In a bid to cover up the fact that I only have a single model that I’ve worked on this week and it isn’t quite done yet, I thought I’d share a bit more of my hobby history as well as share some things that helped me become a better painter along the way. Since I started this site, I’ve received a lot of compliments on my work (which I am humbled by) and I think it might surprise and interest some of you to know how I got to where I am now. I will mostly focus on the work I did before this site as many of you have been supporters of the site for quite some time and well, the more recent work is pretty well-documented here as it is. I should also note that I tried to select pictures of the best things I painted during every particular “era” of my hobbying. I did this not to make myself look good but more to show how the heights you hit when painting can really go up with experience. Without any further ado, let’s talk about my history in the wargaming hobby.
I actually started painting in late-middle school when my younger brother somehow found out about this game called Warhammer. At first, I wasn’t all that interested but he showed me some of the things he was painting and it got my attention. I think the “art” of painting miniatures attracted me as I have always loved to draw and my Dad used to enlist my “help” (he did most of the work to be fair) in building model cars. So wargaming tapped into those two interests. I’ve always had a fascination with model trains as well so seeing things in miniature has always been something I thought was cool. Wargaming is a better hobby for me but I admire model railroading and think it is a great hobby for those blessed with the space to pursue it.
Fortunately, I have some pictures of things I painted from this era and I’ll be frank and say that while I tried to get good at painting, I was not great. I became enamored with a method of painting where I applied paint with toothpicks. I was struggling getting the details with a brush so I guess I figured that I should go with a finer point! When I look back on that era now, I recognize that while my goal was always painting to game, I only played a couple of Warhammer 40,000 games with my brother around 500-750 points because I was constantly distracted by new armies and games. For example, in 40k I painted my brother’s Ultramarines, Chaos Space Marines for myself, a good chunk of Necrons, and then bizarrely I bought Orks, Tyranids, and Eldar too. No wonder I never got an army done! I am convinced this is why I remain so determined not to start too many projects or let my attention get too diverted because I learned the hard way what constantly buying whatever is new or seems appealing can lead to.
At some point, I decided that Warhammer was more appealing to me as I’ve always been a fan of LOTR and fantasy in general. I got better at painting but made the same mistakes in regards to trying to paint too many different armies. I painted Empire and Orks (which came in a starter set at the time), Ogres, High Elves, and Vampire Counts. Trying to paint Warhammer fantasy was even more crazy for a single person as the units were 30 models strong in many cases and you needed 200+ miniatures for a full size army. Needless to say, I never played a game of Warhammer fantasy and ended up switching to LOTR SBG as it had a much smaller model count and the movies were coming out around that time.
LOTR SBG endeed up being my last stop in wargaming until much later in adulthood. I painted a fair amount of minis and I was getting close to having the Mines of Moria starter set painted and ready to game with when I realized I didn’t have an eager opponent and the thought of solo gaming never entered my mind back then. While I have to admit, I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t lose interest in wargaming at that time, I like to think I’d have a much larger collection than I do now. At the same time though, while I enjoyed painting, I recognized that I had hit a wall in my painting skills (the method I was using really holding me back) and I decided to give up on wargaming for quite a long time.
It wasn’t until after I went to grad school, worked a couple of different jobs and finally found a stable, full-time job that I got into board gaming and more specifically, Mansions of Madness. It was around 2016 for anyone keeping track. I noticed that people were painting their miniatures and it made me a bit nostalgic for painting in high school so I decided I would paint up the miniatures for my game to make it more immersive. I also saw a lot of other painted minis that weren’t that good and I figured I could do better! This time around I was determined to learn how to paint the right way, using a brush. While the sculpts were not great, I did slowly get better and get more confident in my painting. One big difference from when I painted as a teenager is that Youtube was around and there were a decent number of videos on how to paint things. I watched those on my lunch break at work and tried to master as many painting skills as I could. At this time, I used the palette paper that Games Workshop sold which I later learned is not as good as other surfaces, but more on that later.
