Why we paint

Modelling and painting miniatures is the part of the hobby that I spent the most time on by far. It can be a gruelling task, spending your evenings hunched over a small desk working on a never-ending pile of toy soldiers, but I find it’s always worth it when you finally get your latest model or army on the table.

Like almost every other gamer, I’ve watched as my pile of unpainted miniatures has grown larger and larger. I’ve found that this was sapping my motivation – I’d buy something on sale (or, my eternal weak spot, a limited edition miniature) and add it to the end of the queue, then by the time I got to it I found I wasn’t that interested it any more. Kickstarter made this far worse but thankfully it only took me one big pledge to find that out. I felt bad painting something up straight away instead of getting through my old stuff first.

So a couple of years ago I made the decision to not buy anything else until I had everything I owned painted up and ready to use. I sold a lot of miniatures that, once I was honest with myself, I knew I was never going to game with. So all my unpainted Infinity went (including all my limited edition stuff), and all my various Hasslefree, Reaper, and Red Box purchases that I kept making for some ephemeral RPG experience I was collecting miniatures for but never quite knew what it was going to be. I’ve been working through my backlog and now only have a handful of Malifaux and Infinity models left, plus a lot of Space Hulk miniatures. My resolve did crumble somewhat and I ended up with about 300 miniatures for a DBMM army – my excuse was that Foundry were dropping their amazing bulk-buy deals so by doing so I saved myself a few hundred dollars. (Usual excuse!)

Space hulk miniatures

23 Terminators, 42 Genestealers, 1 Broodlord, 1 grail, and yes, 2 CATs. Don’t ask.

So after all that, staring down the barrel of nearly 70 Space Marine Terminators and Genestealers has led me to the surprising decision of getting them professionally painted. Long ago I thought I would never become one of those barbarians who does so – what’s the point of gaming with miniatures that you didn’t paint yourself? This was another me in another time though, a me who had much more free time on his hands, and couldn’t care less if he spent every evening and the entire weekend painting (even if he should probably work on his essays for uni). I’m in a much different space now and I have other things I want to spend time on. I want to be able to spent my hobby time doing the things that I really enjoy, putting together models that I’ve only just bought and enthusiastic about, and not feeling guilty that I haven’t done my “homework” and cleared my backlog first.

Once I made the decision to have them painted by someone else I felt a massive sense of relief. Besides my DBMM miniatures they make up the overwhelming bulk of my remaining backlog – 69 minis compared to about a dozen for everything else. I set about researching who I could get to do them, I wasn’t going to paint them myself but I still wanted them to look at nice as possible! After a few evenings’ research I settled on Awaken Realms in Poland. Their prices weren’t cheap, but pretty reasonable given their quality, and their example work looked very impressive. After a few emails with their team to confirm I spent a few weeks preparing the miniatures and looking up source material before shipping them off half-way around the world.

Awaken Realms

I think I could handle my stuff looking this awesome.

This really got me thinking about my hobby, and why it is that I paint. Do I really enjoy painting that much if it causes me all that anxiety? Or do I get stressed about because I enjoy it? Or is it just because it’s been a big part of my life it for 23 years and I can’t imagine not doing it? I’m so close to it that it seems I can’t think rationally about it, not being able to see the wood for the trees. At times it seems a little daft to think about it that much, but it is something I spend a huge part of my spare time doing so it’s worth taking it seriously. I’ll have a clearer idea once I’ve done two things: totally cleared my backlog (most of a DBMM army still to go…), and played some games of Space Hulk with miniatures I paid to have painted. I look forward to being able to report back.


Painting metal with non-metallic paints

I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing over how to paint the bronze and iron for my Macedonians. Like a lot of people I learnt to paint 28mm scale miniatures from the ‘Eavy Metal articles in White Dwarf, which always promote metallic paints. It’s certainly the easiest to get started with, but as I got into smaller skirmish games like Malifaux and Infinity that allowed more time per miniature I tried my hand at using non-metallic paints to paint metallics. I was really surprised by how easy it was as well as the striking effect that it can give when done right.

