Painting the Traitor Legions with Contrast

Heresy isn’t easy – you have to muster your forces, plan the route to Terra and make sure that your armour looks good. Fortunately, Horus Heresy mastermind and Alpha Legion commander Anuj is on hand to guide us through painting the nine Traitor Legions to a fast, Battle Ready standard with Contrast paint.

Anuj: To hobbyists of the Horus Heresy, having a fully painted army which evokes the narrative of the 31st Millennium, replete with Legion markings and heraldry, is what we all strive towards. Understandably, it can sometimes be a daunting task given the size of armies which take to the battlefields of the Age of Darkness. When I approached painting the Traitor Legions with Contrast paint, I wanted to replicate the way each of the Traitor Legions would have appeared at the onset of the Horus Heresy, retaining some of the character of the Great Crusade in my Legionaries. I also wanted to keep it as simple as possible, with as few colours and coats of paint as I could, painting quickly instead of obsessing over each model for days like I usually do!

Emperor’s Children

To achieve the rich, opulent purple of the Emperor’s Children, I sprayed the entire model with Grey Seer before applying one thick coat of Shyish Purple, being careful to avoid the shoulder pads. I gave these a coat of Apothecary White, which popped out against the dark purple in a very ostentatious manner – perfect for the III Legion. To finish the model I painted the trim with the bright, shiny Relictor Gold

Iron Warriors

In order to get a really gritty industrial metallic for my Iron Warrior, I started by spraying the whole model with Leadbelcher, and layered a thick coat of Basilicanum Grey, which is quite translucent, over the top of the whole model to dull it down. Once that was dry I darkened the shoulders even further with a coat of Black Templar, before painting all of the trims with Balthasar Gold giving the worn iron a dull brass contrast. 

I liked the effect so much I decided to take the model a little further. On the shoulder I carefully drew in some hazard stripes using Averland Sunset, the thickness of the base paint covering the black quite easily. For the scratching effect, I used Leadbelcher and Runefang Steel with the tip of my brush, and even put a little thinned Rhinox Hide onto the model here and there for a greasy weathering effect. The base was done with a simple application of Agrellan Badland drybrushed with Tallarn Sand

Night Lords

To achieve a sinister-looking Night Lord in midnight clad, I started with a basecoat spray of Grey Seer, and then applied not one but two thick coats of Leviadon Blue to get a really rich and deep blue. I then painted the trims with Leadbelcher and Retributor Armour, leaving the lower sections in a dull iron while the showy gold draws attention by framing the head of the model. I also had a little bit of fun with this model, painting the faceplate with Celestra Grey before applying some thinned Flesh Tearers Red to give him terrifying, bleeding eyes! 

World Eaters

I was surprised how easy it was to get a great cold-looking white with Apothecary White over a Corax White spray for my World Eater. To get a clean bright blue to represent the Legion at the end of the Great Crusade (before being covered in red became more than just a hobby for the XII Legion as the Horus Heresy progressed) I applied a coat of Talassar Blue to each shoulder pad. I then used Retributor Gold for the trim on this model to draw the eye to the top of the model, painting the lower trims a simple black. Of course, no true son of Angron is complete without a healthy spatter of blood, which was achieved by loading up a brush with a mix of Blood Angels Red and Flesh Tearers Red and just flicking the bristles in the direction of the model.

Death Guard

For the Death Guard, I began with a spray of Wraithbone, followed by a coat of Skeleton Horde, except for the shoulders which I gave two coats of Militarum Green to get a beautiful rich green colour. The trim was all painted with Castellax Bronze, which has a lovely dirty tone that complements the nature of the XIV Legion brilliantly. 

To emphasise the character of the Death Guard, who famously eschewed removing the scars and stains of battle from their army, I flicked some Nazdreg Yellow and Snakebite Leather at it off of the bristles of a brush. I then streaked some of the splattered paint down the model to create a dirty weathering effect. I think this was my favourite result out of all of the Legions I’ve painted, and I’m now sorely tempted to do some more Death Guard!

Thousands Sons

To capture the glory of their homeworld of Prospero for my Thousand Sons model, I began with a base spray of Retributor Armour, and I covered that with one thick coat of Blood Angels Red. Going over gold gave the red an almost orange shine, which I think looks fantastic for the Thousand Sons, making them gleam like the pyramids of Tizca. The trim for the model was painted with Retributor Armour and I used the brightness of the Celestra Grey trimmings to draw attention to the upper part of the model. If I could do this model again I would have used even more Celestra Grey as it really catches the eye next to the vibrant red!

Sons of Horus

For the Warmaster’s own Sons of Horus, I started with a base spray of Grey Seer and then a thick coat of a 1:1 mix of Dark Angels Green and Akhelian Green. The shoulders were given two coats of Black Templar and the trim was done using Balthasar Gold and Leadbelcher. 

Word Bearers

The Word Bearers’ metallic colour scheme has always been one of the more challenging ones to achieve. Even when using an airbrush I’ve found it difficult to get the tones right over a metallic base, but Contrast paints made it much simpler. 

To achieve the dull red adopted during the Horus Heresy by these fanatical worshippers of Dark Gods, I started with a spray of Leadbelcher and then gave it a layer of Flesh Tearers Red. For the shoulders I went over the red with two coats of Black Templar, and brought the trim back out with Leadbelcher again, adding a few chips to the armour with it too, because the XVII Legion can scarcely pause their crusade to repaint their armour. It was so quick and simple I momentarily considered daubing unholy runes on the armour and devoting myself to the dark gods!

Alpha Legion

The metallic Alpha Legion colour scheme is much loved by hobbyists but was always difficult to achieve consistently. That has certainly changed now! I sprayed the model Leadbelcher and then applied a thick coat of Akhelian Green. I then brought the Leadbelcher back out on the armour trim. It was surprisingly rather simple. If only Akhelian Green had existed when I had started my Alpha Legion!

During this project, I was particularly impressed with how quickly a model can be made Battle Ready with Contrast paint. Usually when I paint a Legionary it can take hours per model, but with Contrast, I could get all of the base colours down on in less than ten minutes plus a little drying time and still have loads of extra time left to think about highlights and other special effects like weathering and blood splatter.

I also learned an important lesson about applying Contrast paint while working on these models, as they were my first try with the new range – make sure to control the pooling. It’s very easy to slap on the paint thickly and appreciate the way it flows into all of the recesses on the detailed armour sections, particularly on the backpacks and legs. On the flatter armour panels, however, it’s a good idea to help the paint along a little with a brushstroke before it starts to dry, just to smooth out the finish.

Overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity to paint each of the Traitor Legions, and I’ve added a new skill to my hobby arsenal. I’m very keen now to begin another new Legion, and hopefully, with what I’ve learned in the last few weeks I can speed paint an army to readiness and still maintain a great finishing standard.

Thanks, Anuj! If that’s inspired you to start your own Traitor Legion, then pick up a squad of Space Marines in Mk III power armour and start your plans to bring down the False Emperor.

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