|4 Ultramarines painted by me, from my first model (left) to|
my latest creation (right)
Don't get me wrong, I'm hugely flattered by such praise, but the truth is that my first steps in the hobby are just as humble as many others (see the picture to the left), and the techniques I use are not particularly hard to learn or employ. You see, I genuinely believe that good painting isn't the art of making a complicated technique look simple, but rather making a simple technique look complicated. In the past, I have passed on the following rules to remember to people that have asked me for painting advice and their painting abilities improved almost over night. Finally, I have gotten around to publishing these tips on my blog.
Please note, these are not tips for the pro amongst you, there is no "Original Source Light" or "Vector Shading" techniques here, but merely simple things to bare in mind that can make models look 100 times better.
1. Keep it neat!
This may well seem like an obvious thing to say, but neat paintwork is an absolute must for making your model look great. Such a simple tip that is the difference between a model looking terrible and a model looking good. The way I describe it to people is think of miniature painting as "Advanced Colouring In". Keep your paints within the lines, keep the colours sharp.
Take the above picture. These are two models I painted in two very different points in time. Both use the same colours and similar techniques, except the model on the right had great care taken to keep within the lines. As you can see, there is a massive difference in the quality of the paintwork. Simply taking care to clean up mistakes and neaten up your brushing can make a world of difference, as you can see.
Now, obviously there are exceptions to this rule, the main two that spring to mind are basecoats and washes. These layers on any model are, as a rule, messy and part of the creative process, giving you definition or a foundation with which to expand. Just remember, these can and will improve the quality of your work, but unless you clean this up when finishing up your model, it'll still leave the model looking unfinished.
2. Avoid relying too heavily on drybrushing
This is a step that everyone I know has been guilty of at some point or another, including me - painting your army almost entirely by drybrushing. It's an understandable solution to the old age problem of not having an army painted quickly enough, the drybrushing covers quickly and catches the edges of models well. However, if it is well painted models you're looking for, avoid this urge. The reason is simple:
- Drybrushing gives a very dusty look and, unless you're painting dried mud or something similar, it doesn't look natural (see example 2, below).
- Drybrushed colours tend to look very dark without many, many layers (see example 3, below).
In example 2, we see two Necrons painted in two different methods. The one on the left was painted simply by 3 drybrushed coats of metal in escalating brightness on straight black undercoat, whilst the one on the right was painted with the method I posted up 3 months ago. You will notice the Necron on the left looks very two dimensional colourwise, and quite scratchy, whereas the Necron on the right looks more three dimensional and smooth.
In example 3, we see two Ultramarines. The one on the left was painted with 2 or 3 heavily drybrushed layers of Ultramarine Blue over black undercoat, whereas the one on the right was painted using the method I posted last year. As you can see, the one on the right, again, has a smoother finish and is even a little brighter, which is shocking since the blue used on that model is actually darker than the blue used on the drybrushed model and has 1 less coat.
Now that's not to say you should avoid drybrushing completely, in fact...
3. Learn how to get the best from drybrushing
The problem with drybrushing is purely down to the grainy effect you get from it. Therefore you may very well be surprised to learn that the cape on yesterday's post's Harbinger of Despair was painted almost entirely using drybrushing, but lacks any of the grainy qualities associated with the technique. How was this possible? There are two things to remember when you decide whether or not to use drybrushing:
- Drybrushing always looks better when done over a darker shade of the colour your using. The above example had 3 shades of green (Warpstone Glow, Goblin Green and Moot Green in that order) drybrushed over a basecoat of Orkhide Shade.
- Glazes and Washes do wonders to blend colours together and remove any grainy parts of the model. Glazes also do a fantastic job of really making colours look more vibrant.
4. ALWAYS shade and highlight
It's the ye olde question - manual highlighting or natural lightning? Manual highlighting as it happens. Painting models is very different to real life objects catching light for a few reasons. Firstly, real life objects are made up of varying materials, whereas models will always be reflective of acrylic paints and undercoat, and secondly, the scales are different. Models are a work of art, they come to life when they show off their details and highlighting.
But shading and highlighting doesn't need to be difficult, far from it. This is where Games Workshop shades and glazes come in. Shades can effectively be applied in one of two ways:
- Basecoat the model, wash the entire model with the relevant shade (generally Nuln Oil, but Agrax Earthshade works well for reds) then go over the model again in a layer colour, avoiding the recesses.
- Apply the shade only to the recesses.
Both these methods work well, try experimenting with both and see which works best for you.
As for highlights, as a general rule of thumb, the more shades of one colour you use to highlight give better results, but only if done right. Applying these in the right quantity takes some practice, but glazes work wonders in blending these to the base colour and making the overall miniature look more vibrant.
5. Practice makes perfect
Unless you are naturally talented, the chances of starting day 1 of your hobby and painting to the same standards as someone like me who has been in the hobby for 16 years is, not unheard of, but very, very unlikely. You need experience to truly know how the brushes flow, how colours work together, what products work best for you, what type of style of look you personally prefer etc. it is very rare that you will know straight away what you want and how you'll get it.
Even if you've been in the hobby for a while and you want to improve, no-one ever gets better without experimenting and getting stuck in. I have a few models that are abysmal failures that I used purely to test out a theory I had, or to test a look before finally stumbling on the look I want. At the end of the day, you won't know how a model will look until you go ahead and do it.
A few final thoughts
As I said at the beginning of the post, I don't think I'm an amazing painter, and I don't use complicated methods to make my models look how they do. I have done some tricky painting and pulled it off, but this has purely been down to practice, getting my eye in, learning to steady my hand. For the first time in 16 years I have shown everyone a picture of my very, very first model for one, simple reason.
Many people see other hobbyist who are better than them at painting by far, and it can put people off the hobby. By putting a picture of my first steps into the hobby, I hope to inspire you all to pick up that paintbrush and practice, I was likely worse than most when I started!
One of the things I love most about the hobby is seeing other peoples works, seeing how their style and vision differs from my own. We are all overly critical of our own works, but to judge your own work harshly in comparison to someone else's is not the way forward. Everyone has their own style, and it should stand out as your own.
I'd like to say just one more thing before I end this post. I have recently been scoping out the work of kids younger than I was when I started in the hobby, how they paint, what they envision and some paint way better than I did when I was older than them. Because they get stuck in, because they want to experiment. That is how we all get better. That is how I got better also.