How to Paint Miniatures That Suck (Editorial)

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I am an avid miniature painter. I love the hobby and the community, but sometimes it can be really frustrating. There are times when you just don’t know what to paint. Worse yet, sometimes you have miniatures that seem boring or uninspiring. Do you look at that horde of unpainted Warhammer 40k models and feel that dreaded tedium coming your way? What do you do?

This article is for those of us who want to get out of a rut and paint more miniatures, even if they aren’t very exciting.


The Human Psychology of Painting Boring Miniatures

You may not realize this, but there’s actually some psychology behind why we choose to paint certain miniatures over others. The way your brain processes images has something to do with it–our brains like symmetry and repetition because they’re easy on the eyes which means humans will naturally gravitate towards these types of images more often than other ones.

But, these visuals also create a sense of routine after a while. Our minds hardwire to know instinctively that this “scene” is safe and we can relax. After all, our biology is designed so we are constantly looking for ways to conserve energy. Our bodies and minds do not like using up resources if it doesn’t help us.

On the other hand, we crave new experiences.

We are built for adventure, discovery, and exploration. When we were children, this was even more true. We would try anything and everything because we had no fear of the unknown.

Kids are like sponges–they absorb everything they see and hear because their brains are actively developing. That means that environments can influence who children become later in life (I’m sure you’ve heard about the Stanford Prison Experiment). Without going off on a tangent, our play time and trouble making as kids formed the creative adults we are today.

When we grow up, we still have the urge for new-ness. We want to try things and experience life. We go on trips, travel to foreign places, and for many of you reading, we paint miniatures and play tabletop games in fantastic imaginary worlds.

Hence, when it comes to finding miniatures we love to paint, which is a form of play and discovery, we may find ourselves lacking the urgency if the model is something we’ve seen before.

Or, we find tedium in thinking about working on miniatures that fail to spark our imagination. In other words, we know the Titanic movie ending, and we don’t want to sit in the theater until the end 3 hours later.

What Did Working as a Professional Freelance Writer Teach Me About Painting Boring Miniatures?

I’ve worked as a freelance writer for many years. I wrote advertising copy, technical manuals, executive summaries, and entire manuscripts for different agencies and industries.

The number one thing I learned through this time as a freelancer is that I had to learn how to finish projects no matter how crappy, unmotivated, or boring the job was.

I remember long nights, way after midnight, where I sat in front of a blank computer screen trying to find the words for that first sentence to a white paper, which is a type of tutorial summary, I was contracted to write. Coffee and a hit of nicotine often got me through those evenings.

But, here’s the thing. I did finish these projects because I knew I was getting paid and my reputation as a professional was on the line. I wanted to do a good job, because I knew more jobs would soon follow if I did well.

Was getting money for my work the motivation? Yes. But, it wasn’t the entire reason. As a freelancer, I worked another full time job. The reason I accepted these alternative moonlighting gigs was to gain more experience in areas that my day job would never allow me to try.

These other professional experiences became a challenge to learn more about what I liked and didn’t like. I would never have known what a “boring” project was until I engaged and wrestled through it to the end.

Do you know what kinds of projects you enjoy or find boring? It may be hard to know unless you actually try and do whatever it is. My professional experiences taught me how to fight through the quagmire of tedium.

Finishing Any Project Should Be Personal

Your time is precious. Whether you’re spending it on painting or writing for other people who are paying you; or you’re painting that horde army for your personal collection, you probably do not want to waste your time.

The time you invest should bring value.

I suppose it was both a personal experiment to learn, as well as validate the idea that I could “do other things” that other people found useful.

I often found myself having to think quickly on my feet, adapting when a situation changed, such as an emergency deadline that needed me to take a 2000 word article down to 200 words in 30 minutes.

When a magazine needs to outsource a 100k copy print job for a scheduled air delivery to four major US cities the following Monday, there’s very little room for taking your time. I burned out, eventually doing all these different things.

Suffice it to say, sure, I got paid. But, more importantly, I gained invaluable experience. I worked with clientele with diverse personalities, expectations, and different ways of communicating ideas.

What Does This Mean for Painting Miniatures?

To get through a miniature paint job, finishing the project well, you can’t rely entirely on your excitement and the thrill of novelty to stay motivated.

A boring model, or a series of miniatures that require your repeated effort, will challenge your ability to stay focused and attentive. You won’t want to do it, so you’ll have to find another reason to work.

