For the longest time, I had no interest in painting miniatures. In an RPG, miniatures aren't essential components of the game. I've probably played as much tabletop RPG with miniantures as I have without. I've never played with miniatures in Shadowrun, for example. So when I did buy miniatures, I bought them pre-painted. I often only had a handful of monster tokens, and usually used glass game tokens to mark monster positions on the map. Miniatures were fun to use, and I always enjoyed seeing what people at the local game store painted, but I felt that painting just wasn't a worthwhile investment of my money, time, and effort.
Then I started playing wargames.
Here's a list of the reasons I resisted painting miniatures. If you're not painting miniatures, but you play games that involve miniatures, I'm going to guess these will sound familiar to you. Here were my reservations, and what I've learned since giving in:
Painting a miniature isn't like painting on a canvas or a wall. The only similarity, as far as I can tell, is that they both use the physical medium of paint. In my limited experience, painting a miniature is mostly transferring a tiny droplet of paint from a small brush onto the plastic model. Half the time, you're just letting the surface tension of the droplet of paint on your brush burst and pour onto the model. Because the model is a 3d object with grooves and ridges, the paint usually actually stays within the region you intended for it to go.
I very rarely actually "brush" paint onto a miniature. When I do use the brush in the sort of paint stroke way you imagine a paintbrush gets used, I feel more like I'm dusting the model, forensic-investigator style. You have a little bit of paint on your brush, and you flick the brush over the surface of your target.
Only on the broadest of surfaces (usually it's armour or a cape or the blade of a broadsword) do I actually brush paint onto the model the way you imagine a famous painter brushing a canvas.
In other words, painting a model is more like a colouring-in book than painting a big blank canvas.
They do. But there's a spectrum, within a certain range of tolerance. As long as you have some disposable income, then you can probably shop around and find miniatures within your entertainment budget. But most importantly, plan out your miniature purchases toward a specific goal.
If you're just interested in painting cool models, then pace yourself according to your budget.
You might be painting miniatures because you need pieces for a game. In that case, choose your game to fit your budget, because the game you're building up to determines what miniatures you need to collect.
Wargames tend to be pretty specific about miniatures, because the miniatures are their abilities. A toy soldier carrying a laser rifle is assigned the stat block for a soldier carrying a laser rifle. But some wargames take a liberal approach to miniatures, so you can have models that are just broadly melee or ranged, enlisted or officer, and so on. Many of these games, like the awkwardly named One Page Rules (it's not one page), cost $0. "Skirmish" games use small troop sizes so you don't need a lot of miniatures to play.
Tabletop RPG is even easier. You don't have to play with miniatures at all, but if you do then each player only needs a miniature that broadly represents their character. You can use generic game tokens to represent monsters, and build up your collection of monster miniatures over time, as you can afford them.
Warhammer models are beautifully sculpted, and they're expensive. There are lots of alternatives, though, like Reaper Miniatures, which are great sculpts and less expensive.
There are mid-range models, too. Sometimes you can find them in board games like Wrath of Ashardalon (40 miniatures for $100, plus you get the board game).
Possibly you can combine hobbies, too. Whenever I get a board game, like Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, I paint the miniatures that come in the box. Sure it's just a few investigators and shoggoths, but I was going to buy the game anyway. Between the two, the game and painting the miniatures have provided hours upon hours of entertainment, and they still do. And better yet, I use the miniatures for a horror wargame, and I use the shoggoths for wargames and RPG.
The time it takes to paint miniatures is one of the primary reasons I started painting miniatures.
Before the Covid pandemic, tabletop RPG was my one analogue hobby. During the pandemic, though, my RPG time migrated to the computer, and so far it's stayed there. I read most books on my Inkbook or Remarkable, and while both of those are e-ink and don't really feel like a computer, painting miniatures is my one legitimately non-computerized hobby. I appreciate that painting is able to lure me away from the operating system I love so much that I use it both for work and my technology hobbies. It often takes hours to paint. And as painful as it is to be away from Linux that long, I do have to admit that I really do enjoy it.
I'm not here to convince you to paint miniatures if you don't want to paint miniatures. But I am here to push you over the edge if you've been considering it, but you've been stopped from trying by these kinds of thoughts. If you're curious, then do yourself a favour and give painting a try.
T'au soldiers photo by Seth Kenlon. Creative Commons cc0.