Tutorial: Painting Tyranids

Tyranids: The 'Blue Crab' and 'Desert Flower' Schemes
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Taking the painting to a showcase level: an explanation by location on what additional steps where done.
y it's nature, the 'blue crab' scheme is a little more complicated. It starts out exactly the same as the 'desert flower' scheme, and even uses the same techniques for making patterns (both striped and spotted), but diverges in how excessively those techniques are applied. The best way to explain this is to demonstrate the differences.

A) No Large Areas of Unpatterned Carapace: Whereas the basic 'desert flower' is content to use streaking for areas of unpatterned carapace, the 'blue crab' scheme is not. Streaking forms the basis for the carapace, but any areas where patterns do not extend are dappled with various bone shades, leaving the normal carapace streaks visible only on the edges. In the case of the zoanthrope pictured, I alternated between GW Bleached Bone, thin washes of the Black-Goblin Green mix, and thin applications of Bone Wash formula (courtesy of Jen Haley): Three parts medium brown (EX: GW Bestial Brown), One part black, thinned to milk consistency.bone wash. This is especially apparent on the bottom of its top carapace plate.

B) Wider and Less Intricate Blue Patterns: For the 'blue crab' scheme, the patterning is large, wide, and covers significant portions of each carapace plate. I call the other scheme a 'desert flower' because the blue patterns appear a lot more delicate; the 'blue crab' scheme more closely follows the photos of the actual blue crab. In addition, the patterns are speckled with blacks, browns, and bone spots and the spaces between overlapping plates are more deeply shaded.

C) Extended Veins: Another case of detail becoming extensive, veins (often in blue or purple) appear more commonly on large areas of exposed skin rather than patterning dots.

D) More Prominent Flesh/Red Tones: Where ever the 'desert flower' scheme would use a subtle flesh tone (beneath carapaces, along faces, etc), the 'blue crab' scheme goes bold and uses strong red tones. The end result practically screams that this is a living, breathing creature. An important thing to note is how these strong colours are specifically blended into the existing bone shades all over, giving the flesh a distinctly different tone from the carapace without pulling the over scheme away from the tan base.

It should be noted that in practice I've found this the most difficult aspect of the 'blue crab' scheme to consistently repeat, and have all but completely abandoned it for most of my rank and file.

E) Multi-colour Spotting: A bit hard to see in the photo, the spot patterning for the 'blue crab' scheme consists of not only dark browns, but also lighter shades. The lighter shades are applied over previous spots, requiring some precision but changing the tone of the spot patterns. Quite the opposite of the red tones above, the multi-colour spotting could actually be completely omitted from the 'blue crab' scheme to no ill effect.

In the end, the 'blue crab' scheme is certainly intended more for army centerpieces and display work rather than rank and file troopers.
The Assembly Line

Alternate schemes.
Getting an army ready to play often means reducing a painting technique to its simplest method.
While showcase quality pieces are all well and good, tyranids are well known for being a swarm army with dozens if not hundreds of miniatures on the tabletop. Painting every single gaunt to an extremely high level in a huge force like that may seem like an admirable goal, but let me assure you it's unrealistic unless you have inhuman discipline and aren't particularly interested in having time to paint anything else.

Luckily, the techniques presented in this tutorial are not only scalable towards showcase quality but also down to quick tabletop work.

The key, of course, is to start once again from our basic highlighted VMC Green Ochre tyranid. Using the "wet drybrush" method, or even regular drybrushing, these can very quickly be churned out. If we want a speedy version of the 'blue crab' scheme, do not paint the carapace with the streak method -- at least, not with tan shades. We need to make some changes to the process after we get the skin finished.

Since the 'blue crab' scheme obviously relies heavily on strong blue colouring, and since taking the time to make patterns can slow us down, we simplify things. For some of my broods, I chose to paint the entire carapace solid, leaving the task of visual interest in the hands of streaks and spotting. The basic colour is Vallejo #938 Transparent Blue directly over the Green Ochre, then a black/green wash, then Regal Blue, then Regal Blue mixed with Green Ochre, then Regal Blue mixed with Light Sand. Sounds like this is a lot of steps for something fast, but these highlights are applied using the streaking method and so are very quick.

Another nice shortcut is to use washes in lieu of highlighting. You can see that I've done that with a GW Flesh wash on the claws, talons, and feet of the tyranid warrior pictured above. As a bonus, this colour also more accurately references the original blue crab photo.

By now, I hope it's evident that the 'desert flower' scheme lends itself to faster production of gribbly alien monsters. While painting that scheme is not particularly slow to begin with, speed painting huge numbers of tyranids usually just means simplifying the pattern work, or leaving out a stage or two of washes. From my galleries, you'll see that the most common scheme I use is the 'desert flower,' and it's for this very reason.

The gaunt assembly line
Of course, we can also speed things up regardless of what sort of scheme we use. Remember the carnifex head earlier in the tutorial that was impaled on a piece of brass rod? Painting your tyranids as components rather than completed models is a tremendous boost to speed. It's such a help that I clip off the plastic tabs from gaunts, mount them on brass rod, and paint both base and gaunt completely seperate. Doing this means I can finish and flock a set of ten bases in a mere twenty minutes. And I don't have to worry about getting base colour on my gaunts, or gaunt colour on my bases, or awkward angles trying to paint an impossible-to-reach speck of white behind the left leg.

Another great thing to speed painting is to work on at least ten models at once. Line all the little buggers in a row, open your first paint, and then apply the same colour to all relevant areas on all the models. By the time you reach the end of the line, the first will be ready for its second colour and so on. Besides the improvement in speed, this will also ensure that each brood's colours are consistent across its members.

The Army
It's long been said that for a cohesive army, the models themselves are secondary to the colour scheme. Luckily both of the schemes in this tutorial fit well together. And of course they should, as the 'desert flower' scheme was a natural evolution of speeding up the 'blue crab' scheme. Thanks to the shared starting point, neither set of my finished tyranids look out of place next to one another.

And when horded together, they look quite spiffy indeed!
A tyranid army on the move.
A tyranid army goes to war, darkening the frosted ground with the sheer volume of their numbers. And by "frosted ground" I do mean "the empty pillow case I put under them for the purposes of photography."
In closing, I hope that explaining my own tyranid schemes has helped folks in creating and evolving their own. As always, pick up those brushes and get busy!


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