I gave you my money. Where’s my stuff!!! I recently decided to test out this whole “commission painting” industry.
Greetings fellow wargamers! Caleb with White Metal Games here!
Recently I started a hard nosed survey (dare I say investigation) of the miniature painting and assembly market. Namely I wanted to know who the major players are, what they were charging, what they were doing right, where I could make improvements, and what I could learn from them. Based on my findings I would make some improvements to my site, offer new deals, and became a more competitive service.
When you want to find someone that will paint and assemble your army for you, just walk into any FLGS with a wad of cash and ask. You’ll find someone. Everyone needs money, after all.
But will that person be able to deliver the goods in a timely fashion for your budget? Are they are a one trick pony, or can they take direction? For example, maybe your buddy ‘Joe’ has an awesome Necron army. You love it . . . you love it so much you offer to let him paint your space marine army.
But CAN he paint marines, that’s the question. Every army is different. Is ‘Joe’ a round enough painter to give you what you want, in your timeframe on your budget and if he can’t does he know when to walk away and tell you ‘sorry, but no thanks.’ This is what separates the pros from the talent. Maybe Joe is a hitter, but that doesn’t make him an MVP. And I want to be an MVP.
Research is great, but there is nothing like throwing yourself in the line of fire and trying something from a new perspective. What would it feel like to be a buyer rather than a seller for once?
Crafting an Experiment
So after all my research was done (or done enough) I picked a few services I thought were not only good, but fairly priced and comparable to what I was offering, and decided to commission a model or two.
To keep things nice and fair, we are going to call the Studios A, B, C, D, and E.
Here are the models I sent to each studio:
Studio A: Based in North America. A refurbishment project. 2000 points of Space Marines I picked up from another studio on the cheap. The project was to refurbish the army and lavish it with details.
Studio B: Based in England. This studio had really cheap rates, so I commissioned a squad of Orks. Studio was to buy the box, assemble to order, and paint to avoid the international tariffs.
Studio C: Based in the North America. A small squad of Necrons, with lavish OSL. Assembled at WMG and sent to the painter.
Studio D: Based in the North America. A small collection of models, including some daemon princes, a Land Raider, some zombies, some odds and ends, etc. Assembled at WMG and sent to the painter.
Studio E: Based in England. This studio impressed me with their work, so I sent them a giant daemon prince to paint up.
Remember that the goal of this project was to get first hand experience with commissioning models from other services, to gain a ‘client perspective’ on orders. Another goal of this project was to experiment with outsourcing projects, weighing the pros and cons of using international painters, whilst connecting the right model to the right painter/painting service to get the best possible results. After all, not every painter can be expected to paint every model equally well. For example, I love painting Tyranids, but maybe Studio XYZ doesn’t and it shows in their work. To each their own.
In this article, we’ll discuss what I learned from Studio A. Those models were the first to go out and the first to come back.
Commission Experiment #1
To his credit, the artist in this case was very willing to work with me on this refurbishment project. It was a coordinated effort. I purchased the models blindly from another player and then had them sent to the painter who would do the refurbishment.
When the models arrived, the painter let me know the models weren’t really in ‘refurbishment’ shape. Some of the models were broken, most were primed only with little to no details. Yikes. So not as much a refurbishment projects as we would have liked. More just a regular painting project from the ground up.
Okay, a change in gears, but still the same race. No problem.
We discussed options, and decided the way to go with the project was to use the existing primer color and then to just find a way to finish them quickly and effectively. We decided either Ultramarine or Crimson Fists were the way to go (blue primer) and since I’ve seen enough Ultramarines projects, we went with CF.
Now I’ve always prided myself on customer service. So does Studio A. Studio A let me know that they send out an ‘update’ email to their clients every Monday to let them (the client) know the status of their project, even if that status is ‘Bits Ordered, en route’ or even ‘No status change’. In the later case, when other clients already booked orders, maybe you’re just waiting.
Kinda the same way that I call the cable company and they say they’ll show up between 11 and 2. Sometimes my place in the pecking order is just to wait.