If you’re drawing on the fumes of just the newness and excitement factor, you may not have enough of a will to push through. You need your own motivation to force yourself to just keep painting.

This is where that professional writer mentality can help. You can do it because you want to do it neat, good, fast, and on time. Set personal deadlines and stick to them as you would in any profession, career or job that others rely on you to complete.

You’re not just doing it for yourself, to enjoy the personal satisfaction of a job well done. With other people’s money at stake, you have to keep that in mind. You are being paid for this work.

Depending on what kind of project it is, I might get nearly nothing out of painting miniature. But, I will complete this project not because it might be fun. It may even be a chore.

I’ll do it because the client (which may just be yourself) asked me to deliver what they wanted and needed.

Boring miniatures? What should you do?

Think about your own motivation: why are you really painting that thing, and how you’re going to keep yourself motivated and inspired to do a good job finishing it.

Have fun with whatever you’re doing. Stay creative, but don’t rely on thrill or novelty to keep yourself motivated to finish boring minis!  

Here are Tips for Painting Miniatures You Find Boring, or Simply a Chore to Finish

Here are some ideas to overcome the blah-ness of miniatures you don’t like:

  1. Bring in some colors or texture to make your miniature stand out. This may mean trying out a new art medium, e.g., crackle paste, oil paints, instead of your usual paint collection.
  2. Place your miniature in a scene. This could mean creating a diorama, or customizing the base with something other than sand. Use 3D printed bases, for example, to liven up a boring model.
  3. Play up or create unusual or strange aspects on your miniature. Extend the cloak of that space marine using Green Stuff. Add other bits and glitz to your model with 3D printed parts, or sculpt your own.
  4. Do some research. Find reference images that inspire you with new color concepts and schemes that you could incorporate into your miniature paint job.
  5. Write a story around your miniatures to give them life outside of the physical sculpt. Some painters love the backstory of their models, which is what incentivized starting the project in the first place. If it’s for a commission project, return to the narrative aspect of what you think your client wants from the miniature painting project.
  6. Think of what makes an aspect of a miniature boring to you, and see how others might find it interesting if you twisted it. For example, a metal weapon may be shiny and reflective like a mirror. But, you could easily change this to a weathered, worn, and dull part of the model. This can easily become an aspect that makes this character stand out as unusual or unique.
  7. Make your painting more interesting by highlighting it with special, unique colors, or drawing people’s eyes to different features in the miniature. You could do this by free handing designs, airbrushing patterns with stencils, or using oddball color combinations. Check out this comic book styled miniature painting approach.
  8. Buy that fancy brush, airbrush, or other hobby tool. Often, I find experiment with a new brush or technique will get the creative juices going again, even on a project that is tedious.
  9. Find a community and paint your boring miniatures together. The social aspect is often missing in many of our painting projects. By painting with others, there’s a sense of shared-struggle that can help propel a boring project forward.
  10. Paint a boring miniatures with the exciting ones. Bundle your boring miniature painting projects with the models you’re excited to work on. When you’re waiting for something to dry or need a break from painting the awesome models, use some of that time to apply a bit of paint on the boring miniatures. Build the habit of allowing your enthusiasm of some projects to spill over into other projects you find boring.

Alternatively, You Could Paint Faster…

If you’re bored of painting your miniatures or find it hard to follow-through on a project, then learning how to speed paint can help you!

There are many methods and techniques that can help you finish painting a model faster. For example, things like “dipping” base coated miniatures in Army Painter Quickshade will quickly add contrast and help define details on a miniature without a lot of extra work.

Using a larger paint brush, or changing your mindset or workflow, can also speed up your miniature paint job.

If in doubt, it is better to try new techniques and approaches, when the formula you’ve always relied on gets boring to use. I’m always looking for fun ways to achieve the same thing on my miniatures. Have you tried painting miniatures with oil paints or watercolor, yet?


Final Thoughts

Painting miniatures can be both an art form and a hobby with many benefits. The more you paint, the better your technique will become. Painting also allows for creativity in design, which is often lacking when it comes to working on boring minis that don’t excite us or offer much of a challenge.

If you’re looking for ways to spice up or change how you see these projects, I hope this article gave you some ideas, tips, and insights into how to keep yourself motivated through tedious paint jobs.

Are you faced with a boring miniature painting project or something you need to do in your profession? How do you behave and think when you need to complete projects well despite the tedium and the boredom? Let me know!

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