Painting is an integral part of the Wargaming hobby. Some of my general philosophies in this area are outlined below. I am also a committed (some would say obsessive) record keeper during my projects and will share some of these records in this section. My obsession stems mostly from bad experiences where I forgot paint schemes during longer projects. Since most of my projects are rather lengthy (i.e. I work slowly), I tend to record everything just in case it is needed later. I have added units to armies painted over 10 years ago and still get a perfect visual match because every colour, mix, wash and technique was recorded. Most of these records are cryptic reference schemes for paint formulas but a few are broader in scope. Over time I will convert these into short tutorials and post them on this site. Maybe some of the information will assist or inspire somebody.
Though the thousands of models in the cabinets would indicate otherwise, I am primarily a gamer and not a collector. This means that almost all models were selected to fit into appropriate army list for one of the game systems. In general my approach to army building breaks into two categories: “the book” and “playable”. Playable armies have a reasonable selection of units for a normal game. For example, a playable Warhammer 40k Space Marine army would be maybe 2000 or 2500 points total to allow the creation of standard 1500 or 1750 points game armies with some variety. In comparison, “the book” armies include everything available in the army book at appropriate quantities. For example, an Epic Armageddon Ork army designed to cover “the book” has several units of each and every available option in the list with at least a handful of the core mob formations. As a result “the book” armies are usually massively larger than anything anybody would reasonably field in a conventional game. Their advantage is that you have the ultimate choice to take any combination of units to form the gaming sized army list. As a rule of thumb, I aim for “the book” for all skirmish sized games as well as scales smaller than 28mm. Company level 28mm games such as Warhammer or Warhammer 40k tend to require too much effort to reach “the book” so they are usually capped at the playable level. Of course, the inherent optimism of gamers means that practically all armies in this scale still start out as “the book” but painting energy subsequently often runs out just past the playable level (and a mountain of unpainted lead is left behind when the initial enthusiasm wanes…).
The most important aspect of painting a collection designed for gaming is its visual impact on the gaming table. That impact comes from the overall appearance of the army when players look at it at the common distance in the game. For large model count games this distance is usually somewhere around arms-length while skirmish games bring you a bit closer to the models. At that distance it is critical that the army looks uniform and consistent. A collection of models with different paint schemes or different basing will look like a random collection regardless of the individual quality of each model. In addition to uniformity, it’s also important that the highlights, shadows and features of the models are scaled appropriately for the viewing distance. A subtle blend of highlights might look fantastic up close but will disappear into a uniform colour at arms-length. Note that this doesn’t mean that painting can be sloppy! The models should still look good, clean and well-blended at a close distance because players will inevitably get a closer look as well. The key is to maintain the quality of the blending, highlighting and shadows but scale their gradients for the most common viewing distance. For example, the colour range on a blue cloak with folds on a skirmish model (close viewing distance) should be smoothly blended from mid-blue to light blue highlights. For the same model in a larger sized game system (long viewing distance) the same cloak should be equality smoothly blended over the range of very deep blue (near black) to very light blue bordering on ice-blue or white). This will achieve the same visual impression of a folded blue cloak at the two common viewing distances.
In line with the comment on uniformity in the collection building section, it is critical that the basing of models in an army is visually consistent. Since there is a high probability that two of my armies within the same game system will encounter each other on my terrain table, I have gone further and used consistent basing across entire game systems. This doesn’t mean that every base needs to look the same. For example, my 15mm Flames of War WW2 Germans use a basing scheme that includes pieces of grey brick ruins, telephone poles, road signs, hedgehog barriers, static grass, clump foliage and two different colours of grass tuffs. The idea is to present a semi-rural landscape that would fit into most European theatres during mid-war. The UK Airborne army uses a lot of clump foliage with grass tuffs and grey boulders to give the idea of airborne units operating in bocage country in Northern France. The materials and paint schemes are the same so that the two armies wouldn’t look out of place facing each other.
All bases are magnetized but techniques vary. Square based systems such as Flames of War, DBA and Warhammer movement trays use conventional bases with magnetic sheet glued under them. In general the surface to weight ratio for these models is high enough that the magnetic sheet holds the entire base very securely. Skirmish games and models at larger scales tend to have an unfavourable surface to weight ratio so a different approach is required. For 28mm games such as Warhammer 40k, Necromunda, Blood Bowl and Mordheim I use neodymium rare earth magnets. These are extremely strong and will hold even a metal model on a small 25mm base. Many of these games expose the underside of the models (e.g. Mordheim heroes that are “stunned” are placed lying down, etc). Because of this I cover the magnet with vinyl spackle and effectively fill the entire underside of the base. Vinyl spackle dries rock hard and is fairly heavy which helps to stabilize models. Once dry I sand the spackle smooth and paint the underside in black. For game systems with multiple “on the side” states such as Bloodbowl’s “down” and “stunned” I paint a small icon to the bottom of the base to indicate the state.
The exceptions to this magnetization approach are game systems that require custom base sizes. Currently that’s Man-o-War and Epic Armageddon. Epic allows for any kind of base and I prefer the visual impression of round mini-diorama bases rather than the straight line default bases. For this I use fender washers of different diameters. Man-o-War specifies a range of rectangular bases for different ships which I punched those out of sheet iron. In both cases the base isn’t magnetic but sticks extremely well to magnets due to the highly ferrous nature of the base material. Adding extra magnetic sheet to these bases at such a small scale would create a visually unpleasant spacing from the tabletop so this solution is good enough for me.
Conversions and Scratchbuilding
Despite the wealth of different models available today, sometimes you just need to make your own. Or maybe the existing models don’t look as nice as they could, or you are trying to achieve a distinctive look for your force. Regardless of the reason, conversions (making models from multiple unconnected parts) and scratchbuilding (creating completely new models from raw materials) are very common in the wargaming hobby. This section will expand to include a few tutorials documenting my own efforts in this area.
Many model kits these days come with more parts than needed to build a particular configuration of the models. Those excess parts, left-overs from EBay purchases of used models, and other gathered pieces form the “Bitz Box” of a wargaming hobbyist. I have accumulated piles of material for different scales and systems over the years as you can tell from the photos below. I store everything sorted into compartmentalized tackle boxes that are labelled and stacked. The examples below show the “Warhammer Empire” box and the “Epic Armageddon” box. Pretty much every game systems that I ever touched has a box for it and some often have a box per army. Having these resources at hand is a great advantage during the conversion process.
Beyond existing pieces from my Bitz Box(es), I use the usual raw materials of wargaming converters. Various forms of wood (tooth pics, popsicle sticks, balsa wood, etc.), plastic card of different thickness and patterns, metal parts (chains, wire, rod, etc.), magnets of different sizes, and sculpting materials (Green Stuff, putty, etc.). One of the drawer columns in my gaming room is devoted to the store of such materials and the associated tools.