Wednesday, 27 July 2016

To paint or not to paint

As a gamer and a miniature figure painter I get a deep sense of satisfaction from seeing a table covered in finely made and painted scenery and beautifully painted figures. A visit to any gaming convention can leave me in awe at the sight of professionally painted figures that I can only dream of matching. No pun intended but painting is an art. I happen to be quite good at painting figures and it is a part of the hobby I find extremely enjoyable and very rewarding. I get quite a thrill when I have finished painting a batch of figures and think to myself, "that's a good job done well." As well as being grateful for reducing my mountain of unpainted figures.
This post is just a ramble about using painted figures in your games and when is it okay to game with unpainted minis and when should you use painted figures? Let's start with using unpainted figures.
The figures for the Von Drakk's Manor set for Super Dungeon Explore, straight out of the box and unpainted.
Until I got to know Steve quite well, the thought of using unpainted figures in a game was anathema to me. I hated the idea of using unpainted figures. For years and years I always gamed with fully painted figures. If I popped into my local Games Workshop (back in the days when it was worth visiting) or visited a wargaming convention and saw a game being played with unpainted figures I'd just think, "how sad! Can you not at least make an effort to slap some paint on them?" To me, gaming with unpainted figures was one of the worst sins a gamer could commit.
However, my attitude completely changed a few years ago when Steve and I had a discussion about using unpainted figures in a game. I can't remember what game we were talking about but the gist of Steve's argument was that I had two choices when it came to playing whatever game it was we were discussing. One, I could wait to play the game until after I had painted all of the figures for it, which could potentially take a year or more, or two, I could play the game now using the unpainted figures that came with the game. That was my light bulb moment! That was when I realised, it was acceptable to play with unpainted figures. I have no idea why it took me so long to realise something that is so blindingly obvious! After all, as a solo gamer, the only person who knew I was gaming with unpainted figures was myself... and ultimately, did it matter all that much? No, of course not; not if it meant I got to play the game straight out of the box and get to grips with the rules. For sure, I much prefer playing games with fully painted figures. Aesthetically, it is much more appealing. But by breaking my own self-imposed commandment - "Thou Shalt Not Game With Unpainted Figures!" I was able to do far more gaming than if I'd waited to paint all of the figures that came with the game. Nowadays I will frequently play a game using unpainted figures... but only ever in the privacy of my own home.
The same figures for Von Drakk's Manor, all superbly painted (not by me I hasten to add) and a real treat for the eyes.
So now that I have been convinced that it is okay to game with unpainted figures, what are my feelings on the matter now? Is it a good thing or still a bad thing? I'd say it all depends upon the circumstances. If you're playing a game at home, either solo or with a group of friends I see no problem in gaming with unpainted figures. If you can paint your figures and have the time then do so.  However, if you are putting on a display game at a wargaming convention or taking part in a tournament, you really should make the effort to paint your figures and avoid fielding unpainted figures. As a blogger, I would never dream of publishing a batrep using any unpainted figures. The only time I'd show an unpainted figure on my blog is if I'm showing the unboxing of a game or expansion, or possibly if I'm doing a Work in Progress post. When dealing with the public I believe it is always best to show the hobby in its best light and that means showing off your painted figures.
Which brings me to another point, which I'm sure applies to a lot of gamers. There are those who can not paint or who simply don't have the time to paint due to work and/or family commitments. What are they to do? Or perhaps they can paint but not very well. To be honest, they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is not much they can do other than use their unpainted figures. I'm just glad I'm not one of those people.
I realise I'm very lucky in that I have artistic talent and I have plenty of spare time to devote to my hobby, which must place me in a minority. For those who can paint but not to a high standard, I'd advise they carry on painting and gaming with their painted figures. To me, a badly painted figure is a lot better than an unpainted figure. It at least shows you've made an effort. Plus, the old adage of "practice makes perfect" still holds true. The more you paint, the better you'll become.
I'm a completely different painter now than what I was 20 years ago and back then I was completely different to what I was a further 20 years ago. I now use ink washes, dry brushing techniques, fine-lining, blending, etc. when I paint nowadays. These are techniques I would never have attempted or even thought of doing years and years ago. When I first started painting figures I was just a young lad and as long as the colour looked right, that was all that mattered to me. So I'd paint my old Airfix 1/72nd or 1/32nd scale figures with a mix of Humbrol matt and gloss paints! Also, with those Airfix figures, they were often made of a coloured plastic that resembled their uniforms, for example, WW2 U.S. Army soldiers were made of olive drab coloured plastic, whilst WW2 Afrika Korps were made of sand coloured plastic. So, because the plastic was the main colour of their uniform I wouldn't bother painting those bits! Oh, dear! It was a long learning process before I knew better. I've got rid of most of those old figures but of the few that remain, I look at them with deep embarrassment.
A selection of my own painted figures from the Von Drakk's Manor set, which I'm very proud of.
I know I'm a good painter but I'm certainly not a great painter. My level of painting is better than that considered as tabletop standard but definitely not up to competition winning standard. I'm happy where I am with my level of painting.
This brings me to my final point - always strive to paint to the best of your abilities. For the vast majority of gamers, being able to paint to tabletop standard is perfectly acceptable and I'd certainly go along with that. We can't all paint to professional standards and why should we? As long as we can paint a figure and say, "I'm happy with that," then nothing else matters. If you can paint, whatever your standard is, then you should paint. If circumstances dictate that you can't paint your figures then by all means, and use your unpainted figures. I still say it is better to game with painted figures than with unpainted figures but what is just as important is that gaming with unpainted figures is better than not gaming at all.

