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"Does any painting service NOT use a black undercoat?" Topic

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Gen Con So Cal 2005

Our Man in Southern California once again reports on GenCon California-style...

1,482 hits since 9 Jun 2018
©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
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MiniPigs09 Jun 2018 11:55 a.m. PST

I find a black undercoating for painting miniatures to be somewhat corner cutting. Does anyone know any good painters that do not use a black undercoat?

We are talking wargaming figures. "Good" refers to that sweet spot between better than the dime-a-dozen painter and not "museum" quality where they are indisputably beautiful but are too precious for wargaming.

Tony S09 Jun 2018 12:43 p.m. PST

I don't think Karl, from Kura designs does. Certainly doesn't look like it. From first hand experience he is quite talented, and at least a few years ago his prices aren't too bad. Check out his galleries!

Tell him Tony sent you!

Ceterman09 Jun 2018 1:58 p.m. PST

Hell, I think that's what usually makes the figures look GOOD! I certainly don't think it's at all "cutting corners"! To each their own, I guess…

Rodrick Campbell Sponsoring Member of TMP Fezian09 Jun 2018 3:20 p.m. PST

While I personally dislike using black as an undercoat, it's not necessarily the mark of cutting corners. It can be used to very good effect.

I mostly sculpt these days, but I still take a few painting commissions for others now and then.

MiniPigs09 Jun 2018 5:24 p.m. PST

How did you learn to sculpt?

How do you find using sheep soap?

Winston Smith09 Jun 2018 6:02 p.m. PST

I think black prime sucks.
That's mostly because I can't do anything with it. grin

paintingden10 Jun 2018 1:21 a.m. PST

I use black and grey, 15mm is normal black. For 28mm it all depends on the figures.

Warcolours Painting Studio Fezian10 Jun 2018 3:07 a.m. PST

We mostly use grey or white primer, reserving black as the bottom layer for zenithal priming in our second tier of quality.

Project Vehemence10 Jun 2018 3:45 a.m. PST

I use a variety of colours. I think black/white is a throwback from when paint ranges were not as good as they are today. With 'thick' paints, and 'foundation' paints, you can get away with using many different colours.

Take a look at my recent commissions, they all use a different base/under coat

The skeletons: brown
The medievals: black, because it was easier for the armour
The WW2 Italians: dark sand
The Perry Travel Battle: French, a solid dark blue, helped a lot from the plastic being blue


MiniPigs10 Jun 2018 6:50 a.m. PST

just to clarify, someone can paint their miniatures in any manner they choose.

But for a professional painting service, the black undercoat is cutting corners because it basically allows a painter to get the whole surface covered and then suggest that an area they dont paint is still covered both literally and figuratively under the concept of an abstract style; the outline style.

Although it does cut down on gaps or mistakes with covering a miniature with paint, It's also a huge advantage for the painter that seems like a shortcut.

Ten Fingered Jack10 Jun 2018 7:06 a.m. PST

Want your money's worth, eh?

MiniPigs10 Jun 2018 7:39 a.m. PST

I like artists that have their own style not a factory style form of expression which seems to be the current zeitgeist for the hobby.

I think there are times when a black undercoat makes sense but it cant always make sense, and for that reason, I suspect it is an accepted industry-wide shortcut.

I acknowledge that the style will only do so much for a mediocre painter and that a very good painter may actually work twice as hard to make colors set on a black field "pop".

However, all I was asking for because I dont know a lot of people in the hobby yet, is are there painters who are both very good and do not use the black ground technique.

I recently started using about three painters and one of them uses a black ground to then build colors up on but I recognize that he is a very good painter.

Which brings me to more important elements of painting services. Is it better to have a single artist paint or are the factories just as good?

For me, delivery times, consistency of product and purity of preparation (De-flashing, priming, coating, basing) trump the talented painter who doesnt get back to you for a long time or cant complete a commission.

