This section contains a few of my thoughts on various gaming topics, as well as things that won't fit in anywhere else. Feel free to email me with discussion points and reactions.
©1999-2004. All rights reserved.
|This article is derived from ideas in
Robert Pirsig's excellent book on philosophy 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance:An Inquiry Into Values', which contains some surprisingly
practical tips on how to approach motorcycle maintenance that can be applied
to many other activities such as modelling.
States of Mind
Painting guides tend to focus on the processes being applied to the
figure - paint white, paint red, wash with brown ink, wash with blue
ink. That dry description of method isn't very helpful because it leaves
out the painter and the most important thing about successful
painters perhaps is not the bare facts of the process. Pirsig quotes
a technical manual, whose imprecise translation read 'Assembly of Japanese
motorbicycle requires great peace of mind'. Although it sounds silly,
this is a very good instruction, as he explains:
"Peace of mind isn't at all superficial, really....It's
the whole thing....If you don't have this when you start and maintain
it while you are working you're likely to build your personal problems
right into the machine itself."
If you approach painting as merely a chore necessary to produce a
tabletop army, then you will never be a good painter. Although there
are recipes that can be followed, these don't deal with the less tangible
qualities. You might add highlights as per instructions, but there is
no objective way of measuring how light they should be or where they
should go. To do that requires a certain amount of experience and attention.
More importantly if you aren't in the right state of mind when you are
painting, you won't enjoy it and therefore won't persevere long enough
to get good at it. If your modelling isn't going to plan and you feel
yourself becoming irritable and frustrating, don't just keep bashing away
at it. Doing that will just reinforce and build up all kinds of negative
associations with modelling in your mind. Also your mood will lead you to
rush things and the inevitable substandard results with drain your patience
and enthusiasm still further.
"there's a kind of inner peace of mind that isn't contrived
but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there's
no leader and no follower. The material and the craftsman's thoughts
change together in a progression of smooth, even changes until his
mind is at rest at the exact instant that the material is right."
Gumption & its traps
Some people seem to have considerably more motivation and patience
for carrying out tasks than others, a commodity which Pirsig calls
gumption. He identifies it with the concept that the Greeks called
enthousiasmos, from which the English word 'enthusiasm' is
derived. The word means literally filled with 'theos', which
translates to 'God' or 'Quality'. Traditionally this is considered
to be a quality which one is born with or acquires through a good
upbringing, but he believes that it is something which can be manipulated
to beneficial effect by the individual. "The gumption-filling
process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel
the real universe...But it's nothing exotic". The principal
way to keep your levels of gumption high is to avoid what he calls
'gumption traps'. These are hasty decisions and careless acts which
are then regretted at leisure, generally because they cause additional
or abortive work.
Be cautious about what you set out to achieve. This applies particularly
to scenery, when wargamer's megalomania will lead you to attempt to
build Stalingrad at 25mm, or perhaps a large section of Middle Earth.
Since things usually take at least twice as long as your most generous
estimate, you will usually end up losing pace while it is still at
the 'large bits of polystyrene and cardboard' stage. It will be far
too big to store properly, so it will sit on the floor in the corner,
looking forlorn and reproachful. The work and materials already invested
in it will prevent you from throwing it away, but the sheer scale
of the task will prevent you from even starting the ordeal of finishing
it. After it has gathered dust and had corners knocked off it for
a few years, you will eventually bin it in disgust. Instead of this
the best tactic is to split it down into manageable self contained
parts. If you want a castle, maybe build the corner towers first as
individual items, which can later be integrated into a larger whole.
That way the satisfaction of getting one element finished will give
you the enthusiasm to start the next stage, and if the worst comes
to the worst and you lose heart you are left with a couple of useful
bits of scenery rather than a useless wreck.
The Right State of Mind
Dealing with Boredom
Not everything about modelling is naturally exciting (I'm sorry if
this shocks you) and many tasks are inevitable requirements before
you get to the good bits. Boredom is a problem, because not only is
it an obstacle that will drive you away from the painting table, but
it also will affect your technique to some extent and can lead to
serious gumption traps. If you are bored then you will bodge and cut
corners until a major irreparable disaster occurs which will destroy
all remaining reserves of energy. Perhaps the previous coat of paint
is not quite dry, but you think 'Pah, near enough', start drybrushing
anyway and then it smears and ruins the base coat as well. At this
point the prospect of going back to the basecoating stage is probably
enough to make anyone throw the model in a box and do something else,
like take up football.
Pirsig suggests that one solution to boredom is to turn activities
into a kind of ritual. The Zen practice of meditation consists physically
of just sitting still. What could be more boring than that? The difference
is the state of mind of the person. If modelling becomes a form of
meditation - one with a tangible product, then the issue of boredom
will not be a problem.
Climbing the mountain
At one point in the book Pirsig is climbing a mountain with his son.
His son is tired and whining, so Pirsig carries his rucksack as well,
by carrying his own some way and then going back for his son's. He
finds himself becoming frustrated by the slow progress he is making,
but then he thinks about what his goals really are and this changes
his perception of the process. His real goal is the experience of
climbing, rather than reaching the actual physical top of the mountain.
There's no need to feel frustration because in one sense he has already
reached where he wants to be. You may want a unit of troops to be
painted, and pleased when they are finished, but the process of painting
is something to be enjoyed in itself. This is the real secret, because
once you feel like this about modelling and painting, you will persevere
with care and a steady (although possibly slow) improvement in your
technique will be inevitable.