Hobby Activities for Tough Times

We all have periods of time where we can’t focus on our hobby the way we’d like. We want to sit down and paint, but we lack big blocks of time, we lack space, or we lack the mental energy. (If you’re in this situation, please be kind to yourself!) However, not being to sit and paint for hours at a time doesn’t mean we can’t do something hobby related!

There are a lot of activities that are very useful to our hobby. Some of these may be things we’ve thought about doing, but we tend to put them off in normal times in favour of working on painting projects. Others might be helpful tasks we hadn’t thought of before. None of these are busy work. They are all activities that will support or improve our hobby efforts whenever we get back to those.

In this article I’ve made a list of some of these tasks. Some of these may seem like a big project to you, and they would be if you sat down to try to complete the entire task at once. Instead, try to think of these as tasks that can easily be broken up into smaller chunks of time. Activities you can easily start and stop that don’t take a lot of preparation or materials to do.

Box kit2 crA small organizer bin, old shoebox, plastic food container – there are lots of storage/transport options to create a project kit.

With a little thought, these can also be compact activities in terms of space. If space is an issue for you right now, you might find it helpful to put together a small bin or tray with the tools you need for just that task. Even a large box lid could work, though a plastic bin or wood tray is longer lasting and more water resistant if you have something like that available to use. Something that you can quickly pack up and put on top of a bookshelf or under a bed when you need to stop working for the day. If your task requires water, a watertight water holder with a lid like a mason jar can help with quick setup/cleanup. Use poster tack to attach brush handles to the side of your container so your brush bristles won’t get smushed when moving or storing your kit.

If time is a bigger problem for you, consider splitting up portions of your task into separate chunks of time. You could do some set up while you’re waiting on stuff while cooking, paint for a while later in the evening, and then clean up after painting while you’re getting ready for bed.

In general, try to identify the specific issues that are preventing you from being able to sit down and work. Then think about those and see if you can come up with creative solutions to help make these much smaller obstacles. Sometimes the biggest block is the way we think about and approach our activities. A session of hobby-related activity doesn’t have to look one particular way to be fun and/or productive. I have a previous article with additional suggestions for addressing time and space obstacles to hobby fun.

But now on to the list of activity ideas!

Paint Maintenance

I have a detailed article about how to maintain your paint. When I wrote the article I did paint maintenance on dozens of paint bottles over a few days time. That was a big project! But it is also possible to approach this as a much smaller project. Just work on five or ten bottles at a time. Put together a little kit of the tools you need in a bag or small box to make it easier to work in small chunks. Then once you’re ready to dive back into intensive hobby projects, your paints will be ready and waiting. This is a task that will save you money and frustration in the long run!

Paint maint kit crA kit of tools for paint maintenance a few bottles at a time. You can store the stirrers on a plastic lid/dish and reuse them once the paint has dried out.

Swatch your Paints

Swatching your paints means to put some paint out on paper or another surface to create a reference of your paint colours. Paint can appear a different colour when it is wet than when it is dry, so swatches allow you to reference the actual dried colour of the paint when making choices about what colour to use. There are a variety of methods for painting swatches that can provide you with additional reference information about your paint – how opaque or transparent a colour is, or what the colour looks like when thinned down for a wash or glaze. (Darker colours often look very different thinned down with water than they do when used full strength, so this is useful information.) 

Swatches cwPaint swatched onto index cards.

I’m hoping to make an article and/or video about the various methods for doing swatches soon. You may already have thought that you would like to swatch your colours but just not gotten around to doing it. (Guilty!) Now is a perfect time! As with paint maintenance, this is a task you can split up and work on just a few bottles at a time.

Goblin paintsPaints swatched on watercolour paper over black pen ink to more easily see level of transparency/opacity. From my Goblins project.

At a minimum, I recommend putting a dab of paint on the top of the cap/lid so you can reference the colour in each of your paint bottles. If there’s any chance you’ll be bringing your paints to conventions or other group painting activities, this is also a good time to write your initials on the labels or the bottoms of the bottles so you can easily identify your paints in a communal painting situation. 

Swatch regular crSwatches on bottle tops, initials on bottoms of bottles.

To swatch washes on the bottle, paint a section of the cap with white brush-on primer. Once it has dried apply the wash over that. If your washes are in containers with smooth lids, you could dab on some texture paste, prime or paint it white, and then apply the wash over that. (Assuming you have texture pastes on hand for use on bases, as many of us do.)

Swatch wash crWashes swatched on primer applied on bottle lids.


Do you have a big box of unassembled Bones Kickstarter minis? Or modular figures from a game or other source? Make a mini kit for assembly and work on that for 10-15 minutes at a time when you get a chance. Grab a small box, toss a few of the figures, some glue, some snips and anything else you might need, and you can turn this into a task that is easy to pick up and put down. I did this with my big box of unassembled Bones figures earlier this year when I was having trouble focusing on painting. Now I have a lot more options for figures to use for demos, games, and or paint colour scheme tests.

