I wrote about getting a bunch of Princeton Velvetouch brushes back in April of this year, and have been painting with those brushes (and my hodgepodge of others) for the past four months, or about 1,400 points of Blood Angels. I just ordered a second batch of them from BLICK, which is itself an endorsement. I like these brushes a lot.
My two most-used sizes are 10/0 and 3/0, and both of those finally gave up the ghost about 2-3 weeks ago, with splayed/curled tips no longer able to to detail work — so let’s call their front-line service life about three months. (Now they become drybrushes, get dipped into metallic paints, etc.) That’s not nearly as long as my non-synthetic brushes, but that’s a trade-off I’m fine with.
Before their tips inevitably curl or splay (despite daily washing with brush soap), these brushes paint just as well as my natural brushes. When my natural brushes wear out, I’ll replace them with their Princeton Velvetouch analogs.
Lots of other synthetic brush lines have a couple brushes small enough for minis but are primarily geared for other types of painting. One thing I love about this line is that they cover all of the sizes and shapes I’ve ever wanted for miniatures, from ultra-fine to relatively massive, including the chisel-shaped tips I like for drybrushing.
So: Princeton Velvetouch brushes are excellent, and in my experience especially good as synthetic brushes go.
 I started a daily “work on miniatures” streak on February 22, 2020, when I dug out my Space Hulk Terminators and started painting again. It didn’t start as a streak; I was just painting every day because I was excited about it. But I bumped into the idea on Twitter and have had success with using Seinfeld chains for motivation in the past, so it turned into one. Today is day 192.
With my Rhino, Relentless, mostly base-coated, it was time to do the hazard stripes before moving on to a second coat of red.
I love hazard stripes, especially how they pop against red, and they make sense for the rear drop-door: “stay clear or this massive slab of Ceramite will crush you and then a 10-man squad of Space Marines will grind you into jelly as they charge into battle.“
I did the hazard stripes the same way I did them on Squad Ultio: two coats of Averland Sunset on the whole surface, cover with Tamiya hobby tape (3mm this time), remove alternate strips, paint those areas Abaddon Black.
I figured the areas with the bolts would be more likely to let paint “bleed” under them if I left them taped (since they prevent the tape from seating fully). By happy accident all three bolts fell on alternating strips.
I recommend skipping the bonus steps I added: “Realize trying to use up the last of the black that’s drying out means you’ve just gobbed on quite thick paint,” and “notice you’ve missed a bit and have to backtrack.”
Like Ultio’s stripes, they’re not perfect. But they’re better than what I can do freehand, and should be fairly easy to touch up when I reach that stage.
After painting down to the top edge, I realized I had no clear demarcation for the bottom edge. I tried a few tape lines that incorporated the door pivot/axle thingie, which is cylindrical and therefore annoying to tape up cleanly, and eventually decided that the bottom edge should align with the bottom of the frame instead.
I thought this would be a piece of cake! So much easier than wrapping a symmetrical pattern around three sides of an object, like I had to on Ultio — right? Narrator: Wrong.
But now I’ve got a pretty good template to use for my next Rhino/Razorback!
As I amassed the hoard of plastic that will become my Blood Angels army, I learned about decals. Most of what I knew about them was that as a kid, I tore, mangled, and misapplied them at basically every turn.
My research led me to Micro Set and Micro Sol (paid link), the twin weapons in the modeler’s arsenal for putting tiny decals on tiny figures — and especially on curved or irregular surfaces. They’re both decal softeners; softer decals become more fragile, but also better able to conform to curves and whatnot.
I watched three YouTube videos about putting on decals, and browsed a few posts, and the funny thing is that people don’t really seem to agree on how to do it. Take the videos:
One person scored the decals with a hobby knife and uses only Micro Set, and never touched the decal with anything but a brush or that knife
One used like 8 million layers of Micro Sol; the process appeared to take an hour or two with lots of drying time between coats
One used both Set and Sol, and a Q-tip, and did the whole thing in one coat of each and like two minutes
All of their decals looked great when they were done.
And the posts? Gloss varnish before and after; no, only after; no, gloss before and matte varnish after; only after turning three times widdershins and never under the light of a full moon . . . you get the idea.
