Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Paint a Tentpole Mini
I would describe myself as a slightly below mediocre army painter at skill level. It’s hard to tell given the sheer volume of amazing minis you see on the web, and I tend to only see a few other people’s minis in real life, so in my head that’s where I sit.
The point of the above is that it created a fear in me. I didn’t mind paying £25 for a hero character and not having it painted particularly well, but how could I justify spending £100 on a mini and ruining it with a poor paint job. I wouldn’t want to commission someone else to paint such a figure for me, both for the cost and for the pride level. As such, for a long time I refused to buy the more expensive miniatures, and I’m sure this dilemma is something other people go through.
I’ve now changed my approach, and have painted Archaon, Abaddon and Skarbrand, and I’m in the process of finishing a Be’lakor and helping my son paint a Stardrake. In fact I’m enjoying painting these more than a squad of troops and a more regular sized hero. They’re definitely more satisfying to finish, and in some ways they’re actually easier to paint. So this article is a little encouragement to anyone else scared to make that leap to more expensive minis to take the plunge and the mental leap that helped me get there with Archeon who was my first.
What is a tent pole mini? Generally speaking, I would break the tentpole minis down into 2 types:
The first type is a hero with a mount. The hero itself is usually a slightly more ornate version of another troop, and the mount is usually a fairly large creature that is slightly plainer so as not to distract from the ornateness of the named hero. This is the category that say Alarielle, Archaon, the Stardrake or Teclis fit into.
The second type is a larger and more ornate version of a mini. This is things like the Primarchs, Abaddon, maybe a big Tau Battlesuit, Skarbrand, or Be’lakor.
In this article, I’m going to discuss how I broke down the challenge of Archaon and Skarbrand into those two types, and therefore how I would tackle any future tentpole.
For Archaon, the approach was to split the model into 4 parts. The base, which I wanted to be interesting, but not draw too much attention from the model, the body of Dhorgar, the wings of Dhorgar which are such an iconic part of the model, and then Archaon himself.
First up was Archaon himself (who for a short while was Archaon, his cape and his shield). Before attempting to paint him, I painted a squad of 10 Chaos Warriors and a Chaos Lord on Karkadrak from the Slaves to Darkness boxed set. This let me develop the scheme with a practice model, and then cement with the rest of the squad the type of black armour that I wanted (something a bit more gunmetal than jet black), as well as the red cloaks and glowing runes that feature on the main model so prominently.
Archaon himself isn’t much bigger than these models, and has just a bit more filigree on his armour, so this translated very well to the Everchosen model, and in effect he just became another Chaos Warrior in my head. Psychology test passed.
Next the wings. The box art for these has them darker in the centre sections of each span, which is the opposite to how I tend to think of wings like this (certainly say my demon princes I do lighter in these parts). However the same techniques I usually used worked in reverse, just using darker paints instead of lighter. Normally I drybrush for these as I can’t blend very well, however, I couldn’t possibly drybrush Dhorgar, what an insult. So I tried to airbrush the wings. I’m not good at airbrushing, so I ended up re-base coating, and then drybrushing the wings. I’m still not 100% on them, but the key thing here was to stick to a technique I had practiced and was capable of. I’m not saying not to stretch your painting techniques, but don’t try something new on the finished tentpole mini that you can’t test somewhere else first (bits from the bits box even).
When these were done, I stuck them onto the body of Dhorgar, to help paint the rest consistently. In this case the model helped due to the wings not getting in the way, but other models you can’t do that. At first glance, the body was vastly different to anything else I’d painted, but at the same time when I got started I realised for the most part it fit into a few techniques.
- There was the armour which I did as a variation of the armour of Archaon, so tick on being able to do that.
- There’s the flaming fur, which again was a slight variation on the hair(?) of Archaon, and other flames I’ve done before, so I knew how to do that.
- There’s the kind of scales with the glowing gaps. The gaps would use the same glow effect as I’d used on the shields etc. of the Chaos Warriors, and for the scales, they’re so textured that I knew a black base with a light drybrush would pick them out well.
- That left the skin. I must have watched the GW painting tutorial 5 times before trying to mimic it, but largely it was base coat, couple of phased washes, drybrush and a single highlight. A large area to cover, but that actually only seemed to make it much easier to do than on a small model.
Dhorgar’s heads are obviously then a bit of an exception to the rest. Each is individual, and I needed to blend the flesh tones. The Khorne head helped with that with a brass collar to do one red flesh on one side, and Dhorgar flesh on the other. The others I just had to try my best with washes and drybrushes to try and make them blend. 90% of the time you’re looking at the mini from above, so actually that bit of blending on the necks isn’t visible.
The base I then built up using the base detail provided, some cork and astrogranite, and putting a few extra skulls (and the chains from Dhorgar) on the ground. I painted it like any other scenery or base, just on a bigger scale.
Takeaways from this type of mini:
- The main figure you can practice with similar models first to get your techniques down.
- The monster is generally larger than what you might normally paint. That makes it much easier to do things like blending layers of washes and highlights, or any other technique you can already do.
- There’ll be things that you’ve not painted before, but use spare parts or bits from the bits box to do a practice run and you’ll be fine.
The next type of mini was the larger version of another mini. In this case I’ll talk about Skarbrand.
You’ll probably want to break them down into sections just the same. For me, Abaddon was base, body and cape. Skarbrand was base, body (initially without armour) and head. But whatever makes sense to you both in terms of access to paint and colours/technique.
Again, like with the monster in the first type, bigger can make it much easier to get your brush in and do phased shading, or stages of object source lighting.
I found with Skarbrand that all the extra detail on areas like his arms just helped me get a better drybrush effect, with the size letting me get a larger brush to it all, and helps apply shading with broken up detailed areas.
Again I practiced first with similar minis, for Skarbrand it was Bloodletters and Fleshhounds.
Personally, I’m really happy with these minis, and they’re easy for me to go back to later and add a few more highlights or shades, or other touching up as my skills improve.
So, breaking down what I learnt from these:
- You can practice on similar cheaper/smaller minis.
- What you already know can actually be easier to apply on a larger scale.
- More ornate = more detail for washes and drybrushes to help with.
So, don’t hold back if, like me, you’re worried about what you can do! Go buy a tentpole mini for your army, and get painting!