The Enemy of the Good

In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of the good.”


I think that for many of us, in the pursuit of excellence in our hobby, have a destructive tendency to lock ourselves into a vicious cycle of perfectionism, constantly bashing ourselves over the head with a high self-imposed standard for our work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told something to the effect of “Well, I bought Dark Vengeance back in 2014, but keep putting off on painting my models for fear that I won’t be able to make them look good.” To make a model look table-top ready isn’t necessarily the same thing as making it look perfect; in fact, such perfectionism is often anathema to improving as a painter and finishing your army.

For instance, here, again is the first of my own painted models. (Consider this an update on the status of my army) Though far from Golden Daemon material, I think I’m not being too presumptuous in saying that once it’s based properly, it will look fantastic on the table. How much prodigious talent do results such as this require? The answer may surprise you.

Space Wolf
None. The answer is none.

I’m a rather ambitious painter, and so I watch a bunch of videos about each individual project I plan on undertaking (wet palettes are amazing, incidentally), but my overall experience and natural talent are both very low. In fact, I’m almost certain that the first 1000 points of my Space Wolves army are going to look almost comically worse than the first 1000. This is perfectly fine; if it really bothers me, I can always strip my first few minis and repaint them to my satisfaction. As an example, compare my first Space Wolf pictured above with a Wolf Guard Pack Leader I finished last night.

Note the non-highlighted kneepad and the bit of mould line on the Power Fist; abhorrent in a showcase, but negligible on the tabletop.

So, in summation, try not to stress yourself out too much when painting models for the tabletop. There’s no mistake that a vat of Simple Green can’t fix, and even a model with a middling-quality paint job will look just fine on the tabletop.

I apologize for the short article after a near two week hiatus, but the past couple weeks have been absurdly busy with my family and girlfriend, not to mention my university midterms being difficult and taking up almost all of my free time. I’ll be back next week with (what I believe is) an interesting article of considerable length.

  • Thankfully I’ve never worried about whether or not I was skilled enough to paint a model. I’ve always just gone for it. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t looked back on a model a year or two later and thought it wasn’t that great. However, painting is a progression, and you will always improve. There’s no point in going back to improve the paint job of a model you did earlier on because in a few years the re-paint won’t be up to your new standards. So, it becomes a vicious cycle.

    That being said, I will fret about seemingly small things when painting. I’ll set down a model for a prolonged period of time because I can’t decide on a color for something. We all have our hang-ups, but all we can do is to try and overcome them, or at least make it manageable.

    • Brennan Barni

      My biggest hurdle up until now has been the fact that I’ve been working with god-awful brushes, and thus haven’t really been able to get the level of detail and quality I’m accustomed to from my previous experiences painting Citadel miniatures. However, a couple of my friends put some money together and surprised me with a set of brushes for my birthday, so I should feel significantly more comfortable avoiding brush strokes and the like.

      • Brushes really can make all the difference in the world. I don’t buy really expensive ones, but I also don’t buy the super cheap ones either.

        • Brennan Barni

          Well, we’re all poor college students, so “putting money together” was really just getting $50 from among all of them to buy a few brushes from our local GW. Still, I have been using $2 brushes from a local craft store up until now, so I’m super excited to paint with something designed specifically to paint miniatures.

          • I use $2-3 synthetic brushes from a small local art store for 95% of what I paint to great success and have a couple expensive brushes for high detail work.

            • I have a mix of cheap ones and better ones. My better ones still aren’t all that expensive. I pay $6 for the better ones, so just an upgrade from cheap craft store ones.

              • I think I paid about $20 ea for a 20/0 and 30/0… and it’s about time to replace them.

            • Brennan Barni

              I think my largest problem is my lack of experience in knowing what shape/size/style of brush works best for painting miniatures, rather than the overall quality of the brushes I’ve bought. When buying cheaper brushes, I find that you’re generally presented with a wide selection of brushes, each for different applications based on their size, shape, and bristle count. It’s entirely possible that I simply chose brushes poorly suited for the purposes I had in mind.

              • Sizes 0 or 000 for larger areas, 5/0 for detail, 10+/0 for fine detail
                Use old crappy versions of those for dry brushing.
                That’s /really/ all you need. Just make sure they have a nice point when you buy them.

                • Brennan Barni

                  Hmm… I think what went wrong with my purchases was that I bought brushes for detail oil painting on canvas, and not brushes with a good point. I did buy a decent detail brush, and definitely felt that it worked great for my purposes, but I was kind of dumb and accidentally let paint dry on it.

                  I also felt that the brushes I bought tended to hold paint in a very “top-heavy” manner, so to speak. Like, if I thinned my paints enough to the point where I wouldn’t get brush strokes, the brush would /absorb/ the paint, and just spew it all over the model like a busted fountain pen as soon as I put it to the model. That could definitely be due to my amateurism in painting technique, though.

                  • That’s an easy mistake to make. Brushes for canvas painting rarely have the point needed for miniatures and you don’t want to be fighting with that.

          • The new GW brushes aren’t cheap either. I was checking those out the other week. Brush confidence is the key, whether it’s a $6 brush or a $50 one.

            • Turkadactyl

              I’m looking for new brushes. I am disappointed with the quality of Army Painter. I’ve mostly bought GW brushes and they’re too much for what they bring to the table.

              • Turkadactyl? Man, that would have made Joust so much more terrifying…

                • Turkadactyl

                  I know hey. The pterodactyl’s are terrifying enough.

