Birth of a Desktop Factory
Games Workshop produces some of the best sculpts I’ve seen on the market. No surprise given the company’s history. Of my several ongoing commission projects, my task with this Tyranid army (more than ~300 pieces) has been a lesson in patience, endurance, and (most importantly) an enlightening experience.
Painting an army lot of this size (Tyranid armies use swarm tactics, i.e., overwhelm with numbers) has pushed the limits of my ability to stay organized and efficient. In my usual painting method for solo, or small units, I tend to dance around with color. A Bob Ross approach, where I feel my way through color, contrast, and light.
Under typical conditions, I don’t plan. Color schemes “emerge” as I go. This Bob Ross strategy, of course, eats time like an interstellar black hole. Once the primer is placed onto the model, it is an empty canvas and my mind doesn’t really have a clue. Here, I’m going back and forth between 3 or 4 colors at the same time, mixing and washing, and dry brushing all in a single step. I may go over some colors with a dark wash to add saturation, for example. I use reference photos and, in some cases, the clients’ instructions and preferences for what they want; but generally, my approach is instinct — pure and simple.
Time. Oh, how I loathe, thee.
But, when a large army project comes my way as it has on more than one occasion in my side-career as a commissioned painter, I’ve had to set aside a good amount of time to plan. At the very least, I have had to take notes on a sort of “blue-print”. In short, I have to work out these important items, as though I’m planning to build a skyscraper.
Primary questions that I have to answer before I dive into a big project:
- Do I have enough paint?
- Do I have the recipes for the correct color mixes?
- Can I speed up all the base coats with the tools I have on-hand?
In the case of the Tyranid project, I’ve been pushing the envelope. I’m using not one, not two, but four (!) airbrushes (badgers, IWATAs) hooked up to a quick-release hose. Each airbrush houses a different nozzle size to accommodate the type of paint I’m using (i.e., viscosity of GW paint needs to higher for base coating, etc.). Using a multi-airbrush system also allows me to disassemble a brush for overnight cleaning in a sonicating cleaner without stopping my workflow.
Of course, painting miniatures doesn’t offer the ease of finishing a project entirely with a single tool. Hence, spraying color with pressurized air only gets a model 50% of the way there. The last 50% is grunt work. Manual labor with a classic brush. For that, I’ve learned through experience that the best approach is to choose the largest caliber brush that will do the job without getting in your way.
It’s insanity to try and paint a monstrosity with a #2. Even with most of the color on the model through airbrushing, finishing details with a needle-nosed brush would take forever. So my secret (which I now reveal) is to use a #4 or #6 round kolinsky sable.
Not only do these brushes allow you to cover more surface area with each brushstroke, they also hold more wet paint in the “belly” of the brush hairs. This means I’m hitting the paint pot, or palette (dry or wet) less often. And believe it or not, those few seconds that I’m not busy reloading and dabbing for more paint, add up into many saved hours!
Well, using a big brush to some people may mean that I get sloppier. Not really. With a high quality brush, even the #4 round can hold a sharp point and give me pencil-tip precision with careful paint viscosity control.
So when it comes to speed, I’ve learned that choosing the right tools for the job is key. Funny enough, a veritable factory of instrumentation I’ve collected has given me that enlightening knowledge of how the World’s broader commercial industry functions.
Production factories, the cornerstone of American consumerism, use workflows that have developed over years and years (maybe centuries). The image of conveyor belts and robotic arms welding an assembly line of cars comes to mind.
In short, from the first model I ever painted (a Cygnar Ironclad warjack) until now (a giant-sized tyranid army), I’ve witnessed and guided by my own hand a microcosm. I’ve developed a desktop version of a modern factory workflow designed to produce a tangible widget (an economic term)…over and over…and over again.
Before I end, I need to clarify because I know there’s a connotation here that needs addressing; my system incorporates the absolute best, quality control system:
My eyes, the beholder of beauty. Everything I deliver has my personal seal O’ approval. 😉