Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Smelly Primer: Is It Worth Collecting Old School Paint?


I wasn't lucky enough to live near a Games Workshop store in the 1980s. My experiences with the old retail philosophy were sadly limited to a few exhilarating hours during family holidays to York or Edinburgh. Wonderworld was my 'local store', situated a few minutes walk from one of my father's favourite haunts - the Model Railway Shop. Once the humble Model Railway Shop was a slightly shabby fixture in (nearly) every English town, and no doubt a fair few Scottish, Welsh and Irish towns too. Now, much like Wonderworld (and perhaps GW stores in the not too distant future!) those shops are largely gone.

Now Wonderworld wasn't a pure Games Workshop store. It sold a lot more besides and to an impressionable youth the combination of blister wall, sticky carpets and the cornucopia of fantasy/sci-fi games available there was mind-shattering. I can recall wandering the cramped shelving and uncovering large plastic statues of Freddy Kruger, off-air recordings of lost Doctor Who episodes and even several editions of Car Wars. 

But it was the paint racking that fascinated me the most!

I cannot recall exactly when I got hold of my first paints. It must have been around the time I was bought my first figures by my father. These were either The Nightmare Legion, some Paranoia robots or the Tinman and Oxy. I am pretty certain that I had the Citadel Colour set and the Creature set first, with the Monster and Space Marine sets coming later. Despite this, I always loved browsing through the paint range in store. This was largely due to the fact that these pots had actual labels on, while the paints that I had received in my boxsets were always blank. 

Now most of the paints were instantly recognisable, save one - the now infamous 'Smelly Primer'. 

I can remember pausing when I first came across the pot. It was at the end of the aisle of paints and for a while I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, that was until I picked up the pot and realised it was certainly part of the GW range. I pondered what on earth the paint was for. My father had explained the process of undercoating, and it remained something he did in the garage for me. The idea of painting a special primer over my lead models had not yet dawned on me, though shortly after I started painting my lead models Skull White rather than waiting for dad to be ready to spray them. 

A couple of boys in my class, Tom Dames and Russell Parsons, later bought pots of Smelly Primer, and it was then that I had my first experience with the stuff, once I had uncovered the stuff in their collections. I can recall opening the pots (with my teeth) and sniffing the contents - I was rather disappointed that the stuff wasn't really THAT smelly. I am not sure what I was expecting.

I have written about the old 1980s paint range several times. The best article on the subject can be found here if you are interested.
So what has my ramble got to do with the question I posed in the title to this post? To be honest, not very much at all but it does set a scene that will be familiar to many young gamers hooked on Citadel and all it entailed back in the later part of the 1980s. You could barely afford to pick up a few miniatures a month, let alone the paint you needed to prepare them for the table top, so many colours remained forever out of your league. 

Today, I speak to quite a few people keen to achieve that '80s' look with their own painting. In fact, its a question that I am often asked during Oldhammer events and when I post my figures online. Questions about the paints I use rapidly follow and I do my best to answer them, however it isn't necessary to track down all the original paint sets to achieve the style. A quick search online will quickly direct you towards one of the many charts that tell you how to source similar colours in the 21st century.

Have a look here at the chart I use the most. You will notice from this resource that Coat d'Arms paints are mentioned. Despite the growing popularity of the Oldhammer Movement, hardly a week goes by without someone discovering that practically all of the old range of '80s paints are still available from Black Hat. A major bummer if you have just shelled out a small fortune on an original paint set! And the prices of the old paint sets often concern me. It would be justifiable forking out over £40 for the Creature or Monster paint sets if you were desperate to hold them in your collection, but doing so to get your hands on colours that can be acquired at the fraction of the cost is foolish.

But there are a few colours that are considerably rarer than others. And Smelly Primer is definately one of them, especially in the old Citadel labelling. They are so rare in fact, that the only image I could find of a pot of Smelly Primer was from the later hexagonal range. Still, if you are a completist, like me, its very likely that owning all of the paints, with the original labels is going to be a priority at some point.

