Around their dark city the Chaos Dwarfs sunk mines into the earth, delving deep into the rock and filth in pursuit of the treasures that lie below. They built engines down in the depths…
According to Stuff of Legends, the Chaos Dwarfs first appeared in 1986, but I only really knew them from the 1991 Red Catalogue and 1994 army. All dirt and gloom, Rick Priestly’s introduction, above, contrasted to the maelstrom of red, yellow, and black paint – set against lush green battlefields – that filled the rest of the book and pages of White Dwarf.
Honestly, I was never a fan, and I don’t think I’m alone. The Dawi-Zharr didn’t prove commercially viable and have fallen on hard times, although there’s a rumour that they’ll return in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Warcry. But that has all changed for me, now.
By chance, I found a box of Chaos Dwarfs and other miscellaneous miniatures in my local second-hand treasure-trove. I’d never considered collecting Chaos Dwarfs at all, but £2 apiece and a £20 note in my pocket, the choice was clear. I grabbed ten, told a friend where to find the rest and set about identifying and cleaning them. After a Dettol bath to lift off most of the enamel paint, followed up with nail polish remover, a needle, then warm soapy water and a soft toothbrush, I was ready to start painting.
Maybe the most iconic Chaos Dwarf? Portrayed in a green cloak detailed with the eight-pointed star of chaos by Colin Dixon and John Blanche in 1986, the colour scheme has been replicated by better painters than me. So I decided to go a different route. I’d just read Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon novels, so there’s a bit of Count Brass in there. Purple instinctively felt like a good base colour for the cloak, and I kept the star of chaos, adding a triangular motif meant to evoke a gaping mouth full of stylised teeth.
His bulbous eye, lumpy face, and name – Radbast – suggested some sort of pestilence or affliction. I went with green skin, rusted metal, and pink-purple detailing. this was one of the quickest to paint, coming in at just a couple of hours.
I’ve seen this painted very well before, too, and I have to admit that this probably influenced my painting decisions. So while “red” was a given, the rest of the colour scheme was guided by the mid-90s artwork in White Dwarf. I had a go at a freehand jade marble effect on the haft of his mace, and mixed up the skin tones on his trophies, for variety.
There’s something of the Viking about Drum & Drone Ulsen, so I wanted to include some more naturalistic colours: greens, metals, and browns predominate, with a purple Mike McVey inspired shield for contrast. As well as giving him two colours of hair, his boots are slightly different colours, and I painted one hand gloved, the other bare.
Another axe-dwarf, Napper’s beak-like helmet lent itself to a Disciple of Tzeentch. Of course, the colours would need to be brighter the Changer of Ways’ contemporary daemon armies: electric blues, powder pink, and fiery orange. Again, I wanted a classic 80s shield, with a cyclopean design for variety. Less successful than the first, but lessons learned for next time.
In my opinion, this guy represents the best of these 80s Chaos Dwarfs. He’s suitably chaotic: a devilish tail, wild hair, and single staring eye, with a skull and spikes that don’t overpower these details. He’s not wearing any sort of “uniform” like later Chaos miniatures – I wonder how much this change was a marketing choice, and how much cost-saving on design and production? I went with royal blue hair – because surely black, blond, or brown wouldn’t do him justice, tattoos inspired by a mix of Chaos iconography and real-world northern Europe, and coloured each of the skull-spikes for each of the four Ruinous Powers.
The way he’s holding his shield in front of his beard-covered mouth demanded a toothy shield design, and the rounded boss in the middle suggested Khorne’s World Eaters a source of inspiration. Not the most successful freehand painting – it’s obvious that I struggled with the small space for the incisors. I gave his skin a subtle purple wash, which I think worked well.
One of the first I painted. I’ve always played it quite safe with armour, defaulting to metals, so recently I’ve been making more colourful choices with plate. I contrasted his green armour with a purple beard, red knees, and fleshy accents. His duck-feet led me to a swampy approach for the base, and that in turn inspired the tarnished metal of the sword.
And here’s the very first I painted. Again, having just read Hawkmoon, Moorcock’s Warrior in Jet and Gold was fresh in my memory. I followed a tutorial for painting black armour – which I can no-longer find. Sorry, uncredited inspiration. To break up the monotony of black armour I painted his faceguard to suggest teeth, and freehand-painted eyes on his pauldrons. A red-hot sword with suspiciously fleshy-looking hilt completed the ensemble.
His face leering over his warriors in John Blanche’s box art, The Master of Madness is clearly the leader of these dwarfs. He’s bigger than the others, and more ornately armoured. And then there’s his name: The Master.
So I wanted to do something a bit special. I chose the colours of Malal, the fifth Chaos God of the Warhammer cosmology, and painted a grinning face on his axe – something of a homage to Kaleb Daark’s Dreadaxe. For his shield and shoulders I used some deep-green-turquoise Citadel paints I’d not previously had a use for. I chose a pale purple for his forked beard – subtle enough to not clash with the already crowded colour scheme, but noticeable unnatural. I considered replicating the same colours for the tiny effigy on his helmet, but in the end decided simple gold would be more fitting.
Here they are all together: The Master of Madness and his rag-tag warband of Chaos Dwarf renegades, in a cacophony of colours.
I was almost surprised by how much fun I had painting these. Actually it might be the most fun I’ve had painting anything. They really embody everything I love about Oldhammer, with a nice variety to the designs and distinctive characters, while at the same time they’re simple enough to allow creativity. I don’t think they suffer from the lack of a cohesive colour scheme – if anything it adds to the chaotic flavour.
So should I get some more? They’re a bit expensive on eBay. I don’t think I’m ready for a Forge World centrepiece (and anyway their Infernal Guard don’t really have the same sense of fun as the old 80s sculpts). There’s a small selection available from Knightmare Miniatures, including a couple of characterful boar centaurs, though…
Some great old models there, and your work is fantastic!
Thanks, davekay, really appreciate the kind words! These are really a case-study in good miniature design, especially considering they’re nearly as old as I am!
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I love those sculpts, and these are some of the finest examples I have seen of them painted. I hope you collect more!
Thanks Subedai! I think you’re being too generous with the feedback – I’ve seen plenty of fantastic paint jobs on these, which is another testament to the quality of the original design; it stands up to many different interpretations. I almost certainly will get some more, but it’s a tough market. They cost the earth on eBay, and (for me) there seem to be very few third party alternatives that quite capture the magic of these originals.
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Lovely paintjob on my favourite category of miniatures! Sorry to ask here but would you be open to draw a commisioned piece for a chaos dwarf project im working on? more info here: https://evillittlebuggers.blogspot.com/
you can reach me at sjoerdtrouwee at gmail dot com
Matte mentioned that you might be in touch and I was going to send you an email this weekend! I’m extremely interested – I have quite a lot of work on at the moment (full time job and struggling with the last few months of a master’s degree). So it depends on volume and deadlines!
Thanks for your respons! Basically it will be one black and white group drawing of the eight figures in a old Skool style, shoot me an email when you have time!
I’ve just been checking out your blog and I was hoping you’d say something like this! A single group drawing does sound achievable – I’ll be in touch via email later and we can see if the details work out.
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