Art and the Hobby

Hi everyone,

One of the great things about being part of a community of bloggers is that what we see others write about can inspire us. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our hobby and where it stands in relation to art in general, and Warlock’s post the other day encouraged me to write down some of what I’ve been mulling over.

So. I think most of us would agree that when we paint a miniature and present it as finished, we have created a work of art on at least some level. Most of us would agree – but a lot of people in the fine art world might not. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see a 1988 Mike McVey Great Unclean One in a gallery next to a Jackson Pollock painting? No? Well too bad because I have. I have wondered that exact thing. And now I’m going to write about it, so if you don’t like the sound of that there’s… well… there’s heaps of great blogs right here. Click upon them, and be soothed.

For the rest of you gluttons for punishment, welcome to my hedge-philosophical comparative analysis of our hobby and fine art!

An artist.

An artist.

By the way, a “hedge philosopher” is something I totally made up. It’s sort of like a hedge wizard: someone who has some formal training, but is not currently in the loop professionally. That’s me these days. I usually do OK until I come up against a real working academic philosopher, and then it’s Willow’s grandpa’s acorn against Bavmorda all over again.

YOUR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS LACKS RIGOUR!

YOUR CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS LACKS RIGOUR!

Ooookay. Now that’s out of the way. What is art?

Kidding! Like anyone can answer that definitively. Art critics, philosophers and other people with eccentric moustaches have been arguing about that one for ever. I’m sure we all have our definitions if we bother to think about it. Please share them in the comments if you like and we can talk about them. My personal favourite, and one that I think goes a long way towards explaining why minis aren’t in galleries right now, comes from the American philosopher George Dickie, and is sometimes known as his “institutional theory of art.”  Basically it states:

Art is that which has been created for an art world.

Simple, but deceptively deep. It’s much easier to identify art worlds than it is to classify art. An “art world” is simply any group of people who are interested in making, buying, selling, and critiquing works of art. Art, then, is something (anything) made for that world.

I like this definition, because artists are a strangely creative breed of homeless person. If you try to classify art by things like content, meaning, subject matter, purpose or style, then some smart-arse artist is always going to have made something that doesn’t fit your criteria, yet is universally accepted as art. Yoko Ono famously met John Lennon when he went to a show of hers in NYC which was everyday objects on pedestals, and he picked up and ate an apple that was one of the exhibits. So you can see how art is hard to recognise.

Yoko gets a bad rap. She is actually way more creatively courageous than the Beatles were, plus Japanese woman marrying a foreigner and making crazy conceptual art in the 1960s? That takes serious balls.

Yoko gets a bad rap. Her creative output is much wider and more experimental than the Beatles’ ever was. Plus, a Japanese woman marrying a foreigner and making crazy conceptual art in the 1960s? That takes serious balls.

The definition of art I just gave may seem circular. After all, you need to know whether something is art or not to know whether to accept it into the art world, right? It is actually not circular; more symbiotic. The art world decides what art is, based largely on what it has let in before (art history), and then artists make their art to fit into those parameters, exploring and stretching them but not breaking them. New things are let in to the canon if they surprise and impress enough members of the art world in the right way. It’s sort of like how legal precedents are set and judgments are made by a judge, only less formal and more dependant on taste. So far the fine art world has not yet deigned to let gaming miniatures into the canon, as far as I know.

Now the thing is, there are lots of art worlds. One is the main one, the fine art world – the one most people think of when they think of Art with a capital A. This one includes the Mona Lisa, and Picasso, and Van Gogh, and yes, even Yoko’s apple. This art world used to like to pretend that it was the only real art world, but that didn’t work out so well what with post-modernism and globalization, and now it’s in a bit of a pickle. These days, western-style fine art tends to be incomprehensible to anyone not in the fine art world. Which is not a problem, unless you want to claim that fine art should be universal and is important to human nature and culture. In that case, oh dear.

Oh hey look some metal cubes... stuck to a wall. Awesome.

Oh hey look some metal cubes… stuck to a wall. Awesome.

