Tuesday 28 June 2016

Progression as a Painter - An Illustrated Guide

Hello all!

Today I have a post that I've been putting together for a while. I know certainly that when I started painting and collecting 40k again, I was hugely overwhelmed by how good lots of painters were and my own efforts caused me great consternation. I think like many hobbyists, I have a very vivid and active imagination. This is a great boon for me in terms of playing 40k as well as DnD, and indeed it aids me in memory based protocols I use to keep information in my head. 

But when I looked at my painted models, the image I had so hoped to see was never formed in the blotchy rough paint job I had done and the models were a bit of a disappointment. Despite the kind words and promises of brilliant painters that I would get better (Nathaniel and Nick from Objective Secured and The Burning Eye par example) I couldn't visualise that at all, and it made me lazy. 

So what I decided to do was to chart my progression in painting ability from my modest beginning 3 or so years ago to where I am to date. I'd like to throw in a disclaimer here that I am not a brilliant painter now by any means. I reserve that title for people who just make your draw drop. But I do think I am a good painter and I am very happy with most of what I produce these days. 

My hope is that people who see my current painting projects don't get disheartened if they feel their own work doesn't match up, as they should be able to see that if you truly stick with and, importantly, you want to improve, then it does happen. Finally, painting isn't everything! If you don't care for having that perfect shade of green, it doesn't matter, as long as you have fun at the end of the day :)

The Eldar Years

The Dark Eldar were my first foray back into 40k and you can see that I went big and bold! There is very little shading here, a few washes and plenty of drybrushing! Damn I was proud of these!

I continued in the vein for some time until I thought, you know what, maybe I can do better...

My revamped Dark Eldar saw me take on yellow in a way that I just couldn't do all that well and also try out OSL and painting flat surfaces with depth, such as on the wings. Whilst I saw improvement, each model was taking me upwards of a week to paint as I tried to much to fast and some very advanced techniques that I din't understand enough to apply. 

This squad took over a month to do with little else done in that time frame. Whilst I was aiming for better, I wanted to play with a painted army sometime soon!!! I have always tried to paint well but expediently. 

The Craftworld Cousins briefly made an entry into my collection. I attempted batch painting with washes that produced OK results. Interestingly enough this style of technique is what I went back to when painting my mechanicum several years later.

Enter the Marines

After losing my Dark Eldar by leaving them on a bus, I decided to sell up my Craftworld and try to paint some marines. Maybe I had just jumped in at the deep end with such fiddly models! This Dreadnought was one of my first forays into my Night Lords army. I used several layers of blue and got some happy results that I thought I could do quickly. 

Important to note, that a lot of how I painted this army came from YouTube tutorials. Use them! They are great and you can get so much out of them.

The fruits of my labour were a definite step forward, but again I found myself wondering if half of what I was doing was just wasting time. The end result didn't seem to reflect all those layers and hours I'd put in, even though I was happy with what I saw.

Sticking to Marine Models, which are SO MUCH EASIER TO PAINT than Eldar I looked at the Black Templars. Unlike the Night Lords I tried to cut the paint layers down and I think I got similar results with half as much effort overall. My main idea was basecoat, wash and single layer. A big change in my technique later on was to apply washes at the end to tie colours together.

This model is one of my favourites of all time and I was so pleased with the sword! But the colours are still pretty flat and the paint, looking back, far too thick in some area. 

Eventually both sets of marine armies were sold to fund new purchases that I thought I could paint better.

The Imperial Ascension

Ah! My short lived Militarum Tempestus army... I loved building these guys, but I found my paint job too cartoonish and thick and with too many projects on the go and strapped for cash these guys also saw the light of eBay.

Despite appearences, this Culexus was a turning point in my painting style. Less felt like more with very small highlights on all the areas and my first proper go at OSL.

Death Comes to Us All

My Death Company and Blood Angels marked an advancement in keeping things simple. Colour selection became more important and I started to read about colour theory to make sure my choices didn't clash. Keeping the reds close enough together to not clash but far enough apart to POP. The blue OSL was also picked to compliment the other colours. 

I also started to put a little more effort into my bases, though more could certainly have been done with these guys. 

Angels Beget Angels

The most important aspect of my Dark Angels was ADVICE. I actively sought comments on people more than ever before, rather than steaming ahead! I would paint prototypes and ask for feedback. Importantly I would listen, not take offence, learn re-paint and repeat till happy.