The little near-identical bottles themselves also make things a bit confusing: Sol recommends starting with Set and then using Sol; Set says to use only Set unless you really need Sol. But Sol is for irregular surfaces, which sounded like my use case — so I just followed the directions on the Micro Sol bottle.
I went with Second Company for my first squad because I like the pop of yellow and — for some reason — the decals for Second Company seem to be the most common.
And there’s another peculiarity: GW seems to have largely gone away from decals that aren’t for Ultramarines. The only Blood Angels transfer sets I have came out of my Dreadnoughts — even this kit, an explicitly Blood Angels tactical squad, doesn’t have a sheet of transfers in it. When those run out, I’ll be relying on Ebay.
Anyhoo, next came the banner.
The Micro Sol bottle says to let it dry and see how they turn out, and then apply more Sol as needed (with drying time between coats); as needed, prick any bubbles that form. With a reasonably smooth coat of primer and paint these two decals both seemed to have gone on okay, but I could see a couple little spots where they hadn’t settled down perfectly. So I hit those spots with some more Sol, then let them dry again.
When all’s said and done, I’ll varnish over the decals when I seal the whole mini. These weren’t hard to do at all — huzzah!
This past weekend I worked in a bit of painting time. Somehow painting my first Blood Angels model feels more like the official start of my army than any of the preceding steps — buying, assembling, priming, and basing.
Audiobook as painting soundtrack
I’m listening to the audiobook of Guy Haley’s Dante (paid link), narrated by Gareth Armstrong, while I paint; so far I’m loving it.
I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and it’s fascinating to me that three things are happening simultaneously while it’s on: I’m enjoying the book (Armstrong is a great narrator); it’s keeping me company while I paint, much like background music would; and neither book nor painting is distracting me from the other to the degree than I can’t comprehend the book or focus on my painting.
In fact, on that last front, paying attention to the book is actually helping me get into the Zen-like, relaxed-but-focused state in which I like to paint.
As ever, Sergeant Karios is first into the breach.
Compared to painting my Space Hulk Terminators, which had a fairly thick, years-old coat of spray primer and a poorly applied, and equally thick, base coat of red covering most of each model, this is night and day. Karios has my worst coat of brush-on primer, as he was first and I was still getting the hang of it, but it’s so nice and thin compared to the Terminators — and thinning my paints, using a proper fine brush, and focusing on the details are also smoothing the road.
There’s also a definite quality difference between the cheap ZEM brush I’ve been trying out for base-coating and my better Citadel and Army Painter brushes. The curled tip on my ZEM brush is going to stay curled, so it’s been relegated to “open areas and spots where I need to poke between things” duty, leaving my better brushes for actual detail work.
Along the way I took a poke at a Marine’s base with Mechanicus Standard Grey, and while not bad it’s too dark and too tonally close to the terrain color. Fortunately I’ve got more gray on hand now, and I have a hunch Danwstone will be perfect.
And on Sunday night, just as the light outside starting becoming too dim for detail work, I finished base-coating my first Blood Angel! Sergeant Karios still needs a full touch-up pass before his wash — but shit, that feels good.
I know I’m posting a lot these days — I’ve been blogging for almost 15 years: posting twice a day, for one person, is a lot! — but I’m deep in the joy of this extended moment, of being a novice miniature painter falling in love with this hobby. Everything is new for me right now, even little things — like today’s new little things, blending paints and following a basing recipe.
Plus, you know, the whole family is stuck at home — like yours probably is, if you’re reading this around the post date and not years later. Not to make light of the situation, but late February has turned out to be a serendipitous time to get back into painting miniatures.
Before diving into today’s WIP post, I want to wish everyone reading this well. I hope you and your families are safe and weathering the COVID-19 pandemic as well as possible.
Yore isn’t a news blog, or really a serious blog at all most of the time. It’s a creative outlet, it’s my hobby space, it’s something I work on when it’s fun. I figure you’ve got COVID-19 stuff coming at you from a million angles, so I’m going to keep doing what I do here: talking way too much about miniatures.
Stay safe out there!
After giving myself what I suspect was a glue-induced headache last night, I changed up my assembly routine a bit. Instead of trimming and gluing in small stages, which is more fun, I’m trimming every piece and then assembling them all at once.
