Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Overcomming Painting Inertia

Something has plagued me since I started this engrossing hobby ten years ago...painting.

There was, and sometimes still is, an unseen palpable force preventing me from getting started on a painting project. I will stare at a model for days and then lose interest.

I have ashamedly played an unpainted army for the entire life of a codex. I couldn't really put my finger on it. It was like a combination of indecision, aversion to the amount of time it will take to do a project the way I want, sense of defeat that my painting skill cannot match my imagination, and a feeling of being overwhelmed with the amount of models I own that are unpainted.

Unfortunately, until I drew a line in the sand and developed a true desire to paint the problem just continued to grow....

This problem plagued me for many years and I played almost completely grey armies for long swatches of time. When I did paint it was "to see if I could do it" or it was required to participate. I did not mind painting, but I did not really care for it. I would rather game. However, I was adamant that I would never pay to have my figs painted for me...that was just not something I could allow myself to do. Thus...hundreds of grey plastic and primed metal minis began to accumulate in my storage closet.

This inertia or molasses like resistance to painting caused me to lose out on the very gaming I enjoyed; meaning I could not participate in many events as they required painted models. If I did compete with an unpainted army I was not in the running due a nonexistent painting score. I went undefeated in many a local tournament, or RTT as they used to be called, only to place at the bottom because my army was unpainted. I also believe this affected my sportsmanship score and detracted from the number of people who liked to game with me outside of tournaments.

When I managed to put paint to fig, I did ok. Painting at a slightly above average table top standard. Which is the level I still paint at I feel; though the field has elevated much over the last ten years. I believe an average tournament paintjob today would have scored quite well even five years ago.

For a long time I did not mind if I showed up every week with a grey plastic army. Though I believe my friends and opponents lost a little enjoyment because my stuff was not painted. I know they did now. As I have begun to get over this painting inertia and play mostly  or completely painted armies I have an idea of how they felt. For that, I apologize to those I have gamed with over the years and would say thanks for putting that feeling aside and gaming with me anyway for all those years.

I have always respected those who can sit down and bang out a beautiful fully painted, converted, and competitive army in a month or two. This has always been beyond me and most likely always will be.

Over the years painting has grown on me, though I admit I still have some hang ups about it for some reason. These hang ups slow me down quite a bit. I have painted more models in the last year and a half than the last five or six years. With less time for gaming I have compensated by catching painting breaks as often as I can.

With this ramble in mind I have assembled two lists on this topic. A list of things that have slowed me down and a list that I have used to try and overcome this inertia with painting....

What Slows me Down:

"I can do that" syndrome or "The Internet is The Devil!":

The web is a tremendous resource and reveals many exceptionally painted miniatures to the desk top of millions. This is daunting. I will look at many beautiful examples and say..."I can do that! All I have to do is buy better brushes, really sit down and give it my best go, and  take all the time in the world I need."

In reality, it is rare one can paint at a Golden Deamon level, even giving it your all.  It takes years of either constant painting and/or art classes to match some of what is out there. It also takes talent. The web will burst your bubble if you let it, lending to your painting inertia. Seeing exactly how good you do NOT paint can really take the steam out of your momentum.

"If you are going to do something do it well!":

The immortal words of my step father rings in my head daily. I can hear his overly loud and gravelly voice repeating this to me today just as I heard it daily as a child. Honestly, this simple advice has served me well in many things. In painting however it many times pushes me to make a bigger project out of what is necessary. This approach, when extreme you can this "OCD" or "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder"; can really derail a project as you spend hours painting a single helmet while 70 marines sit waiting for primer. Almost guaranteed your interest, momentum, or drive comes to a halt and you end up with two and half beautiful marines and 68 unpainted figs after three weeks of effort.

"My god, it is a sea of grey plastic!":

I like to think I will fill my painting rig up with a couple squads to get motivated. This is a mistake. Looking at all the models you have unpainted then doing the mental math to predict a date it will all be painted at your current rate of production will dismay many, many hobbyists. It may even cause you to just walk away from your models and shot the door and watch a movie in stead.

"MMMM...paint for two hours or get a game in?":

Yeah, this one has gotten me hundreds of times and goes without further explanation.

"Holy indecision Batman! Which way should we go?!":

With so many armies, models, army lists, and paint schemes to choose from making a decision and not suffering from 40k ADD is a real problem.

"....Under Pressure":

Sung with the popular song in mind. Painting will never be fun and will continue to resist progress if you always feel under pressure to get it done. In addition, for me there is a physical side to this as I feel all cramped up from painting if I cannot get comfortable while I work. Also I feel quite a bit of pressure to not get paint on the wrong area, especially if I have finally gotten the little bob or bit painted just so.

How I have Compensated:

"Set Yourself up for Success":

Choose your projects wisely. Be honest with yourself and only set your goals slightly higher than what you can achieve with medium effort. This is a hobby not an Olympic event or even a profession for many of us. By setting small realistic, achievable goals  that can interface with real world unexpected events you can much better reach your desired end results.

"Explore the world my son/daughter":  

While we talked how the internet can cause a problem by showing just how good you don't paint, it also provides an almost endless array of "How To" articles and finished work for reference. If you look for a few minutes you will find an article of how to paint what you have in mind. I find these invaluable. A good article will have pictures at each stage and an item list that will tell you what paint to buy. This can be a huge time saver if used wisely.

