How to Paint Everything: Fists of Fury, Part 1 – Imperial Fists

In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at different armies of the Warhammer universe, examine their history and heraldry, and look at several different methods for painting them. In our first multi-part installment, Alfredo is looking at the Imperial Fists and their successor chapters.

Introducing the Fists of Fury

Hello! And welcome to Part 1 of a 4-part series I am calling the Fists of Fury. This series will explore the lore, rules and paint scheme of two of the coolest Second Founding Chapters (Crimson Fists and Black Templars) and their “okay, I guess” First Founding parent, the Imperial Fists. Black Templars were the first chapter that excited me in 40k and Crimson Fists were the first chapter I actually started painting when Dark Imperium released, so I’m excited to dig into them as part of a single project.

Primaris Lieutenants

My inspiration for this project was triggered by my vast collection of Primaris LieutenantsTM that I wasn’t doing anything with. I got an itch to paint up three LTs, one each of Imperial Fists, Black Templars, and Crimson Fists, and that sort of germinated into this project. So as we go, I will be featuring each chapter and the model I painted for it, culminating in a display piece with all three Lieutenants.

Of course, then Dear Leader Rob “The Chirurgeon” Jones co-opted my minor ambitions and turned this into part of a larger series because apparently that’s what Galactic Editors-In-Chief do? So while we will initially be looking at the glorious Fists and their even cooler sons, you can expect more articles soon that cover all your favorite… everythings, apparently.

So without further ado, let’s start with the founding legion, the Imperial Fists!

Part 1 – The Imperial Fists

Who Are the Imperial Fists?

The Imperial Fists are a First Founding Chapter of Space Marines that originate from the VII Legion. Their Primarch is Rogal Dorn, who is basically a sterner Guilliman. Below, you will find a lovely example of ForgeWorld’s Dorn model painted by our very own Booley. Canonically, Dorn’s armor was golden but frankly he looks cooler in his legion’s color (which is yellow in case that hasn’t been made obvious yet).

Rogal Dorn. Credit: Jack Hunter
Rogal Dorn. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Imperial Fists were known for being a stoic lot that specialized in siege defense and Dorn himself was recalled back from the Great Crusade after the victory at Ullanor to shore up the Imperial Palace’s defenses, which you can imagine came in handy not long afterwards. They also harbored a rivalry with the Iron Warriors, who also specialize in siege warfare, that blossomed into full-blown hatred during and after the Heresy.

So, Imperial Fists are kind of like yellow Ultramarines that like to build stuff and haul around heavy weapons. Unlike the Ultramarines, they did actually participate in the defense of Terra and Dorn himself boarded the Vengeful Spirit with the Emperor and Sanguinus, though apparently he got lost along the way and wasn’t around when Horus killed one and mortally wounded the other.

Aside from Dorn, two prominent Imperial Fists characters are Sigismund and Alexis Pollux. They are both exemplars of their legion and would become the first of the Black Templars and Crimson Fists, respectively, so we will explore them further in later articles.

In the 41st Millennium, Imperial Fists are… around? Frankly, they don’t get a whole lot of attention and as such as not particularly well developed. They are notable for being the only chapter that recruits from Terra and one of their duties is presumably still to help guard the Imperial Palace, alongside the Adeptus Custodes. They are also notable in that no one can ever name the Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists (and no, it’s not Lysander).

Probably the biggest piece of fluff that deals with the Imperial Fists is the War of the Beast, a major Ork uprising about a millennia after the Heresy in which the Imperial Fists get slaughtered to the last man, so maybe we won’t dwell on that one too much.

Imperial Fists Credit: Space Marine Codex

That said, I would be remiss not to call out this brilliant piece of artwork in the 8th Edition Space Marine Codex. It captures the Space Marine, and Imperial Fists, ethos in a really understated way. You have your stoic Space Marines milling about after a battle, an equally stoic Apothecary performing the sacred rite of geneseed retrieval, and then some dude in the background tossing a filthy traitor into the abyss. It’s fantastic.

Where To Read More

As I already mentioned, the Fists don’t get a ton of attention and this extends to Black Library. Unlike some of other more obscure legions like White Scars or Salamanders, the Fists don’t have a Chris Wraight or Nick Kyme to lavish attention on them (though in the latter’s case that may be considered a curse).

John French (of Ahriman fame) has written a bit about them and he’s one of the best authors writing for BL right now. I recently read a short story called The Last Remembrancer that stars Rogal Dorn and while it’s a quick read, I thought it was fantastic and added some depth to the character. He has also written The Crimson Fist and Praetorian of Dorn, a novella and novel respectively, that cover the Legion, and while I have not read them myself they are well received.

