Tuesday 20 August 2013

Rick Priestley On Painting Standards

In a June post regarding wargames magazines I mentioned (in rather rude terms) my views on what I consider the excessively high standards to which some wargames figures are painted these days. I thought it worth highlighting that none other than Rick Priestley has been writing about the same thing in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine. Many thanks to the producers of WSS for making this particular piece of writing available online.

A worried man.

The article is an excellent one and well worth reading. As you might expect, whilst Rick seems to have some doubts about how things are going, he is much more positive and circumspect than myself. But what is one to think when a wargamer with Rick's high standards ends up writing "now I sometimes despair of picking up the paintbrush and showing the results to my fellow gamers"? Sad indeed. 

Rick's insider's view informs us of a major reason for the trend in wargaming figures that are just too good. I wrote in my post that "dedicated figure painters have much to answer for", blaming hobbyists for the tendency. Rick indicates that commercial pressures must bear much of the blame (assuming you believe 'blame' is the right word). It seems launching and sustaining new and existing ranges can only be done if the figures are shown as individual subjects painted to the highest possible professional standard, regardless of how much it might cost. 

The barrage of such images online and in magazines inevitably buttresses the view that this is the standard we must all strive for. To anyone who holds that view, my response is, balderdash. But make your own mind up. To this end, I recommend this blog post, which is a good one, although I tend to disagree with it. Certainly, if Mr Priestley is having doubts (even polite ones), I think we have confirmation that this is a subject worth airing. And I would like to encourage as many gamers as possible to ignore the deviation into 'miniature works of art' and to paint their figures to what is often called 'a good wargames standard'. And be proud of it. Let the producers of over-painted and over-costly figures be the ones to despair. 

Block painters of the world unite!


Prince Lupus said...

One reason I now buy a lot of 1/72 plastic is being "scared" of spoiling exquisite/expensive 28mm works of art.

James Brewerton said...

Interesting post I fall some where in between I do not see the need to paint to display std for all figures but I do like more than just basic block work. But as a commission painter I have to say I like giving gamers the joy of well painted armies
Peace James

Keith Flint said...

Prince Lupus - checked out your blog and loved the old school look you've adopted. Have added you to my list of favourites.

James - wise words. You're quite right of course. I just get carried away sometimes.

Steve J. said...

When playing Mordheim about 10 years ago, I did paint the lovely figures to a very high standard. However I spent more time painting than gaming. These days a good wargaming standard is fine for me (and my eyes). As long as everything is neat and consistent I'm more than happy.

One down side of this trend to superbly painted figures is that the magazines seem loather to show off different size figures, as they don't look as good in their magazines.

I know this from chatting to the 'in-house' WI photographer. Although he sees many good games and well painted figures at shows, they simply do not photograph well enough for the magazine. Shame really as there are other sizes than 28mm.

GaryA said...

Back in the early 70's there was an unofficial rule in the Manchester Area Wargames Society that you couldn't use unpainted figures (many new gamers with WIP armies!). I'd hate to think that the reverse could become the norm: you can't use well/nicely/beautifully painted figures. In any case, once a person's bought the castings surely he/she can paint them to whatever standard and in whatever style they like? In any case, people build up wargame armies for a variety of reasons, not all of which are purely to game. Many people get enjoyment from painting the figures (some strange people even like basing them). Surely it;s all a question of taste?

Millsy said...

I'm slightly mystified as to why seeing wonderfully executed figure painting in magazines is causing so much apparent angst (at least in certain individuals).

The quality of the work itself, publication thereof and the corresponding feelings of inadequacy some feel are no different that any other facet of daily life. I can't play football like Steven Gerrard, nor can I paint like Turner.

However, I'm NOT going to let that stop me having a go, nor doing it whatever way I'm comfortable with. Neither will it stop me blogging my efforts for the world to see. Hopefully whatever commentary I receive is of a positive or at the very least constructive nature. If it isn't, hopefully my own sense of self-worth will carry me through and I'll keep doing what I want and b@gger the trolls.

Nil desperandum carborundum illegitimi.

marinergrim said...

