How to Avoid Hobby Burnout

Burnout. It’s not just a series of video games about drag racing cars around the streets!

If you have read any of my handful of posts that I have uploaded to this blog, I think I mention burnout in every single one of them, either experiencing it or trying to actively avoid it, so as you might guess, I’m a long term sufferer! Here I’m going to share some tips on things you can try if you’re suffering from hobby burnout, as well as a few things you can do to try and avoid burning out in the first place.

How to avoid hobby burnout or keep your motivation up:

  1. Pick an army because you like them, not because they are good on the tabletop

Sometimes having the right reasons for doing a project can help to keep motivation up. Some armies are just better than others. Whether it’s because they are the newest, shiniest codex and there is a power creep, or because historically the army was just a bit pants, and that’s reflected in the rules. Powerful armies aren’t always the most fun to paint, however (or even to play, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of what I want to talk about here), and if your models are no fun to paint, it can be a real drag to finish them, even if your army is going to wipe everyone else’s off the table in 30 seconds flat.

Did you ever wonder why all the unbeatable armies at the club are unpainted? 😉

  1. Don’t paint yellow! (or intricate colour schemes)

Sometimes you just bite off more than you can chew. I’m really bad for this personally, wanting to make entire armies where every model requires parts from multiple kits, or going to far as to sculpt and cast my own parts for miniatures. These armies can look really cool, and are inevitably very unique forces, but they can be a real grind to finish (if, for example, you spend over an hour sanding and sculpting on every basic guardsman in your imperial guard force…). This applies to paint schemes too, picking an awkward colour to paint for the base colour of your force (such as yellow or red), or planning an entire army covered in intricate camouflage (I’m guilty of this one) can make motivating yourself to pick up a paintbrush a real problem.  An army being a grind is not conducive to an army being finished!

Rob – I totally get this. The Death Guard which have been seen on posts and videos suffer with this. Although they look good, the time and effort that goes into each one is quite a drain, which is why the Plague Marines look like this after a year and a half…

My best piece of advice here is to know your limitations. I’m not suggesting for a second that your shouldn’t push those limits, that’s how one progresses and improves as a painter or hobbyist, but be aware of the your abilities, and make sure that when you’re pushing that boundary that you stay on the right side of it.
Other ideas might be to try and make things easier for yourself.
If you’re painting difficult colours that traditionally take a lot of layers, changing the order you might paint things so that you can use a coloured spray primer might take a lot of the sting out of painting that yellow space marine force. If you want to do elaborately sculpted head or body swaps, it could be worth looking to see if there are existing 3rd party parts available that suit your idea already. They can be a bit pricey, but if it means you get a finished army that looks how you imagined, rather than getting half way through your first squad and throwing your sculpting tools in the bin, then isn’t that worth it?
(Howecer, a word of caution here: Some companies take a very dim view of you proxying models, or using 3rd party bits in official events. If you’re planning on going down to Warhammer World to play, or any Games Workshop event for that matter, you will have to avoid 3rd party bits)

  1. Try something different

Painting the same way all the time can get a bit repetitive, mixing things up can help to keep your motivation up, particularly if you are excited to try something else. This could be trying a different method of painting that you wouldn’t normally use (2 brush blending on a character, to example), or even just changing your colour palette (such as going from fantasy to historical miniatures). Whatever it is, if you’re excited by it, give it a try! It might be just what you need to get going again.

Rob – This is Stormcast for me. I love painting them, so when I lose motivation for the current force, you’ll see various Stormcast posts and videos appearing. It works wonders to paint something you really enjoy in the middle of an army.

  1. Set yourself a target, or work to a deadline

This works for some people (I am not one of them, but I thought it was worth a mention), set a goal, and decide a deadline to work toward for it. Tournaments are often the given example for this, trying to get an army finished in time to take with you, but if you’ve planned a game at your local club, or with one of your friends, there’s no reason that can’t be a deadline to finish a character or squad to want to try out.
It is worth noting that with tournaments as goals, you don’t necessarily have to be attending the tournament! You could say you wanted to get an army finished in time for the Warhammer World Grand Tournament, even if you have no intention of going! Whatever helps you to motivate yourself and get painting.

  1. Small goals

Finishing projects is really the reason we all do them. Sure, painting can be (and often is) a lot of fun, but nothing beats the feeling you get when a miniature, squad, or army is finished. This can be one of the problems with batch-painting, particularly with very large batches (imperial guard, I’m looking at you). Sure, it’s much, much quicker than painting them individually, but it makes reaching that sweet end point take longer, and this can get to the point where you get fed up before you reach it.

Rob – Remember the Plague Marines earlier? Well what would be better than having a swarm of Poxwalkers shambling before them? I’ll tell you what, not having them. Amazing miniatures, incredibly detailed and they look amazing when finished, but with too many to do at once it becomes overwhelming, and you end up with the below…

The solution? Set yourself smaller targets. Don’t aim to finish an army, aim to finish a squad, or a character. After that, you can move onto a different one, and again and again until you finish the army, but by chunking it down you get a steady flow of that rewarding little rush throughout the project rather than having to wait to the end of 100+ hours of painting time to feel like you’ve actually achieved anything.

It’s purely psychological, but it’s very powerful if you can stick to it.