Of course, if you really want to read more about the Imperial Fists, you need look no further than our good friend Ian Watson, who wrote the first and arguably best BL novel, Space Marine. What better way to dig into the lore of the chapter than through the adventures of storied hero Biff Tundrish?

Space Marine by Ian Watson

Playing Imperial Fists

Imperial Fists are a codex-compliant chapter, and as such are currently represented via the rules in Codex: Space Marines with a chapter tactic that lets them put out a hail of cover-ignoring bolter fire. With the release of Codex Supplement: Imperial Fists, their bolt weapons got tuned up to 11 – the Fists are all about chewing targets up in a rain of fire. Check out what their supplement can do in our review!

If you’re playing with Cities of Death rules, objectively the best way to play 8th Edition 40k, the ability to deny your enemies cover is even more powerful.

In Imperium Nihilus: Vigilus Defiant, Imperial Fists also got a neat Specialist Detachment in the form of the Siegebreaker Detachment that allows Centurions to shit out mortal wounds. So that’s pretty fun and fluffy.

Imperial Fist Centurions Credit: Jack Hunter
Imperial Fist Centurions. Credit: Jack Hunter

In Kill Team (and I should note that Imperial Fists grace the cover of the recent Elites expansion), Imperial Fists get to ignore the injury roll penalty from shooting at an obscured target, which is pretty powerful, as that is effectively a 33% increased chance to Out of Action a model on a successful injury (assuming a re-roll, you’re looking at a 75% to Out of Action a model vs. 56% chance with non-Imperial Fists).

With Apocalypse on the horizon, we don’t yet know how Imperial Fists will be represented in the rules. Presumably they will get some unique Command Assets but it is still a mystery what shape those will take.

Painting Imperial Fists

So, how do you paint Imperial Fists? Well, there’s lots of ways to do yellow and so we will cover a few. Typically, Yellow is considered a pretty hard color to do correctly since yellow pigments tend to have poor coverage. As such, we will be looking at two airbrush methods as well as a contrast method that are all hopefully fairly simple to do. These different methods all look completely different and will hopefully give you a sense of the wide range of approaches you can take to painting Fists.

A Note on Heraldry

Before we dive into the painting methods, some quick notes on heraldry for all your future historians out there. As has been noted, the Imperial Fists are a codex-compliant chapter. As such, you can expect the usual conventions in terms of shoulder pad trim to indicate company and typical squad markings. Sergeant helmets are red, with a white stripe to indicate veterancy and Lieutenant helmets are yellow with a white and red stripe. One minor deviation is the chest aquila is typically the same color as the shoulder pad trim and matches company colors.

One common heraldic ‘flair’ you will see on Imperial Fists is checker patterns. I have no idea why this is, aside from looking good on yellow (see: Lamenters), but you’ll often find a kneepad with a checkered pattern or adorning banners. In fact, two of the three examples you’re about to see feature this motif. So here we go.

My Way: Lieutenant Domeric

As I mentioned, the original idea for this project was to paint a Lieutenant for each of the three chapters I’m covering. For the Imperial Fists, I wanted to go with a stoic model with a relatively static pose to exemplify the Fists’ stalwart nature. I used the Limited Edition Event Primaris Lieutenant that I bought at Adepticon this year but chose to replace his power sword with the power fist from the Imperial Fists upgrade sprue that came in last Christmas’ battleforce box.

How To Paint Imperial Fists

For my approach to Imperial Fists, I chose to go with a pretty neutral yellow that has greenish shading. This results in an overall cooler palette than a lot of what you might normally see for Imperial Fists, which tend towards much warmer tones sometimes with an orange-y undercoat. So what did I do?

  1. You may notice the subtle shading on the armor (I hope!), and most of that comes from the Zenithal Pre-Shade, done with my airbrush. I used Badger Stynlerez primer and in this case I used Badger Red Brown Primer as my dark basecoat. I wanted some warmth in the darkest parts of the armor, using black would lead to an extremely green color once you put yellow on time. Over the brown, I did a zenithal shade of Badger Neutral Primer (which is a yellowish off-white) and then pure Badger White Primer.
  2. For the primary yellow color I sprayed the entire model with thinned Vallejo Air Color Medium Yellow. The paint was thin enough that my pre-shading work still showed through. I then hit some of the highest points with Vallejo Air Color Aged White to brighten up some spots further and then re-saturated the whole model by spraying thinned down Scalecolor Inktense Yellow ink.
  3. From here, I switched to brushwork. I based all the other surfaces, choosing 5th company black in order to keep the neutral look for the mini. 5th Company and 3rd Company tend to be the most common for Imperial Fists since red and black both work pretty well.
  4. Once everything was basecoated, I gloss coated the model and washed it. I used oils for my primary armor pin wash but you can achieve a similar effect with acrylics, so don’t be put off by this step. I used a very dark brown (effectively a mix of lamp black and burnt umber) so something like AP Strong Tone or Agrax Earthshade (maybe mixed with a bit of nuln oil) would work well. My goal with armor washes is to create very strong contrast and give me a very broad range between my deepest shadows and highest highlights. Likewise, I find that stark panel-lining for Space Marine armor really helps to define the volumes at a distance.
  5. After washes, I matte coated the model and then applied edge highlights across the board. For the armor, I used Vallejo Model Color Ice Yellow (similar to Dorn Yellow) on every armor edge and then applied Vallejo Model Color Ivory to all the upward facing edges (I assume a zenithal light for all my models, think a mid-day sun) and finally some pure white on sharp points.

