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Stop Making Excuses and Start Painting!

SI Updated
Painting Minis
There Will Be Games

Have you been making excuses for not painting the miniatures in your game collection?

For many years, I convinced myself that painting miniatures was not for me. My wife doesn’t know it, but she was the one who ultimately changed my mind. It was her gift to me of Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower that sold me on the idea. Here I was, with all of these detailed miniatures, and they just sat there in a flat dark gray color. They didn’t work at all on the board, since heroes and monsters were impossible to tell apart. No, this would not stand. Besides, I already had some basic modelling equipment to assemble minis. It felt like it was finally time to go down the rabbit hole of painting.

Even after making that decision, there was a lot of hemming and hawing. I had a lot of excuses. But I wish I had started a lot sooner, because painting turned out to be one of the most rewarding ways to enjoy table games. It filled a gap in my life, that of a simple solitary activity, like gardening or knitting, that allowed me to create and spend some time away from a screen. As I get older, it also has become a way to enjoy games by myself, without the need for other people or teaching rules, a welcome thing when there are school schedules to juggle.

That’s why I think you might really enjoy painting the minis in your board game. That’s right, you! Odds are good that you have a few games already that have some unpainted minis, since they have exploded in this age of Kickstarters and core sets. Below are a few of the excuses I had for why I didn’t want to start painting, followed by my responses to those excuses now.


“I don’t know how!”

This seems like sort of a no-brainer. I mean, this is just a Google search away, right? But getting advice online is not always as easy as a simple search. You’ll get a ton of advice from people that will contradict advice you got elsewhere. The truth is that the process of painting has a couple basic rules, but there is an enormous amount of personal preference.

The key thing that allowed me to get into painting came from the dark lords of hobby painting, Games Workshop. They periodically produce little kits with a few Space Marines or Stormcast Eternals, basic assembly instructions, and the paints and brushes you need to actually, you know, paint them. These sets will set you back about $30 or so, and they are a terrific first step. I personally have a nice little set of three Space Marines who succeeded in showing me that painting isn’t so hard. It’s true that sets like these are a lot more basic than what you’ll get into eventually, but it’s a great first step.

Eventually you’ll find that the rules you’ve been taught are actually more like guidelines. For example, almost every guide will encourage you to thin down your paints, but I almost never do. Part of that is because I normally use paints meant specifically for miniatures, but I’m frankly just too lazy. I like the results I’ve gotten anyway, so I’m fine with it. More experience allows you to flout more conventional wisdom.


“It’s too expensive!”

Okay, this is pretty fair. There are a few basic things you will absolutely need to buy to get very far in painting, and they aren’t free. I would encourage everyone to invest in at least some decent brushes, a basic set of colors, and some all-purpose shades. Everything else can be improvised, but altogether those items will probably set you back around $80-$100, depending on what you get and where you got it.

But if you are deep enough in this hobby to actually paint, you are already aware that table gaming is not for cheapskates. You are especially aware of this if you have a lot of unpainted minis, since minis can drive up the price of a game in a hurry. Painting forced me to ask a question that I probably should have asked sooner: do I really need to buy that new game? Do I need to worry about backing a $200 game from CMON when I already have a ton of games that I haven’t played as much as I’d like? When I had paint to consider, I felt less need to add to my collection, and more need to finish the projects I had already started. And no matter how you slice it, a $4 pot of paint is less than even the cheapest board game.

I don’t mean this judgmentally, but you probably have too many games anyway. I know I do. Obviously we are free to spend as much as we like on our hobbies, and we are free to spend it on whatever we like. And you can definitely go down the rabbit hole of spending way too much on paints, brushes, and other supplies. Only you can determine what is appropriate for your budget. But given the spending habits of most table gamers, the “it costs too much” excuse doesn’t hold much water. 


“I won’t be any good.”