I first used NMM techniques on historical models with my SAGA Normans and they looked pretty cool! They were an easy intro though: chainmail is just focussed dry-brushing with greys and whites, and after that it was just conical helmets and shield rims:

Normans 1

Predictably, he’s called Norman.

Normans 2

This guy’s called Archie.

At first I never even contemplated doing NMM on such a big scale as a whole DBMM army – something like 200-300 bronze helmets and 100 large bronze shields. I did some test paints and talked about it with my brother, and figured I might as well give it a go. My test with metallic paints just didn’t pop compared to the non-metallics—perhaps that’s something I’ve got to work on if the NMM drives me round the bend!

So here’s how I painted my shields:NMM shields 1Base coat of VMC Medium Fleshtone.


NMM shields 2Wash with Citadel Reikland Fleshshade.


NMM shields 3Glaze of Medium Fleshtone over the top right of the shield.


NMM shields 4Repeat the wash of Reikland Fleshshade.


NMM shields 5Repeat the Medium Fleshtone glaze, over a slightly smaller area this time.


NMM shields 6Shade with Reikland Fleshshade only over the bottom right.


NMM shields 7Highlight with 4 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part VMC Dark Sand.


NMM shields 8 Highlight with 3 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.


NMM shields 9Highlight with 2 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.


NMM shields 10Highlight with half Medium Fleshtone, half Dark Sand.


NMM shields 11Highlight with 2 parts Ivory, 1 part Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.


NMM shields 12Final step: highlight with Ivory. This is just a small, thin highlight but it is the most important! It has to be small but very bold as that’s what’s going to make the whole thing pop.

I’m happy with the speed of it too: while taking photos of these four I was also painting another 14 and got them all done in half of an evening. It does look like a lot of steps, and it is, but each step gets progressively smaller and smaller so by the time you’re half-way through you’re already ripping through them.

I paint helmets in exactly the same way. I find them a bit easier because you’ve got more details to work with. The more details, the easier it is to make NMM work, because you get more shading and highlights to play around with, and it’s the sharp distinction between those two that makes the effect work.

I quickly blu-tacked the shields onto my mostly completed first batch of pezhetairoi and here’s what they look like:

NMM shields pike block

Afterwards I overpaint the helmets and shields that I’m the least happy with with blue (for helmets) and the taxis colour for the shields. This one’s colour is salmon pink so expect them to look a lot more rosy once I’m done with them!


Next stage of the pezhetairoi is complete: tunics done.


I settled on the colours after reading a Wargames Illustrated that I picked up while on holiday – happened to see an issue all about Alexander the Great so figured it was worth a buy. In one of the articles the author references Rubin Post’s Ancient Warfare vol VI, saying that Ptolemaic soldiers wore 40% red, 18% white, 12% yellow, 12% blue and the remainder in purple, green, grey, and maroon. Seemed like a good place to start even though I’m going for Macedonians rather than Ptolemaic.

All paints are Vallejo Model Color unless stated.


This makes up 40% of the tunics, so 13 of the 32 soldiers in the taxis.

Unfortunately I ended up with a ridiculously complicated recipe, but it’s a lot faster than it looks! It’s based off Meg Maple’s red technique.

Khador Red Base (P3)
Watered-down Skorne Red Shade (P3)
Shade in two steps down to ½ Skorne Red ½ Black Red
Khador Red Base layer again
Highlight twice up with Ember Orange (P3)
Wash with thinned Red Ink (P3) – pull away from the deep recesses
Shade with thinned ⅓ Red Ink ⅔ Black Red
Shade with thinned ¼ Red Ink ¾ Thamar Black (P3)


18%, so 6 of every 32.