If you are interested in collecting the more numerous colours, to be honest it is very hard to tell the difference between a mint original and a modern pot of Coat d'Arms. You could easily just wash off the new labels, bung the colours in an old Citadel Colour box and post the set online for £35 and watch the punters come. For reference at this point, each pot of Coat d'Arms can be picked up for about £2 each. And £2 multipled by 9 (that is how many paints came in each set) equals £18. So shifting a box at £35 (as I have seen recently) is a healthy profit.

As you can see, collecting the old paints is a risky buisness. And that is before you consider how many of the paints might be unusual when you get hold of them. I find that many of the metallics do not survive well, especially those found in the Ork and Eldar paintset. But this isn't always the case. One thing I have learnt is that the older paints seem to last much, much longer than the more modern ones. I have bought Blood Reds from GW stores that dried out in a year but I have a couple of pots of the same colour from the mid-'80s going strong. Some people have commented that this was probably a deliberate way of increasing paint sales. But there is no direct evidence for this.

Some of the boxes in my collection. If I was dishonest, it would be easy to snap up the Coat d'Arms paints, wash off the labels and sell them on (doubling my money) so be careful if you are trying to hunt these originals down.
So is it actually worth hunting down the original colours? I think tha answer to that is yes and no. Owning the original boxes is fantastic from a collecting point of view, as they looks and feel great. But with many of the colours available elsewhere, I see no reason to get hold of them just to paint your models, not when other versions are still online for purcahse.

However, there are several '80s colours that are very hard to get matches for, at least I have found it much harder to get decent matches for them. These are Titlillating Pink and Bilious Green.


Titillating Pink is probably, in my experience, the hardest colour to get hold now. I have tried matching my original pots against many other ranges and I have found that they seem to lack the 'neon '80s' quality that original colour has. I have heard a story, probably apocryphful, that something in the original paint mix has been since banned in the EU, hence the lack of a match in modern paint ranges. Its a great colour for Slaanesh models obviously. If you see a point of this stuff for sale online, its really worth picking one up for your collection. Post '92, probably due to the name, the colour was withdrawn and though Tentical Pink followed shortly after, it was a lighter shade and lacked the 'dayglo' feel of its older cousin. 



Like Titilating Pink, Bilious Green was found in the Monster Paint Set and had a similar 'dayglo' feel. In fact, the two colours could be said to have been inspired by those bright '80s socks in pink and green that so many of us wore. Remember them? It had a longer lifespan, and was still available during the 'screwtop' relaunch of the paints in the later 1990s. It disappeared after this, though Scorpion Green was a close second and the best match I ever found for this classic colour. Again, if you see a pot of this colour its well worth adding to your collection.

By the tail end of the Ansell years, and moving through the earliest days on the the post-Ansell period, there were a great number of other paints that were added to the range. Who can forget the hideous mettalics that came a little later? In producing this article I found a useful site that lists the original set of paints, and also documents the later hexagonal versions. I have included it here for your reference.


So, what are your views on the older paints? Are they something that you collect and use to this day or are you a believer in the proxy versions that are still available. Is there a colour out there that you really miss from days gone by and that you struggle to find a modern shade for?

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Orlygg


21 comments:

  1. The older paints do seem to last much better. I've still got plenty on the go, from my Dwarven Flesh in a hexpot to the full range of Metallics. Which I quite like, by the way, Glistening Green and Polished Blue especially. Totally useless for almost everything, but every so often they turn out perfect.

    Personally I miss the inks. The current washes (or shades, or whatever they call them now) are good, but not as strong or versatile. There's only a few millilitres of Black Ink left to me now, and I shall mourn it terribly once it's gone.

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    1. Coat d'Arms do the inks too. I have bought them and find them just as useful, though the colours are slightly different.

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  2. I switched to Coat d'Arms when I discovered they used to make Citadel Paints. Funny you should post this as I still have my first Citadel Colour paint set (albeit from the 90s) and used one of the paints from it just yesterday. What is it about our gamer nostalgia that makes us want to write and read about old paints? I don't quite know, but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside!

