Monday, 2 May 2011

A Painter's Lament

There was a time when I really loved painting models. It was challenging, it was a chance to show off what I could do, and of course it also meant that I had painted models with which I could play games. As a group we have never banned such things as unpainted models in games, however it's always nice to be able to present a fully painted army on the table.

Unfortunately, as time went by and I painted more models (and acquired even more than that), I think I became somewhat jaded. I don't know exactly where I went wrong. I think the largest problem was having too large a pile of unpainted models on the to-do list. When that list gets too long, it becomes a real burden.

I have also never been willing to enter a tournament with unpainted models. Sometimes it is permitted to do so (although you will normally lose points for it), however I have never done it. To begin with, when I was taking each tournament seriously, I was unwilling to concede an advantage to my opponents purely because I had not adequately prepared my army. However, I think it is now largely due to the knowledge that so many of the players would be presenting completed armies, sometimes with beautiful painting and intricate or inspired conversions. I would be rather embarrassed to be lining up against these things with bare metal or undercoated figures.

There are two ways to address an unwillingness to enter a tournament with unpainted models. Firstly, you can simply refuse to enter an event until your army is properly ready. Depending on how fast a painter you are, this could mean missing a few events (or using something else you already have painted) until your army is finished and ready to wow the masses. I think this is a wholly admirable and restrained approach. As such, it's never been something I've really subscribed to...

The second option is to use the tournament as a goal. You decide what you're going to take (hopefully by taking some account of how much work it will be to get it ready), then you commit to that and paint like mad in an attempt to hit your target. This has always been my preferred method of attack. By using the tournament as motivation (coupled with my unwillingness to arrive with unpainted models), I have generally been able to achieve my goal and "finish" the army I wanted to use.

Now the problem with that is the word "finish". What constitutes a finished model varies depending upon who you ask. Different people have different standards. To a certain extent this is necessitated by different people having different levels of aptitude when it comes to painting and preparing an army. Some people are truly frightening in the way they can pump out a jaw-dropping army in the space of a few weeks (I hate these people. There is something not right with them. At the very least, they should restrain themselves a bit so that the rest of us don't feel so bad). Other people are meticulous painters who take their time, but produce Golden Daemon-standard armies (these people make me feel bad too, but at least I can take some satisfaction from knowing that they sweated blood to get the army to its finished level). Still others are incapable of these levels of industry. Often these are the people who would identify themselves mainly as "players" rather than "modellers" or "hobbyists". They are more interested in getting an army on the table to a decent standard, so they can get on with their gaming.

I believe I fit firmly into the last category. When I pick up a model, I don't look at all the detail and enjoy the thought of going to town on it and making it look spectacular. I look at the model, hoping to see as little excess detail as possible, so I can paint it fairly simply and get on with the next model. Most often, I am picking up one of 10 or 20 models that I will be painting at the same time, hoping to work my way through all of them, one colour at a time, until they can go into the "finished" pile and I can move on.

I sometimes look at a detailed character model and think it would be nice to put a bit more time into it, in order to give people something more worthwhile to look at, but it doesn't normally happen that way. The character might get some extra things like eyes painted onto him (I have largely stopped painting eyes on my models now - it is often too much effort for too little reward), but in general my approach is the same as it is for the rank and file troops. Get it done and move on.

This approach is not something I really like about my hobby. It is a joyless approach to painting, where the only real satisfaction I get comes from looking at the finished product of a whole unit or army (by which point you are standing back far enough not to look at the shortcomings of the paint job). Whilst I am working on a unit, all I'm thinking about is how it will look when it's on the table as a whole, and what I can work on next.

I can't remember the last time I lavished attention on a single model and tried to paint it to the highest standard I am capable of. I no longer even know what that standard is - it might be that I am already making the most of what abilities I have. I am not the sort of painter who reads about new techniques and practices them until I have mastered them. I stick with what will work quickly, and will only really consider a new method if it's likely to save me time or give a better result for similar effort.

Some people might say I should make a point of trying to go to town on something, just to see how it comes out - to see what I can accomplish. But I kind of feel like I would rather keep making progress on my current project, making good use of the time I set aside for painting rather than squandering it all on a single pretty figure, which may start losing paint as soon as it's done...

It's all a little bit depressing.

... And in other news, I have just acquired an entire legion of my best bunnies! Easter being over, stores are trying to clear the last of their stock. These guys were going for $1 each at KMart, and I like Red Tulip chocolate (which only ever seems to appear at Easter) above all other types.

When properly arranged, these guys have full rank bonus and come fully "painted". A tasty regiment indeed...

Bunnies make the world go around, the world go around...


  1. How are you doing with this aspect of the tabletop hobby now in 2014? Changed your perspective, learned new techniques or are you taking a different approach?

    I ask because I do the same, my satisfaction from painting doesn't come until I see a fully painted regiment, I use basic techniques such as highlights, dry brush and washes to make them looks "good enough" but except for the lords/heroes I don't spend much time painting all the details and instead let the wash do most of the work which doesn't look that good.

    I painted skaven using mostly washes, it was a blast to paint as I could paint 20-30 clanrats in one day and still have time to make all the little details such as eyes, teeths, fangs etc look good but some armies like Empire is very difficult to fast paint to a level above "good enough".

    Your empire army looks very cool though, love the ogres.

    1. Actually, it's funny you should ask. Over the last few years I think my focus has shifted, and I spend more time modelling and painting than I do playing. I still want things to be done, but I think influences like the blog have helped me to get greater satisfaction from producing finished products, and that has become something of an end in itself rather than simply a means to get a working army ready.

      As for techniques, I haven't really changed how I approach the painting itself. I still aim for a decent table-top finish, and use whatever means I deem appropriate for the task, be it drybrushing, layering, washes, etc. Nothing fancy - persistence has always been the key.

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  3. used to be a painter who would work tirelessly to make sure that the paint scheme was perfect. I remember one chaos marauder I spent a week working on. But in recent times I have focused more on just cranking out models painted to the bare minimum of acceptable. I am kind of disappointed in myself as a painter. My painting is adequate and just that. Whereas your empire army is amazing to look at. how do you paint them so they look good but you finish quickly?

    1. They benefit a lot from safety in numbers. Most of them are painted very simply. It's about coming up with a level you're happy with, and not getting tempted to then spend extra effort. Most of my stuff is a basecoat, wash, then 2 levels of highlights. Armour is normally just basecoat and wash. I don't paint eyes on anything except larger models and characters any more, because I realised you really don't see them anyway and you're just as likely to mess them up and waste time correcting it.

      As for being disappointed in yourself as a painter, you really need to think about what you're trying to achieve. If you want to paint whole regiments and armies, trying to paint every single model to the level of a display piece is really just inefficient. There has to be a balance between the quality/presentation you can live with, and the output.

      Also, every time I sit down to paint something and tell myself it will be quick, it always takes twice as long (or more) than I like to imagine. Sometimes the only way is to just keep putting in the time until you get there.