I want to talk about Games Workshop washes, and yes, I know there are many other companies out there that offer washes but I will save those for another post…
I started giving some thought to washes after posting a picture to Instagram a while back of an empty pot of Citadel Devlan Mud wash, in part a joke but also as a tip of the hat to what for many of us was a ‘game changer’ in our hobby.
The Instagram post was met with a spattering of likes and messages of acknowledgement from others who also have a love of the mud, but I also received a couple of the replies from people who seemingly take their washes very seriously indeed, these replies stuck out and got me thinking about how people see and use washes in today’s hobby.
Why do people use washes?
The hobby has always been divided into two different types of people, the gamer and the painter and each has their own different mindset when it comes to the hobby.
The gamer – people who paint models to play games with generally want a decent ‘tabletop standard’ but also want them fast and easy, the faster you can paint them, the faster you can play with them, to the point where ‘looking for the next quick trick’ has become a big thing amongst the gamer hobbyists.
The painter – washes are very much just part of the ever-expanding toolbox of the painter hobbyists, the enjoyment for them is the actual painting, taking one’s time and pouring as much time and effort into a piece as possible, no care for points cost, WYSIWYG, damage output or ‘overall synergy’, the painter just wants to spend their time painting and washes help to make stuff look good.
Whether you are a gamer or a painter, the fact is that washes are a big part of your hobby.
A time before washes!
I started my hobby way back in the murky mists of time known as the 90’s and back then we didn’t have the plethora of paints to use that we have these days, no Citadel Painting System to follow. If you wanted to paint an army yellow or heaven forbid, WHITE you had to be prepared to spend the better part of the next decade working on the army.
Yellows were extremely thin, white would dry quickly and become thick and chalky, reds were thin unless you used Go Faster Red which was amazing but very bright so the only way to highlight it was with orange, so red became a strange orange colour and was used on everything. I found that an army colour scheme was chosen by what paints in your collection were easier to use than an aesthetic choice or design.
I remember back at the turn of the 90’s, the fast and effective trick in miniature painting was to give your models the ‘dry brush’ treatment, a technique that became the mainstay for many years and is still used today, all be in certain areas only but back then it was the standard for everything.
There was, of course, Citadel Ink if you really wanted to push the limit, with this you could add a little ink to line or shade areas but by no means was this a ‘wash’ by itself as it would pool in blotchy marks and not flow at all, it also dried shiny which was quite bad because varnishing your miniatures was completely unheard of.
Where did washes come from?
Games Workshop introduced the foundation and shade paint range to its collection and it was a complete game changer. I remember a lot of forum babble from some in the community who actually thought of the washes as cheating, like it took the skill out of painting completely with people actually claiming they would boycott the range and not use them at all (don’t you just love the internet).
I will be honest and say that I was a little hesitant to the new washes at first, but quickly came to love them, especially the miracle that was Devlan Mud. The foundation paints were also a big thing and made painting certain colours so much easier. Suddenly you could paint Blood Angel Marines or Bad Moon Orks and get them finished in a reasonable amount of time and at a level that was great looking, you could even paint red over black undercoat!!! This was like actual witchcraft.
For you newer hobbyists out there, foundations paints are the equivalent of what the Citadel Base Paints are today. They had a higher level of pigment in the meaning you had to do fewer coats to get a solid colour even when watered down.
The new washes were amazing but there was a catch. Everyone’s armies started to look the same, miniatures also started to look darker in general, the standard was to undercoat everything with Chaos Black spray, base coat with foundation and then wash, this gave a good effect in a short time, but the finished piece was dark, dull and lacking variety, nothing popped.
In my opinion, we had gone back to the point I mentioned earlier when the paint you own (or wash in this instance) was controlling the colour scheme and aesthetic choices of your miniatures.
The current state of washes…
We have thankfully moved on from the state we were in and the washes that Games Workshop produce currently are in my opinion the best washes on the market (there I said it), there is always an exception of course, as with anything but for the most part the GW washes are top level and with the new direction that GW is giving with the ‘how to’ paint videos and articles showing hobbyists how to use the techniques that the full range of technical paints offer we are no longer stuck in the drab world that the old washes put us in.