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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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!