Other art worlds include street art, comics, illustration, maybe pretentious cookery, knitting, video games, and yes, miniature painting and modelling. Each of these has cordoned off a little area consisting of things that are accepted and things that are not in that cultural world. People think of the fine art world as being exclusive and snobby, but the truth is they all are. A friend of mine who paints (among other things) geek-themed art was turned down by an editor of Image (the comics publisher) because his oil paintings of Hellboy were too “impressionistic.” This is a nice way of saying “comic art has to look a certain way, buddy. Go back to the hipster art gallery.”

Unfortunately the security settings on my mate’s site defeated me so I couldn’t show a pic. Go here if you want to see his stuff, it’s good.

So I think miniature painting has it’s own art world. Look at CMoN: it is literally a marketplace and gallery with a built-in judging system. It’s taken years for mini-painters to not feel like second-class artists, and many of us still have that voice in our head resisting any connection to the mainstream ideas of art and artistry. Many of us would even actively resist the claim that we are artists, preferring to be known as hobbyists.

I actually think we have a lot in common with street art, since both scenes are full of people who don’t want to be part of the mainstream art world but are quite obviously making art. Street art, incidentally, has it’s own gatekeepers. Another friend of mine who trained as a fine artist started doing paste-ups with her web address on them, and straight away got threats of physical violence from street and graffiti artists for putting up work on their turf. I know, awkward right? Every art world has a different culture. Fine art has security guards who won’t let you in the building without permission. Comics have snobby editors. Street artists police themselves in a… grittier way. I wonder who our gatekeepers are?

Now street art’s relationship with fine art is interesting. The fine art world – which is, as I said, in a bit of a pickle – is at the moment being infiltrated quite steadily by street art and other pop forms like comic art. The fine art world does this every now and then. It explores another art world by temporarily letting in some of the artists and techniques, and adding them to the fine art canon. It happened with indigenous/tribal art, it happened in the 1800s and again more recently with Japanese art (think anime), and now it’s happening with street art, comics and other pop forms.

You might see where I’m going with this. Will minis ever be in art galleries, appreciated on something like their own terms? I don’t see why not. There are certain approaches to presenting a mini that would help it to cross worlds. But would we want to? Or are we content to be our own little sub-culture forever? The Warlock’s recent post highlights some of the problems with that, as do the anecdotes we read in the comments of empty cabinets at painting contests around the world. Sub-cultures can easily go stale and die out completely.

Individual artists, once they get a level of success, can often cross worlds. But they rarely bring their fans with them. A well-established and universally acknowledged fantasy illustrator like Games Workshop’s John Blanche could have a show of his works in a gallery, for example. He probably has had, on many occasions. But the people going would not be his usual audience. What would happen if someone like our own Kelly of Sable and Spray, or Zab of Almost Perftec, took some minis to a local gallery and asked them to show them, and they said yes? What would it mean for them and for the rest of us?

I’m raising a lot of questions here that I don’t have the answers to. But I think that there’s definitely a growing sense among the hobby community that what we do has artistic value, but people are not sure where we stand in relation to the wider world of art and artists. I know I’m not. So openly dicussing it can’t hurt.

For what it’s worth, I think that the exchange of ideas and techniques between art worlds says a lot about where each world stands. Well-established art worlds freely borrow from one another while keeping their own integrity. But I don’t think an art world has really arrived until one of the others borrows from it. So we are “just” a hobby (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that) until we have produced a technique or style that is quintessentially our own, and makes artists in other worlds want to adapt it.

Everything we do so far, that I know of, comes from an established art world: traditional painting or sculpture. Even the styles we find fashionable reflect trends in fantasy illustration. As you can see from the two pics below, our little art world owes a huge debt to fantasy illustration, not just in subject matter but in composition, palette, and even direct referencing. You could almost say that most of us, sculptors and painters alike, are unconsciously in the tradition of fantasy and SF illustrators.

What we might need to start talking to the big boys is a work that could only have been a painted model. Until someone does that, we’re just copying the other artist’s answers. This is much harder to do than you might at first think. I have some ideas I’ll talk about another time, but sadly I probably lack the technical skill to be noticed. Making art is not easy, despite how it may sometimes appear. Well, making art is easy; making art that gets past the gatekeepers of your art world of choice and earns its place is hard.

