The Truth About Hobby Shortcuts

Everyone is always looking for the next big trick that will take their hobby/painting quality to the next level with minimal effort, myself included.

I have recently embarked on a quest to find the best ways to get good looking models with the minimal amount of time put in, but there’s more to it than just finding the next great shortcut.

I started my hobby way back in the murky mists of time known as 2000/2001. Back then we had half the amount of paints, no foundation/base paints, and no shades. If you wanted to paint an army yellow you had to be prepared to spend the better part of the next decade working on the project due to how long it took. Reds and yellows were extremely thin and took a ton of skill to master. Shades didn’t exist yet and the best thing you had were the inks, which had their uses, but were a little too strong and shiny for providing the shadows on your models.

When GW introduced the foundation and shade paint range it was a game changer. I remember a lot of painterly people thought of the shades as cheating in a bad way, like it took the skill away. Kind of like how a lot of photographers had a backlash against Instagram at first because it made their chosen skill more accessible to everyone. I was a little hesitant to the shades at first, but quickly came to love our new overlord named Devlan Mud. The foundation paints were also huge and made painting certain colors 100 times easier. Suddenly you could paint a Blood Angel or an Imperial Fist and get it done in a reasonable amount of time. For you newer hobbyists out there, foundations paints are the equivalent of what the Base Paints are today. They had a lot more pigment in them meaning you had to do fewer coats to get a solid color.

I have recently started to look for even faster ways to paint good looking armies. Very few of these ideas were my own and they were mostly scavenged from other hobbyists and blogs, compiled together, and given my own twist. You can see this with my Horus Heresy Imperial Fists Marine and Terminator, Bloodbound Skullgrinder, Ironjawz ‘Ardboy, Skaven Deathrunner, and my upcoming Nighthaunt Cairn Wraith. All of these models use some sort of trick that cuts the amount of time needed in half, at the minimum, and drastically reduces the amount of layers needed. I mostly did this by utilizing a lighter base coat, either white or some sort of off-white, and then adding most of the color in with Glazes and Shades. I really like this technique, but it of course only works for certain color schemes. Even so, it’s a time saver, and I think everything turned out looking pretty good.

There’s a catch though. Using these same techniques, you could end up with a mini that doesn’t quite live up to what you were expecting. To help explain this I would like to retell a quick story from my days in college. When I went to college my Freshman year I decided to start playing guitar. I mostly taught myself, and I like to think I am somewhat decent now. After teaching myself the basics though I figured it would be worthwhile to invest in some professional lessons. At my very first guitar lesson my teacher pulled out a song by The Police. I can’t read sheet music so he had the tabs for it. It was a little too complicated for me, but he showed me a quicker way to play. He played it once following the tabs he gave me, then played it again using a quicker, simpler method. They both sounded more or less the same.

Even though there was an easier way to play it he refused to teach me that method. He said that I needed to learn how to play it the proper way and then I could learn the quicker, shortcut method. He said that I needed to do this so I would understand why I was taking the shortcuts I was taking.

This is doubly true for painting miniatures. In all of the tutorials I linked above there were a few key techniques that really helped those models look as good as they did. Brush control is a huge one. The crisp highlights really help pull together the “sloppier” method of using glazes and shades. If my highlights were not as controlled as they were then the look wouldn’t be as good. Having a good understanding of color is also essential. This allowed me to know which paint I should use and why. Finally, you just need to have a good understanding of where to place shadows and highlights and where you can get away with something sloppier and where you need to be tighter with your control. You can distract people from a looser paint job if you have a few key areas that you push to a higher standard.

All of this, of course, comes from experience. Like I said at the start, I have been in this hobby since about 2000 or 2001. That’s 16-17 years of miniature painting experience. There are a ton of quick fix painting tricks out there, including my own that I have posted, and will continue to post. I am in no way saying that you shouldn’t utilize these, I am obviously using them, but don’t let it be your crutch. A trick is no replacement for experience and hard work. Continue to push yourself and go outside your comfort zone with your painting so that your understanding of the craft grows.