Bryan ©2016

29 comments:

  1. I'm in a comfortable position Bryan I think and it's one the gamers of a certain age inevitably find themselves in that we have a rather large (maybe too large) collection of painted miniatures that we can field for pretty much all genres and therefore can proxy minis AND still style the game while we take the time to paint "official" minis, if we ever need to. I felt no need to rush into Bushido until I had two reasonably well painted factions and a good amount of terrain simply because I could play other games using older collections and still look forward to "Bushido day". Newer gamers don't have the luxury of these vast collections that have taken (at times) years to build, so they MUST game with unpainted so ready as you say not game at all and where's the fun in that!

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    1. We appear to be of like minds, Andy. I have been collecting miniature figures since 1975 and so have amassed a vast collection in that time. As you know, "Bushido" is a game that intrigues me and I would like to give it a try. However, I'm rather lucky in that I don't need to buy any new figures for it because I can use proxy figures I already have. I own a very large amount of Oriental figures that I collected when I was playing the original "Bushido" RPG. Or, I can use my new figures from "Ninja All Stars" as proxy versions. Both are viable choices and both would save me a lot of money.
      There are a lot of miniature boardgames that I have bought in recent times. Some have had all of the figures associated with them fully painted (A Touch of Evil, Castle Ravenloft, Zombicide seasons 1 and 2), others have had some figures painted for them (Ninja All Stars, Shadows of Brimstone, Super Dungeon Explore, Zombicide season 3, Zombicide: Black Plague) and a few others have had no figures painted for them... yet (Last Night on Earth, Rum and Bones). But for me, the most important fact is that I get to play all of the games I own. And I will, God willing, get round to painting everything.

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  2. Part 1

    Hmmmm this is interestingly controversial and I would be interested in hearing other views about this. Remember I`m am not being horrible or `having ago` at you, yet I am afraid that (in good cheer and no disrespect) I DO utterly disagree with you Bryan, and my words only counter yours in good friendly debate.. however strongly I disagree with you.

    If I played guitar and sang (which I do) but did so for fun and to bring a little joy to myself and friends, I might play with old strings (not bothering to put in crystal clear new ones), I certainly wouldn’t worry about using a microphone and an activator to clear up my voice, and I wouldn`t worry if I forgot a few words or if some of my notes were wonky. Now If I were playing a gig and was being paid to entertain, I most certainly would take the time to apply new strings to my instrument to make it sound as best I can, and I would set up the PA and speakers and the sound board and effects peddles: and check the mic stands were tight and the wires all worked and I would turn up early and do a sound check, and I would take time to learn the words of my `set` because it would be disrespectful not to give it my best.

    But games..... well, its a game. What we are doing it emulating the wonder and the amazement and the innocent joy of childhood. Dress it up any way you like (I am of a mind that most people who seek perfection in their toy soldiers only do so to justify playing with toys) but a game is a game. Imagine not being able to play Monopoly unless someone: the Iron, the Car and the dog, the ship, etc? The very notion becomes ludicrous when you think of it.

    I will now reveal. I am a pro modeller, sculptor, and painter. My work appears on the cover of magazines and my commissions can sell for 500 each... or more. I sculpt many of the Reaper Bones pieces and I paint to a standard few could ever hope to achieve. But I am happy to see an unpainted collection on a table or a poorly painted collection on a table (whose to judge what’s poor anyway?), and I have absolutely no problem playing games with unpainted figures. I have plenty of games I don’t even paint the pieces for and probably never will.