One last thing I will say is that I think I’ve pretty much shown that we have our own art world on our hands. So perhaps it’s time we grew up and started acting like one: taking responsibility as a community for things like plagiarism, and admitting to our place in the wider context of art. I feel like it’s only once we know our history and where we stand in relation to other artists and art worlds that we can really grow creatively. We have artists; we have people willing to buy our art. What we lack at the moment are critics who are willing to look beyond the purely technical aspects, and honestly place our works in the wider context.

Anyway, thanks for reading. That’s probably more than enough for today. Let me know in the comments if you want me to keep writing about this because like I said I have some ideas for future discussion. Or tell me not to, if you find it strange and horrifying, and I’ll get back to my usual thing (whatever the hell that is).

Have a good one!

James

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  • this is why I am not an artist. I don’t have a mustache. =P

    • Well traditionally it helps. But in today’s world, even those without moustaches can be recognised artists! Crazy, I know.

  • Thuloid

    This is really good. It occurs to me that some rarified corners of our mini painting world already have connections to the institutional art world, at least in terms of training. Massive Voodoo seems to push this direction. But yes, I agree, there’s quite a lot of theory and experimentation yet to take place, as mini painting has barely begun to grapple with what it is to paint a figure. Most of the time we’re in a naive space in which the point is to put something on the table that looks like a badass tiny marine. That’s fine, but it will never register as art to any outside our gaming community, nor, I think, should it.

    • Von

      Question. Why is this naive?

      I can think of several possible answers but I’m interested in yours.

      • Thuloid

        Naive in the sense of unreflective–it’s the default pose. I want my marine to look badass, because marines are badass. It’s like when a child draws a picture or somebody with no art training looks at a modern painting–the naive standard is “it should look like the thing it’s a picture of,” and art is either good or bad on that basis. It’s not wrong, but it also confines you (without even letting on that you’ve been so confined) to a trajectory towards a fairly specific kind of realism (in itself weird, because the space marine is not a realistic model).

        • Von

          So it’s naive because it’s representative?

          (I would say ‘representative’ rather than ‘realist’, as a distinction, because as you say, we’re dealing with unrealistic things here.)

          Is there a value judgement attached to ‘naive’, in your mind?

          (Again: I’m asking, and having to rein in my confrontational tendencies quite hard to do so. If I happen to lose control, please remind me that I’m not spoiling for a fight here. Other things I’m not trying to do include: opening up the stupid “what is art” non-question, because James did a nice job of eliding that and it’s nice to move beyond the old saws and have an interesting conversation now and then.)

          • Thuloid

            Nope, no value judgment. But I would say that the naive approach is rarely interesting to people who have started to explore options.

            Naive because unreflective, not because representative. Representative is the preferred (not quite true–better to say “only recognized”) style of most folks who haven’t ever really thought about what this is or tried to match techniques to that, etc. But it’s also the chosen style of some folks who have thought really hard about it. At least some of the difference there is what happens when I realize that I’m making a host of aesthetic choices and not merely operating on a simple scale from “bad” (doesn’t look like a badass space marine) to “good” (totally badass space marine).

            Naive mini painting is fine. When I’m feeling lazy (most of the time), it’s what I do. It looks ok, but it’s unlikely to be considered as art because it doesn’t invite scrutiny, challenge the viewer or the artist, or do much else besides play a role in a gaming community (rather than an artistic one, though I’m sure there can be overlap).

          • Von

            Hmm. Here’s a thought, then. You talk about naive painting, which is fine and dandy, but you talk about scrutiny and community role, which are a two-way street. I understand what you’re saying about pieces which invite scrutiny, but doesn’t some responsibility to scrutinise rest with the scrutiniser? And likewise, when we talk about community, there’s what you use your figures for and there’s what I use them for – your run-of-the-mill paint job might be my new way to paint.

            Neither of those ideas particularly resounds with originality – I don’t hear the sound of minds being blown from them – but we’re talking about habits of thought here. Looking at an orc and seeing an orc rather than seeing an orc that’s been sculpted in a particular style at a particular time, and come in a procession of orcs before and afterwards, as the understanding of what an orc is has been shifted back and forth – that’s something we can do if we stop and think to do it.

