Wednesday 23 August 2023

Epic Project Part II - Painting Figures

The Napoleonic Epic project concerns the building of two small ‘Pocket Armies’ (French & Prussian) From the Warlord Games Epic range and a creating a trio of scenarios escalating in scope, to match the collection as it grows. There is a link to the initial post that describes this in the Resource Section below.

The initial starter armies are based around six units each. First up onto the painting cubes went four strips of Prussian line infantry. They will be based in pairs to give a two base unit.

My previous experience of painting these strips has been that they take quite a while to do, probably because there is quite a bit of detail that one feels compelled to paint.

I had decided that to get through these figures, a faster technique of painting was needed as the truth is that when these figures are held up to the face to paint, all the detail is there, but once on the table it largely disappears, so on the face of it, from a practical point of view, a quick and dirty job or at least impressionistic might be the best way to go - much easier said than done!

So, some new speed painting strategies;

Firstly, I would not wear my usual head visor with magnifiers to paint, but rather just rely on my reading glasses, that might give a more impressionistic result.

Secondly, the painting blocks would be marked to show which strips would end up in the front rank and which would be in the second rank. The ranks are mounted so close together that you can’t really see the front of the rear rank or the rear of the front rank and so it makes sense to give these ‘harder to see’ parts less attention.

Thirdly, I would just ignore some parts such as collar colours, chin straps and straps that tie the blanket rolls and moustaches etc.

The first intention was a disaster. Just over halfway through, I put the visor lenses on to deal with some white strapping and I was shocked to see just how messy the figure looked. It was  interesting to note that the MK I eyeball thought they were okay and so in truth, they would look fine on the table, but the closer look, which is exactly what the cruel medium of digital photography does, made me see something that I didn’t want to even own - so a bit of a tidy up was done with the visor ON!

The Second intention, by contrast could have been prosecuted more vigorously. My idea was that on the rear rank, anything from the chest down would be just block painted and then would not receive any of the tidy up process and would not get highlighted after washing and same goes for the back side of the front rank. I think with hindsight, I could have got away with an even cruder job than that, as long as the figures on the ends of the strip got a proper treatment as their interior is more visible. 

As a case in point, I couldn’t remember what colour the turnings on the tail of the leaders coat were, so I got out another test unit that I painted a few months ago to check ….. I couldn’t even see the tails on the front rank on that base because the rear rank are mounted so closely. It makes me wonder whether these parts of the figures need any paint at all, but it is hard to apply that common logic in practice - things just demand to be painted! Anyway, it works fine and this speed technique could be strengthened.

The Third intention was actually not such a big deal, the parts left untouched were so few that it didn’t really liberate much time from the painters brush, though it did reduce the risk of overspill of paint / accidents and therefore I suppose it does reduce potential tidy up time later.

For this first unit, a running log of painting time was kept. This didn’t included the time spend on rescuing the strips after the visor thing and yet it still came in at almost 6 hours for the unit! 

Click me

I can’t help feeling that this is simply too long, yet I wonder whether I am being too harsh and just imagining that these figures should be a quick fix, after all it is likely the case that anyone painting say four bases of ordinary 15mm figures might end up with a similar painting time anyway. Perhaps it just is what it is.

One thing that I am now sure about is that it is not worth doing a bad job just to save 30 - 50 minutes. Years ago, I did a speed paint job on some small scale ACW and their crudity just caught my eye every time I got them out on the table and that is not what putting figures on a table should be about. 

If I am going to invest money in buying the figures and then spending a fair amount of time painting anyway, then I may as well go the extra mile and make them look right  - to my eye at least.

Note - my basing to 55mm (MDF) instead of the supplied 60mm plastic bases, significantly reduces that apparent gap between the individual strips of figures. 

Breaking down the start to finish process of a two rank two base Epic unit, I come out with these painting times.

Prepping and priming (hand brushed black) - 19 mins

White dry brush and block paint - 4 hours 23 mins

Shade wash and one coat of brushed Vallejo matt varnish - 13 minutes 

Flag and basing - 55 mins

This gives a total of 5 hours and 50 minutes …. 

Note, after shading but before varnishing, I would normally highlight, but these didn’t need it, perhaps because the wash was thin.

