27 November 2011

The Riddle of Steel

...which translates to painting as well.

I stumbled across a painting blog tonight. Not miniatures, but watercolors, which is another interest/hobby/pursuit of mine. And on this blog there were questions from people, several of whom claimed to be novices, asking very specific questions about which brushes, brands of paint, etc.

And I don't think that's necessarily a good idea. And that goes for miniatures painting as well. Reading that made me think of painting miniatures, as I thought those sorts of questions were unique to this hobby. I always see a lot of beginners asking about "recipes" for painting certain colors, etc. But in a Riddle of Steel sort of way, I think that the hand, eyes and mind pushing the brush and paint around are infinitely more valuable. The technical specifics? That's something that should be left for later. Fine tuning, I think.

I guess the two things on my mind are... One, that while I could probably fine tune my technique and improve by spending a fortune on the best brushes, paints, etc., I can get by pretty well with something cheap. And, Two, that knowledge, and the skills built up to support the previous statement, come from just trying different things out for myself.

If I tried reading some of the painting forums, CMoN, etc. as a totally new painter, I would be under the impression that I would need to invest hundreds of dollars just to get started in painting if I wanted to "do it right." But I would argue that this is far from the truth. While quality materials are important, I think you can learn a huge bulk of your early lessons (and skill development) on a far smaller budget. I also think that you will learn far more along the way and that the best way to achieve a solid footing in any skill  (painting or anything else) is to have a broad understanding of it from the ground up.

Mind you, I'm not the best painter around. But that's my point. I see a lot of painting instruction that's more suited for the top fraction of painters. But new painters shouldn't necessarily start out there. They should build  decent foundation down here, with those of us in the common dregs of the painting pool. ;)


  1. Interesting post. I've been to a few wargames shows where painting workshops actually put off the relatively inexperienced/novice painter. This is because they get downhearted when they see the quality produced by the professional painters running the workshop. I did make one suggestion that was well received: a unit speed painting clinic, so that interested folks could see what can be accomplished in a short period of time. It doesn't have to be fantastic individual quality, and it can be something that a new-ish painter could achieve. More importantly, it shows how to get useable units on the table quickly. I might try this next year some time...

  2. There are soooo many ways to skin a cat..I have learned a couple of techniques from other people but only from actually sitting down with them and going through it with them. I have either kept them or dropped them as I have learnt (sometimes by complete accident or trail and error )easier or more effective methods.
    Videos,pics,written,descriptions, workshops..no matter how well they are done or in depth, they all confused me. We all have our individual styles and they develope as we go along.

  3. I wrote that all late at night as I was developing a fever. So it's not exactly the most lucid bit of opinionated blathering.

    I think my point was that I think that the most important lessons on how to paint are learned by just painting a whole lot, learning what works for you, what doesn't.

    As far as unit painting workshops, a couple years ago I had been talking over the idea of doing an "army painting" workshop at Historicon, Origins or some other large convention. The idea would be that I would camp out somewhere and paint all weekend, and hopefully finish by the end. The idea came from my Paint Machine blog.

    But it would be a participation thing as well. So as I would sit down and talk and show how I would be painting a group of figures, anyone who wanted (within constraints of space) could sit down, pick up a small group of figures and follow along and help paint the army. Since there would be a lot of figures to do, there would be a lot of cycling from start to finish. Thus, many chances to see it from start to finish.

    Still up in the air as to whether I would ever do this. It would be a big commitment of time. I'd be OK with that if I could get my entry to the show waived (should be no problem) room paid for (not so sure on that one) and get a manufacturer to sponsor it and provide the figures. If I could get that sponsorship, I'd like to lobby for enough figures to let participants take figures home with them.

  4. Agree that "top standard" paint jobs can be off putting. I still find my work to be lacking... even if objectively I can see that they are just fine. Trolling Ebay for "propainted" figures always helps my feelings too. ;)

    That being said, certain products can really help the beginers, i.e. washes, sealers (Future!) etc. and should be mentioned. Craft paints can get you pretty far, but specialized tools can take you further.

  5. Painting is just like anything else.The vast majority of average joes can do bulk middle of the road level of painting.However,at some point,innate talent has to kick in,and that will distinguish the top levels of painting.Your average guy may develop advanced techniques,but those who have a natural artistic flair will really be able to carry those off.Nothing to be discouraged about,its just that some people are better at it.Also,I hardly consider you to be in the dregs,sir.

  6. When I say "dregs" I mean the way the bulk of the hobby/gaming community paints. While I may be a little more skilled than some among your middle of the road painters, I'm not nearly in the same league as the competition painters for whom all the fine points make all the difference.

    I'd be willing to bet that if I switched to really expensive brushes, used the appropriate soaps and conditioners on them, used only the best hobby paints, etc. my painting would improve. But still not up to that competitive level.

    And that's fine. I like big armies, anyway. Maybe someday I will try spending 20 or 40 hours on a single figure, like some people do... actually, no I won't. I don't have that patience. But I'm happy being an "army painter." my own preference is for the look of a decently painted army over a meticulously painted single figure. (Though I can definitely appreciate those amazing figures, and the skill and hard work that go into them!)

    And I guess that's part of what I'm talking about. At what point do you admit to a certain level of diminishing returns? So I suppose the sorts of questions in my original entry really are relevant for those seeking to embark upon the path to competition level painting. But I'm not so certain that the average "army painter" really needs to model their habits on the top competitive painters.

  7. I also think this is an interesting post and point.

    Recently I have started to make notes detailing the top five (maybe top ten) painting tips that I have picked up and more importantly use.

    I am not ready to post the details yet, but will be very soon.