Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Buddy Ian: the Challenges and Rewards of Teaching

I think I may have finally cleared up some writers block. I'll still keep my site review and Helpful Handy Hint cop-outs on standby, though.

Moving along... A while ago a enticed my buddy Ian to take his first baby steps into the world of tabletop gaming. He likes to do arts and crafts type stuff and he loves games with complicated rule sets (he inexplicably loves the OOP Doctor Who CCG) so 40k was a good fit. As an added bonus, i was just starting a Space Marine army, so we would both be building armies from scratch.

I loaned him the rule book, all my codicies and pointed him at the GW site.

A few weeks later, he had decided on Necrons (Ian's Rule #1: when in doubt, go with the undead).

Fast forward to now: I've made slow (but steady) progress on my Loyalist Iron Warriors. Ian is getting married in three weeks and has a long commute to work - his free time has been at a premium. His Necrons have suffered a bit. They're assembled and mostly primed, but that's about it. The other day, I invited him over to get the ball rolling on his first 1000 points - more on that later.

A bit about Ian: Ian is what I would call 'inexperienced' as far as the whole table-top gaming hobby. He's never really played a TTG before nor has he painted many (if any) miniatures. He's essentially a blank slate. This has it's advantages and its challenges. On one hand, he doesn't have any bad habits to break (unlike myself). On the other, his skill base is tiny. He needs a lot more info and practice to get up to speed.

This brings me back to his recent visit with his big ol' box of Necrons. I had Ian over to play with color schemes and to use my airbrush to speed up the task of applying a base color to 39 identical guys (a truely tedious task). In the meantime, I discovered that while Ian is a a pretty amazing sculptor and had a solid grasp on model construction, he knew fuck all about the incredibly specialized skill set for miniature painting.

So, in addition to a Necron jump start, I ended up wearing my teacher hat.

Knowledge of the extreme basics of removing mold lines and simply washing your metal miniatures is easy to impart. All you have to do is simply tell someone - no detailed tutorial required. Pinning is largely irrelevant to a mostly plastic army and an expense that isn't necessary since I am more than willing to do it for him (1).

Beyond that, techniques and skills need to be developed. Simply telling someone how to prime is one thing, but there are actually tips and tricks to be shared. Hell, an actual technique needs to be developed. The same is doubly true of the actual business of painting your models. Most gamers don't have formal art training. Even the basic use of a paintbrush may need to be taught.

I think that this need for knowledge and practice with a gigantic array of skills is why there are so many gray legions on people's gaming tables. Painting is hard and intimidating when you first start. Just ask Josiah.

It's also very hard to get good instructional help with painting - especially when you're starting out. There are a ton of tutorials out there, unfortunately, the good ones are few and far between and the basics are never covered in enough detail. Most detailed tutorials are aimed at more advanced skills. But what good does that do someone who is just now putting their first strokes of paint on a model?

As an example: I'm on record as someone who is more than willing to gush over how great the Brushthralls site is. But take a look at their priming tutorial. How useful is that to someone with the type of skill base I'm talking about? The problem with these type of 'extreme basics' articles is that it the extreme basics tend to be extremely hard to capture on film. This is largely due to a slant towards finished results rather than technique.

It is incredibly difficult to impart knowledge on how to spray black paint on a miniature when all you can reliably show is a picture of the end result. How do you show someone what an over thick primer coat looks like through a picture? What about proper spraying technique? You almost have to have someone who knows what they're doing around just to to be able to get a visual (2).

At the end of the day, Ian walked away with a bunch of base colored necrons and a signifigant increase to his skill level. Overall, a very rewarding experience.

It got me thinking too. As part of a rant a while ago, a mentioned trying to improve the level of "table top quality" army painting. For the most part I have pursued this by pushing information on more advanced techniques. But painting is just like anything else, the basics are super important. Many of the shit-tastic paint jobs out there, I feel, can be attributed to a lack of the basic knowledge needed to paint a good model.

So, I am now going to be adding some articles on the basic miniature painting skills. The advanced stuff will still continue, but now the new painters will find something more as well.

1: I still highly recommend getting a pin vise for pinning at some point, but it adds to the expense of getting brushes, paints AND models when you're just starting out.

2: I've seen some pretty solid tutorials on youtube, but they're usually plagued by poor quality.

General Note: From what I've been told and from what I've seen, Necrons desperately need some codex lovin'. To that end, I've also been using Stelek's blog to shore up Ian's Necron list building skills and general knowledge.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blech - article retirement

Didn't much care for my first run at a beginner's article. So I retired it. I didn't want to remove it entirely so I removed all the old tags and moved it to the 2006 posts.

Here's a direct link.

Henceforth, 2006 shall be the retired articles section.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Web-Resource Review: The Brushthralls

I think I'll kick off this new feature be reviewing some of the places I go to all the damn time and are on my side bar.

First off, is

This is the site that really taught me how to paint. No joke. When I picked up my brushes a few years ago (after a very long hiatus), the fanciest techniques I knew were washes and drybrushing.

I'm not exactly sure how I found the Brushthralls, but I did and I'm eternally grateful I did.

The Good
So, where to start on this review? The brushthalls content is massive - most I've ever seen outside of the collected junk from a forum. I guess that's as good a place to start as any.

The Brushthralls cover a metric ton of stuff. Everything from pre-painting prep to advanced techniques. Tons and tons of good advice. On top of that, the articles themselves are very deep. Almost everywhere you look there's some piece of useful info.

