Where’s your mojo?

Painting Persian cavalry

Painting Persian cavalry

Most wargamers go through phases where they lose touch with their inspiration. “Just why am I doing this?” they ask themselves. Sometimes, the answer comes back loud and clear, they shrug off the doubts and on they go. At other times, it’s more difficult, like a bout of writer’s block, and they become consumed with self-doubt, or effectively ‘fall out of love’ with their hobby. This can lead to someone stepping away from the hobby for a while – or even, as I’ve seen happen, permanently.

Some even take up railway modelling. Sheesh.

More common still is where a hobbyist suffers a cooling of enthusiasm for one or more aspects of the hobby. Perhaps they grow tired of the effort of fighting big battles, and turn instead to the quick thrill of skirmish games. Or maybe they can’t stand the bickering of the historical button-counters, and seek comfort in the arms of fantasy or sci-fi or even the realm of the imagi-nation.

But perhaps the most common cause of a wargamer taking a hiatus is the requirement to paint miniatures.

One of the sine qua nons of wargaming for the vast majority of us is that we buy unpainted castings and then set about painting them ourselves. A fortunate few with funds to spare invest sizeable sums in the skills of professional painting services, whether at home or overseas. Still others bid for painted armies on eBay, or visit shows where they might be lucky enough to pick up a bargain at the Bring & Buy, though it has to be said that both eBay and other pre-owned armies can yield variable quality: if you’re lucky, you might find yourself in possession of the work of a decent brushman; more often, the results are decidedly average or below, but if all you want is to get painted minis on the table, then the quality might not matter.

One of my perennial problems is that I want to paint my own armies, but I generally like big battles with lots of miniatures, and this increasingly conflicts with the reality that I have precious little time for my hobby at all, let alone having to paint and base the little blighters before I can play with them! It’s a curse: I was brought up to believe that an army isn’t really mine unless I’ve actually clothed the miniature soldiers. Moreover, I have a certain standard below which I am not prepared to fall. Even my well-known Spencer Smiths need to be dressed adequately – I just can’t bring myself to do a ‘bish bosh’ job on them, and even end up carving and filing to improve the quality of the castings before any paint goes on. The regiments may be fictitious, but I want the uniforms I’ve designed to look just as spanking on the table as any historically-clad force.

The other problem that many of us have is the “ooh, shiny!” syndrome, as a result of which we acquire far too many miniatures, too quickly, as if stockpiling unpainted lead is somehow an investment for the future. We end up with boxes – nay, cupboards – full of naked lead and plastic, awaiting that starry night when, miraculously, time stands still and we whip out brushes and paint and catch up with all the painting we have been meaning to do for weeks, err, no, months… Okay, I admit it: years. It just ain’t gonna happen, is it?

The best way to tackle the problem is not, as I have learned, to attempt ‘binge painting’. With the best will in the world, it just doesn’t get the job done. If I had a pound for every time I’ve fondly imagined that I would dedicate a week’s holiday, an entire weekend, or even, nowadays, just a full afternoon to addressing the problem without interruption… Well, I’d certainly have a few quid.

No, from what I’ve seen of the wargamers who have actually managed to amass sizeable, completely painted forces, the trick is habit. An hour a day before going to work, or an hour in the evening before bed – even whilst watching the TV. Even making the effort to schedule a couple of hours every Sunday is better than the half-promises I’ve lived with for quite some time now.

The thing is that whilst I actually enjoy painting, and certainly enjoy the results, I have conflicting creative pressures. My number one priority is obviously the magazine, which must go to press on time, month in, month out. Whilst the deadlines are regular, the workload is not routine – every issue is different, some issues requiring more editorial and/or design input than others. Whilst enjoyable and rewarding as a challenge, it’s a routine-wrecker! And obviously, I can never predict how much interaction there might be with contributors and readers. I get a LOT of emails and interact with people on social media as much as I can, all of which eats time.

And as you know, as well as the magazine, I have ambitions to be a writer: Pen & Sword are queueing up projects for me to finish, and I am foolishly trying to write fiction as well. And despite me having slashed the number of blogs I maintain from far too many to just a couple, they are still beasts that need to be fed.

So, today I decided to try two things. First of all, to try and jump-start my painting mojo with something relatively simple and small in scope; and secondly to make a promise to myself to work on it for 30-60 minutes a day, at least five days a week. Then I can assess how things are going, and measure progress by simply watching the shiny white metal disappearing under layers of paint!

The project is the latest thing I’m approaching with my old pal Guy Hancock: early WWII Blitzkrieg in France and the Low Countries, using GHQ 1/285 micro-armour and Battlegroup Blitzkrieg from Iron Fist Publishing,though I’m sure we’ll also experiment with other rulesets such as Blitzkrieg Commander and Chain of Command. You may sense my relief because rather than experience the humiliation of the British & Commonwealth forces as I have done in our Western Desert battles, I’m playing the Germans in this gig, and looking forward to enjoying the benefits of superior command and control!

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And so, a few piccies here of some black blobs, which are actually delightful GHQ castings under a bit of cheap acrylic undercoat. I’m then going to be using Vallejo colours, some of which I acquired in review packs from PSC when they brought out their own range of colour packs last year. I’ll be keeping it as simple as possible, with a base coat and highlight, with a few details – I may try out some 1/300 decals (if there are any! Dom’s?) for the standard Balkenkreuz. I am also the proud owner of an ‘optivisor’ thing bought on eBay for a few quid, which should give my poor eyes some relief.

So, here’s hoping that this little project helps me to rekindle my mojo after far too long a break.

My painting notes book

My painting notes book

Finally, I’ve included a couple of pics of one of my painting notebooks. Do you keep a record of the paints and techniques you use? Given how long it can be between painting sessions, I find it invaluable, as I couldn’t possibly remember the nuances of colour mixes or dilution without it. I have this one, which is a pretty random mixture of projects, and then others which are for specific, big projects, such as my imagi-nations Wars of the Faltenian Succession, Peninsular War and now ACW.

Typical painting notes – these are for my Zulu Wars collection

Typical painting notes – these are for my Zulu Wars collection

I’ll keep you posted on progress; it will be interesting to see how quickly I can knock out a decent little Panzer force. I wonder how Guy is getting on with his French…?

And oh, by the way, I fully intend to finish all those 1/72 plastic Persian cavalry that you saw at the top!

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