Saturday 11 February 2012

Painting and Psychology

Just to prove that I do some normal wargamer type things, as well as apply Wittgenstein to the hobby, I have been painting so toy soldiers recently. Greek hoplites, as it happens, some of Mr Berry’s finest. It has raised a few questions for me, which I thought I’d share (or witter on about anyway), at least as a change from talking about models and metaphors.

Although toy soldiers are, of course, scale models.

I suppose that I’m not alone in struggling with painting. After all, if painting was easy, none of us would have those piles of unpainted lead that any brief surf around the internet can find many wargamers bemoaning. I suspect that, concealed in most wargamer’s cupboards there is at least one unpainted army.

Neither my inner critic, nor my external ones, is happy with me playing with what we might call ‘grey armies’. Ever since I got my first proper wargame army, 15 mm Peter Laing ECW, as it happens, at a Christmas long, long ago, using grey, unpainted, armies has been frowned upon. Mind you, I did rope my sister in to helping me paint them then.

This year, Santa delivered again, and I am now the proud possessor of a 15 mm ground scale, 6 mm DBA Classical Greek army. For those of you for whom that is gibberish, the idea is to crowd as many 6 mm figures as possible onto a DBA base, so even a 12 base force looks like a proper army; try it, it works.

Now, I’m not a good painter, I know that, and I’m also slow. So I have to go with my line of least resistance, which means for me a 40 mm base frontage and the minimal number of figures per base I can get away with, in my case, for Greek hoplites, that means 8, or 2 strips of toy soldiers.

This is not the strongest selling point of 6 mm figures, I have to admit. I did try putting four strips on a base, once, for my Pontic pikemen. I confess, they do look quite nice, but painting that many figures for that few bases nearly killed me. You can see them in the middle of the photograph.

Painting, for me at least, is thus a very psychological process. I look at a set of 20 strips of unpainted soldiers on lollipop sticks and get depressed. In fact, with the Greeks I only managed 10 strips, or 5 bases, which is a quarter of the army I want to produce. That in itself is a bit demoralising, so I struggle to find the motivation to actually do any painting at all.

The idea of painting 6 mm figures is a little different from other figures. It is impossible that someone would pick up and examine an individual figure for its correct cuff colour, which can be done with a 15 mm or 25 mm figure. So the painting to achieve an impression of rightness, not rightness itself.

This is supposed to be achieved, according to the Baccus painting guide, by dry brushing. Now, I’m sure that this is very successful for some people, but I do not seem to be one of them. It may just be that I’m too heavy handed, or too light handed, I’m not sure, but I can never get the coverage right. I land up just painting, because that is all I can manage.

Another problem I have is with detail. Some people manage to paint the white stripe around the tricorn hats of 6 mm eighteenth century soldiers. If I try that, I get white hats. It is a similar issue with shield designs on ancients figures.

In this case, I think I have a good excuse. I’m an asthmatic, and the drugs used to treat asthma these days actually impart a slight tremble to your hands (and, indeed, other muscles). No one believed me when I explained this, but then I met someone who was a GP who said ‘Yes, that is a well-known side effect’. So, that is my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

I suppose that all this is working up to the question of what our toy soldiers really are. In some cases, mine for example, they are counters in a game. I like my counters to be representative and nicely presented, and I do the best I can, but they are still counters.

For other people, they are miniature works of art, beautifully painted and based and even, with 6 mm folk, based as little dioramas with skirmishers to the front, officers conferring and scrubby bushes all on the base. Wonderful, but very labour intensive, I should imagine. And it must be a wee bit frustrating if such a work of art is removed from the fray by a random cannon shot first move.

So, for all the pondering the imponderables of wargaming, I’m not very good at painting; indirectly, of course, that explains the lack of ‘eye candy’ on this blog, which may itself explain the relative lack of popularity of the blog compared to some out there. It is a good excuse, anyway, and means that my lack of marketing of it can be quietly left to one side….


  1. Do you think the models help or hinder gaming overall?



  2. Hi,

    Good question... not sure of the answer. I think that a bad game is a bad game, no matter what the figures look like. I suspect that you could have a good game with poor figures, although it would be better with good figures.

    I think you might have given me a topic for a future post, as well.


  3. I'm away from home at the moment but for when I return home I have been thinking about creating games in certain periods almost as boardgames - using plastic or 6mm figures painted in the minimum colours needed for troop differentiation as required by the rules for instance, making models and game markers as required for the game, attractive, but in a totally different style to the dioramic or quasi-dioramic style typical in miniature gaming.

    I'm beginning to question the priorities that I have had within this hobby.



  4. I do think that, at some level, our models are simply tokens, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be nice or appropriate tokens. I suppose that exactly what they look like is very much a matter of taste, and there is no reason why you can't have different tokens for different games or jobs.

    I once had the idea of having a travelling 2 mm wargame entirely on magnetic bases, carried in a box file, so I could get to where I was staying, open the file, and voila, the wargame would be on. But then I stopped being a weekly commuter and the idea fizzled out...