Scent of a Gamer

From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.

The way of the tray

Hi there. Are you a miniatures painter? Do you have more unpainted miniatures than you care to count? Would you like this to change? I want you to join me on a hobby journey.

Every journey has a destination and ours is to have zero unpainted miniatures.

We are going to zero. That’s right. We. Are. Going. To. Zero.


One tray at a time. Get a reasonable sized tray – mine is 50cm x 40cm and holds around 120 of the 28mm models that make up the bulk of my collection. We are going to paint every model on this tray, clear the models, and repeat until we are done.

Sound simple? Many things are simple in concept but more difficult in execution. Here’s a few tips that have helped me and may help you too.

Decide to do it

You aren’t going to finish this journey if you’re not really on it. So say it silently to yourself, say it out loud, or scream it from the top of a hill – whatever works. Either way, you are deciding to paint every miniature you own.

A bit of planning, but not too much

You need a goal, and a bit of a plan. It helps to know what you’re going to put on the next tray as you’re painting what is on your current tray. Much beyond that… well time spent painting is better than time spent planning once you’re past a certain point. Don’t agonise over which model to paint first in three tray’s time. This also allows you to move models around depending on what you are feeling most motivated to paint.

Break it down

“No job is too big if you break it into small parts” Henry Ford said this, or something like it. “I’m going to paint all my miniatures” is a daunting statement if you have 1,000 or more models laying around. So divide this up further, into smaller projects. This way, each tray can itself have several projects on it. Larger projects may take up space on several trays before they are done, while smaller projects will be done in one tray.

A single tray might have elements of 4-5 projects on it. A tray should represent 3-6 months’ worth of painting (be realistic). If that’s 120 models, fine. If it’s 20 models, that’s fine too.

I find 30-100 models of varying size is about right for a tray. The low end is where I might be working on large monster or terrain pieces, while the high end might include a lot of rank and file type troops.

Example of my projects are:

Celebrate your successes

The benefit of breaking things down into trays and projects it this will give you many victories to celebrate as part of your larger journey to zero unpainted models. Finishing a tray might also involve finishing 2 or 3 projects, giving you something to cheer yourself for doing.

Paint more than you buy

It’s hard to get a huge pile of unpainted models by painting less than you buy, so this is the one that pinches. The best system of dividing models and getting them painted won’t help if you continually buy at a greater rate than you paint. It’s time for an allowance. Not a monetary allowance, but one based on your painting output.

What works for me is the 8:1 allowance.

You can buy one new model for every 8 existing models you paint. For me this rate strikes the balance between encouraging me to paint and discouraging any impulse purchases that will make a regretful addition to the pile.  8:1 may work for you, or 12:1, or 4:1. Whatever the number, the allowance system is there to hold off on impulse purchasing while not expecting you to simply cease purchasing models, because where’s the fun in that?

Get inspiration from others

You don’t need to be Robinson Crusoe. When you’re painting remember that the world is full of other hobbyists on similar journeys to yourself. You may like to take inspiration from YouTube channels such as Midwinter Minis or Goobertown Hobbies.

Alternately sites like Reddit and Instagram have painters and groups of painters sharing their work and generally encouraging each other onward. This blog is on WordPress, and I have found there’s a great community here of hobby bloggers to connect with too. My original inspiration for the Way of the Tray was a reddit post called No More Zero Days. Inspiration can come from outside the hobby too.

Whatever works for you, whether that’s one-way communication through videos, or closer interaction through blogs and social media, there’s plenty of choice out there.

Show what’s done, hide what isn’t

I mentioned my Detolf shelf earlier. These are great for showing off painted models. Unpainted models, other than those on the tray, are best kept out of sight. There’s nothing more dispiriting than a massive sea of grey staring back at you as you sit down to paint. Keep your painted models on display. Models which are just assembled or still boxed can be kept elsewhere. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

Some models can be left behind

As you go through your trays, you may find that some models just keep getting bumped down the line. As you get closer to the finish, some models you may find you simply don’t want to paint. Don’t paint them. Not all your models need to finish this journey with you, and in some cases you may need to sell, swap or give models away rather than paint without happiness.

