“Plan it” or “Wing it”

When it comes to painting, some people prefer to plan every tiny detail before they apply any paint, and some will wing it every step of the way.  Which is best?

The Pantsers and the Plotters

This term is originally about writers, but I find that it applies for miniature painters quite well.

Plotters, when it come to writing, are so called because they start with the plot in mind.  It starts like this, something major happens, and it will end like this.  They write the characters to get the story from point A to point B.

JK Rolling is one such example – Harry Potter had a set ending to book seven when book one was still unfinished.

Pantsers on the other hand, develop characters, and their story evolves around those characters without a super fixed ending in mind, they fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing.  The characters make their own choices and drive the story somewhere.

GRR Martin is one example, of shaping his characters and then letting their story unfold itself based on the choices his characters make.

And this translates into painting models quite a lot:  some folks plan out every details of their miniatures and don’t really start until they know how everything will be.

Others just start and see where painting takes them.

Who’s Who?

As with most things in life, the goal is to land somewhere in the middle.  However, as I’ve come to realize with this month’s failed project, is that everyone is leaning towards one end of the spectrum.

While researching for this article, I’ve come to the realization that I am most definitely a Pantser when it comes to painting models.  This realization came with a few clues:

  • I hate painting models to a super detailed scheme.  In fact, I don’t even take commissions that involve matching an exact scheme or that come with too many guidelines because I hate it.
  • Whenever I start painting something, even commission pieces, I rarely go into much details.  I usually give a broad idea or go along an idea for a main color and a vague  secondary color like glows or bases.  For example, Jack’s Chaos I presented the project to him as: ” Purple and Black.  Dope” or Eric’s Lucky 32 that came with the directive: “Not pink, but whatever”
  • I have a real hard time helping people at the store shape out every detail of their miniatures when they ask me for help.  My friend Max is starting Seraphon and came at me for advice with the scheme.  I was utterly lost answering his questions beyond how to do  the main colors for them.  As best as I could, I could think of 93 different colors and ways to paint the various colors of models, but which brown would go with which red tones, gold or silver, and what about… completely clueless.

What are the perks of each?

Knowing which type of painter you are can help you a great deal, as it will expose this that you can work on that don’t really involve skills or techniques (I.E. this is not a case of the gitgud scrub)

The biggest perk of plotters is that it’s really easy to stay on track and motivated to paint.  Models are at step 1,2,3, or whatever of 63.  Done with step 4, go with step 5 and so on.  Pantsers can get lost once they finish a step and don’t know where to go next.

The biggest perk of pantsers is that the finished results are usually more organic.  If you don’t plan on the colors of the boots or eye lenses or weapons, you are free to pick a color that fits with the model in it’s current stage.  Should the belts be light brown, dark brown, or an orange brown; it’s much easier to pick once the clothes and armor are already painted.

Which is best?

As stated before, I am a pantser for sure.  However, once I started testing this theory, I realized that I am way better when I commit to even the most minimalistic plan.

This is probably the boring answer, but to each their own.  As with most things in miniature painting, finding what really works for you is the key to results and happiness.

Once you do find which side you are on, I would encourage you to try and add in the philosophies of the other side.  Maybe, like me, you’ll discover that you can improve with minimal plan, or with a little nonchalance.

So what about you?  Are you a pantser or a plotter?

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