New Year, Now What?

It’s been a weird couple of years, huh? Usually I write a New Year’s Day post with suggestions for how to make positive hobby resolutions or improvements. I don’t know how you feel on this first day. I don’t even know how I feel, really.

So this year I’m going to throw out some links to my previous posts and you can choose which of them you would find most helpful.

Stressed, sick, overwhelmed?
Be kind to yourself. If you can pursue your hobby and it helps, go for it! If you need to take stuff off of your plate right now, let go of some of the hobby expectations you have for yourself for a while.

Pexels polina tankilevitch 7690046 cropPhoto by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.

Revved up to resolve?
Make resolutions for your behaviour, not for specific results. Resolve to paint for an hour every other day rather than finish three minis a week, for example.

Resolved, but finding that time, space, or other roadblocks are getting in your way?
I have some tips for dealing with time and space constraints, as well as some other common roadblocks.

Tim mossholder 3I3WVoA Gks unsplash cropPhoto by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

Want a hot tip for how to be both a better and happier painter this year?
Make friends with failure.

I wish I could have come up with a pithy, helpful post for you today, but I’m okay with the fact that I failed. I am going to keep plugging away on content the rest of the year that I hope my fellow hobbyists will find useful and helpful.

But as I take down last year’s calendar and hang up the new, there is one thing I definitely want to take time to say – thank you! Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting and making suggestions. Thank you for your enthusiasm for our hobby that helps reignite my enthusiasm. And a very special thank you to all of the Patrons who support my Patreon! They make it possible for me to keep putting out in-depth content that I can make freely available to all.

Courtney hedger t48eHCSCnds unsplash cropPhoto by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash.

The Resolution We Need

Patreon supporters receive a PDF copy with high res photos!

Happy New Year! It has been my practice for the past few years to write something on the topic of hobby resolutions at this time of year. Even in ordinary times I like to keep that encouraging and realistic. I don’t think over-ambitious resolutions help most people in the long run.

Although we have turned the page to a new year, these are still not ordinary times. The challenges of 2020 follow us into 2021. Many of us are struggling with issues of money, space, time, and/or energy that are affecting our ability to take part in or enjoy our hobby in the same way we have in the past.

By jack muldoonFlat painted by Jack Muldoon from photo taken at the AMFS Show in 2018.

If you are struggling with your hobby enjoyment, I would like to make this suggestion for a New Year’s Hobby Resolution:



Be kind to yourself. Do what you need to do right now, and don’t beat yourself up about what you’re not doing.

(If you are someone who is coping with the challenges of these times by throwing yourself into your hobbies and would like ideas for more active hobby resolutions, you might enjoy my past New Year’s articles. One discusses the importance of setting goals based on behaviour rather than result, one talks about ways to deal with obstacles like space and time, and last year’s discusses why you should make friends with failure.)

If you aren’t able to paint miniatures because you don’t have the time, the space, the money, and/or the energy, try to make peace with that. It does not help to beat yourself up for not being able to do something you don’t have the ability to do right now.

Yes, sometimes we all need to give ourselves a little kick in the rear for motivation. But if you’ve been facing extra challenges for months, and expect those to continue for months more to come, you need to look at your life circumstances both on a personal level and on an overall level to see whether it’s reasonable to ask more of yourself right now. It might be the case that what you really need to give yourself is one less to-do item, one less pressure weighing you down. If you’re barely coping with some of the basic tasks of your life, it’s pretty reasonable to put a hobby on the back burner, however beloved it is.

It is also perfectly reasonable to feel sorrowful, or angry, or annoyed about not being able to do something you love. But you need to try to make a distinction between how you feel about not being able to do the activity versus how you feel about yourself for not doing the activity. Feeling guilty or getting mad at yourself isn’t going to help. (And while I do think it helps to express sadness and frustration about unhappy circumstances, constantly dwelling on things is also probably not helpful to either your peace of mind nor your ability to try to change the circumstances.)

If you are in this position, you are not alone! You may feel alone. I know that I often do. Sometimes it seems like everyone I know is furiously painting, or baking, or decluttering their house, or doing a hundred other productive things with all the ‘extra’ time we have from not being able to spend much time with friends and family. I need to remind myself that what I see of people’s lives on social media is not the whole picture. I try to take note of the fact that some people aren’t sharing much at all of what’s going on with them, so I’m not really seeing what ‘everyone’ is doing these days. After all, I’m not exactly rushing to Facebook to share photos of the piles of laundry I haven’t folded in literal months! Many of the people you don’t hear much from may be struggling a lot more than you might think.

IMG 0358My dining room is full of unfolded laundry and unplayed board games. And a random pencil sharpener.

Just a note about me commenting on struggles in the painting hobby when I have been painting throughout the year and posting pics and write-ups on what I paint. I still call it ‘the hobby’, but painting miniatures isn’t really my hobby at this point, it’s my job. It’s definitely been a struggle, too. I just don’t have the focus and energy to do some kinds of painting. The figure I’m painting right now is the exact opposite of what I feel currently feel capable of or interested in doing. Pushing myself to sit down and work on it feels like a Herculean struggle. It sometimes takes me literal hours to get my butt in the chair and start working. And then it’s another kind of struggle to stay there and keep working. I’ve had days where it’s been really tough just to get out of bed because I know that is what I have to work on that day, and I just don’t want to do it at all.

But I also understand the struggle of not mustering the energy to do a hobby that you love. One of my hobbies is playing board games. My husband and I own hundreds of them. In the times BC (Before COVID-19), we attended board gaming conventions and weekly game nights. We’ve been play-testers on games in development, and written articles published in national magazines. It’s a long established hobby. I’ve played a dozen game sessions since March. We’ve had more Kickstarter games delivered in the past few months than we’ve had evenings actually playing games. And I feel guilty about that all the time. How is it that I live with a fellow fan, own lots of games, and have all this ‘extra’ time, and yet I am not actually playing any games!? So if those are the sorts of feelings you have about not painting (enough) miniatures this past year, trust me, I do understand!

If you think doing some miniature painting would bring you joy, and you have the time and space for it to be feasible, try this instead of pummelling yourself with guilty feelings. Schedule it. Schedule a session of painting for an hour or two next week. Put it in your calendar or whatever you do to keep track of meetings and appointments. Do your best to fulfill that commitment to yourself. Think of that appointment with yourself as just as important as a doctor’s appointment or meeting scheduled with your boss. You and your goals are worth keeping an appointment with!

Estee janssens aQfhbxailCs unsplashI am suggesting that you literally schedule it in your datebook or phone. (Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash.)

When you sit down to paint, what should you work on? I suggest you pick a simple, low stress project, or something you’re super excited to get to, whichever approach you’d find most motivating and least intimidating. If it would help motivate you to keep the appointment or make it more fun, find out if a hobby friend will partner up with you and hang out on FaceTime/Skype/Discord/whatever. If you sit down to paint and you just can’t focus, try working on assembling figures, or priming, or another related activity. (I have an article of suggestions for useful non-painting hobby activities.) And if you still can’t focus and don’t want to be there, stop and go do something else. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Ask yourself to try, and as long as you try, you’ve fulfilled the commitment. Whether you end up working for five minutes or five hours, when you’re done make another appointment with yourself for your next session.

I hope that we’ll be back to normal soon. Back to normal life, and back to our normal geeky pursuits of gathering to play games and attend conventions. But in the meantime, please try to be kind to yourself.

Priscilla du preez k7KnkYqh5Zo unsplash(Photo by Priscilla du Preez from Unsplash.)

Thank you!

I also want to take this opportunity to say thank to all of you reading for your support. It’s been a tough year for me, and when I’m having trouble summoning the enthusiasm to write or do all the work of creating and editing images, it is motivating to know that there are people who find what I have to say interesting and helpful.

And an extra special thanks to the members of my Patreon! I appreciate the support more than I can say. I also appreciate that feeling accountable to all of you is a good kick in the rear if I’m really having trouble summoning motivation!

I Want You to Fail

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

Last year I posted some suggestions for hobby resolutions, including tips for dealing with time and space issues, and also talked about how to make more successful resolutions. (Spoiler alert: concentrate on your behaviour, not end results.)

This year the hobby resolution that I’m suggesting to you is: FAIL MORE

26 Recipes That LOOKED Good Ended Epic Fail Featured

Stay with me a minute here!

Many years ago I went skating at the roller rink and took a good tumble. A man paused by me for a moment and suggested that I should learn how to fall. At the time and for some years after that struck me as such a crazy thing to say. Falling is something you don’t plan, it’s literally an accident. What kind of crazy advice is learn to do it well!? 35 years later, I think I’m finally starting to understand him, at least on a metaphorical level.

