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"Are fantasy/SF painters better painters?" Topic

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1,867 hits since 28 Jan 2004
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maxxon Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 12:11 a.m. PST

This title should stir up some discussion...

I split this off the LPS thread.

Therein, I said:

"2) For some reason, it seems to me that you see more top notch paintjobs on fantasy figures. I know that some top painters actively dislike historical subjects.

If you look at, any historical figures scoring over 8 tend to be 100mm display busts or similar. And I actually browsed through the (somewhat limited) historical offerings -- while there may well be some bias in the scoring, I did not notice any 28mm or smaller figures that were seriously slighted in the scoring department. There simply were no superb historical paintjobs in gaming scales."

To which Cherper replied:

"This is based on the people that you see on CMoN? There are people that make a living painting nothing but historical, not many do that painting fantasy. Bill Horan, Steven Zaloga and others do nothing but paint historical.

I think that the biggest reason that you don't see much in the way of historical on CMoN is that most historical in the expert type category is in larger scale (54mm, 90mm, 120mm, and 200mm)."

First of all, let's make one thing clear: I'm talking about gaming scales here, in effect 28mm and smaller (yes, I do know that 54mm is traditional tin soldier scale and that some people game in that scale, but as far as I'm concerned, it's excepted). I have absolutely zero interest in 100mm museum scale display busts etc. even though I've seen beautiful examples of such.

Well, I personally find CMoN boring to view. I only went there to find great historical paintjobs, but I couldn't really find any.

This impression is based on general web browsing, and magazine pictures. I get to see very few figures painted by others "live".

Yes, there are great historical paintjobs and great painters like Mr. Dallimore who do historicals in gaming scales. It just seems to me there MORE great painters and paintjobs for fantasy/SF subjects. Specifically more good "unknowns" -- like "never heard of him, but the orc sure is neat".

Also for the photography: Historicals are usually shown in unit shots, where you are hard-pressed to see even the shield design clearly, while fantasy/SF are usually shown as singles, even with extreme closeups.

Is it just that fantasy/SF has so much bigger (especially in 28mm) following and this is simply a product of demographics?

Do the "Golden Centurion" guys in historicals all gravitate do museum scale display busts?

Karnophage29 Jan 2004 12:30 a.m. PST

Actually it is who pays more. Most of the Top Fantasy and Sci-Fi painters get $50+ for a single miniature. Most Historical buyers grumble at spending more the about $8 a miniature. I know there are the St. Petersburg collection miniatures, that is a company that specializes in making display pieces. Why would anyone be willing to spend 5+ hours on a single miniature if there is no one that willing to pay what it is worth?


Turtle Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 12:50 a.m. PST

I think another aspect is that fantasy and scifi figure painters have more leeway in the style they paint. Historical figures have to look realistic and follow history. Whereas fantasy and scifi figures have a myriad of ways they can be painted.

It's like the issue that came up when photography was invented. Photographs could do realistic artwork better than a painter could. So painters shifted over to non realistic styles and work that are just as striking, and maybe more so, than realistic works.

Of course, demographics plays into a it a lot, people who play fantasy and scifi want those amazing paint jobs, whereas historical gamers traditionally want realism.

Ian Newbold Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 1:11 a.m. PST

I agree with Karnophage on two counts. The St Petersburg historicals are as well painted as any fantasy figures you'll see. And secondly with the exception of the collectors who buy the St Petersburg type of stuff (hundreds of pounds a piece) more fantasy collectors/gamers are prepared to pay big money (tens of pounds) for figures and paint jobs than historical collectors/gamers. So that's where the best small scale painters go.

In addition I think fantasy as a genre attracts the genuinely artistic type of painter because the subject matter gives them scope to express their own artistic flare. In this sense painting historicals is like painting by numbers. The colour scheme and how the model should look is very tightly defined by past reality and precision, neatness and tidiness are mainly all that are required of the painter. The genuinely creative flare of those that paint historicals tends to find its outlet in the conversions, vignettes and dioramas that people like Bill Horan create. Don't get me wrong, the very best historical painters are just as good as the very best fantasy guys.

Ian Newbold Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 1:15 a.m. PST

I'm also agreeing with Turtle. His post wasn't there when I started mine. He must be a quicker writer!

maxxon Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 1:41 a.m. PST

Money? Money is the answer?

I honestly thought that a goodly portion of the wonderful paintjobs I see on the net and in magazines are done by simple fans for their own enjoyment with no intention of ever selling their "babies".

Maybe I'm just naive and stupid to think so.