Monday rolled around and no email came. I was a bit surprised. Actually surprised is too lenient. I was startled. I couldn’t believe how powerless I felt, being in the dark like this. I had given good money to Studio A and all I wanted to know was the status of my project. Was that too much to ask?
I gave it another day or two, then decided to touch based with Studio A. In point of fact, like I should have figured, a family emergency had occurred. Studio A briefly emailed me to say they were sorry for the delay, and they let me know paints for my project had been ordered, so all was well and good. In the face of personal tragedy, the vendor had overlooked his clients BUT quickly rectified the situation.
Man, did I feel like an ass. But I shouldn’t have really. I mean, I was only protecting my investment.
So, after a week or two to recover, the painter got back to work. I didn’t want to press him or seem unsympathetic. A few weeks passed by and he finally called me with a update. His computer was being repaired, and without it he didn’t have regular access to email. He did take steps to take pictures of the WIP models with his phone, but they didn’t really give me a clear picture of the project.
To the artist’ credit, the painter then took the minis to a friend who photographed them and sent me the pics. The pics were ‘okay’, but didn’t really show me any detail. The artist let me know that the project was coming along well, but he was running low of funds. (This painter works by the hour, so when the time was up, you could either pay him more money to paint, or you could ask him to just send you the models).
So, I sent the painter some more money. Nearly doubling the original amount sit aside for the painting aspect of the project.
Here’s the kick . . . without great pictures from the painter in the beginning, I really had no way to track the project in terms of progress. What I mean is, I can’t see the detail that was added to the project on the 2nd half.
Some other services use the ‘hourly’ guide to create estimates. For example, someone might ask for a squad of Orks painted. I guesstimate . . . ‘that’ll take about 4 hours at $25 an hour, so about a hundred bucks, or $10 a model’. This seems pretty fair to me. If the painter wants to take his time then he doesn’t charge me extra. It’s an estimate, not a quote.
But the potential for abuse does exist using this payment system, and I didn’t really fee like I had a clear picture of what I was paying for in terms of detail.
A few weeks passed and the painter called me to let me know the project was done. We arranged shipping, and the painter said he’d send me an invoice for the shipping costs. A week passed. Nothing. No word.
Finally, about two weeks later, the painter called me to let me know that he had been out of town for a week and were sorry they hadn’t gotten in touch with me. But that the models were now en route and should reach me soon. And to be fair, they did. By the end of the week, they were there.
However, I’m not sure why they couldn’t have been mailed out beforehand? I mean, if you are going to be gone anyway, why not just ship the models out before leaving? When the models did ship and the painter sent me the invoice it was $26 bucks! That’s because the painter used UPS as opposed to USPS. A better shipping service? Probably, but many, with a price tag like that. Granted I asked him to take about $500 bucks in insurance, but at USPS this would have been about half of what USPS charged.
Lesson: Talk to your artist about how they ship and get an estimate before you book the project.
The models arrived and the quality was what we call at White Metal Games a ‘Man at Arms’ standard, or Level 1. It’s around a tabletop quality paint job. Light on detail, but a great starter army for a client that doesn’t have a major budget and wants to grow their collection.
It’s also a nice way to add a few units to an Apocalypse army. You’ll only use these models a few times a year, so the models don’t need to be as nice as your regular collection of models.
The test army is currently being sold off to fund this project! A Necron/Ork themed army, the Necorks!
So, like most things in life, this experience was mixed with good and bad. The painter had a few life events occur to them that made completing the project in a timely fashion difficult, although they finished mostly on schedule, turning around the project in around six weeks. But there were also a few missteps along the way and there was room for the process to be improved upon.
For me, that’s what’s its all about . . . trying to find a way to improve the quality of the services a studio offers so that clients are better able to see their vision brought to the table on a budget that is fair to both the buyer and the painting service.
I have to remember that since most painting services are ‘spare time’ services, ie, most of us have regular day jobs, many customers should be a bit more patient with our chosen commission painters. Life happens to them too.
I think it was a worthwhile experiment, and did give me a good sense for what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a commission for once and it taught me quite a bit.
Until next time, Caleb
~So what has your experience been with painting services? good value for your hard earned cash, or extravagant luxury?