Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tackling the 'Unfinishables': The Miniature Painter's Struggle

Years ago, I wrote about the concept of a Miniature Moriarty. Those miniatures that somehow or other turn against their owners in a kind of Frankensteinesque moment that often results in a long period of apathy. At the time I jumbled together some ideas to help me express how certain models made me feel. It went a little like this:

"So if you blessed by not having a shameful secret (or think you are) how can you recognise a Miniature Moriarty? To help you decide I have created a little checklist that you can run through if you are unsure.

Here we go...

1) No matter how hard you try your paint always 'does its own thing' and blobs and runs in places you don't want it to go.
2) The colour scheme always looks awful, not matter what you try. Either too flat and lacking depth or cartoony.
3) Base looks awful, even though you have used the very same technique that you always use.
4) You start to despise the figure you are working on.
5) This feeling of dislike spreads to other models and you become reluctant to paint anything else in case the 'contagion' spreads to other models.
6) The 'contagion' spreads, you become disinterested in painting, your miniatures stand idle and the jar full of models you just bought from eBay float in their dettol bath unloved for weeks. Your table becomes a dumping ground for random objects placed their by your wife, dust breeds, the table becomes an embarrassment that you just cannot face tidying up
7) You blame it all on that one miniature that started the whole downward spiral.

And now, the most important aspect of a Moriarty Miniature! Number 8 in the list. Remember, that we are talking about a nemesis here, an archenemy. Its a personal thing, between you and the lead.


8)Only YOU can see the faults. Only YOU care about the flaws. So only YOU can make the change... Everyone else will just look at the model and say... "I like the way to did the...'


Just paint."

Thankfully, none of the models I am sharing with you today are true Moriarty. They are what I like to call the 'Unfinishables'. Models that you want to paint, start working on but ultimately abandon for some reason (initially for a short time). However, they just remain on your painting table, or even worse tucked safely away somewhere (often for years) and never, ever get completed. Years can go by, as indeed did for a couple of the models I am showing off today, without any further work being carried out. 

With a long holiday underway, I was keen to get some serious painting done and hope to get a least one miniature painted each day. Currently, its Day 6 and six models stand completed before me (though today, Thursday, I haven't completed anything as of yet) so I have done well. What better to get working on than some of those unfinished projects I have started over the years and never got around to finishing off. As I write, I still have three unfinished projects for next time I have a clear through but I am ready to move on to another project really. 

So lets have a look at what I have managed to paint over the last few days

This undead rider model is a bit special. Not because there is some sort of Warhammery legend attached to it but due to the fact it is one of the few original models I owned back in the 1980s. I must have at some point picked up a blister with these in as there was once a second rider and steed, but both were far to badly damaged survive one of my culls and went in the bin. Yet, this model has survived and I have been keen to paint it over the years but as described, I'd start it, grow unhappy or bored with where I was going and plop the figure in the Dettol. Repeating the process several times. 

He was undercoated and based on my painting table but I wasn't sure where to go with the colour scheme. I have a hefty collection of old school undead and always intended to do a white (bone) back and brown scheme for the lot of them, using red as a spot colour. The colours of death ultimately. So I opted to go for a brown robe for the rider, he did after all look like some kind of monk, and highlighted up with my new best friend of painting, Foundry Boneyard 9A. A truly versatile colour indeed. 

The rider's face and hands were completed using the Boneyard shade I just mentioned, followed up with a chestnut ink glaze. The cleaver was very easy. Just a dark metal basecoat, washed over with first a brown ink and then a orange/brown wash. A slight silver highlight was added to the edges. The shoes proved a bit of a problem as I didn't want to just paint them another shade of brown. In the end, I went for a green into which I mixed a little of the brown to create a little colour harmony.

It was the horse that took the time. I wanted to go for black to contrast against the brown of the robe. Now, as many a painter will tell you, black, like white, can be a real challenge to get right so I highlighted up with dark greys until it reached a point I was happy with. I used the same grey to drybrush up the mane and tail. It was fairly simple to basecoat the missing chunks on the mount's body with a scarlet before washing over with a chestnut ink. I highlighted the gore with red and then a pink. 

An enjoyable figure to paint and a finish I am really pleased with. 

McDeath is a favourite range of mine, though few of the models are exclusive to it. The Knight of Harkness above is one such figure. Sadly, he has gathered dust for some months on the paint station because there was always something a bit more exciting to work on. He was very straight forwards to paint up, though I had to change the base colour of his 'skirt' bit to red after reading through the background materials. I was unhappy with how the armour had originally turned out, so I mixed up a blue glaze and ran it over all of the steel on the model. It gave the metal a bright, noble hue that helped bring out the details. Well, I thought so anyway.

Only the shield took me any great time. The design is lifted from the McDeath background material though the colour choices are mine. A real test of my freehand. 

Over the years I have raved about the Citadel plastic skeletons many times and I am sure you will forgive me if I rave once again. They are, quite simply, the best plastic skeletons ever produced and GW really did go backwards with their second (and much inferior) set of plastic skellies. Thankfully, the originals are very easy to get hold of and I probably own more than I will ever need. If indeed you can actually own too many of them in the first place! 

