I started playing 40k as a youngling. I stopped playing in high school for fear of being deemed, “uncool.”
I got back into the game in college after I realized no one really cares about your hobbies, and after I saw the Thunderwolf Cavalry models. That was about 3 years ago. I also quickly fell in love with competitive tournament play.
I met a good friend early on, (the awesome George Rollins from Warp Charged Gaming) and we dove into training 3-4 times a week for that year’s NOVA Open. I was completely wrapped up in list building, practice, and theory-hammer. I didn’t have much time or interest in painting. My friend had a really large collection, so we weren’t lacking too many models initially. But, as we all do, I wanted to build up a collection of my own.
Gradually, I saved up money and bought various models on eBay. Before I played my current army (Eldar,) I was playing Space Marines and Chaos. I tried my hand at painting some things on my own, but the base coating still drove me crazy. I couldn’t stand hand painting all those models and still having them look like crap. I had poorly painted Nurglings, Thunderwolves, and other random bits and bobs lying around. Sure, practice makes perfect, but I could just buy stuff online for reasonable prices and save time.
In terms of my tournament goals, I wanted to win every event I went to (and didn’t) so I was down to buy whatever I needed online and run it. I remember in the days of Malefic Lords, I had some really ugly looking models posing as those nasty little guys, and I just didn’t care. I was happy enough to have the list I wanted. I still ended up going 4-4 or something and actually had a pretty miserable time.
I kept that philosophy in mind into playing Eldar. I just wanted to win, and no other forms of victory (best overall, best painted) came to mind. And, of course, not being the greatest player this side of the Mississippi, I haven’t won a large event yet. So I usually walked away from tournaments with my poorly painted models in hand and feeling bummed out.
Eventually, I transitioned to buying a mishmash of Eldar models on eBay. This was around the beginning of eighth edition. The more I played with them, the more I realized I love playing Eldar. I love the fluff. The models. The rules. The Avatars! Out of this adoration, my first hobby project recently arose. Exodites! I love that part of the lore. And now that I had a project that inspired me, I also wanted this army to look good!
I decided to go full Lizardmen. My army backstory is pretty simple. Some Eldar are scouting a planet and looking for relics. They run into some aggressive Lizardmen. The Eldar are no match for their lizard-might. The Lizardmen kill the Eldar and adopt their technology and fighting style. Not traditional Exodite fluff, but I like having my own spin on things.
My first project was to make Guardian conversions. After talking with a friend who is also making an Exodite army, I settled on Skinks with night vision goggles and the Shuriken Catapult bits. The story of the merciless Lizardmen came out of that idea. First I painted them using only washes, because it is quick and easy, and it looks decent. This fast and easy method of painting I learned was my into to hobbying in general. I still wanted to go to tournaments and smash face, but I was proud of my army. I was starting to care about how my army looked on the table, not just how it performed. Then, the airbrush came.
I saved up for a couple of months and bought myself an Iwata Eclipse.
It. Is. Awesome.
This isn’t a product endorsement. I just recommend that you buy a quality airbrush that will last. After the tears of joy stopped flowing, I got started on a few projects; Nightspinners, Swooping Hawks, and Wraithguard. I started building some new Exodite conversions for airbrushing. The thing that I like about the Airbrush the most, is that it basecoats the models, and with some painting methods, adds lighting effects. The other selling point is everything looks uniform and crisp.
It’s not like the Airbrush made me into a pro painter overnight, but it does give my army a cohesive appearance. It’s also just a fun tool to use, and it feels like you are getting good work done quickly. I get to airbrush 10-20 models to a point where they are tabletop ready in a couple of hours, and then go back and painting details like eyes, edge highlights, and runes, which I actually enjoy doing.
Being engaged in more than just the gaming aspect is really rewarding for me. I’ve always liked to create conversions, but when it came to painting I was just frustrated. Now, I get to build my cool conversions, and paint them myself! And they don’t look like garbage!
As the result of this tool, I have new tournament goals. As I was told by Sean Nayden, a fantastic 40k player, the best you are likely to do at a tournament is 4-1. Only one person can win! I was chasing that top spot all the time, and always falling short of the mark. But at most tournaments (including the Crozius GT I was at a few weeks ago) there is an award called Renaissance man (sometimes called best overall) which award the player with the best painting, sportsmanship, and battle points scores.
It has crossed my mind, am I just copping out of trying to win? No. This is just a realistic appraisal of how good I am at 40k. I’m not the greatest player, yet. But, I do have a badass theme for my army, I’m good enough at the game to pull out some wins, and I want to walk out of tournaments feeling good about the time I spent there. There is just something special about playing with a fully painted, themed, cohesive looking army. For instance, I did really, really poorly at the Crozius GT. But all my stuff looked pretty good! My models were all painted decently, some were airbrushed, and I had a sweet centerpiece model with my Avatar of Khaine. Even though I got curb stomped that weekend, I had a great time.
There are a lot of silver linings to getting an airbrush. I get to become skilled at painting if I work at it. I don’t have to pay other people to paint my stuff. I gain a sense of pride for the hobby aspect of Warhammer 40k, and I get to flex my creativity in new ways.
If you’re a tournament player, I would strongly consider getting an airbrush yourself. We can’t all win all the time. But you can have a great looking army that you painted yourself, and if you fall short of winning the GT, you can still walk out with some prize support. It takes the edge off just trying to win if you know that your army looks good enough to be in contention for best overall. Not everything rides on the dice, your decisions, and the matchups. Having a nicely painted army gives you something to play for after that first loss, and if you win the tournament, you get to do it in style!