Wargaming Tradecraft: Avoiding Burn Out and Hobbying Again


Avoiding Burn Out and Hobbying Again

I've been asked many times, "How do you force yourself to paint again when you're in a slump?"

It's a good question and there are a bunch of reasons why we hit hobby slumps. A "slump" can mean anything from becoming bored with what you're working on, bored with hobbying in general or unable to get painting again due to other things getting in your way. After some revelations of my own, I'm going to finally try and offer some suggestions and tell you what works for me.

Also, worth noting... I may use the word "painting" a lot, but really, that's a term I use as a general reference to the hobby. I could be talking about sculpting green stuff, cleaning mould lines, building terrain and so on.

"I'm bored with what I'm painting."

This is a common one and happens to us all. Personally, I find that when it happens to me, it's because of a couple things:

I've been painting too much infantry and it's time to paint something bigger

Changing the scale can be a quick and easy method to avoid burn out. If you're getting bored, try painting a beast / dreadnought / vehicle / terrain. This is often enough of a shift to get you to enjoy painting again. Since infantry usually outnumbers your larger stuff, it might be a good idea to purposefully NOT paint these things so you have some available when you need them.

I'm tired of the genre I've been painting

Sometimes scale isn't enough of a shift and changing gears from sci-fi to fantasy (or vice versa) is a more drastic step. If you have models for another system, great, but maybe you need to buy some that just interest you. I used to really enjoy painting chain-mail and often grabbed a fantasy model from Warhammer Quest just for fun. Haven't run into this while painting the Hordebloods though - maybe I just enjoy painting fantasy more. Cheap and used models are great to keep on hand in case you feel like mixing it up.

I want to paint for myself (Avoiding your army)

Focusing on finishing your army can put too much pressure on you. Painting competitions and groups can be great motivation, but also stressful. Find a miniature that looks like it'd be fun to paint (Doesn't matter the genre.) and paint it. For yourself. No rush, don't follow instructions, just be creative and enjoy painting it.

I want to paint for myself. (During a commission / project for someone else)

Another time you'll be pushing yourself to complete a project is when you're working on a commission. Might not happen if you're just working on a few models, but after a number of projects or during / after a big one, you might be burned out because you lose your personal motivation. While you feel obligated to finish your commission (especially since you're probably being paid) burn out will delay a project much longer than taking a few hours a day or an evening for yourself with your own model or some relaxation. (Movie, TV, games, etc.)

Connect the dots and colour in the lines

Maybe you don't want to over think a project and just want to paint. Buy a model that looks simple enough, google the recommended paint job from the manufacturer and just paint it. Don't try and be exact, but at least your paint scheme has been roughly chosen. Think of this as a way to get out of your box while still sticking with the hobby.

I'm spending way too much time on each model

Painting "masterclass" or "perfection" is a quick way to burn out. If this IS your normal level of quality, find a miniature to paint for fun and don't feel the pressure to complete it to your best level of quality. Also remember that there's no such thing as "perfect" and that you could spend twice as long on all the little final touches that maybe don't really have an affect on the final product.

"I'm just bored with it all!"

We all hit slumps, and sometimes they hit us so hard we can't pick up a brush.

Try hobbying on something completely different

In the middle of a big green stuffing project - try picking up the brush again instead of forcing yourself to push through all that sculpting. Been painting your swarm army too long - maybe you've got some models to try converting or maybe you've got some junk around that you could turn into an awesome piece of terrain.

Get back on the field of battle!

Seeing my army together in various stages of completion usually is enough to remind me why I'm hobbying. It rekindles the desire to work towards getting a fully painted force again.

Hang out with some gamers

Even if you don't feel like playing, hit up your FLGS when others will be battling and just chat. At a minimum, you'll have fun hanging out with your friend. ("Where everybody knows your naaame") Think of it like a pit stop to refuel your geek-ness. You could also spend some time online with forums, offering advice to gamers and painters.

Take a break

Rather than force yourself and chance a larger burn out, be honest and walk away for a while. Get some sunlight, go for a walk, hang out with friends, watch some movies, play some video games, etc. Sometimes hobbying just comes in cycles and you need to find something else to occupy your time.

"I haven't painted in ages and I can't get back into it."

Whether you chose to take a break or just stopped finding time for painting, distractions can be a huge detriment to the hobby. Beware the time-sink. Video games, for example, make great distractions - especially when another aspect of life (work, family, relationships, finances, etc) are wearing on your nerves. Games with a social aspect can really pull you away from hobbies, but there's merit to those, especially for those of us who've moved away from the people we grew up with. Odds are, if you have this kind of problem, more than just hobbying can be affected. (Though to be fair, hobbying can become a time-sink that pulls you away from the rest of your life too.)

Get back on the field of battle and hang out with some gamers!

For the same reason I discussed above, both these suggestions help bring the painting / gaming bug back. Chatting about the hobby and seeing your army are two great ways to regain motivation.

Break the routine!

A little while back I'd been playing a lot of video games, though with friends I moved away from. It was great to hang out with them again, even if it's just in a virtual realm and on Skype. Hadn't picked up a brush in a while. A big work project came up, that had me working 16 hour days for 4 days straight. (If I wasn't working, I was sleeping) What's the first thing I did when I was done? Picked up a brush.

Not exactly sure on the reasoning here - maybe painting isn't active enough to pull you away from a distraction like video games - maybe you need something to stop you first? Not the most glamorous of suggestions, but perhaps some manual labour like washing your car, yard work or taking a look at the "Honey-do" list could be enough to pull you away from your time-sink long enough that painting seems interesting again.

Sign up for a deadline

On the other side of that, too much work can really pull you away from your hobbies. Recently my job found us down an employee and yours truly had to pick up all the slack. Long days, rushed time frames, hours spent driving between sites, on call duties waking me up at stupid-o-clock, etc. That's why I haven't posted much lately - haven't be painting or gaming; just a lot of video games. And y'know what? That's ok. It's what I needed to stay sane.

What worked this time was a tournament was drawing near and I had some models that needed mould lines removed, glued on bases, have arcs painted and if I'm going to be in a tournie, then I want them to look presentable as well. That led to sculpting and green-stuffing.

Tips to avoid burn out:

  • Let your creativity flow
    • Don't paint like a robot.
    • Don't follow instructions. (unless from your own notebook)
    • Make your colour schemes "your own".
  • Paint one model at a time.
    • Treat your models like art.
    • Don't line up a unit and paint them all at once.
  • Know when a model is complete.
    • Even when painting masterclass, be able to finish a model.
    • There's a difference between "high standards" and "perfect".
    • Nothing will ever be "perfect."
  • Use different standards for different models
    (If you're willing to sacrifice quality)
    • There's nothing wrong with painting an army to "table top" level of quality.
    • Paint army leaders, unit commanders, vehicles, etc... with a higher standard while infantry blobs blend together anyways.
  • Don't stop painting.
    • Avoid time-sinks 

What else draws you away from your hobbies?

What works to get back at the hobby?


  1. Great advice!

    My project table almost always has a couple different minis on it which I cycle through. Usually there is one of my minis and two or three commission projects. This helps stall my hobby add and lets the layers dry in between. It works for me, but not everyone.

  2. "Hang out with some gamers" This never fails to motivate me. Going to the FLGS and the local gaming club, shooting the breeze and checking out some products/finished armies is a great start; also, and this one never fails, go hang out with mates at a tournament. You don't have to play, just soak up raw hobby ( and gamer stench! :) ) that pervades the place and get back to it.


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