I know it seems obvious at first blush, but I don’t think it can be stressed enough that our hobby encourages and rewards creativity in a world where that’s increasingly rare. I’d like to focus on another wonderful thing that sets our particular obsession apart from the many other choices we have to spend our time and money on.
The virtue of creativity.
There are several components of our hobby that push us to develop certain visual skills. From building and painting to planning and execution, we are constantly striving for that edge that will make our armies special.
In the world of videogames and free access to all the information in the world, developing your own unique style is a rare and beautiful thing.
When you achieve it, you know it because our community is a vibrant and vocal one. Post your pics on Twitter with the #warmongers hashtag for a while, and you’ll develop a network of helpful painters that will help you grow.
The freedom to choose.
When you start collecting an army, you’re faced with your first choice: What to collect. From there, you have to decide again: What chapter/legion/sept/craftworld etc. should I go with. OR, you can ask a bigger question: Should I make my own? You’re never shoehorned into collecting anything, except maybe by pushy store staff or a your gaming buddies. But from there, you still need to decide what models you want to collect. There are a lot of decisions early on, but that’s not creativity on its own. The real freedom to choose comes from planning and concepting.
Even if we don’t do it consciously, we all think about what sort of thing we want to do and many of us follow up with research or even crude sketches of our stuff. I used to do this all the time as a kid, and I think it was really valuable. I still scratch out sketches from time to time. The point is simple — you want something unique. Even if you’re building an Ultramarines army, you still want it to be YOURS. I’d love to run a poll sometime to see how many people invest in naming their plastic toy soldiers or coming up with stories that they swear are true.
Jimmy, the plasma guy in my 2nd tactical squad has the most temperamental plasma gun known to the imperium. His right arm vambrace has melted at least a dozen times.
The best part about all this choice and uniqueness is the hobby community eats it up. We have all seen a bright yellow Necron army and just had our jaws drop. Every time I see something unique, I try to comment and save it for later reference. We remember unique, no matter the skill level involved.
A clever concept, even executed by a mediocre painter, is often more interesting than the best wet-blended, airbrushed masterpiece.
Building models is where my passion lies, personally. I think one of the reasons is that there’s a spectrum between the limitations of the project and your choice in the execution. So, Jimmy needs a plasma gun, but it’s really up to you how he’s holding it or even what it looks like. I personally like to breathe as much life and movement into my assault marines as I can, while mixing in a variety of shooting/defensive poses for my tactical and devastator marines. On characters, I try to think about what the profile of the model will look like, and what the angle from the battlefield will present as well. Are the weapon options easy to see? Is the silhouette distinctive from a distance? On top of that, many of us model with multiple weapon options using magnets.
I go nuts magnetizing models, making sure each weapon option is represented accurately. It’s often fiddly, but for me it’s a fun puzzle to work out.
Converting and kit-bashing models is a great way to hone visualization and spatial awareness skills. You have to be able to imagine what pieces will fit where, and how they’ll look together. Sure, a little blu-tack helps once you start putting it all together, but oftentimes I’m building straight from of my pool of bits. This head, these legs, that pistol, etc. After many years of working this way, I usually clip all the bits off the sprues as soon as I get a new kit and dump them into my pool. When I put together a unit, I can simply pick the pieces I like best and have at it.
Once you get the model together, you still need to think about a base. People can get really creative with bases. I’m excited to start using the new 32mm bases for my marines, as it gives me more room to tell a story with the bases. All of my Eagle Eyes marines are based as though they’re standing in a burned-out village. The whole army together will look awesome, with licks of flame and charred remains here and there, and ashy dust on their legs.
This is perhaps the aspect of painting that people learn first and best. It’s also the most noticeable. Even if you choose to paint an established army, there’s a lot of leeway in choosing a spot color, deciding what color weapons, gems and decorations will be, etc. Strong contrasting colors and striking combinations pop on the battlefield, and hobby modelers tend to gravitate towards those bold choices. Some choose moody, monochromatic schemes and some go for quick jobs with lots of drybrushing and washes. Whatever you choose, it’s entirely up to you for better or worse. YouTube abounds with painting tutorials to help us along, but by and large people seem to want to try their own thing on some level.
After a while you get a sense of what works and what doesn’t in regards to colors and techniques for your chosen army.
You see lots of other armies, especially if you choose an established one like Saim Hann Eldar or Bad Moon Orks. From there, you quickly realize there is no one way to paint them. Different paint recipes, techniques, etc. mean you still have a lot of work to do to make them your own. It’s a wonderful thing to evolve and adapt and experiment until you get it just right.
The last thing we build a skill set for is often overlooked: psychology of color associations. We instinctively feel that black is sinister, stealthy, or both. We get that red is energetic and evokes speed (the Orks figured this out a long time ago, because red wunz go fasta) and white elicits the pain and frustration of getting a clean coat. Okay, that last one might be a bit skewed… Color theory and psychology have been studied extensively. Outside of art and graphic design courses, however, they’re rarely talked about. Many hobbyists I’ve met have developed an intuitive and established grasp of proper theory simply based on thinking about colors as they paint models. Even if they can’t articulate it, there’s something inherantly wrong with a pink space marines. In the case of Slaanesh cultists, this is used to full effect to get a rise out of us. This is perhaps on the ‘higher end’ of color theory, but it’s a real part of our hobby and one the best painters embrace and use to powerful effect. Adding red and blue washes to skin tone tricks our brains into feeling the skin looks more realistic, while a striking red and brass scheme somehow encapsulates and represents the brutality and power of the Blood God.
Over many, many years my style has evolved and adapted so many times… Even through the experimentation and improvements, I still have a strong sense of what I do. I consider my models an expression of art, even if its more craftsmanlike than fine art. Think: more master woodworker than marble sculptor.
I feel a tremendous amount of pride and ownership over what I do. Not that I think I’m awesome all the time, but I think I’m ME and that’s awesome.
It’s a wonderful thing to feel like this army is mine and there’s only one like it. I can’t get that from video games. I’ve enjoyed fine art, but there’s also something utilitarian about building an army that I can theoretically use at some point as well. My work is a pretty pure expression of creativity and it’s a great hobby for kids in its own right. I don’t want to get too far into that argument right now, but I have very fond memories of working on this stuff and I think it’s really helped me as I developed and grew as a person.
How about you? Do you consider this a creative hobby or are you more interested in just getting them on the table so you can play? There’s a very creative aspect to the strategy of the game and list-building as well, but that’s another conversation entirely.