    I truly don’t think this wonderful amazing hobby needs the legislation, of a vetting system of what’s acceptable and what’s not, when it comes to painting. I will give another example. I am a pretty okay musician (I teach guitar, flute, and Irish drum too.. I am also a singing coach). One thing I absolutely LOVE is to go to local pub sessions and enjoy to listen and sometimes join in. The standard of the music can be lovely, sometimes breathtaking (depending on whether a talented guest artist comes along that night) but usually the standard of playing and singing is below average. Now just because I happen to be rather gifted at singing and playing a musical instrument, does not mean for one second that I would make faces, or whisper disparaging comments about any of the people kind and brave enough to stand up and entertain everyone. I probably clap the loudest actually, and encourage “more, more, moreee.”

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  3. Part 2

    Yes, at a convention, minis should be painted. Well, course, and they always are. Unheard of to see a demo table with unpainted pieces.. its convention and people have had months to prepare. But at Limerick there is a club run by the guys at The Gathering. Its for under privileged kids, some pieces are (conventionally) poorly painted I suppose, some are not painted at all... some guys bring their half painted armies along because they so want to play but have not had time to finish their creations yet, some are learning to paint, some don’t even care... but what is so very noticeable is the sheer excitement , the imagination these kids possess. In their heads.. in their minds... in their vivid imaginations, those half painted orcs being attacked by warg riders are JUST like the ones in the film they went to see the week before. And it makes my heart so happy to see such innocent joy and acceptance. I heard some guy say to the owner of the shop (this big bruiser of a man, with a heart of gold) “why do you allow them to play with unpainted miniatures, it looks terrible?” And the bruiser shop owner turned to the man and smiles dryly: “because these kids know how to enjoy themselves.. do you?”
    My heart went out to that shop owner the moment he said that and in fact I went back next month and I gave the shop (for the kids) my entire collection of “Descent, Journeys in the Dark” so the club could enjoy something new to play with. Last time I was there, they`re still not all painted, but my GOD they play with them lots.

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    1. Good comments, Tarot and no offence taken. My opinion of using unpainted minis in a game has changed considerably since having a chat with Steve on the subject.
      Just one thing I'd like to point out to you. You said "at a convention, minis should be painted. Well, course, and they always are. Unheard of to see a demo table with unpainted pieces." Sadly, this is not always the case. I have seen too many tables on which the figures of one or both armies were unpainted.
      But I accept all that you said and you raise some valid points.

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    2. I second that... I've seen unpainted minis at conventions (last one I was at as Warfare comes to mind). Its rare, but does happen. Doesn't look very impressive I just say, and at a convention you go to be "wowed".

      But I do re-iterate, its not the norm lol

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    3. Indeed, it is not the norm, Steve, but it does happen. I've seen it at a couple of the big Games Day conventions run by Games Workshop at Birmingham NEC.

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    4. *holds hand up*

      Now we agree Bryan *tickles him* I don't enjoy seeing unpainted things at conventions. Yes I`ve seen it too and its never exactly awe inspiring is it!! For a Games Workshop stand wow, that's pretty amazing really. They`re champions of the `must be painted and look like "Eavy Metal" faction.

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  4. ooopps meant

    Imagine not being able to play Monopoly unless someone first painted: the Iron, the Car and the dog, the ship, etc?

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    1. I kinda figured that's what you meant. :-)

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    2. I`m getting Stevie-itis in my old age hehehe.

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  5. Painted figures look nice on a table and I`ll probably go Ooo and Aaaa over them if I see them.

    Unpainted figures on a table look fine too (hey I`m there to watch a good game, not judge the models played with).... just needs a tiny bit more imagination and suspension of disbelief. But I got plenty of that so it truly doesn't bother me to see unpainted pieces on a table.

    In fact, it makes me smile and simply reminds me of my childhood when I was happy as a lamb with two tails to play with unpainted toy soldiers. Hell, those may well still be the best days of my hobby life.

    Look at the wonderful videos on You Tube by Tina and Gamer, The Lonesome Gamer, or Watch it Played (By Rodney Smith and family). Amazing videos and so usefully informative... and have helped me get to grips with many a good game... or shown me whether or not I want to buy a game, just by watching them play. Always enjoyable to watch... but are the figures painted.. no never. They game with them right out of the box.

    Cool beans I say :))

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    1. Thanks, Steve. I've not much to add to that other than to say thank you for showing my the error of my ways. I now realise it is okay to game with unpainted figures.

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    2. (scuse my dreadful typos.... were all fighting over the computer here as we`ve been without all week and we are all typing too fast with others looming over shoulders to have their turn hahahaa.)

      Hmmmm, I dunno about showing error of your ways Bryan mate... just different opinions I think. You may well be right, and I`d be very interested to hear what others think on this topic. I think you just have a set standard you don't deviate from. Me I have an entirely different take on it all... is all.

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  6. But never the less. VERY interesting article Bryan, and thank you so much for covering for us while the internet was down. We`ve gone up the wall without hehe.

