[Confessions of an English Undead Fancier] The Black Art

Generally speaking, in the past, when I’ve made an effort, my paint-jobs have looked like this.

 That’s the ‘four or five layers on everything, crude attempt at blending, carefully selected scheme obeying principles of colour theory et hoc genus omne. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy doing that for single models, like warcasters and unique characters, because I do. It’s a mite tiresome across a whole army, though. Looks lovely, but executing it for the same scheme across twelve models… nope nope nope. Painting skin in five stages is the sort of thing I don’t want to be cranking out as a batch.

Nightmare here exemplifies the slightly lazier option. While everything is painted, the majority is done with one or two layers; the metal is Tin Bitz drybrushed over black gesso, with either a bronze or a gold layer over the top. The green glow takes three layers – one dark, one obnoxiously bright, one dark ink to bring it down and balance it out again. The armour… well, that’s actually one thin layer of greenish-greyish slightly glazey stuff over the Tin Bitz.
I quite like this sort of verdigris look, but it’s a little bit too dependent on mixes for my liking. I suppose doing a whole batch at the very start of the project might work out, but I’m still wary. Plus I have no idea, no idea at all, how I mixed this up. I usually take notes, but this time… nope.

 

Now we’re talking. These lovely ladies were slapped up in… guess how long. Try to guess. If you guessed anything more than “one hour”, you’re dead wrong. I don’t even think it was that, but I’m erring on the side of caution. This is the ultimate expression of the speed painting that I covered in the Blagger’s Guide, way back when I first came to the House; it’s grey primer, black ink, metallic highlighting, and then a three-stage blend on the skin, where I want your eyes to go.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before – after nearly five years of blogging you tend to repeat yourself now and then – but still, it bears repeating. I’ve learned two things from the Games Workshop blogs over the years:
  1. If the boldest, brightest bit is something you want people to see, the rest can be a bit dark and dodgy.
  2. A model has three chances to impress: on its own, as part of a unit, or as part of an army.

 

I think many of us grasp the latter on a sort of subconscious level – we put in a bit more effort on leaders and ‘centrepiece’ models that are going to catch the eye and be inspected, and we batch-paint the poor bloody infantry because there’s going to be a big ol’ mass of ’em and they’re all more or less the same and the effect, there, is to make them look good as a mass, and to differentiate them from other, nearby units. This is how I’ve painted my Retribution. Most things just have to look bright and bold and uniform and be clearly visible on the usual green tabletop; the warcasters and solos have more individualistic and intricate colour schemes.
That was fine when I had a mere 35-50 points to paint – a hard cap. With the sheer volume of Cryx currently on the table, I may need to take more drastic measures. I also want to take a more experimental approach to the look of the army, rather than doing everything in that sort of classic, stolid, painterly way that my Retribution are done.
When I start saying things like ‘painterly’, it’s important to understand that I don’t care for that sort of photo-realistic try-to-make-it-look-like-it’s-a-real-thing airbrush-crazy style that’s popular among the painting elite. I treat figure painting like, well painting. If one looks at an oil painting, it’s possible to make comments on things like brushwork – the evidence of style, that a person has painted this thing – and to take these things as signs of mastery. I don’t want to erase that distinctiveness of style by mucking about trying to make my models look like anything other than painted things.
The other reason for this focus on the model as a thing that’s made and painted by human hand is something I took from the roleplaying blog Some King’s Kent, a while back. I can’t link to the post directly – Kent’s shut it down for a bit, as he does from time to time – but the general sweep of it was the idea of not obscuring the sculpted detail with a paint job which, in the often controversial opinion of the author, would invariably end up looking rather… cartoonish. The purpose of painting models, in Kent’s eyes, is to take off the eyeblinding sheen of bare metal, and to flaunt the sculpture, with paint applied only to highlight those elements which informed the choice of the model, its selection to represent a particular character or monster. Since I allegedly chose Cryx because I like the models, I’m interested in giving this a try; painting in such a way that it’s the sculpted detail of the miniature which is primarily on show, celebrating the skill of the sculptor rather than the painter.
I’m also interested in giving a slightly different visual impression with the Cryx, if I’m honest; pursuing a different artistic style. I posted about this on COREHAMMER during the week, but I’ve had a chance to think about it since then and want to go into a bit more detail. My Retribution are done in a crisp, bright, figure-painterly style that we might summarise as ‘grimy Warcraft’: I want my Cryx to be darker, sketchier, a seething tabletop presence where the swarms of Thralls sort of seethe across the table, like the background to one of those huge GW illustrations.
If we look at Mark Gibbons’ Nagash, we see the sort of thing I’m going for; a dark, sketchy blur, where the glowing eyes of the Zombies and the flames on Nagash and the open book draw the eyes in to key areas, but there’s still a richness of detail on the darker portions, something for the eyes to feast on once that initial work is done. That’s how I want my Cryx army to look, I think. Monochromatic and menacing, relying on light and shadow rather than a complicated palette of colours. Of course, this approach is not without its problems; there’s the small problem of people having a go at me for phoning it in and ‘not painting properly’ and calling me a ‘gamey wanker’ or words to that effect. Happens a lot down our way, I’m afraid.
In the John Blanche Sisters of Battle piece – yes, the classic, yes, it’s an art post talking about Blanche, I’m nothing if not predictable sometimes – we see how colour can work in the same way. The Sister Superior at the front is fully realised, ‘painted properly’ in the language of hobby elitists everywhere, and if we look back, we see the heavy bolter specialist is similarly more realised than her surroundings, although she’s not depicted with the complexity that the central, commanding figure is. Everyone else is sort of a sepia blur – two or three colours stand out, and there’s detail there, but if you can imagine these as painted models, it’s very much the standard of my Witch Coven from before.
Merge these two. The brooding greys of the Gibbons piece, which are wargaming to me ever since I plunged balls-deep into second edition 40K; the areas of complex, fully-realised ‘conventional painting’ at the foreground and for key details in the Blanche. Some pieces impress on their own; some as part of a unit (with the clear link between the heavy bolter Sister and the Superior, which I might use for, say, Goreshade and Tartarus, pointing at the kinship between the eldritch and the Bane Lord); some as part of an army (the horde of assorted religious types in the background, or the unity suggested by everything having the same pure white eye-glow in the Nagash piece).

What I’m trying to avoid is the rather disconnected effect that my previous Cryx army had. Everything was technically quite well painted, but it felt like different forces plugged together; the Mechanithralls used a very different colour palette to the Bile Thralls, and both shared a few colours with the Combine. What you can’t see from this picture, too, is that later additions – like the second Brute and Bloat Thralls I painted – were subtly different in things like the vividness and solidity of their colouring. Early models had more subtlety, more delicacy, more suggestion of the hues and variances of undeath; the later ones were blocky and, well… cartoonish.

 

To recap, then: the goal with the Cryx army is going to be ‘flaunt the sculpting’, ‘create a consistent force that seethes, as a whole’, ‘paint the majority of the models simply, quickly and sketchily’ and ‘show off with leaders to demonstrate that I CAN paint ‘properly’, I’m just striving for a particular effect here and, happily, it happens to be really quick to execute across a whole force’. The techniques I use need to be quick, they need to be repeatable no matter how much time has passed, and they need to bring out details rather than obscuring them; I’m showing off the work of sculptors I admire, not flaunting my own painterliness, but I’m not erasing my own painterliness either; the army has to look as though I chose to have it look this way. Realism can nob off.

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