Grunge or Clean?

To grunge or not to grunge?

For me the answer is simple, throw as much dirt and blood on it as possible and then throw some hammers at it to give it that ‘worn in’ look. Why go grunge though, or more to the point why go clean and polished. There are usually two camps when it comes to this subject, the “grunge adds realism, real soldiers and gear get dirty” group and the “these are the finest warriors in his all high toilet hogs arsenal, they should look pristine” While both camps have merit, neither of them take into account the artistic side to the argument.

For me grunge is definitely a dominant style, as both an aesthetic choice and a quick and easy way to hide defects and mistakes. I also feel that a bit of dirt adds character. Grunge and grime also have there own detail, rusted tracks, dark strong tones and earthen hues really do well to highlight parts of a model that most would miss if painted cleanly. By using dark and earthen tones as your primary you enable your highlights and colors to stand out more, little things like gems and bolts and icons stand out more when you paint over a simple background color. Indeed some models are quite suited to this kind of treatment such as vehicles, chaos pieces and terrain where age and use are a good way to work a little more detail into a piece to give it that something extra.

The clean and polished look is not with out merit though, and indeed some consider it much more challenging to create a clean piece then a grungy one. In the same way that grunge can bring out subtle details it can also cover regular details, to dark a base color and the over all feel of the piece can be completely skewed, to light and you may expose details that you would rather have covered. When painting a clean style piece it is important to remember lighting. You should always be painting under white light, never warm tones as it will skew your perception of the tones and color scale. [Editor’s Note: For more information on lighting, see this post on Lighting & Eye Strain safety] The biggest draw back to clean painting is the amount of blending and mixing you have to do to get something that doesn’t look like a children’s cartoon character. But don’t be afraid to experiment with clean scheme painting, its an instrumental part of learning to paint and to limit yourself to one style really limits your versatility in the future.

Most decent painters will use a mix of both clean and grunge, a nice clearly detailed piece with a bit of dirt and grime here and there to really set the theme of the piece. Things get used and nothing stays clean forever but that doesn’t mean you cant tidy things up now and then (look at cell phones). I always keep this in mind when I am starting a new project and deciding which way I will go with it.

But enough of my silly words lets look at some pictures. This is a drop pod I have been working on for my Space Sharks (or what ever they are calling them now) I am aiming for a balance between clean and distressed that really make a piece like this pop.



BH Senior Editor

6 comments on “Grunge or Clean?

  1. Grunge! Armies which are clean cut just don’t seem to fit the atmosphere of warhammer 40k. You don’t have to over do it, but either a brown or black wash should take care of it.

  2. Maybe it depends on the army? Marines – clean! How else would equipment that is hundreds or thousands of years old operate? Orks – dirty! I imagine everything they use is pieced together or looted.

  3. I usually paint Grunge, My space wolves though are an interesting mix of both. The entire model is painted and then blackwashed in it’s entirety, then i go back and repaint the armor and finnally highlight. So the armor is clean but all the other bits are pretty grunge…..i actually kinda like it.

    my nids are gettin dipped though…like hell im painting that many gaunts “nicely” +)

  4. I let the “army” decide. Orks, Dark Eldar, Necrons, Chaos I am all for Grunge. Space Marines, IG, Tau, Eldar… I like clean better. As a former soldier, I know that clean equipment is reliable equipment. In Iraq I cleaned my gear up daily. It sucks but but becomes routine. Having said that, I have seen some amazing weathering from quite a number of people… so whatever works I suppose.

  5. I’m with others, depends on the army. My Orks are grungy but my Marines are cleaner, though not pristine. My choice for my Marines was mostly influenced by the fact that my Orks were so weathered and dirty that I wanted to do something different with my Marines.

    In my opinion, well done weathering and a general dirty look is just as difficult and time consuming as a clean paint job, sometimes more-so. My Orks, for example, get painted to a clean standard and then I go in and weather and grunge things up.

  6. I like grundge mostly because of the character, think of when you go to buy new shoes. The first time out they feel ridigid and some times uncomfortable, but after a few wears they begin to break in. I think thats the best way to describe how I like to paint things, ‘comfortably used’


    Bay Hammer

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