Changing Times of the Hobby

Changing_Times_web-1024x634A bit of a muse for me rather than a constructive post.  I’m struggling to keep my mind focused on what I’m meant to be doing so decided to have a bit of a break and create a post on here as a light diversion.  So…

The past couple of years had seen some quite major things happen in the world of miniature painting.  Strangely the majority of these things have actually been driven by technology in some way or other…

Traditional sculpting has been pushed in some truly remarkable directions and sculptors are able to put a staggering amount of detail onto a miniature now.  I believe that the internet has had quite a significant impact on this, as it’s increased the availability of putties and tools.  Many sculptors use a hybrid mix of two different putties so that they have a mixture that behaves in a specific manner for the item they’re sculpting – armour, cloth etc.  This information has also been spreading into the public domain so amateurs are able to get into sculpting and achieve good results much more quickly.

It would be remiss of me not to mention 3d sculpting either – or more accurately, digital sculpting (after all isn’t all sculpting 3d?).  Games Workshop I believe were one of the first companies to actually use 3d sculpting for creating the molds (dies) for some of their plastic vehicles.  The next logical step happened when 3d printers began to achieve the super fine detail that we as miniature painters demand from a model.  Although 3d printers are very expensive to buy and have a fairly high “per item” price, companies such as Shapeways will 3d print anybody a piece if they’re sent the appropriate electronic file.

There has been quite a marked change in attitude towards production of miniatures as well.  When I started painting some twenty plus years ago, the vast majority of models were in lead.  Plastic was very rare and for the odd box of plastic models you could buy, they were pretty primitive.  Over the past couple of years, white metal (having replaced lead years ago) has been superceeded in many companies with resin or plastic alternatives.  Games Workshop are currently making the full move that everything they produce will be done in plastic as the technology has progressed to the point that they can achieve a very high level of detail and are able to cost-effectively produce single miniatures with injection molding.  Other companies have embraced various types of resin, thriving on its light weight nature and ability to hold super delicate details.  Of course, with both plastic and resin being a fraction of the weight, there is a huge benefit on delivery fees which have rocketed due to fuel costs.

Paints continue to change and choice available increases fairly regularly.  The internet has made obtaining these paints much easier too (although Reaper in the UK is still troublesome).  Last year Games Workshop completely scraped their old paint range and started fresh, with a massive number of colours and types of paint.  This was met with a lot of complaint – after all we all knew and loved Blood Red and Chaos Black!  Well in truth the hiatus has died down and all credit to them, the new paints are a significant improvement over the old ones.  The range of colours means you’re having to mix a lot less frequently and going over to liquid pigment is a marked improvement for colours that have always been chalky.  Vallejo is an ever popular choice with their 17ml dropper bottles and Army Painter is producing some quality paints now (rumour has it they now produce some of the best metallics in the business) also in dropper bottles and a range of “inks” that are on par with GW’s.  P3 is still lurking with a solid range.  Scale75 is coming up with sets of paint for specific painting which look interesting and are getting some very good reviews, they produce NMM sets, flesh sets and monochrome (amongst others) and I do see them becoming more and more popular.

In the same vein as paints, obtaining quality brushes has become much easier along with things like brush soap to keep them in good condition for longer.  W&N Series 7 are a massively popular brand and have some big names in the miniature painting world singing their praises, lurking very closely behind are Rosemary & Co #33 and Raphael 8404 which are between 50% and 30% of the cost.

Airbrushes have been about since before I was painting (I have my fathers somewhere at home) and in the last few years they’ve been gaining popularity for miniatures at 28mm scale.  Dedicated lines of airbrush paint has helped along with a plethora of information and being able to pick up an airbrush set fairly reasonably.

Games Workshop is still the largest player in the marketplace, but rising prices and static salaries have meant that people are buying less resulting in higher prices.  GW have streamlined things to make sure they’re profitable, but the ongoing legal battle with Chapterhouse Studios has meant that they’re changing their production schedules to ensure there are no “model gaps” in their army books.

Kickstarter has consistently proven that it’s something to look out for.  More and more companies are producing game systems as Kickstarter projects, with a stupendous number of miniatures being offered for a relatively cheap up-front cost.  It’s not uncommon for a £150 pledge to give you over 200 very high quality miniatures.

Finally there’s the Internet itself which provides us all with a constant stream of very high quality pictures, tutorials and information on exactly how to achieve a specific result and gives us access to things that not only are difficult to find, but things that we didn’t even know existed.

In summary

Lots of things have happened over the past couple of years and some show no signs of slowing up.  Kickstarter I believe is going to become a much more popular medium for releasing miniatures and game systems, however I don’t know if this is a good thing or not.  I know that the couple of Kickstarter’s I’ve backed are going to mean that I don’t need to buy any more models for quite a while – will this encourage me to buy more “kit” for painting them?  Possibly, or maybe I’ll end up getting bored painting the same thing and take a 6 month break?

The quality of miniatures is going to continue to grow, but there is naturally a limit and a balance between high detail and fiddly detail must continue to be made.  A miniature needs to be engaging to paint and something that is crammed with fiddly details generally becomes tedious.  One thing that does concern me is that the gap between “high quality” and “average” is increasing and I do foresee that we could loose some of the companies that have been around years, but aren’t producing high quality sculpts.  That said, I think there are more freelance sculptors about currently so those companies might need to change the way things work, time will tell.

The Games Workshop vs Chapterhouse Studios legal battle is going to have a massive impact when it’s finally concluded.  Regardless of what your opinions are (if you think CHS is championing the individual retailer or a money grabbing hack), the result will finally put into black and white the state of play for developing third party components for miniatures created for game systems – yes you read right, this isn’t just going to affect Games Workshop, it’s going to have a knock on with everybody from Privateer Press through to MB Games.  Ultimately I think things will be “business as usual” for most consumers and should open up more variety, but it does concern me that if GW have to pay their legal expenses if we’re going to find a price rise looming.

I can’t see paints and brushes changing that much from now.  The likes of Scale75 I believe are going to continue to make inroads, but who knows what plans they have in the long run.

The Internet continues to be both a boon and a curse.  I love looking through beautifully painted miniatures and awe inspiring scenarios – but it does sometimes make me go “I’m never going to be able to achieve that”.  I’m sure I’m not on my own with this thinking either.  For me I tend to look at something and tell myself that it’s been painted to display standard and if I spent as long on a piece I could achieve something really amazing too and most of the time I’m right too.

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