You’ve been painting your new Warhammer 40k army for weeks in preparation for an upcoming convention or a new rules edition. Thankfully, you’re now at the point where you can stop and feel accomplished. But, what do you do to avoid thinking about your project, or burning out from delving too deep into the hobby? Believe or not, finding a balance between hobby time, e.g., painting miniatures, and non-hobby time is often harder than you think. But, I’m a firm believer in finding rhythm between focused activities and rest. If you’re someone who stresses constantly over painting their burgeoning collection of miniatures and models, particularly large Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40k gaming kits, there is great benefit in “chilling out”.
If you’re an athlete preparing for a race, or looking to improve your fitness, then you’ll understand how important it is to plan out days where you’re not working out. The same principle works for hobbies! If you want to get better at painting miniatures, learn how to take a break. Or, when you find yourself unmotivated, don’t feel guilty taking some time off.
In this article, I share some of my not-so-secret tips for what you can do to “destress” your hobby time and what to do when you’re not working on your miniatures (or other hobbies).
Why is rest the best remedy for work?
Let’s get this important distinction out of the way first.
Rest is not doing nothing.
Rest is actively doing an activity that helps you maintain other routines. In other words, rest is something you do that doesn’t drain away your energy for doing other things.
Sleep is sleep. Rest is reading a book to take your mind off of doing tax paperwork.
Having a list of ideas for doing rest helps you maintain a consistent (and joyful) daily rhythm. It helps with psychological flow.
Is it hard to paint miniatures?
Technically, it is not too hard to paint miniatures. Miniature painting only requires time, good working space, and a few choice supplies. Time and space are probably even harder than the cost of entry for painting miniatures.
Other than the investment of learning how to paint models, the hobby itself isn’t hard from a skill perspective. And, whatever time you put in will eventually reward you with a finished piece.
Ultimately, it’s not too difficult to get into painting miniatures. Hopefully, this article helps you also understand that miniature painting is a hobby after all. If the activity itself becomes too stressful or anxiety-inducing, then do something else.
On the other hand, if you’re truly interested or a veteran painter, then my hope is that these tips help you keep the fire burning for this amazing hobby.
Here are 5 practical things you can do to rest and destress on your miniature painting hobby “day off”.
- Practice brush skills
- Train your attention span
- Experiment with an easy painting
- Be active outside
- Take a class
1. Practice brush skills
Of course, if you’re really tired or unmotivated to paint miniatures, more involved painting like wet blending or freehanding designs on small surfaces may be unwarranted. You simply don’t have the condition to continue painting a large project.
Instead, you could practice short brush skills.
What do I mean?
Take a piece of paper, plastic card, or any open flat surface and try these acrylic painting techniques with your brush:
- Dry Brush
- Create smooth color gradients
- Splatter effects
- Line work
Brush skills you can practice on any surface
Glazing – Base your surface with two colors. Try and create a transition between the two colors with glazes using the darker color.
Dry brush – Base your model in a dark or bright color. Then, use a dry brush technique to see if you can evenly coat the entire surface with pigment. Paper or cardstock have subtle texture that you should be able to see clearly in contrast with your base coat color.
Stippling – To make stippling look good, the pattern of dots or short lines needs to be random. Painting random dots isn’t easy. Practice keeping your dots or line work short/small and evenly spaced, but randomly distributed across your surface.
Create smooth color gradients – Practicing how to create gradients smooth within a single color (for example, going from dark to light) isn’t easy. Try painting a color from dark to light in a smooth gradient. For an extra challenge, do this with yellow or orange paint.
Splatter effects – Similar to stippling, this is a bit more haphazard. Splattering is useful for creating weathering effects, or even a starry night sky montage on open cloth or other surfaces. Load your brush with paint and flick it at your working surface. Play with the brush distance and amount of paint on your brush to achieve a desired result. It’s fun and simple, and you may be thrilled to discover how many applications this has for miniature painting.
Hatching – Some comic book style miniature painting requires hatching, which is controlled line work that creates a “mesh” pattern over a surface to usually represent shadow (or even highlights) on a model. Can you control your brush line work to create straight lines that pass perpendicularly over another set of lines? Give it a shot!
Line work – I’ve been working on this more on miniatures as I paint them. Line work involves being able to paint straight lines of equal thickness consistently on a surface using acrylic paints. Similar to edge highlighting, but painting on an open surface where there is no edge. A painting handle or holder can help you with this technique while you practice on scrap bits or other surfaces.
2. Train your attention span
Painting miniatures to a high standard requires a lot of patience and focus. I know some people who are very talented painters, but very slow at finishing their projects because they tend to lose focus quickly.
Are you someone who can sit at a painting desk for 3-8 hours straight? Or, do you prefer painting in spurts of 20-30 minutes, wishing you could stay focused and motivated longer?
