Bulk Painting from a Painters Perspective
By Chris “wolfy” West

So you just bought the latest Codex or Army book and you just happened to have the money to dump on building an army from the ground up. Now you have to get that mass of plastic, metal, and maybe even some resin all painted up. Don’t let this thought scare you too badly its actually not that big of a deal and just about every person out there that enjoys our hobby has been a situation like this. Whether it’s a small army like the new Grey Knights or it’s a massive Goblin Horde, bulk painting is actually easy to do. So shall we get started going through my tips and suggestions to keep from going completely insane or bored out of your dome… or maybe even both at the same time (seen that once… it was kinda scary really).

First things first… if you happened to do what I just did recently and ordered a whole Imperial Guard army (2500pts of all foot sloggers and lascannons) all at once, don’t let get to you. GO THROUGH EVERY THING!!! Open every single box and blister to make sure that everything is there and you are not missing a single thing. If you are just contact the powers that be and yell at them... they will get you all straightened out. When I got home with all that Guard (5 battleforces and 11 heavy weapons squads… don’t ask), I went through every single box and I am thankful that I did as I was missing 3 heavy weapon sprues. So a few phone calls later that was all fixed and I was back on my way. Now one of the things that I do when I am bulk painting whether it be for myself or a client of mine I pretty much always take the same approach to prep work. If I am using some of my resin bases I will go through and get them all cast for the entire army all at once (if I have enough resin for it) that way I don’t have to wait on the resin to set later when I am in the painting groove. If I am not using the resin bases just go straight into cleaning and assembling the figures ONE SQUAD AT A TIME this will help with making you feel overwhelmed. As I find it scarier if you have an entire army all assembled and standing on their bases looking at you with that “well when are you going to get me painted” look that unpainted miniatures seem to have. Creepy really. And don’t sit there and think that just because you have 200 figures to paint that you can cut corners here and there on the prep work and no one will notice. Cause trust me… you leave those 2 or 3 guys with mold lines they will stand out more than a whore in church. So always make sure you prep your stuff the right way… you all know the steps… wash, clip, trim, file, glue… blah blah blah. Also know exactly how you want your army to look. What level of quality, what colors you want to use and where to use them. Even if it means take a test model to play with a few color schemes and blending and highlighting and shading. This test model is also a great practice model so you can develop your plan of attack.

So sticking with the one squad at a time theme (you will thank me later for this trust me) prime just what you need figure wise for that one unit and start painting. Now this is where you can take a couple of different paths. The old fashioned way of painting one fig at a time, assembly line style (this is my favorite), and then the dreadful spray and dip method. Which path you chose to take is all up to you and what you want for a finished look. I will not tell you which one you should do nor will I judge you for the path you choose… that is unless you happen to be playing in a tournament where I am a paint judge… then its kinda my job.

PATH 1… One Figure At A Time

If this is more your pace and you have plenty of time (like several months if not longer) then this is the path for you. I will always take this path when it comes to characters and other HQ choices as I think that they need to stand out more than your regular line units. This path is also the common path for the painters out there that like to have their entire army look like it could be seen in a White Dwarf. Let me let you in on a secret about that… those guys know all the little tricks that have been passed around for years among the painting elite and will most likely not take this path to bulk painting. Also I have been told that there are times when those guys will show up to work at 9 am and will have an army all piled up on their desk with a note attached to it saying that this army has a photo shoot the next morning.

Now don’t take this the wrong way I am not saying that you cant achieve that level of paint in a timely manner but I know that when I paint an army 1 figure at a time I have been known to spend upwards of 12 to 15 hours on that one figure. But when I take more of our next path I can still achieve a rather striking looking army but I can paint a whole squad in that same amount of time. Will they win a Golden Demon or a Crystal Brush… no… but they might take a best painted or 2.

Also I have found that with one figure at a time you tend to burn out REALLY fast. Its almost like burning the candle at both ends.

PATH 2… The Assembly Line

As I said above this is my preferred method to bulk painting because its quick and you can have a really good looking army when you are done. And you don’t burn out as bad. This is a super simple way to paint, just plan have a plan of attack so you don’t get lost half way through the squad. So base coat the whole unit and then switch to the next color and go back through the whole unit with that one and then switch again. Just keep repeating this process until you are done with the squad. You might just find this to really make the time go by really fast.

Now speaking of fast that brings us to the third path…

PATH 3… Spray & Dip

I normally think of this as the lazy gamers way of painting, or as cheating to get a painted army. To this day I have not taken this path and I truly hope that I am never asked to take this path as I don’t like the final results. Plus I just don’t find it satisfying.

Of all the paths this is obviously the fastest and could also be viewed as a short path to a quick and dirty paint job that some will still find pretty decent. For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about its time to come out from under your rock and go over to Army Painters website and check it out. From what I have been told, shown, and read up on it really seems like a good product and its super easy to use. Just for the love of god follow their directions and don’t over do it… you don’t want your daemonettes looking like they should go see Jenny Craig.

