Planning Painting Projects: The Road to Project Ultramar

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]

How I avoid fatigue while painting large armies

I have been playing Wargames and specifically Warhammer 40k since the late 90s. It wasn’t until I got back into the hobby shortly before 8th edition, after taking a break for most of 6th and 7th ed, that I finally had a fully painted army to play with. It was a long time coming, and was something I always wanted, so I decided to make it happen.

During 8th edition I finally painted the first two armies that I collected. I painted Dark Angels to a playable 2k army at the start of 8th, and at least double that during the run of 8th ed. I had started Right before 9th launched I also painted my Tyranids, which I started during 4th ed.

You see, the thing is I got to collecting during 8th edition. I bought and painted far more than a playable army for the Ultramarines (8k), Custodes (3k), Admech (3) and Knights (also 3k). During 9th edition of 40k I painted up a 3k army of Grey Knights and helped my wife paint about the same in Necrons.

I have used the method listed below to get through all of these projects is some degree or other. This scheme works well for my brain and keeps me on track and hopefully it will do the same for you; I hope at least one aspect of my planning process will help you.

Peer inside my crazy head

Planning is a thing I do. My brain mulls over shit for extensive periods of time. It entertains me when I am bored. It distracts me when my attention should be on work, driving or whatever. 

On top of that I am a bit obsessive and kind of a completionist. Not super-neurotic but I won’t,  or really can’t, watch an episode of TV or read a book or comic if I missed one. I had a few shows on the dvr that stayed there until I turned it in because there was a cable issue and they didn’t record correctly. I stopped reading comics because the store missed an issue a few times and couldn’t find replacements. 

Another manifestation of this, well. Let’s say personality traits, is that if I wnjou a thing, then I want it all. Freddie Mercury said it right. I WANT IT ALL AND I WANT IT NOW. I Don’t just start with a few units. I don’t even just buy a 2k army. I purchase a 6k army to start. Then I figure out how to get it painted while constantly adding more to it, while simultaneously adding more models to that army, other armies and other game systems. 

And I covet it like a fuckin dragon covets his horde. No half measures here. All in all times.

At this point I can see your attention waning here. “What the actual fuck, is this an online recipe that I have to suffer through your life story to get the instructions?” you say to which I retort “hold your shit, I am getting there”…

Planning Large Painting Projects

Needless to say, I have many large painting projects going at any one point. Painting projects are not easy in general, as getting burnt out from repetition or losing your drive and/or focus are common. When ramping up the scale it can get down-right terrifying. 

The biggest danger for an endeavor of this magnitude is fatigue. Its easy to get tired of painting the same model over and over, or the same paint scheme. Let alone getting bored, distracted or even just lose interest along the way.

My personal method may or may not work for you, but it got me through several large armies. So, here are the 5 things I do to prepare for large painting projects to minimize my chances of failure. I hope this is useful for you, dear reader.

  1. Plan your army: sometimes that means determining ahead of time and sticking to the list. More often for me it involves a spreadsheet to log the fuck-ton of models I have somehow ended up with. I swear buying models is a hobby all its own. 

There is nothing wrong with buying minis for rule of cool. Honestly, that’s how many of my armies start: “oh, Look at that gorgeous model! I wanna stick that straight up my shame!” *blush* But eventually you have to reign that in and make a plan. 

I have detailed files. Join the Hobby Hangout and ask if you want to see them.

Just buying models without purpose can easily cause situations where you have units that you will never use, be it because it doesn’t fit into the plan you develop later, or you can’t field as many as you hastily purchased. Figure out your plan for the army project. It could be general or super specific, it could be based on the models you like or the current meta. Whatever the purpose, figure it out.

Once you have a purpose, record it. Write it in a notebook, fill your google drive, use army planner apps, chisel it in fuckin stone, whatever. Commit it somewhere so you can reference it. That way you can plan your future purchases to fill in gaps, plan out what options go in what squad or collect all the special weapons from your basic infantry boxes so you can build a special weapon team from the leftover bits. Utilize what you have and what you want to as well as possible and save yourself the grief of finding out you have 9 of the ten guns you need when you’re building your last squad. 

