I painted up 3 bases of 4Blades for my Sea Peoples army last night (photos will follow shortly) and I started thinking about the experience of painting Essex versus Venexia.
I don't think miniatures manufacturers pay enough attention to making figures easy to paint. Aside from the general (and obvious) observation that a well sculpted, well-cast figure is easier to paint than a shapeless lump of lead, there are many things a manufacturer can do to make painting easier. Here's a few that came to mind as I was painting
Quality of metal
One thing that struck me is how Essex's figures are case in a hard, durable alloy (don't know the exactly composition - mostly lead, possibly pewter?) that is distinctly different from Venexia's, or for that matter Corvus Belli's, Xyston's or Foundry's (which tells you how much unpainted lead I have on hand). Whatever mix Essex is using, their figures are smoother and shinier than other manufacturer's, and do not tarnish as much (or at all, in fact). However ...
Sharpness of Details
The one thing about Essex's figures is that they have correspondingly less distinct detail than, say Corvus Belli or Xyston. By this, I mean that the ridges, folds, and edges on the figures then to be rounded, lower in height, and less distinct than in Xyston figures.
This has possibly the biggest impact on painting. The sharper the detail, the easier the painter's job. A sharp crease in clothing or armour means that a painter simply has to run the brush across the feature to get a clean line. Dry-brushing is easier, and ink-washes settle more distinctly into recesses. Xyston's 15mm figures are a prime example of this. Essex's, on the other hand, are 'blurrier', meaning that painter has to do more work to bring out detail.
In other words, with a less well-designed figure, you have to paint in the detail: with a well cast one, the detail is there for you to paint in. Excellent figures, like Xyston's, almost paint themselves.
I don't know why some manufacturers still cast figures with bases that are not completely flat. It's an additional burden for the painter, who has to file down the figure to make it fit properly on a base, and stand up straight so it won't flop over while it's being glued down. One particular source of irritation is how Essex casts horses with an irregular, uneven base that makes them unstable, and requires huge amounts of glue to get them standing straight up on a base. Casting the base of figures properly is no doubt low on the priority of manufacturers, but it adds an additional step to my painting process, and therefore affects the efficiency of the painting
Casting in One Piece
Anytime I have to glue anything on a 15mm figure, I get depressed - it's hard, and no doubt must be harder for people with larger fingers than mine. There's a balance here between detail, realism and variety on the one hand, and ease of assembly on the other. Casting in a single piece can lead to boring poses (like Essex's standard "spear held along the arm" pose, which is structurally sound and allows a robust casting of a figure with a spear), while casting with small pieces leads to people like me supergluing said pieces to fingertips. A sensible compromise, as mentioned in an earlier post, is to cast arms and weapons together, so the individual parts to be handled are larger, and the point of contact is more secure (gluing a spear onto an open hand in 15mm is hard: it's much easier to be gluing an arm into a socket)
Having said all of that, let me add that 15mm figures have come a long way in the last 10 years. My first figures were from Table-Top games in 1992 - they were a Mongol army with spindly legs, mounted on ponies that looked horrible and misshapen, and they were of very soft lead that bent at the slightest whisper. Compared to those, the current 15mms, with Essex establishing a sort of industry standard, are almost all of a quality that allows good painting. It's just that some of them make you work harder ...