I was never more than a barely competent skater, on the roller rink or the ice. I was too afraid of falling. I preferred to play it safe rather than push myself past my comfort level and risk injury. I have often been just as afraid, and just as held back, by fear of emotional injury. Fear of looking foolish hampered me in learning a second language. Fear definitely held back my progress in learning to paint miniatures. As I’ve been working on my journey to learn traditional art forms these past few years, I’m trying to have a different relationship with failure. Accepting failure as part of the process has helped me both in the growth of my skills, but also in what artistic endeavours can contribute to my emotional and mental health.

When you are learning how to do something, when you are striving to get better at something, you are going to fail. The only way not to fail is to never try. That is also the only guaranteed method to never do or learn anything. If you read up on successful people, you’ll see that an awful lot of them talk about how failure is at the root of their success. A lot of teachers and experts on learning tell us that failure is a far better learning tool than immediate success.

Difficulties When Doing Your Own Nails 2

So what I’m actually suggesting for your hobby resolution is: GET BETTER AT FAILING

Or as a mysterious wise man once told me, learn how to fall. If you try something that doesn’t work, or doesn’t quite turn out the way you planned, look at it as a learning opportunity. First, set it aside for a day or three and then come back to it with fresh eyes. It might not be as bad as you think. It might be worse. Either way, really look at it, and think about the process you used to get that result. Try to identify some specific reasons why it doesn’t work. “It’s ugly and I hate it” is just beating yourself up. “I can see brush strokes in paint I wanted to look smooth” or “The way I painted this wood texture doesn’t look natural” are starting points to figure out how to fix the issue or improve in future attempts. Then you can ask yourself some questions to start to make a roadmap for better success. What could you do differently next time to see fewer brushstrokes in your paint? What specific element(s) doesn’t look right about the wood?

Yeah, that may seem a little harder than trying to track down a skilled painter you admire and asking them to tell you how to fix things, or throwing something up on the internet and asking for suggestions. The thing is, a lot of what you’re going to get from that are just guesses. Absolutely it is valuable to study what other people do, to watch videos, and take classes, and ask others to give feedback on your work. But you are the biggest expert on you. You are the teacher you have the most access to. You know the process you use to paint. You know what tools you have at your disposal. You know your goals. Learning how to teach yourself more will get you further, faster, and happier than just about anything else I can think of.

Close enough

It’s advantageous to learn how to learn from your failures at any stage of your miniature painting journey, but at a certain point it becomes crucial. You reach a point where  it’s not about smooth blending or accurately applied texture strokes. It’s not about technique. It’s not about something someone else can easily explain to you in a five minute critique. It’s about applying colour, value, composition, and a lot of other much more complex and more nebulous ideas to your own work. I reached a point where I stagnated because I wasn’t sure what to work on to improve. I knew I wasn’t there, that there were still plenty of flaws in my work. I just hadn’t realized that I was at a stage where what I needed to do was learn how to analyze my work and come up with things to fix and try. Working to learn that has made me much more comfortable with my failures, and has rejuvenated my interest in and enjoyment of miniature painting.

Beating yourself up for failure is counter productive compared to turning failure into a learning experience, but it can be even more harmful than that. We are wired to avoid pain, be it physical or emotional. Fear of failure can keep you from even attempting something. This is as true of miniature painting as it is for skating, or speaking a foreign language, or any number of things. For many years I would often plan to include a freehand element on something I was painting. But then I’d get to the point where it was time to do the freehand, and I’d chicken out because I liked the how the blending looked or how the miniature was going overall. I’d already put so many hours in that I didn’t want to ‘waste time’ doing something that would likely fail and I’d have to redo. Instead I wasted literal years where I could have been building my brush control a lot more quickly as well as adding another tool to my repertoire. 

B7c51b4ee4657ad9f63535048235526e cookie monster cupcakes sheep cupcakes

If it gets bad enough, fear of the pain of failure can keep you from painting outright. After all, if you don’t do something, you can’t fail at it. But you also can’t succeed at it! Or get to enjoy the aspects of it that had you start doing that thing in the first place. 

I think it can help a lot to understand that many of the mistakes we make are at least in some part a result of how the human brain and eyes handle visual information, or are due to conflicts between how different areas of our brain process visual information. In many ways these mistakes are natural, and unavoidable for most people. I hope to talk about some of them in a series of posts in the next few months. In most cases just knowing what the issues are won’t provide an instant fix, but it will help you in making better attempts, and will hopefully help you be kinder to yourself when you fail.

It’s easy for me to say all these positive things about failure, but our culture has a very negative view of failure that many of us have internalized that is hard to fight against. When we fail to achieve the goal we set out with, when we don’t get enough likes and comments on the work we post, when we don’t get the award we aimed for in the contest, or even when we just plain don’t like how the miniature came out, it’s a pretty natural reaction to feel very negatively about that and blame ourselves. I don’t have an easy answer for that. I have some thoughts I’ll try to share over the next year, but you may also find it helpful to consult books or videos from the wider world at large on topics like dealing with failure or how to learn skills more successfully.

So to sum up, my resolution suggestion for you is: Accept that you will fail. Don’t beat yourself up for this inevitable failure. Learn how to use failure as a learning opportunity. 

Bad nmmMy first ‘serious’ attempt at non-metallic metal. It did not go well. I did not take that failure well.

This got a little longer than I expected, so I’ll share my personal experience with failure learning to paint miniatures versus failure in learning to do traditional art in a followup post in a few days.

Resolution Revolution

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

Tis the season for resolutions! As I mentioned in my last post, it’s a time of year when we tend to look back on what’s come before, and think about how to improve ourselves and our lives as we look ahead. But at the same time, January first as the beginning of a new year is just a made up date on a made up calendar. It’s not even tied to a particular solar or similar phenomenon. So if you don’t feel like reflecting or making changes right now, don’t! Goals for change are just as valid on a Tuesday night in August as they are on a Monday or January first. More of my most successful life changes have come on random Tuesday nights than from start of the year convictions.

Happy New Year photo by crazy nanaPhoto by Crazy Nana on Unsplash.

If you are in the mood to make some changes in your life, I think prioritizing your hobby and artistic pursuits is a very valid avenue to pursue. It’s also a rare area where we can resolve to do MORE rather than less. Instead of (or along with) eat less, spend less, work less, etc., consider resolving to paint more and share the hobby more. I have some suggestions for specific goals, but before I get to that I want to talk about a more general approach to resolutions and self-improvement goals.

We tend to concentrate on the end result when we make goals – lose X pounds/kilos, paint a mini a week, save $50 a month. It can seem sensible to focus on the ultimate goal of the action/change you’re undertaking. But with a lot of these, we don’t control enough factors to guarantee constant success in the end result. If you have a month where your car needs service and your sink explodes and it’s just plain impossible to find $50 to put into savings, you ‘fail’ at your goal, even though the events that occurred were beyond your control. Instead I recommend framing resolutions around the element you can control – your behaviour. If you make an eating plan and exercise schedule your goal and you follow those, you are successfully meeting your goal even if you don’t lose exactly the amount of weight that you think you should have. You are building healthy habits and also a healthier frame of mind.

On the hobby front, an example would be instead of resolving to paint X figures per week/month/year, resolve to paint for a certain amount of time each day/week/month. This gives you the flexibility to work on something more complex, experiment with new techniques, or take as long as you want to paint a high level diorama for a gift or contest. As long as you get your butt in your chair and paint, you are succeeding at meeting your goal. DaveKay suggested this in the comments on my last post, and says his productivity dramatically increased when he reframed his goal from an end result goal to an activity based goal.

I had a similar experience with working on traditional art. I was working on it in fits and starts, but was unfocused and often had days where I wouldn’t feel ‘inspired’ or I decided I was just too tired and it was easier to just go browse Facebook. Inspired by a ‘deer’ friend, Morihalda Silversage, I joined a challenged to do some kind of artwork every day for a month. I kept going after that initial month, and have now been doing art on a daily basis for over two years. I have missed only two days in that entire span. There have been plenty of days where I only manage a few minutes worth of sketching, and others where I’ve drawn or painted for hours. But I always do something. It’s been helpful in building discipline, and making me much more accepting of failure. There are a few nice paintings or drawings that have come out of it, but there is plenty of dreck. I’m still very proud of myself for doing it. The activity itself has merit, and the discipline of doing it has merit, and both those things would make it worthwhile even if nothing I had drawn or painted was worth the paper I did it on.

