It started out with colouring, back when I was little – vast areas of white waiting to be brought to life with wax crayons, coloured pencils or felt-tip pens. The materials were always low quality, of course. We were poor. Crayons snapped under eager hands, pencils tore gashes in cheap paper, which had a habit of soaking out felt-tips something rotten too. The colours were always too bold or too faint, and the marks too scratchy, inconsistent and—augh! It didn’t matter how careful I was, I would always end up scribbling over the lines.
I could never achieve what was in my head.
Lego was good. I could cope with Lego. All of the pieces were there, I had a pattern to follow, and the instructions were clear. With a little bit of patience I could make the thing look exactly like it was supposed to and there was some satisfaction to be had there. It was… a bit too easy though, truth be told, and without the funds for many kits, I began to mix and match. I wanted to make bigger things, be more imaginative with my builds, but there was never enough of the right shape or the right colour to translate the imagined to reality. Ah, me. Such a tragic tale…
I tried my hand at a few crafty things in my tweens – plastic model kits or those matchstick creations stuck to cardboard – but I would always make some critical error. My concentration would lapse and the whole ruddy thing would be ruined. Why couldn’t I get anything right? It was deeply frustrating. Was the problem with my body? My mind? Was the world just fundamentally flawed and everything in it shitshitshit? Well, of course not. My problem was focus and self control. To my delight, I developed some skill with a pencil in GCSE Art and, for a while, I thought I’d found a *forte.
All that was great until I got kicked out of **Technical Drawing and found myself dumped into extra Art lessons to fill the gap in my curriculum. Perhaps it was too late to begin a different GCSE? I don’t know, but the impact of this exile was not positive. I felt downright rebellious at this (perceived) injustice, so I started to treat Art as a doss-around lesson, expressing myself in all the wrong ways. One project was an ambitious and rather cheeky attempt to combine a portrait of Mr Jones with a mandrill in a 3-part metamorphic series. Yeah… that may have got me marked down, now I come to think about it.
Ahem. I didn’t bother with anything artistic for a few years after that. Writing was always my preferred medium for creativity anyway.
I’d gone right through university and out the other side when Games Workshop released their tabletop game based on the Lord of the Rings movies, and I coveted those little figures something chronic. I’d learned the basics of painting models with an ***earlier GW release but these were of a finer design, smaller, with greater detail. Go on, then. What the heck. I had images from the movies to work from, a reasonable amount of disposable income, and plenty of time on my hands.
As I began to build my small collection, the experience went from gently rewarding to near revelatory. I was (and remain) no expert, but I discovered new levels of focus and fine motor control, as well as the absolute joy of realising that any cock-ups could be wiped off (if caught quickly enough) or otherwise painted over (if not). It was liberating and instructive all at the same time: self control, patience, focus, the acceptance that mistakes happen and the understanding that they need not mean ruination.
This was what I needed: creativity within set boundaries; the ability to add flourishes of individuality to the surface or even, with some bravery, to the physical structure itself; and of course, a process which allowed for analysis, fine-tuning, correction. I didn’t play the actual game much, but it didn’t seem to matter. I kept buying figures to paint. Extraordinarily, far from being a source of pressure, I found this delicate work relaxing. It took me away from the din in my mind, the stresses of work, the gnawing sense that my adult life at the time lacked purpose or direction. I could take a dead piece of plastic or metal and bring it to life.
These days I get all that and more from my editing work. It took me 40 years, but I finally found the career best suited to my brain—that compulsion to tweak things just… so and make them right. The written word remains my forte, whether I’m polishing someone else’s work, blogging, or writing creatively, but I still have a soft spot for those little models. You may have seen my post on Blood Bowl 2 recently – another game from the Games Workshop stables, albeit a digital version that I play online. Well, the other week I forked out a packet on paints, brushes, clippers, glue and the like so I could have the pleasure of bringing one of my Blood Bowl teams to life in 3D.
Will I get the chance to actually play with them? The odd game perhaps. Right now I’m just looking forward to zoning out of life’s current crop of horrors and focusing in on the details I can actually control. I’ll post a picture on here when I’m done, but don’t hold your breath; I intend to take my time and enjoy the experience.
* The fact I could use a rubber to correct minor errors helped a metric ton with my confidence, as did some judicious praise from my teacher, Mr Jones.
** [Shuffles with embarrassment.] As you’ll know from The Bewilder-boy, I’d pretty much been a non-entity to this point, but I started to come out of my shell more in my final year. This foolish over-excited boy got chatty and cheeky (and carried away, no doubt) which – to the painfully young new teacher – meant that I was trouble with a capital T. A threat to his authority. An example had to be made.
*** Gorkamorka, a Mad-Maxesque game of vehicular combat set in the world of Warhammer 40K that largely appealed to me because it didn’t require vast amounts of models. I wanted a taste of that sweet, sweet action without having to dedicate a ruddy fortune in time, effort or money.
If you want me to review a board or card game that you’ve created (with or without figures for me to paint) I’d be more than happy to do so. Send an email to email@example.com, comment at the bottom of this post or use my General Enquiries form.
I’d equally love to start using my editing skills on game instructions manuals because – hoo-eeee – the quality of writing and the clarity of information makes ALL the difference to your players. Again, just ping me an email, comment at the bottom of this post, or use my General Enquiries form.