Black Hat Miniatures29 Jan 2004 2:31 a.m. PST

I find it puzzling that is SF/Fantasy people can paint better why do they tend to play far more often with unpainted figures. YOu never see an historical gamer with an unpainted army.....

Ian Newbold Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 2:45 a.m. PST

maxxon has a good point. Take my comments on money as referring to the pros and my comments on style as referring to pros and amateurs alike.

Mike Lewis also makes a good point about gamers in general. My comments are really about figure painters rather than gamers. I draw a distinction between those driven by the need to game and those driven by the need to paint. Although the two groups overlap to some extent, many of the top painters do little or no gaming.

Dave Crowell29 Jan 2004 4:57 a.m. PST

maxxon specifically excluded the best historical figure painters from the discussion by his set up.

I believe most of teh great looking fantasy figures that are seen in print are as part of advertising. They are there to sell figures, thi sis far different than fan painted figures. I would suspect a certain amount of photoshop as well.

Look at any of teh press on 54mm and up figures and look at the historical subjects therein. Then tell me honestly that can be any question but that historical painters are at least as good.

I am also fairly sure that historical figures are actually a larger market than fantasy overall. And that for every great fantasy figure out there there are crates of dreck.

Historical painters may not feel the need for CMoN etc.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2004 6:25 a.m. PST

"I am also fairly sure that historical figures are actually a larger market than fantasy overall. And that for every great fantasy figure out there there are crates of dreck."

Sounds hopeful, not factual. Clearly fantasy is the larger market, as demonstrated by the success of GW and its vastly greater retail presence. Nor does this particularly surprise me. Historicals rely on a knowledge of and interest in history within the marketplace— and these are clearly sorely lacking in today's world. I daresay that the average Westerner could not identify Wellington, nor tell you what he did, who he fought, or why it was significant— and yet Napoleonic wargaming is probably at the top of the historical heap! Neither fantasy nor SF have any such "prior knowledge" requirement to stir interest. So the market, and the potential pool of fantasy painters, is vastly greater.

DJButtonup Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 7:02 a.m. PST

I've rarely seen a fully painted fantasy/sci-fi army in play.
I've rarely seen a single piece of unpainted lead in a historic game.

As a growth of that trend I find most fantasy/sci-fi paint jobs to be sloppy, uncreative and poorly executed. But that is in real life. In magazines and on the web I've seen some truly remarkable fantasy work.

Pesonally, I think that most historical painters are better than fantasy sci-fi that I have seen. Maybe thats just because they actually paint their figs.

Zaphod Beeblebrox Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 7:44 a.m. PST

I suspect that Scie Fi and especially Fantasy painters have slightly more room to "go off" then a historical figure does. I do not mean using so called realistic pallettes, or scuffing or dirty outfits or weathering, I just mean that they can do freehand patterns and designs, and use much more fantastic (for lack of a better word) color schemes. You can get away with a lot more i think, than working with a historical genre.

Lee Brilleaux Fezian29 Jan 2004 7:53 a.m. PST

I paint both historical and fantasy figures, to a standard that is less than Godlike but more than average, and people pay me to do so. My observation would be that historical figures tend to be functional gaming pieces, based on real humans dressed sensibly for a purpose, whereas fantasy figures are not bound by these constraints. So the most flamboyant historical figures - Napoleonic marshals, landsknechts etc, and quite restrained in comparison with many fantasy pieces. These will obviously take a great deal of time to paint adequately, whereas a WW2 figure in camouflage can either be painted with tremendous concern for the splinter pattern on his smock, or simplified to a general, acceptable form much more quickly. If you compare a top of the line paint job of something very bright, very dramatic, very fantastical with, say, a paratrooper smoking a Woodbine, you'll see a very similar level of skill, but one does leap out at you in a much more obvious way.

I'll not touch the subject of unpainted plastic orcs on the table.

And I'll weigh in to say that the suggestion that historical enthusiasts outnumber fantasy fans is clearly ludicrous. The proportion is hugely lopsided against historicals. That's why your local hobby shop has no historicals and a wall of GW and Reaper. I wish it wasn't so, but wishes don't add up to extra gamers --

Tom Paine Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 8:28 a.m. PST


Excellent question, as it's been on my mind 8^). Having little interest in fantasy/sci-fi subjects, only recently have I taken a look at fantasy sites, solely for the painting. My impression was the same as yours, but things are changing.