And here is the final result:

Lieutenant Domeric

Painting Imperial Fists with Contrast: The Richyp Method

This is a completely different approach to the same chapter, using GW’s new CONTRAST paints. As you can see, it’s a much warmer result and is also quite fast. It also looks awesome! This tutorial is brought to us by the prolific richyp, who paints more models in a week than I will all year.

Contrastin' Credit: Richyp

Step 0: Primer

Prime the model in Wraithbone Contrast Primer.

Step 1: Contrastin’

Cover the entire model in Iyanden Yellow Contrast paint

Step 2: Fixing the stains and highlighting

Hit the flat areas with a very thin layer or two of Flash Gitz Yellow. This is close enough to the dried lighter part of Iyanden Yellow that it will mask the stained areas where the Contrast paint pooled. You may need to do a few passes of this to cover effectively (if you thinned the paint enough 2 will probably do it). Alternatively dry-brush the stains with Flash Gitz yellow if you’re impatient.

Also add some exaggerated highlights of Dorn Yellow on the most prominent raised areas, and on any area that would directly receive light (top of panels, extreme edges, top of head etc..)

Step 3: Painting the Owl

Paint the other colours of the model, in this case it was the red trim of the 3rd Company, some random litanies/text (a great way to hide any errors) and some scratches. The scratches are mournfang brown, with a lower left line of white underneath to give the effect of a 3D scratch. At this stage I also add a couple of spot highlights of pure white, such as the centre of the feet, under the eye area above the “cheek” panels etc..

Owl Painted.

Imperial Fists Lieutenant Credit: Richyp

Imperial Fists: The Jack Way

Jack’s method is similar to mine in many ways and yet you can see it’s a completely different result as well. He has chosen to go with warmer tones, like Richyp, which definitely changes the feel of the whole mini, as well as using heavy weathering to both tie the model to the base and better define edges.

Imperial Fists Captain Tor Garadon
Imperial Fists Captain Tor Garadon. Credit: Jack Hunter

Jack: This used to have my old incredibly painful way to paint my Fists. Sadly, GW discontinued Lamenters yellow, so I had to rework the entire recipe. While it’s not a perfect match, I’m still a big fan of the tonality of the new method, and It’s much easier to paint.

Step 0: Primer

I prime with Vallejo German Red Brown. Pretty straightforward, get a nice even coat. None of our layers are particularly thick, so it needs to go on clean.

Step 1: Building up the Main Tone

I start with a couple thin coats of Vallejo Mecha Yellow. This is a great warm yellow, and sprays pretty nicely. Leave some of the primer showing in the very darkest recesses to build up tonality in your shadows.

Step 2: Highlighting

Aiming to hit the upper surfaces of the model I spray GW Phalanx Yellow. This sprays nicely. I like this paint. It’s pale and it’s bright, but it doesn’t dip into the greenish tones that some pale yellows can.

Step 3: Gloss Varnish

Shine the hell out of it. The shinier the better. We want a perfectly smooth surface for the next 2 steps.

Step 4: Decals

Use Microset and Microsol to apply all the decals you’re planning to use on the model. Get them fixed nicely in place, then cover them over lightly with another bit of gloss. Usually shoulders will take me 4 or 5 applications of Microsol (Alfredo: The magic that is microset and microsol probably deserves its own article!).

Step 5: Oiling Up

Take some Burnt Umber oil paints and thin them into a wash. Take a look at this excellent tutorial on how to use oils. Use your wash to pinwash all the recesses, and if you’re feeling brave or it’s a character (you should always be brave when painting characters) blend a little bit into the shadows.

