Thursday Thought –  “The Next Level”

Thursday Thought – “The Next Level”

I had been thinking about this a bit while painting the Necromunda Goliath gang, and was reminded when Azazel mentioned ‘reaching a plateau’ in The Comments. I was painting along, and things were going quite nicely. Then I suddenly realized I had “figured out” the basic techniques of miniature painting. All the time I have spent, tutorial watching, all the reading, advice, and all that other crap that is in my head…and it had suddenly all clicked.

It seems odd, because I had stints of painting miniatures ever since I was a teen, and I never reached a point I felt comfortable with. Occasionally I would have a mini I felt was good/decent, but it was an uphill battle to get there.

I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the amount of hours I’ve put in as of late, dedicating a chunk of time almost every night to paint some minis. For months and months. Practice makes perfect and whatnot.

 

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So what do I mean by the “basic techniques of miniature painting”? I’m not sure I will explain this exactly, so let me backup to a story when we were kids. My brother and I loved superheroes and comics growing up. At some point, we started drawing quite regularly. I think my brother was close to his teenage years and I already was. Just about everyday we drew something. It would take me hours to draw a simple figure, but it would still be wonky. It wasn’t so much that anatomy was tough, it’s just that translating from my brain to my fingers, never seemed to work. Meanwhile my brother quickly went from the ‘bubble method’ to drawing his own figures in seemingly no time. I kept trying, but never hit that “point” that I wanted to. To this day, I can draw better than a lot of people, but still feel like I am not a good illustrator whatsoever.

Ok, back to the “basics of painting minis”. I feel like I’ve reached that point where basic brush control is working good and I have a good feel for thickness of paint and flow from the brush. At the moment of time that this thought occurred, I was hitting all my highlights with a single stroke or two, and usually with the tip of my brush (versus the easier edge highlights with the flat of brush). It wasn’t just one of those “zen” moments either, where everything aligns for a moment, this feels like something more permanent, like I can now ride a bike. Everything was quite comfortable but…

Suddenly I thought “Anyone could do this!”. Again, a very weird feeling. As I felt like I had ‘reached the next level’, yet also felt like it wasn’t anything special. It seems like basic brush painting is more a matter of time investment than anything. For example, edge highlighting. Nearly anyone who can hold a brush, can get some paint on it and run it alongside the edge of a miniature to add some highlights. Without good motor control, they will end up slapping paint in spots they shouldn’t, but….it can be fixed! Crappy highlight lines can be fixed by applying more base color to smooth out those lines. And the highlight can be re-applied again, if that messes up. And on and on. But given an infinite amount of time, anyone could quite simply recreate the same thing I was doing.

I found this to be an interesting train of thought, as I’ve often wondered why art professionals tend to disregard the most basic advice. Perhaps they feel the same way about their art medium. Anyone can put a line on paper, paint a line, mold a shape, etc. It might take you a hundred tries, but it is doable, and with practice you will get better at it. I’m guessing it’s probably the same with other techniques I haven’t mastered, where it is just a case of finding what works for oneself and trying and trying until it “clicks”.

It’s a weird point to be at. Being a private hobby and pre-blog days (and having lost/sold most minis), most people don’t know what my old painting skills were like. But I realize I have definitely made a step forward just recently and yet at the same time I have not gone very far. Strange times indeed.

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28 thoughts on “Thursday Thought – “The Next Level”

  1. Nice thought-provoking post. I would say that it’s more than technique, it’s giving a figure your own touch. Add tools, new materials, try stuff you never did before. I love challenging the envelope. The next level is and should be what you define it to be. I know you will and I look forward to seeing what you come up with here!

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    1. Oh yea, I don’t feel like I’m at The Next Level yet. Definitely technique is one thing. And this is just basic technique that I am finally feeling comfortable with. Creativity, knowing what colors will work together, etc. is a whole nother level!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can partly relate to you situation but I suspect your future going forward will differ from the route I chose, mainly because I class myself as a modeller first and foremost and gamer, well not at all really. I enjoyed painting figures, I still do, but having reached a level I was happy with (I am still trying to improve I might add) I wanted more than to just paint figure after figure. Had I been a gamer then my outlet might have been the games themselves but as I wasn’t then this wasn’t a solution to my problem. Hence I got into base work and dioramas of various sizes. What this enabled me to do was expand my skills as a modeller, gave me an infinite amount of modelling possibilities and the opportunity to produce somthing completely unique every time. Each to there own as they say. You’re doing great work so I hope you find your way forward. Love the idea of the Thursday Thought. Looking forward to more of them!

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    1. Thanks TIM! Yea, my main drive is gaming, and I don’t envision dioramas anytime soon. Though I’ve also learned never to say never. Maybe once I have all the minis I need for gaming, I can aspire to that next level of painting for the sheer beauty of it, which I see a number of you doing! 🙂

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        1. Thank you TIM! Oh yea, this isn’t an ongoing Thursday thing. Just something that had been on my mind, and wanted to throw it out there to see what others experiences have been like.

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  3. I can only speak for myself, but I find that the figures have to inspire me. If they do, my ‘A’ game comes out, and time is spent on fine detail and blending colour. Sadly, as a gamer I find myself too often painting lots of uninspiring figures because I need them for the game or army. They only get the basics at best. Maybe I need to find a few more inspiring miniatures to treat myself to between less pleasing batches?

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    1. Great point! So far I have been fortunate to find stuff that I at least have an interest in. Wudugast was recently talking about slogging through a set of minis, and that has to be really hard to do. I know that some minis can just be a challenge to paint in themselves, but as long as I like the characters okay, I guess I can find something to like about them, and keep going.

      Having said that, I think I am more enthused about painting single D&D monsters. It doesn’t take as much time, so I won’t necessarily lose my enthusiasm.

