Sunday, July 18, 2010

Warhammer 40k: The Half-Assed Wargame

I've had a squad of Games Workshop Space Marines kicking around in my stash of miniatures for a couple years that I finally dug out and started to paint. In looking through the various chapter options I could paint, I decided to go for Dark Angels--I liked the bizarre hybrid of armor and monastic style. I paint them a lovely shade of primarily dark green, and start thinking, do I want to actually build up an army? What else would I get and/or want?

This leads me to poking around on the internet and finding out that, first, there was a major revamp to the Space Marines in general about three years ago, but the Dark Angels chapter wasn't really made up to date as well. The miniatures line for the Dark Angels lacks a number of unit types which would take a lot of work to model. They've never really bothered making the chapter rules fit with the current edition. It's kind of an eternal cycle of making things work for one faction, then the next, and never really building a coherent, unified, here-is-how-all-the-sides-work set of rules. They'll probably get around to fixing up the Dark Angels eventually, but not until they have the miniatures to support it, so until then, they'll pimp other factions and units.

Oh well, I'll put the space marines on the shelf.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Painting With Thinned Paints

For whatever reason, it took me close to a decade to get serious about my painting techniques with miniatures, but now I have, and it took me far too long to figure out how to work with thinned paints.

First off, pretty much every line, regardless of the hype, has paints that are a little too thick for use straight from the container. Personally I'd prefer this was the case, in fact, since I can by thinning materials far more cheaply than I can buy the paints. Right now I am trying what is alleged to be Jennifer Haley's thinning mix: 1:1:2 retarder-to-flow improver-to-water. Usually I'm finding, for base coats, 1:1 works reasonably well with P3, Vallejo, and Reaper Master paints, and for tinting coats, around 3:1 works well, but at this point it's much more dependent on the line or even the individual paint. I've tried washes at very low paint ratios (10:1) and have found it almost too thin, but I'm still working on my patience.

Next, once you have your paint, what to do with it. At first, I had the biggest pain working with these thinned paints: I couldn't control the flow, they'd sweep into crevasses or over other surfaces abruptly. Eventually I became conscious of exactly what I was doing wrong, however, when I watched my subconscious behaviors working with the normal paints. I frequently use the edge of my painting station to wipe excess paint off the brush after dipping it; the reduced paint volume allows for increased control. Once I'd made this connection, I watched the spread of the thinned paints as I stroked the brush against that surface and could easily see that it would start off bleeding every which way, but within a few strokes became controlled. So for now, every time I load the brush, I watch the area I brush until the paint gets to the control level I want.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Miniature Painting: Priming

I'm not sure if anyone will ever see this, but I'm throwing out what I've figured out about miniature priming out there in case it's useful to anyone else.

For years, I would use the standard aerosol primers from Citadel, Foundry, and a few other companies, and overall it was okay, but annoying in places. If you look carefully at some primed figures, you'll see a roughness of texture that isn't the detail of the figure but how the primer dried. This in turn may be caused by poor technique while applying it, atmospheric conditions, or other issues, but I found something I prefer far more.

Plain old acrylic gesso makes for a superb miniature primer. It's something like a mix of acrylic binder, glue, and a strong pigment, very thick in comparison to most miniature paints, though I've never noticed any of the pigment grains distorting the priming surface. It has a few peculiar properties which make it surprisingly good.

Foremost is that it shrinks as it dries--out of the bottle it's quite thick, but it can be immediately brushed onto a miniature with no watering whatsoever and result in a good priming coat. I've found that it's a little too thick to get into the details straight from the bottle, so I tend to add just a little water to thin it, though this tends to accentuate the minor downside of its shrinkage: it tends to pull away from ridges or out of areas where it wasn't thick enough. As a result, gesso priming usually requires two passes. I've read that it should be allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before painting; I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I wait it out, though I might do a second pass early if the unprimed spots become obvious.

Secondly, the actual dried layer of gesso is neatly uniform and pulls nicely into details. It seems less prone to obliterating them than aerosol primers.

Third, it doesn't outgas horrible fumes. No need to find a well ventilated area to apply it in.

Finally, it's not quite as "thirsty" as aerosol primers are, though I've yet to see an issue with the paint not adhering. If you've worked with washes, you may have tried and been dismayed at the failure of washing a freshly primed figure--the primer layer tends to negate any levelling of the wash and simply uniformly color the figure. Gesso priming allows for this technique, if you like. I've found even thinned paints will tend to spread out much more than I'd like, making it difficult to control layers until there's enough paint down to suppress that flow.

Other things worth noting: it's more time consuming to apply, but it's far cheaper than the aerosols.