Shade down in half steps with Dark Sand, Green Ochre and Beige Brown
½ Dark Sand ½ Ivory


12%, so 4 of 32.

Flat Yellow
Highlight up with Ivory
Shade with Yellow Snow (Secret Weapon Wash)


12%, 4 tunics.

Lothern Blue (Citadel)
Up with Ivory
Shade with Asurmen Blue (Citadel)


One or two tunics this colour.

Sanguine Base (P3)
Highlight up to Skorne Red (P3)
Final highlight about ½ Khador Red Base (P3) ½ Skorne Red


One or two tunics.

Beaten Purple (P3)
Highlight up with Basic Skintone


One tunic this colour.

Olive Green
Highlight with Flat Flesh
Shade with Thraka Green (Citadel)


One this colour.

Mechanicus Standard Grey (Citadel)
Highlight with Dheneb Stone (Citadel)

And I did lie, they’re not quite done! I’ll go over them in one last pass and paint some extra details. I’m not sure exactly what yet, but some will have white trim around the base of the tunic and the sleeves.

But that’s for later, next up is the linen armour. I’m aiming to get them to a really bright white as I’ve always found that a striking part of a Hellenistic army.

State of Macedonia

Here’s where the Macedonians are at:

Macedonians red

I decided to start a whole taxis of pezhetairoi at once, at least until I’ve painted all their tunics. I did this to guarantee that I get a sensible distribution of colour—if I do it two elements at a time I might end up with “the blue guys” and “the yellow guys” inadvertently.

Once I’ve finished their tunics, which involves painting white, yellow, blue, and a smattering of other colours, then I’ll break it back down to two elements at a time for all the fiddly bits.

You can see the shields in the background too. After some experimentation I went for NMM which isn’t as crazy at it sounds! I did something similar for my Norman SAGA warband and it doesn’t take too long and while it’s not the greatest NMM effect I still like it. 🙂

Painting Mediterranean flesh

When painting a miniature I almost always start with the flesh. Not only is it usually the lowest layer of a model, it can also be quite messy. Plus I find it’s the trickiest to get right – if you get the wrong hue or tone it can really throw off the whole piece.

I’m currently painting a Macedonian army for DBMM. I’ve never done an olive skin tone before so I did some extensive research (i.e., the whole first page of Google results) and while there were some people claiming that ancient Macedonians were much closer to northern Europeans than Greeks, the general consensus was that you wouldn’t go far wrong looking at modern Greeks.

I wanted to make my army look the part of olive-skinned peasants that has been trekking through the plains of Asia for the last few years, instead of the traditional Osprey look of generic white fella. So I took a few miniatures and started experimenting with some skin tones. All up I did six tests before I found one that I was happy with.

Step one

First off, paint all the flesh in a mix of ¾ Citadel Cadian Fleshtone and ¼ Vallejo Model Color Medium Fleshtone.

Step two

Into the mix of Cadian Fleshtone and Medium Fleshtone, add the same amount of Vallejo Model Color Flat Flesh. With this colour do a broad highlight, leaving the base coat showing through in most recesses especially on the underside of the limbs, most of the neck, under the knees and the crevice above the calf muscle. Also don’t worry about painting the fingers and toes, these will be painted with a much higher highlight later on.

To be honest this step could probably be skipped and I’m going to try this next batch I do.

step three

Next is straight Flat Flesh. This will look very ugly, but don’t worry, the next step is a back-highlight to smooth it in. Really I should two-brush blend this layer in and save some time, I’ll have to set some time aside to practise the technique.

This layer is just building on top of the previous one, but covering a smaller area. Focus is especially paid to the top of the calves and shins, knee caps, upwards-facing sides of limbs and the extremities of the face. Also pick out the fingers and toes.

Flesh layer 3

step four

This is the back-highlight step, to fade the extreme highlight back into the base tone. I use Flat Flesh mixed with some of the base coat (Cadian Fleshtone with some Medium Fleshtone). I keep adjusting the mix and testing the colour on a miniature, it’s ready when it’s half-way between the  previous step and the one before.

