Everyone, whether they just paint models or only play games, loves a nicely painted force. There is just something impressive about the skill and dedication it takes to produce such an inspiring site. Not to mention, when arrayed on a battlefield or placed into a displayed, they just look so cool.
What is it about a fully painted collection of miniatures that we find so engaging? I really don’t think that there is a single answer. For me there are a number of things that make a collection of painted miniatures interesting.
Colour choice and model selection are a huge part of it. Miniatures that are well painted always cause a certain amount of awe for the least amount of work, probably because you get such a striking first impression for just choosing and applying a handful of colours really well. Models too are a quick way to impress me, by choosing a selection that not only gives a uniform look, but also introduces variation to create visual interest.However, while these two aspects create a good first impression, they don’t always hold my attention when brought to close scrutiny. So what really impresses me? What makes me remember a collection of models? Above all else, what I always look for is a story.
A lot of people mistake what a story within a collection means. They seem to think this involves having a detailed knowledge of the background fiction, adding minute details from the background and being accurate to the world. This is not the case. Not at all. To me, the story is the element that binds all the miniatures together. Something that takes them all from individual pieces and makes them say “we belong together”. For me, the story means I can look closer at each miniature and see a common thread that ties them all together.
This doesn’t have to slap you in the face, either. In fact, I love it when a story is quite subtle or implied. Being told the story of a force directly is one thing, but I relish those miniatures that I can look closer at, find common elements and construct a story myself. There are a few regular tricks I look for when trying to find a collections story. A feature colour is always the first thing. Is there a colour that has been used to pick out a certain feature, and how has this been applied? This can be as obvious as the general model and his guard having the same colour shields, to as nuanced as patterns recurring among certain models. Another thing I look for is conversions, or use of unofficial models. Swapping out one set of models for another, or altering them, is a good way to create a unique visual that contributes to the story. Like replacing knights that are usually quite ornamental for ones that are more dour and drab.
When creating a collection of miniatures it might seem like a hassle to stop and think about introducing a story. However most people are injecting a story right from the start, whether they know it or not. Normally the models we choose and how we paint them instinctively creates a basic story to bind them together. The challenge is to consciously develop this visual fiction to introduce multiple layers. When you do this you take a good collection and make it really great.