What’s Yarry Looking At?

After a couple weeks painting this nice mini I think I’m more or less finished.  There are always tweaks and fixes you discover, but this is basically what he’s going ot look like.

I’ve styled Yarry’s hair, added stripes to his pants, and filled in the last few details.

The hobbit Yarry (Enigma Miniatures) looks at the camera

Oh, and I repainted the face. Minor detail.

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I’m not sure if it’s an improvement or not, but it’s done, or so I think. I tried to make him a bit more hobbit-like. Rosier cheeks, less stubble.

I really like his face, but it is a challenge to keep it from looking too ‘heroic’. He has extremely high cheekbones, a sharp jawline, and a determined look.

At least I chose to make him look determined. Many painted examples of this miniature that I’ve come across put the pupils far out to the side of the eyes, leaving him rather sardonic.

This mini proved a challenge and a pleasure at the same time. I bumped up against some of the limitations of the figure itself, while also running into some of my own. I’m happy with where it stands, and I’m eager to get it on a base and call it finished. For the scene I’ll have to hang tight until a friend creates a plinth, so we’ll have to wait a bit to find out where his adventure takes him.

~

I feel I’ve learned a lot with this mini. Grown might be a better word.

I recognize in myself the stifling fear of screwing up – of failure – which manifests itself in my mini painting as an aversion to risk. When I’ve gotten a piece up to ‘my standard’ I generally want to stop, lest I screw up what I’ve done. This ensures that I won’t leave the miniature ‘worse than I am’ as a painter. It will not, however, leave it better, and it won’t move my own capabilities forward.

On this halfling I very consciously tried to make things as good as I thought they should be. I made mistakes in this effort, but I discovered that I could ‘fix them’, or try again.

Sometimes you hear ‘it’s just paint’, and that’s a great attitude to work with. No brushstroke is final, nothing has to complete or perfect your mini. Put it on there, see if you can achieve what you’re aiming for, and if it fails you can redo it or, if you’re lucky, roll the mistake into something a little better.

My painting on this miniature is hardly perfect. I looked a lot at this beautiful version of Yarry for inspiration & direction, and I wish I could paint mine like that. But I’m happy with my effort. I might still tinker with it more, or I might leave it alone now. Interestingly, the willingness to accept imperfection, the assumption of it, liberates you to do better than you otherwise would.

First, you can view the piece with a more objective and critical eye. I don’t believe it’s possible to be completely objective about your own work, but you certainly can’t if you think it’s perfect. Or perfectly mediocre, that is, ‘as good as you can make it’. Recognizing that everywhere on the model there are opportunities for improvement helps you spot them. You can look for flaws, rather than looking past them.

Second, by embracing imperfection you feel less attached to your brushstrokes. Everyone knows how hard it is to edit your own writing, and painting is no different. To improve the product, though, you’ve got to “kill your darlings” as a mini painter no less than as an author.

ToadChapel’s friend g0rb wrote in his WIP over on CMoN that he didn’t hesitate to redo something he’d completed because “if it looks wrong, it looks wrong.” He said he didn’t feel he was taking a risk at all, as the thing he’s obliterating simply isn’t good enough as it is. What you’re risking in editing simply isn’t worth preserving, so there’s no need to feel any emotional attachment to it. Chris has a very interesting, practical, productive, and healthy attitude toward his projects, and he improves very quickly as a result. There’s a lot to learn from him.

The third empowering aspect of painting as an imperfectionist is that it gives you the ability to pronounce a figure done. The improvements you make and the risks rewarded by trying something new and challenging will not produce a perfect model, either. If you’re lucky you’ll create something personal and fulfilling, something of which you can be proud, but your effort will serve as preparation and inspiration for the next mini you paint, too.

Like your brushstrokes, your decisions are not irrevocable. I thought I was done with Yarry, and then I repainted his face. I think I’m finished now, but I might decide otherwise between now and the time I receive his base.

But though I know he’s imperfect, I’m prepared to put him down and begin a new project. I’m not tired of him. Indeed, like my Random Encounter, I’ll probably miss him for a few days as I’m priming and laying down basecoats on a hunk of grey resin.

These reflections don’t represent entirely new insights. It’s something we all know intellectually, but it’s very hard to get it into practice, especially when it’s so easy to compare your efforts to the work of others.

Needless to say the lessons I’m learning and trying to communicate apply far beyond the painting of 54mm hobbit figurines. I’ve wrestled with these ideas as a student, a teacher, a guitarist, and everywhere else I’ve striven for improvement. It’s an attitude I try to live, not just use.

The fact that one can develop these imperfectionist skills of reflection and self-correction in the pursuit of something rewarding is a blessing. One sees improvement as a painter, and the challenging and intimidating path taken to achieve it validates the risks run along the way.  And we, like our creations, benefit greatly from the process of refinement.

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