Few current readers are likely to know of Palace of the Phoenix King, one of the first websites I created at the age of around 12, dedicated to my recently discovered hobby of fantasy tabletop gaming, specifically Warhammer Fantasy Battles and its dungeon-crawling sibling, Warhammer Quest. The site took its name from the monarch of the High Elves of Ulthuan, who shared the “Phoenix” moniker I used online. Sadly, nothing remains of the site (which collated fan-created content from around the world) or its broader successor, Palace of the Phoenix.

As a teenager I became a modestly capable miniature painter, though never hugely proficient. As a hobby, it fell by the wayside when I departed for university. Several years ago, playing D&D with friends gave me an excuse to paint a few miniatures, and I still found it enjoyable to engage in a creative endeavour which resulted in something physical that I could hold. At the start of this year, I found myself returning to the painting side of the hobby in earnest, fuelled in large part by experimenting with a newer style of acrylic paints: highly pigmented but suspended in a thinner medium that pools in the recesses whilst leaving a translucent layer on the surface. Combining these with traditional acrylic layering and washes has provided some fresh creativity to old skills. I also learned some new techniques for photographing miniatures, and will share the results here.

I dug out some of my old greenskin models at my parents’ house, stripped them with isopropyl alcohol and repainted them from scratch. These old metal orcs were simple but expressive and I kept them fairly classic. When painting at this small scale, increased contrast is necessary to improve readability. However, I have never really been a fan of the Games Workshop signature style of stark edge highlights across an entire model. I much prefer the results from zenithal highlights (undercoating based on light hitting from above) or volumetric highlighting (breaking down a model into basic geometric shapes). A subconscious decision, I found myself varying the skintones across the models I have been painting even within a species like the greenskins — why should they all be an identical shade of Goblin Green? Having noticed, I now think the variety is important. I also started experimenting more with bases, beyond the flock and static grass of old, using coconut coir (crushed coconut shell fibres) for more irregular, organic ground coverage.
When visiting Downing in April for a 20-year anniversary, I may have wandered into a Warhammer store a few doors down from college and come away with a box of ogres (or “Ogors” as Games Workshop now calls them in a desire for everything to be trademarkable). I have always liked the characterful ogre models with their exaggerated proportions, and their larger size made them ideal as a first subject when learning how to photograph miniatures. The large bases also allowed me to experiment with more advanced basing materials like texture pastes, grass tufts and leaf litter.
A lot of the models I have been painting recently are the undead rather than my prior staples of elves and greenskins. I happened to have some boxes of Mantic’s skeletons and zombies that I bought several years ago (intended for D&D) as these models were more threatening and considerably better priced than their more cartoonish Games Workshop equivalents. These are some of the first models I painted this year and there is some noticeably chalky texturing that is far smoother in later models. The coconut coir is on full display here, though I am tempted to rebase them: the zombies rising from mud and the skeletons on dungeon flagstones.
Given my love for Warhammer Quest, I had to pick up the recently released Cursed City. For infamously overpriced Warhammer products, the 60 models in the £100 box were surprisingly good value. Comparing these to the models above provides a stark demonstration of the “detail creep” in modern miniatures, accelerated by computer-aided design. I was not initially a fan of the Deadwalker Zombies which felt overdesigned with their coffin lids and headstones on their backs; that was until I realised that the inhabitants of the vampire-influenced cursed city of Ulfenheim must have been impaling corpses after burying them in order to prevent them from turning, only for the dead to be raised as zombies instead. That storytelling through visual design won me over and these are now some of my favourites pieces to date, even if the level of detail provided less room for interpretation through painting. I have also tried to tie the models to their bases through weathering (like the muddied hems of dresses).

There will definitely be more from the Cursed City box to share in the future. Next time, however, my revamped models from the 1996 edition of the Space Hulk board game.