How to win a painting competition by default

Final ArmyI recently won a painting contest by exploiting one of the lesser-known rules of competition painting.

If no one else finishes their entry, then you win by default…

Out of an admittedly small group of 7-8 participants, I was the only person who finished painting a ‘Start Collecting’ boxed set in a month.

This was a bit of a shock for me, as I am not the world’s fastest painter; it had recently taken me around six months to finish the last starter set that I bought. I don’t use any special practices such as dipping my models in quickshade, and my tiny, tiny house doesn’t have room for me to swing a rusty spotted cat, let alone run an airbrush and compressor.

As I was collecting the first, second and third place certificates, I looked around to see tables full of half-painted or bare plastic miniatures. A quick straw poll of the surrounding people revealed the following reasons for the poor show:

  • Not enough time
  • Too many distractions.

According to Dakka Dakka’s (an online forum) monthly painting challenge, less than 20% of entrants managed to paint an entry every month last year.

This brings me here. If you want tutorials on “how to paint models”, you can find plenty of them online. Today, however, I’m going to present my plan on “how to finish painting models”. Behold, my checklist for maximum painting efficiency:

1) Planning

The first part can be done at any time, without touching paints or models. It can be done in your lunchbreak, or even whilst you are reading this. To quote Peter Drucker“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

  • Get someone to fully paint them for you.
  • Get someone to partially paint them, i.e. handling the jobs you can’t or don’t want to do.
  • Get rid of them.
  • Put them to one side and pick up something you are excited to paint.
  • Schedule time in your diary to paint them, and make it a reoccurring reminder.

A lot of people insist that everything they own has to be painted by them. I recently talked with someone who had spent £1,000 on miniatures over the period of a few months but admitted that they hadn’t managed to paint anything in the last few years. I suggested a painting service, but of course he said he didn’t have the cash.

I asked a few more probing questions, and he admitted that having self-identified as the sole owner of the models, he couldn’t bring himself to own models painted by someone else.

I didn’t say they were Golden Demon quality

Meanwhile, I have started hiring a commission painter to airbrush base layers onto some of the larger models that would otherwise soak up a large amount of my time. It’s cheaper than a normal job and allows me to concentrate on adding my own touches to a model which is my favourite bit. It feels like I’ve just nicked all the pigs in blankets from my Christmas meal and binned the sprouts.

Try creating:

  • A list of all model kits you currently own
  • A list of current priority projects broken down into stages. This list should be no more than what can fit in a small box

Try to break the job up into loads of small parts to ensure that you don’t burn out. This is why a lot of my miniatures in progress have heads, backpacks and arms blu-tacked on separate bases. It’s perfectly fine to just spend a small session painting helmets or backpacks.

2) Motivation

Planning is the easy part. The tricky part is to keep coming back to the models after the initial excitement has worn off, and for me that excitement wears off quickly after the first or second layer of paint. Here is a rough fun-to-time graph of the stages most people experience:

“What does Warhammer TV’s Duncan wear in the winter? Two thin coats.”

That first thin layer of paint is a killer, because no paint will go on smoothly in one go. Most require 2-3 layers to get an even colour, and miniatures never look good if the paint isn’t smooth. Airbrushes will shine here, but most people don’t have £400 and a few square feet of space in their house to spend on a full rig.

You can see above why I prefer to outsource this element of model painting where appropriate.

To give you that extra push, tell anyone who will listen about what you plan to do for your project and when the models will be completed by. In other words, set some stakes. This ensures you have a group of people who will hold you accountable. There is even a website you can sign up for, Stickk, that will hold you accountable to your goals.


3) Equipment

I’m going to skip a lot of the basic equipment to use as I will go into more detail elsewhere, but I will make a few suggestions that should be mandatory for everyone:

  • A wet palette. Pretty much every painter agrees that a wet palette is essential for speeding up. Your paints will stay wet for longer even in the heat of summer, and it reduces the annoyance of mixing partially dried paint onto your brush. Buy one or find a tutorial on my blog to make one.
  • A small box for miniatures and paints stored near to where you want to work. If you don’t have a dedicated painting area, then a small box containing the aforementioned wet palette, brushes, models and required paints is great. This also helps to reduce the barrier to entry. A shoebox works if you are on a budget, but a small set of plastic drawers is better. It also removes the build-up of dust on models which will ruin any paintjob.
  • A YouTube playlist or selection of audio books/podcasts preloaded on your phone or tablet. The goal is to have uninterrupted media on hand to lose yourself in. This will vary for everyone, but I prefer things that aren’t complex enough to demand all of my attention. Try Mark Kermode on YouTube or Hardcore Histories via podcast.

So, there you have it…

  • Reduce the work you have to do by ruthlessly removing things you don’t want to paint and outsourcing the hard work.
  • Break all the jobs down into small parts.
  • Plan to get around the jobs that cause the most pain.
  • Get your friends to hold you accountable.
  • Finally, ensure your painting kit is not causing a barrier to entry.

The competition spanned 3 months with a new challenge every month, the compounding effects of repeatedly following this method are shown in the photos above.

The stack of painted models I produced kept piling up at a steady rate as did my knowledge and skills.

By the end, I had improved my basing technique, learnt about pigments and varnish and even manage to paint some nice freehand symbols.

You can do it too, remember this old Chinese proverb…

The best time to start was 20 years ago, the second-best time to start is now.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks – Great tips! Removing stuff that gets in the way is important. If I have some figures for assembly on the desk then they often get prioritized over the half painted stuff still waiting. I do like to have a couple of figures on the go at once (if not batch patching), as I can work on another while a wash dries.

    I followed what Craig of D6 Generation Podcast had said a long time ago about competitions. It is worth entering on a chance of winning as you’re only competing against those who enter, not the whole world. I managed to bag a couple of prizes at a show once that way, even though my ‘good’ painting may not have been the best.

    I think mostly my issue is getting consistent practice to keep my hand in, my time (and money) is limited now due to children but I’ve got all the space I could need. There is a virtue I found recently in not over-complicating things and just keeping some minis at a more basic level. It feels so good to get another unit out of the way.

    1. Yeap, time is a big problem for a lot of people. One of the ideas I’m thinking about after the spray paint review is completed is a exploration of the fastest way to paint miniatures to be better than 80% of the stuff out there. Does this sound like a good idea to you?

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