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    1. You are quite correct about the attraction of nostalgia, and judging by page views, there are a large number of people interested in this subject. Which is why I thought it a subject worth exploring in more detail.

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  3. I have never used bilious green but it seems that P3 necrotite green comes quite close. It comes in the same bottles and is also made by the same factory that makes the Coat d'arms paints.

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  4. So was the Citadel "Smelly primer" actually gesso? Gesso used to have an ammonia smell to it, though modern stuff does not seem to, in my very limited experience.

    Some time ago I was asking a lot of questions about the paints sold by Heritage Models (the USA's would-have-been GW, which made games and minis for them in the early 1980s, as well as special paints). One of the former employees gave me what he had left of the old paints -- some still usable, some dried out. I was interested because they always claimed they were a special formula for 'stain painting'. Unfortunately he "helped" me out by adding water to all the pots so I am still unsure what the original consistency should have been, and anyway it would have been better to add some acrylic medium, or at least distilled water rather than the tap water he added, but he meant well. Anyway I never bought any Citadel paints except for a set of the inks and I have used them only occasionally over the years, so that my original 1989 pots should last me for the rest of my life. (I mean I hope they won't, but at the rate I've been using them they should last well past my ability to paint!)

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    1. I have no idea if 'Smelly Primer' was gesso, having never used gesso and its been years since I last sniffed Smelly primer. I find it curious that it was never mentioned in WD or in any of the advertising, which is why the pot was so interesting when discovered on the edge of the paint rack all those years ago.

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  5. Just checked my paint rack, and my original pot of Tittilating Pink is still there, alongside a dozen others. The only real problem I have is that the plastic lids start to become very brittle, and once it isn't capable of closing the potdrying out happens quickly.
    I was not aware people were collecting these ... Only over the weekend I threw away a couple of old pots that were not usable anymore.

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    1. You can buy the empty pots online for pence. They look exactly the same as the old ones and the paint is easily transferred. The trouble is, I cannot find the link to the webstore now. Can anyone help?

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    2. Here's one link, anyway.

      http://www.shcweb.co.uk/eshop/product.php?xProd=67&xSec=

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  6. Yep, that is exactly what it felt like to browse and buy the GW paints in the 80s - your post brings back a lot of memories. I started collecting in 83 and collecting the paints was as much fun (and as expensive) as collecting the models.

    Your post made me dig out my old paints, and hey presto bilious green is still there in his pot, bless him. I didn't know Smelly Primer was so rare. Sure that I had a pot, I went rummaging and found it (in a round pot, no less), but sadly I'd emptied it and used it for a custom paint mix. I remember buying it out of curiosity, using it once and deciding that while white spray paint made for good primer, Smelly Primer was basically just white paint and didn't do the job at all. I suppose you could call it GW's first "technical" paint.

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    1. What a shame it didn't have the original paint in as the internet is yearning for an image of the original stuff! But back then, white spray paint was something that only dads and grafitti artists seem to have access to. Hence the need for a little bit of brushed on primer I suppose!

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  7. I started with GW when the screw-hex 'bolter shell' paints were on the racks, but not long after I found a couple of old, (now) Coat d'arms style Citadel pots in a nearby model shop. I bought them partly for 'historical' interest, and partly because they were interesting colours without a match in the then-current GW line.

    One was ghoul grey. A bee-ootiful warm grey with a slight yellow-grey tint. (In contrast to Oldhammer painting conventions I've seen here, I generally like muted - but still varied - colours) It still holds pride of place in my paint rack, though that's mostly because, rather than using it on everything as I might have, I'm terrified of using it up because I can't find a decent match! The new GW stormvermin grey is a nice warm grey too, but it'd make a good shade for ghoul grey because it's too dark. There's a colour in the Reaper line that might be a match, but I've yet to summon the wherewithal to send across the Atlantic for a test bottle. When I remember.