Use this to blend out the harsh jump between the two previous steps. Try not to cover up too much of either step!

You could easily swap step three and four. I choose to do it this way because sometimes by the time I get to the top highlight I find that I haven’t left enough room for it. This way I get to make sure that the top highlight is the right size.

Step five

This is a quick wash with watered-down Citadel Shade Seraphim Sepia, about two parts water to one part shade. This is over the whole area, so use an old brush as it’s not very important.

Step SiX

Nearly finished! Some careful shading with Citadel Shade Reikland Fleshshade. I water this down about 50%.

This is put around all the edges of clothing, into the recesses of the face, under the head, the underside of the arms, between the fingers and knuckles, just under the knee caps, just at the top of the calves, around the ankles, and between the toes.

Final touches

From here I do a final tip highlight of ½ Vallejo Model Color Flat Flesh and ½ Vallejo Model Color Basic Skintone. This I apply in very small areas to highest points of the model especially the nose, chin, fingers, knuckles and toes.

This is what the first eight look like with their flesh finished:

Overall I’m very happy with it. It’s pretty quick and I think I can speed it up some more, quite important when you’ve got about 300 figures to paint. It’s got that warm rich tone that I was hoping to get too.


Prepping miniatures

A great day in any wargamer’s life, the arrival of a big box of miniatures:

Big ol' box of minis

Big ol’ box of minis

It’s around about 500 AP of Macedonians, just shy of 300 figures. Cripes! As I got my first batch ready to paint, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to do a post about how I prepare my miniatures.

Head count

First step: check your miniatures! I sat down for about 90 minutes and went through the whole order to make everything was in order. Out of 44 packs one was totally wrong, one was one miniature short and one was missing two shields. A quick email to the Foundry and the replacements are on their way. I also found three bonus packs got slipped in there, so that was a nice surprise. Thanks Marcus!

Working space

I had tidied up my desk the day before (can you tell I was excited to get these fellas?) and picked two packs of unarmoured pezhetairoi and got to work:


Ready to roll

I always work on a cork tile when prepping minis because I use the scalpel a lot and it’s safer that way. I do sixteen miniatures at a time, preferably two of the same pack if possible (as in this case). I’ve found sixteen a good number to balance between a) making the most of the production line, and b) not going insane by doing the same steps over and over again. Being a Hellenistic army, all but two packs of bow- and sling-armed skirmishers have some form of spear. I only use metal spears now. Spears cast from white metal just aren’t rugged enough to hold up to gaming wear and tear, they bend easily and are hard to straighten perfectly. I get mine from North Star Miniatures, £5.60 for 40. Gotta get another seven packs just for this army. 😐


Spear points



I use a scalpel and a file when prepping. Actually, I lie. I like to get my nice file out and put it on my desk, but I very rarely use it! I’m a scalpel man through-and-through. You can pick up a good one from any good modelling shop. Make sure you get a set of spare blades because if you’re not careful you can end up snapping the tips.

Flash and Mould lines

Half of prepping is removing flash and mould lines from the miniatures.

Mouldlines 1

A mould line running down the helmet and left sleeve.

Mould lines are on nearly every miniature you’ll ever paint. Moulds for metal miniatures comes in halves. When casting, the two halves are put together, metal is poured through pipes left in the mould, it cools, and then the halves are separated and you have your miniatures. Unfortunately the halves are never quite perfectly lined up, so you get a slight disjoint all around the miniature. If it’s done by a good mould maker the mould lines will either be in a hidden spot or very easy to clean up. If not, then they can be a real nightmare to clean up. Worst-case you get a large line that runs across the face. Flash is large pieces of extra metal that are still attached to the miniature. It’s an artifact of the casting process rather than a defect, as the cast metal gets caught in the pipes used to pour the liquid metal into the mould. Fortunately none of this batch of miniatures had any flash except the usual bits on the bottom of the base. The tricky bit with flash can be that sometimes you can’t tell what is flash and what isn’t! My general rule is that if it doesn’t come off really easily, odds are it’s not flash. Check photos on the manufacturer’s website and double-check before going at it hammer-and-tongs.