Lastly, my brain likes projects to have names; makes it more official. My larger Otherverse painting project is called Project: Plastic to Painted. There was Project: Terrain time to force myself to finish some terrain every week for a few months (but only lasted one), and Project: Grey Plastic to Grey Knights, which has been mostly done for a year at this point. Project: Kill Team faltered last year when I couldn’t keep up with the GW release shovel schedule. My newest is Project: Ultramar of course. Sometimes I announce the names in facebook and Instagram posts, usually, I don’t though; it’s largely for my own entertainment. Your mileage may vary on this one, but, give it a try. You may like it. 

  1. Act on your Plan: Utilize the list you generated in step one to plan realistic and manageable sub-projects within the larger project. Smaller sub projects are key, because the feeling of accomplishment is practically tangible and the goals all work well for the gaming side of the hobby. I find that I am far less likely to fail at a large project when I can take things step by step, squad by squad. Every squad you finish gets you closer to a complete army. 

I prefer to plan playable portions. I might start a 3k army for warhammer 40k by painting a legal 500 point patrol detachment, followed by planning another 500 points for the second project to be a legal 1k list. From there I will continue the plan by painting up to 2k, then 3, etc. Eventually the whole army will be painted. If you can stop buying models that is. That’s a big fuckin “IF” aint it?

  1. Prepare Distractions: Plan side projects to avoid fatigue from painting the same thing. This is huge and I cannot overstate how important I find this step. There is no chance you can paint a couple dozen, maybe a hundred-plus miniatures in the same paint scheme without losing your shit. Seriously. It could be marines in a specific chapter, greenskins with the same color armor, german infantry, a motor pool of tanks in the same camo scheme or whatever. You will tire. You will get frustrated. This is for sure the biggest failure point. Stave off boredom and frustration as long as you can. In between the manageable stages of your project, toss an opposing or companion army or squad, so long as they are different enough. I find Heresy armies and their all forces are perfect for this project/side project relationship. 

On top of full side projects, plan smaller palette cleanser pieces as well to help get out of a painting rut. These should be totally different from your primary and hopefully your side projects. 

Emperor’s Children, a second Side Project planned for between Ultramarine Phases.

I have an Iron Hands ally to paint. I will work on a few units of them every couple ultramarines units to postpone fatigue as long as possible. When the inevitable “i can’t paint another fucking blue asshole” arises, I have some marvel Crisis protocol minis, waiting in the wings ready for some bright colored contrast paints. More on that later.

  1. Be Flexible: We’ve got a plan, but, we also have to be flexible. This is a hobby, not a job. If it starts to feel that way, take a break. If something comes out that you just can’t wait to paint, then do so. If your project is underway and then you get tickets to an event, or your gaming buddy tosses down the gauntlet and you accept the challenge, you need to be ready and able to adjust your plans. 

I haven’t been giving Warhammer 40k much of my hobby love lately, but damnit if Boarding Action didn’t just come out and now I am painting up a Black Legion force specifically for that. That wasn’t the plan, that wasn’t the side project either, but now it’s happening, putting another side project on hold. I also had an event alter my carefully planned Project Ultramar Phase Two, and Phase Three for that matter. 

I adjusted, because shit happens and you can’t let yourself fail just because something came up. If only I could take my own advice here and stop getting derailed from my diet. *sigh*

  1. When you finish, treat yourself: you deserve it. Set yourself up with prizes for finished projects when possible. 

It seems silly, but hear me out. I did not buy a bloodthirster for my Khorne daemons army. I knew there was a good chance I would just paint  him and ignore the rest of the army. So, As a bonus for finishing all the rest of the Khorne demons I own, I now have a bloodthirster to paint. The same goes with Heresy ally detachments or 40k armies and painting Primarch models. 

This is the hobby equivalent of opening the full refrigerator and not finding anything appetizing.

Please note that above I said “minimize my chances of failure” because quite frankly failure is always an option. Volunteering to quit a big project is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it can show a mature understanding of yourself: your free time, desire and interest in seeing the project through. 

Likewise, the scale of your “Large painting Project” is relative to your free time, ability and interests. Some of us in the hobby clearly have more time than others. Undoubtedly, every year when I post a LOOK WHAT I DID! Pic for the year, I will get a couple responses akin to “that’s more than I have ever painted in my hobby career” or “I will never paint that many models”. Plan to your free time, the job, kids, jail time, etc is not going to casually go away; you have to work with what you’ve got. If a skirmish force or a kill team is a large project based on your free time, then scale these goals down to getting a model or two painted, feel the accomplishment, then move onto the next pair. 

Next time we will see how I applied this method to Project Ultramar and discuss how Phase One went.


Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

More about Tyson | Tyson’s contributions