It's not often you get an editorial from me, but of late I have found plenty of inspiration. Over the past few weeks I've had plenty of free time which has enabled me to get cracking on lots of painting and converting. I usually listen to music while I paint or perhaps have the TV on in the background, however recently I've been painting in silence, my hands and eyes occupying themselves while my mind gets to drift away.
It was in one of these meditative hobby trances that my mind wandered into the topic of today's editorial - consistency. To be more specific, consistency of style and quality of your painting and converting.
Back in January when I was setting up my army for some whole army shots I got to view the Praetorian IV somewhat akin to a new viewer, or perhaps a more critical viewer is more accurate. I had been separated from the majority of my army (due to work and travel) for easily half a year or more and I hadn't used them in battle for probably twice as long as this. Sure I had picked up the odd model, or opened a case from time to time to look at models in isolation, but I hadn't seen them all together shoulder to shoulder and track to track.
Looking at them all together I wasn't nearly as happy as I expected to be. Some parts of the army just didn't fit anymore. The difference in standard and scheme between some elements (particularly between the oldest and newest) was marked and I started thinking if I should retire a few elements or put them up on eBay.
Here we have the most recent photo of all the painted elements together. Its probably roughly 4000pts of Praetorians, with the most recent additions being the Tauroxen (lets go with that for a plural) late last year and the oldest elements being a selection of Rough Riders, Medusa, chimeras and guardsmen painted well over 10 years ago.
Let's get back on topic for this editorial, consistency. I will be discussing consistency more generally, but will be looking to tie it to my army, with close inspection of the obstacles, challenges, and importantly how can I overcome them (without retiring troops or using eBay)!
Why consistency is important to me
For me the hobby is all about the fluff and background. This is why I love 40k above any other wargame. Games Workshop may pride themselves on being the best miniature producers, but for me they are the preeminent fluff producers. To say the 40k universe is massive is in my opinion an understatement. The models in my collection are an extension of this fluff first and foremost, not a table top army designed to win games or tournaments.
This appreciation of the 40k universe and history is why the painting and modelling aspect of the hobby is so important to me. When I play games I want both the armies to be beautifully painted and for the game to take place on a stunning board, playing a narrative scenario depicting some act of heroism or infamy in the wider universe. Winning or losing is only a sub consideration to the greater objective of having a great story told.
Consistency plays into this train of though. If you army is beautifully painted but there is no consistency in style or theme then the fluff goes out of the window and the spell, so to speak, is broken and you are just two people playing a game which as I said previously is not why I love the hobby.
Imagine facing off against a Space Marine army (I know your imagination is stretched already) and the squads are all a big mix of various chapters with no plausible reason for why. It would irritate me and certainly break the spell. An extreme example, but it illustrates the point. More likely is that you might have older (and I mean considerably older) models in your army, different standards of painting, basing, converting. This for me is equally a barrier to the fluff and ultimately my joy in the hobby.
Ideally when crafting an army you would sit down and paint it all in a single chunk of time. Sadly life doesn't allow for that and unless you are some kind of speed painting virtuoso (you know who you are followers...) converting and painting your army can take months, or more likely years. The key then is ensuring that your army remains consistent while you add to it. As I will illustrate this is considerably easier said than done.
Obstacles to consistency
The significant obstacle that I have alluded to is time. In the words of Robert Oppenheimer (I'm pretty sure he was making a direct reference to collecting a consistent 40k army) "time the destroyer of all things". This really underpins all the following issues as ultimately everything changes with time.
One need only look at developments in the last few years to see how the quality, complexity and look of GWs miniatures has changed. When you look back at models from the 90s or even further the difference is startling. Take Nagash from Warhammer Fantasy, what a huge difference between clown hat man and the now undisputed King of Death. The older models are fun to collect in my opinion but, with a few exceptions, that is all they are good for.
Now I know what you are thinking, all this coming from a guy with an army of metal guardsmen from the mid 90s. However, for me, these are an exception. The old guard scuplts are still great and in the absence of alternatives don't look out of place. That said, when you start mixing with newer models, take Cadians for example, there can be issues. The older models are generally shorter than their newer counterparts and have different equpiment that can cause consistency to suffer. This is an issue that needs to be addressed so as not to detract from the army.
I meet this obstacle in my army where I need to marry the older GW Praetorian sculpts with the newer models of Curious Construct, Victoria Lamb and conversions from GW models. It's increasingly difficult to keep them consistent and looking like they come from the same army.
Oh Games Workshop, why must you change your paint colours every few years, it causes consistency no end of problems! This is a complete pain and while not insurmountable, it will inevitably impact on the look of the army. In my case it is clearly illustrated in my tanks where the various browns I use have been forced to change due to changes in paint colours. Once upon a time my tanks were undercoated with snakebite leather. Now I use XV-88.
This also translates to the way you base models with colours changing, and increasing trend of more elaborate basing materials being used. One further issue that I've found particularly troubling is remembering how you painted something years or months (or even days!) previously. Forgetting how you painted something is an absolute nightmare.