The first full game I painted was Space Hulk. I chose it because it allowed me to stick to a couple of major color schemes, and because it’s one of my favorite games. You can track my progress when you look at the paint job. It’s obvious when I switched to better brushes, it’s clear when I began to grasp the finer points of shading, and the detail becomes sharper and better executed as you go through the minis. Even my next project, the afore-mentioned Warhammer Quest, turned out much better and showed off some advanced techniques I never could have executed. My Space Hulk looks crude by comparison.

But here’s the thing: it’s mine now. No one else on earth has a set like mine, and even though my technique has evolved considerably, I am still so proud of my painted Space Hulk. This unlocks one of the most amazing things about painting: it forces you to be vulnerable.

Painting my games forced me to examine myself. Here was this project that I had undertaken, but at the beginning I wasn’t sure I could see it through. I wasn’t sure I could sit down and pay attention to the details of a project. I definitely didn’t think it would be anything to look at. I had never thought of myself as a creator, one who can execute anything remotely crafty. More than that, I was nervous about showing my work to others. Have you seen some of the paint jobs that show up online? White Dwarf shouldn’t be your standard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think of it that way

But it was a pleasure to find that people are almost without fail really supportive of new painters. I would post my pictures on forums, and it was like I had a cheerleading section who also was willing to give pointers on how I could improve. Playing my games with non-painters was even more rewarding, since even a mediocre paint job looks like magic to most people.

And ultimately, you’re doing this for you. You don’t have to get into painting if you don’t want to, it’s not for everyone. But if all that’s holding you back is fearing you won’t be any good, you don’t need to worry. You’ll probably be better than you think, and you’ll improve all the time. Like me, you’ll probably learn something about yourself. Painting showed me that I was more creative than I thought, and it unlocked a sense of personal accomplishment that I never knew I wanted in gaming.

Nate Owens (He/Him)
Staff Writer

After a childhood spent pestering his parents and sister to play Monopoly, Scrabble, and Mille Bornes, Nate discovered The Settlers of Catan in college. From there it was only a matter of time before he fell down the rabbit hole of board gaming. Nate has been blogging since college, and writing about board games since 2007. You can find more of his work at Games are for Everyone. His reviews have also appeared on his blog, The Rumpus Room, and on Miniature Market. Nate enjoys games with a lot of interaction, as well as games with an unconventional approach to theme.


Nate Owens
Staff Writer



There Will Be Games
Nate Owens (He/Him)
Staff Writer

After a childhood spent pestering his parents and sister to play Monopoly, Scrabble, and Mille Bornes, Nate discovered The Settlers of Catan in college. From there it was only a matter of time before he fell down the rabbit hole of board gaming. Nate has been blogging since college, and writing about board games since 2007. You can find more of his work at Games are for Everyone. His reviews have also appeared on his blog, The Rumpus Room, and on Miniature Market. Nate enjoys games with a lot of interaction, as well as games with an unconventional approach to theme.

Articles by Nate

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barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #273521 17 May 2018 15:44
All of this is great advice. While there are certainly a few assholes out there who harshly criticize everything, I've found the biggest detractor of my painting is myself. I think everything looks terrible and I notice all of the flaws that can only be seen under perfect lighting from six inches away and tilted to the only angle where it can be seen.

Every mini you finish is an improvement to your skillset and it does not take long to look back and be amazed by the improvement over earlier attempts.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #273524 17 May 2018 15:49
The thing is, everything looks like crap while you are painting it. Maybe when you are finished, you think “eh, that’s not terrible”. But if you put it away and come back to it a few days later, you’ll often find that losing focus on the tiny imperfections will reveal a better finish than it seemed like at the time.

Those are my Plaguebearers in the photo...working on 30 of those pusbags...
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #273527 17 May 2018 15:57
I really struggle with motivating myself whenever I need to paint more than 10 of something at once. I'm already regretting deciding to paint up a unit of Arkanauts and Endrinriggers at the same time (they have the same basic figure layout), which is only 13 figures.I should have just done them one unit at a time.

