I’ve never considered myself to be a very artistic or crafty person. Most of my creative outlet took the form of writing: speeches, game reviews, etc. I did take a few photography classes in high school and college which I loved, but it was black and white film, and I never transitioned into buying a nice digital camera and editing software. Since then, some hobbies have stuck, and others only lasted a little while.
A few years ago I dipped my toes into Perler beads because it was a lot of fun creating pixel art from video games. I enjoyed it so much I even made a specialized magnet for every family member as a Christmas present. But eventually the Perler beads started to collect dust and I returned to playing video games and watching tv.
After Perler beads, I caught myself watching my wife cross stitch. It certainly looked relaxing and was basically just a tiny version of the Perler beads with a lot more room for cool patterns. My wife graciously taught me how to cross stitch and I’ve been doing that off and on since the end of 2017 as a hobby. I’ll put on a tv show that I enjoy rewatching (Parks and Recreation, The Office, Friday Night Lights) and find myself cross stitching for hours as I split attention between the two tasks.
At the end of March 2019 I made a pretty big, and mostly spur-of-the-moment purchase, I picked up A Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures, specifically the Stark vs Lannister Starter Set. I had never played a miniature game before but I was really getting excited about the final season of Game of Thrones (oh you sweet summer child) and had loved reading the book series, so it was something that kept calling to me at my local game store. On top of that, it came with a fairly rare Hand of the King Kickstarter promo set. So even though I spent $150 on a 2-player game in a genre I had never tried before, I felt like I got a pretty good deal and I was excited to give it a shot. When purchasing the set, it never crossed my mind that I would learn how to paint miniatures to spruce the figures up.
After a few conversations with friends, the notion of painting these Starks and Lannisters was starting to grow bit by bit in the back of my mind. But I was worried that I wouldn’t have the patience or the skill to do a good job slapping some paint on the figures. I mean, the miniatures themselves are really small and the finer details were definitely intimidating. Despite these mental obstacles, I decided to pick up a Reaper starter kit on Amazon that came with 11 paints, 3 miniatures, 2 paint brushes and an instruction booklet. “This is awesome!” I thought, a way to test out my ability with only a minimal monetary commitment. If I sucked at painting, it wouldn’t ruin my Song of Ice and Fire miniatures, it would only be on the test figures.
Thankfully, the test figures turned out much better than I had anticipated! The skeleton was smaller than the Song of Ice and Fire minis would ultimately be, and the Orc offered a larger canvas for testing out highlights. This was absolutely something I could get into and it actually jump-started me into prepping the Song of Ice and Fire miniatures. Instead of painting my third test figure, I primed and began painting Greywind, Robb Stark’s direwolf.
I didn’t just jump in without assistance, of course. I watched some very helpful tutorial videos by TheMiniJunkie and looked through Mike Meeple’s Painting Poorly series since they were showing off the exact figures I was working on. Greywind is far from perfect, but I was really satisfied with the finished product. Putting the final touches on the figure: placing the fake snow and gluing bushes onto the base was fulfilling. It felt like everything on the figure and the base tied together so well and it pushed me to start more figures.
These finished miniatures would never win any awards. Instead, painting has become a meditative process for me. If i’m focused, I’ll turn on an audiobook and lose track of time. I once disappeared downstairs to start Gregor Clegane and my wife had to come check on me two hours later as I wrapped up his first coat. If I only want to focus on one task, I’ll swap to music instead. I’ve converted our bar area in our basement into a standing painting area (I mean, we aren’t going to have anyone over anytime soon).
I’ve learned a lot about miniature painting in the past year, and have spent probably too much money on different types of paints and brushes. I’ve gone through phases of intense motivation where I paint a ton of figures in a short amount of time, and dry spells lasting months with little progress to show. To push back against this I made a New Years resolution for 2020 to do some kind of hobby (cross stitching or painting) at least a little bit everyday that I’m home. In terms of miniature painting, it could be an entire coat on a figure or even something small like one color here or there. Ultimately, the resolution ensures some kind of forward progress. In total, I painted 69 figures from A Song of Ice and Fire in the last year, almost enough to field a full Stark army on the table (and a small section of Lannisters).
From those 69 miniatures I’ve also learned quite a bit about myself: I do have the patience and skill to apply a tiny amount of paint on a very small plastic figure. But at the same time, I can’t just turn on that patience like a switch. Some days I’m just not in the mood and I’ll rush a section because I’m feeling anxious. Especially given our current global situation, recognizing when you aren’t “feeling it” is important as well. A fun hobby won’t wipe out all of the stress of the world, but it sure is a nice escape from time to time.