on... I'm learning to love the notebooks again as a way of getting back into WFB. :)

  5. 17 layers?


    Um. Wow.

    I am doing it wrong.

  6. @Von: Out of curiosity, how much do you chronicle besides the paint?

    @Loq: I wouldn't say that, it was a little extreme and it took A LONG time. There are probably even better ways to do it. But even my Frostwolf Green up there uses 12 steps for the skin, and I couldn't see doing less. I've found that TIME and PATIENCE are big factors when it comes to painting. I think anyone is capable of making great art, they just need to have the patience to spend the time it takes to use all the colours necessary.

    I think I'll write up a post on blending and time/patience.

    Also, I've been experimenting with pigments and have found an excellent way to paint black. It even involves beauty products as the best way I've found to apply them :)

  7. @Dave

    With my long-lost Vampire Counts, I'd:
    - scribble up some notes on every game for 'working out how I lost' purposes
    - sketch out deployments to work out what they could do and where the weak points were
    - write a list every week or so just so I'd have something different to hand
    - plan out and price up new kitbashes (very important since everything in the army required either two kits or some expensive mail-ordering to get at old-school models)
    - regularly knock out new characters with new bits of fanfiction to support them. The ones I liked the most got models built for them...
    - make lists of names for characters and lists (all my builds were named after Cradle of Filth songs... for some reason)
    - advance the army's background plot as a) I had new ideas or b) I won or lost games so catastrophically that someone needed promotion or death. My most regular opponents frequently collaborated with me on these bits; our finest hour was probably a narrative battle report, ludicrously overwritten for a 500 point skirmish but man it was fun to do.

    I'm going to try for a similar approach with my Lizardmen. The other thing I'll be doing with those is creating a master list of what models I have and what parts I have. Whether that stays updated or not will be another matter...

  8. @Lo

    I don't think you're doing anything wrong. Dave is right that everyone has the potential to create great art. Everyone must ask themselves, however, whether they want to create great art.

    I do, but not in miniature painting - it's not the art form in which I want to invest that kind of time and effort, or reap those kinds of rewards. I want the next thing to look at least as good as the last thing, but I'm not really interested in producing masterpieces. Shaking the idea that I should be interested in producing masterpieces was not easy, but once done, it proved very liberating. Ironically, my painting started to get better as well...

  9. Love the idea and in depth you have in doing yours.

    I've done similar things over time with my armies but haven't done so of late when doing crews for Malifaux as I've had most as individuals.

    One thing I have been doing is putting mine into Evernote so I have a digital versions in the cloud that I can access from a phone or tablet either when I'm painting or if someone asked me how I did something

    1. As funny as it is, I find making notes like this easier on paper. It also lets me slap colours / mixes of on the paper too. Buuut, I'm not looking forward to running out of space or being unable to reorganize the pages.

    2. One of the strengths of evernote I've found is I can actually take a photo of the colours and add them to the note sort of like adding images to an email to give you more information.

      I still have pages of paper which I need to convert but my wife is glad for the reduction of paper


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