New Year, New Army
"New year, new army" is all over the miniatures gaming Internet. While a more cynical gamer could chalk it up to a marketing campaign by your industry big boys, it's definitely finding purchase in the corners of Twitter and Instagram that I've chosen to frequent. And why not? I'm not going out to my weekly (or twice-weekly) karaoke night, or house party (less frequent as I crest the peak of my 30s). When I come home from a long day at the game mines I want nothing more than to park myself in front of my paint station and fiddle around with all the paint I compulsively buy.
So why not start a new Blood Angels army for Warhammer 40,000? I had one as a kid. They're my favorite chapter. What better time than now to start slapping red on some marines? "But which red?" is the question.
I actually don't plan much in my daily life. I kinda roll with the punches, or fly on instinct, but I thought with a new project with no end goal in sight beyond having a playable army, it might be nice to work out some kinks so that a year from now when I'm still adding stuff to the army I won't regret the decisions I've made at the start. So I decided to do some test models. Thankfully spare space marines are easy to come by.
I started playing Warhammer 40k in 2nd edition (1993–1998, though I started 'round '97). Back then Blood Angels had black trim on their shoulder pads and a more orangey red than is used now. No matter how red or orange I end up making my armor, I definitely wanted the black trim there still, so the real question came down to what technique I was going to use.
I broke out my old Mike McVey "'Eavy Metal Painting Guides" and took a look to see how they were painted back then. At the time I didn't own any of these old colors anymore, but those were not impossible (and not cheap) to acquire over the Internet. The paint guides seemed easy enough, though fairly primitive by today's standards, and I thought I'd choose five different tutorials and try them on five different space marine intercessors.
Obviously the first one I wanted would be from the red "'Eavy Metal Paint Guide" from 1993. The second would be a slightly-different paint guide from the companion book: "'Eavy Metal Warhammer 40,000 Painting Guide" (also 1993). The third would come from Duncan Rhodes' Painting Academy. I subscribe to his website and he recently did a retro paint guide to an old Blood Angels color scheme, which was pretty fortuitous. The fourth would be from the "Space Marine Painting Guide" that came with the 1989 Space Marine Paint Set (seen above). Finally, the fifth would be the red armor tutorial from Darren Latham's YouTube channel. Though it's not the old-school red I think I want to go with, it's a beautiful result and a pretty-approachable tutorial, that I just want to give a whirl.
So I managed to find all the old paints thanks to a combination of eBay, Warcolours, and a friend who sold me his old pot of Terracotta for the cost of shipping, I gathered and read all the painting guides, and I primed my intercessors white. One fateful Wednesday during a Discord-based 'paint-and-hang' with my gaming group, I started into my eccentric project. I'm not done yet, but here's what I found after about three sessions totaling about six hours:
I began with the painting guide from the red 'Eavy Metal book. It said to use Blood Angel Orange and then a thin wash of Red Ink. The result looked real orange. Undaunted, I began to highlight the armor, but quickly realized that there are two different schools of thought regarding highlighting space marine armor that I knew about. One was simply lining the model's edges with progressively lighter highlights, and another was blending in the raised areas. I'll admit, I wavered between the two and that, I think, was the ultimate downfall of this paint scheme. I realized that it just wasn't the look I wanted to go with—the red would only get more orange—and so I abandoned this one.
The next one is shaping up to be more promising. This one was from the 'Eavy Metal 40k Paint Guide, and I actually read Mike McVey's advice on how to highlight space marines. He uses a two-brush blending (or wet-blending) technique to achieve a gradual highlight on raised areas. It's a little different than how Games Workshop (or GW alumni) recommend highlighting space marines these days, but it's an advanced technique that hasn't fallen out of use, and is the house style of Privateer Press' studio (which McVey also founded). My results, of course, are not as subtle as his, but I really like how it turned out and I can only get better with practice. Still, I can't help but notice that it's still too orange.
The third technique I tried was Duncan Rhodes'. He uses modern paints, and modern techniques, but aims for the old '90s look. His painting tutorials are great and easy to follow, and the result I got (I actually still need to do one last highlight as of this photo) was definitely more red than the others, but brighter than what you may see coming from the 'Eavy Metal studio today. As you can (probably) see, the highlights are simple outlining of the edges of the armor plates. No blending here.
I started on the Rogue Trader-era space marine by painting it with three thin coats of Terracotta. It looks nothing like the paint guide (see below), but I'm going to see it through. One thing I noticed with the second intercessor is that I should lay down a base coat on the armor, then do a base coat of the black before I begin highlighting and shading the armor. The black is messy, and while I'm confident the end result will look great, right now it looks uneven and blobby. Painting the initial black before going further with the armor will allow me to tidy up any mistakes or uneven work. That's what I'm going to do on this Terracotta marine.
I have some observations regarding this project so far: Old paint guides aren't as great as I remember them. This is no offense to Mike McVey, who I admire for what he did for the hobby, but the old joke that paint guides back then would take you from undercoat to Golden Demon winner in three steps have some basis in reality. It's not clear which picture corresponds to which step, even though that's actually laid out at the beginning of the step-by-step guides. I was still confused if I was doing it right, and often times just went by the text and with what I knew.
Though I'm using the original old paints from this era I can't help but wonder if they're correct. To research this project I looked at online photographs of the old paints, and discrepancies between screen and reality aside, it almost seemed like every picture I saw of Terracotta or Blood Angel Orange was different. When I finally got the paints I compared them to the paint guides and they still don't look the same. I'm wondering if the paint changed because of age (unlikely, but I typed it anyway), there were differences in batch quality, or if they just straight-up used different colors in the studio. The last one is the most-cynical, and thinking about it as I type this it's probably due to the quirks of photography and printing in the early 1990s. The image to the top left of where you're reading this is what the guide says my Terracotta marine should look like.
Though Duncan Rhodes' marine is the most red, it's actually closer to how the models look on the page. I wonder if somewhere deep in the bowels of the Warhammer Museum in Nottingham there are studio Blood Angels from the '90s that look as orange as the second intercessor I painted.
I'm going to continue on this project, undaunted. I have yet to start the Darren Latham intercessor, and I'm actually going to prep one more space marine and try Tim Prow's paint guide (as seen just above) from the July 1991 issue of White Dwarf (WD139), just without the harsh black lining (for subtlety's sake and also my sanity). It uses Blood Angel Orange mixed with Go Fasta Red (I'll probably use Coat D'Arms' Ruby Red, or Warcolours' Red Gore) as the base coat. Once I'm done these test figures, I'll take a poll online and at the shop and see which one people like. I'm not going to lie, I may have my thumb on the scale of these polls, but at the very least I'll be able to figure out which technique I can stand painting an army with. You'll then be able to follow along with my army building escapades here on this website with my (hopefully shorter) blog posts.