Sunday long read: Why do we paint?

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Earlier this week, a local Warhammer 40,000 tournament was announced this September. My first reaction was, needless to say, “Awesome!” Then I remembered something. September? That’s only two months. There’s no way in hell I’ll have my Slaanesh army painted by then.

Rewind a few days, to a conversation I had with Gegnar (the guy with the Thanquol and Boneripper last week). He expressed his amusement that so many of his friends and family would see his model, then see the box and then realise the models are supplied unassembled and unpainted, actually get annoyed – “Why would you pay that much money for something you have to WORK for to even get to play?” The whole notion that we even bother wasting our time with this seems completely alien.

Returning to the announced tournament, I was made aware that there wasn’t a demand to have your army painted to attend. As much as I appreciate the sentiment being presented to allow me to participate without making a rush job of an army that I intend to put a lot of pride into, and as much as I understand the need to recruit new participants and make the entry-level treshold low enough in such a small demographic area as we live in, it still didn’t help. Because, and I speak only for myself here, why on earth would I want to play with unpainted models?

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The obvious answer is, of course, that I’m a bitter old grognard. I admit that up front. When I spend hours and hours painting my army, even with weak colours such as white and pink, the least I can expect of my opponent is to return the same effort. If not, why would I be even remotely interested in providing him with an easy escape for his laziness and basically rewarding not putting the effort in?

It sounds a lot more arrogant when I type it out like that, than it does in my head. And that’s the funny part.

My view of this hobby is, and has been for some time, that the painting and modelling is by far the most important thing. Yes, the gaming is fun. Yes, the thrill of buying a new kit and tearing off the shrink-wrap is addictive almost on a narcotic level. But what really sets the hobby aside from other board games, is the fact that no matter how I twist and turn it, these are my models. My own meticulously and painstakingly prepared army of tiny plastic, pewter and resing toys that I spent more time and money on than any sensible human being should ever sit down and try and make a count of (I did once – when I hit the fifth digit value of unpainted sprue alone, I quit for the sake of my own sanity).

But I understand the opposite. I understand that people want to buy and assemble their models, and get right into the playing. But on a personal level, I can’t comprehend it. It’s utterly subjective, and based fully in emotional attachment to my own romantic notion of what the game should be, but it’s still there. If the point is to play immediately, why not just put down a Post-it note saying “Space Marine with Plasmagun”?

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That’s probably what boggles me the most. People will make their armies WYSIWYG in terms of modelling and equipment, but not go the full mile and finish them off. When they buy a box of models, they will build it, and play with it, and the buy another box. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m backlogged well into the year 2026 in terms of unfinished projects, but the core difference is that most of these models are still on their sprues. I’ve adopted the policy of never building too much new stuff before I paint up the existing projects, and as a result, I’ve managed to increase my efficiency.

From a motivational point of view, for me personally, to see the amount of models left to paint on my project shelf, and seeing that it numbers a fraction of the finished models in the army shelf below, inspires me massively. Just the thought of cleaning out that project shelf and filling up the ranks among the finished army is inspiring beyond any Youtube video or blog for me. That feeling when you finish painting a model and put it down with the army while the varnish spray still smells of chemicals you shouldn’t inhale is as sweet a drug to me as cocaine is to Jordan Belfort.

I’ll likely go to the tournament, though, and bring an Age of Sigmar force, trying to force a game or two out of Big Boss Red Skullz and his skaven after his own placement games. Because as much as I’m being a bitter old grognard about it, I love the atmosphere and social interaction with fellow gamers at tournaments and gatherings. As much as I paint before I play, happenings like this are what made me play in the first place. There’s a thin line between being difficult and just being an asshole, after all.

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To finish off, I will share with you an anecdote describing exactly how I feel about painted models.

In 2007, a couple of friends and myself had booked us a trip to Warhammer World to play games on the White Dwarf tables and attend a Warhammer Grand Tournament. To challenge ourselves, we’d started half a year in advance on brand, spanking new armies to bring. The evening before our flight, my missus were rolling her eyes at the living room table as I, stressed as wild hell, worked my way through a 12-model production line of Hormagaunts. At around 2am, the gloss varnish spray were in place and I could get to bed for five hours of sleep before the flight.

The next morning, when I get to the airport, one of my travelling mates isn’t on the bus he’s supposed to arrive on, and we begin to get a little worried. We try calling him, no answer. Ten minutes later, a taxi swings up by the airport, and he steps out with bloodshot eyes, and a box of Crimson Fists in his hands, the smell of varnish still fresh and the taxi driver somewhat annoyed (you could see him driving off with all four windows lowered afterwards). After paying for the ride, he went on to pack the models into his carrying case, so that we could check in, and we were off to Nottingham to play our recently completed armies.

It was a really nice Crimson Fists army. And he slept like a baby on the flight.

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3 thoughts on “Sunday long read: Why do we paint?

  1. Oh we can get a game in for sure 🙂 as I’m administering the tournament I won’t be able to play 3 games.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good article, and one that brings up a dissonance I (and many others I’ve spoken to who’re involved in this hobby) suffer from. Bear in mind that I play rarely, if ever, these days, the whole aim of the exercise for me is building and painting my own weird vision of the 41st Millennium. However back when I did play I had some amazing games fielding nothing but bases labelled ‘Space Marine with plasmagun’ etc. I’ve also played plenty of great games with fully painted miniatures. What I’d never do is play a game with unpainted miniatures. It just seems a little disingenuous to the opponent – especially if they’ve put time and effort into their own models. The craftsmanship is the main draw of the hobby to me and I love to see well-painted and personalised armies clashing on beautifully modelled battlefields. However I also feel this puts a barrier between new players and their first game which simply isn’t fair.

    In the end I think its just about encouragement, a lot of new people get put off painting by their first (usually pretty ropy) attempts, by unfairly comparing themselves to the amazing and inspirational images online and in the magazines, and by the ingrained laziness which pervades some parts of this hobby and which treats painting as a massive burden rather than a pleasure. Its up to us old grognards to take them under our metaphorical wings and help them develop. After all it’s what friends did for me when I was starting out.

    Liked by 1 person

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