One thing I've noticed, however, is the new fashion / trend of skipping any pretense of shading, blending, layering, glazing, detailing, etc., and going straight to the edge highlights. Basecoat, maybe a quick wash, and then straight to drawing a line on the edge of your model? That's got to be the laziest POS since the pure dipped model (the practice of basecoating, then just dunking your model into a shading wash and let dry), or pure drybrush (simply drybrushing your colours straight on to black primer, and calling it done).
Want an example? Here's one done by Dan Harden, one of the staff writers of White Dwarf:
Really? This is the paintjob you're so proud of, that you'll put pictures of it into an internationally circulated magazine, and on the GW website?
Granted, it's a clean paintjob. I've seen MUCH sloppier. And it does show off some of the details of the model nicely. But it shows all the hard work and talent of an elementary school child doing "connect-the-dots" with a paint brush.
Edge highlighting has it's place. Done right, it's the final step of highlighting a nice blend. It implies a hard edge, and simulates how the light catches those hard edges in real life. However, simply skipping right to the edging is like putting icing on an unbaked cake mix. Like spraying car wax on your muddy pickup. Like sprinkling steak spice on a living cow. You get the idea...
Now, let's see what a well done (and fully cooked) Tau model looks like:
This is "DarkKnight"'s Tau (pic from Coolminiornot.com). Notice that the black and yellow ochre areas are edge highlighted white. However, what makes the whole paintjob look more natural is that the artist took the time to blend the highlights all the way up to that stage. He did all his intermediate work. Thus, the model has more depth, and looks much more "3D" than Dan Harden's work.
Okay, so doing it right takes more time. I get it. You just want something on the gaming table as quick as possible, without fielding bare metal, plastic, or resin. I understand. However, even a few layers of intermediate highlight colours would be better than a single colour highlight.
Below is an example of a model I painted in a reasonably quick amount of time:
I did this Sisters of Battle Immolator for a client about a decade ago. Yes, the edges are extreme highlighted. However, I've layered a few stages of intermediate highlights in there as well, so that it builds up to that edge. This isn't necessarily how I'd paint the model now (I'm currently working on improving my colour modulation technique)... the fashion back then was to exaggerate the edges and details so that the model would pop at arm's length, but not necessarily in a realistic manner. In fact, now that I think about it, things were much like the edge highlighting trend now... only we were much less lazy and built in a few extra layers of highlighting and shading to smooth things out. The pure edge highlight is just ridiculous though. And takes quick and lazy painting to the extreme.
Okay, so I guess I'm expecting too much from a staff writer. After all, he's not a professional painter, or even aspires to be one. Surely budding artists aren't going to think that his Tau are the best way to paint minis, and seek to emulate him?
Well, the Eavy Metal painting studio members ARE professional painters (insofar as they fit the dictionary definition of "professional": getting paid to do something). They are supposed to set the example, and because of the incredible exposure and distribution of their imagery, they set the trends in miniature painting much of the time. How about an example of their painting?
Better than Dan Harden's Tau by far, but still oversimplifying the edging. Other than the edges, the blue armour on these marines looks far too flat. Hardly any depth at all. The black areas are even worse, but the metal axe head and fabric areas are actually quite nice.
Well, let's compare these marines with some other "professionally painted" marine models, shall we?
Mathieu Fontaine's Ultramarine paintjob really showcases the smooth curvature of the marine armour nicely. The spherical swoops of the helmet and shoulder plates, the tubular shapes of the arms and legs... it's just really nicely done. Edge highlighting is in there as well, but it's more subtle, not overstated. He even has a great tutorial posted on his blog regarding this miniature:
I'm a huge fan of Cyril's work as well. This paintjob dates back to 2004, and it showed real innovation at the time. Again, there are some spots of edge highlighting here and there, but only where needed, and only to finish off an incredibly smooth and seamless blend highlight. A lot of thought went into recreating how light would realistically fall on a full scale marine, which is something lacking in a pure edge highlighted model. Dan's model shows no thought in that regard at all, and just an economy of reasoning in the pursuit of quickly getting his model to the tabletop.
Mikael Duvskog entered this Imperial Fist Space Marine in the 2006 UK Golden Demons, and won a bronze demon for his efforts. The base is a bit plain by today's competition standards, but his blending of shades and highlights are not. I would venture to say that he was inspired by Cyril's painting to some degree. Again, the deep golden brown ochre tones in the recesses of the yellow armour really give this model some depth, and contrast really well with the white edge highlights of overlapping yellow armour panels. If the Bioware studio artists that did Mass Effect created a game based on Warhammer 40K, this is what I suspect would be the result.
Speaking of 40K games, since much of our 3D modelling techniques are based on (or at least inspired by) 2 dimensional fantasy / sci-fi art, why not have a look at the recently released "Space Marine" game?
Ah, computer "3D" modelling. Take a look at how the computer renders how light would hit those plates. Yes, there is some edge highlighting, but mostly as a result of wear and tear on the paint, right down to the lighter coloured primer. Shadows fall directly underneath the massive shoulder plates. Rounded armour reflects light like a ball or sphere (which means not necessarily at the apex of the plate, but from the point closest to the light source).
That's how a computer would simulate true-to-life light play, but what about something a bit MORE true-to-life?
Cosplay!!! This is the ultimate "true-scale" modelling. When we're painting 32mm tall miniatures, we try and fake / recreate the depth of shadows and lights that we see on a full scale (human sized) model. Notice how there is some "edge highlights". Most of those are from the hard edge being scratched down to the bare primer from everyday wear and tear, but light DOES catch on hard edges a fair bit... mostly where you see that piece being backlit and silhouetted a bit. Otherwise, the light does what it did in the computer models shown earlier... the point closest to the light source reflects the most light. The points furthest from the light source reflect the least light.
Now, go back to the top of this post, and have another look at the edge highlighted Tau. Not quite the same, is it? Any shading on that model is NOT the work of the artist, but rather of the lighting that was set up by the photographer. Good photographer. Bad artist.
Anyway, this post has gone on long enough. I probably shouldn't pick on poor Dan Harden too much. He's spending all his time on trying to put out decent content for one of my favourite magazines (although I'd like it much more if they brought back "Thrud the Barbarian" comics in every issue), which leaves him little time for painting to a higher standard. However, I have noticed that the average quality of painting in White Dwarf has been steadily dropping. There are some character models that are still jaw dropping in quality, but the average army looks much flatter than it has in a long, long time. Instead, I've been going straight to their Golden Demon coverage for truly inspiring paintjobs. Even for my armies (which have to be painted a bit quicker in order to hit the gaming table before the models are out of date), I can usually come up with a similar, but more time economical way of creating a high standard of painting... one that I wouldn't be too ashamed of presenting in a major magazine seen by gamers and artists all around the world.