I’m also sticking newly-glued minis in the bathroom with the window open and the fart fan running. So here’s a bathroom shot of Squad Dolos, fully assembled:
Sergeant Dolos is front left; the sub-squad leader (pointing hand) is back center. Since my current Blood Angels list doesn’t have room in it for either of the Infiltrators’ special units, the comms guy or the Helix Adept, I had to get a bit creative with the mini that the kit assumes will be the comms guy. (Weirdly, you don’t get the Helix Adept mini in this kit; it’s only in the Shadowspear box, I believe.) I used two Incursor arms, which are included because this kit lets you build either; he’s the sub-squad leader.
I also picked up some inexpensive brushes, a ZEM detail set (paid link), since I’m still pretty bad at taking care of my brushes. I’m getting better! But I’m still not great. These are under $2 each, as compared to a $5-$6 Army Painter brush — and available for delivery, which is handy since my family is sheltering in place for who knows how long.
I used the 0 today and quite liked it. It’s got more bristle tension than some of my other similarly sized brushes, which is handy. After a short painting session, though (just skulls and rocks on 10 bases), the tip looked like this:
From what I’ve read, that “tip curl” is a hallmark of cheap brushes in general and cheap synthetic brushes in particular. Still not a bad brush for the price, but I’m now doubting how much I’ll like the finer-tipped ones — since a curl in those can really wreck detail work.
Basing Squad Karios
My first squad has a post tag of its own (they all do; so far that’s Dolos and Cain), in case you want to follow their journey from box of plastic to fearsome painting Space Marine infantry. Today’s step on that journey, now that their primer is cured, is to paint the little rocks and skulls I glued onto their bases and then apply texture paint.
I don’t have a medium gray in my paint stash at the moment, and I want these rocks to be lighter than the texture paint (Astrogranite Debris) but darker than the drybrush color I’m going to use (Grey Seer). So: it’s blending time!
I did a 50:50 blend of Corax White and Mechanicus Standard Grey, thinned it with a bit of water, and went to town.
I use a dry palette, so I had to mix up a new batch after about five guys — which is fun, because the little variations in my batches will ensure that my rocks don’t all look like they came from Rocks ‘R’ Us. It tickles me to no end that the best way to get actual rocks to look like they belong with a miniature is . . . to paint them to look like rocks.
Next up were the skulls, in Corax White, followed by a quick Agrax Earthshade wash on them and the rocks.
And after that, the texture paint. I gather than Citadel has reformulated this stuff in the past few years, and merged it into their Technical line (it’s no longer actually called Texture), with one of the results being that you can apply it with a brush. But as soon as I opened my pot of it, I was glad I had the Citadel Texture Spreader (paid link): the Astrogranite Debris is a thick, slightly dry paste.
I used the small end of the spreader for all of these. The large end looks ideal for wider bases, but on these I needed the little paddle.
This stuff is fun. Like, really fun. I’m applying it now so I can wash and drybrush without ruining my minis’ legs, but lots of folks apply it last. Using the tiny end of the spreader I was able to manipulate the paint easily enough that I’d have felt just as comfortable doing with a fully painted mini.
After each one, I ran my finger around the edge of the base to corral any loose grit. (Once the whole mini is done I’ll paint the base edges, of course.)
This paint also feels like cheating. It’s a bit like the magic that occurs when you apply a wash to a base-coated miniature — poof, it suddenly looks a million times better.
Even having not done the finishing steps yet (wash the texture paint > drybrush it and the rocks/skulls > possibly highlight the skulls > add tufts), these are already the best-looking bases I’ve ever done. Miles ahead of my past efforts with just glue and little rocks — and that’s 100% down to this paint. I love this stuff!
That’s probably it for tonight’s hobby session — but damn, this one felt good. As a proof of concept for my “plains of Armageddon” basing recipe, the rocks don’t stand out as much as I’d like — though I’m betting a nice light-colored drybrush will help — but otherwise I’m calling this concept proven. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after the whole process is complete!
Priming minis used to stress me out because spray primer is so finicky, and I’ve ruined minis using it wrong. I’ve switched to brush-on primer (Vallejo white primer, paid link) . . . and apparently it still stresses me out. I think it’s because it feels too easy to mess up, and unlike a painting mistake it’s not trivial to fix.