Anyway, the first unit is done. They have been given white facings and flagged as the 2nd Infantry Regiment (Pomeranian) 1st Battalion.

I find the prospect of 6 hours a little disheartening and I know other painters are coming in well under this figure. I know that I probably went a bit too carefully on them rather than dab, dab, dab, dash etc and also I add stages such as doing basing paste before flocking to hide the step of the unit base, but something needs to be done here about that painting time.

Don’t forget, I hope to aspire to 3 base units eventually (that might have to change to 2), which my newly painted unit of 2 bases would extrapolate out to 9 hours per unit with 3 bases  and since I can get a 28mm unit done in around 13 hours, that gap between my Epic and 28mm paint speeds needs some closer scrutiny and thought.

One thing, I am happy to game with the unpainted stuff alongside painted while it all gets painted up and this takes pressure off it being a tedious chore of a race to get it all painted up before a first game.

Please chime in here with your own painting time experience on painting these sort of things. 

If you can halve the project with a friend or a group - do that. Buy a box each and that will have a massive impact on getting the project done - this is a lot for one person, yet I know others are doing both sides solo.

Next up will be another line infantry unit (the 2nd Battalion), just to break into the infantry formations and then a switch across to either the jägers or the artillery, just for a change.

Onto other Epic Napoleonic Project news.

The three scenarios for St. Amand are now fully drafted out. I have played the first one face-to-face and am about to enter a round of playing all three, each with a force escalator, so that the scenarios can be matched against growing forces. They are Black Powder friendly.

Of course as already discussed in the previous post, there will be a lot of raw unpainted plastic in these games, but no doubt my newly painted Prussian 1st Battalion will perform heroic deeds!

My Eagles at Quatre Bras rules have been printed off again as a further draft leaves the keyboard. What is interesting is that since these evolved from my ACW set for the Horse and Musket core rules, during play you come across moments that the ACW rules were never asked to cater for.

Two examples from our recent play. I had given the Prussians a couple of independent jäger companies, which the rules as written gave too much fire power to, these ‘tiny’ units needed some deliberate recognition in my rules (as they already get in Black Powder).

The second example was a farmhouse that was a bit of a stronghold, rather like the Waterloo farmhouses. My problem was that in my rules, when a unit suffers a HIT, it takes a capability test and if failed, the unit retires and takes disorder. So units were too easily ‘pushed’ out of what in reality were ‘defiantly’ defended locations.

What to do? I didn’t want to add to the strength of the cover to reduce the number of hits and I didn’t want a sort of hold fast rule. In the end, a +1 modifier for strongholds was added to the Capability Test after suffering casualties. 

On the bell curve of 2D6, this strikes a good balance of ‘tending’ to help the defenders, without making them too difficult to shift and it remains the case that the better quality troops will stand a better chance of holding out (they have better capability ratings), so it becomes more a question of a units resolve to stand and fight rather than an intrinsic defensive value of a building doing all of the work.

The second St. Amand scenario has a farm complex that gets stronghold status, so we will just have to see how that all comes out in the wash it its first playing.

The next post in this series will likely look at the three St. Amand scenarios once they have been played through and assessed. 

Though first, I have a strong hankering to get the OST campaign (boardgame) from the recent Red Blitz module, to the table for a big battle of 4 linked games.

Resource Section.

The initial Epic Project post - LINK

Part III of the project looks at the three scenarios for fighting at St. Amand 1815, developed for this project. LINK

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.


  1. You have done a lovely job on those, but tbh, if it was me, I'd treat them like 6mm. Heavy drybrush of the base colours, pick out the flesh, weapons and hats, add in a few straps, give them a wash and then maybe add some shiny badges. Job done. I certainly wouldn't bother building up the base edges, that is what flock is for. But we all have our own individual painting standards.

  2. Thanks Martin, yes I think you are right, one has to jump one way or the other, but I think your description is closer to a method of getting these painted in the numbers that are needed.

    I know a couple of bloggers have said that they can get through 1 base in either 1 or 2 hours, I can’t remember which, 2 sounds more likely, but in any case my 6 hours seems somewhat off the scale!