Alfredo: While oils are far less scary than some people think, it’s okay to use acrylics to do this. A gloss wash like gloss nuln oil will work much better than the standard variety, and glossing your miniature beforehand is crucial to getting the crisp shadows without coffee staining on your beautiful yellow. While all-over washes can work for dark colors, for yellows and whites you really want to stick to pin washes.

Step 6: Hoot Hoot

After giving your oils at least a few hours to dry, matte varnish the entire thing and go to town painting details.

Imperial Fists: Jack’s Newer Way

Imperial Fists Primaris Eradicators
Imperial Fists Primaris Eradicators. Credit: Jack Hunter

After painting with the above method for a little while, I decided I wasn’t totally happy – it’s bright as hell and doesn’t have quite the depth and contrast to it I was hoping for. That’s not to say it isn’t good, I’m still pretty happy with the look, but I wanted to make changes to better fit my Imperial Fists vision. This one works more with transparent paints and preshading than the previous.

Step 1: Primer

I start with Vallejo Desert Tan primer. As everything above this is fairly transparent, its important to apply it in several thin coats to build up even coverage. With this one overly thick application tends to get spotty.

Step 2: Preshading

My first step of preshading is with Vallejo Model Air Mud Brown. This is applied primarily to the undersides of arms, kneepads, and the bottom third of shoulder pads, but also sparingly anywhere else shadows would build up. You mostly want to be spraying up at the model while applying it.

Step 3: More Shading

A second pass with Vallejo Model Air Rust hits only the very darkest spots – I usually use it in the corners of shoulder pads and the very bottom of arms, and not much else.

Step 4: Pre-Highlights

I want to push my highlights as much as possible for contrast, so I’ll use Daler Rowney FW White Acrylic Ink. Smaller pigment than paints lets it airbrush extremely smoothly, and it has a little bit of transparency that lets me build up nice gradients across several layers. I want the highest points like the top of the helmet and shoulder pads to be pretty close to pure white, and lower spots like upper arms and kneepads to be just a touch darker. I tend to not push the backpack quite as far as anything else, as I don’t want it distracting from the head and shoulders when viewed from the front.

Step 5: The Yellowing

I’ve finished all my undercoat work, and am ready to take this from browns to yellows. I do thin coats of Vallejo Model Air Medium Yellow until I’ve built up a tone I’m happy with – usually around 3 coats but sometimes it can take a bit more.

Step 6: Ooh, Shiny!

Gloss varnish. Get a good smooth coat, it’ll make pinwashing and decals much easier.

Step 7: Decals

Decals want to go on relatively early in the process, that way any weathering done is over top of them, blending them in. Microsol and Microset make this much easier, though the full circles of Imperial Fist logos are still a huge pain.

Step 8: Pinwashing

There are two options for pinwashing, depending on how much effort you’re willing to put in. Mixing up your own thin wash with a mixture of Burnt Umber and Lamp Black will give you slightly better results and more control, but I’m not convinced its worth it over what I’ve been doing: using AK Paneliner for Sand and Desert Camouflage. This is a very thin brown enamel wash, so it dries a touch faster than an oil wash, but its premixed. Like an oil wash it can be cleaned up with white spirits as needed. It doesn’t work as well if you’re trying to blend a nice transition across a panel as working with oils, but it’s a great pinwash. Carefully touch it to the crevices and let capillary action do the work. Matte varnish once it’s done.

Step 9: Highlights

I don’t always do too many highlights, usually just characters and the very highest points on infantry and vehicles. I use Scale 75 Lilith Yellow as a nice bright pale yellow.

Step 10: Weathering

Weathering is in a couple stages, all done with a sponge. I start taking a little bit of GW Phalanx Yellow and sponging it very lightly over decals. It’s a bit brighter than the yellow surface of the armor, so looks like chips, but is more subtle than my edge highlights. I follow that up with Rhinox Hide across any edges or wear areas, modulating the intensity depending on how much wear that would take. Finally on power fists for infantry, and pretty much everywhere for vehicles, I use Scale 75 Black Metal for a pass of metallic chipping.

Step 11: Night Birds

Paint the rest of the owl.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, a brief primer on the illustrious Imperial Fists and a number of ways to paint them. While the lack of fluff and BL fiction dealing with the Imperial Fists may be a turn off to some, this is also an opportunity to forge your own narrative, which can be quite freeing. The Fists have a number of highly diverse successor chapters so that tells you that all kinds of stories are possible within the sons of Dorn, and their color scheme rocks. Yellow gets a bad rap but hopefully some of the techniques here will help if you choose to do your own Imperial Fists (or Lamenters), whether through the magic of airbrushing or contrast paints.

Join us next time as we explore the legacy of Sigismund and the fanatical zealots that are Black Templars!