Thursday, January 04, 2007

How to Paint an Army --

First of all, this is not an article about "painting techniques". Rather, it is about an approach to painting a tabletop army.

First -- Have a Plan.

Think before you start painting. How do you want your army to look?

Do you want the infantry all in the same coat color? If so, what color? Or (as with some armies) do you want your battalions to be coated in several different colors? again, if so, what colors?

Are your "Heavy Horse" going to be in the same coat color as the infantry? or something different? and, if so, what color? What about your Dragoons?

Do you want every rank-and-file figure in a unit to have the same pose? or all different poses? Both of these are valid choices . . . which one suits you best?

Are you going to copy historical units? or just use colors you like? The time to decide is before you acquire figures or you pick up a paintbrush.

For example, while I'm essentially basing my Saxe-Bearstein army on that of 18th century Hanover, I am making several deviations. My infantry will be red-coated; but one or two battalions will have non-historical facing colors . . . and, of course, my flags are different.

The "heavy horse" again will be more-or-less based on history, with white uniforms (except for the mounted grenadier guards in red-coats). However, historically the dragoons were also in white . . . and I wanted a different look for them. Thus they will be in yellow-brown coats (except for the dragoon guards in black).

So, before I've painted a figure, I already have my "concept" planned. What's yours?

Second -- Keep Records

Make up an "index card" for every unit you paint. Record the brand and name/number of every paint you use on the unit.

This means that, at a later date, if you need to replace a figure; or add more figures to the unit; or do some touch-ups to some figures; or just want to copy something . . . you will have the necessary records!

Another good thing to record on the index card are the dates you start painting the unit and the date you finish them. (This helps encourage more painting)

Third -- "Identify" your Figures

I always paint the "bottom-side" of my figures' bases a distinctive color (usually the facing color). This not only makes sorting things out easier, but also provides a base for my initials.

Yes, I suggest that you get a "Sharpie" or other "permanent marker" (these are easier to use than paintbrushes) and put your full initials on every figure. Besides making unit identification easier, this helps prevent someone from mistakenly scooping up one of your figures as their own.

Fourth -- Consistent Basing

One of the things that really helps "tie" an army together is consistency of basing. There are many differing ideas as to what good bases should look like. I have mine; you have yours . . . they may be the same or very different.

But whatever type of basing you prefer, use it consistently (and use the same color paints or flocking) throughout your army. We've all seen "armies" with mis-matched bases . . . and it just doesn't make a good impression.

Also, when selecting colors for your units, keep the flocking in mind. You usually do not want to paint your units in a color that blends into the base color.

Fifth -- Plan Your Palette

Some colors go well together. Some don't. Before you paint, remember Step One from above . . . Think!

Use some scrap cardstock and use splotches of the colors you're planning on using. Use big splotches for a bunch of coat colors, then when that's dry paint a small blotch of "facing colors" on the big "coat blotches". See what you like; and what you don't. Adjust.

Also, some cavalry units might have fairly similar facing colors . . . well, when I'm faced with that, I make sure that I give the two units very different colors of horses. You can also use belting or weapon color, etc.

Sixth -- K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, sir!

Do NOT be tempted by painting contest winners. What we are painting are UNITS. We look at them on the tabletop from some feet away.

Most detail is lost from this distance. Too many colors "muddy" the look of units. Use as few colors as you feel comfortable on each unit (and remember to list them on the index card).

Sure, spend some extra time on "command figures" (i.e., generals); but most rank and file guys just need to be assembly-lined.

Perfection is over-rated . . . just get them done!

-- Jeff


marinergrim said...

I quite agree with the basing concept. Uniform basing (and often a well presented base can lift an average painted figure to look like a good painted figure)is a key factor to my troops. All my new figures have the same, relatively simple, base scheme and look so much better for it on the table.
I always have an idea of how I want a unit to look before I start painting it and I am quite happy to search for inspiration across genres, ranges, painters and manufacturers - including fantasy and sci-fi game systems.

Anonymous said...

Very thorough and well thought out advice.


MurdocK said...

1st = Plan, always a good idea...but better if you are going to set out for a campaign to envision the starting battles and plan out to have some troops to start with the battle. Next to paint a few line units first, then a gun, then some more infantry, then a horse unit (dragoons or light horse - not a heavy or guard unit) then maybe a brigade general. Follow this with another pattern of line infantry, arty, infantry (guard or grenadier), horse, General, until all your units are painted.


You will need lots of line infantry, less so artillery or cavalry, also your painting skill will improve over time, so it is better to have some so-so line infantry with better looking generals, and better looking heavy cavalry or grenadiers or guardsmen...which is what will likely happen as your painting skill improves from unit to unit.

2nd = records. Interesting idea...might have some merits. For myself I have no such records, since my paints have all been mixed by me anyway (using tube paints from a variety of manufacturers).

3rd = marking. I have seen others whom have done would be very difficult and time consuming for me since all of my minis are on fender washers and stand alone on each base...I'll have to think about it.

4th = basing. With the new system I am composing of magnets and metal stands this will not be an issue, and since I can always make new base stands to change to whatever system takes my fancy in the future I can then 're-base' my units within minutes of arrival at the game...

5th = pallette. interesting idea, though if you are working around 'historical' armies (with different flags) this problem is mostly taken out of your hands. One thing that I have thought of is ID of units by color on the tabletop. Since the Napoleonic French regiments were essentially all the same in uniform color and the distinctions were marked on the shako badges it makes coming up with a color scheme hard. What I settled on was using red grenadier distinctions on some units, using white cords on the shako for another, using green or yellow plumes (like the Voltigeur companies) for other units. This way I have whole regiments that are painted as Voltiguers, but it matters not since they behave as a regular line unit - just having a color distiction that I can pick out at a glance. Being consistent with this sort of identification painting is really valuable, especially if you have a limited number of mini poses and lots of units to try and assemble.

6th = KISS I totally agree with this sentiment, as it is when you have the masses assembled on the table that the real effects can be seen. While it can be fun to have 1 or 2 units or a half a dozen or so generals that are really great works of art, this is entirely overkill for the 100's of minis needed for the line troops. Just assemble them and get em painted - even if only in basic colors! Once you have 'em on the table that is when the effects will really wow the crowd!

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

Great pointers Jeff! I really enjoy reading this kind of posting/article.

Enjoy rhe day,


Anonymous said...

Nicely presented concepts here. Worth looking at for old gamers (ahem, like me) or new ones, especially those starting a new period.

Do you happen to have a blank copy of the graphic you used for working up your uniform colors? I think it's a great idea and I wasn't sure if you picked it up off of the web and modified it or had some templates already made.