Time to learn how to brush on primer!
After a couple of minis, I’d figured out a few things. One, this stuff dries faster than varnish. With the varnish, I can quickly do the whole miniature and then backtrack to pop bubbles, eliminate puddles, etc. With the primer, the top half of the mini is dry before I’ve finished the bottom half. So I learned to tackle a section, backtrack, and then tackle the next section.
Two, it’s less forgiving than the other two new approaches I’ve used since I got back into miniatures: brushing on wash/shade and varnish. This Vallejo primer is quite good about “self-correcting” — many bubbles will pop on their own, it settles into cracks a bit as it dries, and a thin coat works nicely. But if I dab it on too thick in, say, the vents on a Space Marine backpack and don’t notice it right away, I can’t fix it; with shade and varnish, it’s fixable for some time.
Three, I primed my first couple like they owed me money and I was going to beat it out of them with my brush. As a result, I over-primed them a bit. Once I figured out to put less on the brush and apply it with a lighter touch, the whole process went more smoothly.
As ever, I started with Sergeant Karios — the first mini in my Blood Angels army that I built, and the first for every stage of the process. Even if I mess him up, I like that he’ll always be special because he was the test pilot.
By my last, things were looking better: a lighter, smoother coat; many fewer bubbles and puddles; and less like an explosion in a cake frosting factory.
The saving grace here — I hope — is that I just finished painting a dozen Terminators that I’d 1) over-primed, 2) with spray primer, making them fuzzy, and 3) bounced around in a Plano box for six years after priming them, and they turned out okay. I can see some bubbles and pooling on my Blood Angels (note to self: Space Marine pauldron edges like to collect primer), but they look better than those Termies did.
Fingers crossed for the painting stage! I’ll be starting with the bases, and I have to say that putting together this post, and seeing Squad Karios up close in photos, makes me more optimistic than I was as I primed them.
I wanted to keep my painting technique fairly consistent across my Space Hulk set so they’d all look similar despite being painted over a seven-year period, but now I’m ready to try some new techniques with my Blood Angels army.
One is a simple switch to a brush-on primer, rather than the spray-on stuff. Another is edge highlighting, likely in combination with drybrushing. I dabbled a tiny bit with highlights on my Terminators and liked it, and I love how it looks on minis I see online. I recognize that my skill as a painter will improve over the course of painting my army, but I want to start out with a baseline that’s likely to stay reasonably consistent over time.
Since I’ve got a pile of old BattleTech mechs just sitting around, I figured I’d bust one out and use him as a test subject.
Earlier this month I posted about feeling a bit overwhelmed with painting options, and this experiment is a good way to narrow things down a bit: I’m going to try edge highlighting before the wash on one shoulder, and after the wash on the other one.
My guess is that highlighting after the all-over wash will look better. Let’s find out!
First, the primer
I’ve used Armory spray-on primer for every miniature I’ve painted since the 1990s, with mixed results — not because it’s a bad primer, but because it’s a spray primer. They’re sensitive to heat, cold, and humidity, so unless you can spray indoors your “priming year” can be quite short.
So: brush-on primer. I’m trying white Vallejo surface primer (paid link) because it has good reviews. My experience with their matt varnish (paid link) over the past few weeks has been excellent, so I’m expecting the primer to be solid.
After a single thin coat, including a follow up with an “empty” brush to pop bubbles and deal with pooling (just like I do with the varnish, and with washes/shades), you can barely see the difference between the primed shoulder pads and the bare metal. I suspect I need to do a second thin coat, but either way I know I should let it cure overnight.
The next morning I could see bare metal in a couple of spots I’d primed, so: too thin. I put on a second coat and left him to cure again.
Then I thought, what the heck: I’ll single-coat the head and sloppily single-coat the ax blades, giving me two more tests in one curing session.
A few hours later I wondered why I was doing a full cure for a paint test — let alone one that’s keeping me from tackling Squad Karios! So I grabbed my Mephiston Red base and Evil Sunz Scarlet layer and went to work.
One thinned Mephiston Red base coat later, here’s how ol’ Ti Ts’ang looks.
