David Bickley's Wargames Blog

The occasional ramblings of an average gamer, journeyman painter, indifferent modeller, games designer, sometime writer for Wargames Illustrated and host of games in GHQ.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Scale? Size? Painting Standards?

 A while ago I participated in an online forum discussion about differences in heft, height and the like between figures sold in the same range by one well known manufacturer. While the original poster couched his comments as if alerting newcomers to the firm/range it soon became clear it was little more than a moan that one figure was not a clone of the other. Now, I'm long in the tooth and probably set in my ways, but in respect the this old saw I'm probably and surprisingly rather liberal. That may be because some projects of recent years, especially the FRW drove me that way because of figure availability. Indeed 11 different manufacturers have figures in this collection. Recently my excursion into Pendawar has also drawn me to other manufacturers besides the core from Perry Miniatures.

Different firms and sculptors have always taken different approaches to the scale/size issue, they want you to buy their figures after all. When did 25mm figures stretch to 28mm for example? How did they measure the figures when deciding? And of course, neither is a scale either, but rather a size. Some folk seem always to be consumed by angst when considering figure size comparability. It's easy to see why you might worry for example when mixing Crimean War figures from Britannia, Great War Miniatures and Wargames Foundry in one unit. The differences would go beyond the range people might accept. But, in different units in the same game I think folk could be more comfortable.

Why? Well we see the game as a whole at playing distance, often standing above and back from the troops on the tabletop. When painting figures though we see them close up, warts and all, where differences seem to be exaggerated. A recent acquisition here in GHQ have been two new units for my ACW Union army, respectively from Crusader and Sash & Sabre. The rest of my army is almost exclusively by Dixon Miniatures, quite different size, heft and style. Very noticeable side by side but invisible on the tabletop ~

Dixon Miniatures on the left, Sash & Sabre on the right, 1st Corps mounted officer, I think, to the rear. The point I'm hoping to make is that unless your hobby is mainly painting wargames figures then the way to view figures is on the tabletop battlefield in a game.
Of course we all have preferences and favourite firms/sculptors/styles and that is to be expected, but to worry unnecessarily over toys in a game takes this to a new level of pointlessness. Scale or Size, call it how we may, is a subjective view from an individual perspective; to try to bring others to your view is like herding cats, difficult and ultimately pointless. Buy and play with what pleases you, there are no Gaming Police waiting to pounce!
This extends to painting styles and standards too. One visitor to GHQ once asked me to teach him to paint like I did. Once I'd recovered from the shock of anyone thinking my efforts worthy of replication I was forced to admit that it was the product of almost fifty years of trial and error compounded by changing fashions in the hobby and new paint products. In short, just keep on trying, abandoning what doesn't work and building on what does as you go. Helpful, well no I'd guess, but the only way forward nevertheless. The web is awash with examples, styles and tips all helpful in their way, but equally daunting perhaps to many. Hence the rise of the 'Dip' shading method of recent years promising more nuanced results without the necessary artistic talent and time.  The answer for many I'm sure, in fact Phil and I were using it on medieval figures in the early 1980's using Sepia Artist's Ink as the wash!
What I am hoping my reader has got from this is that this is a hobby and meant to be fun. There seems little point to me in wasting time and effort in unnecessary worry on issues beyond the individual's control. As my father was wont to say, if anyone comments adversely put it down to their ignorance and manners. Your toys, your games, your hobby after all is said and done.


  1. Well said David. I remember when I returned to the hobby after many years, I was actually put off by the superb painting seen in 'White Dwarf' magazine and others, thinking that this was the standard for all gamers! Having some really talented painters at the club didn't help either.

    Some years ago the realisation that as long as it looks OK on the table, then it's fine (to me) was rather liberating. I try to paint to a good, wargames standard, but with 10mm, once at arms length any 'mistakes' simply disappear. 'Backs, bases and flags' as the old adage goes is what makes a difference and what we tend to see of our own units.

  2. Totally agree with your sentiments - my own painting is "ok" I think - others are better, others are worse - there are some examples out there that I think are truly awful but if the owners still get pleasure out of the hobby, thats all that matters isnt it? Scale is a strange thing too - for a long time its been suggested that 15mmis 1/100th - but how could it be - this would make the average height of a soldier 150cm - which is about 5 foot and smaller than my very petite wife! Might have been true in the pre Roman times but not in WW2 or Vietnam!

  3. I particularly relate to differences being invisible on the table-top. Very true.

  4. My style is basecoat the block painting - no highlights or wash. Only extreme difference in scale bother me - I have lots of old, small, 25mm and the difference with the heroic end of 28mm can be a bit difficult. I once bought some of the latter as command figures for Garrison Cataphracts and it did not look right.
    If other people want equalproportions on all their figures that does not bother me - when I don't it should not bother them.

  5. I am in total agreement with comments, painting figures and wargaming is a hobby. I do it for fun and enjoyment, pushing my metal or plastic toys across the table pretending that I am in command of an army is for my pleasure. I am under no misconception that by doing this hobby that I am in any way fit for real military high command, all this is done for the enjoyment of doing it.
    I still have the first metal figures (Hinchcliffe Napoleonic's) I painted at 13, at the time I thought they were the best painted figures ever. Some 50 years later I am still painting and learning new skills and styles all the time. I can paint faster than I did 40 years ago but that is probably due to swapping to acrylics.
    I am with your Dad, my toys my game, my hobby.

    An excellent blog always worth a visit keep up the good work.

    Stay safe and happy gaming,
    Willz Harley.

  6. Agree, also a nice flag or shield transfer is a huge friend.

  7. Totally agree about the difference in units being negligible, I also stick to close enough is good enough for my painting and figures!
    Best Iain

  8. Spot on, lots of wisdom and sense in your post

  9. The saga for the hunt of the perfect 10, well put in it's place Mr. B. It
    it's a toy, nowt more nowt less. If you like it buy it and get on with playing.

  10. Well said indeed David…
    I also feel that a consistent basing and varnish style helps iron out the differences in figure styles

    It is a hobby and how we get pleasure from it is our/your own choice…each to their own.

    All the best. Aly

  11. Nice to read all these replies and realise I'm not out there on my lonesome. Thanks all for taking the time and trouble to read this through and leave your own observations.

  12. I agree with your comments more or less and many of my armies contain mixed manufacturers and the painting style evolution observation rings very true and becomes more notable the older an active collection is, but usually comes out in the wash on the table.