The Blind Ronin, or: Turns Out You Need Eyes to Paint Models
Today I’m going to gratuitously show you a whole bunch of pictures of models I’ve painted over the years. I have to be careful with this, because I’m not an award-winning artist or anything, and despite how it may appear I’m not, in fact, fishing for compliments. Although I do graciously accept them, as well as PayPal.
There is a point besides “look at me!” and I hope it’s interesting to some of you at least. I want to show you how a painter’s work (in this case mine) can be affected by outside forces over time (in this case, my bloody eyes).
So I’ve noticed recently that my eyesight is weakening a bit. Not only that, it’s weakened enough that it’s affected my painting. I didn’t even realise because it’s happened so naturally, but I think it started maybe two years ago. At first I thought it was that cameras were becoming too advanced, and picking up tiny flaws that weren’t really there. I feel silly now for thinking that. The camera doesn’t lie, as they say. One day I noticed that I was holding a book at arms’ length to read it. I’ve always had very good eyesight, so it came as a bit of a shock to discover that yes, I am in fact mortal. My highland ancestry has unfortunately not gifted me with an ageless body or a flamboyant Sean Connery sensei.
Painting has always been the cornerstone of my hobby experience. Artistic ability runs in my family, and both of my siblings went that way professionally. I always planned on that myself. But when I was eighteen and applying for university I withdrew my art school application at the last minute to study Asian languages. That’s a story for another time. At any rate, I’m pretty certain that if I were to ever lose my sight to such a degree that I could no longer paint models (gods forbid), I’d retire from the hobby. I just can’t imagine playing with models painted by someone else. It seems pointless.
Those clunky old dudes above are the earliest painted models of mine that I still own. Back then (the early to mid-90s) careful washing and drybrushing was king. People still blended, especially for Golden Demon entries and such. People have always done everything come to think of it, as far as I can remember, but blending wasn’t seen as the heart of a “good” paint job the way it is today. More like one technique among many.
The models above a bit chipped, but you can see on the White Scars terminator that even back then I had a love of attempting freehand on my models. Fifteen-year-old-me thought transfers were cheating, and I still secretly agree with him dammit.
Fast forward about ten years: the heady days of the early-mid 2000s, and I had just started playing 40k and painting models again after ten years of being too cool to do so. My painting hero was the guy who used to paint the Death Korps on the Forgeworld site: grey, naturalistic and simple. A traditional historical wargaming paint job. You can see that my technique has gotten smoother and more confident.
Around 2010-2011 I started blogging. I also began to paint some Eldar, and some Infinity models. I feel that this was the peak of my painting ability so far. I had matured a bit as an artist. Basic techniques had become second nature and I had experimented a lot and started to develop a style of my own. I still had a long way to go of course, but it was beginning to come together.
As you can see these models are somewhat impressionistic, but in a controlled way. The style is not to everyone’s taste, but some people (besides me) really liked them. I sold them all for decent prices on eBay, and even began to attract commissions from randoms on the internet. I can’t tell you how proud I felt when one of the losing bidders on one of my auctions contacted me and said he wanted to commission a Farseer because he was disappointed he’d missed out. I felt like my painting was going from strength to strength.
This is what I made for him. I was pleased with the freehand but even though the guy was happy, something about the rest of the paintjob didn’t sit quite right with me. This was in 2012, and I think this is when things started going downhill. The last miniature I painted with which I felt really, honestly happy was this guy:
And even on him, I felt as though the fine control of where the washes were going was slipping.
Some of you who read my blog might remember Asuka Kisaragi, where I insanely tried to reproduce yakuza tattoos on her cleavage. Let’s be honest, I failed, and it came out a blurry mess.
I told myself (and the internet) that it was an “impression” of tattoos, but look at her face compared to the ministorum priest and Eldar models above. And the pill on her jacket. That freehand was very simple, and it looks worse than the White Scars insignia I did in the 90s.
So I soldiered on. The funny thing about all of this is that to my naked eye, the models look the same as they always have. Asuka Kisaragi looks as good as the Eldar Rangers. I can even see the dragon’s spine and clouds in the tattoos. But some part of me knows my eyes are lying. A few weeks ago I painted some quick rank and file Tau, and while I think they look pretty nice on the table, look closely and the details and brushwork are all over the place.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I love painting, and I have some great models all ready to go and techniques I’m itching to try. But I almost feel as though I shouldn’t paint until I get some glasses. Or just stick to vehicles maybe? I want to try one of those clamp/magnifying glass combo things but I’m not sure if they do any good…
So there you have it. My evolution as a painter over about 25 years, 15 of them actively painting. I wonder if there any other painters out there who’ve been through this, or who are going through it? There must be other painters whose eyesight is not the greatest, or modellers with shaky hands or something. How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.
And as always, have a good one!