When and how did you get started painting miniatures?
I first started painting models when I was about 12. My friend and I became obsessed with collecting and painting 1:72 scale World War 2 Air-fix models and figures. Every weekend and most evenings we would get together and paint 'till the early hours. My mate was a naturally gifted painter so I was able to learn loads from him. Many of the painting skills I have now were forged back then, late at night, in a gloomy room.
Around the same time that I was toiling away with German Paratroopers and Spitfires my older brother was getting into something called 'Space Marines' from Citadel Miniatures. As soon as I saw the models I knew I wanted some. Over the next few years my friends and I painted and collected anything and everything we could lay our hands on, ending up with a rather eclectic collection. Being young, we didn't have the greatest amount of patience, and would go from one thing to another. But I was probably the most diligent of us and did manage to muster a small Imperial Gaurd army, a Skaven horde and an Orc War-band. On leaving school my interest in the hobby waned and eventually stopped altogether. Unfortunately I had to set my mind on getting a career, so the hobby of my childhood was put to one side, but not forgotten.
So skip forward thirteen years, I've got a house, a mortgage, a wife and plans of starting a family, my life is complete. Well, not quite. Always, in the back of my mind were those happy days from my teen-hood spent painting and playing and generally immersing ones-self in the dark-grim-future of the 41st millennium. I always knew that one day I would get back into 40K, and now that I had some disposable cash (and patience) the time was right. I had intended on building an Imperial Guard army to start with, but just as I was about to commit and buy my first set of models in over a decade I laid eyes on the TAU.
The Tau really sparked my imagination and I just had to find out more. So I brought the Tau Codex and literally read it cover to cover the same day. Everything about them just seemed right for me; their use of technology, their want for understanding and cooperation and the fact that they are the only race within the 40k universe that aren't inherently racist. I remember comparing the Tau military to the Imperial Guard and thinking that the Imperial Guard were from the trenches of the 1st World War and the Tau - with their laser guided smart missiles etc - were from Operation Desert Storm!
How long has it taken you to complete this army and what provides you with the inspiration and motivation?
This army has been one big learning curve in all aspects of the hobby and I've made mistakes along the way. So far I've been building this army for about 18 months, but as I said, it's been a learning curve. I'm still getting to grips with the finer tactical points (thanks to Tau of War for the help!) but no matter how good a painter/sculptor/tactician you are there's always room for improvement.
I get inspiration from many different sources. Obviously Games Workshop is a huge source of ideas and inspiration, although the Tau is often left lagging. The internet is always ram-packed with amazing stuff and web sites such as this and ATT are literal Tau gold mines. Just of interest, as I hinted at before, the Tau reminded me of the Coalition forces in the Iraq War back in the 90's. And I think, subconsciously, this is one of the reasons why I was drawn to them. When the first Iraq war was happening it was all over the news and for the first time in history a war was being broadcast live to the entire world. As a young teenager I can remember being totally hooked by the progress of the war and the images being played on our TVs. The fact that my army is painted in the desert colours of the Tau Sept might be partly due to my preoccupation with the Gulf war.
Probably the biggest motivation I get is once I've finished another unit or model. Seeing my army grow gives me a real buzz and it spurs me onto the next model.
A good painter like yourself has to rely heavily on good tools. What paints and brushes did you use for this army? (citadel paints, vallejo?)
I use Games Workshop paints, but only because I was unaware of any alternatives back when I started. When I get around to starting a new army I am going to give the Vallejo paints a go. I've found a retailer and they are somewhat cheaper. My tools are also from Games Workshop. This is mainly due to the fact that they looked cool, sorry! But they do do the job. As for brushes, I use a range of good quality water colour brushes from Winsor & Newton. I never went too much on the GW line of brushes (although I've not tried their latest). The great thing with water colour brushes is the range of sizes and shapes you can get. I have a size 6 (think tank brush) down to a size 0000 (about the size of this 'I').
Your army also seems to really have the basics down, there are no mold lines visible and the poses are great. What do you do prepare your models, pre-painting to ensure quality results?
As soon as I get hold of my models I clip the parts from the spur and file and sand down the mould lines as best I can. A great tool to get in fact, if you're not too embarrassed to buy, is a nail buffer used for manicures. These are great as they have three or four different grades of buffing surface in one handy strip, so you can get an amazingly smooth finish. Once it's all clean I use some blue tack to try out different poses. This pretty much essential for the Crisis suits. When I first started I didn't bother and ended up with some boring postures. As soon as I'm happy I'll undercoat the batch with black undercoat. If I'm painting an XV8/88 I will paint the parts separately then glue them together once I have the bulk of it finished. I started using black undercoat because my Army's fatigues are dark and I wanted to give the army a large amount of depth. However, This does mean that I have to paint multiple coats to get a my required finish.
