Okay, so you want to take up Warhammer or Warhammer 40K, do you? You've got the money to shell out for the miniatures, the desire to learn the game, an appreciation for the fluff, and all the tactical acumen you need to get into the hobby for a long time and enjoy yourself, but there's just one little problem: All those little buggers come completely, utterly, and totally unpainted. What's more, you hate painting, aren't very good at it, and feel like getting a painted army on the field is way too much trouble than it's worth.
Well, good news, friends! There are a number of simple, effective, and practical methods to actually manage placing a respectable force on the field that isn't all primed blue or dipped in red paint. You see, I, too, was once like youâ€”I dreaded painting, hated the thought of the time it would take, and didn't think I was very good at it even when I did it. Consequently, my 2nd Edition Ork army (the first I owned) was primarily a mass of featureless gray plastic with a tiny smattering of paint thrown here or there. Now, however, I've progressed to the point where the armies I put on the table are both all painted and even respectable to look upon. I didn't do this by going to painting clinics or learning fancy tricks or buying expensive brushes or even by spending every waking hour painting plastic army men. I live a normal life, and paint miniatures on the side, and it is okay. What follows is series of practical, concrete tips that, taken either in parts or as a whole, ought to get you a fully painted army on the table sooner than you might think.
First of all, before going any further, we need to establish one thing as an irrefutable fact: You think an unpainted army is ugly and lame. This is, pretty much, the most important step to getting a painted army. If you are okay with playing with hordes of unadorned gray plastic and shiny metal Space Marines or whatever, then there is nothing I can do to help you. You may as well stop wasting my time and yours and head on out of here. I'll wait until you're gone.
(Footsteps and grumbles as folks get up and leave)
There! Now that we've got those losers out of here, let's get back to basics. By now you've decided that you just can't live with an unpainted army, but have no desire to paint said army. Well, there are a few early tactics you can use to conquer this dislike.
Tactic #1: No Orks for you!
Don't pick an army that you don't think you can realistically paint. This includes armies with high model counts (Orks, IG, Nids) or armies that have particularly complicated or elaborate models (Chaos to some extent, Orks, IG). I realize a lot of folks out there who hate Space Marines are going to cringe when I say this, but the best armies to start with from a painting perspective are the Space Marines, Necrons, Tau, or Eldar. All four of these armies feature generally smooth, armor-clad troops with relatively low model counts and easy-to-accomplish paint schemes. Always remember this: Flesh is difficult, metal is easy; Cloth is difficult, armor is easy.
Now, I don't want to go discouraging folks who have their heart set on an Ork horde or an IG rifleman brigade or anything. Keep in mind that even more important than the ease of painting something is the desire to paint it. Pick the army you love, and you will be more likely to pick up the brushes. That said, the reason I recommend armies that generally have low model counts and lots of armor is that you don't like painting. Armor is painted to a decent standard much faster than cloth or flesh is, and takes less time. Furthermore, if you have fewer models to paint that are faster to paint, the quicker you can get the painting phase of your army's lifespan over and progress to other stuff.
Speaking of â€˜speed', this leads me to my second tactic:
Tactic #2: One Unit at a Time!
As exciting as is may seem, don't go buying 2000+ points' worth of whatever army you want right out of the gate. If you do buy a large group, buy the smaller of the army boxes (if your army has a choice), and don't assemble them all right away. I realize that this means you won't be getting your army on the table very fast, but I never claimed this whole â€˜painting an army' thing was going to take a single weekend. It will take time, and you should plan on spending that time.
The main point here is that, if you purchase a hundred-billion Tyranids in one go, glue them all together, and arrange them on your workbench, you will be forced to stare at the Herculean task of painting all those models every time you sit down to paint. It is quite discouraging, I assure you (it happened to me with my Orks), and is not going to get your army painted. In fact, it will probably result in the oppositeâ€”you won't paint a single one, and resign yourself to never having them finished.