As to the tutorials themselves, they are, for the most part, extremely well written and contain almost exacting detail. Step by steps are clearly shown (a rarity on the web at large) and pictures accompany at least the important steps. Often more. This is by far the best part of the site.

Often times you get to a tutorial from god knows where and you're stuck with blurry photographs (if you're lucky) or a boring wall of text with some vague steps. Not so on If you read their tutorials you WILL lean something and you WILL know what tools and techniques you need. Professional photographs, step by step instructions and clear writing are the order of the day here.

Continuing with the rambling nature of this post, the guys who create the tutorials are absolutely grade-a good painters. Many of them painted for Privateer Press as freelancers before PP got their 'eavy metal team equivalent. The pedigree is there AND they're willing to share, in detail, their skills.

Most importantly, is the level of involvement the Brushthralls themselves maintain. Running a website on your own time and dime can be thankless and people get burnt out or bored. But even when these guys haven't posted in a while, they seem committed to maintaining the site and committed to doing something to get new content up. Now that some of the original thralls have had life changing experiences (cancer, job lose, kids, etc), some of them have gotten a bit burnt out. But out of the kindness of their own hearts, they get guest writers to step up. Good stuff. On top of all of this, is the fact that they thralls have a forum of their own that they frquent and will answer e-mails from strangers.

Continuing with this gushing praise: Dan Smith, thank you for answering my questions about water bases and pumice paste last year.

The Bad
Well, with anything, there's always room for improvement. Most of the negative things I have to say about the Brushthralls are minor quibbling things.

The first criticism isn't really a problem, but bears mentioning. The site is very heavily focused on Privateer Press models. This is the result of close ties with PP when they first got started. As it stands now, they've begun to move on. Not really a problem, just a bit of a heads up for those of you who might be wondering where all the space marines are at.

I also haven't thought too much of the new guest articles as they continue their quest for new Brushthalls. There was a bit of a lull while the Brushthralls updated their site - a review here and there, but nothing major. The new tutorials have been a bit sparse - very short and lacking any signifigant detail. Kind of a bummer, but that's growing pains for ya.

The only other downside is that their migration to a new Wordpress site has been pretty slow. Not all of their older articles have been re-formated yet. Luckily, they were nice enough to maintain their old site as an archive: archives.

Final Thoughts:
I can't recommend this site enough. Agian, easy to understand and follow tutorials and a lot of involvement from the creators. Whether you're new to painting or looking to get some pro-tips, is a great place to start.

Another New Feature

I just realized that how much time I spend looking for paint ideas, advice and tips on the web and how little time I spend sharing what I find.

Starting now, I'll periodically be sharing these internet treasure troves with you guys. Each one will get a link, a little pro and con action and some general review stuff.

Should be helpful for pointing out some cool resources I've found as well as ranting about ones everyone knows about if it comes down to it.

It will also allow me to free up space on the right side of my blog over there ->

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Helpful Handy Hint #1: Get a Hair Dryer

Not actually the first HHH, but the first one that will be easy to find.

hairdryers have a multitude of uses: Dry your hair, dry someone else's hair, act as a stand-in ray-gun, useful as a suicide instrument when combine with a bath tub full of water, the list goes on.

You can now officially add useful painting and modeling tool to that list.

Safety first: Hair dryers produce heat. Be careful with you hands and fingers when handling anything you are aiming the hairdryer at. Be careful you don't overheat plastic models as well.

As a general rule, use the hairdryer on lower settings and try to use sweeping motions to heat the area your working on evenly. You don't want to burn your fingers or melt plastic.

Here are three ways I've gotten the most millage out of my hairdryer:

1) Use it to dry paint quickly. When you work with drying retarders as much as I do, it can get frustrating to have to wait longer for paint to dry. Use your hairdryer to speed this process up. Be sure to use the 'low' setting and wave the hair dryer over the area (avoid direct )for best results - i.e. to avoid blowing the paint around and to avoid any kind of damage to the paint or model itself.

Bonus: I even her rumors that this will increase the toughness of the paint to some degree.
Warning: I wouldn't use this on any paint that has been applied with an airbrush. The layers are super thin and when I did this, my paint crinkled.

2) Use it to dry other things quickly. I've gotten the most use out of my hairdryer when using weathering powders. One common technique is to brush on the powders and then soak them with some form of thinner (I use white spirits). This can take a while to dry on its own. The good ol' hair dryer speeds this up and even makes the powders more resistant to spray varnish.

You can be a little more careless with this use. I've had good experiences with full blast really baking the powders on. But be careful not to melt any plastic you may be working on.

3) Use it to soften up resin models. Resin models have a nasty habit of warping during the casting process. Fortunately, resin is pretty receptive to heat when it's cured. You can use the hairdryer to heat up areas you need to bend into shape pretty easily. I found that using a hairdryer is faster and easier than the hot-water method. Standard safety warnings apply.

Lastly, you only need to spend about 10 bucks on a hair dryer to get a tool that will meet your needs.

Unless you have some serious work to do on your hair-don't.

The Return of Helpful Handy Hints

When I first started this blog, one of the few re-occurring features I had were the Helpful Handy Hints. I made it to about 3 or 4. However, this was before I had discovered the magic of tagging.

It also turns out that I would like to rescind my first Helpful Handy Hint. Tamiya smoke can be cool, but it dries on pretty thick and has a tendency to obscure detail and leave globs on stuff.

Applying it can also be a bit rough on a brush.

In any case, I'm going to reinstate the Helpful Handy Hints feature. First one starts today.