Miniature with the mould lines removed.

Once your flash is off, it’s time to tackle the mould lines. Most of my line-removal technique is just scraping along the surface with my scalpel until the surface is smooth. You can tell you’re done because when you scrape the metal it will become very glossy, and once it’s all glossy and you can’t see the line any more, it’s likely done. If this is impractical because the gap between the two mould-halves is a lot (half a millimetre or more) then you need to cut into the higher surface more to bring it down, then start scraping to level the two sides. The more you’ve had to work on it then the more likely you’ll be left with a flat surface. If this bothers you, you can carve a bit more detail back into the miniature, but this can be quite risky! Also it pays to check the miniature from different angles. Sometimes you think you’ve got all the lines but when you pick it up and start to paint it you see a huge gash that you totally missed during prep. I find it’s safer to do all the legs, then all the left arms, etc. This way I’m less likely to miss a line. However once I’m done I go over every miniature one-by-one and double-check.


Next step: putting it all together. Luckily the miniatures I’ve got are in one piece, plus a separate shield and spear. I’m not going to glue the shields on until I’ve painted most of the miniature so they’ll remain off at this stage. The spears will be attached though.


Sarissa gluing and blu-tacked into place.

I always use Araldite, a two-part epoxy, when putting miniatures together. Compared to superglue the drying time is extremely long – about eight hours, compared to a few seconds – but  I find this makes it easier as it allows more time to make sure everything is in place. Plus it’s much more resilient so no need for battlefield repairs. To lock everything into place while the glue is drying I use blu-tac. For these guys, they’re all in similar poses, so I used the same technique for every figure: a small blob of blu-tac just under the right arm, apply the glue to the hand and by the right foot, then put the sarissa into place and push it into the blu-tac. I repeated this for all sixteen  then went back and made sure they were all still in the right position. Any that weren’t I tweaked around and made sure they were.

All glued

All sixteen glued up – time to hit the hay and wait for the glue to dry.

Next day, the glue’s dry. All that remains is to pick off the blu-tac. This is the first test is making sure that there’s enough glue there! If not, then you’ll probably pull off the pieces you were trying to glue on instead of the blu-tac. 🙂 I glue together multi-part models this way too, just by using blu-tac as a brace.


Nearly there! Now to get to applying some paint. I used to lay my soldiers out on some newspaper, spray them, flip them over, then spray them again. I went to a two-day masterclass with professional miniature painter Meg Maples and she really opened my eyes about the best way to undercoat. So now, I put them all on a wooden base like so:


Attached with, you guessed it, blu-tac.


Mr Speckles.

Then I take it down to the carpark, shake up my can of spray paint, and spray-em. I start with it on the ground and just going down each side and from the top. Then I pick up the block and have a look at any angles that haven’t got good coverage – usually they still need four more sprays – from the underside, from the left and right side in each direction. The most important thing however is not to totally coat the miniature in paint. You want it about half covered with white with some of the bare metal still showing through. This will leave you with enough of a rough surface for your acrylic paint to stick to, while not obscuring any detail. I got a bit heavy-handed on these guys but still have some metal showing. I only painted the shields on one side. I find shields can be so small that they get blown around by the spray paint, and figured that I can just use a brush-on primer on the underside instead. They’ll barely be seen anyway.

Ready to paint!

I then attach them with blu-tac to some DBMM bases, ready to paint. I used to not worry about this part and just pick them up when painting, but after too many smudged faces and rubbed helmets I figured it was time to be a bit more professional about it. Done And that’s it! Sixteen pezhetairoi, ready for painting.