What I recommend is buying one unit at a time, painting that unit, and then moving on to the next unit. Furthermore, promise yourself that no unit gets to hit the table until it is primed, and that no additional unit gets to hit the table until that unit is painted. This will mean that your desire to play games will drive your painting efforts, and if you stick to it, your army will be painted much more quickly. What's more, it will *always* look pretty snazzy on the tabletop, since you won't be throwing down more than one primed unit at a time. Yes, this will mean you'll spend a little while playing Combat Patrol or low-limit games, but chug away and you will be up in the 1500 point range before you know it.
Speaking of which, here's tactic #3.
Tactic #3: Pace Yourself!
Don't think you can paint a whole unit in a weekend. Yes, some of your friends can, but you are not that guy, remember? You hate painting, so don't punish yourself by chaining yourself to your workbench for 48 hours straight hunched over rows and rows of firewarriors. All that will happen then is that you will hate painting even more.
Instead, I recommend painting one model at a time. This will usually only take about an hour or less and, once you get down a system, you will find the process takes less and less time. If you do this every day, you will produce a painted tactical squad every 10 days. This rule needs to be expanded a bit for vehicles (which are a bit larger), so I recommend doing 1 color or one side of the vehicle per day. Of course, if you feel up to painting two models in a sitting, go ahead, but if you feel like stopping just stop. You are not in a race, folksâ€”the game will exist whether you finish your army on Tuesday or next December. Plus, if you are building your army as a buddy or two build theirs, there is literally no reason to worry. Your friends aren't going to finish their guys first and then run off to Greenland for five years (most likely), so they will be ready to play whenever you are.
Speaking of socializationâ€¦
Tactic #4: Don't Be a Hermit!
If you don't like painting, there is no reason why you need to close yourself in a dark room and do it alone. Indeed, if you can manage to transform painting into a social activity, it will become much more enjoyable. Invite a couple of your friends over, gather around the kitchen table, share your paints, and have a little painting party. When I do this, I will often put on music or play some cheesy movie we've all seen in the background to liven things up. You can talk about whatever it is you talk about regularly with your friends while painting your army!
This little tactic can even be with people who don't play Warhammer. Say your roommates are zoning out watching reality TV in the living roomâ€”take your paints and your miniature and park at the coffee table. Paint your guy, talk with your roommates, watch bad TV, and all in all cover up the boring awfulness of painting with pleasant conversation and entertainment. It works a beaut, let me tell you!
The Nuts and Bolts
Okay, so now that we've got you actually sitting down and gradually painting your army of Necrons or Tau while watching re-runs of Star Trek with your buddies, let's chat about the act of painting itself.
First off, accept that the stuff you are about to paint is not going to look like the stuff you see in White Dwarf or in your Codex. Trust me, it ain't gonna happen. When they start telling you about â€˜drybrushing' and â€˜highlighting' and the rest of that jazz, and your eyes glaze over a bit, realize that what those guys are doing is a little bit out of your league. This doesn't mean you need to paint badly, or that your stuff will look like crap, but only that it just won't win any competitions anytime soon. This is okay, thoughâ€”you don't play this game to win painting competitions, anyway. So, with that in mind, let's delve into the basics.
Tactic #5: Primer is Black
Yeah, yeah, so you might hear folks talking about how they're using white primer and â€˜oh, it just makes the colors pop right out!'. Balls, I say. Prime your models black. Why? Well, it's simple actuallyâ€”everything goes with black. Say you are painting your Marines green and yellow and you miss a tiny spot in the guy's underarm. Guess what? Nobody will ever notice if it's black. White, on the other hand, will stick out like a neon sign.
Furthermore, if you really hate painting, you can get black primer to do half the work for you. Pick a color scheme that uses black, such as black and royal blue. You spray paint your model black, and suddenly half your painting is done for youâ€”paint the blue stuff, add the details, and you're done! Who cares if people gripe about â€˜seeing the primer'â€”even if those snobs actually notice (which is doubtful) be certain to point out that half their damn army isn't even painted at all.
