Painting has always been one of the most divisive topics amongst my gaming community. People can love it, hate it, or sit anywhere in between. Coupled with this is the discussion around introducing a requirement for painted figures at the bigger events and the impact that will have on our community. Painting can be a somewhat controversial topic in the Legion community. As a hobbyist and gamer, painting has always been one of my favourite aspects of the hobby. I love the process of having a model that starts in pieces and slowly getting to see it come to life as more and more colour is added. I find it very satisfying to see something I imagined in my mind start to materialize in front of me. For a lot of hobbyists painting is seen as a means to an end. Sit and paint, go through a few hours of monotonous painful activity, and then enjoy the reward of playing with a painted army for as long as your units stay relevant. What I’d like to do over the next little while is to explain to you why painting can be so much more than that, explain how it can be one of the most effective tools that we can use for improving our health, and a few things that I have found over the years that really make the process enjoyable.
So painting is great for our health for a number of reasons. We could go into the benefit learning new skills have on our brain or we could discuss how cultivating fine motors skills helps to stop our brains and joints from aging. What I would like to discuss today however, is how painting can be a great to tool for stress management and be used as a pathway to meditation and mindfulness.
“All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was… what he was doing.” Master Yoda comes out with some zingers when it comes to health and wellbeing, but this one is one of my favourties! In our modern society we very rarely have or take to opportunity to truly be present. It’s very easy to get caught up in life constantly thinking about what’s coming next. Whether it’s work or managing a family or getting to appointments, out modern society with our constant ability to connect with each other means our brains and bodies always sit in what’s called a Sympathetic Dominant state. Essentially our bodies are always pressing the accelerator and never the brake. This is one of the main reasons we have seen such a rise in chronic lifestyle diseases in our modern society, without going into all the physiological processes, being constantly in a sympathetic or stressed state is one of the worst things we can do for our long term health.
When people hear of meditation they think of sitting in a quiet room and taking lots of deep breaths. In reality meditation is about the state that your brain enters, not about your surroundings. It’s about clearing your mind of erroneous thought, and is in fact a state of incredible concentration, free from distraction. Unless you are a Jedi master or a well-practiced Yogi, this is a very difficult level on concentration to achieve. It’s this level of intense concentration where our breathing regulates and our heart rate lowers. Physiologically we switch from Sympatheic (fight and flight) dominant to Parasympathetic (rest and digest) dominant. This often feels like a state of clear headedness and timelessness, and can often be a state where we find solutions to problems that have been bothering us for days. When in a sympathetic dominant state your nervous system and brain chemistry simply don’t allow you to see the bigger picture, it’s not important in a life and death situation.
If like me you aren’t a well-practiced Yogi or a Jedi Master (yet!) you’ll need some help getting into this state of intense concentration. Painting and assembling does this for us naturally, put simply it’s a task that requires the majority of our concentration, which creates a great distraction for our mind and allows our system to calm down and move out into a parasympathetic dominant state. There’s actually a great group in the UK that use miniature building sessions as a form of group therapy for Veterans dealing with PTSD. The calming effect is that profound. The reason why painting is particularly effective is because the use of colour and mixing of paints is therapeutic in its own right, as the field of art therapy can attest to.
“But Nick, I suck at painting and I find it really stressful!” Ah yes, that old chestnut. Fear not however, I too once sucked at painting and found it stressful to. What I’d like to do is share a few of the strategies I use to make sure my painting sessions are as enjoyable as possible.
- Never batch paint! (Much)
Coming from a Warhammer background, I used to try and paint 10 models at once in a production line to get them done as quickly as possible. What happens is you end up doing the same step on each model over and over, seemingly spending hours and hours doing literally the same thing with the same colours. It’s a recipe for boredom, sloppiness and frustration. Now when I paint squads, I never do more than 3 models at a time. I find I still get the efficiency of doing multiple minis at once, minimizing time lost through drying etc. but I still get the satisfaction of seeing the minis come to life in front of my eyes, with quite a bit of tangible process made in each session. This keeps me so much more motivated and keen to come back to the painting table.
- Don’t set silly deadlines
Gone are my days of pulling an all-nighter to get my army done for the tournament the next day. If you want to use painting as a form of relaxation and meditation setting unrealistic deadlines is the worst way to achieve that. You’re turning it into work that way and there’s no way you can enjoy or do your best work under stressful conditions. I like to use events to get motivated to paint, however I always give myself long deadlines, 3-6 months for a full army and at least 3 weeks for a new unit or 2. This keeps me motivated, but not to the point of me being worried about getting the project done in time.
- Only focus on getting better, not being perfect.
Part of the stress I used to feel while painting was the frustration that my end product didn’t look the same as the Eavy Metal team! Although an unrealistic expectation, I was always worried that I was ruining my really expensive models. Two things really helped me with this, one was seeing the starting work of more experienced painters that I respected and realizing they too were beginners once, and secondly was the discovery of the ability to strip models that I really hated. This gave me the confidence to experiment and switch my focus from trying to get every model I painted perfect and simply focus on improving one aspect of my painting with each project. Over time I’ve been able to develop a wide variety of painting skills, drybrushing, glazing, layering, under highlighting etc. etc. A really recent example of this for me is when I was painting Operative Luke. Black is traditionally a difficult colour to paint, and I was excited to see what I could do with not only a mini that was mostly black, but also how I could work with a palette of only 3 or 4 colours. It was a lot of fun. “Try not. Do, or do not, there is no try.” Is normally one of my favourite quotes, but the one aspect of life where this doesn’t apply is painting. Try lots and lots. Experiment, make sure you are trying something new and over time, you’ll be encouraged by the improvement you’ll see.
- Break up the things you are painting
Whenever I’m painting units I always break up the monotony by painting a single model in between batches. This is normally a character like Operative Luke, or sometimes a unique mini like the Comms Specialist, or even just a squad leader that I want to spend some extra time on. This allows me to use a different colour palette and keep things fresh. As I’m getting to the end of a squad I can find that I feel time starts to drag, however as soon as I switch to something fresh that completely changes once more. It’s exactly the same principle as keeping the batches small, keep things interesting, see progress and stay motivated.
- Paint with friends
As I mentioned earlier in the article, spending time painting and building minis with friends is used as a form of therapy around the World. If painting itself is something that you find difficult initially to get motivated to do, arranging a session with friends is one of the best ways to get some stuff done and manage some stress. The great thing about painting with friends is you can also learn techniques from each other as well.
- Paint for short periods
If like me, you are lucky enough to have a space in your home able to be dedicated just to painting, leaving a project out and ready to be worked on at any time is a great way to not only get through a lot of painting, but to use painting regularly as a stress relief. By having a space ready to go, what it allows me to do is get a little bit of painting done each time I have a spare half an hour or so. This accumulation of short periods of painting ends up having some amazing results in terms of getting stuff done. In addition to that, I am able to use painting as a stress relief at the end of most days and a way to wind down when heading towards going to sleep. If you can leave you hobby space ready to go, I highly recommend it.
So the goal when using painting for stress relief is using the time painting as a way to achieve a state of mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is not about relaxation and feeling sleepy, what it is instead is a mind state of intense concentration, which allows us to be completely present it what we are doing at the time, rather than thinking about other things that may be going on in our lives. Over time the effect of these regular meditation sessions will have a profound effect on your health and wellbeing. Hopefully some of the tips I’ve provided can help you get painting more and not only see your painting skills improve, but develop a great tool for managing stress too!
“Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.”