This is a parable concerning craft paints, real guitars, and pretend pianos. I wrote a bit in my essay on the GULP that I paint both terrain and miniatures with inexpensive craft paints. This wasn’t always the case.
When I was new to the hobby of collecting and painting miniatures, I did a lot lot of research online. Rather than serving as inspiration, all those meticulously painted miniatures served as intimidation and generally hindered the process. I started out buying Testors acrylics (because those were available at my local hobby shop, Hungates) but soon fell under the spell of Æheric fiends asserting that only Games Workshop pigments were worthy. But nothing I painted with those expensive paints looked like those I saw online.
I eventually stopped painting miniatures entirely, focussing instead on terrain, which, of course, I daubed with craft paint from Walmart, Michael’s, and A.C. Moore. When I embarked upon the Square Pegs project, it seemed obvious to use craft paints, as those cylindrical warriors boast a lot of surface area. Plus, for awhile there, GW kept changing around their paint names, pot types, and generally confused me. When the big box o’ Reaper Bones arrived all bendy-plasticy, craft paint kept flowing.
Now, if you’re wondering, or just bored, this is when I get to the parable part with musical instruments.
For way longer than I’ve collected miniatures — about 30 years, in fact — I’ve played guitar. Or rather, I’ve attempted to play guitar;— I am an auto didact, not a particularly perspicacious one, and it took me about 26 years of making noise to realize that it’s difficult to teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to do…
So, I carried my son for guitar lessons for a year or so, and worked up the nerve to take some myself. My teacher was a professional musician who had been involved in jangle-pop music in the 80’s North Carolina music scene, contemporaneous with rise of R.E.M. His band wasn’t similarly successful, but he loved to play guitar, so he made a life of working in the studio, teaching guitar, and playing in local bands. His especial gift is a connection between ears, brain, and fingers. In addition to the encyclopedia of songs he knows, he can simply listen to a song, figure out what the guitarist is playing, and transcribe it for the student.
Back in the 80’s, I had a serviceable guitar purchased by my parents. But I too was under the spell of the young R.E.M. and decided that an expensive electric guitar would certainly improve my playing. I got a bank loan (!) to purchase a Rickenbacker 330, which cost the equivalent of $3700 in today’s dollars (!). The short and obvious conclusion to this part of my tale is that this dear beauty didn’t bring me any closer to Buck. I was just a lousy guitarist with an expensive axe. I’ve collected a few more here and there, and as recently as a few years ago bought a Squier Telecaster (at least I didn’t bite for the real deal) because I thought that would make me better… [Since writing this, I traded up the Squier for a made in Mexico tele.]
The main guitar I practice on to this day is that serviceable Yamaha dreadnought bought for me by my parents circa 1984. One afternoon, my teacher Brad was adeptly unravelling some tune for me on his beat up, Willy Nelson-looking classical guitar, and I fumbled along behind pathetically. Bothered by some sort of string buzz emanating from my guitar, he asked if he could play it for a moment. Music erupted like you hear on the radio. There was still some sort of buzz owing to the vagaries of 30 year-old frets, but he could minimize it by how he held his fingers.
Some days later, while painting clothespins to look like 19th century Victorian soldiers, I was visited by epiphany. Brad sounded great on his old practice guitar, he sounded great on my middling Yamaha, and he sounded great on his expensive Les Paul; he is a gifted musician and would sound great on a tissue box with rubber bands stretched across it. He is a living equivalent of Schroeder in Peanuts, who can coax classical music out of a piano with the black keys painted on.
Great miniature painters can go on for as long as they like about the necessity of expensive paints, but I’m fairly certain they could knock out superb work with daubs of mud and a stick. I’m not saying that only a gifted few can do great work;— rather, that the amount of practice one puts in trumps the quality of the tools.
So, I plan to plod on with craft paints and an inclination to improve my technique. I won’t try anything too hard; I’m satisfied with a base coat and shading with future wash. After 20-odd years and a modest accumulation of guitars, I have learned to Travis pick and can sound like a coffee house folk singer should I want to. In all of my hobbying, I attend to people who have practiced more than I (and are likely more talented than I), incorporating what I can.