Continuing in the vein of my last post, I recently saw someone online showing some miniatures in progress. They had done some excellent highlighting work to create the effect of shiny black leather/PVC uniforms, and were having trouble getting the model’s helmet to match. One commentator said “you could cheat and use gloss varnish.”
This is a perfect illustration of what I call the Cult of Difficulty in miniature painting. There seems to be an unspoken community norm that the more time and effort it takes you to create an effect, the more worthy of praise your work is and the “better” you are as a model painter. There seems to be little comprehension of the fact that different effects create different visual feels. And that is what is most important about which method you use – not how hard it is, or how much practice it takes to do it.
I mentioned in another post that since model painting is a hobby, most people who do it are not trained or professional artists. This has an effect on community norms. I think this Cult of Difficulty is just an instance of the common sentiment expressed by non-artists when they see a work of art that looks like it was made easily: “I could do that.” With the silent implication that therefore it is not worthy of much respect or praise.
Trained and professional artists know that the right response to “I could do that” is “yeah, but you didn’t. And now you can’t, without being derivative.” This is because it doesn’t matter how an artwork was created. All that matters is that it is original and looks good.
Now personally I wouldn’t advise gloss varnish for the model I mentioned at the start of this post. But not because it’s somehow “cheating.” I wouldn’t use gloss varnish because the rest of the model has been painted in a representational rather than a realistic style, and it would look odd and spoil the effect. If you want something to look like glossy black paint the best thing to use is glossy black paint. But if you want to paint a picture of glossy black paint, then you have to approach it in a whole different way.
Many people in our community seem unaware that there are different, equally valid ways to go when painting a model, choices that affect which tools and techniques you are better off using. It seems completely arbitrary to me which ways the community applauds and which ways they sniff at as cheap tricks, except for one thing: all the ways in the former category take ages to do or require a great deal of practice or a natural aptitude.
That doesn’t mean they are better. Perhaps you prefer the look created by what I call the painterly style, and that’s fair enough. But how hard something is to make is not a good way to judge art, at all.
Next time I’ll write a little about a few of the basic aesthetic approaches I can see in use in fantasy and sci-fi miniature painting.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment,