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We’re a few days into the new year, and I imagine the reality that resolutions are a lot easier to make than they are to keep is coming clear for a lot of us. (I certainly have not been a brand new me…) So as promised in the last post, I want to discuss some concrete strategies for how to put resolutions like ‘paint more’ into place amidst the reality of busy lives and crowded homes. Many thanks to the people who posted ideas and experiences on my Facebook posts to help contribute to this post. If some of the issues you’re having or some successful strategies you have tried aren’t mentioned below, I hope you’ll share them in the comments and continue the discussion!
Hey, it’s the photo I’ve been using at New Year’s since 2017! In my last post I promised to share what happened with these figures. Read through the comments on photos in this post to find out. I have to admit that sharing this photo and realizing how long some of these had been mouldering did push me to do some work in Januarys past.
It’s easy to feel like you need a block of several hours to sit down and paint or it’s just not worth the bother. But with work, school, family, friends, and other demands on our time, it can end up pretty hard to find blocks of several free hours. If you’ve been waiting and waiting to paint until you have some free time like that, you might want to try painting in shorter blocks of time. If you can get an hour to yourself every few days, or even 30 minutes every day, you might be able to get more done than you think. It might not be the way you want to do it, it might not be ideal, but it might also beat the alternative of not getting in any paint time at all. So if this is your issue, give shorter sessions a shot! Maybe it’s a perfect time to try speed painting, or work on grunt type figures for your game. I recommend some speed painting practice even to those who primarily paint display. I found that working this way really did end up helping my painting in general. Partly in terms of time, and partly just to help me loosen up a little and discover that a lot of things can be corrected or improved later. You don’t have to get every step right along the way or it’s all doomed.
If you are able to set up a painting area in your home, that will help a lot. Try to create a system of logical (to you) storage for your materials, as well. If you keep your paints jumbled up loose in a box, you’ll lose a lot of time searching for particular colours. Store paints and other tools in a more systematic way. Put a drop of paint on the lid of each bottle and/or paint a swatch of paint onto the label to help you find colours more quickly. Have a drawer for brushes and paper towels, and another for basing materials, etc. I’m not saying you have to be a super organized neat freak. That would be very hypocritical of me as my painting area is generally pretty messy. :-> But it’s a chaos organized in a way that my brain understands. Every paint has its place, and I can usually find my commonly used paints and tools very quickly. (Finding the less commonly used stuff can be a bit more of a trick, granted.)
Tillie, Fighter Pilot by Bombshell figures was the first of the miniatures in the New Year’s photo that I finished painting. She was awarded a silver medal at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018, and first place Bombshell Babe at ReaperCon 2017. I had a lot of fun making her leather suit look well-worn but still army tiptop.
Even just storing the paints and tools for your current project on a tray you can safely store on top of a bookshelf can help speed things up. If keeping things out of the way of others isn’t an issue, fit setting up and putting things away in around other tasks (while cooking or doing laundry, say), so that when you’re ready to sit down for your 30-60 minutes you can spend the whole time actually painting (or prepping or basing.) Another thing that is helpful with this approach is to try to map out your next session before your last has ended. While you’re working, try to identify one or two things to work on next time, so you will be able to just sit down and get started. Write down your ideas if you’re a forgetful person. It is also helpful to be working on two or three figures at a time. Then if a wash is drying on one, you can pick up another and work on it while you wait. A hairdryer is a useful tool to speed paint drying.
It is very helpful to have a dedicated area of your home set up for you to paint in. As outlined above, this makes it easier to keep your tools tidy and to-hand, and to jump in and get to work on projects and then stop as needed. Unfortunately that kind of space is not a luxury that everyone will have. But there are definitely ways to manage with less space, or even to make a portable painting kit that you can travel with to paint wherever you find yourself.
This is an area where I don’t have a lot of personal experience to offer, but I have seen discussions with many creative answers to the problem in forum discussions and Facebook groups. So if you need more ideas, try starting a conversation in a venue like that. If you aren’t currently a member of a group like this, two I can recommend as helpful and lively discussion areas are the forums at Reaper Miniatures (http://forum.reapermini.com/) and the Hobby Hangout group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thehobbyhangout/).
This portable paint station is an example of a compact setup option. (I have no personal experience with this product or company.) My paint storage article has links to other options. The convention travel article has storage ideas for other supplies.
Start by trying to condense your tools and materials down to just what you need for your current project. Pick out a small selection of paints and brushes. Find a container with a watertight lid to keep your water in. You will also need to find a palette solution that works for the way you paint. This could be as simple as a plastic plate, or a low profile food storage container if you like to use a wet palette. Include a small box with bubble wrap or other method to secure your miniature(s) while your hobby supplies container is in storage or transit. (See the transporting miniatures article for more ideas.) You can buy small brush holders to protect your brushes, or try using poster tac to stick them to the inside lid of your storage box. If lighting is an issue, you can buy small and inexpensive LED lamps off Amazon. For a storage box you can consider solutions as diverse as craft organizer tubs, large gun cases or brief cases, and many other options. I have seen some very creative solutions that people have built for themselves if you happen to be handy. There’s a link to some great pictures on this Pinterest collection. For more commercially available options and inspiration ideas, try doing a Google search for ‘portable paint station’.