            Porky did a post here about that, once upon a time, and I remember writing a response to it: does that strike a more sophisticated chord with you? How about all the stuff about Termite Art, which is explicitly tied into how we make, consume, produce and enjoy Stuff.

            Again: not confronting. Building a conversation. I might come across as scrappy here, or as trying to defend myself from accusations of naivety. I have read your comments and understood them. I do not feel attacked or offended right now.

          • Thuloid

            I like the pushback. Don’t worry about me–I was on the debate team in school. I’ve been intentionally less confrontational in this setting than is my wont.

            Good questions, actually, and you’re right, this is a two-way affair (see Duchamp’s Fountain), but that work still required Duchamp to pick it up, sign it, put it on display. This is part of what works about that strange definition of art–it presumes the activity of a community. Art is a social affair.

            And naive painting could end up really interesting, on second consideration. But I think it would take that second consideration–the work of an artist to re-present it to the community. In the 20th century, a lot of artists worked really hard to learn how to paint sort of like children again, but the end product is nevertheless not what a child would produce. A couple years ago I saw a large O&G army painted gorgeously in an exaggerated version of classic early-90s retro GW style. Bright, beautiful, and the painting called attention to itself and its historical location (it was a newly painted army). So in a world of NMM, OSL and realistic weathering this was a lot of Goblin Green on bases, but done with modern precision, perfect blending and some very playful touches.

          • Von

            Heh. Debate team survivor/veteran here too. The paracommentary is as much to remind ME that I’m not angry, and to clarify for passers-by, as anything.

            I concur with you about the idea of re-presenting the representations, as it were. What you’ve described there is an army which invites scrutiny. I like to think my efforts do the same thing, in a weird way: my painting highlights the fact that these are representative _sculptures_ and celebrates the sculpting rather than treating it as a three-dimensional canvas for flashing around the art of painting. (This also excuses me from making an effort on my paint jobs, doo dee doo…)

            But then, I am strange, and poke and prod at these concepts in a way that perhaps doesn’t occur to people who look at my armies and see “dusty Cryx”. They invite scrutiny, but if a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out…

            (Gosh blimey but I’m an elitist cockend, aren’t I?)

          • Just to butt in for a second, Porky (and you too Von by the way) gives what I think are exactly the sort of critiques that we need more of. What he (she?) said about my fire warriors on the last Top X was gold. No mention of brush strokes or paint thickness or anything purely technical: just a general critique of how what I did related to what I was trying to do, and the feeling it captured.

    • You just did that thing where you elegantly summed up my entire post in a paragraph. Nice one 😀

  • Von

    “Which is not a problem, unless you want to claim that fine art should be universal and is important to human nature and culture. In that case, oh dear.”

    I am beginning to come around to this sort of old-fashioned humanism. Perhaps I’m getting old, or perhaps I’m tired of reading critiques I don’t understand of work I don’t know how to appreciate.

    When you talk about putting our technical skill in a wider context, are we talking about a cultural history and ideology and set of connotations that go along with gaming? Or are we going wider, talking about the genres in which our models are sited? Or are we going wider still, talking about those genres in relation to world events and cultural trends and the ever-elusive mainstream (and are we talking about highbrow or middlebrow or lowbrow conceits about what is and isn’t ‘mainstream’)? How big do you want this shit to be?

    • I want this shit to be all of those things, but maybe not all at the same time by the same artist 😀

      There’s certainly room for works that reference the history of miniature painting and would only be understood by someone who knew that history. It’s starting to happen I think: Thuloid mentions one below. As long as the work has the visual impact to look good to anyone, the rest is there to be unpacked by people who are interested.

      There’s got to be clever ways to play with genres too. And I definitely think there’s room to make works in a wider context still, maybe about what wargaming and miniatures mean in terms of masculinity to a growing adolescent, or the relationship between hobbies, fine art, and street art. I think yarn bombing is a good example of the latter. It simultaneously and playfully got the traditional women’s hobby of knitting attention from fine art and the mainstream media, and crosses into street art.

      Orks mysteriously climbing a park bench anyone?

      • Von

        ‘Graffiti’ (unauthorised poster) found on building site in Shoreditch, East London. Couldn’t get a decent closeup but it’s a lot of oldschool Orks who seem to be at a KLF gig or something.

