A Journey In Painting: From Fun To Competition

September 4, 2013 in Painting, Painting & Hobby by crew

In the world of war gaming people have the freedom to describe themselves as many things. Hobbyists, collectors, gamers, hoarders and painters are just a few. Myself I like to think I am a painter although I enjoy nearly every other aspect of the hobby at large. There is nothing I love more than seeing a gaming table with two fully painted armies clashing or display cabinets shimmering with peoples best works. It is inspiring and amazing to see the standards people can achieve and, like many others, I suffer from the green flash of jealousy. Many times I have looked at a model and had to pick up my jaw while muttering “how the hell?” There is so much talent out there that even someone who has been painting models for nearly twenty years can feel left behind or drowned out by all the beautiful works out there, but we all have to start somewhere, and this is a little article on where I have come from. So sit back and prepare to be bored out of your skulls.

Death Korp Troopers

I feel it’s safe to say that my war gaming life started like many others, being convinced by your geek buddies to come have a look at a game they called “forty kay”. By this stage I was already neck deep in military model building and had done some public displays in museums. My friends, knowing this was going to go terminal if they didn’t do something said “You can paint tanks and then play games with them!” Well, that was it, I get to build and paint TANKS! And play GAMES with them?! Shut up and take my money! So began the 50 mile trip to my “local” Games Workshop in Belfast.

When I arrived my friends all split up and moved to different sections of the shop, calling to each other about what was in stock and what they wanted to have a look at. Me? Well I wandered around looking for the nearest tank and soon found a Leman Russ. Was it love at first sight? No.. Hell no. What was I looking at? Some sort of mockery between a British Mk1 and a weird World War II propaganda poster? What scale was this? The proportions are all wrong! Why is it a rhomboid shape when the turret would clearly block any kind of anti-ditching tool which the rhomboid shape was designed for?!

My friends soon explained what I was looking at, both to calm me down from heart failure and to get me introduced to the universe which I was now taking a plunge in to. I walked away with an Imperial Guard starter box (the good one with a Leman Russ, some infantry, some heavy weapons, and ruined church buildings). I seriously enjoyed the simplicity of the build and the charm of the models. Then came the painting, and with that, all logic went out the window. Everything I had learned about camouflage, weathering, uniforms went out the window! The tank was black with yellow trim and red camouflage. It was so bad yet I was so chuffed. Soon an army was built and fully painted and I loved the freedom I felt from painting it whatever way I wanted. Shame I don’t have a surviving example of that first step in to war gaming!

First Blood Angel

Some time later I moved on and Blood Angles were on the table! This was an army I seemed drawn to for no other reason than getting to paint red, and red they were. They were the first army I tried to follow the numbers with, while throwing in some personal flare with extras from a place called Forge World. I was particularly proud of my squad sergeants and my conversions, as simple as they were and I loved playing the army and creating fluff for the battles we played out. Now the rabbit was out of the hat, Forge World had a grip on me! I now owned an Imperial Armour book and this was like witnessing two comets colliding! I could build sci-fi tanks and have the added bonus of realistic painting styles to work from! The worlds of war gaming miniatures and scale modelling had come together and I was ready!

It was back to Imperial Guard in a big way! Baneblades, Vanquishers, laser destroyers, add-on parts, photo-etched brass! Oh how I swooned. I will freely admit now that this was the height of my enjoyment of painting and model building because I felt I had no standard to live up to other than my previous work. I wasn’t aiming for competitions or big tournaments where painting was judged. I was a hobbyist and I loved every second of it! About this time, things started to change, there was a build up inside my head. As I painted, improved, learned and continued, there was a desire to show off. And the change came with Q-con in Belfast.

My favourite GW staff member told me there would be a tournament, and that painting was to be judged at it. The Guard got worked on, a list was made, laminated and made in to a pocket sized version, new units were bought and painted just for the tournament. The gaming was brilliant! I had next to no idea how a tournament worked but I enjoyed the two days. The armies were all fully painted and beautiful and I received many compliments, probably about as many as I gave out to every gamer who was there. Alas, my favourite Guardsmen fell short of the top three by one vote. But that was it, the bug had bitten! I wanted to win best painted, I wanted to get better and show my peers I could improve. Not because I really wanted to thrash the competition, that is a misconception in the mind of a competitive painter, but I will address that later.

15mm Panther Tanks

Now I told you in the title this would be from fun to work to competition. It wasn’t long after my first Q-con and a part-time job that I joined the folks at a little office in a little building. We had a meeting, I was asked to bring some examples of my work to show off and after the meeting I was part of something called “Beasts of War”. Initially it was a part-time thing. One to two days a week, mostly filled with sifting through and organising Games Workshop’s product line in to a manner we could all understand. It was second nature to me by then as I had seen, held or built 60% of the 40k and fantasy range and was well read on the rest. The remainder of my time was tidying up armies bought from eBay. Much to the annoyance of Warren and Lloyd I threw myself in head first to this “little” job and made a mountain out of a mole-hill. I guess in hindsight it was me trying to show my worth and skill. Then the video work began. Oh my god.. the Stormlord, the Stompa! My first videos viewed by the masses and the first time my work had been placed in the melting pot of the internet. Strange, the comments weren’t all that negative. Some hated it outright, questioning the purpose. But some were interested and asked if we planned on more. Well, you know the answer to that.