I’m going to discuss some dilemmas that are purely of the mind, but I think a lot of issues like the space and time constraints also have a mental component. If you feel like you don’t have enough time and/or space to paint, there’s no way around the fact that it is going to take some shifts of thought as well as process to make it happen, and that’s uncomfortable. You’re going to have to identify issues and come up with solutions, and you’re going to have to accept that these solutions might not look like what you want or how you think things should be. I think sometimes it can be helpful to be very mindful about your alternatives. Is it better for you to not paint at all if you can’t do it the way you want, or is painting an activity that you get enough out of that it’s worth pursuing some alternatives to see if you can make it work after all?
For example, you might be someone who likes to have a collection of 100 or 200 paints. Maybe you find mixing paint to be time consuming and inconvenient, or maybe you just aren’t very confident about colour. But if you just don’t have space to keep out that amount of paint right now, or if all your paint dried up and you can’t afford to replace that many, you just can’t paint the way you prefer. So why not try the idea of putting together a small set of paints and mixing? It’s a pretty great way to learn a lot more about colour. It might take more time to mix, but at least it’s time spent at an activity you enjoy. Or maybe you try it for a while and you learn that you just cannot handle painting that way, and you choose not to pursue this hobby at this time. Think of that as you making an active choice, rather than feeling that life is keeping you from what you want to do.
The second time I posted the New Years photo I figured I really needed to finish up this figure. It was just so close to done, needing only some gold NMM and to paint up the pages of the book, plus a few touch-ups. Seeing the photo again pushed me to finally get those parts finished! It’s not the best mini ever but it was a fun test of unifying colours. (Every area of the figure incorporates the dark pink seen on her boots, including shadows of hair and skin.)
For some of us, the main issues holding us back in our pursuit of our hobby right now might be primarily mental. Perfectionism is one that several people mentioned in our discussions on Facebook. I think there are a few different varieties of that – avoiding doing anything because if you don’t try you can’t fail; spending a lot of time and/or stress on something trying to get it just right; starting off with the intention of trying freehand or another technique/effect but then wimping out because the figure is going well so far and you don’t want to ‘ruin’ it, and many, many other scripts that our brains recite that knock us off track.
Unfortunately there are not quick or simple solutions for this like swatching your paint or finding a storage container, or better time management. You’re going to have to spend some time trying to dig into your mind scripts and figure out root causes and ways to soothe or sidetrack your mind.
One suggestion I’ll make is to have a conversation with yourself about the alternatives and consequences. What’s the worst thing that happens if you try something and you fail? You don’t even have to show it to anyone else! You can paint over it, or strip it and paint over it. Or just call it done, figure out what you’ve learned, and move on to the next figure. And on the other side of the equation, what’s the worst thing that happens if you keep not painting at all? You’re just as guaranteed not to succeed as you are not to fail if you don’t do anything. It’s also a great way to make sure you never learn anything and never improve at all. And most of all, it’s a way to deprive yourself of the enjoyment you get from painting.
Along those lines, it might also be helpful to figure out what you enjoy about the process of painting miniatures. What do you get out of it apart from the figure at the end? Make sure to include those things regularly in your painting process. If you need to, write the list of benefits down so that when you start roadblocking yourself, you can remind yourself that it doesn’t matter if what you paint ‘sucks’, you will still have gotten to relax/play with colour/whatever your personal joys of painting are.
Consider adopting the goal of ‘finished not perfect’, at least for a while. Most of the time it’s better to finish something that’s just good or okay or even not amazing than it is to never complete something that might be awesome. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes just from completing a project, and never finishing things can be very discouraging. We don’t only learn from striving for perfection. In fact if you’re working on a particular skill, you are likely to learn more by challenging yourself to work on it to a competent level repeatedly rather than trying to render it perfectly once. You’ll gain experience using it on different shaped surfaces, with different colours, for different moods, etc. I recommend following the artist page of Jessica Bathory if you want a great example of someone who practices finished not perfect, and who has also forged ahead with her own style of painting miniatures when she found attempts to conform to the more generally practiced styles frustrating.
A far as ‘ruining’ a figure that is going well, which was certainly a fear of mine for many years, and one that held me back considerably… Getting something that looks great can be a fluke, but if you’re really learning, success starts to become repeatable. One of my big fears was freehand. Looking back at it, I had reached the point where I was pretty competent at blending. So if my freehand sucked and I had to paint the blends back over the cloak, I would be able to paint it back to pretty much the same standard. So it was silly of me to be afraid to do that.
