20+ Years of Painting Orks

I have recently been painting orks again, primarily for use in a Gorkamorka weekend planned for the summer.  I spent a bit of time deciding how to paint this new batch, trying to find a balance between speed and quality that suits me.  I also wanted to make sure that the finished figures looked as I imagine them to look: inevitably slightly comical but mostly brutal and savage.

With all of this paint scheme and concept development going around in my head I thought that it would be a good time to take a look at the other ork/orc figures that I have painted over the years, starting with my first mob from the late eighties.  If you can imagine Jason Donovan and Jive Bunny being in the charts then you will get a feel for the era.  It may also make you suddenly need to go to the toilet.


40k Orks -1989

The Evil Sunz boyz above are from the first GW plastic ork kit.  Quite primitive by todays standards, it was still a big deal back in those days.  The ork Klans were a big part of the background then and each had their own dominant colour and look.  Obviously the Evil Sunz chosen colour was red.

I painted the Evil Sunz mob in the same colour scheme as my 6mm Epic orks.  As I had all the klans painted for use in Epic I had made some decisions regarding secondary colours for each of them at that point (extra important at that scale to distinguish the units).  Thats why these guys have a lot of white in their outfits.

I went with quite a dark skin tone compared to the standards of the day.  As everything that I painted back then had GW Goblin Green bases (I rebased the above guys recently, although I cant even remember doing it…) I thought that it would be better to use a darker colour for the base flesh tone.


Blood Bowl Orcs -1994

Five years later Chaka Demus and Pliers were oozing from the speakers in the shopping centre when I picked up a copy of Blood Bowl 3rd Edition.  On a whim I decided to paint the orc team supplied, rather than the older BB figures that I still had knocking around unpainted.  All of the models in the shot above are plastics from that box, with the exception of the metal goblin on the pogo stick.

I spent ages on these guys.  I dont know if it is apparent from the photo above but I put many, many layers of wet blending into the skin tones (although the darker recesses do still look a bit “inky”).

At the time I was seeing if I could paint up a showcase project that displayed the highest level of painting that I was currently capable of.  I think the fact that that particular team is still unfinished says a lot really: I dont have the patience to paint a lot of models in that way.

Ignoring the technically dodgier areas (the red in particular is poor) I dont think that the figures look that much better than if I had approached painting them in a faster and dirtier way anyway.  As gaming pieces they could do with heavier contrasts that are visible at a few feet away (at a gaming distance, if you know what I mean).  Generally I feel that that sort of contrast serves a gaming miniature better than carefully graduated highlighting.

The uniform chosen is particularly un-orky.  Thats largely because I wanted to ensure that the figures looked like football players, rather than scruffy Warhammer Fantasy figures.  Its still too clean and antiseptic looking though.  I would approach painting an orc team very differently these days.

Gorkamorka/40k test figures - 2011

It would be a staggering seventeen years before this fatter, crankier and jaded painter sat down to paint another ork/orc.  Thankfully I havent a notion about what music is in the charts (or even if there are charts) anymore, so the intervening years havent been all bad.

The figures above were an attempt to rationalise my ork painting process again.  If the interim between orks has taught me anything its to Keep It Simple, Stupid.

So I did some research on quick ways to paint orks.  The video tutorial below proved to be quite cool, although the finished product wasnt at a standard that I was happy with when I tried it.  Its a pretty great way to get an army painted though, and I found that some of the techniques used inspired me to try some new things.  Its worth a look if you have ten minutes.

So taking some elements from the above tutorial I sprayed the above batch white, washed the whole lot with the ubiquitous Devlan Mud and applied the base skin colour as a mix of paint and ink.  This translucent layer let the shading from the Devlan show through it, although it did mean that the base flesh colour was a bit patchy.  This generally got easily camouflaged with the simple one stage Game Color Off White highlight though.

The final result is ok.  The skin is quite pasty, somewhat reminiscent of my Patient Zombies, which isnt to everyones taste for orks, but I dont mind it.  Two things made me decide to abandon this colour scheme and painting technique though: 1) it was a little more time consuming and fiddly than I was hoping it to be and 2) the orks didnt look as gritty, threatening or Mad Max II for my liking.

Gorkamorka/40k Orks - 2011

So I tried a completely new approach again and got a look that I am happy with.

If you will excuse the brief lapse into GW Orkspeak “Da Bigdogz” above came out to a level that pleases me, but without taking so much time that I will never get the project finished.  I worked up from a black undercoat with mainly drybrushed base coats followed by one layered highlight.  The metal areas got a few washes too as I like the way that it makes the metal areas appropriately dull.

