07 December 2008

The Case for Simple Paintwork on Your Wargaming Miniatures

I needed a break from painting colorful hussars for a while, and so I decided last week, before the cold and congested head, to make a start on those 80 RSM95 Prussian fusiliers from last Christmas, which were courtesy of the truly wonderful Grand Duchess Sonja. So far, I've put in about 5-6 hours of work in total, across two evenings, painting two figures to completion per session. Now, I see that I need to add a row of tiny black gaiter buttons down the outside of each gaiter (Grrrrr...), but other than that and the two coats of Future/Klear floor finish, they are done.

Less is more, as they say. And so I've gone for simplicity this time and, therefore, if not exactly speed, then somewhat more rapid painting than is my usual modus operandi. Yes, Latin! What a pompous and pretentious boy I am. Too much schooling will do this to you, so kids, don't try this at home! ;-)

Anyway, a slightly more rapid painting treatment means a fairly plain, white uniform (black basecoat, tan undercoat, and white final coat) with mid-blue cuffs and turnbacks, as well as the rear of the fusilier caps. The coattails and left shoulder strap stay white. Likewise, I have not taken the time to give the fronts of the fusilier caps the same painstaking treatment that I gave my Leib (Grand Duchess Sonja's Own) Grenadiers two years ago, which resulted in grenadier mitres that approximated the appearance of embossed metal fronts reasonably well. This time around, I've simply slapped on the GW Dwarf Bronze. Here's a close-up of one of the four figures:

While none of these figures will take any painting awards by themselves, I think that the mass effect of an 80-strong unit will be quite something. And after all, a big unit of painted toy soldiers is pretty impressive, even if they aren't up to the same standard as, say, those by John Ray or Phil Olley. This is a point I was reminded of recently when I was visiting John Preece's Flanderkin Serjeant blog and sighing dreamily over all those photos of his Holger Eriksson figures.

Now, John's painting is first rate, but, rather than going for minute detail, what he does is to strive more for the impression and suggestion of detail, rather than picking out every single uniform button and/or facial crease on each figure. However, when John's cavalry and infantry are gathered into their large units, you simply cannot argue with the mass effect of well-proportioned miniatures, complimented to no end by his skillfully SUGGESTIVE painting. Bing! The lightbulb went on as I gazed at John's work the other day like a lovestruck girl. Now that I think of it, this is something I recall my mother, who is a trained artist and sculptor, telling me many years ago when I began painting myself. Funny how it took John's impressive work, to remind me of that fact again.

Acerbic, self-deprecating wit aside, I think that -- suggesting detail without becoming a slave to it -- is one of the secrets of skilled painting, which many newcomers to the hobby and, perhaps, younger painters tend to overlook. I know that for many years I certainly was obsessive about painting every single detail found on my 15mm Napoleonics. And some of them came out looking rather impressive if I might be so bold as to suggest this about my own work. But, as many have pointed out in similar discussions already, at arm's length, you don't notice (and can't necessarily see) the Legion of Honour painted so carefully onto a 15mm Marshal Ney's chest, much less those jangling spurs on your regiment of Scots Greys, or that painful, and well-documented, hangnail on Uxbridge's left thumb, which plagued the allied cavalry commander mercilessly on the morning of 18th June 1815.

That, and it takes simply FOREVER to paint one 20-figure unit of infantry or cavalry to completion. And one of the things I decided, when I first conceived the Grand Duchy of Stollen project three years ago, was that I wanted big units, but I also wanted to complete the project and enjoy playing with my toys for a few years before decrepitude became an issue. All of which is an extremely roundabout way of explaining the simple paintjob that you see on the fusiliers above. Clearly, longwindedness (Is that really even a word?) is already an issue, a point on which I'm sure the lovely and patient Grand Duchess would agree!


Bluebear Jeff said...

I very much like to keep a simple palette for each of my units. Too many colors or details 'fussy up' the visual impact of the unit.

KISS -- "Keep it simple, sir" is well worth remembering when painting rank and file figures.

And I like the look of your fusilier.

-- Jeff

Fitz-Badger said...

I agree. Your figures are a great example of this. Very effective and quite striking en masse.
I've gotten better at following this adage myself over the years when it comes to painting rank and file troops.

Conrad Kinch said...

I couldn't agree more on the painting philisophy old chap. I'm in the Russian school of "quantity having a quality all of its own" and I'd rather have many competantly painted figures than a few masterpieces.

Grimsby Mariner said...

Nice article Stokes and an argument well put.

abdul666 said...

Very efficient painting -even when the minis are scrutinized individually, which is NOT the normal way to enjoy wargame soldiers!

Are they the Zichenauer "7th (Flickenhoffer’s) Fusiliers"?


Snickering Corpses said...

As the others have said, very well put argument. I need to try to follow this with my own figures.

~ Tom said...

Thank you so much for the inspiration!

I'm in the midst of my own long-delayed painting project right now. For these figures, collected twenty to thirty years ago, I will take extra time on ~ and I'll enjoy the process!

I'm going to print out a copy of your article to serve as a reminder when I begin my own Imagi-Nation project later next year.

Well done and well said. I think your "simple paintwork" figures look wonderful!

~ Tom Terrific


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