I was also over concerned about ‘wasting time’ in this same time period. I was (and still am, really) a pretty slow painter. So the idea of having to repaint that cloak from a time point of view was not appealing. Looking back, that also seems sort of silly. Yeah, sometimes I was on a deadline to enter a contest or for some other reason. But overall, I think I would have learned more, and more quickly, if I had paid the price in time of taking risks and failing. I think I would also have learned a lot more if I’d done more speed painting or half-assed areas that weren’t the focus of that figure. Being super persnickety and perfectionist about figure painting has had some benefits, but there are things definitely have regrets about, and I know I’ve held myself back in several ways.
I’ve got a blog post about this Victorian Lady, who had been sitting on my desk for upwards of three years before I put brush to her again earlier this year. She ended up being a great example of what more and less contrast look like. I’ve since repainted her handbag. She’s still not quite done, but largely this is because I have four of these Victorians that are all on similar bases so I figure it’ll be quicker and easier to paint all the bases at once. I might give up on this notion just to get the three that are almost done to be truly done. (Blog post on this figure.)
If you paint because you’re trying to fill your table (particularly on a deadline), paint for commission, or constantly paint to enter contests, chances are good you’ve experienced burnout. You’ll reach a point where you drag your feet and avoid sitting down to do hobby stuff because it feels like all of it is just work and you’re just plain tired of it. Sometimes taking a break and not painting is the correct answer. But if painting is something you love and you don’t want to stop forever, try to reconnect with what it is about it that you love. Sometimes just shaking things up is enough – painting something just for you or a friend, painting a different subject matter/scale/colour than you usually do just because you want to, not because you have to.
If you’ve been suffering with burnout for a while or find that too often your painting sessions are mired in negative feelings, it might take a little more work. You’ll have to do some detective work to reconstruct or rediscover things you find fun about the process and develop ways to fit those into doing your work. Some of the tips in the next section might also be helpful for that. You might also do some work to identify which aspects are most stressful and if there are ways you can ameliorate those.
Roadblock: Boredom and/or Discomfort
Sometimes the problem isn’t getting yourself into the painting chair, it’s keeping yourself there. It’s all too easy to take a five minute break to check Facebook that turns into an hour. Or get up for a drink and forget to go sit back down. As fun as painting miniatures can be, there are likely to be parts of the process you find tedious, like painting basecoats or cleaning mouldlines.
My first tip is to minimize discomfort. For years I painted on a chair with no back. I lean forward to paint, so why not just use the broken chair instead of wasting money on a new one? Because yeah, I lean forward to do most of my painting, but it’s also good to be able to lean back to take a break and generally shift position. My back was a lot happier once my husband forced me to buy a better chair. Areas in a similar vein are a desk at a good height for you, good lighting, magnification if you need it, or an insulated cup to keep a drink cold/hot. Spend some time thinking about simple tools and practices that could make your painting sessions easier and more comfortable so that simple discomfort isn’t getting in your way.
I’ll be honest – this is not the same figure as in the photo. I painted this one years ago. The one in my New Year’s photo was from a class on painting in monochrome. And for subsequent sessions of that class, I think it’s useful to have a WIP figure to show various stages of work, so I don’t really plan on finishing the other.
The second issue I would have is that many painting tasks do not really occupy my mind that much, so I would get bored. And then I’d notice how much my back hurt on my bad chair, and then I’d definitely not want to paint for too long. My painting area was in a different room than my computer. Once tablets became a thing and I got one, that was a whole new world for me. I could put TV shows or YouTube videos on in the background! I could listen to audiobooks! Likely you’re already doing something like that, but you can take it one step further and use something like that as a lure to get you into your paint chair. Have a TV series or an audiobook that you only consume while you’re painting, and make it something really engaging. Then even if you aren’t excited to sit down and paint, you might head for your chair because you are excited to watch the next episode of your show to find out what happens.
Many of us are introverts who are happy to enjoy our peaceful alone time painting and listening to audiobooks. But not every geek and painter is, and even introverts need some human contact sometimes. Sharing our hobby frustrations and triumphs, having people to ask for opinions, those are very helpful things. For some it may be enough to visit hobby forums or discussion groups online, or to form a small critique circle with some friends in email or message. Others might benefit by having friends to paint with. There are people who use technology like Twitch, Discord and other chat channels to virtually gather to paint with others. Check the Hobby Hangout group linked above for people who do this, or ask on your favourite forums or groups if people have suggestions for how to meet up with others to paint. I know a lot of pro painters and sculptors who ‘get together’ with other friends and colleagues via digital applications like this to keep their workdays from being so lonely.
I hope you’ve found some of these suggestions helpful! If you’re running into different roadblocks or you’ve been successful with other strategies, I hope you’ll share in the comments so others can benefit from them. Thanks for reading!
Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post
Tillie the Fighter Pilot by Bombshell Miniatures
Victorian Lady (metal) by Reaper Miniatures
Victorian Lady (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures
Female Mage by Dark Sword Miniatures
Noir Occult Detective (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures
Noir Occult Detective (metal) by Reaper Miniatures