Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

The law of unintended consequences

Posted by Martin on July 16, 2010

It’s funny how one thing leads to another – especially when it’s something you hadn’t even considered as a remote possibility.

You’ll probably recall that I wrote a short posting a while ago about the addition of the “Contact me” form to BfK (clue: it’s to the right of what you’re reading now). At the time, I simply viewed this as a way for people to get in touch and perhaps ask me questions that didn’t fit neatly into the ongoing comment threads attached to any of my postings. To begin with, that’s pretty much what happened and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who did that and apologise to some of you for not responding yet. I will get there, it’s just that, as John Lennon said, life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

But recently I received a question that gave me considerable pause for thought. Somebody asked me if I took on painting commissions. Hmmm. That really made me stop what I was doing and think hard. Why? Well, it’s a topic that had never come up before and, when I started to chew it over, I realised that it was complex and threw up all sorts of emotions and questions:

  • Firstly, I was flattered – somebody out there actually thinks the standard of my figure painting is something they’re prepared to pay for with their hard-earned cash. In fact, the individual concerned said a number of flattering things about how he likes my style of painting. To avoid our mutual embarrassment, I’m not going to quote from the correspondence here but suffice to say I was chuffed.
  • After that first flush of excitement, a nervous reality check cut in. Hang on, I thought, what kind of expectations does this chap have? I’m a notoriously slow painter and I have enough trouble getting figures painted for my own collection. How much of an impact on my own work would a commission have? What if we’re looking at a really big job? And what kind of figures? There are plenty of nationalities I don’t know enough about and there are a fair few manufacturers who’s figures I hate painting. Ummm… I don’t want to disappoint anybody so maybe it’s time for a bit of expectation management, I thought.
  • Finally, I got to the stage of being more practical and we entered into a correspondence where I explained my predicament and what kind of a commission I was prepared to take on. Happily, everything worked out and we’ve agreed to try it out and see how we get on.

I hope you get the sense my turmoil over this because it was a difficult decision for me – and that’s without lowering the tone by mentioning the question of renumeration. But the die is cast now and I’m looking forward to this as a new life experience. If it goes well, I’ll consider doing more and it might have the side effect of energising work on my own collection.

So why am I telling you all this? You don’t want to hear about the angst-ridden decisions of a sensitive artiste like moi, do you? No, nor do I. The reason for posting this is twofold. Firstly, I’m finding it therapeutic to write down all this – somehow, it’s helping me confirm that the decisions I’ve made about taking commissions make sense. Secondly, if anybody else asks me about painting some figures for them, I’ll be able to refer them to this and save the effort of to-ing and fro-ing to explain why will and won’t do certain things. So, for anybody who wants to know, here’s the basis on which I will consider taking on a figure painting commission:

  • This isn’t what I do for a living, it’s my hobby. That means I’ll only take on work that appeals to me and fits into my schedule. I reserve the right to be utterly selfish and inconsistent about when I say “yes” and when I say “no”.
  • I’ll only take on small commissions. That means individual figures or small sets of up to five figures. The sorts of things that are likely to appeal to me are command figures, drummers, standard bearers, casualties, skirmisher groups and other small or unusual vignettes.
  • I have a narrow focus of interest and expertise. I only do Napoleonics, I only do 28mm and I only do Calpe Miniatures figures. That might change in future but for now I make no apologies for only doing figures I like and know.
  • I only paint to one standard and you can see what that is by looking at the photos I post on this blog. I’m not going to get involved in painting to any lower standards to get things done faster or cheaper.
  • I’ll paint figures in my usual way – acrylic paints, at least one layer of tough gloss varnish for protection and one or more layers of matt varnish for a realistic appearance.
  • I am prepared to accommodate certain specific requests – for example, if you want the figures painted to represent a particular unit, if you want the figures based a particular way, if you want things like blanket rolls or shako covers to be a particular colour, if you do or don’t want my usual muddy weathered campaign look. If you’re not sure, just ask – the worst that can happen is that I’ll say “no” – I don’t bite.
  • You’ll need to be patient – I’m very slow.
  • You’ll have to purchase the figures and send them to me. I’ll confirm receipt and keep you informed of progress. I may even e-mail you work-in-progress photos!
  • I reserve the right to put photos of the figures (either work-in-progress or finished) on BfK or write about the commission on BfK (but I will preserve your anonymity if you wish).
  • When it comes to getting the finished figures back to you, I prefer one of two methods – either via a postal method with insurance that requires a signature on delivery or, if it turns out we’ll both be at the same wargames show, then I like the idea of handing over the figures in person.
  • Payment: I expect 50% of the fee up front and the remainder on delivery. Contact me offline if you want a quote. The rate per figure I’ve settled on is based on what I know other painters charge for Napoleonics, the standard of my painting, how long it takes me to paint a figure and how much I think my time is worth (remember, I don’t have to do this for a living; my day job in IT pays very nicely; and my time is my single most valuable asset).

Now I can see how that might look like a restrictive list and, if I were doing this on a commercial basis, I’d agree that it wouldn’t win me much custom. But I’m not doing it as a business so I can afford to be choosy. Right, anybody want to sign me up for the next series of Grumpy Old Men?