  3. Norm don’t beat yourself up. I don’t differentiate between front and rear ranks I just paint to a steady standard. I do use an ink wash over a wraithbone undercoat and I use contrast paints for tunics and trousers as I find it pretty much shades itself. I also use an ink wash at the end and then go over the figures with highlights and tidy ups I reckon 3-4 1/2 hours per unit depending on uniform my latest results are on my blog. Sometimes I can see the errors when looking at the photos but once on table and ranked up, especially with other units, then to me they look fine. Extra effort will go into Senior Generals etc. Keep tweaking away you will find a level that works

  4. Hi Graham, I know you do units of 2 bases, so I am pleased to hear that. My black primer and heavy dry brush white would allow for contrast paint to be used. I did use it on a test group of ECW and it worked very well. Nipping over your blog now ….. I have been waiting for that post.

  5. Nice work, Norm. Very impressive brushwork in this scale. I have trouble seeing details on 28mm figures!

  6. Thanks Dean, I must say, without the head visor, my normal glasses are not enough.

  7. A case of perseverance I think, by trial and error you will get a result in due course that you are happy with the look and time taken to achieve it I am sure. Look good so far anyway.

  8. Hi Phil, I think the saving grace is that I am not in a rush …. Steady as she goes!

  9. Norm I think those Pomeranians look fantastic. For my own experience, a single Pike and Shotte unit takes a week with me stealing away to my workbench to paint. Probably an hour a night so 5-6 hours for a "wargaming standard" is accurate I think. I think your Prussians here are well exceeding a wargame standard.

    1. Thanks Steve, perhaps I have been over pessimistic about my painting time.

  10. I should also mention my friend is painting up the Pike and Shotte units with contrast paints and they look way better than my block painted troops.

  11. When I painted up the sprue that came free with Wargames Illustrated magazine, I used contrast and was amazed how easy it was to do the bandoleers to good effect with 1 stroke - had I block painted, each would have had to be individually dabbed with paint, but then I thought the large brimmed hats looked a bit wishy washy.

  12. Hi Norm, your problem is that you are a talented painter with high standards.😂
    While for me, it is primer in the main uniform colour, black, brown, flesh, silver/gun metal plus one or two extra colours and we are done. No redo's or tidy ups (unless a figures pants have not been painted) Much quicker but next to yours they will look decidedly "wargames standard" even at 3 feet. 😊

  13. Thanks Ben, Between here and a couple of other forums that I post on, the responses have put things in better context for me re painting times. Last night I glued the 2nd Battalion to blocks and will prime this morning so that by tonight I can start the unit and I will try a couple of the suggested techniques, just to see where that gets me.

    What has surprised me is that my current painting time is note hugely out of wack to what some other gamers have experienced.

  14. The units are excellent Norm, 2 hours work a day 3 days a week gives you 1600 figures if you allow a 40 week painting in a year and 3200 figures if you paint 6 days a week. That’s a good number for a year’s work, as Andrew points out maybe contrast paints could speed things up. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you will speed up and probably drop it down to four hours as your technique improves.


  15. Hi Bill, put like that! :-)

    Yes, I think you are right that familiarity with the figure strip will see a pick up in speed / efficiency.

    The truth about wargame collections has always been that they are slowly built up, it is only the modern perspective on how we acquire things seemingly instantly that adds the ‘impatient’ element to the equation.

    I’m sure ‘steady as she goes’ will get me there :-)

  16. Hi Norm,
    an interesting read and breaks down of your process. Ultimately you have to come up with a style that you are happy with but on that also allows you to paint units in a reasonable amount of time. As you say, not much more time to paint a 28mm unit, which then raises the issue of which scale to go for. Decisions, decisions!

    For my two penn'th, this is how I paint my 10mm figures, which are a lot smaller than these 13.5mm ones:

    I base my figures first, then add the base texture, prime and then drybrush the bases and figures with a brown colour, which helps highlight figure details for when I'm ready to paint uniforms etc.

    Anything that I can't get a brush too is left black-cum-drybrushed brown. You simply don't notice the missing colours when the unit is finished. As you say, you couldn't see the turnback colour on a previous unit you painted. So this saves a good 50% of the figure painting time IMHO. Anything in the middle between the two ranks can be quite blocky in colour as again you can't really see it.