When do you base your models? Before or after painting the figure?
I glue sand on the base before I undercoat. This just makes it easier to paint over later and save my brushes from getting covered in grains of sand. As for finishing the base, I'll usually do that once the model/unit is about 80% complete. That way I don't feel too bad about using them in the field.
Basing models is one of the easiest ways to make your army look great. I've not lavished my army with amazingly detailed bases but they're all based cohesively and to a fair standard. It's so frustrating when you see a well painted army that are all standing on paint splashed bases. A good base can make an okay army look good, and a bad based army will make them look below-par. ...Stepping off my soapbox.
What painting techniques do you use? Any tricks you have learned?
When I started this army I basically followed the painting guide in the old Codex. So I mainly use multi-layering and line highlights. I've only used dry brushing on my Kroot as it's not really a technique that works well with the clean lines of the tau. I've started to use the Citadel washes, these are good for the armor joints and hard to reach points on the models.
Possibly the best thing I have learnt is to KEEP YOUR PAINTS THIN! I never used to do this and thought that if I did I would have to spend hours painting even more coats. I was wrong. If anything, watering down my paints has actually sped up my painting. The paint will cover nearly double the area not to mention you end up with a far more even finish. There are lots of different techniques to achieve this but I simply have a small pot of fresh, clean water that I use to dip my brush into once I've loaded it with paint. This gives me about a 60/40 split of paint and water, it's that simple but it seems to work for me.
Some of the things that makes your army stand out are the bright colors you've used. How did you achieve such a vibrant finish? (Did you prime in white, have you used a spray gun or airbrush?)
Like I said before, I actually undercoat my army black. So to get the bright colours has been a bit of a chore, requiring lots of thin coats. The arrival of the foundation paints has helped and I always use a layer of Dheneb Stone under any area that I want to be Vomit Brown or Bleached Bone, the two main colours in my army (the third being Scorched Brown).
I use an airbrush (GW. Yes, I thought it looked cool!) on the vehicles. There's really no other way to achieve such an even/smooth finish. For the Camo' I used the stipple technique as used by yourself, O'Shatter Hans. I did contemplate using the airbrush but chickened out. But I think the stippling turned out great.
I always wanted this army to be more than just a collection of models painted as best I could, I wanted them to have a great backdrop to display them with. But when 'Planet Strike' was released I realized that this backdrop could be a whole lot more. So I set to work creating some Tau Terrain. But just where do you start? You can't just walk into Games Workshop and buy Tau scenery and the look of the Tau is a hard one to recreate. Some of the scratch built stuff I had seen for the Tau using plaster just seemed too rough. I wanted my terrain to look like I had brought a kit. I scratched my head for some time over this, then one day at work I found what I had been looking for. In an old pile of computer bits was this piece of plastic that, even then, instantly looked like a Tau bastion. I got it home and a few hours later I had my first piece of Tau scenery. After that there was no stopping me. Everywhere I went I was on the lookout for stuff I could convert. Bits of plumbing, those cheap tap lamps you can buy, plastic hoops, nothing was safe from my converter's eye. Why make something from scratch when it already exists?
So, firstly I would always lookout for something that already has the 'Tau' look. Curves, domes and circles will alway work. I'd try to pick something that was made from a suitable material. Drinks bottles have the right shape but don't lend themselves to being painted, plus I wanted stuff that had some weight and rigidity. The iconic Tau panel lines are a must. These can be difficult to create but I would either scribe them using my fine-toothed saw and triangle file, or I would use thin plastic sheeting to create the panels themselves.
When I got around to paint my scenery I knew that I wanted it to be an off-white so I went ahead and undercoated it in white. Next I used the Gryphonne Sepia wash in between the panel lines and any recessed areas. To create a weathered effect I used the same wash along the panels and edges and wipe my thumb in a downward motion as to create a stain mark, simple but really effective. Tau decals used sparingly will also help towards the overall look of the piece.
If you are thinking of making your own Tau Terrain then there are two main things to remember: firstly to come up with its use, i.e. what is it and what do the Tau use it for, that way you'll have a clear idea about how to model it. Secondly, don't make it too busy and complicated with loads of bits hanging of it, these are Tau not Orks!
Finally, what is your favorite model in the army?
Well, it's usually the latest thing I've painted. But if I had to chose one single model it would be my Shas'O R'myr's. Firstly he's a great model and I had great fun painting him, but more importantly he is a culmination of all that I leant in the first year of getting back into the hobby.
Aka Russell Piner.