Strategic Triage: Prioritizing Your Creative Concepts

Miniature painting is an intricate art that requires patience, focus, and attention to detail. As with any creative endeavor, it’s easy to get lost in the process and become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that need to be completed. That’s where the concept of triage comes in. Triage is the practice of prioritizing tasks based on their level of urgency or importance. By adopting the principles of triage, you can streamline your workflow, make better use of your time, and ultimately become more productive in your miniature painting hobby.

In this article, I take a closer look at how triage, the practice of prioritizing tasks by importance and urgency, can help you become more efficient in your miniature painting.

What is The Triage Process?

The term “triage” is derived from the French word “trier” meaning “to sort” and was initially used for sorting food products such as coffee. 

National Museum of Civil War Medicine

In the medical field today, particularly in the demanding environment of an emergency room, medical professionals use a well-established color-coded triage system to quickly assess and prioritize patients based on the severity of their condition. This system is not just effective, but also, life-saving.

The triage colors to denote priority generally include:

  • Red: This color signifies immediate attention is needed. Patients with life-threatening injuries or conditions fall under this category. These are the top priority patients.
  • Yellow: Patients coded yellow are serious but not immediately life-threatening. They are attended to once all red patients are taken care of.
  • Green: Green is used for patients with minor injuries or illnesses. They need medical attention, but it’s not urgent. They are treated after red and yellow patients.
  • Black: In extreme situations, black may be used to signify patients who are too severely injured to be saved with the current resources.

Just as this color-coded system helps emergency healthcare professionals efficiently manage patient care, it can serve as a guiding principle in managing tasks in other areas of your life.

In this case, the process of triage is a way to manage your attention so that it is appropriately focused on the tasks at hand. As an example and real application, you can apply similar principles of triage to manage tasks in your miniature painting projects.

Similar to compartmentalization, triage is a way to contain chaos under time pressure in a systematic fashion to ensure efficient use of resources.

Using Strategic Triage in Your Creative Process

In all the chaos around us, it can be hard for me to focus on a single task. “Follow-through”, is a term I use to describe my ability to complete a project, no matter how difficult it may be. But, there are times when this becomes pretty hard to do because of all the distractions.

Even the fun creative ideas that creep into your brain can get in the way of your current project. Those intrusive thoughts that say, do it this way, it’ll work better. Or, this would be a cool thing to do; so many people do it that way and it looks so good!

Whatever your distracting thought may be, I think everyone should have some type of psychological tool to help them navigate through chaotic thoughts and distractions, so their creative missions get completed in a timely fashion.

Enter triage

Triage in this setting is the use of prioritizing objectives and following through on those projects that have a clear path toward completion. This allows us to focus on what is most important while also freeing up resources for other activities.

Are you one of those people who keep saying they are running out of bandwidth? If so, then maybe this will help too.

For simplicity, I clarify this triage concept further into individual steps. Of course, I’m no medical specialist, so I’ve taken liberties. But, I think what I’ve come up with is a reasonable and achievable approach.

1. Identify Your Objectives

Before you even pick up a brush, take a few minutes to think about your overall objectives for the project. What is the purpose of the miniature? What are the key elements that need to be highlighted? By defining your goals, you’ll have a clear roadmap for the project and a better understanding of which tasks are critical and which can wait.

2. Break Down the Project into Smaller Tasks

Once you have your objectives in mind, it’s time to break down the project into smaller tasks. This will help you identify what needs to be done and how you can prioritize your time. For example, you might start by priming the miniature, then move on to base coating, highlighting, and detailing. Each of these tasks can be further broken down into specific steps, such as selecting the appropriate paint colors or applying a particular technique.

3. Prioritize Based on Urgency and Importance

Now that you have a list of tasks, it’s time to prioritize. Ask yourself what needs to be done first, which tasks are most urgent, and which have the biggest impact on the final result. For example, base coating may not be as exciting as adding fine details, but it’s a critical step in the process that needs to be done early on. Similarly, highlighting and shading can be time-consuming, but they add depth and character to the miniature.

4. Focus on One Task at a Time

With your tasks prioritized, it’s time to start working. The key to being productive is to focus on one task at a time. This prevents you from getting overwhelmed and ensures that you’re giving each task the attention it deserves. Once a task is complete, move on to the next one, always keeping in mind your priorities and objectives.

5. Iterate and Refine

Once you’ve completed all the tasks, step back and evaluate your work. Are you happy with the result? Are there areas that need further refinement? Use this as an opportunity to iterate and refine the project. By taking the time to step back and evaluate your work, you’ll become a better painter and produce higher-quality miniatures.

Summary: How to Leverage the Triage Process to Become More Productive in Miniature Painting

Let’s put these processes into practice with a practical example – painting a miniature army for Warhammer 40k.

