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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Perennial Problem - How to avoid Painters Block or Lost Mojo


I was inspired to post some thoughts after reading Henry Hyde's post this week discussing the perennial problem of "lost mojo" or as I would describe it "painters block".

http://henrys-wargaming.co.uk/?p=2334

Just like in any artistic pursuit, writing, composing or painting we are all susceptible to self doubt, disillusion and a total lack of enthusiasm about something that many of us would consider a passion. I don't use the word passion lightly, I even include it in the title of my blog; and it is probably worth considering what that word describes

https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=passion+definition

Most definitions talk about a strong and barely controllable emotion, or an intense desire or enthusiasm, and if the mountain of lead most of us have stashed together with all those new and shiny models that we just had to have is any indication, intense desire pretty well defines a big part of our hobby, or as my wife would say "little boys and their toys". Still, I like to nurture the little boy and reward his playful nature now and then, but am conscious that he lacks discipline and self control that the adult me has to apply now and then when I feel his pester power at work and his gnat like powers of concentration.

I think there lies the issue when it comes to applying ourselves to a commitment to work at something that can take time and very often frustrate the hell out of that little boy, or little girl, in all of us. Let's not forget that our hobby is about having fun. We all of us spend a lot of time, often at work, often doing what we need to do to put food on the table, but our hobby is different and it is there to meet the other needs in our life and I would suggest if fun is not part of that equation then we need to find something else to do with that precious time.

Regular followers of the blog will know that I am a keen advocate of the painting aspect of our hobby in the full and respectful knowledge that not everyone is. However given that our hobby requires painted miniatures in one form or another, otherwise we would just go and play board games, it rather seems to me that we have to engage with this aspect of the hobby in one form or another. Of course we could just pay someone else to paint our figures and if the funds are available, why not? However I guess, like many of us, funds are finite and money spent on paying for painting can't be spent on building the collection; and like Henry, I and many others are of that school that thrills in the painting and bringing to the table a collection of figures that carries our signature of turning them from exquisite fishing weights into painted metal warriors. In addition, if we want to play big games with lots of figures, and Napoleonics definitely falls into that category, we will probably need to get painting.

If we don't get control of this strong emotion, the frustration at lack of progress can at best see months slip by with little momentum and having to relearn lost skills and knowledge when we finally get back to it or at worst leaving the hobby and trying to distract oneself with a substitute only to never completely lose the bug and wind up coming back to our first love many years later often doomed to make the same mistakes as before. We all know friends who have had that experience.

The recently completed 54e Ligne three battalions of a twenty four battalion project and no time for block!
I was interested to see that given the time constraints Henry faced with all his other "plates to spin" activities he had come to the conclusion that binge painting was not the answer to overcoming the reluctance to sit down and paint and to get a project done in a few days of full on commitment. His diagnosis of "a little and often" chimes well with my own thoughts, in that given, as stated in my preamble, we are dealing with a very powerful emotive desire, the pursuit of our hobby and its goals requires discipline and good habit forming, not seemingly quick fixes.

I would totally endorse the practice of getting into the habit of putting in an amount of time we can commit to on a regular basis to paint. That could be half an hour three times a week or an hour and a half every evening, time permitting, whatever fits our schedule. The key is to keep doing it until it becomes a habit, and the manual suggests that it takes about a month of repeat behaviour to form a new habit. Bad habits as we know are very difficult to get rid off, so why not reverse the psychology and use that built in unconscious self discipline to develop a habit that will reward us over time.

Oh and the other reward for doing this is, like anything, the more we do the better we get at it and if we can bolt on the odd extra skill set now and then our work will get better and we will develop more satisfaction with it. That word "satisfaction" is important because there in lies another mental reinforcement to keep up the habit.

There are plenty of books and stuff on the internet to help learn better painting, with short-cuts using washes and dips to turn out good looking units in half the time.

My son Tom's recently completed Roman Auxiliaries took a bit of time but progressed continuously throughout his degree year. The new casualty figures inspired Tom to press on and get these done
I too go through ups and downs in my desire to paint but over the years have developed strategies to manage the emotional roller-coaster and one of them is to develop and reinforce this habit, even if I only do half an hour instead of my hour and a half, I can mentally reward myself for having put in some time. Other strategies include painting specific jobs so that when I sit down again I get the mental buzz of knowing that I have already done a particular task and can now add to that and progress the project.

I too keep a painting note book and copious PDFs stored on the IPad of other peoples work to remind me what I should be doing or to inspire me to try out something new, and there lies another mental strategy to encourage the work. The inclusion of a new figure or two into a unit that varies the work from that done previously can really excite the need to come back and work on the project further.