I'm not the best figure painter. I'm not the worst. My style has taken thirty years of work and still keeps improving and carries on adapting to the ever improving quality of the sculptures we are provided with. My aspirations are high but targets realistically lower. I see nothing wrong with being presented with works of art for the tabletop. However that doesn't and shouldn't mean that we stop at a "painting by numbers" standard. The hobby is diverse enough to cater for all tastes and standards. The only rule in our club (Grimsby Wargames society) is that there should be no unpainted figures - every other standard is fine.

Keith Flint said...

Many thanks for all replies. One reason I like to sound off is to stimulate discussion.

I guess I find an over emphasis on painting distracts from the actual game - but that's just my view of wargaming. I guess I'm a bit strange in not wanting to improve my painting standard - I don't have the time or motivation.

Thanks again to all.

Fraxinus said...

Same thing in aircraft modelling magazines they are now full of brilliant photos of brilliant models covered in resin and photo etched extras that costs 5X the original plastic kit....I have stopped buying those magazines entirely as they put me off ever modelling again!

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Keith - too right - case in point - current issue of Miniature Wargames - article on painting British colonial suitable for WWI in Palestine etc. the guy used three shades on each *panel* of the pith helmet... loonatic...... :o)

Archduke Piccolo said...

As one whose eyesight has become a little problematic with age, I can't 'do' the ultra-high standard anyhow, but I'll do the best I can.

But here's a thing. I follow quite a few wargaming blogs, whose standard of presentation varies widely in terms of skill in application or modelling. Often I find the most appealing pictures are those that many might find crudely presented and roughly finished. For some reason what I'm looking at seems so much more 'accessible', or the presenter's imagination has gone into something other than the look of the soldiery or the terrain pieces.

I'll admire the works of art as they deserve. But I'll spend as much time looking at the less 'finished' work of those with other priorities.

Ross Mac said...

There are some excellent painters out there but I'm afraid I don't count heavily delineated over emphasized figures amongst the well painted figures.

However, I have no problem with magazines and websites showing some examples of diorama like wargame setups and the highest standards of military modelling as well as they also show as many examples of more common set ups and more basic painting to remind people of what the majority of games look like.

"The hobby" seems to want to rate games and gamers based on modelling presentation, (perhaps driven in part by suppliers of men and materiel as well as those trying to make a living out of doing the work for those who don't wish or who are unable to do it themseves?) I'd rather rate them on the frequency, enjoyment and, possibly, originality of the games they play.


Adrian said...

Block painter here, and proud of it, kind of. I've tried some of the 'magical methods' notably dipping and can't say that I think much of them. I might be doing it wrong, but it's not magic for me.

I've tried the multi-shade/highlight method (Dallimore method or whatever you want to call it) and it just takes too damn long to finish even one figure at 28mm. You're basically painting the same guy 3 times. I like looking at other people's figures but for me being a slow painter trying to get an army on the table it's not worth it.

Anonymous said...

To get to playing quickly, I took my FOW army, sprayed the whole thing US green and them dusted them with Testors window tint spray. It runs into the grooves and pits and gives it detail. Guys at Hobbit Hobbies Fayetteville were happy with it and let me play.

Pupeekika said...

I started painting miniatures in 1978. Yes I have reach the dreaded middle years. Our group had a a rule. No paint no play. But, paint meant three colors. Coats, pants, flesh and you are on the table. In recent years I find myself trying to duplicate what I see in the magazine articles and web sites. I have improved and am satisfied with where I am. But, a block painted army is fine by me. I tell new players who come over that you can track my painting by looking over my armies. The old ones are blocked out and the newer they are the more experimental my paint. This is because painting in the evening has become easier to arrange than a off to play. Great article BTW>

James said...

It's basic marketing though, isn't it? "Sell the sizzle, not the steak!" as the old advertising adage goes. Sell them the dream of gorgeous armies and then they'll buy, since most wargamers figures probably never get painted really!

But yes, it does become a problem if the glossy pics make a fellow feel so inadequate that he never tries.

Melanchthon said...

I paint my command and "front rank" troops to a higher standard then the rest. Even then, the fancy details can hardly be seen or noticed when playing a game.

I love to paint, but I've stopped trying to make every figure stand out, especially when I still have 100 Mexicans yet to paint for the Alamo! said...