You first should learn how to do it the hard way, then, once you understand what you are doing, you can go back and use the easier, faster way. Use the shortcuts, but don’t let it hold you back from learning the techniques that underpin it. There’s no substitute for hard work and experience in the end.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

Tyler is a life long painter and hobbyist and took home his first Golden Demon award at the 2012 Chicago Games Day with a follow up at the 2013 North American Games Day. More of his work can be found at his blog, Mengel Miniatures.

  • Loki Nahat

    I feel old, I still think the ink range is new.

    • Lord Elpus

      Know the feeling! Remember the old, old washes!

      • euansmith

        Somewhere among the slowly subsiding piles of hobby crap around my abode is a box of the old Citadel Metallic Paints; the ones that were blue, green, yellow, red and purple.

        • dave long island

          Noice! Those are pure liquid gold!

        • Lord Elpus

          You can still get those from Coat D’arms!

        • Loki Nahat

          there really never was a proper use for amethyst purple

  • Luca Lacchini

    I still have a bunch of those inks… the black one is my precious…

    • Lord Elpus

      Vallejo game colour black ink is exactly the same if you run out!

    • dave long island

      Chaos Black Ink!

  • I agree with the ‘do it the hard way first’ train of thought. My best comparison would be illustration: a lot of people see anime/manga and try to emulate that by re-drawing anime pictures, without spending the time to actually learn anatomy well and realize that a manga artist is simplifying the human form in a unique way and not just working from a different framework. When I teach new painters I always make a point of showing them a color wheel and telling them to find pictures of people wearing cloaks or of rusted metal so they have a basis in reality rather than the quick ways of representing those looks.

    It’s also usually worth pointing out to people who want to get into the hobby and like Games Workshop that the GW way of ‘quick and simple’ is to have an actual paint for every single color, a purely marketing decision, whereas artists with a lot of experience and strong fundamentals can mix or blend any color they need using much fewer starting paints. Some people I’ve taught see that the new Citadel line is over 180 paints and wonder where to even start or how they could ever afford that, and so I point out that the difference between “Daemonette Hide” and “Slaanesh Grey” is a tiny bit of white. It takes a lot less to get started than someone might think.

    • benvoliothefirst

      Yep, I literally own the three primary colors and black,white,silver, and gold. If I need any other color I can mix it, brown is just all three primaries! Of course I spend way more time than I probably should mixing.

  • Lord Elpus

    The old Armour wash was excellent.. for a real old school paint, Coat d’arms made the early g.w range.. and still produce it!

  • I had painted miniatures for years, army after army, conversion after conversion. When I bought my O&Gs one year ago, I decided I wasn’t going to do it over again the same way, and thus decided to research for a method that would look good enough and be fast and easy:

  • Earl Tower

    Oh I love the advice, but I had to laugh when the author mentioned back in 2001. Egads, I remember trying to pain lead miniatures back in the 1980s with the paint lines. Things have come a LONG way.

  • memitchell

    Getting people painting is the first step. After decades of painting the hard way, and searching for shortcuts, I have distilled painting miniatures down to a few simple, easy steps. I only post this for those who want to get it done quick, but still be able to add a little or a lot more to their minis. There’s a lot of verbiage associated with arming the miniatures ready for the game Gangs of Commoragh. Skip that and Just look at my demonstration pics and read what I’ve written about them.

    I know, this is lazy and sloppy. That’s the good news. Anybody can do this. I know, I did not invent woodstaining. But, don’t skip the details, I have improved on the original method (which I used 10 years ago to paint an Ork army). This way is cleaner and easier and funner. Again, this is just one way to get the job done. More importantly, it is one way for ANYONE to get the job done. And, still have a canvas that they can add to, if so desired. A recent article here lamented the sorry state of 40K painting. There is absolutely NO reason for 40K armies to be poorly painted, or never painted. Not when these shortcuts can fix it.