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Friday, March 17, 2017

Bolt Action - The Ins And Outs Of Commission Painting


I, Old Man Morin, have been wargaming for a scarily long period time. It is getting close to three decades at this point. In that time I have discovered a few truths about my hobby, one of which is that I am a painfully slow painter and that my short attention span requires constant stimulation to stay focussed on a given project. This makes painting entire armies very difficult. It took me close to two years of steady work to paint my Late War German army for Bolt Action for example. For someone who loves to play with painted forces this is very problematic. This has led me, over the years, to turn to commission painting as a way of getting boots on the table. Today, I am going to discuss a few things to consider before treading this path.


Rule number one in commission painting is simple: See examples of the artist's actual work.

The first time I paid someone to paint models for me, I recruited a man at the local game store to help me get some 40K models done while I was worked through the end of my undergraduate degree. I was working as a bartender at the time and had some disposable income to burn. Well, as a very young man, I took the gentleman's word about the quality of his painting and... well... it was a disaster. Not only had I paid a fortune for an all metal GW army, I paid the nice man a significant amount of money to painfully overspray and thickly base-coat the main colours onto the models. They were ruined. I threw them away and it was nearly a decade before I considered paying anyone to paint anything again.

Now this is an extreme example but it does pay to investigate an artists style. There are plenty of extremely talented painters out there whose style is great but if they painted something for me, I would be disappointed. Fortunately, these days most commission painters have a website or Facebook page showing examples of their work.

Rule number two in commission painting: Find out what their turn around time is.

A few years ago a mate of mine was looking for some side work to supplement his income. Loving his work I jumped at the opportunity to get a few things painted up. Sadly, he was still working his full-time job and had taken on commissions from several other people. It took him almost a year, after taking my money, for him to deliver the models. In the end they were fabulous and I love them but they took a long time to arrive. As he is a mate, this was a bit of an awkward situation that could have been avoided if we had talked, up front about how long the project would take in the first place.

Rule number three in commission painting: Find out how much they charge for their services.

Always discuss this FIRST!!! The difference in prices between artists is unbelievable. If an artist or a painting service has a website, it is always worth checking it out to see if their rates are published. It can save everyone a lot of time and hassle. I have recently contacted an artist to paint a single model for me only to realise that he wanted to charge me what I paid for my entire last army cost to paint. Given the extremely intense quality of his work, I can understand why he wanted to charge this. I just can not afford those kinds of prices. It pays to ask if you are not sure.

Also before you even consider asking an artist for a quote make sure you have the money for a project ready to go. Being friends with lots of artists, nothing is more annoying than going through the negotiation process only to get to the end and have someone say, Ok, let me gather the funds. It is a waste of their time. Be ready. Their time is valuable. For them time is money.

Rule number four in commission painting: Be prepared to gamble.

7 years ago I was a regular attendee of large 40K tournaments down here in Australia. In order to keep up with the roller coaster of power creep that Warhammer sometimes suffers from, I fell into a constant cycle of winning armies as prizes at events, paying Chinese painting groups to paint them up and selling them for the money to paint the next army. I got lucky with a group of Chinese painters, quality wise, who were expensive but good. I used them for 4 successive army projects before they, sadly, closed their doors. Another painting group featuring members of the original group sprung up with similarly painted sample models, similar rates and similar turn around rates as the group that I knew and loved. Not wanting to stop my run for the 40K Masters I commissioned this new group to paint an army for me. Well. Everything WAS the same as the original group (including the packaging the models came in) except... The models looked terrible.

I had gambled and had come out the better for it for quite a while, but in the end my luck ran out and I got burned. When working with artists, especially those far away, paying someone to paint your models for you can be risky. You might not like the results. If there is a chance that you will be heartbroken by the results, do yourself a favour, paint the models yourself. It might take longer but you can be proud of your own work.

On the other hand, working with reputable painters can almost guarantee beautifully painted models that you can cherish and use in game after game. They are sometimes expensive but it is an investment. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to pay the money to get the results.

Conversely you could really gamble and try going with someone unknown. The results might be top tier for the bargain basement prices but they might end up being exactly what you are paying for. It all comes down to what you are comfortable with.


Stay tuned, I will review the services of one of these reputable painting services, Volley Fire Painting Service in my next article and you can see what I went through to get a new painted army for my collection. (They are the painting service who painted the gorgeous models show throughout this article.)


Until next time,

Old Man Morin

2 comments:

Left Handed Panzerfaust said...

Good read Brad. Respect to those dedicated Commission painters out there. I enjoy painting however I find motivation lacking at times! It seems like a very competitive market out there and for those that make a living out of it wow! I know Andy at the Volley Fire Painting service paints "All day every day". I'll stick to one hour a day :)

Karl Cassidy said...

That "ruined" all metal 40k army was entirely salvageable. You can always strip a metal minatures back to the base metal. I have an entire company worth of rogue trader metal marines to paint up. Most were bought in shocking condition, caked beyond belief in paint. A week in a jar of paint stripper and a few wire brushes later and they looked like they'd just come out of their blister packs! (Plastic can be stripped with dettol disinfectant but can be trickier to get right.) just in case you put the army in an old box in your garage, rather than in the bin...

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