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Miniature painting Miniatures Space Hulk

Do I secretly enjoy painting miniatures?

According to Betteridge’s law, you already know the answer to that question. But I didn’t really know the answer until I started thinking about it over the past couple of days.

I’ve been saying I loathe painting miniatures for years now, and the evidence supports my position: I’ve owned Space Hulk since 2009 — longer than I’ve been blogging on Yore — and the miniatures are still only about 65% painted.

But there’s some counterevidence, too.

I started painting minis when I was a little kid

I was 10-12 when I painted my first miniature, a terror bear from the original TMNT comic. I had no idea what I was doing, so I globbed on some enamel paint — no primer, of course — and, as I recall, cried when I saw how badly it turned out.

But I also painted model tanks with my dad, and although neither of us were what I’d call good at it we weren’t too shabby, either. We did camo paint jobs, painted the detailed bits pretty well — all told, decent work. And it was fun.

I painted a crapload of mechs in high school and college

I dabbled in painting fantasy minis in grade school, but always got frustrated with the results. But high school brought BattleTech with it, and that was more my speed.

Like the tanks I painted as a wee lad, vehicles — and mechs — seemed easier to me than people. I followed White Dwarf tutorials and learned how to drybrush, which was fully a part of my arsenal by college. College was also when I learned to base my mechs with glue and gravel for a more naturalistic look.

The Dip Method brought me back to minis

The Dip Method is really just ink washing/shading, but there’s a magical insouciance to it, a devil-may-care attitude that got me to believe I could do a not-terrible job on my Space Hulk miniatures. Instead of a “proper” ink wash, you dunk the whole mini in floor varnish and shake most of it off — and it really does work wonders, turning a crappy base coat into a “good enough for tabletop” paint job almost immediately. (You still need to drybrush.)

But, years later, with only my Genestealers fully painted, I stalled out on the marines. For so long that my paints dried out. Twice.

Buuuuut I also didn’t abandon the project entirely. Martin circa age 12, poring over the same issue or two of White Dwarf over and over, dreamed of one day playing his own fully painted Space Hulk game. I didn’t want to disappoint the little fella.

Frosting a few graves

When I got into Frostgrave (which I’ve written about extensively here on Yore) I avoided painting — and miniatures — entirely, opting instead for Pathfinder Pawns and prepainted terrain.

But what hit me just this morning was that 90% of my enjoyment of Frostgrave to date was the process. Picking out terrain, testing my setup, hunting down aquarium decor, selecting the right sets of pawns — that was all fun. I’ve only played the game once (it was a lot of fun, but in hindsight clicked less for me than I wanted it to), but I did a huge amount of work to get my set to the point where I felt like I could do it justice.

That enjoyment of the process for its own sake (even though I didn’t realize it at the time) was key. Because I’ve always heard that that’s the key to miniatures as a hobby: enjoying the process of turning an unassembled, unpainted thing into a cool, vibrant model.

Which, I mean: duh, right? But it never really clicked for me.

Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh says:

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future –and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

Painting miniatures = washing the dishes.

I’ve always painted miniatures for the end goal, not for the painting. I painted so I could have painted figures for my games, not for the joy of painting.

A little Deadzone, as a treat

As I committed, again, to painting and playing Space Hulk this year, I decided I needed to will myself into enjoying miniature painting.

I also had a chance visit to a hobby store where I encountered Kill Team and the latest edition of Necromunda. Which made me remember how much I liked Necromunda in college, and how much I regretted not buying the OG core box with its amazing punchboard terrain — and down the rabbit hole I went.

But hours of research later, I concluded that Necromunda’s core set terrain in the current edition looks like a bit of a disappointment; I also had reservations about committing fully to this expensive game line. I wanted a core box, OG Underhive-like terrain that I didn’t need to paint, and a Necromunda-like skirmish game with a short play time and a low model count.

That added up to Deadzone, plus a set of Battle Systems Terrain (full-color punchboard, Underhive-style!), plus a neoprene battle mat. And I found myself excited at the prospect of assembling and painting those minis. I read the Deadzone book and felt the same magical feeling that I felt 30-plus years ago reading White Dwarf as a kid.

And so far, this combination of willpower, new perspective, mindfulness, and the joy of Space Hulk and Deadzone is working.

I’ve base coated a couple more colors on my Terminators (assembly line-style). They’re on my desk, ready for more paint at a moment’s notice. And when I paint, I’m not hating life. I’ve restocked my paints and bought a better water cup. I researched primer and sealer and decided to forego my familiar spray cans for the less temperature- and humidity-sensitive brush-on stuff, which really widens my “painting window.” Ditto shading; I figure if I’m brushing on sealer and primer I might as well learn how to brush on an ink wash, too.

Deadzone awaits, models still on sprues — my reward for finishing my Terminators. But my real reward for painting my Terminators is painting — and possibly the rediscovery of an old hobby, experienced with a new perspective, and its transformation into something that brings me joy instead of frustration.

Hold onto your butts

I joked on Twitter that I was considering turning Yore into a blog for posting pictures of my shitty Space Hulk paint jobs, but I was only half-joking. I do want to start blogging more about miniatures, inspired by the excellence that is Warpstone Pile. Not to the point of pigeonholing myself, perhaps; that’s something I try to avoid doing (and hey, my first Yore post is about my wife and I making a screen-accurate Jawa costume, something I’ve done exactly . . . once).

But: miniatures. Posts about them. I’m feeling it. I have a lightbox; I have Genestealers to share; I’m building a paint rack this weekend. Hopefully you’ll come along for the ride.

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