Monday, 28 January 2013

Prelude to Chaos part 2 - How to build your models for speeeeeeed

I really like these new chariots and I've already gotten busy painting a batch of them...

In my head! :p

Perhaps I should explain so as not to sound like a total hobby psycho eh? :) I am a fastidious planner with most things, be it cooking, budgets, chores or my hobby. I make to-do lists, I go over jobs in my head thoroughly and repeatedly, I prepare every little detail. In fact, sometimes I'm so busy planning that I end up completely failing to do things due to a lack of time! 

With new releases I have developed a habit of working out the processes I'll use to paint them before I get the models in my grubby mitts. The fact that GW puts pictures of sprues online quite early is a huge bonus here. I can make a mental checklist of things to batch up, models I'll build fully (a rarity), parts I'll do as sub-assemblies (much more common), what I'll dry-fit (also common) and parts that would be easier to paint on the sprue (somewhere in between).

Just in case anyone's not familiar with what I mean by these terms I'd best explain.



A sub-assembly is a constructed part of a model that is painted on its own, rather than being fixed to the full kit and then painted. If you've painted a mount separate to its rider, congrats, you've already used them! :) You can take this basic principle much further to really improve your painting. It allows you to get at bits from awkward angles, use a different colour with ease, etc. I work with sub-assemblies a lot because:

  • Airbrushing - spray from an airbrush will gradually diffuse to the area around it, no matter how careful you are. If a part is separate I don't have to mask off the areas around it to protect them.
  • Less paint splash - Painting quickly (which I certainly do) will inevitably lead to you making the odd over-enthusiastic brush flick and getting paint somewhere you don't want it. No worries about that here.
  • Cleaner definition between parts - sub-assemblies remove the need to take lengthy, slow painting periods matching the edges between two awkwardly placed and different coloured parts.
  • Putting it all together - there's little more satisfying in my hobby life than constructing a model after working at painting its different parts. Going from some sub-assemblies to an almost finished and swanky looking kit is an awesome feeling perhaps only matched by basing models up and marking them as fully complete.

So, you should probably have a go at it yourself right? :)

Some sub-assembly parts from a Stormraven kit


Dry-fitting parts is a very useful process where you assemble your kits with a temporary fix rather than permanently bonding the parts. Blu-Tack is my material of choice for this. Non name brand, cheaper stuff tends to be better because it's often a lot stickier and adheres better to plastic and metal. (This is the opposite of what you want if you use Blu-Tack for masking as it will pull your paint off. Make sure you don't mix your supplies or disaster awaits!)

By dry-fitting you get the correct impression of where everything goes, where light should fall and all that good stuff, but can pull parts off to get at awkward spots. Dry-fitting and sub-assemblies tend to go hand in hand when I work.

Note that if you pin your metal and resin models this can act as a great option. Just glue the pin into one side of the join and you create a fixing plug for dry-fitting ease on the other end.

Sprue painting

Painting on the sprue has much the same benefits, the only difference being you don't even assemble the parts, you simply paint them before clipping them from the sprue. There are some situations where this isn't the best plan - if it's hard to clean up the parts without removing them, or the sprue itself obscures important features on the part - but it's particularly useful for elements like tank tracks, cloaks, banners, etc.

Once you are done painting the items on the sprue and clip them free you will need to do a bit of finishing off by painting over the bare plastic spots where you've removed them.

Breaking down the chariots

I normally go through this planning process in my head. Even someone as obsessive as me draws a line somewere and that place is chopping up photos of sprues on Photoshop. But not today dear reader! To better illustrate just how I will split things up, I've done exactly that. I am most likely going to prep four chariots at once (two standard, two pulled by Gorebeasts) and do the first stages of painting together too.

Chariot beasties

First I'll deal with the Chaos Steeds and Gorebeasts, which will be constructed as sub-assemblies. Notice that I've not included every part for the Gorebeast here. His metal plating armour will be dealt with later on.

Once they are built they will be airbrushed with their respective flesh tones. They all have more than just skin detail though, so I also need to work out what's next for them. The Gorebeast only has a few metal parts, so I'll pick them out with a standard paint brush. He does however have two big tusk things protruding which I'll get to later!

