The Blind Ronin, or: Turns Out You Need Eyes to Paint Models

Hi everyone,

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.

I painted these guys somewhere between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Probably while listening to the classic Snow album, "12 inches of Snow."

I painted these guys somewhere between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Probably while listening to the classic Snow album, “12 inches of Snow.”

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.

ministorum priest

bone 'ead

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.

farseer

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:

shangjif

Shang Ji heavy infantryman for Infinity. Sorry about the dark picture.

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.

merc-tau-shas

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!

James

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  • Seems to me that getting an eye exam and glasses is the obvious thing to do. I’ve always had horrible eye sight and as a teenager I stopped wearing my glasses because, you know, teenage years and all that. Then one day I said fuck it and got my eyes checked again, got new glasses and holy shit, I couldn’t believe I was doing anything without them prior. Seriously, it makes a life changing difference.

    I took a painting class with Todd Swanson and Kirill Zhilkov, both Golden Daemon winners, and they both talked about how they’re approach to painting has changed with age. They wear those jeweler magnifying headsets now where they never used to. Kirill also showed techniques to help with shaky hands, like resting your forearms on a table edge, maybe your elbows or if painting standing (which Kirill now does), how you can place your elbows on your hips/waist area to steady yourself. What Kirill does though is stands in front of a book case about chest high and rests his forearms on the edges, placing the model at eye height.

    We’re all getting older and I’m with you, I’d rather learn how to adapt than let someone else paint for me.

    • I actually balance my arms on my knee, with my foot up on the chair. Weird position? Probably. Forces good posture for my back though.

      • Posture for me is the bitch. I’m one of those hunched over the desk types and it’s already wearing on my lower back and will only get worse. I try and force myself to sit straight up with my elbows on the arms of the chair.

        Ultimately, whatever works that won’t kill you. Hours in a bad position painting is different in your 30’s than it was on your 20’s.

        • TheWife has been trying to get me to sit with a pillow on my stomach.. that makes it harder to hunch over because it presses between you and your desk.

      • You know, I do that too! I started doing it because I felt hunched, and I HATE feeling hunched. My brother and may dad both have bad backs, and I’m not letting it happen to me dammit.

    • Hey Thor. Yeah, I’ll go and get some glasses. If it means what I see is what I paint again, I’m all for it!

      I saw one of those jeweller headset things at the post office the other day actually. It was like a pair of binoculars in a headset. The people on the packaging were an old lady sewing, a hunter stalking his prey, and a sports fan in a back row stadium seat. I guess as mini painters we fall into the “old lady sewing” category lol!

      • I’m not a fan of jewelers glasses.. tried the lens in my overhead light and it got in the way of my paintbrush :

        I’ve been a long time glasses wearer though, and it’s not bad. If you find you only need them for close work, only wearing them when painting and reading.

  • Adrik

    Get glasses as soon as possible! My eyesight went bad when I was in elementary school, and I wore glasses until I got into high school when I could finally get contacts. I wouldn’t be able to paint without them!

    • Hi Adrik, thanks for commenting 🙂 I think I will, and I’m glad to hear other people have been through this and the glasses help.

  • Zab

    Get an eye exam and some glasses sir. I started using my glasses a few years ago when my eyes would get tired, now i have to use them for fine details all the time. The ravages of time affect us all. There is no way around it O-O

    • Hey Zab, I think I will. I’d like to be able to feel like I’m going forwards rather than backwards when it comes to painting.

  • Cedric Ballbusch

    Having a flamboyant sensei isn’t all it’s crack up to be. My Yoda-like mentor was a big, dumb Swede who responded to any complaint by shouting ‘war is hell, soldier boy!’ and smacking me in the back of the head. Also, the biggest whoremonger and drunkard I’ve ever met, which is really saying something. It’s a wonder I’m still sane…

    Anyhoo, get glasses. Everyone whose anyone wears them. Plus, they make you seem intellectual.

    For myself, I’ve not escaped life completely whole and healthy. My eyesight is starting to go, and I’ve got tremors in my left hand. I wear glasses and keep my elbow fixed to the table while painting. One adapts.

    • I don’t know if “sane” is the right word for you Cedric, or any of us really, but can’t hurt to believe it I guess.

      Oh hey, congrats on spelling “anyhoo” correctly! You don’t see that every day.

  • I first started wearing glasses about the time I realized my wife could pick off roadsigns about 500m ahead of me, and my eyes were once better than 20/20.

    It’s only a slight prescription, but I really notice when they’re not on. Even in the past 2 years I’ve had to get it changed twice, due to issues with respect to eye strain as my eyes continue to go.

    Go get some glasses, you don’t necessarily have to wear them all the time, it’s just good to be able to *see* things. You’ll amaze yourself.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed it affect my painting however, most of the time I actually paint with my glasses off (COUNTER-INTUITIVE, I know.)