    I then go with an impressionistic approach to the painting, not worrying too much about every little detail, just trying to get something that looks good to me. I find painting the first unit takes longer as you are figuring out what needs attention colour wise and what doesn't. After that things speed up as you got a process sorted in your head.

    Once the figures are painted, I give everything a wash of Agrax Earthshade, which helps hide small errors, creates shadows and ties the paint job together. When dry I go back and add a few highlights to make the figures pop where you can see them and ignore parts you can't. Then I brush on a Vallejo matt lacquer which again just ties the colours together.

    Now I'm happy with this as I don't have my figures on display, they look fine to me on the table and most importantly I'm happy with how they look. I could spend hours painting a unit as some of the detail is incredible, but honestly you can't see it during the game (or even at arms length) and only if you have a unit in your hand and rotate it to see every last detail.

    Well enough from me and I hope you are able to figure out a way forward painting this miniatures.

    1. Steve, can I be brave enough to mount the figures before painting? I shall pinch my nose and jump in with both feet and have a go …… with one base :-) it does make sense that you parts that you cannot see stays black.

      The really interesting part of your technique for this is the brown drybrush. I could see this process saving a good 30 - 40% of time.

  17. Hi Norm, a most enjoyable morning coffee read and a subject close to my heart! I'm sure you can shave a lot of time off - although they do look nicely finished - so maybe I can offer a few pointers later after my days painting session :) As a commission painter I had to keep my Epic strips under an hour each or it would have been worthwhile doing it. Two thins that immediately struck me from your post, I make the black base coat work for me which means I never need to paint black again, only a subtle highlight of black/grey at the end, saves a huge amount of time Norm. When painting the blue coats go in carefully but at speed and only touch the areas that should be blue :) Trousers, run grey along the entire front of the strips between the bottom of the coat and top of the gaiters using a brush just wide enough to do it neatly then immediately highlight by same method leaving the darker shade to show around edges and creases etc. Muskets, and this is a big time saver ONLY paint the stocks and rear of the barrels don't try to paint the sides as there really is no need. Then take your barrel metallic and holding the strip upright run it along the barrels from bottom to top, keep enough paint on the brush so it will also line the sides leaving just a neat black divider between the stock and barrel, this is fast and furious stuff and it's really about finding different brushes for the various applications. Hope this helps in some way, there's a few of the same figures on the link below, certainly not saying they are better Norm. just a lot faster :) I do use slightly darker shades, lighter for the Landwehr coats but apart from that, well......
    Keep it going,

    1. Thanks Lee, I would consider you to be the number one source for guidance on Epic, you must be seeing them in your sleep. What I am quite pleased about is that your one hour per strip equates to 4 hours for my 4 bases, which I don’t think is so hugely far away from my 6 hours - well it is, but I have much less time pressure on me than your good self because of your commission demands.

      I like the idea of the 1 stroke for trouser leg etc. I think where I come unstuck is that after my black primer, I drybrush in white ….. heavily and that probably removes too much black, so that I can’t then use the black as a liner. I like the white to give brighter colours - but then yours seem to pop without issue, though I do think your satin varnish helps tremendously in this regard.

  18. Very interesting post Norm, I have often thought about timing how long it takes to paint a unit. Given the quality of the final product I would say under 6 hours, which is effectively three two hour evenings isn’t that bad. I think the challenge here is small figures simply means bigger units so in reality I don’t think painting time is going to be massively less. I find I can paint a 10 mm SYW unit of 30 figures in about 6 hours. 28mm depends on the complexity of the figures. There is unfortunately no easy answer, paint to a standard you are happy with and remember there is light at the end of the tunnel.👍

  19. Hi Matt - as you say bigger units mean more paint, but I also think that the smaller scale invites one to lay down more units and so I am guessing that overall there isn’t as much of a painting difference between a 15mm force and a 28mm force as we might imagine, unless one keeps the 15mm force to the same size as the 28mm force would be.

    I think a truth is is that I was not painting one thing, I would be painting another, so always painting is a thing, I suppose it is just a case of how one judges progress.