The steeds have plenty of armoured barding and it will be much easier to airbrush rather than paint it. Because the skin sits at a more recessed level than the armour I can easilly mask it off with tape and Blu-Tack (the good stuff remember, not your sticky dry fit pack!) to airbrush along with the rest of the metal.

Metal bits

And talking of metal, the majority of the model is made up of it, so that's next. As well as the chariot parts there's a fully armoured crew member who joins this lot.

I'll glue the halberd wielding Chaos Warrior together but dry-fit his weapon to better get at details on his chest (sub-assemblies within sub-assemblies!)

The wheels and the chains and armour for the Gorebeasts look like they will be fairly easy to paint on the sprue (though I may remove the wheels part way through the process and finish up drybrushing on their edges without the sprue in the way).

The main chariot body will be put together, but only dry-fitted to the wooden yoke (it is a yoke right?) to make my painting life easier.

You must be yoking

The yoke will be built as a sub-assembly and airbrushed a dark brown before it is drybrushed. For this reason I'll paint the ropes and whatnot at the same time (on the sprue). They will be a different colour tone in the end, but start with the same base.

There are some metal parts on the yoke, which now that I think about it, means I should probably paint it before the metal parts. Once the wood is done I can apply a mask over it and spray the metal bits on it at the same time as the rest of the chariot parts.

This might sound overly meticulous, but believe me, the rewards in speed really do pay dividends. The first few models you apply this process to may take some planning, but once you get the hang of it you'll break kits down in your mind's eye. It's all gotten a bit like mastering the Matrix for me now. I don't even see them as models any more, just sub-assembly number 14, dry-fit part 52. ;)

You must be cloaking

All of these bits will be airbrushed on the sprue, but if possible I will work the front fixing bit of the cloak onto it as a dry-fit so I can get the correct zenithal light effects onto it (a fancy way of saying the light (and in the case of painting, the highlights) all come from the same direction).

You must be... whipping (perhaps it's wearing a bit thin now!)


The Gorebeast will be masked up at this point to paint his horn type things along with the rest. The crew member showing skin will be constructed with a dry fit head and armoured arm.

They will all be airbrushed at the same time unless I decide to make the crewman very tanned. Skin can usually be painted in the same colours as bone and tusks and then made more fleshy looking and warm with some washes, which is the plan here.

You must be poking (there are spikes you see!)

Final bits will be tidied off. The Chaos icons will be painted gold on sprue, whatever those things on the right are (heads?) will be done if needed.

I should have really stuck the skull poles in with the previous lot as that makes much more sense.

And I'm out (for now)!

That's the lot. Once all the individual parts are done there will be construction, final highlighting and shading, etc. to do, but hopefully you can see some useful ideas here.

I'm always trying to think of new and efficient ways to build models that are geared towards making my painting life easier and if you've not tried this before, why not have a go? You don't need an airbrush to justify the process either. All of these methods aid standard brush work and the rewards will come not just in speed, but in comfort too as it's much less stressful painting this way!

Next up I'll talk some conversion ideas.


  1. Great post there James - very interesting to see how you approach prepping and painting. Painting groups of minis is definitely a different art to single figures.

    1. Thanks. I don't think I'll ever get close to your single mini standard so I have to focus on my strengths! :)

  2. This is fine instructional (well, avuncular advisory) text leaving very little excuse for sitting doing nothing. As an itinerant modeller, it makes me feel like changing my cook’s apron for some painting overalls. Of course, with such clear explanation and enthusiastic thrust from James, this could go viral. The partners, parents or pals of the nation’s gaming geeks will soon be hearing cries of, “Hit me with that Java caffeine jive - I’m half a day into seriously organised miniature madness. If you think you can sleep through the sound from my air-brush compressor for the next fourteen hours… Good Luck!”
    In short, James… I enjoyed this post!

    1. I'll go for the short version, a little easier to digest. :D Sometimes (when you gibber on) it makes me worry about the family ties - perhaps one day I'll get as barmy as you. But then I recall that you are my biggest fan and it's all lovely. Cheers Dad. :)