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HOBBY: Mini Painting Services – Lessons Learned

14 Minute Read
Aug 17 2014

Some months back I send off several minis to various painting studios.  Here is what I got back!

Greetings fellow wargamers!  Caleb with White Metal Games here!  My how the time flies.  It’s already spring and summer is on the way.  Around eight months ago, I published an article on BOLS regarding the ‘Client Perspective’ on miniature painting services.

Here’s the link to the first article.

To reiterate from the first article, 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, maybe I love painting Tyranids, but maybe Studio XYZ doesn’t and it shows in their work.  To each their own.

Studio B:  Based in Eng . . er . . SCOTLAND.  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 Amer . . . er . . CANADA.  A small collection of models, including a greater daemon, 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

So let me just go ahead and apologize now.  In the first article I claimed several of these studios were in parts of the world that they in fact weren’t.  In point of fact, studio B and studio D I listed in the entirely wrong countries, corrected above.  In my defense, I was shipping models all over the world at that point, so confusion wasn’t so unexpected.

Studio B:
I came across Studio B on a lark.  The Studio was out of the game (pun intended) for a while and has only recently gotten back into wargaming and painting.  He is in the process of rebuilding his portfolio, so he was willing to cut me an amazing deal on a squad of Orks.

I am happy to report this was what I consider a perfect commission.  The models were completed within the timeframe originally specified by the painter, they arrived in a timely fashion, there were no extra charges or fees, etc.

The models arrived in good shape with no breaks and the pictures, well, you be the judge.  I thought he did a great job.


Because this studio did such amazing work, I’d like to officially endorse Fraser and Dark Materials Miniatures.  Fraser agreed for me to share a link to his studio directly:  Be sure to check out his most recent work on his facebook page here!

I’d also like to apologize to Fraser.  In the original post I commented DMM was based in England.  Fraser was quick to point out that he is from Scotland!  Sorry, Fraser . . .

Of note, DMM is one of the few if not the only Scottish based miniature painting service that I am aware exists.  Are they any other Scottish painting services out there?  If so, please be sure to sign up for our Miniature Painting Directory, here.

Studio C:
I found this studio through Facebook and I was blown away by the quality of their work.  In particular I liked their weathering techniques.   So I contacted them to commission a squad of Necrons and a Cryptek.  I specified Black Necrons with some heavy weathering, and lavish Red OSL.  We also talked about the models having some other metallics splashed on, like gold, to create some contrast.

The painter told me about 4-6 weeks once he got the models to be done.  I sent the models off, patiently waited 5 weeks, then contacted him.  The painter assured me they were nearing his bench, but due to Ostheoartritis he didn’t paint as fast as he used to . . .  wait a second, Ostheoartritis?


This isn’t something that I would expect him to advertise on his website, and his models looked good, but the lesson here was that you can’t learn everything about a painter, in particular their medical history, through a website.  Maybe this is why some studio artists stay off camera?

Around the 11 week mark I got an email like this:

i can finish it this week, its just an issue of the other commissions 
that are also eager to get their stuff back. It sucks losing a painting 
partner… (OMITTED) started school and it taking up WAY more of her time 
than we thought. After I get out from this mountain of stuff, Im going 
to have to restructure what I do here severely. Ill probably just stick 
to individual models and showcase stuff.”

A few more weeks passed and I finally got the picture of the first totally completed model, pictured on the right.  

Now let me just reiterate here . . . payment was sent up front for this squad of 13 models on August 7th, and the painter estimated completion of the project in about 4-6 weeks.  Even with a week of shipping, that would have put project completion at the end of September.

Another month passed and I still didn’t hear back from the painter.  I emailed them to let me know I’d like to either see the project done or cancel the project.  At this point the project was over 10 weeks overdue, and the painter had had the models on his desk for about 16 weeks or so.  I felt like I had already learned all I wanted to learn about this particular painter, so I figured if he just wanted to return the models and at least most of the $$$, no harm no foul.

 While I personally can relate to this painters dilemma, I did feel a bit mislead.  In addition, no where in this email where the words “I’m sorry for the delay in processing your order” or something of the like present.  I felt like a simply apology would have gone a long way here, and it’s lack was a sore spot for me when dealing with this particular painter.  My guess, however, is that the painter is a bit older and perhaps there’s a generational pride issue going on here.

FINALLY, the painter contacted me to say he needed just another week.  In the same email he related  to me that he would be finishing up his last few projects and then closing up shop for good.  He admitted that he was only able to paint a few hours a day at this point and that he didn’t want to spend them on other peoples projects.


A MONTH LATER I finally got tired of waiting and emailed the painter, who ‘thought he had emailed me already’.  The models were done, but he was unable to photograph them with anything short of a camera phone (which confused me because on his website he takes photos all the time).  The photos you see above were taken in my studio.

So, the models were finally received 14 weeks overdue.  No apologies for them being late, no offer of a refund of any sort, no questions about whether I liked the models or wanted any changes, nothing.

