Monday, February 6, 2012

That 'Crazy' thing you do...

So recently I was talking to a long term friend who came over for a coffee. She’d interrupted me from painting but I’m always happy to stop for coffee (All Hail Coffee!). Anyway, it was during our chat that she asked me, quite out of the blue, “Why do you paint those crazy things?”  It was an innocently asked question, there was no malice behind it, she was an outsider looking in without understanding, but as a good friend she was interested in why I do what I do...

It also got me thinking: why do I paint miniatures for a game I don’t play? For that matter why does anyone paint them, even if they do play the game? I considered giving the standard answer to a question which requires thought “Don’t know, just do”, but I realised this was an opportunity for me, a relative beginner to the hobby, to look a little deeper into the reasons and told her I’d get back to her. Which probably just bugged her, but that’s another story all-together. So bear with me as I get a touch philosophical.

a) For the Love of the Game.
I figured I’d start with the most basic reason, please note I said basic; not simple, because doing what we love encompasses a lot, and while basic in theory is quite hard to explain.

The 40k universe encompasses so very much...

“For the love of the game” is the concept that we do something, often difficult and potentially unrewarding for reasons outside of gain. What this means when we talk about painting is that we paint because we must, we paint because we love the hobby. The value of painting is intrinsic to the hobby. But does this answer the question of why we paint? Well yes and no. Mostly no. Dammit! So much for an easy answer.

From a personal standpoint I fell in love with the universe in which Warhammer 40k exists. There was a sense of darkness and brutality, coupled with strength of will which appealed to me at the time. The painting started as a secondary concern of this love, and the desire to be a part of the universe. This love persists, although changed somewhat, and is probably the reason I collect miniatures to paint despite never actually playing a game of 40k in over five years of being in the hobby, and the monetary shock of engaging in the hobby.

Simply put engaging in the hobby means painting something, whether you do as little as possible or you aspire to make a master-class army if you’re part of the hobby you paint, but is this enough? Beyond the intrinsic value of painting for its own sake there are a whole host of other reasons, some sound in mind, others not so sound (See Downright crazy), but at the end of the day they’re all valid reasons, so let’s have a look.

b) Dice Gods
Let’s jump right into a crazy one, but a crazy one which I do believe in. (What? I never said I was sane! Don’t look at me like that…)

You know its true...
         Play the game for any length of time, or hang out with those who do, and inevitably you’ll hear the phrase ‘Dice-Gods’. The oft-annoying, seldom loved beings of fickle fate who control the fortune and, and continued existence of your army. The concept of the ‘Dice-Gods’ is usually an amusing one to those who don’t play, usually spouses, partners, friends or flatmates, but any gamer will tell you they exist and it’s even money they’ll have a story when the ’Dice-Gods’ either cursed or blessed them.

I am no different. I won’t bore you with the details, but the thing about the ‘Dice-Gods’ is that they love a fully painted army. This isn’t to say you gain their favour without end, but during battles between the painted and unpainted the dice will often love the painted force more than the unpainted… Coincidence? I think not…

c) An Army to call your Own
When you paint a miniature you make it yours. The finished miniature reflects your skill, your time spent, and your investment. It’s yours. This is magnified in scope when you paint a unit or an army. When you’re done they belong together, and it shows. An unpainted miniature, unit or army shows the lack of concern you have for your force; No life, no finish. This doesn’t mean you have to be able to paint like a super-star. Just to your abilities.

Mud Dog's Imperial Guard
We all paint things differently. This is based on the level of our skill, the paints used, the techniques known, our experience, what we’re painting and even our desire to improve all go into blend. This means if we sat down four of us to paint a Blood Angel Terminator Captain we’d all end up with a different look and feel. Indeed at the end the only thing similar might be the colour red and don’t even get me started on the different types of red a blood angel can be!

For a lot of people, painting is the most horrible part of the hobby. It’s time consuming, usually done solo, so there’s no social interaction, often results in frustration yet it’s the time when you connect with what you’re painting. It’s only when we mix our labour with a miniature, when we put brush to figure that a connection happens, and this connection is important.

