How To Hobby Strong By Setting Realistic Goals!

By Caleb Dillon | September 9th, 2016 | Categories: Editorial, WMG


Setting realistic hobby goals, and sometimes letting your dreams die, is essential to your happiness as a hobbyist! Read this guide to learn how!

You don’t live in your dream house, and your not a professional video game player, so who says you’re going to have your dream miniature collection?

Hey guys:

Caleb with White Metal Games here, and it’s not all bad news.

So firstly, the purpose of this article is really to help people come to terms with a sobering fact:  you can’t have it all.  That’s right, I know, it’s a hard pill to swallow.  You work hard at a job you feel just kind of ‘meh’ about and you come home after a long day of work to relax and decompress by painting or playing with little toy men for a while.  Hey, I get it.

But here’s the thing, even though your favorite wargame/rpg/board game is your way to relax at the end of a long day, doesn’t mean that you get to have EVERYTHING!  Every game, every figure, EVERYTHING!  Gaming is meant to be an escape from reality, but not a total time warp black hole your family is 90 years older than when you left on a trip to the planet Xerxes at light speed escape from reality!


To give you a little bit of my background, I am a full time miniature painter, making a living doing what I love.  Prior to being a miniature painter I went to college and got a BFA, worked in and out of restaurants as a bartender, server, cook, and a brief stint as a manager.  I worked as a substitute teacher for a year.  I then went on to work in corporate America, first at a bank for 4 years, then at a hospital for 5.  One thing all these jobs have in common is that they were give you a lot of experience with people on their worst days, and they give you a lot of practical customer service experience.  Something I value to this day and find very useful in my current trade.

If my work week is 80 hours, which isn’t uncommon when you own your business, then about 40 of that is spent painting, and 20 doing online updates (social media, videos, portfolios) and 20 just responding to potential client emails.  I say ‘potential’ because many of these will never convert into actual jobs.  I’ll spend an hour or more generating a quote in some cases, then 5-6 emails back and forth with the person, only to finally have reality kick them in the gonads and leave them down for the count.  And here’s the reality.

Things cost money.  Goods and service.  And paying someone else to paint and assemble your models is a job to them.  It takes our time, and time is money.  Understand that just because it’s a hobby to you it’s an income to me.   It’s safe to say I generate a LOT of estimates for services.  And even when some of these go nowhere, i.e, the potential client gets a sobering look at reality, changes their mind, I learn a lot about people and their oftentimes unrealistic expectations just from corresponding with them 3 or 4 times.

But let’s forget miniatures for a second.  Let’s think about something that almost everybody uses . . . a car.  You probably have one, and even if you don’t you probably still use it to get around in some capacity, either bumming rides from friends, or taking a bus, etc.


Now cars break down.  They just do.   They get flats, they leak fluids, and inevitably, they need to be repaired.  But when I go to the mechanic and ask him about replacing my flimflamerator, and he says ‘Well, the part is $100’ I don’t presume he’ll put it in for free!!! The part has to be installed, and that’s labor.  Just like I don’t assume the McSandwich costs $6.00 in meat/bun/cheese, but rather labor plays a part in cost.

THUS WE’VE ESTABLISHED:  Cost is a combination of materials AND labor.

Are you still with me?  Okay, great.   Now let’s see some practical examples.

Oftentimes we get clients that request large projects of models. We collectively call these ‘Collectors’.   So presented below are 3 cases of clients with collections or desires out of control, that we tried to reign in, unsuccessfully I might add and what we learned from each.  Hopefully for some of you this helps you to set realistic hobby expectations.  Consider this a cautionary tale.


Project 1:  The Kickstarter Addict

Kickstarter has made games more accessible than ever.  Need I mentioned Kingdom Death, the most hyped game of the past decade?  However, we all know that you can be model rich and hobby poor, like owning a lot of models but none of them are painted.  That was the case with this particular client.

