Greater Chattanooga painter offers service to bring vivid details to role-playing figurines

Greater Chattanooga painter offers service to bring vivid details to role-playing figurines

August 25th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Thomas Hammond uses an airbrush to apply a base coat of paint to a miniature.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A miniature tank used in the tabletop game "Warhammer 40,000."

A miniature tank used in the tabletop game...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A "Warhammer 40,000" Eldar

A "Warhammer 40,000" Eldar

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


For contact info, a gallery of completed pieces or to place an order with miniature painter Thomas Hammond, visit or email

Thomas Hammond, like all artists, begins his work with a blank slate. In his case, however, that slate starts out in pieces, sometimes dozens of them.

As a teenager, Hammond, now 32, began painting miniature figurines that players use to represent troops in tabletop role-playing games. But before he can transform them from dull plastic or metal into tiny, vividly colorful vehicles, knights, monsters or artillery pieces, he must put them together.

"[Miniatures] used to come in ... two or three pieces, including the base," he explains, holding a rack -- or sprue -- containing dozens of linked, molded-plastic body parts and weapons that eventually will become a squad of five soldiers.

"Now, [assembly] is harder, but it's a lot more rewarding," he continues. "With figurines from the same box, you can see the variations I'm able to pull off in how they're holding guns, what's on their belts and where they're facing."

For players acting out epic fantasy conflicts in "Warhammer," guiding space marines through the eerie corridors in "Space Hulk" or recreating Civil War clashes in "Johnny Reb," assembly is only the first step. To truly customize their tiny units, players use equally minuscule brushes to apply colorful acrylic paint to the grey plastic canvases, many of which stand less than an inch off the table.

To many tabletop wargamers, the construction and personalization of an army is part of the fun. Some, however, prefer to let someone else take care of the hard parts. That's where Hammond steps in.

About two months ago, after years of painting miniatures for his own use or for friends, Hammond decided to turn his hobby into a career. Working in the home he rents in Harrison, he now offers his painting skills to customers who never want to pick up a paintbrush or bottle of Krazy Glue.

"Not everyone can do this," Hammond says, surrounded by miniatures in various stages of completion on almost every surface of his basement studio.

The studio also doubles as his gaming war room. On a green-felt table nearby, the forces of two opposing armies in a game of "Warhammer 40,000" are frozen between turns in a battle that could take days for Hammond and his opponent to complete.

Even with the recent purchase of an electric airbrush to speed things up, Hammond says completing an order of miniatures is time-consuming. A single squad can take up to 12 hours to finish, from assembly and base coating to painting. Using this time as a benchmark, he says, he would probably charge $50, about as much as it costs to buy an unpainted, unassembled squad. The same amount would also pay for a single, larger unit, such as a vehicle or siege weapon.

Well-painted miniatures leap to life, from the tassels on a knight's helmet to the golden emblems on a marine's shoulder armor. The details help a player's army feel unique and, while a top-notch paint job might not make someone a better strategist, it definitely makes it easier to accept defeat.

"If you're losing, but your opponent says, 'Your army looks great,' it takes away some of the pain," Hammond says, laughing. "It's like, 'Well, I died, but I died in style.'"

Cleveland, Tenn., resident Chad Taylor, 26, has been playing "Warhammer 40,000" since he was 13. Creating a slick-looking army, he says, can be as big of a morale boost to a player as watching his army roll over an opponent.

"A lot of people really enjoy seeing your creativity in your work," he says. "It feels nice, as an artist and a gamer, to be able to ... sit down and put together your own image and have people appreciate it but also to get to play with it. It doesn't just sit there on a shelf."

So far, Hammond says, orders for his new business have been trickling in anemically, but he says he hopes gamers eventually see the benefit of having a service that lets them get troops onto the field with minimal effort.

Hammond accepts miniatures in any stage of completion, from sealed-in-the-box to primed-and-ready-to-paint. For customers who want to take a completely hands-off approach, he will order miniatures himself and ship the finished set later.

Whatever state it arrives in, it's all business, Hammond says. Besides, he adds, if he weren't doing it for someone else, he'd probably be painting for his own amusement.

"I'm sitting here doing something that, for my whole life, my mom would nag me about saying I needed to do something better," he says. "Now I'm getting paid for it. It's like, 'Ha! This is awesome.'"

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@times or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.