It goes without saying I will not name this studio, so as to avoid any risk of slander.  This was a mixed bag because the quality of the models were good, but the time and attitude of the painter was pretty poor.

Studio D:
Studio D got my second to largest commission, minus the full army that was discussed in part one of this series.  This commission was for a random assort of models, mostly large, including:
A squad of Plague Zombies
A Lord of Skulls
A Skarbrand Conversion
A Landraider
A custom converted Changeling
A custom converted Ku’Gath.

So a big commission, but not so big a talented commission artist shouldn’t be able to handle it.

The commission started very strongly.  In Mid October, about a month after the models arrived, he started posting some painted pictures.  Skarbrand was first, and then he quickly threw some paint on the Lord of Skulls.  This was around Halloween.

Over the next month, he posted a few other models on his webpage, mostly personal projects, and I didn’t see any new updates in November.

In early December, I contacted the artist to find out if there had been any updates since the last ones I saw.


Finally at the end of January, the artist began posting some new pics of finished models.  So at this point the commission is about halfway done and we’re around 4 1/2 months in.  That’s a long time to paint what boils down to a few vehicles, a squad, and a few characters, once of which was yes quite large.

At the end of March, almost six months later.  the painter contacted me with final pics and let me know the projects were all done.  In the end, I didn’t get pictures for the Changleing or the Landraider, didn’t even see them til they showed up at my door. The painter related to me that they used someone else to photograph their minis, and that was the cause for so many delays.

So, to be clear, it took about 6 months to get these models back from the painter.  Although I generally liked the painter, I definitely thought he dropped the ball on this commission and I can’t recommend his service.  I think he’s young and time may change the way he does business.  My guess is from looking over his website that he gets excited about personal projects and uses commissions to fund them, but on his own schedule.

I also never fully understood why his personal projects seemed to be featured so often on his blog, but his commissions seemed liked a back burner object.  I see plenty of pictures of his personal projects and custom models, but as a client, my models are rarely featured.  For me, it’s the opposite  When I have an active commission, my personal projects are pretty much forgotten on my bench.

It’s also worth nothing that when shipping to Canada, and I didn’t know this at the time I placed the order . . . when sending anything into Canada even if the package is sent as a gift, anything over 100 is by law to be met with the following charges: Duty, GST, PST, and handling costs from the Canada Border Services Agency. The receiver has no control over the amount that is charged towards the package, but they have to pay the extra fees. There is a form the receiver can fill out that says the goods have left Canada and they should refund the $$$.  So, lesson here, tarriffs can hurt you on out of country commissions.  

So another lesson I learned on this project was that shipping models INTO Canada has hidden expenses all it’s own.  The painter let me know that he would try to get my money back to me when the package shipped out.

So far, still waiting.

Studio E:  


Studio E is based out of England.  For this commission, I sent the painter a specially converted Angron I had built on a lark.  Whether you like or don’t like the conversion isn’t really what this article is about, so try to keep the ‘Giant Ape! What a giant pile of *&^!’ comments to a minimum.  I’ve heard them all before.  Not every model we build will please everybody.

Regarding the painting of this model, this was very nearly a flawless commission.  Once more, the painter received the model in good order, painted it to a high standard for a fair price.

My only learning curve with this commission was that when shipping items into the UK you pay Import Fees.  in this case almost $40 USD.  So it limits the amount on interaction I plan to have between my side of the pond and theirs.

So allow me to fully recommend and endorse Twitchy Droid Painting and Jamie especially!  Great work, Jamie!

Before I wrap up my article, let me point out another article I discovered in my research regarding some of the pitfalls of commission painters, published right here on Bell by Brent, and I thought it was a pretty good review of miniature painting as a whole.  I particularly like the bottom half of the article, where he measures his time vs. the value of his time when resetting dozens of models.

Final Conclusions:

Of the five studios I contacted regarding commissions, I would say only 2/5 were flawless commssions.  The others suffered from everything from camera problems, arthritis, false deadlines, you name it.

So, what does that mean for the miniature commission painting industry in general?

First lesson:  NEVER PAY more than a deposit up front.  If the artist requires full payment up front, be leery.  When was the last time you paid a carpenter to fix a leak before they actually fixed the leak?

Overseas = Tariffs.  Period.  Whether it’s coming or going.  Or both.

Paypal will only allow refunds on items or services for 60 days after the purchase.  If the transaction takes longer than 60 days to complete, which happened with at least two of these cases above, then you get ZERO help from Paypal to get your money back.  And you’re out the models too!

There are a few ways you can protect yourself in these instances.  The first is to not pay up front.  Or only pay a deposit up front.  That’s the biggie.

Secondly, insist on a tracking # when they ship the items, and it’s usually worth it to have them take out insurance as well.  It’s normally less than $5.00 for most packages, even those of high value, so for goddness sake spend the extra few dollars and get them to insure the package.