I enthusiastically recommend the exact glue in the picture below for your superglue projects.

Glue crRoll dem bones. In some glue. And then put them together.

Check your Brushes

If you’re relatively new to the hobby or have just a few brushes, you can skip over this one. Some of us end up with a lot of brushes. And our hobby lives might be easier if we took the time to weed through those and keep only the ones we truly like and use.

Make some sample strokes to be sure that your nice brushes still have good points. If they don’t, you can cut the bristles down shorter to create brushes you can use for stippling or drybrushing.

Do you have brushes that the ferrule has detached from? You can glue the ferrules back on. I suspect epoxy glue will last longer than superglue, but either gives you a bit more use out of the brush.

Brushes crIn my defence, many of these are brushes to provide in classes and paint and takes and working on learn to paint kits…

Perhaps you have a few brushes with cracked lacquer on the handle that are uncomfortable to use. You could sand down cracked lacquer and/or coat it with gloss sealer to make the handles smoother and nicer to use.

Brushes with severely damaged and worn bristles can become mixing brushes. I try to mix paint with an old crappy brush I don’t care about to extend the lifespan of my nice brushes. Other jobs for worn brushes we no longer love as well are applying texture pastes, white glue, painting rough surfaces on terrain, etc. 

Even completely worn out brushes can have a second life. Some of the sculptors I know pull out the bristle heads and reshape the metal ferrules to make texture stamps. They also use the wood to make handles for custom shaped metal tools.

However, don’t feel like you need to keep every brush if you have some you just don’t like and don’t want to repurpose. Do not hesitate to just throw out some brushes you don’t like to remove clutter and confusion from your hobby space. Summon your inner Marie Kondo!

Brushes2 crIt’s clearly time for me to play the paint brush version of marry, kiss, or kill.

One of my current dilemmas is debating how to visually organize my brushes. Once my main working brushes wear out for fine painting, they still have years of life doing other tasks in them. But since the handles all look the same it can be difficult to identify which brush is for what! I’ve tried marking them with tape, but it often falls off or makes the handle sticky. I’m thinking about using dabs of particular colour paints on the ends of the handles. Ideas are welcome!

Tidy Up

Those of us who are lucky enough to have dedicated hobby spaces tend to let those spaces get cluttered and disorganized while we’re in the creative throes of a project. Those times when we don’t have a lot of time and energy for projects are great opportunities to spend 10-15 minutes here and there tidying up. Then when you come to a more creative time in your life, you and your space will be ready.

Sort and Declutter

If your workspace is tidy, what about your storage areas for all your hobby tools and materials? There are lots of other possibilities for organizational activities that you can do in short chunks of time that will help your hobby interests in the long run, though some of these might take more space than others.

Another thing I did earlier in the year was to go through all the bases in my collection. With one thing and another I’ve ended up with a LOT of bases. Eventually I’ll use a lot of them, but I don’t need to have 100 30mm round bases immediately accessible to my work area. I organized my bases so I have 5-15 of each given shape and size sorted into baggies/containers accessible in my day to day painting area, and packed the rest up to store in a box in the basement.

Organize bases crI used a photo organizer box from the craft store to organize my bases.

You may have other supplies of a similar nature. Do you need giant tubs of gravel and static grass accessible at all times? If you make a lot of terrain, you probably do. If you use only small amounts of these, it might make your hobby area more efficient to make small containers of each variety and store the larger containers somewhere else.

Catalog Miniatures and/or Paint

Have you ever bought the same figure or paint colour twice without realizing? Don’t feel bad, most of us have. We have a lot of little things to keep track of!

Periodically I’ll see a discussion on forums/Facebook/Discord about cataloging figures or paints. I think a lot of us have good intentions to do something like that, and then never get around to it. We’d rather be painting! Cataloguing your figures and/or paints is a great activity to do in short chunks of time and when you don’t have the time or energy to work on painting projects.

Jan antonin kolar lRoX0shwjUQ unsplashPhoto by Jan Antonin Kolar from Unsplash.

There are cataloging apps available. Some even allow you to scan UPC codes to auto-add products. Custom made spreadsheets are another option. There’s no ideal solution that will work for everyone. It’s more a question of figuring out what information you would find useful to catalog and which method of doing that works best for you.

This is something I don’t personally do, so I don’t have a lot of links and advice for, but you can get a lot of ideas by starting a topic in your favourite miniature discussion group. For a starting point, here’s a thread on paint tracking apps.

It sucks when you’re in a position of not being able to paint for long chunks of time. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do something productive that supports your hobby. I’d love to hear other ideas you might have for hobby related activities we can do when time, space, and energy are in short supply!