1. Identifying ObjectivesIn the context of a Warhammer 40k army, your objectives could be thematic consistency (ensuring all units share common visual elements), or highlighting key units like the army’s leader. Perhaps you’re aiming to mimic a specific color scheme from the Warhammer universe.
2. Breaking Down the Project into Smaller TasksBreak down the painting project into manageable tasks. These could include priming all miniatures, base coating each unit type in different colors, adding highlights and shadows, and finally, adding fine details like insignias or battle damage. Remember, each of these steps can be broken down further.
3. Prioritizing Based on Urgency and ImportanceAssess the importance and urgency of each task. Priming and base coating are essential starting steps. They might not be the most thrilling part of the process, but they lay the foundation for all subsequent steps. Painting fine details on your army’s leader might be the most satisfying task, but should be saved for later in the process, once all units have been base-coated and highlighted.
4. Focusing on One Task at a TimeWorking on one task at a time allows you to maintain quality across the miniature army. Rather than rushing to complete your army’s leader, take the time to ensure each foot soldier is painted to the same high standard. This approach ensures consistency across your army and allows you to make steady progress, reducing the risk of painting fatigue.
5. Iterating and RefiningOnce you’ve completed the primary painting tasks, it’s time to evaluate and refine. Are there areas where the base coating is uneven? Does a particular color not fit with the overall theme? This is the stage for fine-tuning and adding those final details that will make your Warhammer 40k army stand out on the battlefield.

Using triage in this way can ensure that you stay organized, focused, and efficient, ultimately leading to a beautifully painted and cohesive Warhammer 40k army.

Now, speaking of efficiency in miniature painting, there’s another mindset and approach that aligns with my focus on productivity: speed painting.

Speed Painting Miniatures with the Slapchop Technique

Combining the process of triage with efficient miniature painting techniques will inevitably provide you with tangible results. As someone who worked many years as a commissioned miniature painter, I’m confident to say that I’ve been able to be pretty effective combining a triage mindset AND speed painting techniques.

So, you want to be fast and good, as they say?” Learn to break up your big projects into small prioritized tasks, and execute them efficiently.

Speed painting techniques are becoming more popular, thanks in part to people having less and less time to devote to their projects. The “Slapchop Technique” in particular, embodies the essence of getting satisfactory results quickly. It can save you time without sacrificing your confidence in the ability to achieve a good outcome with your mini painting project.

What is the Slapchop Technique?

The slapchop technique is a rapid, loose painting technique that allows you to quickly lay down base colors on your miniature. It’s messy (though not always), and it’s meant to be a process where you don’t waste time trying to be neat. The goal here is speed over meticulous precision.

How to Slapchop and Speed Paint Your Miniatures

1. Primer

Start by priming your miniatures. This will serve as a base for the subsequent layers of paint. If you’re painting an army, consider spray priming multiple miniatures at once to save time.

2. Base Colors

Next, apply the base colors using the slapchop method. Dip your brush in the paint the model quickly by “slapping” it onto the miniature. Get the color on there as quickly as you can. Not too thick, but don’t worry too much about things if it gets messy. The goal is not to stay within the lines but to cover as much of the miniature as possible in a short amount of time.

3. Washes

Once your base colors are down, use washes to quickly add depth and shadows. Apply the wash liberally, allowing it to flow into the crevices of the miniature.

A darkening wash or shade step will quickly add depth to your color base coated miniatures.
The final results are pretty impressive, and you can paint a lot of models quickly with this approach only. In this case, when I painted up my Zombicide board game, I used idea of triage to tell myself to spend less time on zombie miniatures than the Hero character models.

4. Dry Brushing

Finally, use dry brushing to add highlights. Dip your brush in paint, wipe off most of it, then lightly brush over the raised surfaces of the miniature. This process will add contrast and make the details of the miniature pop.

I dry brushed these miniatures after applying a wash. This step helped me bring back a lot of the color and introduce highlights. Together, this made these model stand out, adding “volume” to their appearance on the tabletop.
Because I spent less time on the zombies, applying the concept of triage, I was better able to invest my effort in painting up the hero character to a much higher standard.
Dry Palettes for Painting Miniatures: Better than a Wet Palette? painting with a dry palette is faster than a wet palette zombicide mini
Painting this model took 20-30 times longer to paint than any of the zombie minis. Here, I was able to spend more time on this miniature, adding freehand designs, careful highlights, because I applied triage strategically to the entire board game painting project.

For more tips and advice on speed painting and other miniature painting techniques, visit this speed painting tutorial.


That’s it! Adopting the principles of triage can help you become a more productive miniature painter.

By identifying your objectives, breaking down the project into smaller tasks, prioritizing based on urgency and importance, focusing on one task at a time, and iterating and refining, you’ll be able to streamline your workflow, make better use of your time, and ultimately produce better miniatures.

Remember, triage is all about prioritizing – so take the time to identify what’s most important, and let everything else fall into place.

Happy (mini)painting!

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