I also started to thin my paints a lot more. I've never got on with a wet pallet if I'm honest. So I started to load my brush with water and wipe off excess on my thigh but leave enough on to keep the paint moist. Not overloading the brush was important here and also keeping myself conscious of the paint drying. This meant painting for 2-5 minutes, washing the brush, straightening the hairs, reapplying water, wiping, reapplying paint. 

I also started to buy none GW brushes and clean my brushes with actual brush cleaner. A bad worksman blames he tools as tools are only useless if you don't look after them!

The New Age

After my Dark Angels had begun I felt a new lease of life in painting and I decided to really try something radical for me. I decided to re-visit using washes as a means of colouring a miniature. Again I did my reading and Zenithal Undercoats seemed to be the way to go with this. I also decided to extend my OSL practise to normal shading. This meant using dry brushing to blend normal colours, rather than just for the vibrant glow. Again testing colours and feedback helped immensely. 

Crucially I also washed over the model once all of the dry brush work was done. This lead to the colours TYING together and achieving a well blended look, despite just being dry brushed on. Online guides to dry brush blending were invaluable here. I would cut out plasticard and spray paint them like a model and try to blend from one end to the other to get the technique down. 

As well as painting, my mechanicum were the first time I put a lot of thought and effort into my bases, and I think the impact they have on the model really does speak for itself.

It might not look it, but all of the above models were painted with the techniques highlighted in the firs paragraph of this section. The Alpha Legion and Legion of the Damned have some additional line highlighting done and some sponge weathering on the Alpha Legion but the basic shape is washes and dry brushing. 

Closing Thoughts

I hope that a very brief flit through my painting past with 40k has helped energise your own enthusiasm for developing your talent. I don't think its a far stretch to to say that anyone can be a good painter. It just requires you to want to be a better painter and accept that it takes time and practise. You don't have to be a Rembrandt to get good results. Dry brushing is by far my most used and favourite technique, don't let anyone tell you that you SHOULD do it one way. 

Experiment and find out what you like and see what works for you. I hope this has been helpful!

Peace out,


PS - I used to be super super bad at painting even before I started 40k, back when I was playing Inquisitor, sadly no pictures now survive of that time - phew!


  1. Oh the irony - I was only discussing on Friday with a mate about improving painting skills, and used your stuff as an example of how quickly you can progress if you put the effort in!

    I can honestly say pal that your mechanicum are some of the most striking minis I've seen, excluding stuff earmarked for golden daemon etc.

    Keep up the good work, and I second your point about use what works for you! The only thing I would add to that is don't be afraid of trying new techniques - I've started using wet brush blending recently and I'm loving it!

    1. Thanks Nick, you've always been a grand help pushing me upwards and onwards! Your new stuff has shown how good you're getting with that wet blending!

  2. Excellent post, man - I try to keep a record of all the old projects I've done over the years too, and it's neat to go back and review older models to see just how far the skills and talents have evolved. Your recent efforts have been exemplary, the mechanicum in particular have been fantastic - rather interesting to see your thought processes about adding/changing/reworking various techniques forming your own painting style. Good stuff man - keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks man, I'd love to see someone of your skills do something similar if you have the time :)

  3. It is great to track your progress like this. You should take much encouragement in your progress. I have watched you improve massively over the last few years, and you are still improving now. Your stuff looks fantastic now, and I look forward to even more awesome stuff :)

    Ps. Don't give up on the wet palette. They are a massively helpful tool, you just have to get used to it

    1. Thanks Naf, you've been great either on TDC or here in helping :)

      I'll keep it mind, I'm hoping after I sell my Dark Angels to spend them money on improving my hobby space so that might be an investment I make. I tried making one a couple of times and they sucked so shop bought might be better...

  4. I will be saving this to go over again, thanks for sharing. I am jealous of your first dark eldar painted model, that is up from my current work.

    1. Glad you liked it mate! Well if I can find pictures of my older Inquisitor 54mm stuff, you'll see I really did start just with thick paints and no definition or anything, don't be put off :)

  5. Bloody hell Rob, if you only describe yourself as a "good painter", I need to start thinking up new adjectives for my own work ;)

    A really nice post, great to see how your work has evolved over the years. I've actually slowly been trying to pick up a few hints and techniques to improve my own abilities these days.

    1. Haha well if I use other words I feel like I'm sticking my neck out with people like Naf and Mordian 7th!

      Glad you enjoyed it, but I love seeing your painting progression too mate, I love your Orks!