        • Fucking hell I hadn’t thought about KLF in about 20 years crickey early 90’s acid house wow that’s a hard flashback right there.
          weird bunch they deleted there whole back catalogue in the mid 90’s then set fire to a million pounds sterling as a piece of performance art

          • Von

            Great, aren’t they? Or weren’t they. IDK. I am as baffled by this as by the absence of the image which WordPress SWORE was there…

          • I just did a post for a Dragons Eerie and wordpress was being a really twitchy bitch had to switch to the html version of the editor or it wouldn’t let me see what I was writing and getting the pictures uploaded and inserted into the post took me ages. Every so often WordPress just seems to have a bit of an off day

          • I can see it… so hopefully it was just a temporary invisibility goblin in you computer-mabob thingy.

            Hey I think we’ve had this discussion before but you know KLF were publicly Discordians? Of course you did, they have a whole song about the JAM.

            And burning all that money, wow, that was one of the most amazing things a bunch of people who grew up in our culture could possibly do I think.

          • Von

            That’s how I found out they existed. That and ‘Doctorin’ the TARDIS’.

          • I was just around when they were yep I’m old

          • Dude I love(d) KLF. Actually too many of the songs on White Room are too slow for my taste but some of them are just gold.

            “KLFisgonnarockya…”

            Hey I’ve just discovered Nero, have you heard of them? Being in the UK you probably have. I was at work the other day moving boxes around with the stereo blasting and their song “The Thrill” came on and I was like what the hell is this, it sounds awesome! Like old school 90s dance but… new.

          • I Haven’t had to go Google them as I thought they might be from the early 90’s and I have a few gaps.In memory from that time 🙂

            If you like that 90’s electronic UK sound try leftfield, the shamen, EMF, Death in Vegas and underworld apologise if I’m teaching you to sucks eggs and you already heard of all these don’t know how far music reaches sometimes

          • Von

            Heard of about half, so no worries. Haven’t listened to any Death in Vegas forever either.

          • I’ve got Death in Vegas ayesha in the car cd player at the moment some very strange songs on that one

        • Holy shit, that’s fantastic! Just amazing. Look at the little police cars! And the card scenery, I didn’t even notice it was just card at first because the graffiti looks so good.

          I assume the two cavalry in the right foreground riding toy plastic pigs are members of the constabulary?

  • Zab

    That was a good read!
    I didn’t think of minis as art until I decided to. Sounds weird but you have to leap that gap. I stopped gaming cause it wasn’t fun anymore and I loved to paint so I decide to improve my skills and become a display painter. 3 years. It took 3 years of solid work and trying to paint new things that I hadn’t before. I joined forums and made a bunch of painterly friends on CMON who helped me push my skills more. I got an invite to P&P from Meg Maples and that was kind of a click moment for me. I still take workshops with people like Fernando Ruiz and anyone else I can to improve. I just joined deviant art because I have a few projects that I think will be more art than mini coming up but they straddle the line. I would happily put my stuff up in a gallery show. In fact our local painting club will be running a show in Nov with a display area from members and I think that is really cool. If you think making minis into art is hard it doesn’t have to be, take seminars with great artists at cons or when they offer private workshops and they can show you cool shortcuts that yield great results. Sculpting and kit bashing is an art form too. We don’t have to be pretentious sweaterneck wearing douche bags either. Fernando was just funny as hell and screwed up in front of his class and was like yep I make mistakes too –here’s how to fix ‘em. I would love to just shoot the shit with the guys from massive voodoo or the other artists from the NOCF consortium. If you look at my blog roll I have awesome painters on there and total noobs too because you can learn a lot from both. Hell, The Agent of Chaos has this total love for bold bright colors in her minis that I feel a need to get back to so I gave her a shelf in the display case to remind me of the joy of painting and how bright and wild it can be to kids. Funny thing is, I still feel weird when people call me an artist but I guess to some that is what i am so maybe i should embrace it… now where the hell did I leave my beret…

    • Hey thanks Zab 🙂 Glad you found it interesting. I absolutely think you should own it. One of the things I was trying to say is that we can decide what it means to be an artist in this field. We need to stop being afraid of the label and realise that there are many ways to be artists and not all of them require a beret!

