Friday, May 11, 2012

Joy of Painting (Minatures) - Expectations

This post is all about expectations ...  A recent post on the WWPD forums by MinutieaOfWar (POST) got me to thinking about expectations of our painting.  What do we want our troops to look like on the table and how much time are we willing to spend to get there.  MinutieaOfWar's (MoW) work is breathtaking, but at what cost?  He says it took him a VERY long time to do the painting, but he focuses almost exclusively on the sheer enjoyment of the painting and modeling and not playing.  Taking a long time to get troops on the table to play or getting a quickie paint job so you can play faster with painted  models is a tough choice to make.  We all want our troops to look good on the table.  Now comes the part on expectations.  What it all boils down to is range.  Do you expect the Army to look good from 6 inches away?  1 Foot away?  2 Feet away? 3 feet away?  If you think of the typical gaming distance the closest you are to your models is typically 2 feet away.  Take my SS Panzer Grenadiers for instance.

From 2 feet away (roughly the distance in the Picture) you can barely make out their camo patterns, but they look good. You know they are camouflaged SS...Now, when I pull the model closer or get down closer to see the "troops-eye" view of the battle (Admit it, you do it too) can see the detail.


Knowing the distance from which you want your army to look good, can help you be a better painter. 

Back in the 80s when I first started painting and playing miniatures, it was with bold, bright colors and a gloss finish for the figures.

For Flames of War, it has moved to a more tactical look ... matte finish with shading and highlighting.  There are 2 very broad camps in painting and each camp has the same 2 sub-types.  The "major" distinction for the camps is from how far away does the model typically looks "good."   The first camp is the "Cartoony" camp.  I mean no disrespect; this is what a lot of them call the style.  One of the best at this is Chevalier de la Terre (CdT) (Cracdeschevaliers).  The man is a God of this style.  I admire the hell out it.  The Cartoony style maximizes the use of edge highlighting with brighter colors, blending and/or blacklining.  You also see very little metallic colors being used. You look at CdT's work up close and it could almost come out of a comic book.  This style is typically good for a "1 foot or more army"... meaning it looks best from about 1 or more feet away (your typical playing distance).  The distance allows the hi-lighting to blend in with the other paint colors for a realistic effect.  Up close though, they can look a little "off." The masters of this though can make these a 6 inch or less army (i.e. CdT).  To get a "cartoony" effect for a 6 in ch army requires a lot of blending and layers and takes time...more on that in a minute.   The other camp is the "Realistic" camp.  Here you see a lot shading, subtle hi-lights, metallic colors, etc.  These models tend to be darker than the Cartoony style as well.  These units look great from far away to as close as 6 inches, but the effects are best viewed up close.  Let me stress one point here ... units from both camps look good at a gaming distance of 1-2 feet and from 3 feet you can't tell the difference between them.

Now each camp also has the same 2 sub-types...The Tortoise and the Hare. The Hare wants to burn through figures as quickly as possible and put painted lead on the table.  They will sacrifice detail for time.  The Tortoise, as you would expect, wants to spend time to put as much detail as possible on the figure...they tend to treat each model/figure as a work of art.  They will do lots of little detail work..They will paint eyeballs, the grain of the wood on rifles, etc...  The Hare will "color outside the lines" while the Tortoise will make sure edges are blended and flow into each other and use multiple layers of thinned paints build depth in a color.  From 3 feet away, however, it's hard to tell the difference between the two of them.  Is one better than the other?... not really...its all what YOU feel about what you put on the table.  I'd wager that most of us lie somewhere in between the 2 extremes.   

So where am I leading with all this?  Well, if you know what camp you are in where you are on the Tortoise/Hare continuum, you will have an idea of what "look" you are trying to achieve.  This is important because it lets you know when the model is done and helps keep the Army looking uniform.  If you don't know what you are looking for, then you will bounce around adding more detail here and less over there or switching style camps, etc. This will lead to a very disjointed looking Army....and leave you unhappy with that Army.  

Even back in the 80s and 90s when I was cranking out my units I wasn't happy with the overall Army.  I wanted more subtlety and detail.  But the group I was in didn't look at things that way. and I was young and new to the hobby so I complied. I didn't realize then, but I was a closet Realist.  It took me a while to fully understand the 2 camps and where I fit.  Now, I know that I am in the Realistic Camp and have a tendency to being Tortoise...maybe a Tortoise with running shoes ;-)  Knowing where I sit, I find that I can crank out units I am happy with and achieve repeatable results and a uniform army in a much smoother fashion....and put painted lead on the table in a reasonable amount of time.
So..what camp are you in?  Are your Hare or a Tortoise?


  1. Good post.

    I identify with your sentiment in the last paragraph, namely to find “where you fit” in terms of painting style. When I started out, I took a lot of inspiration from a few select painters, WPB/Warpainter Brother being the main one. Guys in my gaming group however constantly wanted me to “weather them”, “wash with X”, “dry-brush with X” and so on. Looking back, they really could not paint very well, but as older and (supposedly) more experience, I tried to follow their examples. In doing so, I messed up several units which eventually bugged me enough to re-paint them.

    Following their advice (for a while) I really felt it went against my natural style; attempting to paint like other people suggested actually did more harm than good since I found I could not mimic those painters with really good “natural/realistic” styles. Case in point: Ritterkrieg’s miniatures and vehicles. They are exceptional. A few years back I was trying to achieve something like that and failing miserably. Now, while I really enjoy seeing and admiring his work, I find I just cannot paint the same way. I do “clean/cartoony/call it what you will” because I paint that way naturally and do it OK. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy other styles; some I regard as far better than my own, but one has to find a style and level at which one is comfortable <--- and that is important advice when you’re starting out IMHO.

    So, I guess I’m a Hare, since even when I try to paint fast, something slows me down naturally and I just plod along at my own the blog updates no doubt testify to!


  2. First I have to say "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!". Thanks CdlT. I hope you come around more.

    It's the simplest but hardest thing to do....Knowing where you fit. If you are starting out check out as many different styles as you can....I try to mention the really good ones....see what they do and some will sing to you. Chances are that is your style. Then it boils down to time and distance. How much time will you spend to get the viewing distance you want for your army

  3. This was a really good read and made me think about my painting and what I want from it. I think I am a realist hare in a ferrari and I have recently realized that getting a good looking army at two feet becomes almost as much about basing as the actual figures.

  4. Ahhh basing. The icing on the cake. That is exactly what I was going to be leading with in a few posts when I hit basing. It can make a that 2 foot Army pop and standout amongst the other 2 foot Armies and make it more of a focal piece than a 1 foot army on the table.