    • Maybe you’re shortsighted? So you can see stuff up close fine, but can’t read faraway signs?

      I can still read far-off signs, but anything within half an arms’ length is a bit fuzzy.

  • I’m not sure what’s worse having talent and failing eyesight or my issue which is very little talent but excellent vision with which to savour my short comings

  • John stiening

    If you paint then you are an artist. It is the act that matters. I think it is time for a magnifying lamp or glasses. Nothing wrong with that. It will bring the joy of painting back.

    • Thanks John 🙂 It felt a bit strange when I realised that I couldn’t trust what my eyes were seeing any more, but you’re right, it doesn’t matter – I just need to adapt my methods and invest in some new equipment.

  • Bush Craft

    Unexpected benefit of having to wear glasses: They keep tiny shards of metal and plastic from impaling your eyeballs when you’re dremeling at 10,000 RPM and the bit breaks.

    • Drathmere

      you’ve given me a new fear now. Never looked at my Dremel as a danger.

      • I make a point of wearing safety glasses, those big rubbery ones with full wrap around top/bottom/sides that fit around glasses whenever working with dremels and power tools. Not only have I had the fiberglass reinforced cutting wheels explode on me as well as smaller metal bits, but I’ve had it happen while working with their industrial big brothers while chopping down old server racks.

        (Also, the first thing they ask when you get an MRI is whether or not you could have metal bits inside you.. now you really don’t want to risk getting bits torn from your eyes.)

        • Bush Craft

          ^ wise words

      • Bush Craft

        That metal buzzsaw will mess you up real good.

        http://houseofpaincakes.com/surprise-attack-getting-most-from-your/

        • When I posted about safety goggles, I included a couple pics of large cut off wheels that hace exploded on me.. fun fact, these were just the ones I didn’t immediately throw out.

          http://www.wargamingtradecraft.com/2011/03/safety-goggles.html

          As you said, when they’re spinning at 10s of thousands of rpms, you don’t want to get a shard flying at your eyes.

    • Von

      They don’t, however, stand up to a monkey wrench at point blank range, as I discovered to my cost when trying to loosen a jammed bike seat…

  • Corsair6

    Started painting in the early 80s using lead Ral Partha D&D minis (back when the nuns in catholic school thought D&D was witchcraft). I turn 50 in two months and now wear bifocals I still paint, and am still improving and refining my techniques still. I resisted using the magnifying lense on my painting light for years. Now I use it for some things like eyes or really tight details. It isn’t a harbinger of doom for painting if you need glasses. You just need glasses.

    • Well put.

    • Hey thanks Corsair. Is this Joe the Corsair, or another unrelated corsair? Sorry for the late reply, my computer died but I got a new one today 🙂

      I also started with the Ral Partha and Grenadier D&D minis, and my mum (bless her) had to come into the school once and explain to the nuns that D&D was good, not bad. Wow, we sound old. I’m about ten years behind you in age though, but country Australia is about ten years behind everywhere else…

      I’m feeling a lot better about the glasses now after hearing so many of my esteemed peers say it’s not the end of my painting. Cheers for sharing your experience.

  • Benderisgreat

    I feel like this happens to me on occasion as well, but in my case it’s more of a question of hobby fatigue and my need to stop squinting at tiny things for hours on end.

    • This is absolutely also a thing. It’s a good idea to get up every couple hours, walk around, etc. Just stretch your legs, give your eyes a rest, get a drink of water, take care of your body.

    • Hey Bender Rodriguez, I hate to be the bearer of ill-omen, but that’s how I felt about six months ago. Although you’re right, you can over do it. I don’t remember when I was younger ever getting sore eyes or anything, just headaches. And I used to paint in dim light like a chump.

      • Benderisgreat

        Well, my eyes are bad anyways from the get-go (I’m nearsighted), so squinting at tiny things doesn’t help. I’ve painting/modelling without my glasses recently, which helps. (and I paint under lamp).

  • zeronyne

    A word of caution to people considering Lasik. I have been nearsighted my whole life, and I’ve worn glasses or contacts since I was in 3rd grade. I’m so nearsighted that I can see things in perfect detail even when they are 3 inches from my eye (things get fuzzy at about arms length).

    Recently, I haven’t been able to read the computer screen well, and it was determined I needed a bifocal or other solution. So I thought, “screw it, I’ll just get Lasik”. But while I was considering it, I got new contacts that perfected my distance vision. I asked the optometrist what to do about near vision when I had these contacts in. He suggested cheap reader glasses that I could get anywhere. I have them and they work great. But I can’t see clearly in that superhero range of 4″ to 6″ from my nose.

    – which game me the epiphany: if I get Lasik, I won’t be able to see models up close without some complicated series of glasses. Presently, I just take out the contacts, and I’m ready to paint.

    So while being free of 24/7 eye assistance is compelling, be sure you research the ramifications.