I completely feel for you on doing 30 in one go.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #273555 17 May 2018 20:56
At the moment there's an advertisememt for Hayne's Tabletop Gaming Manual at the top of this page. I'll mention that it has a chapter that is a (ahem) primer for painting minis, with all the basics laid out for you to follow.

I too am too chicken to paint, because I'm too much of a klutz. But after reading Matt's chapter on painting, I think I can take a shot at it.

Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #273564 18 May 2018 03:09
I have nearly 30 years of touching brush to lead.

Painting well is a lot like an old man kvetching about youth being wasted on the young.

You're crap at it early on, but you have all the time in the world to be crap. We slowly get better, and slowly have less time to do it.

It is very rewarding thing to do. But when you have mobs of models sitting in front of you, whispering shitty taunts about "Ooooh that's so nice! That was a lot of fun too! Just sit and admire the painstaking handiwork for hours! Lovely!
Ok, fun time is over, boy! Repeat that 176 more times before you enter your deathbed, regretting all the time you spent on us! Warhams fo'evah!", then it becomes less satisfying to do your best. Or even put in any effort.

I find the main obstacle of enjoyment and completion of a painting goal/task is the lofty advertising GW sets before it's consumers.
They lay out these oh-so-lavish photo spreads, tempting money from your wallet so that you too may immerse yourself in this egress and suspend your disbelief with such an array as they display.

Yet they don't tell you that they have teams of people who clock in 40+ hours a week doing nothing but laying brush to lead professionally.

They sell a lie not many achieve.

I have learned to regain control of my enjoyment painting models by completely divorcing myself from GWs ad rags. They only add unhealthy anxiety and pressure to get your money's worth by dedicating more time than can be made available in a healthy way.

So I posit that not only should one stop making excuses for their lack of output (good advice for life in general) but to also excise that which keeps you from enjoying it on terms you dictate rather than what they dictate/encourage.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #273567 18 May 2018 04:21

Sagrilarus wrote: At the moment there's an advertisememt for Hayne's Tabletop Gaming Manual at the top of this page. I'll mention that it has a chapter that is a (ahem) primer for painting minis, with all the basics laid out for you to follow.

I'm glad you found it helpful. If you don't want to buy the amazing book, full of glossy colour photos of fantastically painted figures (mostly not mine), there are plenty of tutorials online to get you started. And if you do buy it, please leave a decent Amazon review to counteract the ass who gave me one star because I didn't explain the difference between a "draw" and "stalemate" in chess.

The thing about being vulnerable is really key. There are a few of my figures in the book but the ones that most people will see are the Space Marine Terminators on the cover. I painted those when I was about 14. If I'd known they'd end up on a book cover one day I might have taken a bit more care. But, y'know, it doesn't matter. No one will look at that cover and see they were painted by a clumsy teenager. They'll just think "wow! cool toys!" and flip over to start reading. And it's much the same effect when you play with them.

(If anyone cares, inside the book, the photos of the empire handgunners and skeletons emerging from their graves are my work. You can tell because they're not attributed)

My biggest enemy is time. I'm absurdly slow at painting and the older I've got the slower I've got. It takes me a good two hours to finish a figure nowadays, partly because I don't have the patience to paint in batches. I like to see a thing finished. Between tabletop games and video games and friends and family and the fact I'm not allowed to paint in the front room with the new carpet and sofa, I just very rarely get time.

That's why I found Shadespire and Frostgrave really refreshing. The manageable model counts gave me realistic targets to aim at. Next is Star Wars Legion, and I don't fancy my chances of ever completing more than one squad of rebel troopers. I like the game, but the miniatures don't inspire me - and that's another important point when it comes to painting.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #273591 18 May 2018 09:28
Great article. It almost inspired me to work on my partially painted Space Hulk set, but then I remembered that I am really busy for the next few weekends working on my garden and fighting the ongoing War on Dandelions. Maybe I can sit out the hot weather in July by catching up on some mini painting in the basement.