Don't forget our hobby is multifaceted in that we have the history to refer to, with all the reading and battlefield/museum touring that that implies and the inspiration to get back to the painting desk to bring form to the imagination those activities can engender.

So in summary my thoughts are that we are working with a strong emotion that needs to be managed with discipline to channel the passion into a productive habit of a little and often to avoid the frustration and disillusionment with something most of us can't walk away from anyway. We just have to find the fun in what we are doing. The last thing to try is to start a blog and record the progress and use it to help commit to the work and feed off of the enthusiasm of others. I really enjoy talking to fellow wargamers on this blog and others and it inspires me to produce new work and more stuff to talk about.

Keep at it Henry, feed the passion and find the fun.

16 comments:

  1. Our hobby is multi-faceted. If suffering from painter's block, try a different avenue: read, game, write, work on scenario design, etc. to ignite painting inspiration. Three more "D's" to add to your "Discipline" and "Disillusionment" list are "Develop," "Determination," and "Document." "Develop" a habit of working on something regularly with the "Determination" to accomplish a goal. "Document" your progress.

    As for goal setting, do not tackle large projects in one swipe. Break large projects into smaller, acceptably-sized tasks that can be accomplished quickly. With regular painting sessions, these small tasks will compound and projects will be completed that once seemed insurmountable.

    Interesting post, Jonathan!

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    1. Thanks Jonathan. It would be interesting to compare the differences between those of us who paint regularly and those that don't. I can't imagine doing my hobby without getting to grips with this aspect of it as, unless you have unlimited funds to pay someone else to do it, one is forced to work out how you are going to produce those little armies to play the games you want to play.

      It really is an interesting aspect of our hobby.

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  2. Personally I like to see real progress in my painting. Consequently I tend to paint figures in smaller groups than the usual unit size and never let the whole pile of lead gather in one place. I find by "chunking" the problem, it looks much more subject to a resolution than the serried ranks of silver soldiers.

    Vince

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    1. Yep that sounds like a very practical mental reinforcing strategy.

      This application stuff and getting control of the mind to be able to do what you want to do when you want to do it is pretty much the key to most things that require a performance and especially one on a regular basis. I only hope Ian Bell can re-discover his mojo and start scoring big runs for England again.

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  3. Your post - and Henry's original - was excellent.
    I find that buying some new paints or brushes can put a bit of spark into my painting too. I have particularly been enjoying my discovery of Reaper paint triads - makes me want to get paint onto figures. I try and convince myself that growing my paint & brush collection is healthier somehow than growing the lead & plastic mountain :-)

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    1. Hi John, thank you, and a lovely job you did with those Scillian Moors, excellent work.

      Hey that's an idea I hadn't considered although I have to admit that discovering a new paint combination to try out has certainly fired up my own enthusiasm to get back to the paint desk sooner rather than later.

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  4. Very very interesting. 3 years ago I found myself in the total blockage condition. I had a huge metal mountain and no desire to paint it and it's very existence made the blockage worse. This also coincided with personal retirement and I knew unless I managed to kickstart my hobby again I would have a serious lack of interests in my golden age. I thought a while then decided on a set of actions. First I went into total denial of the lead pile. I bagged it all up, labelled it , loaded it into boxes and then hid it away in the garage a box full of interesting but no longer stimulating material. Very satisfying. From now on I would select my periods with great care, buy only by e mail, ignore all whims and fancies and buy only figures I knew I could paint in a month of fairly average application. Good plan. Finally I needed the motivator. enthusiasm was not enough. I needed an enforcer. I discovered blogging. I started my blog and through it a discipline to produce stuff for posting. I would share my projects with others and while doing so receive a kick up the posterior when I hadn't posted for a while. It worked. So did all those things do the job for me. Well apart from all those old toys I locked away, I no longer have a model mountain. I have succesfully "completed" 4 major projects in those 3 years (never previously achieved in 40 years) and I have sustained an interest in collecting and painting 6mm Napoleonics for more than a year. I have never managed that before. I have the butterfly well under control and a passion for the hobby I haven't had in years.. Success. Who knows I may even feel a need to look in those old boxes one day.

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    1. Hey Robert your tale is a warning to us all in getting this thing under control. I am now fast approaching retirement and already making plans about collections I want to have a core of figures ready to build a bigger collection around when I have more time to play with.

      It's a well established strategy to get others to hold you to account when you publicly commit to doing something and a blog doesn't get much more public. Even if you don't know all the people that have read your commitment there is real power over the mind that you can create for yourself in knowing that you have let yourself down if you don't see it through and that might be the difference in someone staying in the hobby and loving everything it has to offer or dropping out for years and probably having that regretful nagging feeling about starting again.