The other thing I did and one piece of advice that I recommend to anyone is to find people who know more about painting and ask them for feedback on your work. I joined the WIP forum on Cool Mini Or Not and learned a lot quickly that way. While you can also learn a lot by watching Youtube, getting feedback from other painters is generally more valuable and it really helped me improve. As I became more knowledgeable about painting, I started to learn how to highlight and paint skin better for example. I started getting more elaborate in my basing of these minis which are all skills I would push even further when I became a proper wargaming. As you can see, the quality of paint jobs was way higher and more realistic than when I was painting in my younger years.
As I look back on these board game minis, I see a painter doing their best to learn and improve but I was also restricted by using low detail/quality sculpts. A good sculpt makes it easy to know where to highlight and shade and it should make you want to pick out all of the details. Mansions of Madness sculpts weren’t of a high enough quality to do that unfortunately. While I found Mansions of Madness to be a lot of fun to play, there were a couple of limitations with it that I started to become annoyed with. The first is that it felt like I was playing through a pre-determined story and I wanted to be able to tell a bit more of my own story. Also, I was rebasing miniatures that were not designed to go on custom bases and were quite fragile. This extra work and the low quality of the sculpts became annoying so I started looking for other games to play that improve upon these weaknesses.
Enter The Walking Dead! As you know from my recent foray into Fallout, the post-apocalypse setting is quite appealing to me and I had read and enjoyed some of the Walking Dead comics so this game seemed worthwhile. It was also in the more familiar wargaming territory (even if the game has some board game elements too) so I grabbed a starter set and started painting it up. It is around this time that I picked up a wet palette at Michael’s (a craft store in the United States) which helped me push my skills even further. Being able to mix and layer your paints is vital for creating smooth blends. You can see me getting better at these kinds of things in the Walking Dead pictures above and below. The higher quality sculpts certainly helped too. While I enjoyed painting Walking Dead miniatures, I found the scenarios in the Starter Set to be uninspiring. They were really basic and lacked much narrative flavor or even Walking Dead character. Ultimately, I decided to sell the starter and find a new game even with its contents painted up.
While my painting skills increased even further during this period, I still had a ways to go. I didn’t highlight miniatures enough (which was due in large part to not having mastered a wet palette quite yet). While I could paint halfway decent skin, I still had a lot to learn to make it like vibrant and realistic. I also didn’t understand how to apply blood spatter in a more realistic way so the zombies I painted didn’t quite turn out as well as I wanted them too. Getting feedback really helped during this period and I learned a lot even if TWD didn’t work out the way I hoped. I was encouraged by some good painting friends to get into something that Games Workshop makes as they have always had the highest quality sculpts in wargaming, so I ended up going back to my roots.
Still wanting to be involved in wargaming but knowing that I needed to find something that thematically appealed to me, I ended up taking up Hobbit SBG and starting this website shortly after. I made a smart choice and got the Escape From Goblin Town Starter Set first. The high quality plastic sculpts were as good as anything I painted and I started to figure out more advanced painting techniques like layering and understanding how colors worked finally. In many ways, the experience I had been accruing was finally paying off too. Things I had been experimenting with for a couple of years finally started clicking and I was mastering them now. As I look back, I think having variety in what I painted was helpful. My biggest piece of advice is to try and find new techniques and ways you can improve. If you’ve never done layer or glazing, give them a try. If you don’t have a wet palette, take some time and get one and see what it can do for your painting. Each time I made a decision like this, it ended up paying big dividends for me. Keep in mind, everything you paint doesn’t need to push your abilities (or in other words, every miniature you paint doesn’t need to be more challenging or look better than the last one) but the more you can find ways to improve and to try new things, the better you will get. I think all of these things came together for me when it came time to paint Hobbit minis.
The rest, of course, is history but that hopefully gives you some insight into my humble beginnings and how I got here. I never thought I’d be as good of a painter as I am now but I also recognize that display-level painters outclass me. The most important piece of advice I can share is that you have to paint in the way that you enjoy and for me, that means painting things for gaming in a high quality manner that doesn’t take months or even weeks to get a single figure done. Find what you enjoy the most with painting and keep at it! You never know where you’ll end up in this hobby or how much you might improve.