Thursday, 27 August 2015

Sprue Cutters Union - Invisible Detail

Greetings Wargamers and Hobbyists, and welcome to the workshop. I am here this time to answer the latest question to be posed to the illustrious members of the Sprue Cutters Union, and it is one that in my opinion pits the desire to achieve the highest level of attention to detail that we are capable of against the practicalities of time constraint and the preservation of our very sanity...

Do you bother with details that will not be seen in the finished product or do you pour your heart and soul into each nook and cranny of the build?

I guess this is a question that can be approached from a number of angles. Is the piece you are working on a gaming miniature, a display miniature, a competition entry or even a commission paint job for a customer? All of these questions will impact both the degree of effort you can or are prepared to put into a paint job on a miniature. A competition entry may end up being the greatest piece of art you have ever produced, and a 'basic standard' commission piece may be a 'quick and easy' entry level job at the lower end of your pricing scale.

The vast majority of the models I build and paint are gaming miniatures. In practice this means that they are primarily used to fight battles, they are handled and moved around a lot, and they often sit among a group of similar models as part of a larger unit. This also means that most of the miniatures I paint are rarely going to be looked at from less than a couple of feet away, and are even less likely to be turned upside down to see if their nether regions have seen the caress of a brush.

Most gamers are too intent on the game they are trying to avoid losing, rather than the groups of similarly painted miniatures that compose the enemy army to be overly concerned with a really close up inspection of the paint job, and when they are taken with the appearance of a given model, it will tend to be a model which is a focus point of the collection, like a character, a monster or a vehicle. These are what gamers refer to as 'Centrepiece Models'.

Typically only a smaller portion of a gamer's collection is made up of what we call 'centrepiece models', which are often large and impressive kits, and as such draw more attention than the models around them. This therefore tends to mean that they are scrutinised more closely by others. It also tends to mean that, as we know they are a focal point of the army, and this is part of the reason we bought them in the first place, that we are often likely to spend more time on painting them than we would the faceless rank and file of the army.

There are of course those who couldn't do an 'average' paint job on a model if they tried, those who paint every single model in their collection as if it were the last model they would ever paint, the model that they would be judged by forevermore. But we won't talk about those people. For myself, and I imagine for the majority of other gaming hobbyists, the amount of time and effort I put into painting a model, and the degree to which I lavish attention on the bits I know will rarely - if ever - be seen by another person, depends mainly on what the model is and it's role in my collection.

My character models and elite units are going to have much more time spent on them, including the deep recesses of cloaks, the inner folds of clothing and armour, and saddles which will be hidden when the model is assembled, than a model in the centre of the third rank of a horde of Skeleton Warriors, quite simply because with his fellows obscuring the view to him from all angles, and the fact that when not marching to war he spends most of his time stowed in a foam lined carry case, there seems little benefit in spending 'extra' time and attention on areas of the model that never likely be seen.

Equally, the command models of that same block of Skeleton Warriors will get far more brush-time, because not only do they tend to be more impressive than their rank and file brethren, they also carry interesting accoutrements like musical instruments and unit standards rather than just weapons. They are also the last models to be removed when the unit is finally destroyed by the enemy, and they are the models that form the focal point of the front rank. They are the 'face of the unit' if you will, and the rest of the unit are pretty much just filler.

In gaming circles there are a few variations of a phrase: Bases, faces, banners and shields. These are the areas if a model that draw the most attention, and whether it is a centrepiece model or a rank and file nobody, if you get these areas painted to a reasonable standard, then shortcuts elsewhere can go unnoticed. I for example am in the process of trying to paint as many models as I can to a 'battlefield standard' before the end of the year - almost at 180 infantry models, of a target of 250 - and this doesn't mean painting sloppily (not deliberately at any rate), it means painting to a more basic standard that looks fine on the table, but that I can come back to later down the line to spend more time on things like eyes, teeth, general highlighting and other smaller details which just aren't necessary when the goal is to be able to put models on the table for games without cringing.

Part of being able to get through models quickly does however involve cutting corners where I can, and on the unit of 25 Chaos Marauders I am almost finished with for now, this might mean painting a thin layer of brown onto the backs of the shields and leaving them at that, rather than bother with the metal banding and any washes or highlights that are entirely out of sight unless looking at them from behind and beneath. When you look at them from the front, they will look fine, with no obvious bits missed.

Some people take other short cuts with gaming miniatures. If the hatches on a vehicle are going to be closed the whole time, where is the benefit in painting the inside of the passenger compartments? What is the point of painting the underside of a tank or bike if no one will ever see it?

I have heard stories about some armies people have painted to a very strict deadline for a gaming tournament, and tales of weary and bleary eyed gamers painting into the small hours by candlelight the night before an event are common. In these cases it would not surprise me at all to find that corners have been cut wherever possible in an effort to get the entire army to a presentable standard for the event, especially as painting marks are on offer and contribute to the overall winner of the tournament. Though when we hear about gamers who have painted the front of a miniature to an enviable standard, yet have left the back of the model simply base coated because they didn't expect people to see it, you have to wonder when people have bitten off more than they could chew.

For my final thoughts on this topic, I have already described as a gamer which models are going to get more attention and which models less depending on their role in the army, but I think there is also an area of overlap in some cases. When a hobbyist reaches a certain level of ability, and their painting becomes noticeably better than the results of those around them, their collection is probably going to attract an ever increasing volume of attention until, regardless of whether a model is a large centrepiece creature or an inconspicuous infantry model at the back of a reserve unit, every Tom, Dick and Harry is being looked up and down and all over for the quality of his battle attire.

When every model is lavished with a greater than average level of attention to quality and detail, every model is more likely to be scrutinised even more closely than their counterparts in less eye-catching collections, and when that happens, will the painter still feel happy that they can cut the odd corner in order to hit that tournament deadline, or will they have become a victim of their own skill and success, doomed to paint every last shield rear, undergarment and horse's tackle until their eyes fail and their hands shake after decades of painting every boggling detail, just in case someone decides to have a closer look at a model from the back of a unit just to see if the quality of painting is consistent throughout the army?

A nice problem to have some would say.

As always, thanks for reading.