I paint miniatures now for 30 years. I am an ex GW employee and i was responible 5 years in a row to find the finalists on the german games day. so i was INTERESTED in painting technics and i INFORMED myself about new ideas and technics in painting. So my skills grew and grew and now as my painting Service is 1 year old i can say i have seen very very often high Standard painted miniatures on gaming tables. You must open your eyes and check the tutorials on the high Standard painters Blogs. I learned a lot from reading them and then tryouts.
So when you open your eyes and see those lil tricks the high Standard painters use you can see that it is much easier to paint higher Standards as you actually believe in.

Open your eyes and try out thoe tutorials from MASSIVE VOODOO Blog and you will find the way to do it good and quick.

ist all easier you think so jump over your shadow and just do it :D

or have you been able to drive car without any Input or leading or tryout ? No

so easy it is

Try it

Jay's Wargame Painting

Keith Flint said...

Michael, thanks for your comment, and I appreciate your enthusiasm. Unfortunately I am a lost cause.

In response to your driving analogy, I would say I'm very happy to be driving my family saloon but don't intend to invest any money or time in learning to drive a racing car!

Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Keith Flint said...

James - 'Sell the sizzle, not the steak'. You're right. That encapsulates some of my reservations on this issue.

Stephen Haran said...

Well I'm an average painter, average wargamer that's been into the hobby for nigh on twenty years. I can honestly say that the images in magazines did influence me as a teen however I've learnt a few things since then. One off those being the magic of photoshop ( my wife is a graphic designer). It's actually quite disgusting how much it is used to "tart" up photos rather than just correcting them. I understand some of the arguments that others have quoted however my only real concern is for the immature gamers that don't even attempt to paint their models because they can't achieve the "pro" look.

When reading WSS I like the fact that some of the articles are from gamers who don't have armies painted to a pro standard, it shows that people are human.

All of us love a good bit of eye candy, however I much prefer to see it in the flesh ( shouldn't that be in the lead?) as you can really inspect the figure and get an idea of the techniques used.

And finally great blog Keith, and hats off to all the commission painters!

Warpainter said...

I'm one of those responsible, being a full time painter and selling on eBay (War-painter) since the earliest days of eBay and have seen huge advances in quality since then.

But hey we have to pay our bills too which for us means constantly striving to be better than the other guys selling on eBay. BTW Most people wouldn't get out of bed for the wages painters earn.

If you can't paint then block paint and use a 'wash' which should give very good results. Good basing makes a huge difference in the look of figures and can make bad figures look great or very bad basing can make good figures look mediocre.

My advice to people who find painting a real chore is to spend those hours doing overtime at work and buy what you want ready painted.

Lea (war-painter)

Mike said...

Very interesting stuff! I'm a far from enthusiastic painter who's energy has been revitalised by products like Army Painter. They allow a 'block' painter like me to look good. I was one of those who haven't picked a paint brush in years...Advertising aside, I feel it's very important that we respect and encourage each and everyone's efforts and contributions to the hobby regardless of painting ability - it's supposed to be fun!

Over Open Sights said...

"Loonatic" I may be, but I am happy in my madness.

Phyllion said...

To each their own: some are hyper-competitive tournament gamers. Some paint exquisite works of art. Many of us fall between the extremes. But everyone should be allowed to enjoy their hobby howsoever they may choose.

I see no problem at all in the professionalisation of the hobby: if anything it shows to me that it is in rude health.

Anonymous said...

Probably just mad you can't paint to that standard. Otherwise I don't see any reason for even bringing up the subject.

Keith Flint said...

Phyllion - thanks for your comment. Your phrase 'professionalisation of the hobby' is striking, and new to me.

I appreciate what you mean when you say that this can be a positive thing. On the other hand, in an age when sharing is easier and more effective than ever, does professionalisation lead to hobbyists who want to sell to you rather than share? Is sharing better than selling, when it is possible in a niche hobby like ours?

Willie Anderson said...

As someone who enjoys painting sometimes and who employs others to paint constantly I don't see what the problem is.
When I was younger I would be inspired by well painted miniatures a lot them being painted for ads in the war games mags by professionals. I also found them useful to try and copy different techniques. said...