Share your progress

Taking a minute to take a few images and put them on Instagram, Reddit or your own blog can be time well spent. Taken together these form a log of your progress over the months and years, and can motivate you to keep going when the slog seems to be taking too long.

Have fun with it

Ultimately, this is a hobby and not a job. Painting your miniatures doesn’t need to be a Sisyphean task. I’ve met a lot of hobbyists over the years who might talk sheepishly about their ‘pile of shame’ or refuse to talk at all about their unpainted model collection.

I used to be like this too.

Now, I find I’m happy to talk about what isn’t done, because I have a plan to do it. I have found this mindset change to be a massive positive for my hobby involvement, and I hope you do too!

20 comments on “The way of the tray

  1. Guru PIG
    September 12, 2020

    You have articulated very eloquently what I have been trying to do. 2 Hints – the first is paint one colour on all of you models “on the tray” as it amazing how much you will get done in a week as very few models have greater than seven colours. Secondly, only paint to the standard you absolutely need. I have been painting hundreds of zombies lately and these just do not need the detail that individual heroes require as you are interested in the mass effect of lots of figures not admiring seven layers of shading!!

    See my blog for some examples:

    Liked by 3 people

    • maenoferren22
      September 12, 2020

      I have found that Contrast paints really help with the paint to the standard that I want. I am never ever going to win any competitions with them, but it certainly gets the miniatures on the table (metaphorically… I haven’t had a game in over a year!)

      Liked by 2 people

    • davekay
      September 12, 2020

      Definitely rank and file models need less detail than the heroes and monsters. These days I find my collection is short on regiments and long on heroes and other individual models. Though it’s good to have undercoated models to hand if you finish the skin on one group of models for example and still have paint left to do some more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. maenoferren22
    September 12, 2020

    I am really going to give this a go. I have so many projects on the go that this will really help. I am going to have two on the go at once, one for printed terrain and the other for miniatures. As I have 6, 15 and 28mm projects I intend to put them in together, that will give me a break from scale burnout.

    Liked by 1 person

    • davekay
      September 12, 2020

      Variety definitely works for me, and I’ve always been impressed by your almost daily updates. Good luck and I look forward to seeing what you do!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bookstooge
    September 12, 2020

    How long did it take you to figure out that the 8:1 ratio of painting/buying is what worked for you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • davekay
      September 12, 2020

      It was really about trying to strike a balance between a number high enough to be meaningful in terms of progress, but not so high that I get fed up with not being able to buy anything new. The limit has stopped a few impulse purchases, none of which would have been painted now had I bought them!
      So far every model I bought with the allowance in 2019 is now painted, and I intend to put the latest purchases on the next tray. That lets me paint something new without letting the old stuff slide again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge
        September 12, 2020

        That is great that you’ve found the right balance for you.
        And nice job on getting ’19 completed!

        Liked by 1 person

      • davekay
        September 13, 2020


        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kuribo
    September 13, 2020

    I look forward to watching others embark on this hobby goal. I don’t have enough of a backlog that I can participate but I’ve watched what it can do for you and Azazel and have been greatly impressed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • davekay
      September 13, 2020

      Not having enough of a backlog to do this is what I aspire to!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kuribo
        September 13, 2020

        If you stick with the tray, I bet you’ll be there in no time! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. theimperfectmodeller
    September 13, 2020

    I can’t fault the logic that’s for sure but I think I need to spend my birthday money first and write down my Chirstmas list and then give it the serious consideration it deserves. You are right, I know you are right but … I need more self discipline. I promise I will try. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. backtothehammer
    September 20, 2020

    Love the name way of the tray. I did shamelessly steal this though I have a much smaller chopping board as that fits in my cupboard, out of reach of little grubby fingers 😉. I’ve very recently tried contrasts and I can definitely see it helping my pile of shame!

    Liked by 1 person

    • davekay
      September 20, 2020

      Keeping minis out of the way of little fingers is definitely important!

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on September 12, 2020 by in blogging, Inspiration, Miniatures, Painting & Modelling, the way of the tray and tagged .
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