So, two years ago, we got the amazing present of a Citadel Realm of Battle gameboard for Christmas. Unfortunately, since then, it’s languished in an unpainted state. (Well, not quite – we did a bit of basecoating about a year ago.) Basically, it’s been neglected, and every time we’ve pulled it out to play a game, three things have happened, more or less in the following order:

  1. We get it out of the bag, sigh guiltily at the flat brown paint (that’s starting to wear in places), and promise to paint it properly “when we get time”.
  2. We play a game, during which models do their best “winter olympics slide” down the smooth, smooth hills, and we promise once again to paint it – and, without a doubt, flock it. Flock the hell out of it. Especially the hills.
  3. We finish the game, and put the board away. Unpainted.

So, two days ago, we decided that enough was enough. We’ve kicked off this Warhammer campaign because damn it, we want to paint some armies – but we’re not going to suffer the indignity of having friends around every week and playing on a table that’s an embarrassment! So, brushes in hand, we set to – and sure enough, it now looks rather delightful. Being the handy blogging sorts that we are, we thought it would be an awesome idea to document the whole process! See, in our time as professional gaming store type people, we’ve painted loads of these boards for shops, events, or even lucky customers. As a result, we’ve picked up a million and one tips (okay, maybe a dozen or so) that might come in handy when you, the potential reader of this article, come to paint a board of your own, whether it’s a Realm of Battle or one that you’ve made yourself out of cocktail sticks and sticky-backed plastic.

So, without further ado, let’s get on with it!

What We Used

Citadel Realm of Battle Gameboard
Citadel Scenery Painting Pack
Extra PVA glue – I’d recommend picking up a big tub at a DIY shop if you’re going to be doing a lot of scenery building and painting.
Citadel Paints: Chaos Black (about 4 pots), Bleached Bone, Fenris Grey, Adeptus Battlegrey, Codex Grey, Fortress Grey, Skull White, Gryphonne Sepia, Dheneb Stone, Khemri Brown, Thraka Green, Asurmen Blue
Citadel Water Effect (Sadly, no longer available, but there are several decent alternative brands such as Woodland Scenics)
Assorted brushes (from Citadel Standard up to a Large Drybrush)
Small paint roller

What We Did!

As I mentioned earlier, we previously painted the boards up to a pretty basic standard:

Basecoated Board
It’s not pretty, but it’s a start!

There’s a lot of debate in the board-painting world about using an undercoat, especially when you get a massive bottle of foundation paint in the scenery painting pack. Some choose to put two layers of brown on; some spray the board black first; others risk it and just go for one layer of brown. Personally, I find that a black undercoat is a sensible bet, but spraying large flat surfaces is a real pain – so I recommend a paint roller! Get a section of your board out on some newspaper or a tarp, pour some black paint straight from the pot onto the board, and use the roller to spread it around. You’ll need a large brush (we used the scenery brush from the scenery painting pack) to get into the cracks around the detail and the hills, but using a roller is insanely quick, very effective, and not as costly as using two or three cans of black spray. If you want, you can also water down your paint (I’d go no more than 2 parts paint to 1 part water) to make it stretch even further. Once that’s dry, use the same technique again with the Big Bottle O’ Brown from the scenery painting pack. (This is up to you, but we always find that the brown in the pack is a bit too bright, so we mix in two full pots of Chaos Black. You have to give it a ridiculously good shake to get it all to mix, but it tones the colour down nicely and gives you a moodier colour.) After that, paint all the rocky areas with Adeptus Battlegrey. You can be a bit carefree with the grey – don’t feel the need to have a strict line between the rock and the dirt. The more irregular it is, the better it will blend later, and the more natural it will look overall.

The skull-pits on the Realm of Battle are a bone of contention for some people. I can understand the thought process – admittedly, they are a bit weird, especially for non-Warhammer gaming. Still, this board’s got some lovely detail, and we were going to paint it, no matter what! We decided to go for “rock pools that happen to be brimming with skulls” rather than “SO MANY SKULLS THE GROUND IS BURSTING OPEN!”, so we basecoated them with Fenris Grey. And that’s as far as we got a year ago!

Flash forward to the modern day, and we got ourselves back into the swing of things by giving the rocks a good drybrush with Codex Grey. When you’re drybrushing large areas, it’s best to get your paint out onto a bit of card rather than a palette. (Corrugated is ideal – and thankfully, we had a load of old boxes left over from the move!)  The card absorbs a lot of the moisture from the paint, meaning you get more pigment and less liquid, which is absolutely top-notch when it comes to drybrushing. Oh, and it helps to have a decent drybrush.

Tank Brush...
The old blue-handled Tank Brush has too many nylon bristles, and just doesn’t hold paint.
The old Large Flatbrush is made from sable, which is too fine for drybrushing anything, really. Why? Because the world hates me. That’s why.
Medium Drybrush
Don’t even get me started on my attempts to use the Medium Drybrush on a project this size.

For some reason, I couldn’t find a decent brush in my collection! I mean, seriously – I’ve got more brushes than you could shake a stick (with bristles on the end) at, but I was finding more problems with them than Goldilocks on a bad day.

