Monday, 25 March 2013

The psychology of painting

People think you can get out your canvas and paint any time you have a free moment. You can't. Commercial art and painting are entirely different. Painting takes a different mental approach. You have to get the right attitude, the right mood.
Pierre Alechinsky

On the topic of miniatures painting, I became painfully aware this weekend just how many different painting projects I have on the go, and in particular I had some interesting insights into the best way for me to deal with these projects from a psychological perspective.

Over the last six years or so I seem to have organically acquired a great deal of metal and plastic miniatures, most of it 28mm, but quite a few in other scales as well, ranging from 20mm to 6mm and some ships in various scales. I am reluctant to eBay most of the unpainted lead / plastic, because you never know when you might need it. By contrast,my collection of RPGs is now relatively static, as for every new game / supplement I buy, I seem to be selling something as well. Plus, I'm more realistic about RPGs these days - there is a finite amount of time / opportunity to play them, and hence it seems easier to dispose of some of the more peripheral items on eBay. Sure, I doubt I could ever part with my Call of Cthulhu collection, which I built up mainly in the 1990s, but some of the other stuff, like GURPS, was obviously never going to get played, so onto eBay it went.

With figure painting, I have realised that I have a tendency to worry away at figures, as I'm rarely satisfied with my work. For example, I painted up a set of four Copplestone hobbits which I'm quite pleased with, but these were on my painting bench for the best part of a year. I'd keep going back to them when I got bored with Necrons or Zulus, adding new colours or techniques. In a way, they were practise dummies, in that I'd use them to experiment with before applying the technique to something else I was painting. They finally got finished when I realised there was no point adding anything else to them, and they will shortly be making their debut in my Lord of the Rings campaign (one participated as Bagbo Biggins in the massacre at Linden Way).

My painting bench is currently divided into four projects:

Project #1: Warhammer - I have two armies on the go here, Bretonnians and Lizardmen. These are largely here to entertain the kids when the fancy to paint takes them, and we're making slow progress. I generally dabble in these when a figure approaches conclusion, doing a bit of a repair job. I've got a unit of knights which look close to being finished, but will need some final work and some decals. I'm optimistic that we could have a 1000 point Warhammer battle this summer, if we're diligent about it.

Project # 2: Warhammer 40K - Here I'm currently working on a 1000 point Tyranid army for WH40K / Rogue Trader. This is an army that seems to have grown organically over time, gradually being assembled, primed and painted. It was originally meant to be just Genestealers for use with Space Hulk, but seems now to have morphed into a respectable force. It is hard painting these, because there is more detail to the models than one realises at first, plus the Termagants are more fiddly then anticipated. Also, there are a LOT of them

Project # 3: Dystopian Wars - I'm working on a small Russian fleet for Dystopian Wars. This is the first time I've worked on resin and I have to say I quite like it. I'm impressed with the quality / detail of the castings from Spartan Games. They've really done a good job with these. I'm currently just painting up the Tiny Flyers (bases of aircraft), but they are already beginning to look great.

Project #4: Lord of the Rings - I have to say I do like the Lord of the Rings range of miniatures from Games Workshop. They are smaller in scale than the chunkier Warhammer figures, possibly harder to get right in terms of painting, but they do look excellent once finished. My collection has largely been acquired from friends getting rid of theirs for next to nothing, so I've been able to build up a fair number of castings simply by expressing an interest. They have also been able to double occasionally for other games, like Orc's Drift and RPGs.

I'm determined to finish my Tyranids and my Russian fleet sooner rather than later, and am currently focusing on them. The LotR figures are being used in my current campaign, so priority with these is determined largely when they are due to enter the campaign. Currently on the painting bench are the Barrow Wights and Strider.

I DO like 28mm as a scale. But I have found painting huge units - like Zulus for example - to be harder. I'm more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. Even a unit of 8-10 figures is a big exercise, although if I focus, I think I can get one done in a month. It is easily possible for attention to waver and go onto something shinier and for the unit to languish in a semi-painted state. I also like worrying away at one or two 'character' figures until I'm happy with them. It seems somehow therapeutic to have a hobbit or a Pathfinder character on the go alongside a unit. I don't like painting to deadlines, and find that if I do, the final product is never great (e.g. I was not happy with some of the farmers I painted up for the Linden Way battle).

If psychological self-analysis is anything to go by, my tabletop wargames should therefore reflect my painting preferences, if I'm every going to get to the point where I've got sufficient figures to actually play with something. A Tyranid army is probably never really finished - there'll always be another reason to start another unit - but once I've got my first 1000 points on the table, and once my Russian fleet is finished, I'm going to focus on those games which need fewer figures, particularly skirmish games of a more Mordheim-like dimension.

There is also no point in buying more figures than one can realistically paint in a month. My estimate is that I can average about three 'characters' and a single unit up up to 10 'regulars' in a month. Anything more than that, and I'll be doing well. For Dystopian Wars, this works out at 8-10 smaller vessels and up to three bigger ships. Roughly. As you can see, splitting my efforts between multiple projects just slows the whole process down. Discipline, both in terms of focusing on current projects and limiting the amount of new lead / plastic I buy, is going to be the key here.


  1. Quite so. I was hoping to have my Eldar painted over December, but my Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure and a bunch of other projects have eaten up all my time. On the plus side, I do have over a thousand points of second edition Eldar I could field, albeit unpainted.

  2. "There is also no point in buying more figures than one can realistically paint in a month."

    Hmm, you'll have to draw me a picture here old chap, I can't get the theory to work in my head