Just spray the models using one of their “primers” as a basecoat for the model. Like if you are painting Blood Angels start with Dragon Red spray and then paint all your details like eyes and the flexi parts of the armor and the guns and so on. Then you grab the models base with a pair of vise grips and dip the model in one of their “shades”, pull the model back out and sling the excess of the model. I have been told a more effective way for doing this than a pair of vise grips and its even faster and you don’t risk throwing your shoulder out of socket. This is also how I would recommend “the dip” if you have the model on a resin base. Just mount model on a pin, paper clip, piece of rod… whatever… and then mount that in the chuck of a drill or Dremel tool. Dip as normal and then hold the model in a box and turn the drill on for a couple of seconds. This will sling the excess off really fast, and its kinda cool to watch.

But enough on the details of how the dip method is done… it is a fast and fairly easy way to get an army painted real fast. And if you play Necrons… since it is already the easiest army in the world to paint… you should be able to get the whole thing painted in like 2 hours. The Dip method is the only time I would suggest breaking away from the one unit at a time as you will have the whole army done in no time and the stopping between each unit to prep the next one in line gets old real fast.

Breaking Up The Monotony

So you got that one unit all painted and they have been based and varnished and put away, and you are about to start on the next one but you find that your motivation is starting to let up a little and you start thinking that you really don’t want to do this or that you will never get the whole thing finished. I find it best to take a breather from painting that one style of figure. God only knows that it gets really old and you really start to dread painting skeletons after you have already painted 150 of the little buggers. So to break things up and act as a “pallet cleanser” of sorts what I have been known to do is go hit the game store and pick up a random figure that you think looks really cool and would like to paint. BUT… it must not be from the army you are painting one at that time. So if you are ass deep in painting Skaven don’t go out and get Ikit Klaw just cause you think he would make a good pallet cleanser. Pick something from a different army or even a different range. Like go paint a Space Marine or a Hobbit. If funds are a little on the tight side and your store carries the Reaper range of figures go pick one of them up cause you like the way it looks. Most of them can be picked up for less than $8 and they are really well sculpted figs. They look nice sitting on the shelf and may also give you a chance to practice a new technique like NMM… you never know. If I am not working on one of my commissions that I might have sitting on the shelf and the only thing I am working on is one of my own armies I will grab one of the many Reaper figs I have sitting on the table. Yes I have several of them just laying around completely at random because I will go into the game shop and buy one or 2 just for that reason. That and I really hate going to the game shop and leaving without buying something.

Break Time

This is especially important because sitting at the paint table for long hours is really bad for you. Yes, even if you have one of those super comfy ergo chairs and the table is set to just the right height so you don’t get sore or fatigued. Every couple hours get up stretch the legs walk around the room… do a couple jumping jacks… something to get the blood flowing properly to your feet again. Also this is the perfect time to grab a snack, a fresh drink, and change out the dirty water from all the painting you have been doing you painting maniac. This is great way to rest the eyes too… as focusing on something that small and that close to the face is hard on them. And something tells me that you want to be able to still see when you get old.

In my paint studio you will find several distractions and ways to take a break. From the TV with the mountain of DVDs piled up around it (the $5 movie bin at Walmart is my friend for this) sits on the other side of the room from my desk and the desk faces the TV. So I like to pop in a DVD (tv show seasons are great for this cause they are long and have several episodes on one disc so you don’t have to change all that often), hit play and let it go while I am painting. I have found that we as humans are attracted to movement and bright colors so this will almost always force you to look up every so often and focus on something at a distance of more than a few feet away. It gives the eyes a rest and it keeps you from getting bored. If I don’t have a DVD in I will flip it over to like discovery or the history channel as they usually have pretty good shows on and then just must the TV. Since I always have my laptop open when I am painting I will open up Pandora and pick one of my many stations (depending on my mood) and let it play for hours and hours.

One more thing about taking breaks. Take days off from painting or assembling or what ever step you happen to be on at that point in time and get out of the house for a little bit. Read a book. Go to the game store and play a game or 2, cause after all… this is a very social hobby. If your eyes start to ache, or you cant focus, or you are getting angry or frustrated cause something is just not going the way that you wanted it to… just get up and walk away from the paint table for a bit and take a breather.

Even if you are a commission painter like myself and you are getting paid to give someone a well painted army, painting should be fun and rewarding. For me it is how I like to unwind cause I find it to be really relaxing. Its like it slows everything in my head down and kicks out all the unnecessary crap that gets going on up there.

So lets review why bulk painting isn’t as bad as some people like to think it is. And a few easy ways to keep it from becoming more of a chore.

Once you have everything all gathered up and in one place go through all of it to make sure its all there. Proper planning will keep you from getting lost half way through. One unit at a time… cause when you get them all assembled and cleaned up waiting for paint they look like they are staring at you and it seems like you will never be able to get through them all. Also… don’t keep the pile of plastic in line of sight of where you paint cause then you will just start to stress about having all that stuff ahead of you. Pick a path and stick to it until the end, and make sure it’s the right path for you and for how you want the end result you want for your army. Break things up with random figures if you find yourself getting bored because once you do and you stop painting all together on the army… you will find it REALLY difficult to go back to working on it several months down the road. And take breaks often to get the blood flowing and to rest your eyes.

Follow these little helpful tips and you too will have a fully painted army in no time at all. And they will look awesome and fight better because of it. And you will be more proud of a fully painted army than one that is just a blob of grey plastic on the table.

So until next time… keep painting… and have fun.

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