Sunday, 6 April 2014

Painting Units Quickly

Those who have been following my recent progress will know that I have been getting a fair bit of painting done. In fact, I was rather chuffed that I managed to get my April commitment for the Hobby Progress Challenge done before April even began. Now, I could write an article about my painting method, which I probably will, later. However, I find that the biggest barrier to getting units painted is in fact not a lack of opportunity or an inefficient method, but a lack of desire to sit there and get it done. The solution is that as painters we need to tackle the root of the problem, which is the ambience of painting.

The Ambience of Painting

Where do you paint?



I sit at this table, on this stool. It is surrounded by a very busy living room space and kitchen where people are always coming and going, the TV is on and it is never quiet. Back in the UK I have a little corner of my bedroom dedicated to hobby time. It has a quiet monastic feel, and I sometimes imagine myself sitting there like the Venerable Bede painting late into the night.

How I imagine I look when I paint.
The reality is that I prefer the peace and quiet of my own space, but I can't have it. So I have to adapt. My number one cheat is to twin actions with suitable ambient noise. When I am painting bases, or doing the initial assembly or basecoats or washes on a squad I tend to put a film or TV show on, something that benefits from my eyes drifting towards it every now and then. This also allows me to be more social and exchange the odd word with my housemates, because nobody wants to be that guy.

However, when I get to the finer detail stage and I am trying to focus entirely on the figure before me, I put my headphones on and choose a suitable podcast or audiobook to keep me company while I pick out details carefully. This has the benefit of locking out external noise, whilst still keeping my mind occupied. I suppose music would work equally as well, but I like to feed my mind while I focus my manual functions. For me painting miniatures is fundamentally a therapeutic exercise. It allows me to unwind and focus my mind, but not the entirety of it. This process is explained well in Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which really explores the virtue of actions like motorcycle maintenance or fishing on the mind. If you haven't read this book, please do.

Painting is systematic, no matter how creative or unique it appears, but the process of base layer, shading and highlighting, arranged in whatever order you choose, remains systematic or methodical. As a result my body is able to go through the process of painting a Space Marine without too much hassle for my active consciousness. What this means is that my active mind is free to roam, and in the presence of obtrusive ambient noise it can easily be distracted, thus pulling me entirely away from my painting. Therefore, to keep my focused on my task, but also to keep the active part of my brain occupied, I listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order:

  • The Ihnatko Almanac: Andy Ihnatko's eclectic meanderings across many subjects in his conversational style keeps me entertained for hours. Thoughtful and very listenable, he never fails to make me chuckle. He often talks about comics, films and technology, so things with broad appeal.
  • This Week in Tech: A panel show which does what it say on the tin. Some of Leo Laporte's guests are simply brilliant to listen to, especially Jerry Pournelle and John C. Dvorak.
  • Crippled System: A Warmachine/Hordes podcast. I listen to this largely for the banter, as I am not really dialled into the jargon of Warmachine. 
  • Meeples & Miniatures: I've mentioned this one before. If you like TooFat Lardies games then this is as close as an official podcast as you'll get! Rich Clarke is often on, and the broad range of games and periods that Neil Shuck tackles is a nice change from the narrow field of game specific podcasts. A little Kickstarter heavy at the moment, but that reflects the trend I suppose.
  • Grumpy Wargamers: A lot of grumbling about Kickstarter abuse on this one, I love it. The guests and hosts are really knowledgable, and one episode focussed on the cost of manufacture in wargaming, which I found dead interesting. This is an occasional podcast, but always worth the wait.
  • Fools Daily: These bite sized podcasts are excellent for that quick morning painting sesh, when the house is quiet and no one else is up. Armed with brush and cup of coffee it gives me a little dose before my day begins.
  • Malifools: Undoubtably the king of Malifaux podcasts. Mr. Marshall and his gang of ne'er-do-wells are good fun. The banter is great and the voices of mature wargamers who have been around the block are definitely worth listening to. I don't play Malifaux, though the figures can be sublime, but nothing makes me want to play more than this podcast. It often deals with the tournament scene, but what I like is that it doesn't suffer from the Bad Dice Podcast syndrome of having a highly competitive bent, but is heavily community centric. It pitches the Malifaux scene as a glorious cosa nostra that belongs to all, veteran and beginner alike.
  • Independent Characters: I have been listening to this podcast for a long time now, and love it so much that I listened to all the back issues. As a 40k podcast I was initially sceptical as to whether I would like it or not, but once I dove in I was pleasantly surprised. The hosts are great, they don't pretend to know everything, and their garagehammer attitude with a strong focus on narrative is right up my street. Again, very community focussed, with a very active forum. These guys host the Hobby Progress Challenge that gets people painting so for that alone they deserve praise.
  • Garagehammer & After Ullanor: Hosted by Mr. Witek and friends, these are long podcasts. However, I feel that they are very inclusive and Mr. Witek's rambunctiousness (can I use that?) and loudness is less serious and more fun than many podcasts. These guys are all about the fluff and the character driven game. After Ullanor is a subsidiary podcast which is the Horus Heresy book club. The treatment each book gets is very thorough, and I don't always agree with what the hosts say, but it has an air of inclusion that makes you feel like you are part of the conversation.
Here is just a selection of the "noise" that I use to help me get painting. Of course, I have omitted audiobooks, but those are another great source of brain food whilst painting. I hope that this short piece might help someone get things done with a brush, it works for me and there is no reason it shouldn't work for you.