Right off the bat, this stuff is much easier to paint over than my old spray primer. I don’t know if it’s the nature of spray primer, bad technique (overspraying), or the seven-year gap between priming and painting, but when I was finishing up my Terminators I found myself fighting the pebbly/fuzzy texture of the primer. My money’s on me applying it poorly, but whatever the case it wasn’t fun to work with and it overwhelmed some of the model’s details.
Three primed bits enter
In terms of one coat of Vallejo primer vs. two coats, there’s a clear winner: one well-applied coat.
The shoulder pads got two coats, and I can see the primer overwhelming some of the finer lines and details. It’s not awful, but it’s not great.
The sloppy single coat on the ax blades left a bubble or two here and there, but smothered no details.
The properly applied single coat on the head (no bubbles) didn’t annihilate any details and was just as easy to paint over as the other two areas.
In hindsight I think I forgot to stir the primer for the first coat on the shoulder pads; I distinctly remember stirring it for the head and ax. Eh, my conclusion would hold even if I’d stirred it: two layers of primer plus a layer of paint is too much.
To the Emperor’s highlighting salon, brothers!
First, the pre-wash highlight areas.
Evil Sunz Scarlet is subtle. I don’t have GW’s recommended color for a second-layer highlight, Fire Dragon Bright, so I grabbed my closest analog for another experiment: Wild Rider Red, my drybrush color for my Space Hulk Terminators.
That’s much less subtle! My line is pretty bad, but even though the paint is notably orange the actual color pops nicely.
Time to shade
Next up is an Agrax Earthshade wash.
Pre-wash, the Evil Sunz Scarlet looked too subtle to my eye. But post-wash, it’s more visible. Still somewhat subtle, but not bad.
But look at the contrast between it and the Wild Rider Red — and between the Wild Rider before and after the wash. The Agrax knocked the orange right out of it, but it still pops noticeably more than the Evil Sunz.
I don’t think he knows about second highlight, Pip
Okay, after a few minutes of drying time it’s the final stage: a single edge highlight on the bits that have been base coated and washed, so I can compare those effects (and the two different highlight colors).
In the head/shoulders photo, the left half — as you look at it, not the model’s left — was highlighted after shading; the right half was highlighted before shading.
I can see why GW recommends shading before highlighting, and that color combination. Particularly at arm’s length, the post-wash highlighted portion pops more and has clearly been highlighted. The pre-wash side is more muted, and at arm’s length I can’t even tell it has highlights.
Let’s peek at the ax. On the front of the ax, left is post-wash highlighting and right is pre-wash (again, the photo’s right/left). On the back, it’s reversed: left is pre-wash, right is post-wash.
In the photo, the Evil Sunz Scarlet pre/post look about the same. At arm’s length, I can tell the pre-wash side has been highlighted — unlike the head and shoulders — but I still prefer the half that’s been highlighted after the wash.
The back is too orange in both versions. Even though 40k minis — where I’ll be trying out the combo of wash and highlighting I land on here — are pretty over-the-top, this blade looks downright cartoonish. That’s not inherently bad, but it’s not the effect I’m after.
One last data point, since I’ve got a freshly painted Blood Angels Terminator from my Space Hulk set handy.
I prefer the GW-approved color combo to my old one (which I was expecting), and I prefer the edge highlighting to drybrushing. Even though my edge lines suck! That’s something I can work on.
Summing up this whole little experiment:
One coat of Vallejo primer, stirred and applied with care
Edge highlight my base coat of Mephiston Red in Evil Sunz Scarlet after the Agrax Earthshade wash
For crisp edges, like armor plates, I prefer edge highlighting to drybrushing
And hell, I may even take a crack at doing a second finer edge highlight in Fire Dragon Bright, too. Time to paint some Blood Angels!
I looked at both cheaper and more expensive options, but landed here — on the cheaper end of the middle, at $44 — for a few reasons.
Compact form factor — my desk is already too crowded
Multiple color temperatures, not just cool white
Three points of articulation: tilts at the base, tilts at the bend, and the head rotates from side to side
Touch controls, which sounded cool
Aesthetically pleasing (not a top concern, but still)
Shown above is my default setting, medium brightness (the top is about 450 lumens, which isn’t a lot but is actually quite bright for a task light) and neutral white color temperature.
I wish the color temperatures were spelled out a bit better, but “night” is warm, “coffee” is warm shading into neutral, “reading” is neutral white, and “writing” is cool white. To my eye the reading setting has the best color rendition, which is what I’m after for miniatures.