I cannot recall why this model was abandoned. But he has sat there for some time feeling lonely so after the paint had dried on the Knight of Harkness I started work. I was keen to try out the Foundry Boneyard triad on a whole model and ended up washing over my original paint work with a dark brown wash. Once dry, I used a mixture of layering and drybrushing to work up the model to the highlight. This probably took no longer than 15 minutes to achieve. The axe needed just a moment or two to highlight with suitable colours. Easy and effective I thought. Another positive advert for triads. 

Of course, being a plastic skeleton he needed a freehand painted shield. As I have done in the past, I Googled skull designs and copied one onto the shield. To add interest, I decided to add a single, blood-shot eye inside one of the sockets. If you are trying similar things, always do your research first. Have an explore through as much reference as you can and always keep you paint fluid with plenty of water. My top tips!

With the skeleton based and finished, it was time to move on to a figure that I started last spring. Originally part of my Chaos army but unfinished due to me having grown tired of painting Khorne stuff - this classic chaos dwarf is a brilliant example of the insane ideas behind the original chaos release. 

He painted up quickly. I loved working on the face and chose purple as a skin tone. Dwarf faces are so full of character that they are a joy to highlight and I just kept on adding Boneyard 6C to the mix until I was happy with the result. The red hair was also easy to achieve. A dark red base, highlighted with orange and yellow. I used the same yellow to pick out the two spots on his face. To add further contrast, I used bone for the horns sprouting from his head and a vibrant green for his tongue. 

Not a chap to bump into on St Valentine's Day, eh? 

Though hard to see in the image - I used browns and creams for his clothing. After all, with such a shocking colourful face, I didn't want to over-egg the pudding and spoil the look of the model. The boots were black, drybrushed with grey and highlighted with a lighter shade. I used Foundry's steel triad for the blade and GW's new gold paints for the hilt and guard. 

The model gave me another chance to paint on one of the 'ogre faces' I have been using on my chaos stuff. It was a little more challenging this time, as I usually use the larger round shields, but instead opted for one of the spiky undead ones. As I have done previously, I kept the rim of the shield black to help frame the painting on the face itself. Its what they did in the GW Studio back in the day so its good enough for me! 

It was then an easy job to base the model. In retrospect, this is my favourite model in this little project. I have already added him to my chaos dwarf unit. 

Now this 'unfinishable' must be my oldest. I started this back in 2012 when Realm of Chaos 80s was just a few months old. I gave up on it because I just didn't get on with the sculpt. I am still not a great fan of this particular orc, but I persisted and am fairly happy with the result. I still think that my recipe for orc flesh is too pale - but there you go... That is a problem for a future painting session. 

And finally, this chap. He was a quick paint and is destined to bulk up a unit of Slanneshi Chaos warriors in my other chaos army. I cannot say I am a big fan of this model either, but he is finished and I am now free to try other things. I don't feel that the colour scheme works particularly well. I think its the lack of depth in the pink armour. But its finished and ready for the table top. 

To conclude, there is something deeply satisfying in completing a model at the best of times. Its even more satisfying when they are annoying figures that have just sat there gathering dust for some time. As I said at the head of this article, I have a few other models out there which can be classed as 'unfinishables' and one day, perhaps half-term, I shall return to them and endeavour to get them completed too. 

Until then, I off to start work on my next project. More McDeath stuff if you want to know. But before I pop off, why not get thinking (like so many of you did with my speed painting challenge) about YOUR 'unfinishables'. And the next time you lift a brush to paint, why no reach for one of those models instead, and lay an overdue project to rest.

Happy painting.



  1. loving the freehand on the shields. great stuff :)

    1. Thanks mate - I had to sweat blood from my forehead to learnt to do it!

  2. I was having similar thoughts myself. The C23 bounty hunter is my personal nemesis, he's just such an awful figure in a beautiful range.

    1. That is one of the few ogres I don't have in my collection. Hmmm, I will have to have a closer look at him next time I see one in the 'lead' so to speak!

    2. He's done now so thanks for the impetus! I still don't like him though but he'll do. I've got one of his also-dodgy (but not as over-designed) brothers on the go.

  3. Your freehand work on your shields is amazing, as good as the Oldhammer masters themselves.

    To be honest, I like how all of these 'Unfinishables' turned out, I'm really surprised by how well that Skeleton turned out using Foundry's paints, I'll have to get some when I go to Salute this month.

    1. I cannot recommend the Foundry triads enough. Get hold of the bone, silver and flesh ones and your life as a painter will change for ever!

  4. Others can't see it, because they don't try to find each and every imperfection that is different from what you have imagined. I usually leave myself some limit - a time limit, or even paint drying limit (when I run out of paint or when it dries, I finish painting, no matter what). Otherwise I'd no time to actually use the minis in games, and I'd spend all my time collecting, painting, and forever correcting.

  5. This is hilarious and strikes a chord with me. I've been gaming since 1981 and had a batch of figures partly painted from the mid to late 80s that I had pretty much given up on. I made it my mission last year to finish all my partly painted ones and only have a small handful still to do. Very satisfying finishing them ... finally. Given it has taken me nearly 30 years to finish some of them, I did laugh when you said your long-standing ones dated back to 2012. That's nothing! Keep up the good work.
    David (Redsunz2000)