      You mentioned Meg Maples and Ruiz – they use their real names, which I think is cool, I think it’s one of the first steps to making our art world a bit more legitimate.

      I also think the workshop culture is something that is unique to our art form. I should take some workshops, I only ever hear good things about them. Maples is coming to Canberra next year…

      Maybe you would consider doing a guest showcase of some of the artists on your blogroll, from noobs to masters, saying what it is you like about each one? I’d love to see that.

      • Zab

        I can;t believe how different it is to watch them paint in the flesh and give you feedback as you work. I thought i heard that Meg moved to Australia? That is awesome. Brave lady, those giant spiders i keep seeing over there are going to keep and ocean between me and Australia (for now). A guest post? Hmm sounds suspiciously like work -_- I’ll troll through my rolls and see if i can cobble something together that resembles a coherent thought or two and get back to you guys 😉

        Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
        -Some insignificant dude from before the invention of the interwebz

        • yes! *shoves Zab over the cliff of deciding to write something for us as nicely as possible*

          I pay in hugs and cookies.

        • Righto. That’ll be why she’s suddenly at all our events then 😀

  • fiendil

    GW put up an exhibition of paintings and dioramas in a gallery at Nottingham Castle a couple of years back. No idea if it was successful or a good example of the gaming world getting into the more serious art world or owt like that, but I enjoyed wandering round it. There’s a load of depth lost when those paintings get scanned for print…

    • That’s a really good point, when it comes to illustrations we usually see them as glossy pages in a book. But lots of them (especially before digital art became really big) are real paintings first, and real paintings look amazing when you see them right in front of you.

      That would have been great fun I think, to see some of the GW’s art in the flesh.

  • Smoke88

    Very good article. One of the regular customers at a restaurant I worked at was a Jeweller who included his painted minis in his exhibitions. He never thought there was any difference between the decorative objects he made from silver and cloth, and the 40k space marine chaplain that had awesome blending. Many artists really get off on technique, whether it is written word or how to achieve a patina. Workshopping and demonstrations are helpful for all artistic endeavour, I’d like to check out the teaching studios Meg Maples is offering, Plans are firming up to make it to Cancon!

    • Excellent…

      That’s great that he put minis in his shows. I know a lot of artist-people and one thing I’ll say for them is that no two of them are alike. I knew there had to be at least someone out there who thought it was all the same!

  • The Warlock

    An excellent read, though not sure what else to say ^^; Definitely did a lot of thinking regarding this last night and I guess miniatures are sort-of the venn diagram overlap of canvas painting and sculpture. Would the old GW games day display boards count as art? The usage of miniatures to evoke the sense of action, despair, etc of a certain battle in place of a painted canvas of the same event?

    • Thanks, I wasn’t sure how it would go down to be honest. There are a lot of hobbyists who I think are pretty content just to paint their dudes for using in games, and that’s totally OK.

      I think you’re assessment is interesting. It’s definitely a hybrid form between sculpture and painting in terms of the actual thing we’re doing. It could be more than that (see my reply to Von below) if people choose to go there.

      Also, I learned that the ancient Greeks and Romans used to paint their statues. That’s pretty much what we’re doing. The paint broke down over time, so when we see the marble and bronze of today – well that’s not how they were meant to look, or looked at the time they were made.

  • This really was a great read. I happen to have something in the works atm to break out of our traditional mini molds and you heard it here first – someone from the local maker faire was pestering me to apply.. so I did. Still need to be approved by the organization though, more news to come. I’ve pondered approaching some of the local progressive galleries and this post adds to my inspiration to do just that.. Maybe create a display board, then shelf the Hordebloods for a bit as a display.

    I actually like the worse “naive” used in this comment thread. My interpretation is this way: We paint miniatures for our armies and drop ’em on the table without thinking about the artistic side. We ARE creating art. OK, maybe some (a bunch) are just slapping on some colour to game with, but a lot of us _aren’t_. Part of the problem is that painting skils aren’t totally transferable to tradition two dimensional art. When I’ve painted banners, I’ve struggled. Even recently when I painted an Asian dragon on my Panda Bonehammer’s hat, I found it difficult to paint it. BUT, I bet a traditional artist would have an easier time applying their skills to painting miniatures. (Going to try to get an artist buddy to make the attempt.)