Marking days off a calendarIf you do make an activity based goal, it can be helpful to record the activity to confirm that you’re staying on track. This is how I know for a certainty that I’ve done art daily for the past 25 months and that I have missed only two days. I use an activity tracker chart in my bullet journal, but there are also lots of app options and different sorts of planners. Or you can go old school like in this picture. (Photo by rawpixel from Unsplash.)

With that out of the way, here are some suggestions for positive hobby goals for 2019.

Paint More!

You can get more done painting for 30 minutes a day than you will get done if you wait and wait for a day when you have a good few hours to sit down.

Watching videos and reading forums and Facebook tips is a great way to learn about new materials and techniques, but you will never really learn and improve until you sit down with some brushes and paint and practice.

Be More Daring!

Try something that scares you a little – a more advanced technique, a more complex colour scheme, a different genre of figure than your usual, or a fancy basing element or technique. This is a great way to mix things up when you feel in a rut. 

I’m not sure why, but a lot of us are scared to paint the ‘good’ figures in our collection until we can paint really well. We hesitate to try new things so we don’t ‘ruin’ what we’re working on. Maybe you don’t want to experiment on rare collector’s items, but a great many good quality figures are easily available at a reasonable price. Don’t punish yourself painting old lumps of lead or green army men – practice on high quality figures you like that stay in catalog, like figures from Reaper Miniatures or Dark Sword Miniatures. Also an acrylic paint job on a figure is easily added to, painted over completely, or stripped off if you want to adjust a paint job from the past or start over from scratch. Apart from conversions and the like, little we do in the hobby is irrevocable. You will learn more and more quickly by taking risks and failing than you will by only painting with the techniques and colours you feel are ‘safe’. Playing it too safe is one of my biggest regrets from the period of time when I was first learning to paint.

Enter a contest! Even if you feel you have no hope of winning, pushing yourself to paint at your highest quality can be a spur to try new things and get better at deadlines.

New Year's hobby photoI’ve been sharing this photo since New Years 2017 on my Facebook artist page. Next post I’ll give an update on where I am with the figures in the photo.

Share Your Hobby More!

Miniature painting can be a solitary activity. That’s one of its strengths, but it can also make it easy to lose enthusiasm. Connecting with other fans helps rebuild your excitement, and is a great way to learn and contribute.

Volunteer for miniature related events or companies at a convention. Convention event staff and miniature companies can always use more help running games, doing demos, with painting activities, and in lots of other ways. This is just as true, or more so, for small local conventions as it is for big national ones. 

Talk to your local hobby store about doing a demo or starting a regular painters’ meet up night.

Offer feedback to your fellow painters on Facebook groups, site forums, CMON, etc. Honest critique is hard to come by and very valuable. There are always new people coming into the hobby with questions about brushes, paints, all kinds of stuff that you might have answers to.

Have More Fun with Your Hobby!

It’s good to push yourself to learn more and do more, but it’s also important to remember what you find fun about this hobby and make sure you do that on a regular basis. Don’t get trapped in a cycle of perfectionism or escalating deadlines. 

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for your visits to this blog and interest in my thoughts. I appreciate it more than I can express. 

In my next post I’m hoping to discuss some specific strategies for trying to paint more in the coming year, and ideas for how to address some roadblocks that might prevent someone from being able to do that. I would love to hear more about what has held you back from achieving your hobby goals, and strategies you’ve tried in the comments. This is definitely an area where we can all pool information and help each other!

Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post

Previous post with comment by DaveKay with more on how he improved his productivity – https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/12/21/looking-behind-planning-ahead/
Morihalda Silversage’s Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/Morihalda/
Unsplash photo resource – https://unsplash.com/
Tillie the Fighter Pilot by Bombshell Miniatures – http://store.bombshellminis.com/10024-tillie-fighter-pilot/
Victorian Lady (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – https://www.reapermini.com/search/victorian/latest/50327
Victorian Lady (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – https://www.reapermini.com/search/victorian/latest/80068
Female Mage by Dark Sword Miniatures – https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/visions-in-fantasy/female-mage.html
Noir Occult Detective (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – https://www.reapermini.com/search/occult%20detective/latest/91013
Noir Occult Detective (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – https://www.reapermini.com/search/occult%20detective/latest/59039