Painting Creep – hey, it’s a thing!

Three companies of Ultramarines? Plus support staff!?

Last Sunday Frontline Gamer wrote one of his excellent Sunday Sermons on the topic of taking a break.  He was specifically talking about blogging, but he told a few personal stories of painting burn-out.  I’m sure most of us have been there, especially if we play either of Games Workshop’s big systems. The stories he told really struck a chord with me.  The whole thing did actually.  It was one of those rare times as a blogger where you read something that makes you write something.

It’s no secret that I pride myself on being a casual gamer.  I think that all too often we take our games too seriously, treating them as obligations, personal disciplines or even *gasp* work.  I think in my first ever post I wrote what has become for me a sort of personal gaming slogan: games are important, but not serious.

So there’s no shame in taking a break.  I’ve gone for years without playing 40k in the past.  I haven’t played a pen and paper RPG for about four years now.  It doesn’t make me any less of a gamer that I can pick it up and put it down on a whim.  I think that’s the way it should be.

Painting burn-out is a different beast though, and I place the blame for it squarely on two factors:  games companies continually increasing the scale of their games (which I’ve talked about before), and the obsessive culture of achievement and perfection amongst us modern gamers.

As I commented on the above-mentioned sermon:

Your horror stories are just an accident of our hobby. The joy of painting really comes from the creativity and craft, not from the mechanical act of painting. Of course painting a bazillion grots and ultras is a grind. Who would actually WANT to do that? It’s torture!

I stand by this.  Think about it for a second.  Why would anyone want to paint a model?  Obviously, to gain satisfaction from creating something artistic.  Painting is meant to be a pleasant aspect of wargaming, something that people can do to add a bit of spark to their armies of otherwise tin (or plastic or resin) soldiers.  It’s not meant to be something you have to do to play the game.  I’ve had my fair share of painting entire infantry platoons and mobs of Ork boyz the night before a tournament.  Only a masochist could call it fun.  If a game of 40k only needed a dozen models, I’m sure we’d all love painting again.

I used to think that if someone hated painting models they should get a new hobby.  Now I realize that attitide is part of the problem.  If someone hates painting models, fair enough! They probably hate the grind.  I honestly enjoy painting the most out of any part of the hobby, but I also hate painting hundreds of near-identical dudes to a standard artificially raised by the internet and Golden Demon to be beyond most gamer’s time and energy.  There’s always a lot of talk about power creep, but no-one seems to notice painting creep.

This is the sort of paint job often described as "table top standard" these days. Back in 1995 this could have been called an excellent paint job, perhaps featured in a White Dwarf. I think painting an entire army to this standard is too much to ask of most of us, and shouldn't be considered average.

Right, so that’s why we get painting burn-out I think.  What we have is a perfect storm of peer-driven painting creep and industry-driven game up-sizing.  This has the potential to crush the spirit of nearly any painter. But GW, PP and the rest are not going to stop increasing the number of models needed to play now, are they?  This means we have to change the other cause of painting creep: the obsessive, perfectionist gamer culture.  We have to change what we expect from one another.

Maybe we need to stop buying into what the companies want from us, and be a bit more savvy.  We should stop expecting everyone to have a fully painted army to “table-top standard” – which by the way is much higher now than when I was a kid, and higher than it is for historical games.

We need to be smart about this, and we need to accept it when people say they don’t want to paint their models.  That’s their prerogative.  It’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take in these strange times of obsessive gamer culture and companies who are, quite frankly, expecting a lot of us. But an even better approach is to get creative.  Think outside the box.  Paint them all without really painting them.

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of a 40k army of, say, Orks, painted to look as though they are shadowy shapes with yellow eyes and glinting weapons.  If GW (and my fellow gamers) are going to expect me to field more than fifty models in a game there’s no way I’m sucker enough to paint them all to a modern table top standard.  Not again.  There has to be other ways to get a good-looking army without sinking an hour or more into each trooper.  We just have to use our heads.

Now I have to get over my modeling burn-out.  Painting might be optional, but models sort of aren’t.  Any suggestions on that one?

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8 responses to “Painting Creep – hey, it’s a thing!

  • Frontline Gamer

    Yeah I think painting creep is a thing. However, I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to painting. This has proved a problem from a very early age, mainly because I’m not very good at it. lol.

    I’ve always pushed myself to do better and better at it. It has always been a slight obsession with my hobby and I take full responsibility for it’s impact on my hobby myself. I know it’s a character defect of mine, so why expose it? Also thanks for the compliment. 🙂

  • Von

    I think Stelek does a pretty decent job of this, all told. His ghost Marines are definitely memorable (more memorable than another technically perfect imitation of a studio scheme, for sure) and they’re all painted in the same style to the same level. Consistent, complete, and original. And he’s thought about why he’s doing it. It’s an achievement in its own right, really.

    Digging up my Vampire Counts has revealed something to me. I managed to paint whole armies back in the day, but I did it by cutting corners like a fiend… and the army still looks, well, finished, and impressive, even if individual figures are just obviously drybrush-ink-details-done-move-on batch-painted jobbies.

    I’m increasingly drifting towards grey primer and inks as the bulk of my painter’s armoury – a few bits might get the classic layers-and-layers approach but honestly, I think it looks a bit cartoonified the way I end up doing it, and I’m starting to prefer the almost Bakshian look of an inked, weathered, slightly drab-looking force. And it’s quick.

    Spending an hour on each trooper is something I have never, ever had the slightest inclination to do, and never will. I’ve never bought into that particular expectation and I heartily support any effort to seize control of the hobby from either companies or the uncritical and unquestioned expectations of the peer group. Small is beautiful, art is punk, and points matches are for people who take themselves seriously…

  • Thor

    Great article and I really couldn’t agree more.

    Von has a point with Stelek’s army. I’m not a frequenter of his site but I have seen his army once or twice and it is unique, looks good and I imagine didn’t take him a ton of time. Same with your idea, James, about shadows and glinting metal. It could definitely work.

  • James S

    @Frontline Gamer, no worries it was a good sermon!

    I see what you mean about perfectionism – I like my models to look as good as I can get them as well – but you don’t have to be perfectionistic in the traditional way. If I do my shadow army idea I’ll work hard on it to make it look nice and finished. It’s just that I’ll plan it carefully so that it takes a day or two instead of months. Being a perfectionist at the traditional painting method is just not do-able these days with games the size that they are. Not for me anyway. My attention span is too short 😉

  • James S

    @Von, my Guard army has probably been about half an hour to an hour on each guardsman, and that’s too long. I started my Iybraesil Eldar last year to be quicker but I have to say I’m a little daunted at the task of another GW-sized army painted even semi-traditionally, and I regret not thinking about quick methods a little more before I jumped in.

    I haven’t seen Stelek’s army. I can’t stand his “straight talking” (rude) persona so I don’t frequent his site. Plus his approach to 40k is the opposite to mine – serious business! I’ll have to check his army out though, sounds neat.

    And I’m with you on the Bakshian inky thing. I’m a big fan of the “three feet rule.” You normally see your army at arm’s length, so it stands to reason you should paint it to look good at that distance. Painters paint pictures to look good at a reasonable distance, not to look good through a magnifying glass. The dirty look actually looks more realistic on the table and is quick. What’s not to like?

  • James S

    @Thor, thanks mate. I’m actually getting excited about challenging myself to paint a shadowy horde. My brother wants to get back into WHFB so maybe Skaven would fit the bill?

  • Night Goblins! « Warp Signal

    […] been thinking more and more about what I wrote in this article, about finding imaginative ways to quickly paint the large armies that the current editions of 40k […]

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