As suggested, the 54mm and up minis was the route historical "painters" chose. However, wargamers typically had the daunting task of painting hundreds of figs to replicate specific units and events. And quantity seldom translates into quality. So gaming armies have been evaluated on the display appeal of massed groups, not individual figures. In this respect, you're comparing one apple to bushels of apples.

The good historical painters attempt to render accurately the colors of a period. This can limit the visual pop of miniatures. They also must maintain a style and color continuity between units, curtailing creative license.

But the COST of 25/28mm's, 54's +, etc., has people downscaling their sights, or leaving the hobby. Instead of planning to build an army division, folks are now content to do skirmish games. And this trend should raise the painting standard.

Also: I have a fine arts background, but prefer painting 30mm figs and under. (I don't know why, but I have trouble completing anything larger.) The drawback has been that wargaming figures, on the whole, are not well-sculpted. Your faced with the question: How much time am I going to spend trying to make this anatomical gnome look 'real'? (not a concern in fantasy... odd is good)

A number of people like myself, are keying off on vignette-styled pieces that CAN be used for wargaming, but more likely will grace a display case. Typically, they depict a battalion in 1:20 scale (20-30 figs). And my guess is we'll be seeing people painting more little vignettes of 3 to 4 figs. It will be bad news for figure manufacturers, but the painting quality should improve.

rmaker29 Jan 2004 9:42 a.m. PST

This old turkey topic again?

Let's face it, this is all completely subjective. One person's "great" paint job is another's "ridiculous caricature".

And beside the point. If you want great paint jobs go hang around the collector-types that do the big figures - 54mm, 90mm, etc. Wargamers, by definition, are interested in getting figures on the table. If I can adequately paint three battalions in the same time I can super detail one, I know which is going to happen.

Skannian Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 10:23 a.m. PST

In larger scales (40mm+)... No.

In "gaming" scales (33mm-)... No.

By the way, many good replies here. I was truly suprised at the overall civility displayed. Well done, lads.

Skannian Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 10:24 a.m. PST


Very well said and quite true, to a point.

Larger quantity does not mean better quality.

Well said, nonetheless.

Personal logo javelin98 Supporting Member of TMP29 Jan 2004 10:51 a.m. PST

I think it's actually impossible to compare the two genres, because their goals are so different. Comparing historical accuracy to sci-fi/fantasy creativity is an apples-to-oranges situation. Reminds me of a great Simpsons vignette:

Lenny: If you ask me, Muhammad Ali, in his prime, was much better than anti-lock brakes.

Carl: Yeah, but what about Johnny Mathis versus Diet Pepsi?

Moe: Oh, I *cannot* listen to this again!!

Rogzombie Fezian29 Jan 2004 11:07 a.m. PST

I agree that it is subjective in most cases. A lot of the posts here are driven by personal prejudices, etc.

In some cases the painting backgrounds are totally different. Most of todays fantasy pieces are driven by GW introducing a higher quality paint job into gaming scales. Historicals tend to develop from a different source, maybe modelling or large scale figure painting.

RudyNelson29 Jan 2004 12:04 p.m. PST

Turtle is right about leeway. HY painting is very restrictive and more chance of rejection by a customer due to 'being not exactly right'. I have mini clients in the HY areas who specialize in only specific eras (Napoleonic, Ancients, ACW, WW2 , etc) or specific scales.

Who is better? Neither and both since only the customer can decide if the product will be bought or not.

Dread Pirate Garness Fezian Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 12:06 p.m. PST

personally I think this whole debate is pretty senseless. I paint everything: sci-fi, fantasy, historical, figure models of all scale, model planes, tanks, space ships, giant robots etc.. and I don't view myself as anything other than a gamer and a painter/modeler. I would be just as happy with a IPMS best in show trophy as a golden demon or slayer sword.

Why is there this knee jerk reaction to classify painters? Sure there are some guys who only paint historical figures and there are those who only paint sci-fi fantasy, but so what! I have seen plenty of crappy paint jobs on both ends, and equally good ones as well. Some guys care and others don't. There is a far more, I would say that do both historical and fantasy. But the point is that does that make them any better?

This whole elitism thing that some folks have is beyond me, if you hate fantasy, a well painted troglodyte is still well painted. A well painted British command section for the Battle of Waterloo is still going to look darn good, despite some snot saying it is dumb because they don't have enough skulls and spiky bits.

Truth be told, there are many fabulous painters out there, that paint anything extremely well. I think the real controversy is in the people who play the games, and not the painters themselves. Since when does one try to compare historical accuracy with "fantastic genre" creativity? It is like trying to compare Osprey with comic books.

