Those who follow me on Facebook know that I'm either not dead, or I have hired someone to occasionally post photos of painted models to make you think that. Although there is no shortage of gaming news to discuss, it's still slightly awkward to just throw out my thoughts with no intention of receiving any kind of back-and-forth dialogue. So despite all my best intentions of continuing to blog, I think my large spans of silence this year will attest to the contrary.

That being said, I do have something worth talking about today, and it's mostly a broad response to people who keep accusing me of charging too little for my commissions.

A Painter Emerges

When I first started my journey in to wargaming, I swore I couldn't paint. My handwriting is atrocious as it is, but I remember taking some art lessons from a local church lady when I was in high school and I'm fairly certain I made her feel like art had just died. I had once even tried painting a figure for my brother-in-law to use during our D&D campaign and... well, if you know anything about painting just imagine what would happen if you primed a model white and did a single, thick layer of cheap acrylics. For those who don't know much about painting, suffice it to say that my model would have given some real competition to a toddler's abilities.

So in the end, I really had no business picking up a paintbrush. However, my group had a Warmachine slow-grow league, and there was a trophy for whoever could get the most painting points. Knowing I wasn't going to get the trophy for games played, I decided to jump in and try my hand at painting my newly-acquired Khador.

Fast-forward a few months and I've churned through most of my army, devoured YouTube tutorials, and fallen completely in love with the hobby. I don't remember how the conversation came about, but one night I was talking to my buddy Josh and he asked me if I'd be interested in doing some commission work on some Bane Thralls for his Cryx army. At the time I was terrified because I had never had someone pay me for a skill so I had to figure out what to charge while simultaneously trying my hardest not to ruin someone else's stuff. To top it all off, I tried to make sure I found a balance between charging a fair price for my time and an affordable price for someone who wanted to throw money at me for doing something I loved.

Fast-forward a few more months and I've decided to look in to making this whole "commission painting" idea a real thing. I spent hours researching, asking advice, comparing other businesses, and trying to figure out where I could fit in this niche market that seemed to be saturated with other commission artists who were already established in the business...

The "Why" of Commission Painting

I want to pause here and discuss why I'm posting all of this out of the blue (you'll see why that's funny in a moment). As I've been following painters on YouTube and Facebook, joining painting groups, and stalking around forums, I've started taking specific notice of something I've started calling a "price-to-quality ratio," which is the idea that people paying X amount of dollars should expect a certain level of quality inreturn. Recently I'd become a bit dismayed at the prices I've seen people quote for results that, I feel, are far below the price paid. 

Before moving on, let me say that I'm in no way trying to smear anyone's name. This market is pretty small, and I understand that it can be dangerous to appear to have sour grapes about another painter. However, this feeling of disappointment and frustration regarding price:quality has actually very strongly informed how I handle my commission business, and it has always been on my Facebook page and my now-defunct website, and that is this: "I'm dedicated to bringing you quality work at affordable prices, because I believer everyone should be proud of how their army looks."

Perhaps you've never even paid attention to that, but this reality is what drove me to become a commission painter. As I was originally researching other painters, I realized that while some people were giving a fantastic price:quality service for display-quality work, it was still wildly unaffordable for many responsible adults with families. Some painters seemed very liberal with their definition of "tabletop quality," and others had talents that were so advanced that they simply had to charge more money because of the time it takes to create something that is acceptable to them. In the end, however, I felt that the majority of people who wanted something as simple as a good tabletop-quality paint job for a fair price were left in the cold. However, it wasn't until I started learning more about Blue Table Painting that I decided I had to be different.

In a nutshell, BTP is often called "the Walmart of commission painting" because the myriad of complaints on the internet are about the lack of quality in their work. However, what set me off wasn't the quality of the work (they're speed painters, and precision isn't a thing in that world), but that they were charging at least double what others were charging and delivering work that was far below what others would produce for that price. Thus the whole "Walmart" comparison seems inaccurate because their price:quality is actually pretty balanced - you pay nothing and get junk in return!

Now I'll admit, lately I've been a bit down about my business because I know I could charge more for what I produce, and with going back to finish my college degree (by the way guys, I'm finishing my college degree!) I've been even more negative about my business model. I see what other painters charge for work that's comparable to mine and want to just cave in and match their prices. Then, a few weeks ago, a YouTube video reminded why I'm so proud of what I do.

It's long, and there are actually two follow-up videos to this, so let me sum it up: this guy spent a hefty amount of money to get BTP's higher-end paint jobs. I forget the price he quoted over the course of his 3 videos discussing the subject, but I think it was well over $1,000. And what he got it something that, honestly, I would be embarrassed to produce for even half that price.

For those of you who were with me through my 2013 blogging journey, you know that I'm not the sort to speak poorly of someone. But after reading other horror stories in the comments, and watching this guy's videos and seeing everything he had to go through , I was furious. By the time I had to stop reading because I was so frustrated at how people had been treated, my wife got home from work and had to listen to me rant about people being taken advantage of just because they lack the time or talent to paint, but really want to enjoy having something nice on the table.

As we talked, she reminded me that this is why I started painting in the first place. The things I was so frustrated about then, as a commission painter, are the exact same things that had solidified my decision to be a commission painter in the first place! When I was just a baby painter looking to branch out beyond my one friend, my sole desire was to reach those gamers who had families, students loans, or other responsibilities and couldn't afford these services. I wanted people to spend money and walk away not just feeling like they didn't get ripped off, but that it was money they'll never regret spending.

That's what I lost sight of. I forgot that I'm not a commission painter to make big bucks, but to provide a service that I care about to people who would otherwise have to make the choice between a swarm of bare metal, or spending money that would be better served elsewhere just so they could get in to the story and theme of a game. I realize there are many who would say that it's a fair choice to have to make, especially in America where capitalism is king. I'm not knocking that, but at the same time I don't really think that way. I want to help people, and in a weird way I feel like putting paint on miniatures is one of my own little ways of doing that.

A Quality Shoe At a Fair Price

I spent a good amount of time thinking about all of this, and especially wondering if I finally had something worth blogging about. As I said in the beginning, I've had several people feel like I charge too little for the work I do, and I've even found a little extra in my final payment (which is always so humbling!) However, I finally decided to write this after hearing a story about a cobbler.

One day I was driving and listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler. At one point he told a story about Martin Luther which I'd never heard before, but it seemed incredibly relevant to what I'd been thinking about:

Martin Luther is famous for starting the Protestant Reformation (not fighting for civil rights in America!). One day he was preaching in a town and was approached by a man who had recently become a Christian.

"What should I do now?" he asked, assuming that he should now become an evangelist or a minister.

"What do you do now?" asked Luther.

"I'm a cobbler" the man replied.

"Well then, make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price."

And there it is. Commission painting isn't about maximizing the money I make, minimizing the amount of work needed, and hoping no one complains too loudly. Like any work, my commission painting is about being genuine, working hard, honoring the Lord, and caring about you guys enough to give you great looking armies at a fair price.

So in the end, that's why I hope to always be accused of under-valuing my abilities. I want the work I create to be a positive experience for everyone involved, and for you guys to take something I paint and proudly use it to crush your opponents!

Whew, that was a lot. Thank you to anyone who genuinely made it to the end of this! Although I've alluded to it over the course of my year of blogging, I think it was important to explain that there is a large amount of intentionality with how I do things.

Also, let me says that I'm so appreciative of anyone who has allowed me to provide you with a single model or half an army. I love knowing that I get to be a part of your gaming experience, and your excitement at the finished product is always the boost I need to prevent my wife from dismantling the chaos that is my painting area!

See you... the next time I have something worth saying!