    I know it must have been hard for you writing for both blogs, and we are all very grateful to you for that.

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    1. Thanks, Hil. I can surely empathise with your plight. To have been without Internet access for so long must have been so bloody frustrating! No problem in covering for you guys. I typed this post out last night, so it was very much a last minute thing. Better to post something, I thought than post nothing. It wasn't that hard once I decided what to write about. Coming up with the idea for the article took a lot longer than the typing of it.

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  7. oh absolutely... I should have said that too... and Tar`is nodding away over my shoulder in agreement as well.

    THANK YOU.

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    1. Again, no problem. I was only too happy to be able to come up with something to cover for you guys.

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  8. oh you did you did. you wrote one of the most interesting things I`ve read in ages. The fact I disagree makes it even more interesting (for me anyway). It gets boring when everyone agrees with each other all the time hehe.

    I love rambles and gamers diary talk, its so personal and `up close` Most gamers never bother to do that, and its good because its not only insight into gaming minds, but also gives us room for thought and allows us to evaluate and re-evaluate our own thoughts and convictions too.

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    1. Well said, Tarot, and thank you once again for expressing your views so thoughtfully. Actually, your views are not that different to mine now that I have had my epiphany. I'm coming round to the idea that gaming with unpainted or badly painted figures is okay. It's taken me a LONG time to get here but here I am, better late than never.

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    2. *smiles softly at Bryan*

      you know I wuv you Bryan dearly, dear friend. But in this one thing. I agree with Tarot on her views. So a big hug from me on your epiphany lol

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  9. I`m caught between agreeing and disagreeing with the notion of playing with painted over unpainted.

    I`m really enjoying what Stevie`s doing right now, which is create a sandbox campaign for Zombicide Black Plague, but everything is still pretty much unpainted for the games we play. As a new survivor gets painted up in all his or her glory or a new monster gets lick of paint, that piece (or pieces) gets added to the next game, so eventually everything will end up painted. Stevie calls the unpainted ones "rookies" and the ones that get painted "veterans" and it is nice because it gives us a sense of game continuity. As a survivor (for example) does well in one game, we feel the urge to paint the piece up for the next part of the campaign. Works a treat. We play with anything from two, three or six and upwards, and no one has minded so far. We just love the fact we play lots: maybe 3 or 4 games of BP a week even more some weeks.

    (Should point out, we had BP fully painted, but after the kickstarter arrived we gave our painted version away for another unpainted one, so all the minis would match up to the new style of painting we are trying out: you`ll see it eventually in Stevie`s "King, Parliament and Zombies" page.

    http://thegamerscupbard.blogspot.ie/p/steves-d-campaign.html

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    1. Hil, as long as you're having fun that's all that matters. I have now come to realise that playing the game is more important than painting the figures for it. If you can do both, then great, but if not, it's no big deal.

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  10. Thanks Bryan. Actually your article To "paint or not to paint" has sparked an entire `musings` between me and tarot. Not about whether to paint or not to paint, but about whether to, or not to customise. I know its nothing to do directly with your post, but it definitely caused us to jump track in a direction we might not have gone had it not been for that post.

    That, as Tarot said, is one of the really nice things about reading words of other gamers, because it of`times make us think, and sometimes inspire us in totally new directions and avenues of thought.

    I think I may slip in a little musings article of my own, along with Stevie`s review/article at the week end. Should be fun I think.

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  11. Very interesting article, Bryan. Whilst I prefer to play with painted figures, I will quite happily play with a mix of painted, half-painted and unpainted figures if I want to play. As demo games are there to draw you in, you expect the figures to be fully painted, but if they're demonstrating 'right out of ther box', I have no issue with that.
    However...gamers who refuse to play an opponent at a club or shop because they're not fielding a fully painted army or complain about OTHER people's painting skills are not the sort of people I wish to associate with. Whatever stage of painting they may be at NOW, they were once in the same boat as the person they're criticising. It's like complaining about the speed of a learner driver - you were there once, so get a grip.

    On a slightly unrelated note - Tarot, is there no end to your talents? My God, woman, I'm actually starting to wish I was you.

    Um...in an admiring and non-Silence of the Lambs way, obviously...

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  12. That Jez ^^ was probably the weirdest thing you've said to date, but totally true! Lol

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    1. The filter between my brain and both my mouth and fingers is not always secure - sometimes stuff slips through that really shouldn't...

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  13. {{gamers who refuse to play an opponent at a club or shop because they're not fielding a fully painted army or complain about OTHER people's painting skills are not the sort of people I wish to associate with.}}

    WELL said. Stevie and I have walked away from more than one situation because of exactly the same thing you mention... we never deviate on that moral ethic.

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