5 things that make a miniature fun to paint

Painting toy soldiers

gaming meta rpg wargame

After you paint a hundred miniatures or so, you might find that you start to get a sense that some miniatures are fun to paint, while others are less fun. It might seem strange that there would be a difference. It's tempting to assume that one hunk of plastic is the same as any other hunk of plastic. But as it turns out, the sculpt matters, and sometimes one miniature feels like a slog and another is engaging and inspiring and fun. It's a matter of personal preference, of course, but here are 5 things I've noticed about influences on whether something's fun to paint or not.

1. Sculpt quality

I've written an entire blog post about this, but the quality of the sculpt makes all the difference. The subject of a miniature sculpt could be your favourite hero from your favourite book, but if it's impossible to distinguish the hand from the sword hilt, or the hair from the overcoat, or the jewelry from the clothing, then it's frustrating to paint. There's no way around it. Even if you're a skilled painter and you manage to suggest different elements entirely through paint, the best you can achieve is a 2d texture on a 3d surface, like those poorly-skinned video game assets that look great from a distance and look like pixellated wallpaper up close.

Poor quality sculptures just aren't fun to paint. Unless you're just painting to learn, consider spending extra money on a good sculpt, even if it means painting fewer miniatures.

2. Storytelling

Aside from quality, the most important thing about a miniature is the story it tells. Some miniatures, like those for Tales of the Valiant or Malifaux, don't have a specific story and instead are blank slates for you to develop yourself through gameplay. Other miniatures, like iconic characters from Warhammer 40,000 or Pathfinder, have appeared in novels and have lots of lore associated with them. And some miniatures are somewhere in between, being iconic but generic, like a stormtrooper from Star Wars, a mech from BattleTech, or any number of rank and file troopers from any given war game.

When a miniature inspires you, it means you're imagining half-baked story ideas as you plan out how you paint it. A colour scheme can reveal much about a character, so you're hinting at stories with the paint you apply. And once you actually start painting, you can spend hours imagining the miniature's past and future exploits as you meticulously get the paint just right.

3. Sculpt appeal

One of my favourite models to paint is the Adeptus Arbites of Warhammer 40,000, and it's just because they remind me of Judge Dredd and RoboCop. I have no reason to own an Arbites miniature. I don't play them in a game. Heck, I'm not even sure what game they're meant for. But I like painting them. If you're a fan of orcs, or kobolds, or halflings, then a miniature of that thing is probably going to be fun to paint.

When you just like how a miniature looks, it can be fun to paint. Maybe there's no story to it, maybe you're not even sure how you're going to use it in a game. If you like it, then you're probably going to like painting it.

4. The sum of its parts

Painting a miniature is a series of decisions. You have to decide on a colour scheme, you have to select individual paints for specific parts of the model, you have to get the paint applied neatly, and so on. A miniature is, while you're painting it, a bunch of little individual elements, and after you've painted everything it's the sum of all those parts.

It's hard to explain until you've experienced it, but sometimes the parts of a miniature aren't fun to paint, and after you've painted them all, they sometimes just don't seem to get along. It's not that the quality of the sculpt is bad, it's not that the miniature isn't emotive, it's just that all the bits and pieces that make the model haven't produced interesting choices for you. I think this happens a lot with models of really generic archetypes. Sometimes a Paladin seems cool and inspiring until you find that the Paladin's armour panels break in strange places, and no matter what colour for the cloth underneath you choose it looks awkward. A Rogue looks exciting until you end up painting it all black because nothing else makes sense.

I find that this happens mostly when a model isn't actually that inspiring anyway, but I've been unpleasantly surprised from time to time.

What I usually try to do with models like these, assuming I catch on in time, is to use them to experiment with an idea I wouldn't otherwise try. Maybe it's a new colour, or non-metallic metal, or something to give the model an additional purpose. If it can't be fun, at least it can be educational.

5. Novelty

Some miniatures are fun because they're just so different from what you're used to. Honestly, I think this is one reason Warhammer miniatures and monsters in any miniature line are so reliably fun. Warhammer strikes a truly unique balance between ridiculous and cool in ways that few other miniatures do, and of course monsters are great because they're outrageous.

Not everything has to be unique, of course, and there are lots of great miniatures out there that fill obligatory roles. We need knights and foot soldiers and ordinary things like that, and they can be fun to paint for the four reasons prior to this one. But when a model is different from what you're used to, it can be a lot of fun to try.

Painting is fun

I like painting miniatures. Maybe you do too. If you do, you've probably thought way too much about what makes a miniature fun. Feel free to share in the comments!

T'au soldiers photo by Seth Kenlon. Creative Commons cc0.

Previous Post Next Post