Monday, 8 July 2013

Painting Trends I'm Not a Fan Of: Pure Edging

I love going down to my local game shop (in this case, Strategies in Vancouver), and picking up a copy of White Dwarf magazine every month.  Yes, I know that the quality and content has been inconsistent, and yes, it's focus is primarily geared towards selling more Games Workshop models, but I can't help it.  I've got an almost uninterrupted collection of WD's dating back to issue 94 (oct '87), and I will likely keep collecting them until my eyes give out.  It's a habit, but there are a few articles once in awhile that make that habit a very rewarding one.

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  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.


  1. Great article, Kelly. I don't have much to add, but I do like the editorial writing style you've got going on.

  2. Thanks Craig. I'm not too sure I'm call my writing style "editorial", since I do very little mental editing in my head. It's more like, "verbal diarrhea" in that I just write what comes to mind, then give it a quick re-read before clicking the POST button.

    As for not having much to add, I would be curious to hear what others consider their pet peeves when it comes to painting / converting / sculpting / composition / etc.

  3. As for Mikael Duvskog's Imperial Fist's base... I think it really doesn't need anything else. Bases should be suited to what environment you'd find that model in, in this case a marine recently having fought a battle and planted his flag in the dirt after taking off his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow. That to me is all you need.
    This could lead into my pet peeve about modelling: OVERDOING a base. I find that many competitions based on public vote end up rewarding the person who has the most LAVA on their base. Many times over, it just doesn't seem suited to the model. I can think of very few situations anyone (even in a fantasy or sci fi setting) would fight near/in/on an active volcano...
    Maybe that just leads into my dislike of having painting competitions open to public vote (coolminiornot, wampforum). These are too easily skewed by favorites and/or techniques that ARENT painting such as LED lighting in models or like you said, Kelly, cheap edge highlighting with no further blending that to the untrained eye may look very cool indeed. Competitions need experienced model painters to be the judge. Period.

    my 2 cents

    1. I agree that much of what we see nowadays is unnecessary wank. However, any art form needs to be pushed to it's extremes once in awhile, and new innovations experimented with and presented to the public for feedback and opinion. That being said, I'm also over the lava base thing. After seeing it so often, I'd rather people came up with some other excuse to do OSL.

      Context is the key. For a competition as competitive as the GD, a plain gaming quality base is TOO understated. Don't do anything so crazy as to distract from the amazing paintjob of the subject model, but don't rush the base either. Show some thought went into every part of the entry (including the base), and people will respect that.

      LEDs will have their place too, so long as it doesn't overwhelm or distract from the painting. Trying to make up for a bad paintjob with some cheap gimmick isn't going to fool an experienced judge. Justin McCoy ("misterjustin" of Secret Weapon Miniatures) just posted a great example of a amazingly well weathered pickup model with working headlights on his blog. I don't have the link at the moment, but if you google it, it should come up. It's a good example of a minor gimmick done well... Something to complement the finished piece, rather than being what the piece is all about.

      Agreed about experienced judges. I was burned pretty badly by the popular voting method one year at the Vancouver Grand Tournament. Each gaming club and clique voted for their representative, pooling their votes. Everyone else was forced to pick up the remaining unaffiliated votes, and never had a chance to win. I've seen some wonky scoring on places like CMoN as well, but never so blatantly rigged as that. Impartial and professional judging by someone who understands painting and the effort and talent that goes into it? That's the goal.

  4. I could never quite figure out why I disliked the 'edge lining' look so much, and you've nailed it with this article. Not that I haven't tried it myself, mind you!

    1. It just lacks depth. Some people like it regardless... I have to admit, it does lend the model an "edgy" (pun intended) graphic novel kind of look. However, I argue that it defeats the purpose of trying to make a little scale model look anything like it's full scale "real-life" counterpart.