Without giving away any specific client info, here was the general request:

If we can work out some good deals and pleasing paintjobs, I  have:

  • Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King standalone (plus Kickstarter extras) painted to an appropriately cartoony level,
  • Rum and Bones (I have every single mini available– including the holiday resins)
  • Arcadia Quest (almost all minis, all expansions)
  • Rivet Wars (all expansions and minis)
  • Arcadia Quest: Inferno (everything so far)
  • Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia (everything so far)
  • Cthulhu Wars (every possible thing– including alternate sculpts)
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Zombicide Season 3 (all the things from Season 3, plus many exclusive survivors/zombivors)
  • Robo Rally (I think it’s only 5 or 6 little robots)

SO YES!  A HUGE LIST!  This is what we want!  A bread and butter return client that will give us work for months and months!  Easy street, right?

Wrong.  When the client used the words ‘appropriately cartoony level’ I knew we were in trouble.

When I hear the word ‘cartoony’ what springs to mind are a lot of line highlights, big bold colors, and careful attention to the eyes.  That sort of precision takes time.

So we quoted the project to a level that we felt would capture the spirit and detail level of what the client was after.  We knew it would probably be a no, BUT it was a starting place.  So were also quick to point out that there were a lot of options on the table, like one game at a time, a lower level of detail, or return discounts for multiple orders/volume discounts for big orders, etc.

But in the end, the client saw a big dollar sign and too many models.  In short, the goal of having all painted models must have seemed distant and insurmountable.   So in this case, the client was willing to pay for the materials, but not the labor to bring it up to a painted product, at least not from us.  I’m sure by now he’s found someone new to paint his product at a price they can afford to live on and I wish him all the best in that endeavor.


Project 2:  The 20 year Veteran

The client had been collecting Dark Eldar (from the Warhammer 40k range for you non-wargamers out there)  since I’m gong to go with the early 90’s, so over 20 years.  His collection was impressive to say the least (and this, I found out, wasn’t even all of it).  But in some cases, the collection seemed a bit . . . redundant.  Who needs 3 Asdurbael Vecht Ravagers?  Did Vecht have brothers I don’t know about?
While I praised the client as a man who clearly had kept the hobby going, and a loyalist that stuck with the Dark Eldar through a 10 year codex lull, I quickly pointed out that unless this client was planning to play back to back games of Apocalypse anytime soon, maybe the goal should be to tackle say 2500 points of this list or so.  Maybe pick the newer models to paint and sell the older models through our consignment service to help fund the project.
So the client gave us a ‘smaller list’ and we prepared a quote for just those models.  But the client rejected our estimate.  What’s even more interesting is that they then put in an offer through our Ebay store on a newly commissioned army.  So they were willing to spend yet MORE MONEY on product that they didn’t really need, rather than have us paint models they already owned.  We countered their offer and reached out to them, but never heard back again.  A quick note, on the below list, the ‘levels’ the client referred to corresponding to the Painting Levels on our website.
6 Talos level 3 Magnatized pref
2 Cronos level 3 Magantized pref
8 Raiders level 2
2 Ravagers level 2
3 Asdrabael Vect Ravagers (with body guard and throne) level 3
1 Eldar Knight level 3
50 Old Kabbalites level 2
20 New Kabbalites level 2
20 Old Wyches level 2
30 New Wyches level 2
4 Venoms level 2
10 old Inkubi level 2
15 new Inkubi level 3
5 Wracks
10 Grotesques (old style)
Kruellagh – Hero level 4
Archon new and old – hero level 4
x4 Haemonculus – old and new level 4
Urien Rakarth – Old level 4
Lelith – New Level 4
Drahzar – Old Level 4
Harlequin Troupe x3 Level 2
2 starweavers Level 2
Solitaire Level 4
Three old Shadowseers
4 Old Death Jesters Level 2
 Before we move on, let me point out that we offer painting levels so that we can serve MORE clients, not less.  That way clients on a budget can still get a table ready army for a fair market price.  Not every service does this, as some services always paint to ‘one level’ and that’s fine for them.  But we don’t like turning away clients, esp. those with realistic hobby expectations.

30K SALAMANDERS.   Those are two words I longed to hear spoken back to back in the same email.  And when a potential client approached us about a project, very recently I might add, I was happy to hear them.  At least, until I began to estimate the project.

The client related to us that he had already sought quotes from two different studios, and one of the quotes was $4000 – $5000, which tells me first off that whoever did THAT quote doesn’t know what they’re doing.  I don’t go to buy a car and expect to pay $4000 or $5000.  It’s one or the other.  That’s a 20% variance.  Can any business survive on a 20% variance? Well not a sustainable one.  Does your boss tell you to work 4 or 5 days, whichever you prefer?