      I especially noticed the difference between painting a Blood Bowl team of 16+ players and painting a Necromunda gang of 6 players. Painting 3 miniatures at a time in two waves was way easier and allowed me to pay more attention to the individual miniatures. The thought of going back and painting Blood Bowl teams was kind of a turn off after that. Though new teams are coming, and I really want them….!

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      1. Worst year in painting… 50 cheap plastic GW Bretonnian archers. Only two different poses. Soft transitions in detail and no crisp lines on the miniature so washes, dry brushing and edge highlights were a pain. Never finished them. They remain in a drawer of shame in the shed. Made me appreciate the next thing I painted though. Spent the next week on one crisp, clean figure.
        I understood what people were saying about batch painted miniatures and the centrepiece figure that gets more time after that.

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  4. Studying and trying only get you so far, I find. Then you need to just buckle down and *do* for a while until it all really sinks in. Repeat as desired. You can’t get by with just one of the two parts, tho, you have to alternate between pushing yourself and doing the reps to let the stuff you’re pushing for sink in. Especially for something like this, which is part muscle memory.

    There’s also another interesting, related phenomenon that I’ve heard artist friends of mine talk about where you’ll feel like you’re backsliding and your quality is dropping again, but what’s really happening is that your quality is, for the moment, remaining relatively constant, while your ability to analyze and critique is growing ahead of it, so you’re more aware of the elements that you’re not happy with. Fortunately, that one is also cyclic, so if you keep plugging away, you get back to the more fun part where it actually feels like you’re getting better.

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    1. Yea, muscle memory is a really odd thing. I guess I could relate it to Martial Arts katas, where you are doing the same thing over and over until it just becomes reflex. I guess I hadn’t thought about art techniques in quite the same way

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      1. Heh. It’s actually probably the fact that I spent something like a decade doing Karate, with some major overlap with when I started painting minis, that made the connection for me. I’d put it even more basic than the kata, tho. It’s more like just working one punch or kick over and over again until you don’t have to think about it at all.

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      2. Goju-Ryu. A fairly traditional version of it, not a sport style. My teacher had been in the army when he was younger, and actually studied under one of Chojun Miyagi’s students when he was stationed on Okinawa. I’m badly out of shape these days, but a lot of the reflexes are still there.

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        1. Same here, woefully out of shape, but it’s funny that my muscles still remember the moves. Though I don’t have the flexibility to do Axe kicks any longer, haha!

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      3. Nope, no more high kicks, for sure. Not really a problem, they’re just for flash anyhow. The best ones just go for the knee.

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  5. Painting minis is a lot like …many things. Probably even most things in life. Pretty much anyone can do it, and if they stick with it they’ll get to a certain skill level. Where they go from there does depend on the individual, though – and how much aptitude they have for it, both in terms of raw potential and also (current) physical ability to perform the finer/more intricate elements.

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  6. Saw this on Mikko’s site and was going to reply, but thought I’d do it here instead, since it kinda-sorta relates to the “levels of painting” thing.
    ————
    I did have a golden opportunity to teach my niece Blood Bowl during a visit a few weeks ago, but sadly I did not have two decent teams painted up nor were the rules very fresh in my mind.
    That has made me think very much about making sure I have things painted up for a spur of the moment game and how I can be better prepared for ad-hoc running of a miniatures game.
    ————
    Here’s an idea for the Blood Bowl thing:
    Clip, clean and assemble a team (or two, three?), then spray them the main colour, base coat the clothing & flesh, paint the base grey (because astrogranite). Maybe hit them with a flesh wash on the fleshy bits. Then spray varnish with a non-yellowing clear acrylic. They’re now playable if you need them quickly/at short notice, but not “finished”. So you can then get back to them at your leisure.

    As far as freshness of rules in your mind – The best I can suggest is Blood Bowl 2 Legendary Edition on Steam or PS4 or whatever you’re playing on. 😉

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    1. Thanks Azazel. Also it would be smart not to sell off old sets of painted minis, before one’s new ones are painted! 😉

      It’s partially my impatience with the sub-assembly painting process, and how it just doesn’t lend itself to getting minis to the table quick.

      Although, your tip did give me a very interesting idea….why not build a team of minis just for gaming?! In Blood Bowl, I typically teach people with Humans vs Orcs. I could possibly pick up a second team of them off Ebay for cheap, paint them to a basic level (as you described) and then I always have something on hand. Maybe a generic team of Elves and Undead later, with enough pieces to proxy most of the teams out there. The more I think about this, the more I’m liking the idea. 🙂

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  7. Great post Faust. I’m a bit of a horder and thankfully stored all my old minis in my parents loft for years before getting back into them. The depressing thing was that when I first got back into minis again my painting level was worse than when I was a teenager. Thankfully I was never too bad and it’s only some of the colour combos that now make me wince. I actually find it easier to paint blocks of rank and file but that’s because I know you don’t have to go to town. Special models or show pieces are more intimidating when you don’t feel your standard is where you want it to be yet to do them justice. The amount of intricate detail is actually something that puts me off getting some of the newer GW models for the same reason. Loving the model does help to motivation you to up your game though (as well as the support and tips for the community).

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    1. Thanks BttH! I can understand what you mean about painting units versus individuals. I tend to paint everything the same, but I hope to start a Blood Bowl team soon, at just a basic level. Will be interesting to see how that experiment turns out, and probably really good practice for me.

      It likely depends on the model, but I’ve found the new GW minis not too challenging to paint. Assembly is more of a headache to me, because I just want to get to the painting part as soon as possible. And then I really want to get them done and on the table, haha.

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        1. I know, some people love the assembly and customization. If only we could team up, haha! Maybe as I get more used to it, it won’t be as burdensome to me.

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