Monday, 23 January 2012

The thief of time

My wife will often ask me if I had fun after spending a few hours locked away in my den "doing toys" (as it's called in our house). I find it a difficult question to answer honestly. For a start, the chances are I haven't actually done anything, at least not achieved anything concrete; anything visible or tangible. No figures painted. No terrain built. Nothing. It baffles her, and it frustrates me too "damn, I've just spent two hours on my own doing toys and I have nothing to show for it. Why am I so crap at this hobby?"

Well, the answer is that I'm a dreamer. And I'm slow. And I've never been a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-on-with-it sort of guy. I like to think things through verrrrry carefully first. I have to convince myself that a project is worth devoting my time and energy to. And even when it is, I do it in tiny stages, each laboured over, and each spaced apart by months of thinking time.

  • If I want to convert something I'll browse the internet for hours and hours looking at what other people have done along similar lines.
  • Which army should I choose? (read everything ever written on each army and look at every army ever painted)
  • What should the army composition be? (browse warseer army list forums)
  • What's the general look and feel? (browse, browse)
  • What spin can I do to make my army unique? (yeah, more browsing)
  • What colour scheme? (browse coolminiornot, warseer, and well, the whole internet)
  • Which models should stand out and how? (browse browse warseer browse)
  • Anything made by other manufacturers that would fit in? (browse, snore, browse)
  • What conversion work could I do?  (ditto)
  • What components should I use? (trawl plastic components stores for hours, check up on them almost every day to see if a rare piece I'm looking for is in stock and buy it when it is, regardless of whether I'll actually end up using it or not)
  • Can I have a stab at making this conversion piece work? (buy loads of components and play around with blutac for hours, then actually start a few converted miniatures to get the general idea but never finish them)
  • How would I position the miniature so it has maximum impact? (blutac components to it and stare at it for hours tweaking things ever so slightly)
  • And how would that rank up? (blutac, dry-run, blutac)
  • Should it have a special display base? (browse, browse, flickr, browse)
  • What about the bases for the rest of the army? (research grades of sand, leaf litter, dried herbs, baking powder, clear resin etc etc)
  • Any greenstuff to do? (read articles on how to use greenstuff)
  • Maybe I could sculpt some components and cast them? (research casting, buy expensive casting materials, try it once)
  • How would it pack away into a carry case? (browse battlefoam, sponge suppliers, stationery boxes)
  • Should it be magnetised in segments? (browse magnet suppliers, magnetic sheet, magnetic bases, sheets of tin, tin snips, actually start to horde empty biscuit tins)
  • Oh wait, what about that other army I was thinking about...

Bizarrely, you can't say I'm doing nothing. I'm not achieving anything, sure, but I'm thinking, dreaming, planning, deliberating. And this work goes on almost all the time. While I'm sitting idly watching tv. While I'm at work. While I'm in the shower. While I'm driving. Everywhere, and all the time. It's like an obsession.

The strange thing is, this compulsion to think everything through never, ever works. I don't have any finished pieces that are beautiful works of art, that have benefited from such a long-winded and considered approach. The moment I do embark on a project, the reality of the situation hits and I run into all sorts of messy, pragmatic and technical issues that I could never have anticipated, not to mention being confronted with the limitations of my own talent (having a go at something, and doing it well are two enormously different things). Most projects reach an embryonic stage and then get permanently neglected.

The creative thinking process creates in me an itch that I must scratch. And I scratch and scratch and scratch, until the thinking process evolves to the next stage: experimentation. And then when I have an experiment that seems to be working, a half-constructed conversion, or a painted unit, I stop. To finish the whole army seems abhorrent to me - like painfully scratching myself for hundreds and hundreds of hours long after the itch has gone.

By far the best things I've ever done have been those where I've thrown caution to the wind and rushed to get something done. Maybe a deadline for a game was looming, or maybe I'd just got so sick of it all it forced a temporary change in character. But the only times I've done something amazing in this hobby have been where I've rolled up my sleeves and just got on with it.

So the answer to the problem of how to make my hobby time more productive and satisfying, so that I can answer my wife with a self-assured "yes, thanks" next time she asks, is to completely change my methodology, my attitude, my time-management, my scheduling, my motivations, my aspirations, my personality, and, essentially, to rewire my entire brain.


Oh well, back to the browsing.