These guys are a few from amongst the first that I have finished.  I have thirteen sitting complete in the miniatures cabinet at the time of writing which at least means that I am able to get through them reasonably quickly.  Thats a good thing too as I have another thirty or so figures that I want to paint before I finish up with the orks.

The paint scheme has the high contrast that I favour with gaming figures these days.  Although close inspection will reveal errors and hasty shortcuts the payoff of the quick turnover is worth it to me.   The Bigdogz also look sufficiently Mad Max for my current tastes so I regard the project as quite successful so far.  There will be more Bigdogz going up in more detail here over the next while.

Thats my potted history of ork painting done.  Over twenty-five years condensed into one page, and at no extra cost to you the reader either.


8 Responses

  1. It was difficult to keep reading after the brightness of the 1989 orks blinded me, good work my friend.


    • 😀

      In the interests of full disclosure I felt obligated to include the eighties guys, astro-pyjamas and all. At least they provide some contrast with the later efforts.

      I am kinda tempted to work those guys into a game at some point. They obviously dont really gel with a post apocalyptic or gritty setting, but they would fit right in in a Flash Gordon type pulp sci-fi setting I think. Plus, truth be told I have a nostalgic fondness for them.

      Thanks for the feedback.


  2. They will look good on the table I think, final judgement reserved for when I see them in the flesh. Colour choice is good, I like the contrast with those shades of red/green. They would look better if you drilled those sluggaz. MT has definately converted me to doing that.


  3. Drilling out gun barrels is something that I used to do when I started out, but that has fallen by the wayside in the interests of expediency.

    Gun barrels do look better drilled out, but it always feels like a waste of time compared to the other things that I could be doing (like cleaning, assembling and painting some of the other figures in the pile).

    The big barrels on the ork weapons (even by ludicrous soup-can calibre 40K weaponry standards) do look a bit odd with the painted in “hole” though.

    Starting to drill them out is a valve decision: once I start I can never go back. Hmm. Watch this space.


    • He he yeah I know what you mean about the drilling, once you start…
      …MT even drills the individual holes in the GW flamer barells out!

      I think that the established convention for mini preperation has long been not to drill out barells. This works fine for models which are modeled realistically – you would not be arsed drilling out 28mm holes in your WWII para’s.

      There are many old GW minis from the late 80’s which have the hole in the barell modeled already I note which probably looks better on the big ass guns from a sculpting point of view but is a mould makers nightmare obviously.

      My opinion at this stage is that it helps very nicely with the “suspension of disbelief” which the brain needs to engage to visualise the figure as a little man rather than as a piece of shaped lead with layers of paint on it.
      If you look at a figure where the artist left all the flash lines on the casting and painted it up is kind of what I am getting at – a well preped less technically well painted figure looks better than a poorly preped technically better painted one.


      • “MT even drills the individual holes in the GW flamer barells out!”

        I think the crux of the issue here is that despite him taking that time, I have never noticed it, despite how many games we have played. If I dont even register that work then it is wasted time as far as I am concerned. Its time better spent painting or assembling another miniature, as the difference to the final product is negligible.

        The barrels do look better when drilled, but it really isnt worth the time spent IMO. Having just spent a couple of hours drilling and magnetising some ork components for non cosmetic reasons I can confidently state that spending that time drilling the barrels is something that I am not going to do 🙂

        I completely get that it helps with suspension of disbelief. That said there are a million and one other things that help with suspension of disbelief in miniatures, some of which I subscribe to and some I dont.

        Do miniature heroic scale gun barrels look better when drilled out? Yes.

        Do they look better enough to warrant the time spent? Not as far as I am concerned 🙂

        How are your Freebooters coming along? I am looking forward to seeing some further progress. Assuming that all your time hasnt been spent drilling out their shoota barrels 😉


  4. LOL I wish my time was spent drilling out shoota barrels, rather my time has been spent drilling information into my head so I can brain dump it all in my exams. Yep no matter how high and mighty the objectives of any course it always seems to come back to brain dumping a load of b*ll*x in the exam which is promptly forgotten as soon as you leave the venue.

    I am itching to get another blast of orky enthusiasm up to make some progress on me ladz, I even have my most recently unfinished mini on my desk as I work ter remindz me not ter forgetz da ladz. You can expect a fairly retro colour scheme to come – cept the Kaptn who I have decided to paint like a black pirate flag, Arrrrrrr!


    • Painting the kaptin reminiscent of a Jolly Roger sounds like a good idea. A bunch of stripey trousered scallywags to scrape the barnacles off the kaptins rudder should be a good for a laugh.

      Good luck with the poxy cramming.


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