Finally, black is, coincidentally, the color of shadows. Want to have a little shadow on the underside of your space marines' shoulder pad? Don't paint the underside! It's black! It will look like shadows!
There are, of course, other colors than black, though, so consider Tactic #6 carefully.
Tactic #6: Green and Red Look Good on Santa and Santa Alone
Paint scheme is crucial. On the one hand, you don't want to have an army that is really only 1-2 colors, but you also don't want an army full of mismatched, eye-jarring clowns. My recommendation is to pick a main, 2-color paint scheme coupled with a couple detail colors.
The main colors should be fairly sedate and basic, while the details should be brighter and, frequently, feature metallics. I highly recommend making black one of your colors, since any color looks good with black. Black and Red Gore, black and Shining Gold, black and Dark Angel's Green, black and Regal Blueâ€”any of these look great. Keep in mind, though that the lighter the color you use with black, the longer it will take the paint, since numerous coats are sometimes needed to cover black if you are using something like Sunburst Yellow. GW's new Foundation Series of paints are supposedly better at coverage, so they might be easier. I haven't used them, though, so I can't really say first hand.
The detail colors should be there to draw attention to things like metallic bits on guns or on uniforms, or be used for camouflage. The metal bits are pretty self-explanatory, so I will say that Mithril Silver is the best for these, since it is so bright. Dab a bit here and a bit there, and the details of the model will pop right out. Bright reds and blues (Blood Red or Ice Blue, respectively) are also very good for highlighting small details, but make sure you use it on the appropriate itemâ€”nothing looks more stupid than a bright red leather bag. Use a brown there, and be done with it. Also, on a final note, guns do not need much color! Paint the muzzle/barrel and a few other bits silver, and then leave it the hell aloneâ€”it will look better, I promise.
When it comes to camouflage, I recommend taking a color that is one shade darker than the one you used on the surface you want to camouflage. This means, of course, that black cannot and ought not be camouflaged. If, however, you picked a guy to be Fortress Grey and would like to do some camouflaged patches, use a color like Codex Grey. The slight shade down will darken up your model and, if you space it out evenly, give him the appearance of being shaded and, also, very detailed. Stick with short strips or simple shapes (dots or triangles) when camouflaging, and try not to overdo it or you risk covering up the base color entirely. Remember, the key to camouflage and, indeed, to painting on the whole is to set up good contrast on the model. Try not to have black bordering black or blue bordering blue, and use camouflage sparingly.
Tactic #7: But What About Drybrushing? Highlighting? Shading?
No, no, and no. These tactics are nice, and they do create great looking models, but you hate painting, remember? Don't bother! Doing these things well takes time and practice, and you don't need them to have a decent looking army. Having a better eye for color is a much better investment of your painting attention, as it will do far more than these strategies will in making ugly models pretty. If, at some point in the future, you start enjoying the painting process, then learn these tricks. Otherwise don't worry about them!
Tactic #8: Assembly Line!
One, final time-saving and headache-avoiding tip. Always paint your colors in the same order, and move from the most widespread color to the least widespread. So, your first step will always be one of your foundation colors (or the only one, if you are using black as the second), and then you will move to the next most common detail color, and then the next, and then the next, until you are finished. The reason to do this is so you don't have to go back to fix mistakes as much, since the most prevalent paint is applied earliest and, therefore, less likely to bleed or accidentally be applied to other painted areas. As a final pass, take some Chaos Black and clean up the edges of your model's armor/plates/carapace/whatever, to neaten up the lines. This will go a long way to making the model look good, and takes very little time.
So, that's about it! Pretty simple and straightforward, right? Just remember that patience is key, and you won't be getting a painted army overnight. Slow and steady wins the race, every time. Keep this in mind, and use the tactics I elaborated above, and you will find getting a painted army on the table isn't as impossible as it once seemed. Good luck, and I'll see you on the gaming tables!