Create a timetable you are both happy with and stick to it!  Get it in writing.  It doesn’t have to be a written contract, but a simple email where they agree to the terms should suffice. If the artist is doddling, call them on it!  When you get close to that 60 day mark, open a case against them.  Don’t take their word, make them own their words.  Hit them where it hurts, their wallets.

If after all this the artist ups and disappears with your models and $$$, what should you do.  Well, to be honest, if it’s less than a $1000, it’s probably not worth your time to do anything.  Write it off as a bad experience, post some warnings on their social media pages to other buyers, and call it a lesson learned the hard way.

If it is over a $1000, maybe consider looking into small claims court and suing them, but that may be a headache you aren’t ready for.

This entire process has made me really appreciate what Goatboy does every week at Full of Monkey where he posts every client whose models he is currently working on, but also the status, and then status pics when applicable.  Not only does it give you a reason to tune in every week to see what he’s been up to, but it also shows his workload and gives you an idea of his process as well.

Through my interactions with Goatboy, I actually outsourced an entire army to him, just because I like his workflow and his style of work.  You can see the beginnings of our joint venture, the Necrorks/Orkrons here!

How did I change my business practices based on what I learned here:

Firstly, I only outsource to other artists I have met personally and that I have vetted through friends.

Secondly, I NEVER give them more than a few units at a time, with the exception of Goatboy at this point.

Thirdly, I contact my clients every Monday to give them updates on their projects.  I also post update pics on my facebook page for the entire world to see and track the progress.

In addition, when I am contacted by a client about a potential commission, I provide the client with a quote and if I don’t hear from them in about a week or so I contact them to follow up and ask if they have any additional questions/concerns about the quote.  In some cases the clients are just busy and the follow up is the difference between booking a gig and not.

However, in most cases it’s a sign the client has lost interested or decided to go with another painter, which of course if their right.  In that case I like to politely ask the client why they went with another service.  9/10 it’s price.

One repeat client of mine contacting me about a quote and when I asked him why he ultimately went with another client he had this to say:

“With a local Montreal guy, who charges no shipping cost yet brings the miniatures to me, no chance to damage the goods through parcel shipment, no chance to get charged Custom Fees,with a fast turn around time between two days and two weeks, This is a friend with whom I also conduct business. He’s a university student who doesn’t work an “official job” yet has to pay for food, transport and rent: he paints miniatures to be able to continue his studies.

Losing out to a broke college student is the LEAST of my problems.  I’m not trying to underbid a college grad working for less than minimum wage.  This guy won’t be able to charge that rate for long unless he’s living out of his mom’s basement for the foreseeable future.  My competitors are the actual studios out there . .  Frontline, Golem, Full of Monkey, BTP, Smell Like Wargaming, etc.  Those are the folks I need to price towards, and in fact, so long as we all price ‘about’ the same way, it really comes down to a client preferring the ‘look’ or style of one artists work above the other.  After all, Coke and Pepsi cost about the same.  But if you’re a Coke man like me, you’re a Coke man.  Period.  It’s not about the price, it’s about the preference.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

Advice to Painting Studios:

Treat your business like a business, and treat your clients like clients, not friends.  Don’t put them off and beat around the bush.  If you are behind on an order SAY SO.  Let them know, and by all means, Apologize!  Learn the value of the words “I’m sorry” and own it!

If you find yourself apologizing on a regular basis, maybe this isn’t the gig for you.

Advice to Potential Clients:
Cut the painters a break!  Most of the time Miniature Painters, with a handful of exceptions, are either very young or doing this part time, on the side, between jobs, just trying to make a buck.

The reality is miniature painting is a challenging industry to break into.  Their is more competition than ever before and the average client wants to pay $10 or LESS a miniature and the average miniature takes most painters upwards of 40 minutes to an hour from the time they lay down the first layer of primer to the final layer of varnish.  So while it’s not bad money, it’s not great money either, and very few of us can support ourselves on just our miniature painting $$$.  That means we are budgettng your projects and time against our personal lives.

Remember, we’re people too.  Cut us a little slack from time to time.

If you have a miniature painting service and would like to be added to our growing list of miniature painting services, then you can do so by adding your service here

Despite my misadventures with several other studios, I still believe in the value of collaboration.  I have begun to assemble a collaborative gallery here showcasing some of the projects I have teemed up on with other studios to create.  Most of the time in these cases, I do my own building and transfiguring, and then send the other studio the models to paint.

If you are a miniature painting studio, looking to collaborate on a project, send me an email!  I’d love to look over your gallery of work and if the price is right, perhaps we can do a little tandem business!


White Metal Games

If you found this tutorial useful, be sure to check out more of our work on our homepage, or at the very least, like us on facebook!   We also have a new podcast called Warcouncil where we share other cool hobby tips!  And you can see more tips through our Youtube channel!  

Author: Caleb Dillon
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