The virtues of our hobby: Attention to detail

The virtue of attention to detail.

There are many types of people, and consequently many types of hobbyists. One trait that seems very commonly shared, however, is a strong attention to detail. Whether you’re inclined to it by nature or the hobby cultivates it in you, there’s no question that it’s required to do your best work with painting miniatures and models. I’ve found this is a attention to detail invades and informs the rest of my life as well. Maybe I’d be this way anyway, but I have a visceral and immediate reaction when I see cut-rate work: Hodge-podge artwork in a company’s logo or ads, for instance, will drive me up the wall. Continuity errors in shows or movies will distract me. Poorly hand-written signs in a deli can send me into an internal monologue rant (and sometimes an external one, depending who’s around). On the flip side, I have tremendous respect for people and companies that seem to consistently get it right.

Hidden details on our models.

Land Raider interior detailing

Painting in the shrine of a Land Raider. You’ll only ever see this if you look through the open rear side door, and even then it will be a challenge.

We work with these tiny, 3 dimensional models. They’re made of many pieces, some of which are assembled in such a way they cover up other bits completely. On top of that, their intended purpose is to be viewed on the battlefield, from the top down. Nobody who focuses on gaming alone would fault us for not painting these hidden spots, since you basically can’t see the damn things anyway.

That said, I’d never dream of not trying to paint the aquila on a space marine’s chest, and I don’t think most of you would either.

The same thing goes for the inside of capes, the area in a model’s crotch, inside gun barrels, the bottom of tank hulls, etc. Maybe, since we can pick them up, we’re encouraged to cover every little bit with paint?

This is equally true of details so small they’re actually hard to see with the naked eye. Eyeballs on 28mm figures are notorious for this. Tiny written text, picking out service studs or rivets, computer screens on tanks or bikes, you name it. If it’s there, we trot out those magnifying lenses and our Windsor & Newton Series 7’s and go to town.

People think we’re a little crazy for ‘wasting our time’ with this stuff, but that’s half the fun. More on the time thing later, actually.

Complex painting techniques.

Hyper-detailed scale model

A ship with way, way too many tiny details.

There’s something to be said for subtlety in the finish of a model. Yes, you can slap a base down, shade, and drybrush just about anything and it’ll look alright. But, for that really special model, you want to go whole hog. Hardcore hobbyists will do a zenithal primer layer, followed by base colors and preshading, complex washes or filters to tint the color, then add layers and layers of translucent highlights, maybe some wet blending, and then weather it with powders or yet more sponge and brush techniques… The list goes on, depending on your style.

Many of us will think nothing of a technique that consists of maybe 7 or 8 steps if it’s going to give us the look we’re shooting for.

This attention also extends to modeling itself, with carefully sculpted additions, filing and filling in gaps, or intricate reposes or kit-bashes. A newcomer to the hobby would literally not even realize you’ve customized your models, but we don’t do it for them. We do it because we WANT to. This, again, extends to other areas of our lives. It makes us really good at things like restoring furniture or writing resumes where details really count, but it also takes us a lot longer to do some of these things.

A disproportionate time/results ratio.

That's what you get for thinking too much.

Actually, I think wargamers keep more of their hair than other hobbyists. Why is that?

While it’s unabashedly awesome that we can produce these tiny details, it does come with a drawback built right in. Time. It all takes so damn long. The problem is that there’s no technique that’s not worth doing. If we know of a way to achieve something, we will. Shortcuts become harder and harder to justify without guilt.

There are certainly easier ways to do many things, but if they don’t look quite as good we’ll avoid them.

This leads us to rather slower painting styles than some. It seems almost universal that the longer you’ve been painting, the slower you are at it. Where I was once content with mediocre results so I could get them on the table, at some point I abandoned that to focus more on painting as a pastime, rather than a means to an end. To be fair, some aspects of the process are way faster with experience, but generally we just fill in that spare time with another step or added layer. “Sweet, I have an airbrush now to make basecoating super fast. Now I can start using weathering powders.” One step forward, two steps back.

This has actually caused me some problems in life, where that Slow and Purposeful USR didn’t gel with my employers. They wanted Eldar Rangers, not Terminators. I remember working in retail and arranging the products in the aisles according to diagrams our home office sent out. I’ll be damned if they weren’t EXACTLY like the picture, but they’d take me all day. I didn’t have that job for long. I’ve gotten a little better about turning it on and off as the situation demands, but I still veer far over to the details-oriented side of the spectrum 9 times out of 10.

Is attention to detail a good thing?

I think it is. The truth is, details matter. They matter because you can feel a sense of real pride, knowing you did everything your talents allow to make it right. Yes, it may have taken longer to get there, but the results often speak for themselves. I know I’m making a lot of generalizations here about our hobby and those who practice it, but frankly I think that’s because people who cut corners to game aren’t really proud of it. Very rarely do people brag about how quickly they paint, unless they’re able to maintain a very high standard at the same time (Doot, I’m looking at you even though you don’t brag about it). The same could be said about carpenters, mechanics, restaurant workers, writers, teachers, lawyers and just about any other job you can think of. Fast and sloppy is common, while slow and stellar is spectacular.

How about you? Where do you fall on the getting-it-done versus doing-it-right spectrum?

Most of us are probably in the middle, but I’d hazard a guess that most of us are pushing towards the right all the time. This topic has a lot of overlap with my Kaizen article, because I’ve been thinking about attention to detail ever since I wrote that.