How can you say that a 6mm painter is not as talented as a guy who does Space Rangers. How can one say that a guy who paints "Museum quality" historical figures could not paint the best orc around? The skills are all the same.

I'll be darned if I am going to put 20 plus hrs on a rank and file foot trooper for doing a massive battle like Borodino. But I will put in more effort on my Space Wolves 'cause I only need about 30 of them. And I will put in yet more effort into my Gladiators because at most all I will ever use is 8 - 10.

And then the whole painting competition comes into play as well. Competition or purely display pieces are going to get the most effort, a gaming piece will not. My question is why are we trying to compare the 2, since it is clear that they have different end results? and does it really matter if they are historical or not?

Anyway, that is my rant. Maybe I am out of touch with the whole painting/gaming community at large, I dunno. But to say that one is better over the other is, to me, is like trying to compare the Wallstreet journal to Sunday funnies. Both a great, but it really comes down to what you are looking for.

Let the flames fly, that's mah answer and I'ma stick'en to it


Zaphod Beeblebrox Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 12:38 p.m. PST

Silly topic IMO. Different genres, different artists, different styles, different attitudes. Easy.

Blind Old Hag Fezian Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 12:58 p.m. PST

I agree, this whole topic seems pointless.

Dave Crowell29 Jan 2004 2:05 p.m. PST

As for fantasy having bigger market share than historicals: Are you including non-gaming sales? Airfix, HAT, Zvezda etc? Not to mention Historex, Andrea etc? And of course Verlinden, Tamia, Revell....

BCantwell29 Jan 2004 4:11 p.m. PST

Historical gamers mostly buy figures to game with. As such, they generally buy them 10, 20, 100 at a time and generally have some sort of time schedule in which to complete their unit de jour. The goal is different: to create an entire army that looks as good on the table.

I quit trying to very hard improve my skills on single figures some time ago and instead concentrated on my techniques to turn out much larger numbers of figures in a reasonable time that still look quite good. As a result, my gaming has increased. Different aspect of the hobby I guess.


maxxon Inactive Member29 Jan 2004 11:55 p.m. PST

What's your beef Dave?

I'm interested in gaming miniatures, so I'm asking about that. That's all.

For the record, I like both. I have hundreds of historical miniatures in 28mm, and I love painting them. But when I surf for more inspiration in that field, I usually draw a blank. (Except at Kevin Dallimore's site)

Yes, I see wonderful kits in e.g. Hobby Japan, but that's not gaming stuff.

Ok, I think I caught a couple of main trends here:

1) Figure requirements. Historical games tend to require more figures, so time-per-figure will be less and consequently so will the quality.

2) "Upgrade path". The "artist types" in historicals gravitate to museum scale display miniatures (statuettes?) or classical scale modeling. The fantasy/SF people stay in the gaming scales because there is really nowhere else to go.

RudyNelson30 Jan 2004 4:33 a.m. PST

A simple easy topic with nice discussions. So if anyone does not want to spend the effort 'waste of time' then they simply should not post.

Sometimes even people who love to debate needs to take a break with an easy topic.

SNOWMAN2 Inactive Member30 Jan 2004 7:03 a.m. PST

Truth be told, either is painted better than mine....
But I keep in practice....{30+yrs and counting}.

Lee Brilleaux Fezian30 Jan 2004 9:06 a.m. PST

Dave Crowell - interesting point about the mass-market plastic figures. I wasn't thinking about them at all. You do see them in general hobby shops, where there's nary a metal gaming figure to be seen. I don't know at all. I suspect most are sold to non-gamers; whether they are mostly kids (as they were when I was a youngster) I don't know, either. I don't think that the world of larger scale (54mm and up) collector's models is very big, but that the soft plastic 54/60mms (Marx copies etc) probably is. But in terms of the kind of figures we paint, I talk to many hobby shops every week as a sales rep, and fantasy/SF certainly dominates over historical figures.

KenFox Inactive Member31 Jan 2004 9:25 a.m. PST

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the GW competition scoring system. Army appearance weighs as much as beating your opponents. Poorly painted armies will never place.

Historical gamers treat painting as a yes or no subject -- kind of like a license to game. "Are you licensed? Ok, then you can put your lead on the table." Poorly painted armies can win tournaments because the quality doesn't matter.

GW players on the other hand will go months (or years!) with unpainted lead because it's better to go slowly and try for high quality instead of getting that "license to game". Looking at an unpainted army full of possibility is better than looking at a painted army without hope.

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