Most of these models come from a little company in the UK called Forgeworld.  Their product, while exemplary, is usually at a high premium.  A quick glance at the list told me the materials alone would be about $2000 to $2500 USD.  So I knew there was no way we were going to be able to come in under the $4,000 mystery quote, if it was real at all.

So I began an estimate and stopped when I got to $4000.  I showed the estimate to the client, so they could hopefully at least see WHY this project cost so much.  Part of the problem. was all the premium models, part of the problem was all the options (magnetization out the wazoo!)

What else is interesting is that, unlike the previous client, they didn’t mention paint quality/levels at all!  Which leads me to believe they didn’t care how it was painted, just THAT it was painted.  I mean, I can hire the kid down my street to mow my grass, but I’m sure a lawn care company is going to do a better job; taking away the yard trimmings, edging the house with the weed whacker, trimming the bushes, etc.

 I think in this case, the client had been thinking about this project for a LONG time, and knew exactly what they wanted, but they weren’t letting reality sink in.  Here’s the thing; if you go to three doctors and they all say you have the flu, you have the flu.  So if you go to three different painters and they all say this project will cost X, and X is too high for you, maybe it’s not the painters that are the problem, but your budget.

35 fire drakes all with magnetized hammers and shields and heavy weapons 
40 tactical marines 
40 breachers marines
20 tactical support marines with 20 of all the heavy weapons and all magnetized
20 pyroclast marines 
Two Mortis contemptor patterns with 4 assault cannons and twin linked lascannons and volkites and the other weapons and all magnitized 
6 landspeeder a all weapon options magnitized 
Storm eagle gunship all weapons and such mag 
Fire raptor gunship all weapons mag
Sicarian venator 
Achilles alpha pattern land raider 
10 man legion heavy support squad all opt onions magnitized and 10 of each heavy weapon
Two legion predator flame storm tanks or what ever the fire ones are called
Caestus assault ram
Predator with thunder hammer and shield 
Legion librarian 
2 land raider Phobos
4 Spartan assault tanks 
4 rhinos 
And a carrying case for the army
So what can we learn from this?  Here are a few simple tips that MAY lead you to a happier overall hobby past time, or you might curse me for shattering your illusory bubble.  Either way .  . . .
It doesn’t work in any other aspect of your life, why should it work here?  Look I get it, you WANT it all!  But I’ve had a ‘bathroom remodel’ on the books for a while now too.  I’ll settle on just having a usable bathroom in the mean time. 
If you only plan to play a game a few times a year, then why have it painted to the highest level?  That’s like owning a Jag you keep under a tarp in the garage.  There are your playing models, and your display models, and the two don’t necessarily have to be the same ones.  Like my wife’s good china.  We don’t always eat on it, but we like knowing it’s there.  And I like knowing I only have to wash it once or twice a year.  
LESSON 3:  Tackle major projects like you would a house remodel:  a single room (game) at a time
I get it, you’ve got a HUGE collection.  But it’s just gathering dust unless you do something with it!  So why not establish a monthly hobby budget, INCLUDING painting, and then email us!  Let us know what you’d like painted, what your budget is, and let’s break down a realistic timeframe based on that budgetary stipend each month to get it done!  
LESSON 4:  DON’T UNDERMINE THE CONTRACTOR!   If you aren’t willing to pay someone else to do it, then do it yourself!
In some cases, we find that potential clients requesting a quote for the first time are surprised at what the ‘going rate’ for painting a miniature is these days. The average, tabletop level 28mm miniature at White Metal Games costs about $14 to assemble and paint. That means 10 models will run about $150 with shipping.  Character models run higher than average due in part to their higher than average level of detail, additional colors and smaller brushes which must be used to achieve desired results.  And these are competitive, comparable industry standards (if such a thing exists!).  We are hobby professionals, not burger flippers, and we don’t settle for less than a fair rate of pay.  
So if that’s too high for you, then either find a local college kid at your FLGS and roll the dice with whether they have time to finish your models over finals weekend, OR . . . . follow one of these simple steps.

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And until next time, PUT YOUR MINIS WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!!!

Caleb Dillon, White Metal Games

About the Author: Caleb Dillon

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