8 Responses to “The law of unintended consequences”

  1. Ralph said

    Dear Martin,

    Your approach to the question of painting figures professionally seems entirely justified to me. It seems one of life’s minor injustices as a wargamer that one either has time on one’s hands, or money, but never both!

    I think your readership will find your prospective customers’ requests interesting – I am always very nosey when it comes to other peoples projects!

    So long as you manage to complete your own plans though!

    Kind Regards,


  2. figvfig said

    You have hit the nail on it’s metaphoric head Martin. As a young bloke I did quite a lot of commision painting, into which I put a great deal of time and effort, unfortunately to the detrement of my own collection in both quality and quantity. Im not saying I didnt enjoy doing it but it often bought on a sense of paranoia in regards to my and the customers expectations (btw Im a notoriously slower painter =( Im sure). I was never completely satisfied I had met the customers expectations even though the delivery of the finished job always met with approval. Doubt would stay with me up until that final moment, maybe that says more about me than my painting.

    I think your terms and conditions are completely fair, reasonable and quite frankly the only way to go. I could never work out how to paint to two or three different standards, I still cant? Having said that I now have my own personal “I’ll just knock these over” standard which tends to dominate my painting style nowadays, unfortunately!

    As far as I’m concerned you have taken the right approach and if it ever feels like a chore or start to think it is demanding more of your time and attention than you would wish it to stop, and re-think.

    To wrap up, I dont think your likely to get any complaints, and if you do they are not a customer worth having ๐Ÿ˜‰ thats my opinion for what it’s worth

  3. Clarence said

    Martin, I tend to work the same way. My prices are high because I generally don’t want to do them, but people still want to pay me from time to time. Then I only accept the work if it’s something I want to do. I am wrestling with deciding if I want to take terrain commissions – at Historicon several people wanted to buy my Spanish buildings right off the table! Now I have several potential customers waiting to see if I will take on projects to build duplicates (or something similar – I hate mass producing stuff so there will certainly be variations on the theme).

  4. Giles said

    Hi Martin

    Your guidelines are eminently sensible and no one could have an issue with them. As you say, time is the most valuable asset most of us have and painting figures for others simply reduces the time available for painting one’s own figures. I’ve seen other people insist on a “veto” over the quality of figures – I can easily imagine people farming out their awful Old Glory sculpts (for example) whilst they spend their own available time on the Perries and Calpes.

    I suspect you’ll find the experience very interesting. The one time I ever painted figures for someone else actually freaked me out a bit – I was very nervous about getting it right and found myself second-guessing techniques and wondering whether I could, or should, be doing things differently. I think my worry was essentially whether someone who liked my figures in pictures on the net would feel the same when he held them in real life (luckily he did).

    Bets wishes


  5. Martin said

    Wow! Thanks chaps. I’m encouraged by your support for my approach. Perhaps I’m not a curmudgeon after all. Just to pick up on a couple of specifics, then:

    @Ralph: since you’re being so nosey (nothing wrong with that), the first commission is for five Calpe Prussian line musketeers to be painted to represent the 1st Pommeranian Regiment. This is an example of something that fits nicely into my scheme of things and coincidentally in a unit I’ll be painting for myself at some point.

    @Figvfig: you’ve gotta be some sort of painting snail to be slower than me! And yes, I wouldn’t know how to paint to a different (lower) standard. Plus, even if I did, I’d feel like I’d failed to do the job properly and I’d take no pride in the results.

    @Clarence: sounds like we have a similar outlook. I perfectly understand how you wouldn’t want to see another Spanish building for a long time after your stunning work for Historicon.

    @Giles: good point about sub-standard figures and that was certainly in my thoughts when I wrote the posting. What’s that quaint American phrase? A pig wearing lipstick is still a pig. Also, the self-doubt point is well observed. I think you have to keep reminding yourself that somebody wanted you to paint figures for them because they actually like the way you do it. Of course, we all know that figures look completely different in the flesh than they do in photos. Eek!

    • figvfig said

      Agreed, Giles raises a very good point. Fortunately I was never presented with the problem of painting figures that weren’t up to scratch, in fact quite the opposite. I made my first contact with some quality product that I could never afford back in the day, but yes I can see his and your point in regards to being taken advantage of in this regard.

      A phrase I more commonly hear is “you cant polish a t*rd!” ๐Ÿ˜‰


    • Howdies Martin

      Five musketeers is an unusual request in my book. If I were to purchase your undoubted talents it would be for a command group. Each to their own.

      I know of several other painters who will only paint to their terms – when it suits them, only figures they like painting etc. Like you their time is precious.

      Good luck with the capitalist enterprise. I might even be tempted to apply for a Kelly Master Class Productions command group in the future as part of my investment portfolio.

      von Peter himself

      • Martin said

        Well, I wrote five musketeers as a shorthand to save time – in fact, three of the figures are officers and one is a drummer, so they are mostly command figures. My customer intends to base them individually and I think he’s a collector rather than a gamer.

        Of course, you and I would think in terms of gaming and probably select figures that make up a coherent command base. Each to his own.

        If you do get round to wanting to splash your hard-earned cash, you know how to contact me – at least you know that I’ll paint the piping ๐Ÿ™‚

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