For several years now, I’ve struggled when it came to miniature painting. I found it harder and harder to motivate myself, and it seemed that too many of my painting sessions were ending in frustration. Don’t get me wrong, I was still pleased with a lot of my output, but I just wasn’t enjoying it as much as I knew was possible.
The problem was, I couldn’t figure out why.
The last time this happened, it was because I needed glasses, but I didn’t believe there was any physical issue this time around. So, I pondered. I do a lot of pondering. It’s practically a hobby in itself. I thought back to the times when I was happiest painting miniatures.
Eventually, I discovered the problem. I owned too many unpainted miniatures.
In this hobby we have an unfortunate tendency to glorify our hoard. Sure, we laugh it off, with jokes about ‘The Lead Mountain’ or the ‘Shelf of Shame (or Opportunity!)’, and yet we also revel in it, like Smaug on his pile of gold. We post photographs on social media, showing off our shelf that has more unopened boxes of miniatures than the local gaming store. We back Kickstarters that contain more miniatures than it is possible to paint before we die. And then we back another one. We spend more time lusting after the new and shiny than we do concentrating on and appreciating the miniature in our hands…
And that, I realized, was the root of the problem. I wasn’t concentrating on the miniature in my hands. Every time I picked up a miniature to paint, I would feel the weight of all of the unpainted ones behind it. I would paint fast, so I could get this miniature done and move onto the next one. I wasn’t an artist enjoying his craft; I was a human treadmill attempting to pump out painted miniatures as fast as I could. I wasn’t even painting the miniatures so I could play with them anymore. I was painting to remove the weight.
In my pondering, I realized that I have been happiest painting miniatures when I had the least miniatures to paint. If I only owned a handful, then I would take my time on each one. I would savour them, doing my best to paint each one to my highest standard. When I finished, I would feel proud of my work, instead of relieved to tick another one off the list.
So I took drastic action. I counted the number of unpainted miniatures I owned. It was many hundreds. I then chose the 50 I most wanted to paint. I didn’t worry about what game they were from, what I would use them for, or even how much they cost. The only criteria was how much I desired to sit and paint them. Then I got rid of the rest of them. Sold or given away.
I’ve come up with a new system. I only buy miniatures if I plan to paint those miniatures RIGHT NOW. Seriously, if they aren’t going to be the next miniatures to come across my painting desk, then I’m not going to buy them. I’ll pick them up later, or not. In addition, I’m not going to buy more than 6 miniatures at a time (or one box if the box contains more than 6), and I am not allowed to buy any more until I finish painting those.
Does this sound like a harsh regime? It’s really not. Since I now buy miniatures in such small batches, I actually get to buy miniatures more often! Does it mean I spend a bit more on shipping? Sure, I guess, on a per-miniature basis – but actually since it so severely cuts down on miniatures I buy and never paint, I suspect I’m saving money in the long run. Am I missing opportunities for limited-edition miniatures? I guess, if that miniature is part of some huge kickstarter that comes with 100 other miniatures… but how much of an opportunity is that? Besides, there are so many new miniatures coming out, there is always something new and cool available.
I’m now down to thirty-something unpainted miniatures. My plan is get it below twenty and keep it there. I think twenty is a good number to keep in reserve, in case of a long winter storm (seriously, that’s about the only reason I can think of to keep any in reserve at all), especially if those twenty are all thoughtfully chosen so that I know I really want to paint them.
I am currently enjoying painting miniature more than I have in years, and I think my output on this blog kind of speaks for itself. In fact, ironically, since I'm painting more, I'm actually buying more.
Look, I make my living in the wargaming industry, and a small, but important part of my income comes from the sale of miniatures. People buying miniatures is good for me financially, both directly and indirectly. But I don’t believe that binge-buying miniatures is ultimately good for anyone. The cost in money is obvious, the other costs are harder to see, but just as real.
Each of us gamers needs to work out our own appropriate level of miniature buying. I mean, obviously, if you enjoy ‘Big Battle’ wargames, you are going to need to buy more, also if you want to play more games that have required miniatures. But, if you are spending more time thinking about which minis to buy, than you are enjoying the ones you have, then there is unhealthy disconnect, and it is probably time to step back and re-examine your hobby.
Most of us got into this hobby because we love the sight of painted miniatures on the table. Maybe it was a lone warrior holding a bridge against some orcs, or maybe it was a massive army of rat men and their associated death machines. These are the things that fire our imaginations!
None of us got into this hobby because we admired a shelf-full of unpainted, unassembled piles of plastic or lead. So why should we hold such things in value now?