Here are ways you can train your attention span for painting miniatures without actually painting.
- Exercise – Get your heart rate up a few times a week to improve your attention span and mental acuity (source).
- Stay hydrated – Even mild dehydration of 2% can negatively affect concentration (source).
- Ask yourself questions – Engage yourself in an internal dialogue about something if you want to focus on something (here’s a book on this topic).
- Listen to music – Some studies how that music improves cognitive function and alertness (source). I tend to like this YouTube channel for writing and reading.
- Drink tea – A study has shown that in contrast to coffee or other caffeinated drinks, tea drinkers have better performance in tasks that require mental focus than control, placebo subjects (source).
- Chew gum – An interesting study has demonstrated that task attention is boosted by chewing gum, but only if the task has been engaged with for some time. Chewing gum does increase alertness, which is a state of high sensory awareness (source).
3. Experiment with an easy painting
Sometimes you just need to engage in a different context to reduce the stress of something.
For miniature painting, this doesn’t mean you need to stop painting. All it means it you should change your approach, your method, your routine.
Look for different ways to use watercolor paints, like I did here to great effect.
If you’re sick of painting Warhammer 40k models, or those historical miniatures and scale models, try painting up model for a board game. Use speed painting techniques to get entire bushels of grey plastic painted in a single day.
There is no substitute for learning how to paint miniatures through experimentation and self-discovery. When you get good at painting miniatures, there are many other things you’ll be able to do better. And, that kind of personal toolset is invaluable.
A pretty neat way I started playing more with my miniature painting approach to take the stress off of myself was to take on commission painting projects. This work allowed me to paint models that I would never had tried painting. Of course, my clients allowed me a level of creative freedom to let me explore color motifs that were unique and fun to master.
Learn to find your miniature painting style here.
4. Be active outside
Taking a brisk walk, hike, or bike ride outside will do wonder for destressing your miniature painting “day off”.
I understand that some of you may be keen on staying indoors. You don’t to deal with bad (or even good) weather, bugs, or neighbors. Whatever you decide to do, I would encourage you to be outdoors. There’s something about fresh outdoor air that can help take your mind off the things you’re accustomed to doing inside sitting at your desk, in an office, whatever.
When your body is in motion, your mind rests.
I tend to do yard work outside or handy things around the outside of the home, e.g., cleaning the car. For you, a simple smoke break or cup of coffee with your smartphone reading the news, Facebook feed, sitting on a chair on a porch or balcony (e.g., wherever you are), is all you may need to find that simple margin where your mind rests.
Then, when you’re ready, hit the hobby “work” again.
(I’m not saying painting miniatures is work; but it can often feel that way if you don’t take breaks!)
5. Take a class
Instead of painting, hobbying, etc., stop and absorb the hobby through someone else.
It is important that you still expose yourself on a “low-motivation” day on some regular basis to ensure that you don’t get rusty. Yes, it can happen. If you find yourself sluggish on the way to the painting desk learn to avoid the activity altogether.
Do this instead. Watch a video about miniature painting. Read a book about painting miniatures and models. Here are few books I recommend.
You could also partake in an in-person class with a professional painter. Although these classes are kind of hard to find, depending on where you live, there are also virtual courses for miniature painting.
Look, if you’re like me, painting is one of those things you wish you could do more if you had more free time. But, it is often painful when you realize that you simply don’t feel like hobbying.
This “blah state” of being sucks. I have learned over time, however, that when I need to find inspiration all I need to do is go online and watch a few painting videos on YouTube. I especially like seeing new techniques or approaches with different mediums.
For yourself, you may find yourself feeling better about miniature painting when you’re around other people who are doing it too. When you see someone else excited about the hobby, it not only takes the stress off yourself, but it may be the kick you need to try that extra step in your own work.
The universal paradox of miniature painting is that it is fun and stressful at the same time.
I think most stress people experience is from within. People place this irrationale pressure on themselves with high expectations.
Taking a class places you in a room (real or virtual) with others who are also learning along with you. You might be surprised with how much this relaxes you and motivates you at the same time!
When people think of de-stressing, they may think it means “getting away”. For miniature painting, the issue is that the hobby itself may be the stressor.
In this case, completely removing yourself from the hobby may be counter-productive. Next thing you know, it’s been an entire year (365 days) since you touched a paint brush.
Is this what you want?
Instead, engage in the miniature painting hobby by doing restful things that keep you exposed to the activity. Practice your brush work (not on your model), train your cognitive focus, play with paint, be outside, or take a class. These things keep you inside the hobby space, but lets your mind rest from thinking too much about it.
I hope this was helpful. I’d love to hear about the things you do for stress relief away from your hobby. Let me know in the comments below!
Happy Painting (and Hobbying)!