If you think I’m wrong go get one of your painted miniatures. Put it on your desk, look at it for a few seconds, and think about the time you invested in it. Ok, now smash it… I imagine even reading that was hard. Let alone actually doing it. (Anyone who actually just smashed one of their painted miniatures needs to stop breathing now)

d) Personal Improvement
The desire to improve is a valid reason to paint something. We’re touching back on intrinsic value here, but the concept of self-improvement is important to address. Some days a desire to improve is the only reason I can think of to pick up a brush. Whether you’re like me and paint a single miniature at a time or you’re a batch painting dip-master the desire to improve upon the paintjobs that came before is something we should all have.

My First Ever Mini (2008)
Last Year (2011)

Getting better at something you like is never a waste of time, regardless of the type of painter you are. A batch painter might aim to improve the speed at which they work while maintaining a level throughout their army. A single miniature painter might have a goal regarding specific techniques they want to perfect.

When I first started I wanted to get some squads together quickly and tried a few techniques towards that end. I was not happy with the outcome and after a few online discussions I got some advice which I still use today: “Be fast at painting or be good at painting”. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the two are exclusive to each other, I’ve seen amazing stuff in hours what would take me days. But for me, I can’t have it both ways and I usually fail when I try. But that’s what personal improvement is for; to get better.

e) But is it Art?
Part of the desire to improve and be one of those amazing painters is the question of whether what we paint could ever be considered art. As I primarily paint rather than play I took a look at Art as a reason to paint.

Art? Hell yes!
(Courtesy Picster, CMoN)
Art? Ummm...

Some people, usually artists, argue that as for the most part all we do is paint things other people have designed and sculpted, in mass no less, then all we can ever hope to achieve is an atheistically pleasing miniature, but it is something devoid of actual ‘art’ or even artistic intent.

Personally I don’t buy the argument. I understand it, but I do not buy it. Also I don’t believe all painted miniatures can be called art. But I believe the possibility for it to be art is within all miniatures it depends on the painter. Bottom line; if a crushed can made from marble is art then a golden daemon winning entry is also art.

So at the end of the day art is a reason to paint. If you can paint well enough to enter into Golden Daemon and not be laughed at then you’re an artist whose medium of choice are miniatures. If I ever get good to enter a Golden Daemon competition I’ll have accomplished one of my goals in life. If I don’t well I’m going to try my damned best, and at the end of the day that’s all you can do.

f) Being paid to paint?
This is tricky one. If you are good enough to get continual work painting miniatures for money then I guess it’s a valid reason to paint them. However no-one starts out good enough to accept commissions to paint. Most commission team members are long time hobbyists who have put in a lot of time and effort to perfect their skills, both in time management and their abilities. It’s a kind of catch 22. It is a valid reason to paint, but only if you’re good enough, and if you’re good enough to accept commissions then you know the reasons to paint and have likely explored them all yourself at one time or another…

I’m sure there are other reasons to paint out there, ones I’ve completely over-looked, but for me personally all my motivations to paint are basically wrapped up in what I’ve written about here. Except being paid to paint. I don’t know if I could ever accept commissions for painting, just seems wrong. I hope this answers the questions for my friend…


  1. I've seen fate favor the unpainted force as well (sometimes). However, it's a neat feeling when you plonk down your army on the table, and every model in it is painted up to the same standard.

    My only advice is keep plugging away, eventually you'll have a force that looks amazing. A local gamer has a great looking Tau army, but he's been working on it for a long while, but, its a nice force, pretty strong on the table as well.

    1. Thanks Starbomber. I agree the dice gods are fickle with their love, even to a painted force. And you're right a uniformly painted force just looks badass compared to one that isnt painted at all :D

  2. This is a great summary of why went spend so many hours with our little men... great post.

    1. Thanks Dave. Glad you liked it, I'm thinking I might have a ramble about painting things more often. They seem to be liked enough :)