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Auticus Paints – A Primer

Auticus Paints – A Primer

This was not an article I ever intended to publish but several people have asked me to do painting videos based off of the content in my Battle Reports. While this is very flattering, my paint jobs are at best Tabletop Quality (my goal!). However it got me thinking… as I am basically just an average painter that can make decent enough looking armies on the tabletop field it may be worth sharing some of my techniques that I have picked up over the years.

As such, I wanted to launch an Auticus Paints series. The problem with doing it on video is I dont have a really good setup for you all to see what I am doing on video very well! And while my crazy antics on the camera would be a lot of fun, it wouldn’t give you much overall I dont think if you can’t clearly see what I am doing or talking about.

Before I can launch into how I paint models however… I need to explain my goals and how I classify painting in general. I used to be a commission painter way back in the day (20 odd years ago now!) which was how I afforded the hobby when I was younger. I would paint someone’s entire army and in exchange they would buy me an entire army. This was before the internet was big and fantastic professional painters started offering their services, but up to that point my tabletop quality was perfectly acceptable. And it still is for me!

Just Starting

If you are just starting out – painting can be very daunting. Its scary! These models are not cheap and it can feel bad slopping paint on them in a way that when you look around you and see other accomplished painters doing amazing things make you feel bad for even trying. I get it! I was there. My first attempts at painting were not the greatest. However like any skill, painting requires some repetition. It requires time at the brush and over time you will find techniques that work for you, tools that make you better, and you will start to see some excellent progress. The biggest piece of advice that I can ever give a new painter is to not compare themselves to established painters. Paint for you. Paint for the enjoyment of painting. Paint to learn. If you want to get better, study technique. The internet is FULL of tutorial videos and how-tos!

Define Your Goal

Why are you painting? Whats your goal? Are you painting just for fun because you find it relaxing? Then the end result does not even matter! Are you painting because you enjoy the spectacle of fully painted forces clashing on the table! Then you may enjoy working to produce a solid tabletop paintjob! Are you trying to compete in painting competitions? Then you will need to advance past tabletop quality paintjobs and start learning some advanced techniques that really bring those models to life!

At the end of the day, your goal is what you should be striving for. Be realistic with it. Set achievable mini-goals to reach your final goal. Enjoy the journey for what it is! The destination is only an end point. Getting there is a lot of the fun!

Auticus’ Goals and Definitions of Paint Quality

The vast majority of my collection is painted. My goals are typically to paint an entire model a day (infantry sized). For a stand of Conquest miniatures, I try to get that paintjob finished in three days or less. I typically have little problem achieving that, but I have also been painting miniatures for over twenty years and had to learn how to paint very fast but very well. For you dear reader, spending an hour a night on models may be perfectly fine. Or for the perfectionists, you may spend hours a day at your work bench!

The trick is there is no trick. There is no right answer. It is different for every painter.

To achieve so fast a result, I have learned a number of tricks and use a number of implements to get me on my way. One of which are the fantastic CONTRAST paints from Games-Workshop, which combine base color and shading into one step. I’m also painting to a tabletop standard, which means it looks good from three feet away and in groups but up close probably wouldn’t impress you too much. My models are not painted to win contests. They are painted to look good on the table and enhance the experience of playing a wargame.

That being said, lets look at how I define various paint schemes and quality to better understand where I am coming from.

I paint to the tabletop standard – which means it looks good from three feet away and in groups…

  • Unfinished/Primed (level 0) – An unfinished or primed model is just that. It is a model that is either bare metal, grey plastic, or a model that has been primed a single color. You will never see me field models in this state.
  • Basecoat (level 1) – A level 1 Basecoat model is one in which the primary colors have been applied fully. The palette selection does not indicate any better or worse quality. A model with three base colors applied is the same as a model with twenty base colors applied. It is still a Level 1paint scheme. The base will also be typically painted at least a solid color. The lining should be clean but no shading has been applied.
    An infantry model at 28/32mm typically takes me 15-20 minutes to paint at this level. You will never see me field models in this state.
  • Tabletop Quality (level 2) – Tabletop Quality are models whose primary goal is looking good from three feet away. This is my normal standard and is what 90% of my models and the models shared on Battle Reports and my Instagram feed are painted to.

    A Tabletop Quality Model takes the Level 1 basecoating and then applies shading to the entire model. This adds a level of depth. Additionally an extra layer will be applied to the model. The layer will be lighter colors added to pick out and show highlighting on the model. I will typically also do the eyes of any models where appropriate at this level, and the bases will be textured in some way with tufts of grass or a couple rocks placed down.

    An infantry model at 28/32mm typically takes me about an hour to paint at this level.
  • Tabletop+ (level 3) – Tabletop+ is a level that I’d like to make all my armies but the reality is its typically reserved for my characters and special centerpiece models. This level takes the tabletop quality and adds two or three more layers to the model. These layers are subtle but will gradually build up the model so that the transitions are smooth. This is also a great place where airbrushing starts to shine, as airbrushing gradients are very hard to match with a manual paintbrush. (however airbrushing is not something I really ever use because I find I spend more time cleaning the thing than I do actually painting with it)

    The bases start to get very detailed at this level, with more attention to detail spent on painting the textures to highlight individual dirt patches and tuft of grass placement. An additional level of shade may even be added to mute some of the new layers and another layer put on top of that! Special effects may also be added, such as drool slicks, blood spatters, and other things that bring the model to life.

    Despite all of that work, a Tabletop+ model will rarely do well in a local painting competition. It however looks amazing on a game table! An infantry model at 28/32mm typically will take me two or three hours to paint at this level.
  • Competition (level 4) – Competition models are taking things to the next level. Here you will need to have a solid understanding of color theory, blending techniques, source-lighting and how to apply it, and composition. Competition models will have a dozen or more layers applied to it; each will be very subtle but pull the entire piece to its entirety. Gradients will be near flawless and special effects will bring the model to life.

    Competition pieces instill the imagination in nearly anyone that sees them, and they are a true sight to behold. Such works of art take a fair amount of time to complete. Commission painting services going to this level for tabletop armies charge several thousand dollars for such work.

    Such pieces can hold their own and win local painting competitions, but still do not capture the ultimate of painting competitions. A model at this level typically takes me one or two months to complete, and I have only done a handful of these in my entire life. These are very rarely seen on a gaming table for producing them takes a great amount of skill and are often left in display cabinets.
  • Crystal Brush (level 5) – The pinnacle of painting is a model worth of winning a Golden Demon or Crystal Brush award. These rarities are treasures and require an artistic talent that is several steps above normal painters. Competition level painters are very good. Crystal Brush painters represent the apex of painting.

    These pieces have dozens of layers, and several techniques applied to them to make them living works of art. I have never painted any model at this level and lack the talent or skill to do so. You will almost never see these on a gaming table.

With all that being said… over the next few weeks I will present some step by steps on how I produce my Conquest miniatures at the Tabletop level (and we may even get to the Tabletop+ level we will just have to see!)

I hope that this is educational and enjoyable. Lets get our brushes and get to work! If you’re interested in following on instagram, you can check me out here:


Software engineer, data science, machine learning, AI, game designer, and writer.

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