Sophie's Brush
Of course, Sophie had the new Large Drybrush all along, which was coping admirably…
James Big Brush
…and I was overjoyed when I threw caution to the wind and just went with the scenery brush.

Again, it’s best not to be too neat when drybrushing the stone, as this helps blend the two together to give a natural seam between the grey and the brown. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

It might look a bit messy, but trust me, it pays off later!

The Codex Grey drybrush should be followed up with another drybrush of Fortress Grey, then one of Skull White. Each of these should be progressively lighter than the last, and the final white stage should really just be over the most pronounced areas.

Final Drybrush
If I’d put thought into this, I’d have shown each stage on the same board section, rather than different ones…

So that’s the rocks done – hooray! At this point, we were getting pretty excited, as the board was starting to look vaguely professional. Not a bad thing at all! Of course, the next stage was a tricky one – highlighting the brown. There are two problems here:

  1. Drybrushing a large, flat area is never that easy.
  2. For some reason, there are whole sections of the Realm of Battle where the texture is less pronounced than everywhere else, and as we all know, drybrushing an untextured area is as effective as a very ineffective thing. This tends to leave massive smudges of highlight colour, which just look awful.

The second problem is a fairly easy one to solve if you’re flocking the board as much as we have – just cover over any mistakes with grass! (If you’re not flocking, I’d really recommend texturing the board before you paint it, but that’s a whole different matter.) As for the first one, here are a few pointers!

  • First, use decent-sized brush! That’s what the scenery brush is included in the kit for, so you’d be a fool not to use it.
  • Get EVERY trace of water off the brush. The bristles on that brush in particular simply love holding water, so I normally wipe off what I can on some kitchen paper, then use a hairdryer to get them ultra-dry. Any traces of moisture are going to lead to smudges. Demand perfection!
  • Like I said above, use cardboard as a palette to get excess moisture out of the paint.
  • Load your brush up with paint – really try to totally coat as many bristles as you can – then wipe as much as possible off on the cardboard. Rub the brush around in circles, go back and forth quickly. When you think you’ve got enough off, brush it across the mostly-open palm of your hand. (Or something else if you’re squeamish about getting paint on you, but come on! What sort of a hobby do you think this is?) If you’ve got the right amount of paint to drybrush with, you won’t leave any brush marks, but the raised areas of your hand will be dusted with a light coat of your chosen colour. There should be no paint in the creases of your hand, at all. If you’re still getting brush marks, go and wipe off more paint!
  • Carefully apply the first stroke to the board in a tiny corner area. If it’s too heavy, wipe it off quickly, before it dries, and get more paint off your brush. Repeat this until you’re just getting a dusting of colour. I find it best to hold the brush at 45 degrees to the board and press down slightly so the bristles splay out, but do whatever you’re comfortable with.
  • Move the brush in circles, not straight lines, overlapping the same area several times. This should lessen obvious brush strokes.
And most importantly, no matter what you do, never, EVER, put your tea mugs next to your water pot – especially if your water pot is also a mug, and double especially if you’re painting brown. It WILL go wrong.

Using all of the above techniques, we drybrushed all the brown sections of the board, first with a 3:2 mix from the brown and ochre (respectively) scenery paints, and then more lightly with a 1:1 mix of ochre and Bleached Bone.

Finished Brown
As far as I can tell, that bright patch in the top-right is a reflection from our desk lamp – it could, however, be some overzealous drybrushing. Oh well, it got flocked over anyway!
With both drybrush layers, we overlapped onto the rock, completing the blend between the two areas.

With the mud and rock done, the board was really starting to take shape! At this point, we went around all the skulls and bones dotted at the bases of the hills and gave them a coat of Dheneb Stone. Once this was dry, we started the painstaking job of shading all the rocky areas. This was done by painting undiluted Gryphonne Sepia wash directly into all the cracks – it looks pretty heavy when it’s wet, but as soon as it dries it gives an amazing level of depth to the craggy areas of the board. Also, the wash was applied to the parts we’d painted in Dheneb, to give them a quick shade. We decided against highlighting them further, as we wanted them to be background detail, not something the eye would be immediately drawn to.

The wash really helps define the rocks – otherwise they can look really flat once the grass goes on.

We completely forgot to photograph the next stage, but it was pretty easy. We carefully drybrushed all the skulls in the skull pools with Khemri Brown, then again with Bleached Bone. As soon as this was dry, we mixed a bit of green and blue wash into some Water Effect, and painted it all over and around the skulls. It’s vital that water effect gets applied in thin layers only, otherwise it will take forever to dry clear. (We found that the quickest way to dry it was to set up our halogen desk lamp a couple of inches away from the surface – the heat sets it in no time at all. I’d recommend against using a hair dryer, as the force of it can push your water into weird shapes.) Once that was dry, we applied a second layer of clear water effect.

At that point, with the board looking decidedly awesome but undeniably grassless, we decided to call it a day – and that’s what I’m going to do here, too. Check again tomorrow for details of how we flocked it, including some top tips for avoiding grass fallout and prolonging the life of your gaming lawn!