You Don't Have to Paint if You Don't Want to

I will start this article off with this caveat - I love to paint. I paint a lot. How much is a lot? I average 15-20 hours per week depending on the week in question. I make a point to paint at least a little bit every day that I am home. I encourage my friends to paint, I give out probably a solid hour of advice to people via PM on a weekly basis, and I write hobby content.

Given that, you are likely surprised to see the topic of this particular article coming from me, and that’s completely reasonable.

There has been a rise of this kind of mentality floating around social media of late, with this meme being the most recent example, and the one which “broke the camel’s back” as it were on my floodgate of opinions on the topic.

 
 

There have been myriad other comments that have pricked at me over the last few months. They mostly boil down to some variation of:

  • I won’t play against someone who brings unpainted armies against me because it’s disrespecting my time spent painting my army.

  • Playing against unpainted armies ruins my immersion in the game.

  • Playing painted should give me some kind of advantage when I play the game (+1 to go first, tie breakers in a tournament, etc.)

  • People that don’t play painted are the worst kind of person/don’t get the hobby/only care about winning/pick your insult of choice.

  • Painting requirements should be standard at all tournaments, there’s no point in playing in a tournament if we aren’t playing with painted armies.

Frankly, any of the above are toxic attitudes that I’m 100% certain have turned people away from playing this game.

I’m going to break this article into a few main chunks starting with my position, tackling the painting elite’s arguments, and then offering some ways to actually encourage painting without being toxic about it

Position: You don’t have to paint your army if you don’t want to.

It’s a really simple position actually. Basically, if your priority is elsewhere or your budget doesn’t fit it, don’t worry about painting your stuff. The game itself is a hobby, and the painting/modeling side of the game is a completely different hobby all on it’s own.

Let’s talk about some of the common arguments for why you should have to paint your stuff and tear them apart shall we?

Opposition Argument 1:

If you have enough time to play, you have enough time to paint.

This is complete and total garbage. Maybe if you’re single, have a really good job that really only requires you to work 9 - 5 and your commute is less than an hour, this could be true. That is almost never the case, however. Anyone with a family, more than one job, or work and school commitments together can probably choose one night (maybe two if your wife/partner is amazing) when they get to do hobby stuff for a big chunk of time, and even for me I would choose playing the game hands down.

Painting requires a pretty significant time investment for a lot of people that don’t have a permanent painting station (which is most of us out there I expect). If you’ve got a permanent painting station, you probably really like to paint, so go ahead and paint.

If you don’t have a painting station set up, every time you want to paint you have to go get your paints out and sort through the box for the ones you want. You have to set up your painting surface, get out your pallet and find your brushes. And then you have to get up again because you forgot to get your water cup out and you need to fill it. You might also need to get out lights/powerstrip/find the dang outlet.

Oh and when you’re done? You have to clean it all up again.

This means that in order to get anything painted at all, you need to spend a solid hour devoted to the craft or it’s not worth it. That’s a significant time investment, and if my choices are between setting up and taking down for twenty minutes to paint at home or going to the LGS to play a game, I expect most people would rather play the game and see their friends.

Opposition Argument 2:

It’s part of the hobby, you have to do it or you are not a real mini gamer.

Also complete garbage. Miniature gaming is divided pretty cleanly into two hobbies, the modeling side and the playing side. The playing side requires some rudimentary modeling (building your models is a really good thing), but in no way does it require you to paint. More and more of us have grown up on board games with unpainted minis out of the box, and see no problem whatsoever with playing a miniatures game with unpainted models. I recognize this is a bit of a cultural shift, but that is the reality of it.

Additionally, conjoining the two sides of the hobby easily doubles initial buy in.

Looking at my painting desk right now, I have 15 pots of paint out ($60), 3 good paint brushes ($60), two daylight lamps ($100 or more, I got these at estate sales for cheaper), a cutting board ($10), an exacto knife and some spare blades ($15), and a wet pallet that I made which still ran about $10 and this is just the stuff on my desk right now.

The painting side of the hobby is not cheap at all, and putting the onus on new players to pony up the couple hundred bucks for an army and then the additional hundred to two hundred dollars to just get set up with painting materials (never mind the time investment to learn how to use them) is nuts.

This doesn’t even get into the physical requirements painting has. What if you have hand tremors or bad eyesight? What if you’ve got damaged muscle in your arm or back that makes sitting to paint or holding a paintbrush for a long time insanely painful? Playing a game is something that is not gate kept by these kinds of ailments, but it sure would make painting a nightmare.

Opposition Argument 3:

Get your models commissioned if you want them painted and don’t want to paint.

