Painting Complexity with Simplicity

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

Painting miniatures is always daunting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or new: painting is hard.

I took some basic art classes in school, but the main progress has come through careful observation, experimentation, trial, and error.

Much error.

But in these experiences, I’ve found bits of treasured successes. Looking back, I can admit that every miniature I’ve painted contains a mistake or deviation away from the standard I had set. Every model has been a source of frustration and disappointment. I’ve never been 100% satisfied with any paint job.

There are only two miniatures that I have painted that have come within striking distance of the 80% satisfied mark. But the point is that my “vision” for a paint job has never been met. Yet, I keep going, struggling through each painting session, even with the knowledge that I’ll never reach perfection. I think the enjoyment and motivation for painting comes from the simplicity of trying to earn some measure of satisfaction from the simplest of actions.

When I see in my head a vision of what I want to paint that is so incredibly detailed and complex, I try to slow down and reduce the image into simple parts or layers. I break the complex task ahead into small, bite sized pieces. Ultimately, I am able to proceed with a work flow containing simple-steps after simple-steps. For example:

  • I can make a single brush stroke covers the exact amount of surface I need.
  • I can produce a glaze that will shift all the colors into the correct tonal value. 

Of course, there are tools in my painting repertoire that I’ve had to learn and embed in my muscle memory. It’s kind of like knowing how to write a grammatically correct sentence. Before you can write a bestselling novel, you need to know how to put verbs and nouns together. You need to know how to spell. In the same way, my painting toolbox needs to be full of good tools, i.e., thin paints properly, etc.

It’s the simple actions, many of them, adding up over lots of time that seem to be the part I like most about painting. The end result is many simple steps orchestrated into a singular product. In my eyes, a fully painted miniature will never be perfect, and I accept the finished model as just a tangible reminder of the simple things.

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