Also, humility. I chatted with some painters who seem to suffer from sort of supermodel's egomania; setting down their list of demands before they will accept a commission. In a service business, that's a bit off putting.

It also reminds me of that scene in the Bugs Bunny cartoons with Bugs playing world famous conductor "Leopold".

YouTube link

Personal logo Doctor X Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2018 11:08 a.m. PST

I've had several thousand figure painted by Fernando and I don't believe any of them had black as a primer.

MiniPigs10 Jun 2018 12:00 p.m. PST

Oh? What have they painted for you? Any pictures?

It's hard to see their images. Another frustrating thing that many painters do is keep you from a hi-res experience in their galleries.

Fernando is a factory? Has there been painting consistency over your orders?

Ceterman11 Jun 2018 1:13 p.m. PST

"I like artists that have their own style not a factory style form of expression which seems to be the current zeitgeist for the hobby."
Funny, One of the many things I remember Joe Kubert told me in school is "Once you have a style, you quit learning". I've always like that quote.
But yes, you are correct. You can paint them however you want. I STILL disagree with black being a shortcut. Actually you sometimes needs multiple coats to cover the black, producing more work for yourself. And I never use the base coat as any type of outline. I always go back in & paint what needs to be Black, Black. But then again, I'm not a "professional" painter. I've just scraped by my entire life doing artwork!

MiniPigs11 Jun 2018 4:49 p.m. PST

I like artists to not only have their own style but do their own painting. And while I would imagine painting mills wherever they are located can be extremely useful to produce vast numbers of figures at a relatively good value, for my purposes, that's not the route I would want to go.

Although it looks like some of the Asian painting services aren't that incredible a bargain.

It's just that, most gamers cannot paint well, even some of the painting services I've seen dish up inferior product. I've seen quite a few gamers' paint jobs make the naked metal look preferable.

I don't think the two are mutually exclusive; that is a black base. A good painter can use black undercoat to an artistic advantage but also mediocre painters can hide behind that technique.

I dont see why this bothers you?

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2018 1:19 p.m. PST

What difference does it make if at the end of the day the figures look good.

MiniPigs18 Jun 2018 4:37 p.m. PST

@marco56 On one level, I suppose it doesnt matter. In fact, it may actually help a wargamer out because if he/she has to use multiple artists, the results will all look the same.

However, your attitude is similar to the one you might hear at a restaurant when someone orders pork and instead gets served cat. Does it matter if they taste the same? :)

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2018 6:25 a.m. PST


MiniPigs19 Jun 2018 11:58 a.m. PST

My Dear Chap,

I do hope you dont own a restaurant? Or, are you a cat-o-phile:)

It's just a discussion. I dont know all the painters out there and was looking for good ones who do not use a black undercoat.

Do you of know any?

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2018 7:34 p.m. PST

Yeah it's not a big deal.I just find it unusual for someone who as I take it don't paint worry about the undercoating. I've read discussions among painters what they prefer but not a non-painter.I don't paint so I really don't think about it.When I employ a painter I look at figures he's painted and if I like his work that's good enough for me.I have never asked any painter what color they use for a basecoat.

MiniPigs20 Jun 2018 11:41 a.m. PST

Well, it's a big deal if you dont like that form of expression. it's also a big deal depending on the price.

White or grey primer/basecoat has to be completely covered and shaded or it looks awful; which suggests more skill is involved.

However, black base coat allows a painter to paint around crevices and if he misses something, well it's written off as all part of the "Look". And thats just fine but it's not what I like.

I mean, if a painter is a master, then it doesnt matter and if I like the result, irrespective of the black base coat, then that's fine too. I believe the rest of the black base coat community of professional painters are using a shortcut.

As an aside, I notice even some mediocre painters charge as much as the better ones.