As a professional painter i can say that as a young lad i was inspired by what i would see in the Gaming magazines and i wanted to try and emulate what i saw. I personally see no issue with gaming magazines and miniature sellers showing off their products in the best light they can. over the last 20 odd years the war gaming industry has grown from strength to strength and the quality of figures and publications has never been so good. Nice looking products isn't the issue for the war gaming hobby its recruitment! Kids aren't scared off war gaming because they see great looking models - they just want everything the easy way and so are driven to PC and console gaming because its instantly gratifying. And lest be honest very stimulating. All hands on hobby's like modelling and war gaming, trains and other such fantastic past times aren't as interesting to modern children as they have the internet and other hi tech things in their faces from the youngest of ages. They need to be shown the fun that can come from painting and war gaming and expressing their creative sides. GW does a great job of getting the young kids excited. We just need to figure out how to keep them interested past their teenage years.

Unknown said...

3D figures shouldn't need shading. A very dear friend of mine used to use highlighting to suggest polished boots rather than just gloss varnishing them, which I considered pure madness. The best looking figures I ever pained, to my mind, were painted with the sludge from the bottom of the enamel tin and then had the boots, etc. gloss varnished: at 25mm the texture of the paint looked just right for cloth. IIRC George Gush did something similar. I've since lost the courage to eschew varnishing. For me, paintwork should be effective when playing the game. Black undercoating, for instance, which I find easier, tends to make the figures disappear into the terrain, particularly with 15's; gloss varnishing helps them stand out. Peter Gilder wrote that a matt object poorly represents a living object and I can see his point (he with gloss for WW2 but gave a matt coat to his ACW stuff). What looks good in use can be different from what looks good under scrutiny or in a photo. That said, painting my nephew's fantasy stuff I used three layer shading and found it easier than my neurotic style of block painting.

Kev said...

Great looking figures on a great looking table, erm LOOK GREAT.
I myself paint for other gamers, I paint their figures better than I do my own.
This is simply because I need to get my own figures done so I can game with them.
If I had thought about this 20 years ago, I would deffo fall in the camp of, "works of Art".
Now though, I can honestly say, that with my fading eyesight and the urge to play with what is still sat on my paint bench, I fall in the "Just get it done" camp.
It's all about the gaming now for myself.
I enjoy playing with the little soldiers far more than just looking at them.

Unknown said...

As if the painting standards thing isn't enough. I was answering a question about base heights for 2mm figures when someone piped in about embarrassment of " your bases not being as good as everyone else "
I've been away from clubs for 20 years and hope this kind of snobbery doesn't exist.
What happens if you turn up with your old Minifigs painted with enamels on plain flocked bases ?

Keith Flint said...

Now then Kodiak, I'll have you know my figures are always block painted at least partly with enamels and always come on plain flocked bases. Plain flocking is the way forward in basing techniques, as far as I'm concerned.

Fortunately I have never been the subject of any disparaging comments. Most people seem to quite like my minimalist, old school style. Or maybe they're just being polite.

But further to your comment, there is a 4 page article on basing in WSS 68 (just out). Naturally, it wasn't of much interest to me;)

Unknown said...

Come come Keith,

Plain Painted bases are the only way to represent the beautiful lawns all Armies fought on.

I suspect the use of Flock is to hide figures glued outwith stipulated spacing or dare I say hand made bases cut oversized and off the square.

Must dash 2400 2mm Hoplites to lavishly paint in the 1/2hr before bed.

Keith Flint said...

These days all my bases are bought from Warbases and are perfectly cut.

I have nothing to hide but my laziness and incompetence.

Unknown said...

To my shame I use pre cut bases as well. Though my shame runs really deep not only am I a joiner to trade but live in Falkirk where Warbases hail from, and buy mine from Leon at Minibits.

Roger Nilson said...

I'm completely furious. Lets start a company and gear it to sell starter sets that are very expensive. Then we will put "exquisite" photo's of miniatures in a magazine that are way out of the skills of a beginning painter and then turn our backs on them...raise prices...and keep our marketing ploy geared to that kid having a temper tantrum in the local GW store cuz his parents don't want to shell out 250 bucks?!? This is a situation HE and GW created. Wargamers and painters just found a way to adapt. He needs to give his head a shake and look back to those days and reflect a bit.
Roger Nilson

Raglan said...

I think the internet has a lot to do with increasing expectations. Wargamers are bombarded with images of great looking miniatures and therefore the bar is set higher, whether this is subconscious or not.

stevejstrick said...

I am a mediocre painter, but the images of other figures do not discourage me. They inspire my dreams.

Stephen Gilbert said...

VERY interesting topic.

Here is my penny`s worth (written long ago on my own site).

Dwarfy Mcgee said...

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