The lamp includes a cord and wall wart, and there’s a single USB port on the back of the base. The next model up (paid link) includes wireless phone charging for about $6 more, if that’s something you need.
I opted against a magnifier lamp for now because I’m not convinced I need one (holding minis close to my face does the trick, so far) and most of the ones with a good magnifier and selectable or neutral white color temperature were quite expensive. I figure by the time my painting skills could really benefit from magnification, I’ll have learned more about what sort of lighting works best for me and will be able to make a more informed choice.
It’s a lamp (paid link)! With it I can paint better, for longer each day (and have been). I like it. You might like it as well.
I noticed on Warhammer TV that Duncan nearly always thins his paint a bit, which I’ve never tried. I have a palette now, so I thought I’d give it a whirl with another Terminator: Brother Gideon, who has a truly epic Storm Shield.
A month ago, I wouldn’t even have attempted the finer lines on this shield. The palette helps, as does the right brush and ample light (about which I have a short review coming up next week; this light has made a big difference) — and the nice cold bottle of Asahi just off-camera.
I didn’t do this amazing sculpt justice, but this Storm Shield is the most detailed thing I’ve ever painted. I’ll touch it up tomorrow, in better light, along with the rest of Gideon and see how it turns out.
My Terminator box is slowly starting to fill up. Gideon is 6/12, so if I can finish him and one more Termie tomorrow I’ll be over 50% done.
After seeing Warpstone Pile‘s cool setup I bought an inexpensive lightbox to use for photographing my miniatures.
For $20, this DUCLUS lightbox (paid link) — one of dozens of cheap lightboxes on Amazon — offered some features I really liked.
Folds up for storage in the included bag
Built-in LEDs with a dimmer switch, 95+ CRI, and a button to switch between cool, neutral, and warm light
If you turn it off while it’s plugged in, it has setting memory for both brightness and color temperature (it resets when you unplug it)
Five fabric backdrops, including black — the one wanted to start with
Here it is with the black backdrop in place, on the lowest light setting, with the LEDs set to neutral white. As a flashlight enthusiast who’s obsessed with high CRI and neutral white in my lights, I’m pretty happy with the light this puppy puts out.
I’m just shooting with my phone because it’s easy: shoot, email the pics to myself, and then crop, auto-adjust and -contrast in PhotoScape, and they’re ready to upload. Getting out my Serious Camera would only reduce the likelihood that I do this at all. Pitter patter!
I chose my favorite paint job that I did back in ~2007 for my first victim: this 100-ton Behemoth. I’ve always loved assault mechs and this is a great design; I spent a lot of time painting it back in the day. It’s one of the first minis where I felt like I had my drybrushing down.
But in the lightbox? Oof, that close-up under even lighting is really unforgiving. This mini is absolutely good enough for tabletop, and it looks sharp at arm’s length — my usual painting standard. But here I can see that I over-drybrushed, perhaps to compensate for not doing a wash. I’m pretty sure I didn’t drybrush in a complementary color, instead just using my default white.
Still: not terrible! This post, and my evaluation of my past work, isn’t about tearing myself down. I’m not winning any Golden Demons, but I’m not as bad a painter as I’ve long felt that I was — even under the all-seeing light of the DUCLUS. I’d play proudly with this little Behemoth in my force.
Next up is this Bushwhacker, which I painted with a metallic base coat. Definitely from around the same time as the Behemoth, in terms of when I painted it.
Over-drybrushed, not washed, and I can see I wasn’t great at removing mold lines either. The rocks on the base are glued down, but I suspect they needed to be varnished or something to help them stay in place. I like the look, but I don’t plan to base minis this way again — the little rocks fall off quite easily.
But overall, I’m not sad about this little dude either. There’s ample room for improvement, but even in the lightbox I’m pretty happy with how he turned out.
It will be fascinating to compare these to some of my later dipped (washed) minis and see how they stack up.
Anyhoo, I’m quite pleased with this lightbox and I look forward to sticking more minis in it. Being able to shoot photos without worrying about having good exterior lighting (sometimes a challenge in Seattle!), or finding just the right spot in the house, should make it a breeze to keep doing these posts.