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP20 Jun 2018 1:38 p.m. PST

If you are happy with the end results that's what counts.As far as shortcuts I'm sure most painters look for one and what is wrong with that if you are satisfied.You sound like you have have been burned before so you want to make sure you get you money's worth.Nothing wrong with that.

rob polymathsw25 Jun 2018 7:12 a.m. PST

I offer a painting service at the Polymath Workshop that can suit your needs. I mainly use White-Grey primer for Historical figures. I also offer a range of painting levels to suit any budget.

Feel free to get in touch about your latest project!

MiniPigs27 Jun 2018 2:49 p.m. PST


Burned before? Moneys worth? You give me the impression that I should pay the first 2nd rate painter who happens along and be thankful about it. I want what i want, end of story.

There are two types of people in this world my friend, those who like to eat beef, and those that prefer cat. Which one are you? :)

@rob polymathsw

I just hired four different painters, so I am a bit full up but I will keep you in mind.

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2018 4:09 a.m. PST

Maybe you should read what someone says.I said if you are satisfied with the work the painter did for you.As high strung as you are about this you must have ate a lot of cat.

MiniPigs01 Jul 2018 11:48 a.m. PST

When it comes to painting it seems that there are different strokes for different folks.

You have gamers who want large amounts of painted figures and who are willing to sacrifice artwork in that pursuit. I imagine, this is where the painting mills come into play. Quickly painted (not necessarily quickly delivered)by people who have little regard for the hobby and less knowledge of the look of the period.

Generally this involves buying or shipping miniatures to countries where wargaming doesnt happen much. Some gamers love this service because they can recreate gettysburg on a 1:1 scale and presumably they dont give a toss that the Union troops are all wearing beige pants.

For me, that doesnt work. I like painters to be gamers (or have familiarity with gaming) and to know the period and the reality of handling wargaming miniatures.

On the other hand, there are painters who are exquisite in their painting, know the uniforms cold and produce works of art. It seems the prices are high, to the point where even a modest force will be quite expensive. Not just from a value standpoint but from a cost/benefit analysis. How much can one really enjoy the hobby if a single Napoleonics battalion costs $1,000 USD US? Maybe theyre better suited to the display figures used by manufacturers to stimulate sales of unpainted metal.

One wonders if this quality is right for wargaming. After all, the miniatures have to be handled and perhaps transported and, no matter how much care is involved, there will be wear and tear. It almost seems like an abuse of art.

However, there are gamers who love these little masterpieces, and I say bless their little hearts.

Then there are painters who paint poorly (If you look at the paint job and wonder if a middle school student painted them in Shop class, then the painter is "poor") but who actually seem to do a steady business which confuses me but again if that's what gamers want, they should have it. Why anyone would do this to themselves is beyond me but I have to assume that sensitivity to price is their only motivating factor. Although, curiously, some of these 2nd rate painters, charge quite a bit.

Then there are part time painters who dont really deliver on massed armies and can become bored, then unresponsive. Thus, a new set of variables, such as professionalism and delivery rates come into play. I have seen painters who burn out or lack motivation. I have also seen the "I dont do Tartan" types who want you to submit for pre-approval the maker, historical period and miniature amounts before they accept them. These painters see themselves as Divas and usually have an entourage of I-am-not-worthy types stoking their egos. My guiding principle is that when you are willing to pay top dollar and someone still makes it difficult for you to get what you want, avoid them. but, hey, thats just me, some people like to be abused; I would imagine it reminds them of when they used to stand on line to get into a club or restaurant.

I had one diva painter who told me he only accepted 20-30 figures at a time. Now, for someone getting a handful of skirmish figures, that's great but one isnt going to go very far getting an army painted at that rate.

Some painters will base, others charge for basing and still others refuse to base their painted miniatures. Refusal to base works for some gamers who want all their bases in their collections to match but for others who perhaps lack time, it is paying for convenience just to have another inconvenience sprout up.

Consistency and productivity are important. Many painters can paint one unit exquisitely. The question is, can they paint twenty to the same standard?

