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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.

"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."

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.

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.

Achievable Goals

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.


2001. All rights reserved.