Be Like Water: Dicky Boyd on Adding Graffiti to Your Gangs of Rome Buildings

Hi, I’m Paul, and welcome to Sculpting, Painting and Gaming.

If you’ve seen our various Gangs of Rome buildings at shows, demos or online, then you’ll be familiar with Dicky Boyd’s excellent work. Possessed of character and colour, Dicky’s Rome created from Sarissa Precision’s excellent Street of Rome range of MDF kits also sports a swathe of intricate and vivid graffiti. In this article Dicky gives us an insight into how he created these striking features.



Having completed constructed and painted your buildings, and having played a few games, you will have developed the beginnings of a narrative for your campaign. There is no better way of documenting almost literally this narrative than by writing it on some walls. This is a crucial part of the next phase of your painting.

There are few remaining examples of ancient Rome’s external wall decoration (for which you can read ‘graffiti’), and you’ll have to use a combination of sources to get a feel for what is possible, and for what excites your interest. The key part is to have a story you want to tell and that adds to your gaming narrative. This allows you to display a touch of humour, a sprinkling of character, and another opportunity to demonstrate your painting skills.


Core Philosophy

You may be put off by this last point; I would encourage you to not be. The beauty of Roman painting is that it was not ‘photographic’, and that allows your self-critical voice a bit of a holiday. The Romans had a varying degree of abilities in the mural and graffiti department, so you can allow yourself a wide margin for error when personalising your buildings. Not only that, but the more you do, the more confident and skilled you will become.

In many ways it is far more relaxing than the demands of figure painting, as the graffiti needs to be relaxed and loose to bring a sense of life and authenticity to your scenes and chosen motifs. This is, of course, easier said than done we are all our own worst critics, after all but before you begin to decorate your city, your mood needs to be relaxed and forgiving. Bruce Lee ventured the success of any endeavour relies on our ability to ‘be like water’, and I would ask you to apply the same principle to your brush work; be prepared to let the brush flow and crash around your new buildings. Better that the brush moves with confidence than be rendered stiff and lifeless by self-doubt.



So you have a story to tell, but do not rush; a narrative scrawled on walls is still a narrative, and as with a novel or short story it must be well-researched, exciting and colorful. Maximise your chances of success by spending time on the internet collecting and saving images that will support your narrative. Instil breadth and variety by seeking out the following:


Stone carving, the details of which can be painted onto your walls to add authenticity.

Frescoes / wall painting will inform your choice of colours as well as illustrate common styles and themes.

Mosaics are a rich resource for imagery; note how many of the figures are out of proportion or clumsily depicted.

Graffiti is invaluable for those comedy one-liners, and pottery is also another fantastic source of patterns and pictures.

Finally have a look at secondary sources that reconstruct Roman life and get a feel for how you want to incorporate your ideas and themes into your buildings.



It is essential to find an authentic looking font, but remember that this font is for computers, and not your relaxed, flowing brush. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a perfect replica in size or form so much as  give you a unifying direction to your lettering.

Play with the letters using paper and brush and get a feel for how their shapes are made. The more time you spend on this, the happier you will feel when committing text to your models. The lettering will also help develop your style for simple decoration, thus killing two birds with one brush, so to speak.


Dicky’s Top Tips: dealing with the critics

‘Man! Your fresco is rubbish; the figures are all out of scale and awkward!’
‘It’s intentional, my gaming friend, and also based on extensive research I did on Roman mosaics found in North Africa.’


Execution of the plan.

So, now you have a pattern or image in your head which you would like to depict, it’s time to get out the paints and brushes.

In the most part I use acrylic paints produced by purveyors of a grimdark future universe.  Others, of course, are available, and you should just use what you’re familiar with. The only difference in paint application, in my experience, is a slightly more watery mix to allow that fluid motion of the brush we discussed earlier. It doesn’t matter if it’s too thin on application, you have the essential line and can add to it with an accent colour to deepen the impact. The most important thing is to think big, fill the spaces on your building, and own them with colour.

I like to start with lighter tones and then add structure and body with darker lines.

Let’s look at some examples so you can see the direction and process of any project you undertake.


The Pomegranate


The Laurel


The Suckling Wolf


The Aquila


Elections and the wine shops


The fish shop and the butcher’s


It’s not all about graftiti; you can add character and not a little texture by sticking 3D objects to your buildings.


On a final note, it is paramount that you have fun with your painting and remember…

…“It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

Be like water my friends. Be like water.



Dicky’s collection of Gangs of Rome buildings has been built using Sarissa Precision’s excellent Street of Rome MDF kits. You can see the Streets of Rome range on Sarissa’s webstore, as well as a smorgasbord of other collections in almost every conceivable time period and setting. Their expansive catalogue offers you buildings and accessories for games as diverse as Test of Honour, Star Wars: LegionSaga and many more.

Better yet, postage is only £2.50 worldwide, whatever you order, wherever you live.



Long before he established Dicky Boyd Builds a bespoke terrain building service for for gaming companies and individuals Dicky’s first models were cut from card and coloured with felt tip pens. He progressed to Airfix kits in the 1970s, and discovered the mysterious world of role playing games in the 1980s.

Dicky has previously worked for private clients and companies in the wargaming industry (including War Banner!)



We’re currently open to submissions, so if you have an article about sculpting, painting or gaming, then please do send it our way. From historical to sci-fi, battle reports to painting tips, modelling to terrain and all points in between, we’d love to hear from you. See our submissions guidelines for more details.

About the Author

Paul L. Mathews
A born-again wargamer since 2015, Paul L. Mathews is now the editor at War Banner. He is also the head honcho at his own freelance enterprise, Tabletop Creative. A dull boy, Paul's interests include editing and staying up past his bedtime

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