  20. I’ve never tracked how long it took me to paint anything. Except for when I did that 100 miniatures project: in which case it took me 8 months. Rough math gives 60 hours per 28mm miniature in that case. 🥲
    Building up any collection from scratch is always gonna take a lot of time. Months or even a year. That’s why so many projects go unfinished as wargamers are usually distracted by the next project as motivation fizzles.
    I think it’ll be more productive to try to increase the amount of time spent painting (either more short sessions or marathon ones) instead of decreasing how long a unit took to finish. 😀

    1. That is a very interesting observation Stew - rather turns it on its head - thanks.

  21. Hi Norm, I'm always disappointed at my efforts to speed up painting and have never found anything that works for me. I find that it takes me the same length of time to paint a 15mm figure as it does a 20mm one. I also find it hard to do a lesser job on the bits that don't show so much. Your figures look great so just keep plugging away!

  22. Thanks for the thumbs up. I have already started the second unit and after the comments here and on a few forums, I am actually this time around, more relaxed about the time v output.

    I am going to try a couple of the suggested approaches, but will do them on a couple of spare strips …. Just to see and to reduce the chance of my units looking too different from each other.

    I know in the past when I try something new, I seem to quickly drop back into default painting mode!

  23. I have been painting for many decades and have never made the effort to track time-to-paint. I have a general idea and have thought about making such a study but interruptions and distractions mean I rarely am “heads down” painting for any measurable time. Besides, I tend to wander off in thought as I consider what to do next. I wouldn’t worry about it so much. Your results are crisp and pleasing.

    On your holding BUAs, your description sounds like a case of double jeopardy. Defenders are getting a benefit both in To Hit and in Capability Tests. If hits are getting through, hasn’t the benefit of the buildings lost it’s value (both physical and psychological)? Perhaps make hitting much harder in such areas and provide no benefit in the CT?

  24. Hi Jonathan, I have abandoned timing of painting for the second unit as it just seems to take any pleasure away, making it a goal rather than being for its own sake - and that feels better!

    I am normally with you on double jeopardy - but not on this one and the physical and the psychological are dealt with separately. My preference is to keep building defences fairly light, so that within the timeframe of a game, units can be ejected, counter attack and be ejected again etc.

    Also reading the accounts of those farmhouses, where the troops stood firm, it seems to have everything to do with grit and determination, which is what the Capability Test is dealing with, so I tend to feel the story of defending these locations is a two part story - which is the physical and the psychological.

    The defenders do not get ‘saves’ to HITS, so accumulative loss will feed into Capability.

  25. Your figures look wonderful! I guess if you're going to sacrifice some of that quality, best to do it sooner rather than later before the differences become too noticeable?

    As for time spent, I can't offer much by way of comparison other that when I used to paint 15mm figures, they would each take as long as a larger figure, but with less visual satisfaction at the end - the details didn't have the same impact as details painted on larger figures. That is in part why I decided to commit to 54mm toy soldiers - a general lack of details and what is there is much larger!

    1. Hi John, yes I agree about painting times between scales not being a big as is generally assumed, plus, with smaller stuff, I think there is every prospect that one is just tempted to paint more units, so by the end of it all, painting time probably balances out and the real question becomes ‘what do I want to own’.

      54’s sound lovely, but buildings and tanks stop me in my tracks 🙂

  26. I don't worry about how long units take to paint but then, as I have previously said, I usually find the painting process enjoyable and almost an end in itself, so if one unit takes a week and the next a fortnight, that's fine with me! I can do 18 28mm figures in a weekend, if I have litx of spare time and the motivation to sit and paint for hours on end but mostly I do 2 or 3 hours per evening, and the a battalion will take 4 to 7 days.

  27. Hi Keith, that is a goodly commitment to painting. I think you have the advantage that your friends have collections as well.

  28. I try and enforce speed when painting and being as efficient as possible, for my French I wet brush blue very rapidly and always try and go as fast as possible, I think you will be able to shave time off on your next units until you get to an optimum speed!
    Best Iain

  29. Hi Iain, I like the idea of wet painting …. Particularly blue, which is often well pigmented, I do however seem to have this compulsion to go back in and makes repairs!


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