    Ours is a unique hobby. You’re absolutely right that there are sites promoting the artistic side. This is strengthening our community, but not breaking out yet. HOWEVER, that is a question of exposure. I get great reactions from non-mini community people when they see my miniatures. I kinda want to shine that light on our little world.

    • MerryVulture

      “BUT, I bet a traditional artist would have an easier time applying their skills to painting miniatures.”

      Don’t do it. An artist friend of mine painted a mini, and put to shame some very excellent and very experienced painters. Then my friend began learning mini techniques. It is a quick way to feel inadequate.

      Or do it, because damn it is so fun to see what happens. Just post the pics, so we all can see the results.

      • My friend I linked to with the oil paintings has painted a few minis. They look a bit Blanchian, which is another thing – an established artist is going to bring what they know to the task, which is often not what we expect from a mini. Cross-pollination like that can only be a good thing I reckon.

        • MerryVulture

          True about the cross-pollination. I just wish his first attempt wasn’t light years better than my finest attempts, you know?

          • Ha ha yeah! Those artistic bastards! *shakes fist*

            Think of it this way, it wasn’t really his first attempt. Whether it’s a canvas, or a dinner plate, or a mini, it’s all just painting right?

        • Von

          Yeah, well, I’ve been told on multiple occasions that Blanche’s art sucks because he can’t draw. Something to do with perspective and anatomy. It’s that pernicious realism Thuloid was on about up the line…

      • Von

        My friend Charles does this, like the HARPY she is. Chills up with the first model she’s ever painted and is all “I’m not sure about the blend on this cloak…” DAMMIT WOMAN IT TOOK ME FIVE YEARS TO WORK THAT OUT

    • Thanks Dave, that means a lot coming from you. You know every time I search google for some hobby technique, more often than not I end up at your site first? It’s really grown into a full-on encyclopeadia over the years.

      And you’re right, I also get really positive reactions on my minis from non-minigamers, and artists in other mediums. But other minigamers seem mostly indifferent. Well, not rude or anything, but not as impressed as the normals lol! I swear these days sometimes it’s like people only think models are good if you used an airbrush :/

      Can’t wait to hear how you go with the maker’s faire. I’m not sure what that is. Some sort of community art contest?

      My guess as to why the skills aren’t transferable both ways is that when you’re painting a mini you are using paint to create colour and shading, but not structure. When you’re painting a picture you have to use the paint to do the equivalent of sculpting the model. So when a traditional painter goes to paint a mini they think oh ok, it’s like I’m filling in a sketch, and they go to work. But when someone who’s only ever painted minis sits down to paint a picture, they find they have no training or practice in actually building up an image from scratch.

      • I think one problem is that even within our community, there are standards that define what a good mini is. Go to CMON or Putty and Paint and look at the top minis. They all have the same style. (Dark, zenithal, NMM, smooth) The art world is SO diverse, but with minis a) not many artists are trying to break the mold and b) not many people appreciate when they do. This also means that when non gamers are exposed to our world, they’re more than likely to see only this kind of painting. (I actually regret choosing mixed NMM for my Hordebloods sometimes despite how well it fits their style because of how overdone it is.)

        A maker faire traditionaly is a tech expo demonstrating all sorts of crazy personal inventions and projects. However it’s expanded in some areas to include unique art forms that turn heads. Locally it’s held at city hall. A guy I know even setup his blacksmithing setup one year.

        And that’s also how I see traditional artists.. they’re trained in form, perspective, etc which are fundamentals to 2D art. We don’t ever have to worry about that kind of thing.

        • Kelly

          I totally agree that the community needs to embrace more diversity in painting styles. There are a FEW people whose painting is distinctly different (Dave Soper, James Wappel, Angel Giraldez, John Blanche, etc.), but right now everyone is trying to emulate the dark European masters.

