top of page

Tales from a Lead Pile...

If painting figures is like alchemy, what’s the formula for success? It can be frustrating collecting lead which ought to be turning into gold, but just sits there making you feel somewhat silly. After an initial rush of enthusiasm, we either stifle, stoke or defer a new project idea...

The main problem is often time: how to fit in the process of painting and basing, researching and organising, and pondering and acquiring new terrain or extras to boot. The weeks and months go by and the progress seems minimal, meanwhile other projects beckon. Then we consign it all to boxes. Can we sustain an initial attraction to a given period? This post is a rundown of periods I thought (or still think) would be great fun to paint and game but have never gotten round to actioning… feel free to laugh!


1.      Chariots of Fire! 6mm Biblical

I wanted to get into Ancients but not do the whole Romans vs. Barbarians thing, so the Biblical (Chariot Wars) period seemed like a fun alternative. The Bible is a good source for exotic action between multiple foes including the Israelites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians. The uniforms are fairly interchangeable within certain sub-periods, and there is just enough evidence to recreate regional conflicts creatively without having to slavishly follow detailed historical accounts. Having pondered 15mm, 20mm and 28mm, I bought too many 6mm ‘Biblical’ figures during the lockdown in 2020, and have never painted them! More recently, I have based my Hebrew army, which looks good. I am looking for a time when I have fewer projects on the go (ha ha) and feel sufficiently inspired to paint this lot up. For rules I will probably use Neil Thomas’s ‘Ancient and Medieval’ rules. Nigel Stillman (ex-Games Workshop) has produced work on this period which is a must for painting and organising the armies.

2.      'Wargaming Armageddon - All of it!': 2mm World War One

The reasoning behind this one was that I wanted to wargame World War One with generic figures in epic scale. In other words ‘grey’ infantry could be Germans or Austrians, while ‘green’ infantry could be Russians or… some other greenish uniformed army (Brits?). I had purchased ‘The Great War’ (a boardgame… during lockdown?) but never played it! But I still had the WWI itch. Besides this, the small scale would be super with proper (scratch-built) trench systems, and you could field tanks and artillery on table, as well as lots of aircraft. It would be a proper massed battle and an accompaniment to my 2mm WWII figures, and could even be used for inter-war Back of Beyond armies. So again, during lockdown in 2020 I bought loads of generic modern 2mm figures from Irregular Miniatures, and based them up while binge-watching all seasons of ‘Line of Duty’ on DVD. I was even going to make my own wire out of silver thread. I have never painted them! Now somewhere down the list of importance, but still theoretically doable, someday… not soon…


3.      'Affordable Warhammer?': 15mm Fantasy

Irregular Miniatures - 15mm Dwarves... the theory

I think this was another ‘fantasy’ buy from lockdown. I bought armies of Dwarves and Skeletons. (WHY?!) I watched Lord of the Rings. I saw the Rohirrim charge! (They were really Polish Winged Hussars right? Actually Anglo-Saxons on horses apparently...) I had old ‘White Dwarf’ magazines at home. I really liked the idea of doing Fantasy wargaming at the club (who else is doing it?), and so I again plumped for Irregular Miniatures… and again have never painted them! For rules, I bought ‘Oathmark’ by Joe MacCullough. These complemented ‘Hordes of the Things’ (a DBA-style fantasy set) I already had. I will hopefully get around to painting and gaming with this lot eventually. They are a lot cheaper than 28mm Fantasy (some of which Phil gave me a recently… another unwise acquisition?).


4.      'Napoleonics in Texas - You know it makes sense': Mexican-American War


Before Philip decided to do this period in 28mm, I bought all the books I could find on it. I spent an ungodly sum of money. Not only did I not paint the figures, I never even bought any! Somehow the Mexican-American War is just too niche and not particularly challenging for the US player. Napoleonics in Texas... jeez!


 5. 'Before Bonaparte': 15mm, 18mm, 28mm French Revolutionary Wars

I considered and bought figures for this period in all three scales. The 15mm and 18mm were from Lancashire Games but were not quite right or were incomplete ranges. Even Noel gave me some 15mm figures. Eventually I have started on 28-30mm French Revolutionary Wars from… you guessed it, Irregular Miniatures! Only now after painting a few battalions I am losing enthusiasm, and have recently bought two huge 10mm Spanish Civil War armies to compensate. Still love the idea of French Revolutionary Wars – a) Who is doing it at the club? Nobody. B) There are loads of unknown battles in different theatres, C) Cool uniforms. I would like to put on a whopper like the Battle of Hohenlinden (1800) one day. One day…


6. 'Just one more scale in Napoleonics': 20mm Napoleonics

Rob once kindly gave me a bunch of Airfix 1:72 plastic Napoleonics. This was after I assembled two large 'retro' ACW armies in plastic in the same scale from second-hand figures. So I went and bought quite a lot of over-priced painted plastic Napoleonics on EBay. But I already had 6mm Napoleonics. But I thought 'I need another scale in Napoleonics'. No such thing as too much of a good thing? Unfortunately, even good things can be overdone, says Aristotle: and I couldn't decide how to base them. So I based some individually on circular bases (for sabot-movement trays), and some on rectangular bases. I though maybe skirmish? Maybe follow Neil Thomas's basing in his Napoleonic rules? Then I thought, 'Feh!' Then I put them in boxes and felt ridiculous.

Lessons will be learned...

Avoid pandemics. Not good for wargaming choices; despite having lots of time on your hands… But seriously?

Contrary to 'Johnny Nice Painter' in the Fast Show, it's not 'all black'. Every pile of lead is either a potentially successful project awaiting its time and sufficient injection of enthusiasm /effort or just an itch scratched. I fully intend to paint these figures (well, some of them), and regularly write lists of periods in Word documents in order of ‘to paint next’. (Then paint whatever I feel like, instead…)

This hobby is for life, so having spare lead is not shameful, just a result of healthy enthusiasm. Priorities are not duties – just the order of enjoyment (so can readily be deferred). Inspiration may go up as well as down; painting progress need not be linear; we learn through mistakes. I have a tendency to get inspired by unusual periods not gamed at the club: this means that if I do paint them, they will hopefully have an audience of curious players (not to say quizzical).

Back of Beyond - Poles in action at Bukhara (War Room, 2022)

It has also meant, though, that I can put them off precisely because they are oddities (just one more excuse). Back of Beyond painting, for Rob’s campaign, has had a different motivator: to acquire a personal army for a collective enterprise. You can’t really put off painting that kind of army (and it is only one) if you want to be part of the campaign. Without the spur of a campaign, lead has a tendency to grow uncontrollably as it is deferred. No deadline – no progress, just procrastination!

Ultimately, the lead pile is influenced by imagination, inspiration, willpower, aesthetics, patience, attention span, and dough. It has been said that the more we paint, the more our brains reward us with dopamine: the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. Each new project is a question of overcoming the 'pain' of making initial progress and sticking with it, until it produces this effect. (This also applies to hosting games.) At some point our desire to make progress and sit still to action it, will outweigh our entropy.

While the lead pile never ‘matters’ in a serious sense, I have found that alternating between painting batches of figures for various periods (for variety's sake) OR tackling one period at a time (for efficiency) - apart from just painting regularly - are the best ways of completing more units and armies.  Rob’s answer to all this seems to be discipline and perseverance (and being great at painting). Regardless, savouring each unit and army in the present moment (including painting well and making the most of our resources and capabilities) is preferable to being a manic jackdaw and getting nothing done at all, despite gathering much shiny stuff. And yet…

What harm just one more period...?


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page