As an employee who was now the face of Beasts of War I started to notice something. My love of painting was lessening. I was becoming jaded. I actually sometimes caught myself saying “These models are below me!” What?! John your a hobbyist with a gentle and enthusiastic love of the hobby, so yes, when a hobby becomes a job it can change your attitude if you are not careful. Now I needed something to get my mind straight. Q-con was coming up again and I had a little something I had been tinkering with. A new rule set and a new codex brought the Space Marines back in to my heart. And so, with a week of messing and outrageous expenditure the Stone Templar were born. Q-con arrived, and so had my painting. I walked away 5th in the 40k tournament and held the title of best painted army.

That army was my last fully painted 40k army. Since then I have only completed one other army in full, which is my late war Germans for Flames of War. After best painted army I wanted more, and with more, came more difficult projects. Single miniatures, dioramas, small scale, historical, and the dreaded open catagory! These titles have consumed my choice in purchases and taught me many things in how to approach painting as a hobby and as a way to compete. Entering Golden Daemon for the first time was mind blowing. My subject choice was sketchy, my chosen category a total disaster and the overall result was zip. But I didn’t care. It inspired me to try again, and again, with the goal of a finalist pin my target. Yet I still refuse to say I am a professional or that my work is better than anyone else. Some would, but many I have met have only ever appreciated the work and given advice and that has made everything worth it. Knowing that no matter how I progress there is always something I can do better and to never throw a compliment away or disregard a bit of advice.

Latest Tau Fire Warrior

Between Beasts of War and my first Golden Daemon, I made a decision to leave BoW and go in search of higher education in England. This was not an easy decision and one that caused some friction but I owe the BoW staff a hell of a lot and I haven’t forgotten that. At the start of the second year of my degree a man called Nic Beneworth got in touch and said that Warren had talked to him about me and wondered if I would come visit. We met and what I saw impressed me. He was a man with a strong business head and a love of beautifully painted models.

Thus started my time as a painter and video producer at Worthy Painting. Some have asked why did I go and make videos for Worthy? I seen that as a secondary role in my opinion and as much as I enjoyed it, it did strike a note of discomfort so what I put my mind in to was learning everything I could on how a commission painting studio runs and how they create the end product. This lead, without a doubt to the forming of two of the best friendships I have ever made in the hobby. Dan Twiss and Kate Evans. Their painting floored me and I knew then I had to know what they did! Do you know what the secret is? Fancy brushes? The best equipment? A microscope? No, it’s vision, vision to look at a model and know with a degree of certainty how it will look at the end and understanding the processes to make their creative vision come to life. I painted my Golden Daemon entry alongside them and was welcomed by them as a friend and a work colleague.

When Worthy Painting had to close it’s doors, I decided that even if I was never to run my own commission studio it was about time I took more pride in my work. So I set up “Lyons Painting Studio” on Facebook. It’s nothing fancy and is mostly full of work-in-progress albums but from time to time I roll out something finished. At Q-con in June 2013 I entered the painting competition and walked away with a first and two second place prizes, only seconded to Mr BoW Romain himself! I haven’t mentioned Romain yet, a man who off the camera is a real joy to talk to and I have gained some great insights from him. Perhaps I will never compete at the levels of multi-Golden Daemon winners like Dan Twiss but I can still say my recent works have been influenced by some of the best in the hobby.

Here are some of my works…

Golden Daemon 2012

Model one: My GD 2012 entry. This is a model I wanted to do because I see the Contemptor Dreadnought as a relic that sometimes might pop up on planets long abandoned. And that was the theme, the discovery of one of these ancient machines, much to the total shock of this Guardsman who has been moved to tears. What I loved doing was the rust pitting effect, done by stippling liquid Greenstuff.

Twilight Knight

Model two: My 58mm Twilight Knight form Kingdom Deaths “Pinup” series. I always loved a good pinup and decided this was the one for me. By biggest challenge was her skin, cloak and hair, and although not perfect I don’t think any of them totally let the model down as a whole. Her armour was fun, black undercoat, top-down white spray, black wash and a silver drybrush. I like the end result a lot.

Q-Con 2013 Competition Entry

Model three: A 1/35th T34-76. Built and painted for fun but became a competition entry at Q-Con. I always love painting tanks and this one was no different. The challenge came with trying to make subtle changes in the colouration of the green, straying the base green, then adding drops of white paint and glaze medium in to the mix to give a very subtle high-tone that just lifts the uniformity of the green enough to make it look less flat when photographed.

My work is not perfect and many people don’t hesitate to tell me that in a manner that only makes me laugh. I continue to be inspired by people ranging from the youngest hobbyist to the person with eight Golden Daemons who everybody else sees as untouchable. Why? Because I am the only critic of my work who matters. And that approach lets me stand back and see that everybody who picks up a brush with an idea in their heads can paint how they want and express themselves however they decide. If you think the hobby is becoming elitist then switch off your computer, burn your magazines, grab a brew, put a freshly primed model down on your desk and have at it!

John Lyons

Lyons Painting Studio

If you would like to write an article for Beasts of War then contact me at ben@beastsofwar.com