...or an end in its own right? I've been giving much thought recently to painting figures. The reason? Well, the arthritis in my hands shows no sign of easing and sometimes I have just had to give up because of the low level discomfort, can't really call it pain yet. My musings were then greased by a thread on the Lead Adventures Forum where the level of angst being displayed by a couple of folk over painting figures gave me further pause for thought about our hobby. Lets be clear about this: they were wargamers primarily by their own reckoning but they were agonising over the standard of their painting. In one case, the level of processes could only leave you wondering what he thought the point of it all was? In the other, it was driven by a desire to paint a particular new range, rather than to game the period, I thought. So, I offer an unvarnished opinion on this phenomenon, the 'Rise of the Painting Fascist' I'll call it.
I've been actively wargaming since 1973, when I joined the Alumwell Wargames Society as we lived in Walsall at the time. Since that time I've sampled pretty much every genre, period and fad, not to mention several scales, before settling on 28mm in the main. I've owned numerous armies which I've sold on until arriving at my present condition with my modest collection housed in its own gaming room. I ought to be content, yet I find that I'm not. Partly this is the recognition that time is ever rolling on and part is that curse of almost every gamer I've met, the siren call of the new product or period. Of course, the internet and modern glossy hobby magazines are really the driver of this hobby malaise. Ever since Duncan fronted the magazines which contained high resolution pictures and quality painted figures the cat has been out of the bag. Once the internet got into its stride, and blogging took off within its confines, the average gamer is just a click or a magazine page away from stuff which may inspire him or her on to greater efforts, or simply depress them about their own inadequacies. I've always thought that wargaming should be spectacular, but mostly in the early days that was limited to multiplayer club games when large tables and vast numbers of figures could be deployed. On club nights it was a green cloth, some felt cut outs and bog brush trees and buildings from Airfix or Superquick which may, or may not, have been appropriate for the game!
The hobby has expanded exponentially since those early days with more and more firms starting up to produce not only figures but all aspects of terrain you could possibly want, but at a price of course. Card buildings, resin buildings, now MDF buildings abound in every period and scale you could dream of it seems. So much so that the hobby seems at times to be more and more an off the shelf construct, even more so now with the plethora of the 'Games in a Box' and their 50 figure 'Armies'. With all that is so readily available even a modest budget can produce a table that is a joy to see or play across, but that still leaves the figures of course with the associated 'need' to paint them to collectors' standards!
Now, my own painting is alright I'm told by folk, but its not amongst the top notch stuff which you see on many sites in the blogosphere or in magazines. I simply don't worry too much now if it looks rough around the edges compared to others. I'm a wargamer who paints, not a painter who occasionally wargames after all! Took a while to come to terms with this, but there it is. In a game my figures are viewed from several feet away mostly so now I paint to satisfy myself within those parameters. But the malign influence of the painting fascists, with their ever increasing number of layers, nuances of colour, and even different varnish for different surfaces, still lurks everywhere in our hobby and it takes some courage for folk who belong to a club to turn up for a game with block painted figures and pink blobs for faces! But, with decent bases, allied with the lovely flags you can buy, what's the difference once everything is on the table? Not a lot I'm inclined to say. Of course, that's easy to say when your figures don't leave your own table, as mine don't now a days, but I do enjoy sharing them on the net with interested folk. After all, if my modest efforts are not ridiculed, then it may just encourage someone else to stay with their own hobby and worry less about the way their figures are painted!
My own approach to painting 28mm figures now is limited to faces,bases and flags mainly. As a species we are hardwired to remember faces, so of course that extends to the little chaps too. If I can see the sculptor has made the effort to model eyes in detail I paint them in while I still can, but where they haven't I don't bother any more. Can you see that on the table? Of course not, but I enjoy doing it. Faces get three stages of flesh basecoat, medium flesh and then highlights, although at least two collections have flesh wash over a light flesh colour and small highlights of the original colour afterwards. Only muskets and horses get the same approach now, every thing else is a base colour and a highlight. So far no one has tried to burn me for it! For example ~
Three Trent Miniatures generals, meant for the Royalist rising in the Vendee, but repurposed for my games as Revolutionary types with a bit of painting and imagination in repurposing features modelled on. Allied to a bit of an effort with washing the bases, adding some static grass and some clumps of vegetation I think they look the part. The thing is though, even at that magnification compared to the game setting can you clearly see which parts I scrimped over? I know I can't if I'm honest with you. However, I'm not knocking anyone who does enjoy painting to collector's standards, after all its their hobby as well as mine, but I do think that we Average Joe's need to stop worrying about what our figures look like compared to the best you see and just enjoy what we do. If anyone does comment adversely, my father used to say, put it down to their ignorance and carry on in your own sweet way! That extends to our tables of course. You see some marvellous scratch built stuff around, but if I'm building I'm not painting and there's the rub: I know which I'm better at and which I enjoy more, so I buy most of my stuff as and when the budget allows, and it has to do for many different theatres of operations too! I still like the look of my table, even though other folks' creativity made it possible. Take this D Day games recently played out here in GHQ ~
Every single item of scenery is commercially made, and most of it came ready painted and based too. The naval elements from Britannia; the beach obstacles from Battlefront; the sea wall from Grubby Tanks, the buildings from Sentry Models, the trees, walls and hedges from The Last Valley and so on. Even the sea and beach boards are a commercial mat product, simply cut up and stuck to MDF bases, hardly scratch building is it? The look of the game satisfies me and my gaming chums, in truth do you even notice the figures?
So, rambling and/or ranting is at an end. Paint to satisfy yourself and stuff the others! But do have as nice a looking table as you can within your own physical and financial constraints and your games will stand along the best you see when once its all on your table. The button counters and lace freaks can sweat over their stuff as long as they like, it won't do any good once your chaps get stuck into them you'll find!