"Create a Work Station":

I used to drag everything out every time I finally did sit down to paint. The act of doing this sometimes would be just enough resistance to stop me from ever getting started. Once I invested in a paint station  and left it in a convenient place, I could just sit and get started.  I use a GW brand ($30)...but a $10 serving tray or even a lid from a large plastic storage container would work just fine.

I also managed to research and begin to use a wet pallet. Google and you will find quite a few "How To's." I settled on the one pictured here. It is simply a small tupperware container with a deep enough lid to hold a standard thin kitchen sponge. Simply turn the container upside down, cut the sponge to fit, put water on it, a piece of wax paper, and the bottom of the container becomes the lid...your done. Now you can mix a bit of paint and you can just sit down and continue to use that paint for several days..another time and work saving practice.  I bought all these items at Kroger's..a US grocery store that is everywhere in Michigan.

Third, invest in good brushes and don't  feel you have to stay attached to them for life. Myself, I bought a couple dozen good brushes...but felt I need to get all I could out of each one for several years. Don't really know why. I would struggle with the brush past it's life span while good brushes sat right beside me. Well, a good brush will allow you to more evenly distribute your paint and will save you quite a bit of time as you will not have to do as many additional layers and touch ups. If buying brushes every three months or so is not an option for you, invest in a good brush cleaner and clean after each color change thoroughly.

"Get Involved!":

Many forums, blogs, and local game stores have painting challenges. Get involved, sign up. Don't stress if you aren't perfect. Get as much done as you can.

Here are two that I have found: 2011 40k Fight Club Challenge and DFG Painting League

I'm in the second year of the 40kfightclub challenge and I can say it is the "secret glue" to my increase in painting activity. The first year I hit about 60%, but this year I have submitted an entry every month. Many forums even will give you a little graphic in your signature to show your dedication, etc. I believe Bolter and Chainsword Forums also runs a monthly or yearly contest if you look.

"Do a Little Every Day!":

This has worked very well for me. With my painting station set up and the use of my homemade wet pallet, I try to paint a little something each day. Maybe it is just highlighting the base or working on the bolter or a shoulder pad but sticking with it leads to good things.

"Treat Painting as Reward!":

I really do find painting relaxing now a days. After a tough work week, I will think about rewarding myself with plugging into my favorite 40k podcast and knocking out some painting while I relax and unwind...sometimes this also includes a few alcoholic beverages to make it even more enticing.

What has also been successful for me is making myself wait to buy new models until I reach a realistic painting goal. For example, I will wait to buy that Chaos Rhino until the squad that goes in it is completed. An extreme example is the vow not to buy anything for the army until you have painted all the models you own that you want in the force and trade off the rest. This is pretty extreme, so again be realistic with yourself and maybe starting with smaller restrictions is more achievable.

Lastly, and this is my favorite, once I paint a unit I can't wait to draw up an army list with my freshly painted unit the center piece and get out and game with it. I also try to paint a new unit as I prep for a tournament or use a tournament date as a goal to complete a project. Now, here I always have a backup plan, as life does tend to get in the way at times.

"Show me Whatcha Got!:

Take an afternoon and learn how to post your pics of finished models to a forum, website, or your own blog. I find having a blog has also made me want to get more painted so I can post it up. I also tend to make a midpoint pic of a project my PC desk top just to keep it at the forefront of my thoughts. Another tactic I used here is I have a GW foam insert on my storage cabinet reserved for only those models I complete and take great gratification from being able to put another finished model in there.

"Don't force Yourself to Walk Uphill":

This may not apply to everyone, but I have found that I need to paint what I am interested in. Despite the fact that a Culexus Assassin in the Grey Knight codex really is not a point efficient choice, I wanted to paint him. So, I did. Next up are some Sonic Blaster toting Slaanesh Chaos Space Marines.  Yes, I know for GK's I should be getting some TL Autocannon Dreds or Purifiers up and running, but I have learned to work on what I want. I get more stuff done this way.

Another thing I have learned about myself, and this took a long time. In fact, I finally accepted it just prior to this article. I need to paint only one model at a time. It doesn't matter to me how cool and time efficient it is to have an assembly line set up... I just can't get past spending 12 hours painting nothing but shoulder pad trim or eye sockets. I need to see the model take shape as different layers and things get done at a faster rate. I actually now have nothing else on my painting station other than the one model I am working on or I risk fizzling out.

Well this has been quite a ramble and hopefully you have found some information that will help you get that next project done and enjoy the accomplishment.

Thanks for the read,



  1. Great article. Pretty much the same way I feel about painting. I did manage to overcome the problem and paint all my falcon chassis, but I can't seem to motivate myself to paint infantry. bah.

  2. @ Widthofacircle

    Thanks for the feedback. I could have added more, but the article was pretty large already.


  3. im the same dude i keep going back to stuff to like pulling out a squad for highlight but its always figures my main hang up is tanks no matter how much i try they never look as good as id like except with eldar they always seem to look right

  4. @darkcrusader...

    Good to know I am not alone! Tanks/vehicles also present me greater difficulty.

    First...I always save them till takes even longer to get them done.

    The big flat spaces react differently to what little painting style I have...thus, like you said, they rarely look the way I imagined starting out.

    I do envy the hobbyists who can just sit down and bang out a trukk/rhino in a couple days and it looks good!

  5. Spray paint and wash are your friends.



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