I have been painting now for around 25 years and I paint on average once a day, but even I sometimes burn out and go through periods where I feel uninspired to sit down and paint. So here are my top ten tips for upping your motivation and getting yourself pumped to paint.
1. Paint Routinely
Scheduling your painting will increase your productivity. If you paint ad hoc it’s easier to put it off. If you work it into your schedule and set aside dedicated time it will become routine. This doesn’t have to be every night, it could be once a week or even once a month, the fact of knowing you have that set aside time to work on your painting will make it easier to get started. That doesn’t mean you can’t sit down on a different night and do some painting but then that time will feel like a bonus session and you’ll get a little jolt of endorphins because you overachieved.
2. Paint Something
Following on from my last tip about scheduling your time is this. Paint something, paint anything, when you sit down to paint and you only have a short time or you don’t feel like taking a mini to completion just paint something. Every time you apply paint to a mini you are one step closer to finishing, it might only be a tiny step but all those steps add up.
3. Don’t force yourself to paint
Sometimes when you sit down to paint you don’t know where to start, or you just can’t face it, it’s okay to do something else. Painting is a creative art, or at least it should be, and forcing yourself to do it will not lead to creativity and expression, it will lead to resentment. If you are tired or frustrated or bored you can stop. Coming back to the table with fresh eyes on a different day you might see everything differently.
That said, sometimes just starting can be enough shake off the funk of procrastination, but if you're really not feeling it, better to pack up and do something more fun.
4. Paint what you want to paint
Which leads me to my next point. Paint something you want to paint. So many times I hear painters say “I have to finish this” or “I need to finish that”. No you don’t, no one ever died from not finishing a Warhammer regiment.
Paint something that is fun, something that excites you, that gets your creative juices flowing because that will reward you. You’ll have fun, you’ll feel fulfilled. Painting should be fun, it should be exciting, it should be creative and expressive and if you’re having fun you’ll want to come back to it because your brain wants that feeling, that dopamine hit.
So many painters say to me “I can’t paint that, I have to finish this first”. Not true, paint the new hotness that just arrived, you’re pumped about it, you’re going to enjoy it and you’re going to get further along with finishing it because of that. When you let painting feel like an obligation that’s when you lose the joy and it becomes a drudge.
5. Don’t put off gaming
You don’t have to paint everything! Don’t be one of those people who needs to paint everything before you play. The game isn’t better because there’s paint on the pieces, it’s the same, it’s more immersive, it looks prettier but the game will be the same. If you put off playing a game until it’s painted you are giving up dozens of hours of play time you could have had, of fun you could have had, for an arbitrary reason. Some people have never played certain games because they are still in the painting queue. Stop it! Play your games, enjoy your games.
And you know what’s worse than playing a game with unpainted miniatures? Spending a year painting them only to find out you don’t like the game, that’s way worse! And playing a game will motivate you to paint the pieces, it will give you a reason to paint it and a reason to be excited for painting.
6. Use washes
There are so many great shortcuts to painting, you should absolutely use them! Washes & Drybrushing can save you a ton of time. Washes in particular can save you a huge amount of time as they flow nicely into hard to reach areas. There’s tons of options out there too. I highly recommend Contrast paints, I do not think they are a complete painting solution but they work excellently for tinting your base coats and blocking out colours, often giving you a flat colour and a shadow colour meaning you only need to add highlights.
If you’d rather go old school, Soft, Strong and Dark tone washes from Army Painter are excellent for washing anything from armour and wood to flesh tones and cloths. They also act well as a medium for thinning other paints for washes. And talking of mediums, if you can’t find a colour wash you want, make your own with Lahmian Medium.
7. You can always go back
Tying right into my point about washes is that you can always do more work later. Painting a whole force for Warhammer 40k or an entire board game can be a daunting process. However if you just want to get some colour on your minis so you can get playing, you can crank out the whole thing in a very short space of time.
The part of the painting process that makes a miniature pop on the table is the highlighting process. Picking out the details and the light reflections etc, but if you lay down good, neat, base coats and block out your colours then your minis will look great on the table while you play and if you want to you can go back and spend an hour or two on each mini to bring those details to life.
One of the biggest demotivators for many painters is painting the same miniature over and over again or even just the same scheme. If you find yourself overfaced by an endless row of identical sculpts, have some fun, mix it up and try something different. All humans, even those within the same family have different skin tones, try varying them across your miniatures, not only will this keep you more engaged and allow you to try out different colours but it will also give your finished models a more realistic look.
For me I like to treat models, as often as possible as individuals, avoiding chain-gang style painting which to me feels mechanical and detached and instead focusing in on each one. Sometimes I even give them names… have I overshared?
9. Have a good space
Having a painting area is vital. Ideally you want somewhere with a good light source that you won't block when you lean forward to see small details. Having space to lay out your paints and models will vastly improve your productivity. Having a dedicated space that is always set up and ready to use will mean that you can more often paint in an impromptu fashion. Nothing kills enthusiasm quicker than having to do admin before you can start.
How often have you looked at a game in your collection and decided against playing it because it takes too long to set up and you’ve forgotten all the rules? Well painting is the same way, if you can just sit down and start you’ll do it more often and the more often you paint the more your skills will improve.
10. Break it down
Lastly this is my own trick for getting vast numbers of models painted. Take, for example, a board game like Descent where I had around 200 models to paint. Even contemplating that mountain of plastic was enough to put me off starting. However instead if you look at it and say "I only have 50 heroes to paint", well then that’s a smaller number, a more manageable number. And then I break it down again and say to myself I only have 10 healers to paint or 15 warriors and now I can see myself actually being able to achieve that.
Creating achievable goals will not only allow you to get painting and overcome the fear of a huge pile of unpainted plastic or lead but it will give you a dopamine reward. Every time we achieve something our brain gives us a little boost, a little thank you present for checking off a task. By breaking down your outstanding unpainted minis into smaller achievable goals you can more quickly complete them, whilst contributing to the completion of the overall project.
For me I use spreadsheets to track all my various projects and I use multiple criteria to split the project up. For example I might use Heroes and Villains, subdivided into faction types and further subdivided into size or perhaps game role. This way I can mix up the types of models I’m painting, I don’t need to do all the heroes or all the villains I can instead do all the ones on big bases but still have a sense of achievement. This method also allows you to chip away at big categories without tackling them directly.
11. Share your work
And, it wouldn't be a top ten list without a bonus extra item. Share your painting with people, post it to social media or forums or just display it in your gaming room. Be proud of what you have created and share it with your friends. As humans we are vain animals and we seek constant approval from others so sharing your work will make you feel good and will make you want to paint more. Also sharing your work, especially on social media can be very motivating, especially if you are struggling to finish a project or if you are looking for constructive feedback on how you could improve.
What are your top tips for staying motivated, why not share them with us in the comments?