Rob – I love Saga for this reason. A squad of troops ranges from four to twelve miniatures, so you can blast through them in no time. You could buy hundreds if you wanted, like I tend to with 40k, but an army is only about fifty miniatures, so an army can be bought, built and painted in no time.


  1. Treat yourself!

This kind of follows on from the previous point. Every army, no matter the game system, has units that are boring to paint, and units that are exciting. Be it levy in Saga, line infantry in Napoleonics or the humble space marine tactical squad in Warhammer 40,000. Some units can just become a chore.
I find it really helpful to mix things up when I’m painting. Instead of slogging through 60 infantry at once to get all of the basic space marines done, do squad of 10. Then treat yourself to a character or a vehicle for a change of pace.

Rob – This. I painted most characters for my Death Guard early on for videos and posts, which left me with tons of infantry…

  1. Don’t rush your project

Pacing is important, particularly if you’re working to a deadline like I suggested above. It’s not something I’m good at when working to a deadline, as anyone who has taught me and required coursework will attest to, but by planning a hobby project you can help avoid getting burnt out on painting. I’ve even gone so far as to mark squads on a calendar or in my diary that needed to be painted in a particular week on the run up to a tournament.
One word of warning here, though, know your limits! Don’t make the mistake of planning to finish a 30 man squad in a week, particularly if you’ve got work every day and a wedding to go to at the weekend!
Be practical and plan to do things that you know are definitely within your capabilities. It could even be worth planning in a few weeks at the end for ‘finishing up’ the army, where you can go back and get the final colours on squads that you didn’t quite finish in the allotted time

It’s too late, I’m burnt out, what do I do?!

  1. Watch other painters paint.

I’ve found this very motivational, and it’s pulled me out of a few ruts in the past. There’s something about seeing people painting and the enjoyment that they get from it that makes it infectious, and it really get’s my hobby mojo going. There are quite a few painters I like on youtube, my favourites being Dr. Faust’s painting clinic, Warhammer TV and of course the B&B channel (and I’m not just saying that because I’m posting here, I really enjoy the painting videos), but there are so many out there, it’s worth trying a few things to find an artist you like.
There is a bonus to this point too; as you watch people paint you’ll pick up new colour combinations and I’ve even found I have picked up a couple of new painting techniques, which I was excited to try out on an actual model. Not only will you help get your mojo back, but you’ll be a better painter for it too!

  1. Take a break, put it on the shelf and come back to it later

This may seem like an obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea! Sometimes, I find that I just can’t get into a project, often because of reasons I’ve listed above, and it’s really frustrating. It could be that you’ve had enough of painting that particular army or colour (like my Emperor’s Children, mentioned above), or that you’ve picked something overly ambitious, and stretched beyond your comfort zone.
A great example of this would be my WW2 themed Imperial Guard army, who I ordered the parts for around 5 years ago. The plan was to make a tank army with panzer-styled Leman Russ battle tanks (in fact, you can see my most recent attempt to kick start this army here). I spent ages working out designs for the tanks, acquiring extra bits and parts, then built half a tank, got stuck on how to do the tracks and couldn’t face it anymore. That tank sat collecting dust in the corner of workspace for over a year, until I got hit with inspiration out of the blue and cracked the track design. Cue a few weeks of frantic, mad scientist style building and I now have half a dozen tanks that are nearly finished!

Rob – I’m one for this method. When I can sense a big burnout on the horizon, I often put the brushes down for a few days and play on the Xbox. It takes me away from the painting completely, and after a few days of being slaughtered by other players, or grinding on a game, I’ll head back to the desk and pick up the brush again. Orks are one of the armies I suffered a complete burnout with, and I shelved them for around 5-6 years, breaking them out again last year for Orktober. It’s totally rekindled my love for the savage, green brutes and I’m now in full swing making them as ridiculous as they are violent.

  1. Start another project, preferably one that is wildly different

This is similar to the above point, although it is slightly more productive! If you have the luxury of being able to afford multiple armies or play multiple game systems, this can be a great way of shifting burnout. The more different the army and/or game system, the better. When I hit a wall with 40k, I often dip into historicals for something a bit different, going from the bright, cartoony look that often comes along with GW games for something drab and realistic like WW2 or dark ages.
Mixing up the type of game is a good way to shake things up too, going from a game that requires dozens of faceless line infantry to a smaller scale skirmish game, particularly one that treats each model as an individual character with his or her own story (like, Infinity, Malifaux or Frostgrave, to name but a few!)

  1. JUST DO IT!

Not my favourite method, but I can’t deny it works: sometimes the best solution is just to get on with it. I recently found that I had horrendous burnout from painting an infantry space marine army in a short space of time. I didn’t want to do any painting of any kind, I was so fried that I couldn’t even pick up a brush, or follow any of the other advice I’ve given earlier in this article.
The only thing I’ve been able to do to get out of this slump is just bite the bullet and make myself paint. In this case, I chose a D&D model I’d bought a while back, as it would be a few hours work to get him to a finished state, but you could pick anything you wanted (although, I’d suggest a character or very small squad, as you want to get that feeling you’ve actually finished something).
Sometimes, the act of painting and reminding yourself that it’s actually enjoyable, is enough to put you back on the path to hobby sanity!

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