Skill and ability
Once again, time impacts on everything and at least here it does so in a good way as you should be improving (in theory!) in skill every model you paint. The flip side is that when you have had the same army for many years, you go back to look at your earlier models and wonder how on earth you ever thought you could paint back then.
This is an issue for me with the chimera, guardsmen and rough riders that are over 10 years old. From a distance they can pass under the radar as they are broadly speaking the same colour, but up close they don't compare to the newer ones.
Drawing these three main areas to together the problem of consistency only seems to get worse, as you have an old model painted in different colours by someone who can't paint very well! Fear not readers, all is not lost. I will now have a more detailed look at the issues faced with my army and how I'm going about fixing them.
Consistency in my army
So where does this leave me and my army? I'll tell you where, in a massive mess. All of the aforementioned obstacles have galloped with reckless abandon into my path, however like a prize fighter I keep getting back up and keep fighting. Enough metaphors and similes, let me explain using the previous headings once more.
The entire Praetorian model range is coming up for 20 years old. I say entire range, but we all know it's not exactly that big. This is obviously a problem insofar as adding infantry to the army is concerned. While this can be a problem it also presents a great challenge and lots of fun for any committed converter!
The greatest weapon in my arsenal is the bits produced by Col. Gravis and Victoria Lamb. Without either of their excellent sculpts I would be without a hope. Col Gravis in particular is useful as his sculpts are more in keeping with the original feel of the GW models, while Victoria Lamb ventures more into the steam punk Victorians in space aesthetic.
Using these thrid party sculpts and a variety of existing GW kits and bits I (in my humble opinion) am able to bridge the gap reasonably well. I look to maintatin to maintain unifying elements like epaulettes, pith helmets and very importantly (in my opinion) weapons.
I've eschewed using alternative weapons to GW's in most of my army. Only my Chosen Men have non standard issue lasguns. My Captain Caine is a good example of where I have attempted to bridge the gap as the Victoria Lamb sculpts has been given epaulettes and hand swaps so as to be armed with standard Imperial Guard issue. I can't fix his height, but as has been pointed out to me previously, some people are just very tall!
Lining up Colonel Winterborne's command squad, Rough Rider dragoons and regular Praetorian infantry they do all fit together and are importantly consistent!
Oh paints... To my mind they seem to have changed so many times over the years. The biggest loss for me was always snakebite leather and bleached bone, I could never find something to replace them that was quite right. My tank painting scheme was reliant on them and when they ceased to exist I was forced to develop an alternative. I ended up going for XV88 and then Baylor brown folowed by Ushabti Bone.
In the long run it's produced better results and in my opinion is a better colour scheme for my tanks. Nonetheless there are clear differences in colour between tanks painted at different times. Clearly I'd prefer to have all my tanks more consistent in their main colour, however I feel that the army still works despite this. This may be due to the sheer number of tanks I have and also the unifying other colours such as the red and white which remain consistent.
It is of course a pain to lose essential colours, but I think on the flip side the GW range has dramatically improved and has some fantastic new colours which are filling the various stages when I may have blended to other colours together.
The other big change for more recently as been in unifying base colours in my army. Frequently I had forgotten what colours I used previously and just approximated. Some bases are far to dark, others too red and very few just right. This is easy to fix but very time consuming. It is something I have been working on recently as I feel it makes a big difference to how the army looks.
Skill and ability
Certainly over the years the quality of painting has improved. In particular when I become well practiced as painting a particular unit or using a certain technique I can see a clear improvement in quality. The tanks in my army are probably the best example of this.
The weathering techniques I use in the army have developed of the years. As a result when I implement a new one I eventually need to return to the older tanks to update them and maintain consistency.
My ability with green stuff has improved enormously throughout the evolution of this army. I look back at early epaulettes I sculpted or attempts at an Aquila on a helmet and I cringe a bit! Even within the same squad they don't all quite match. My original Highland infantry is the best example of this where the epaulettes are a bit inconsistent in size and form. Linking back to my previous comments on miniatures, Victoria Lambs epaulette sculpts have helped me to combat this massively and also saved a lot of time!
As my skill improves I will inevitably have to return to units to update them or of that can't be done repaint them. I still use a squad of 10 guardsmen painted 10 years ago. Needless to say they never make their ways into the display cabinets! I think I'm finally getting to the point where I'll need to strip and redo them as sadly I'd lose too much detail trying to simply update them.
In the same category as the aforementioned squad are sadly my Rough Rider Lancers which fall foul of both painting and converting skill issues. They are on the old warhammer horses (not great) and are all made from sawn up standard bearers and buglers with Attilian Rough parts. These too will need to be retired soon as I'm better of starting a new with the help of other kits.
I suppose I better wrap this lengthy editorial up! I guess its each to their own on what makes the hobby fun for them. You now have a little insight into my hobby psyche. For me consistency is really important to better convey the narrative. The better the armies, the tables, and the narratives, the more compelling the story being told and ultimately the more fun I have as I lose myself in the sound of the battlecannons and the rattling volley fire of my tightly ranked infantry.
Thank you very much for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!