          It’s funny, I had started a series of articles on my blog entitled, “The Top Ten Most Influential Paintjobs”, and I started it off with a Chaos Minotaur painted by John Blanche back in the late eighties (which was the first mini that I knew of that had evidence of many of the painting styles and techniques we now use quite commonly). I received quite a bit of feedback from that one, with many people saying how much they disliked his style of painting. However, I followed up that article with my next pic, which was of Victoria Lamb’s Slayer Sword winning “Rescue of Sister Joan”, and I never got a single response questioning THAT pick… not controversial at all.

  • Porky_Poster

    I think my ability to respond usefully to a post is often in a kind of uneven inverse proportion to how interesting I find it. The fact I still can’t find anything worthwhile to say about this one is a fairly clear sign it’s hugely relevant. It’s a huge subject in general, a kind of deep space where a lot of fields meet. The fact we’re pondering it is maybe a natural and possibly timely tugging at the loose edge of something big, and big enough it’s going to take some more working out to shift, or maybe just one big yank.

    • I think it’s definitely going to take some more working out. I’ve written and chucked out five different versions of this post for my own blog, before I hit on what I wanted to say here, and it still feels like an extremely general survey of just one little aspect of this subject. I guess I just wanted to start the discussion, and I think Dave, Zab and Thuloid/Von’s responses are all great starting points for more exploration.

      We don’t have to be artists when we do this thing, but we should be able to be if we want to. It can be as important as we make it.

      • I look forward to reading more on your perspectives on this 🙂

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  • Kelly

    How the heck did I miss this article when it first came out? Fantastic writeup, BR.

    It’s funny, when I first started out painting minis (back in the late ’80s), it was because I just preferred painted minis to unpainted ones. Seeing all the amazing paint jobs in ‘Eavy Metal magazine showed me that there was more to painting them than just using them like 3D colouring books, and I started to push my techniques a bit.

    Fast forward to 30+ years later, and I find myself looking at painting minis almost in the same manner as my aunt (who has a masters degree in visual art, and is a career canvas painter and interior design instructor) views her own chosen art form. The traditional art world doesn’t see minis the same way as we do… they view us the same way they do the people at IPMS (International Plastic Modelers Society) conventions, at best.

    I remember when I was a full time professional mini painter, and when I got married, all my in-laws and friends of my wife struggled to grasp the concept of a grown man, making a living painting models and calling himself “an artist”. I remember one person asking me if I was worried that I was going to lose my job to some child labourer in Asia. I was too shocked to reply… I really wish I had responded that if the same kid making cheap Gucci knockoff wallets in a sweatshop could paint minis the same as me, it would be a clear indication that my art form was bullsh*t.

    Writing a blog about mini painting is a great way to get my thoughts about mini art on (digital) paper. Honestly, I’d love to write a book about it one day, if I can find the time. I will never likely be one of the “greats” in the mini painting world… but I love painting, and I love writing about it. If there’s a place for me in the mini painting community, I hope that it’s as an art historian and writer and someone with a deep appreciation of the art form. Perhaps more of a Anthony Bourdain than a Gordan Ramsay. In a way, I’ve been striving to lay out a bit of mini art history on Sable and Spray, to show how it’s been evolving, and wonder where we are going with all of this.

    On that note, I think we’re getting there. I honestly think we’re starting to get noticed as an art form by some. There’s an annual fantasy and sci fi art competition called, “Spectrum”, judged on by some of the biggest names in the industry. Guess what? A few years back, a Cryx warjack painted by Alison McVey (wife of Mike McVey) had won a spot in their annual publication. I really think that was a watershed moment for us, although no one else in the mini painting world seemed to notice.

    Painting Masterclasses are another milestone. Mini-painting-only painting conventions and competitions are growing as well, and showing people that this isn’t just a sideshow to mini gaming. People are actually selling mini painting books and mini painting DVDs in the same manner as canvas art books and dvds. Windsor and Newton even tried specifically targeting mini painters with a “miniature” line of kolinsky sable brushes (don’t buy them. Their regular series 7 brushes are much better). Badger Airbrushes are specifically targeting the mini painting and gaming community as well, as evidenced by them sponsoring many big name painters and attending many major conventions.

    We’re getting there. We’re getting there. Whether or not “there” is someplace we want to be is another question for another day (if you are one of the people who would rather we stay a nice, safe, quiet niche hobby), but it’s happening.