On one of the two wargames Forum Boards I joined I've recently contributed to a discussion about brushes. This got me to thinking about issues surrounding the general issue of painting wargames miniatures. Having been doing this pretty steadily for 50 years I thought I'd have a go explaining my own approach as it's evolved, particularly over the last few years as issues surrounding aging have come to the fore.
First, a little personal history is in order I think to provide context. Like many of my generation, the baby boomers of the post war period, I grew up amongst a father and uncles who had served in WWII and a mother and aunts who had worked on the Home Front in industry and agriculture. An interest in things military seemed a natural part of life, collecting and playing with Britains and Timpo WWII figures and Corgi and Dinky WWII vehicles. Battles raged across carpets, the cobbled yard and the garden, depending on season and weather!
From that beginning interest was further developed by building Airfix kits and collecting their soft plastic OO/HO boxes of soldiers. Increasing pocket money and paper round earnings saw me branch out into larger scale plastic figure kits, by Airfix at first and later the occasional Historex kit. It was at this stage, newly married and in our first home in Walsall, that I first encountered 25mm Hinchliffe metal Napoleonic figures which I bought in the now long gone Model Shop (Grainger's?) to collect and paint for a change. Wilf Upton, who worked there, on Saturdays I assume, suggested I might join Alumwell Wargames Society. I went along one Wednesday evening with no great preconceived notion of what I might encounter. I saw my first Napoleonic game and was hooked for life! 50 years later I find myself painting Napoleonic figures still, though I've ventured all over the globe and through history in the meantime.
So, putting that aside, back to where I started with painting. At first it was Humbrol enamels, the smell of White Spirit brush cleaner, and rows of 24 infantry figures being batch painted: pink flesh, block painting, no shades or highlights, shiny yacht varnish brushed on. Some time in the late 1970's I discovered Plaka acrylic paint in the local Art Shop and enamels were consigned to history. About the same time the idea of black lining must have caught up with me, then added shading and the highlighting of flesh areas. I first did the latter I remember on a unit of Pecheneg horse archers! I remember because I was asked by a fellow club member what it was meant to be!
From Plaka I graduated to Colour Party acrylic paint, which I stayed with for years learning to shade, often using artists' inks, and to highlight. Always finding it helpful to chat with club members, look closely at display games at shows and then pour over colour pictures in hobby magazines: Battle for Wargamers; Practical Wargamer; Miniature Wargames; and lastly Wargames Illustrated! Finally graduating to first Valajo and now Foundry Paints.
So, what if anything have I learned? I'll borrow from Lord of the Rings if you'll indulge me: I've been there and back again. The exponential growth of access to high quality images of figures and games through the number of hobby magazines and then the internet and the world of online blogs and forum boards has driven me and many others I expect to ever increasing efforts to 'improve' the finals appearance of our figures. You'll notice I say figures rather than armies? That's been the core issue for me I think on reflection, too much exposure to finely finished individual or small groups photographed in close up and looking far larger than their 25/28mms in reality.
It has caused me in the last few years to question why such a level of effort and detail is necessary in painting armies, unless of course painting is your major focus in the hobby. I was almost lost to the painting fascists, as I've dubbed them, to be honest before I came to see what I was doing to myself. I realised I was morphing slowly and almost unaware into a 'painter who wargamed rather than the 'wargamer who painted' I needed to be if projects were ever to reach the table. This revelation if you like came to me when I was working on Perry Miniatures British figures for the Sudan. They seemed to take me for ever! How would I fare when it came to the Mahdists?
The figures remain in my opinion the very finest I've ever managed, but they took so long I almost gave up several times! So, when it came to the Mahdists it was back to block painting, ink washing and one highlight in the details. Much quicker! And on the tabletop battlefield? Well, they looked fine to me.
So, I'm a born again painter of wargames figures using a block colour, one highlight and some ink washes. But for all the recent disruption in life I'd probably have gone over to GW contrast paints for man and horse flesh at least. I may even when we open up a bit more from this virus malarky! The key for me at any rate as I've said in an earlier blog post is how the army looks when I'm gaming. I might say at the bottom line you could spray one side pink and the other puce if you wanted and noone minded to play the game. But we do like our toys to look something like in the final analysis don't we?
So I've settled for 'something like' as my ambition when it comes to painting. Partly of course that's been driven by aging issues of eye and hand, but I've come to live with those. I enjoy my painting, even when it's curtailed by these very issues. Friends and blog followers remain relatively positive about my efforts, the figures feature in my Wargames Illustrated articles, they will do as Phil says! I've been helped towards this by many folk but also by the availability of wonderfully detailed flags, shield transfers and endlessly varied basing materials and decoration. The overall result, I think, looks fine in a wargame context but would never win any prizes in a painting competition (would it Dan?) I'm happy where I am with my hobby now, just sorry in a way it was such a drawn out journey. The moral you ask? Don't beat yourself up over standards you can't attain reasonably, there are no Painting Gestapo waiting to knock on your door. As is said, To thine own self be true!