Getting painting supplies isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than getting them commissioned. This is a market where you really get what you pay for in most instances. Your local guy might paint your models for $2 a trooper, which is great, but that’s still going to be a couple of hundred dollars for a 75 point list for basecoat and a wash. If you get someone like me to do it, a 75 point list is probably going to run you over a grand, and if you go to someone who really knows what they’re doing it’s going to be 5-6k easily. This is an untenable cost for most of the population when it comes to their hobby.

Opposition Argument 4:

It disrespects me and my effort to paint my models if you don’t paint your models and it ruins my immersion in the game.

This particular argument makes my blood boil more than basically any of the other tawdry lines thrown around.

First of all, no one is intentionally disrespecting your effort by not painting their models. In order to be disrespectful, someone has to show you discourtesy or rudeness, and arguing that not painting models is evidence of either of those is laughable.

Now, I understand that for many people the entire point of playing a wargame is to sit down with a painted army and rad 3d terrain against another painted army and get lost in the immersion of the game. For others, models are literally just physical manifestations of stat lines and could be paper standees for all that it matters. These viewpoints are not disrespectful of the other, they are just different. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but when you claim that the other one is a token of disrespect against you because other people do not want the same things you do, you immediately lose credibility. When you sit down to play the game of Warmachine, what you want out of the game might be different than what your opponent wants out of the game, and that is totally fine.

Opposition Argument 5:

Seeing unpainted armies turns people away from the game; seeing painted armies gets peoples attention.

While I would agree with this point, I would argue that an even more important point is this - seeing few people play the game turns people away from the game; seeing lots of people play the game gets peoples attention.

Painting and the painted requirement are barriers to entry that stifle the pool of existing players. If you were to have 100% attendance at a game day or event from your local meta and then compare that to 100% attendance from players who can play fully painted, I would be surprised if the latter number is even one quarter of the former.

If we want this game to grow, we need to realize that today’s ideas of what a hobby is have changed. Playing the game is, for many many people, the hobby in total. The more people playing the game, the more other people are likely to want to play the game and the way we get to that point is by lowering the barrier to entry as much as possible. Warmachine is already the most difficult miniature game to get new players into based solely off the expansive number of models and unforgiving nature of the ruleset. Making painting an additional requirement will further decrease the number of people who are willing to give this game a try.

If you want to see more painted armies out there, what do you do?

Well definitely stop paint shaming people on the internet and in real life. There is pretty clear research that indicates that belittling harassing people about something makes them less likely to do it. With that in mind I offer three possible ideas.

Set up Hobby Days/Nights

These are events that happen alongside game days, and pretty much the idea is for people who have paints and brushes and lights to bring them to the LGS (or club or wherever you play) and help people who do not have access to these things paint their models.

It is very important while undertaking these gatherings to be friendly, reassuring, and celebratory of improvements. Painting is a very difficult skill for many people to approach, and seeing their efforts met with celebration is one way to encourage them to keep painting. Some may really enjoy it, and this can be a great way for them to start buying their own paints and continuing on their own. Some may really hate it, but will paint while their friends are painting as a way to pass the time and chat in good company.

Have Raffle Prizes at Events for Painted Armies

These should be in addition to any prize support for first place etc. and be based 100% on random chance and not on quality of paint job. If these prizes are based on appearance, one or two people from the meta will win every time, and that, in turn, will be a discouragement to other players.

Use Your Community to Help Players in Need

Sometimes, people’s lives take a sucky turn and as much as they want to have their models painted (or maybe just to have models in general), they aren’t in a position to afford any paints or brushes or or or.

Something I used to see in WMH metas was a powerful pull for helping players establish their armies to get playing. I have seen, many times in the past, websites post links to donate to help a player in their meta buy into the game or seen groups of volunteers in local metas donate $5 each to get a new player some paints and brushes to start their journey off.

This can be a really fun little project, and it makes everyone involved feel good. One of the possibilities that I really like is a monthly focus on a player where the group gets together and acquires something that player is in need of from paints to measuring sticks to tokens and foam. With minimal contributions from other members of the community, some of the financial strain of the hobby can be taken off the shoulders of a friend. This would be a rotating thing, and maybe your group does six of these a year. It bonds your group together in ways that will surprise you, helps sooth poor relationships, and brings a great atmosphere to your game nights that other groups will envy.

Conclusion:

I really like painting, but I really dislike how toxic of a topic it has become in our game. Encouraging more painted models does not look like demanding or cajoling. Encouragement looks like enabling, teaching, and sharing the love for the non-game hobby that comes along with miniature gaming.

Thanks for reading.