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Painters Block – Goal setting!

I wrote the following article for Wargames Illustrated sometime ago. It’s still relevant to me – the techniques I discuss help to keep me focused – to a degree – and it seems appropriate to revisit it in my blog now as I am torn between my Naploeonic project and my growing WOTR army.


A fairly frequent conversation that I see on social media and often have at the club with my wargaming buddies is how to avoid ‘painters block’. I think that we all get bogged down in never ending projects from time to time or just loose enthusiasm. I am fairly relentless, although somewhat slow, when it comes to painting my units for gaming but I too suffer from becoming jaded. I have a couple of strategies that help. Writing a blog is one of them. It’s very useful to document what you have achieved and what you plan to do and it was part of a business strategy that I was taught when working at WHSmiths. If you want to achieve a goal, there are four steps to work through.

Lady Butlers painting of the 28th at Quatre Bras.

Lady Butlers painting of the 28th at Quatre Bras – an inspiration for wargamers!

STEP 1 – See it

First picture in your mind what you would like to achieve. Visualising your next project is a powerful way of getting you started. There is plenty out there to help you do that. Just pick up the latest copy of Wargames Illustrated for a start. Go to a Wargames show, visit a model shop – even an online one will help…Arcane scenery is great! BUT don’t think about the unmade product itself, focus on what it will look like when painted and finished and even better on your war games table! Check out your friends collection. The library is often overlooked these days – they may not have the exact book that you want but it’s surprising what you can find just by browsing. Talking of browsing, a morning spent in the man crèche otherwise known as Waterstones can be very rewarding.  And of course there is Pandoras box, the Internet. Google images is simply an amazing source of reference and inspiration, as are the forums, facebook groups and other peoples blogs. One of the most useful sites that I have found is Pinterest. I’ve rambled on about this site before but it’s worth repeating again. If you haven’t used it, you are simply missing out on not just an amazing collection of images but the opportunity to organise your own collection. Even better it’s free!

Demo games are a great source of ideas!

Demo games are a great source of ideas!

So no excuse for not having a clear idea of what you would like paint, model or collect  for your next project. The point is though not just to look at other peoples stuff but to visualise in your own mind how your models will look. It’s OK to dream!

STEP 2- Say it

It might sound daft but talking about your next project whether to your mates or your family is a really important step on the road to completing a project. It does help if you are talking to someone that’s interested in the subject but believe it or not, it is not essential. There are a number of helpful reasons for talking about your next project. If the person has any knowledge of the subject, you can be sure that they will be happy to share it with you. Now this can backfire…I’m sure we have all been in situations when we have started a conversation at a wargames show that has become a one sided lecture in the minutiae of a subject that barely relates to your original statement. You know, you started to talk about the fact that you were going to build an Artillery piece and have to listen to 10 minutes on the chemical composition of gun powder in the 18th century!


So strangely, talking to someone who isn’t in the hobby is often more useful than you might think. The very act of explaining to someone what you intend to do helps to organise your thoughts and will help you to plan. Even better, friends wont deflect you or put barriers in the way. Sometimes I have found that my non wargaming buddies or family have been the most helpful. They have also been great cheer leaders. Just the simple question,’how is that painting project going’ is enough to spur me on if I am flagging. It’s also nice to keep your partner informed so they have some idea of what you are specifically doing rather than just disappearing off to ‘play with toy soldiers’… One word of caution when dealing with those outside the hobby and talking about your project – watch out for eyes glazing over – you don’t want to be that guy talking about the chemical composition of gun powder!

My British Napoleonic Artillery park is still growing!

My British Napoleonic Artillery park is still growing!

So ‘it’s good to talk’ but now it is important to move to the next step.

STEP 3 – Write it down

Once you commit your thoughts to paper your project starts to become a reality not a dream. I am sure that explains the popularity of blogs on the internet. The truth is that many are writing for themselves as much as any desire to let the world know what they are up to. You don’t have to start a blog though. Just getting your thoughts down on paper is good enough. And we are not looking for JK Rowling standard manuscript here! A list of things that you need to finish the project, a very rough diagram of how the diorama that you are planning might look is enough to clarify your thoughts. A list of units in a brigade that you would like to paint will keep you to your project even if you are diverted by something else. Even some post it notes marking a reference in a book will help to record that you are about to embark on a new project.

My project notebook.

My project notebook.

The other useful point about writing details down is that you will have a record of what you have achieved and how you did it. I cant tell you how often I go back to my reference’s for the first cavalry unit that I painted. I wrote down some ‘recipes’ for various horse colours and I refer to them all of the time. My own written notes mean more to me than going back to the original sources because as I read my own notes, I can remember exactly what I did. You will also become your own cheerleader – reading back through past projects will encourage you to get on with your new one!

Paint recipes for horses!

Paint recipes for horses!

So write it down and you will be ready for the final step.

STEP 4 – Do it!

Now buying another batch of figures or model does not count as doing it! You are just adding to your lead mountain and actually I would say that the act of purchasing a new pack of soldiers is really only part of step 1 – Seeing it. In fact, if you want to be hard on yourself, take a look at your lead mountain. The bigger it is, the bigger the dreamer you are. Harsh, I know but for me ‘doing it’ starts when the model is on the work bench, out of it’s packaging. Just start somewhere. Scrape off a few mold lines, stick some bits together, spray the model with primer, put the figure on a temporary base, just do something that starts the process. Don’t focus on the end result at this stage just on the first step that you need to take in the process. Remember, you already have a plan. You have imagined what the model will look like when it is finished, you’ve told your mates that you are working on it and you have a rough plan written down as to what you need to do.

It's a long way to go to finish three regts of highlanders but it's a start!

It’s a long way to go to finish three regts of highlanders but it’s a start!

That’s why I like to batch paint my Napoleonic units. Painting 24 figures is still quite daunting for me, even after years of painting. The thought of painting an army would stop me before I even started. But I know that I can paint the shakos of 12 figures in 30 minutes. Then I do the faces, then the back packs, then the water bottles….you get the idea. Over time, I now have an army. So ‘do it’ doesn’t mean do the whole thing in one go. Life isn’t some Nike advert where you are suddenly transformed into a painting and modelling god! It means start and once you do, you will get it finished.

My WOTR army is steadily growing!

My WOTR army is steadily growing!

So that’s it. See it, Say it, Write it down, Do it. Four steps to achieving your next goal. I hope that it works for you – it’s a technique that I use and I know that it helps me with my hobby. I hope that you find it useful too.


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Happy Modelling!