    The other old Citadel pot was one mentioned here: bilious green. I don't have it anymore. Looking at the ever-growing chart of my paint collection, I think I sold it on because it was too similar to Ral Partha Europe/Miniature Paints' lime green. The latter's a *wee* bit more yellow, but otherwise they're pretty closely matched acid greens. Certainly much closer to each other than to scorpion green.

    Have you seen the Miniature Paints line? I have a feeling it could help with your other colour match problem too. For some reason they have a lot of pink colours for the size of the range. Of the three brighter ones, pink is even lighter than tentacle pink was; coral is maybe too reddish; but fuschia... I don't know if it's as close a match as lime green and bilious green. Going just by the pics you posted here, MP fuschia is darker than titillating pink (Though is there a bit of flash in the photos? They look almost as light as tentacle to me) but if you like the adjectives 'neon' and 'day-glo' attached to yer oldhammer slaaneshis, I suggest you check it out.

    These days I have paints from a fairly wide selection of ranges (including the latest GW, as mentioned) but my favourite, alongside Miniature Paints, is Coat D'Arms. They do have a lot of interesting colours in fantasy and historical lines, and good, big pots for a decent price. (pity about the Royal Mail thing) Though I'd have to say my biggest disappointment was in my last order from Black Hat, when I found out their elven and dwarven flesh paints are nothing like the elf and dwarf flesh that disappeared from the GW racks. Now I'm not joined at the hip to elf and dwarf flesh, and I know there's always Vallejo, but there were a few sessions of intense mixing and matching, there...

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    1. Should say, a 'warm grey with a slight yellow-brown tint'.

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    2. I have not seen the Miniature Paints link before, though I had heard others (Chico?) talking about them. To be honest, I nearly always slip a pot of Titillating Pink and Bilious Green in my pocket when I attend a big show like Salute. I browse the ranges and compare the pots side by side, but have yet to find an exact dayglo match. Thanks for the heads up!

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  8. http://snv-ttm.blogspot.be/2014/10/pain-rack.html

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  9. It is possible to rescue - sometimes - the old paints with Hannants and Lifecolor acrylic thinner. I say "sometimes" because it doesn't always work; paint that's too far gone is not going to live again... The paint ends up flowing beautifully when it does, though, but it does dry with a sheen. This is nothing a coat of matt varnish won't cure.

    I've still got some of the paints that I was given when they first came out, so they're getting on for 30 years old...

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    1. It sounds like you got a lot of freebies back in the old Studio days Mike!

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  10. I still have a large amount of the original paints left. As far as the ones I purchased in the late 80's; they are pretty much all gone now but I do still have a number of ones I bought at a car boot in about 1996. About 7 or 8 years ago I bought several of the old paint sets which are still going. Recently I have invested in the brilliant Coat d'arms range as key paints of mine are beginning to die off. The smell of the Coat d'arms silver gives me a wonderful sense of nostalgia and regularly gets inhaled. My only disappointment with this brilliant range is its lack of terracotta - a colour I have used more frequently than any other, except black and white.
    Having just had a rummage through my sets I have found I still have a titillating pink. I never cared much for it really. On the upside I discovered I have two Worm Purples that I didn't even know I had so thanks for posting up this subject, Orlygg! Was getting dangerously low on this stuff aswell.

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  11. Thought I had one of these somewhere, uploaded a pic so you can see a round old school pot. Sorry about the quality, had to take it on my phone ;)

    http://s28.postimg.org/qcifeclod/IMG_20141022_00034.jpg

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  12. Yep, I'm still using a lot of my old late 80's and early 90's round pot paints, my Goblin Green seems to be bottomless! Sadly my smelly primer ran out about 10 years back. Red Gore is still one of my favourite bright reds! I did find that colour control was a bit of a problem back then, supposedly identical pots could vary considerably in hue. Hobgoblin orange and elf grey always seemed quite weak colours too, poor coverage even over white undercoat.

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