  • I have trouble with perfectionism, and this was a very important lesson to learn. In some ways, it’s kind of frustrating, because I used to occasionally win (or at least place for) Best Painted, and that hasn’t happened in ages, but the flipside is that I have so much more available to actually play with. Really, on the whole, I’m OK with that tradeoff.

    Probably the big thing that got me over the hill on this was a regional event I attend every year, which requires people to lock in their lists a couple of months in advance. Pretty much every time, this has resulted in me ending up a week before the event with way too much still to do to be able to get perfectionistic with it, and just going “F*** it, I’m drybrushing everything”, since I don’t have the option of just changing up my list to go with stuff I’ve already painted.

    • Brennan Barni

      Maybe the people around you got better, rather than your own painting getting worse? I have a couple friends who are excellent painters who haven’t really won any sort of recognition or award in the past couple of years, but one thing I’ve noticed is a huge influx of fantastic painters entering our fold. Hell, one of them is a tattoo artist, and he does some of the best freehand work I’ve ever seen.

      • Oh there’s definitely some of that, but I can put the Dark Angels that I painted back in college next to the Space Wolves I did last year, and I can see where I cut more corners on the Wolves. My Nids REALLY show the difference, there’s like 9 layers of feathered highlights on the carapaces of the older ones, and maybe 2 on the newer ones because I just don’t have the energy, the patience, or the steadiness of hand for it anymore.

        A lot of it, I will also put down to health issues, both physical and mental. Shakiness of hand and difficulty with focus and sustained energy have both taken their toll on my quality.

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    well said Petrichor. Also the totally finished is the enemy of the good enough. I’d rather my opponent have an entire army of unhighlighted base painted minis than three perfectly finished and based units and ten grey ones. Just get the whole thing done to some degree, you can always go back and get more done to any specific part, but for gods sake don’t spend 1000 hours painting a single squad and play with the rest of your army grey for years and years!

    • Brennan Barni

      Definitely true. I’ve been struggling with that a lot myself, but I think that now that I’m using a wet palette, it’ll be easier to just basecoat and layer an entire army, then progress through the steps at my own pace. When your paint takes an hour or more to dry on the palette, it really liberates you in assembly-line painting.

  • Brennan Barni

    Evidently my penchant for perfectionism didn’t extend to the grammatical integrity of this article! Sorry, Thor — I think I sent you the rough draft version by accident!

    • You should be able to edit it if you haven’t already.

  • I used to get really intimidated by some miniatures.. notably my two entries into Golden Demon. (Harlequin Wraithlord and a Space Hulk Terminator.) That Wraithlord sat boxed up for the longest time… it was my white whale.

    But these days, I just go for it. I recognize that the early part of my minis just look bad… it’s part of the process of painting. I still get hung up near the end though.. I think it’s a matter where I’ve been staring at it for SO long that I lose all objectivity over the project and it begins to lose its whimsy. That’s when I really need to start wrapping things up because I’ll start to second guess myself and make mistakes.

    • Brennan Barni

      At a certain point, it’s difficult not to kind of kill the project with your mind, I’ve found. That’s kind of what killed my Dark Eldar for me a couple years ago. I got too ambitious and ended up biting off a larger project than I can chew, resulting in all the fun draining from the act of painting them. With my Wolves, I’m just trying to sit back, relax, and enjoy painting them at my leisure.

  • Warren Falconer

    I laughed when I saw this article the timing of it is great. I have always prided myself as an above average painter. I like to think I give Thor a run for his money. But this year much like your article title I have began to,focus more on getting things done than getting them done to a very high standard. I’ve always been gunning to push my armies for painting competitions and all that but I don’t know if a switch flipped in my brain or what after our last big things tournament. But in taking the approach you describe here since Jan 1 I’ve painted an entire betrayal of calth box half an age of sigmar box and I’m half way through another 1500 points of alpha legion I,built from bits and old models. These paint jobs actually look quite good I have just stopped fussing with all the little details no one notices anyway.

    Anyway great article and yes Thor I still live.

    • My approach has always been to get things painted to a tabletop standard, but to pick out a model to spend some time on, typically an HQ choice. The ones I spend time on go into the painting competitions, but I never paint specifically for them either. I know if I spent a ton of time working on something for a competition, and it didn’t win then I’d be upset about it, and I enjoy the hobby too much to let it upset me.

      So, if you’re alive, and painting a ton of stuff, why haven’t we seen any of it? :P

      • This is great advice… and if I followed it, I might actually complete my Hordebloods this century…

        • Definitely easier said than done. The hard part is knowing you can paint to a better standard, but to curb that desire to make everything a showpiece. That’s where those standout models come in, it lets you vent that pent up desire to create something awesome that you were holding back.

          • Brennan Barni

            I might finally paint Grymvlk up when I feel like I’ve actually got something to hold back! hahaha

      • Warren Falconer


        • Your logic is flawed though. You found time to paint, therefore you can find time to take pictures :P

          • Warren Falconer

            I’ve got pictures just no time to stick it in an article and log in wrong then have you fix my account then try again then schedule it wrong

            • Some day we’ll teach you how to use a computer and blog.

    • Brennan Barni

      I think you’re quite right in not fussing with little details. It’s the same reason I no longer paint eyes onto my models. Not only do they look grittier and more grizzly with the emphasis of heavy shading on the face, but I’m god-awful at painting eyes and often make a perfectly fine model look absolutely ridiculous when I hazard an attempt at them. Sometimes, it’s best to just go for the “good enough,” rather than the perfect.

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