Sunday, 4 May 2014


Today I wanted to talk about something that has bothered me for a long time. I've touched on it before when I talked about the social nature of our hobby, but now I wanted to take a more in-depth look at the canker at the heart of our hobby.


This notion was sparked by a conversation that sprung up in a Facebook community. The original post was innocuous enough, a gentleman enquiring into the use of airbrushing and it's meteoric rise within the hobby recently. Admittedly, there was a tone of worry in amongst the intrigue, asking if anyone still enjoyed the simple pleasures of a brush. 

From there, the conversation continued pleasantly, with people singing the praises of airbrushing but also discussing its limitations. After all, as was stated many times, an airbrush is just another tool that does things that cannot be done with a standard brush. Of course, there are also things that cannot be done with an airbrush that a standard bristle brush achieves easily. 

Many attempted to dispel the myth that airbrushing is easy, and though I don't own an airbrush, I can certainly confirm that it requires a whole skill set utterly alien to those skills employed by straightforward brush manipulation. 

Then came the comment, that one comment that derails the entire discussion in three simple words. 

"Airbrushing is cheating"

This echoes discussions I have witnessed about such miniature painting staples as drybrushing or even washing, that somehow use of these techniques is cheating. 

First off, let us examine the actual definition of the word 'cheating':

Cheat - verb
1. To defraud; swindle
2. To deceive; influence by fraud
3. To elude; deprive of something expected

That's from, I could post more definitions from other sources but that would be both labouring the point and unnecessary in the light that other definitions I researched were almost exactly the same. 

So, right from the off, to term the use of such techniques as 'cheating' is a misunderstanding of the term at the very least, and simply incorrect at basic fact level. These are techniques that both do something, and don't do something. To explain, a hammer is great for putting nails into a wall, but it's terrible at putting screws in; for that we utilise a screwdriver. 

Drybrushing offers a very swift way of picking out details, especially fur. Personally, I also use it to add dust and weathering, to edge highlight, to basecoat swiftly and a whole plethora of other uses. What it doesn't offer is cleanliness and simple accuracy. It tends to leave a chalky finish, and it's hard to blend detail with the technique. One can paint every strand of fur on a model one by one and get a truly astonishing effect, but it's painstaking and slow.

Washing, conversely, allows a swift way of applying shading into the recesses of a model. You get the idea, I hope.

As such, airbrushing offers smooth coating on large flat surfaces. It offers very simple and effective blending across those surfaces. It allows one to coat an entire model with a basecoat in seconds. It does not translate to fine detail quite so well and it is simply impossible to edge highlight with an airbrush. 

So, having expanded upon the reasons why the claim is false, let us now examine the dangers in making such a claim.

To claim that use of such a tool is cheating also denounces use of the tool as wrong. That anyone should use such a technique, this comment implies, shows weakness of character, inability, and by extension this suggests that person should not be considered a 'true hobbyist'. 

That is an utterly disgusting notion; nothing more than jealousy and ignorance masked in a faux air of superiority. If you have made these comments, stop it. You are not impressing anyone, you are undermining the community you claim to love. You are the thorn in the side of this hobby, damaging it with unwelcome elitist attitudes that breed an insularity; as I said before, this hobby is not insular - it dies in solitude just as it thrives in community. 

I have watched gaming clubs decide that they do not need new members, that their little clique is enough to sustain and that outsiders are unwelcome. I have watched those clubs collapse as members eventually dwindle, be that looking for new opponents, a change in scenery, or through such unavoidable events as life throws. People moved, had families, or work commitments made them unable to attend. With no new life blood, the club failed.

I have watched Games Workshop Hobby Centres suffer similar fates. Unwilling to welcome the newcomers to gaming nights or to even introduce new people to the hobby ("These guys already know what they're doing"). It works for a while, then stutters and dies. Not dramatically, but feebly and whimpering, often with the 'Manager' being 'relocated' to an unpaid work-at-home job. 

I have watched communities who believe themselves above others brought low by the realisation that they have nobody 'below' themselves worshipping at their feet any more. 

Exclusivity breeds decay. The notion that you are 'above' someone due to supposed superiority (of gaming/painting/modelling skill) is absurd. The very best painters out there, at least in my experience, are the ones who want to show off their abilities not for glory, but to inspire others. They are the ones who will sit down and teach you their skills. The very worst are the ones so unstable in their abilities, so unsure of themselves, that they feel the need to opress others by withholding information from them in order to ensure that they remain on this perceived 'top'. 

Perhaps I will be mocked for making the following analogies, but I shall make them regardless and take such mockery as I believe strongly in the parallel. 

Throughout history there have been those who believed themselves superior to others. The obvious examples are the Nazis and their persecution of the Jews; those who exploited black slave labour; those who denied women the right to vote.

I do not make the absurd claim that those elitists who seek to opress our community, to insulate it into solitary clusters based on ability, are of equal horror as the afore mentioned parties. Though of undoubtedly smaller scale, I merely wish to allude to the inherent parallel, and as with the parallels, allowing this canker to grow will destroy the community around it. The only prescription to make is that, where such elitism exists, educate the perpetrator in the errors of their ways. Find a manner in which this person can utilise their talent for the good of their community. 

That way, the hobby as a whole is blessed with what they can offer. We all get to benefit and grow, together, and the hobby flourishes. 

Drybrushing, washing, airbrushing... These are all tools. Anyone who decries their use, is likewise. 

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