      Really pleased to hear you worked out your own way of getting things on track. I guess that is the other key thing in that there are no straight forward processes here and we all come up with a strategy that works for our own mind, but they all seem to have a common thread in that they demand a calculated discipline to act in a certain way that helps the individual get the desired outcome.

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  5. Oh, this posting describes the current funk I am in. Feeling both guilty at not painting more, and sad that I just can't seem to generate some enthusiasm for a painting session. I have recently acquired a new job, and that starts in about a week. I'm determined to set some time aside next week to crank out a few figures and maybe re-ignite my mojo.

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    1. Hi Greg, don't beat yourself up too much, believe me, I know the feeling and as the Bhudist teaching would say, "this to will pass". Timing is everything and I reckon starting a new job can be a bit consuming as far as time and focus is concerned, so you might want to wait to get that side of things sorted before committing to sorting the hobby out.

      The good thing is that you have publicly committed on this blog to sorting it and no longer being a stranger to the brush so I am more than happy to hold you to account and invite you to post a reply when you have got the production back up and running.

      All the best
      JJ

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  6. Nice post JJ and as a newbie thanks for the warnings. So far have avoided branching out to other periods and amassing a "to do" mountain. Tend to paint fairly regulary in the evenings for a hour or so after son goes to bed and tend to paint in small groups and also vary the unit type. So far no major Meh.

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    1. Hi Anthony, thank you and glad to hear that you have found your "rhythm". A regular routine is another good strategy to reinforcing the habit. Your message finds me in the fifth day of a trip to Pisa and Florence and as well as having a fantastic holiday I am looking forward to picking up the brush and the time away has allowed for plenty of reading and planning around various projects I have in mind to get done in the coming months.
      Cheers
      JJ

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  7. JJ,

    I've been following your blog for quite a while now, and although I do 10mm Napoleonics as opposed to your 15, and although my blog has been largely dormant, most of my work is being posted on the Pendraken forums. One of the reasons why my blog is dormant because I found that I would get more views and more comments via the forums than via my own blog.

    I think you hit the nail on the head regarding "painters block", and so have many other comments. A visible lead pile, as well as being overly obsessive (and then burning out) are some really common problems that I had before I discovered how to avoid them.

    As you say, doing small doses regularly is very important, but so is dividing the project. One of my problems with Napoleonics, tends to become the tediousness of the affair, especially when painting battalion after battalion of French, or battalion after battalion of Austrians. I have sincer learned that doing multiple battalions of the same nation one after the other had disastrous results to my willpower. It would literally burn me out, knowing that I had X numbers of battalions left that I had to "force" myself through. But its a hobby, and when I'm having to force myself to go through it, I'm starting to ask questions.

    When I began alternating between the two nations (ie 1 battalion of each), I felt that my logetivity before a burn out increased. To spice things up to keep the project interesting, I would do minor conversions. I would try out things like having a firing line, and then converting standing troopers that fired, into kneeling ones. Then eventually, I created a Polish battalion (of the Legion de la Vistule) in firing line, with sculpted Czapka. While in 15mm such models exist, in 10mm they dont in the Pendraken range, so while it took a while, the entire project was most certainly worth the effort.

    I also keep my leadpile in sub-divided ziplock packets. Each packet is one infantry battalion, or one cavalry regiment, or one artillery battery. All the miniatures pre-organized in the packets. I no longer have a "lead mountain" but a collection of packets, when I finish my current project, I simply open a packet, and work on that. This helps me cope with the lead mountain, as its no longer the mountain as a whole, but pre-divided into bite-sized projects that I KNOW I can complete.

    By keeping my eye daily on bloggers such as yourself to draw inspiration from, and from reading the Pendraken forums (as well as contributing to it), it keeps my motivated to keep going.

    Yours,
    Leon026

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    1. Hi Leon, I can relate to your experience and you are right when you say that this is a hobby and there should be no compulsion to do things. The part about painting is that for many it is simply a means to an end and that may not be enough to help to see through a project and that developing other strategies to keep things on track is a necessity.

      I smiled when you described your habit of sorting out units into zip lock bags, as I do exactly the same thing for the same reasons. There is something really satisfying about taking a sorted group of figures out the bag and preparing them for painting, and I can see at a glance how many units remain to be done, but as you say the whole thing is prepared in bite size chunks.

      A great comment, cheers
      JJ

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  8. Finally got around to reading this. Like your painting calendar, I'll try to put these ideas to good use.

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    1. Hi Sean, thank you. Yes the calendar is another one of those techniques to reinforce a good habit as the simple process of ticking a project off the list and seeing all the other ones you have completed just strengthens the sense of progress towards the goal.

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