Then, there seems to be painters who are easy to work with and deliver in a timely fashion. Some of them use black undercoats and some do not. Like Ive said, a good painter is making his life difficult with a black undercoat because it's harder to get bright colors vivid on a black layer. Meanwhile, mediocre painters can hide a lot of imperfections with a black undercoat.

Personally, I dont like a black undercoat. I think it takes some of the flamboyance out of miniature wargaming and it also tends to WW2-ize uniforms. Admittedly, many gamers like this because they think it's real. Thus, for pedantic, realists, they can hire all the black undercoat painters they like; seems to be no shortage of that sort of painter.

Actually, I am using a couple of painters who use black undercoat. I am fine with it because they're good painters and if they want to torture themselves, that's their business.

However, I wanted to also engage a painter who doesnt use a black undercoat because I wanted a different art style from the humdrum. No idea why that would cause a controversy.

The black undercoat painters I dont approve of are not an effort for me to get value for money but rather a resentment that they are merely trying to optimize dollars per hour. In general, people who are obsessed with what they are making per hour are in a trade for the wrong reasons, and never really go anywhere, and further cant have my money.

Gunner Dunbar21 Sep 2018 3:06 a.m. PST

I use both, depending on the desired outcome, it's an interesting question as to which is better, below are 2 similar subjects, the first is with a white undercoat the second is with black, I personally like the black undercoat results, but it is more work to use white, and accordingly I charge more for a white undercoat.
Black is easier because small areas that are missed in the painting don't stand out, but as you can see, there isn't much area that is missed.



marco56 Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2018 8:22 a.m. PST

I have to say that I like the first picture best.

Gunner Dunbar21 Sep 2018 9:02 p.m. PST

Yeah, that's fair, totally subjective, but would you pay more for it over the other? And would you call the black undercoated batch "corner cutting"? I guess it is if it makes my job easier, but I don't think it cheapens the look, or is some sort of cop out.

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2018 5:59 a.m. PST

Maybe it's the lighting but the coats and pants look darker to me on the first photo and that's what I prefer.Of course my eyes aren't the best so it's all really subjective.

Gunner Dunbar22 Sep 2018 3:44 p.m. PST

I think it's the light, I use the same paint for blue and flesh on these 2 batches, and the flesh is also a lot darker.

marco56 Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2018 12:23 p.m. PST

Anyway you look at it both looking very good.

MiniPigs26 Sep 2018 2:54 p.m. PST

Well Gunner,

There's nothing wrong with using black primer. I am currently using like 7 painters and some of them use black primer, others do not and yet others, like yourself use whatever they think gets the job done.

I personally realize that sometimes black is the best choice for some looks (Like armored knights) but it can kill certain colors. One painter who is very talented paints with black undercoat in the "Kevin Dallimore" style and achieves remarkable results.

However, I have to say, even for him, certain colors come out dull, like red. Thus, he will never paint Napoleonic British for me.

Even you admit that black undercoating forgives painting oversights. That was my point and I think for some subjects it kills the art. I willingly admit that for other subjects, black primer enhances the art.

I was mostly speaking about painters who use black undercoat, no matter what the subject in order to reduce painting time and hide errors. They are free to do so but I didnt want to engage them. Frankly, I was speaking more about "Mills" than the individual artist who uses black undercoating as his style rather than just getting a quick job done.

When I started this post, I was still under the misapprehension that one or two painters could paint the thousands of figures I need. I now realize that I have to use a variety of different artists and accept a variety of different styles.

Henry Martini27 Sep 2018 6:17 p.m. PST

There's no reason why the use of a black undercoat should result in dull colours. The simple trick is to always damp brush white over the black (at least twice for figures clad in bright colours).

Gunner Dunbar28 Sep 2018 2:32 a.m. PST

Yes, realistically an individual can only paint so many figures, I don't think black undercoat should effect brightness of colour here are some red examples of mine, with both black and white undercoat, brightness is effected more by the lighting, the reds are very similar in real life.






MiniPigs08 Oct 2018 5:08 p.m. PST

Those are very nicely painted Gunner

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