When I got Space Hulk (3rd) many years ago, I saw those impressive sculpts and knew that they deserved to be painted. I bought the Space Hulk issue of White Dwarf for the painting tips, watched some painting YouTubes, and even got a mini painting lesson from a friend who used to play a lot of 40K. Then I painted my Fury of Dracula figures for advanced practice. They turned out okay, except that I had no idea what to do about that monocle on Lord Godalming and ended up painting it with a thinned out coat of silver.

Painting minis, at a basic level, is kind of life a 3D version of paint-by-numbers. I won't deny that there is potential for real artistry, but it is also entirely possible for a complete amateur like myself to clumsily slather on paint without every rising to the level of art. I don't have shaky hands, but somehow when it comes to anything involving art or craft, I act a little too impulsively and the results tend to be a touch sloppy. This is even true when I'm doing woodwork for a home project. I can measure carefully, but when I go to mark my measurement lightly on the wood, something invariably goes a little off. The tape measure shifts, the ruler slides, the pencil breaks, I miss the mark slightly, something. It's maddening, and I mainly cope by paying a pro if it needs to look nice, or not giving a shit if it's something for a yard project or a game.

I assembled by Space Hulk minis successfully, with only a minor gaffe involving an arm, which I was able to repair with green stuff or somesuch. I primed the figures. I painted the door bases for warm-up. I painted about 90% of the Genestealers, and just need to do their claws. But the Terminators were too daunting. Games Workshop, IMO, always errs on the side of too busy when it comes to design, and these Space Marines are over the top with little fiddly details like gems and scrolls and whatnot. So I painted a few easy sections of armor on each figure, leaving all my marines looking roughly 50/50 red and black primer.

Then disaster struck. I was playing my partially painted Space Hulk with a friend, and he accidentally broke the wings off of Sergeant Lorenzo's helmet. And it wasn't a clean break, the plastic bent slightly before breaking. I should have been wary, because this same friend owns Chaos in the Old World, and nearly half of his figures have suffered similar damage. After that, I noticed that my friend has an unfortunate habit of levering playing pieces when he moves them... he grasps them by the top/head, pressing down, then leaning the figure foreward before moving it, which puts stress on the top of the figures and sometimes damages them. I know that there is a chemical that I can use to soften the breakage points and reshape them, so I can glue them back together nicely. First, I want to practice on some old sprues leftover from that set.

I moved in 2011. To protect my Space Hulk minis, I put them in a small separate box that was heavily padded throughout with old t-shirts. That box is still taped shut. I see that box often when looking through the portion of my game collection that is not on display, and I feel a twinge of guilt. But then I think about the hassle involving Lorenzo's helmet, and then I think of other easier projects to work on instead. I haven't touched my paints or played Space Hulk in nearly 7 years.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #273604 18 May 2018 10:27
I have perhaps a thousand bucks in bits, paints, brushes, tools, etc and I see them sitting in the closet in perpetuity. I just don't have any desire to paint anymore. I can't see myself ever doing it again. 30 years is long enough.
Mantidman's Avatar
Mantidman replied the topic: #273744 20 May 2018 18:36
After several years of not painting, I finally painted a
new mini on Friday. A character mini for a Pathfinder game
that I was going to play on Saturday. Half my brushes were
ruined and a quarter of my paint pots, but it was completed.
I will tell you that painting in your late 40's is very different than painting in your 20's and 30's. I thought
bifocals would help. Yeah, not so much.
I have slapped a brush to over a thousand miniatures, for several different games, in the last 30 plus years, but it is tough to do it now. Thank you for the article, it did give me a final push to not use a stand-in mini for the event.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #273748 20 May 2018 20:08
Mainly the eyes letting you down, then? I've been perpetually unable even in my youth due to really shaky hands.