I've been involved in the miniatures hobby in some capacity or another for over 20 years now. Just a babe in the woods compared to a lot of old salts, but still long enough to see fads come and go and long-term trends play out. One of the trends I've been most simultaneously fascinated and disturbed by has been the rising standard in what's considered "acceptable" for a rank-and-file, wargame-ready miniature in terms of painting and presentation. Apparently I'm not alone (PDF link). Quoth Mr. Priestly:
Now, I’m not suggesting that this perpetuation of a style and quality of presentation is a bad thing. In so many ways, it is a very good thing, and an entirely positive way of presenting our hobby, both to fellow hobbyists and to prospective ones.
The reason why all this leaves me feeling a little hollow is simply this – I know I can’t do it! Where, once, I could paint an army with a certain sense of individualism, with confidence, and with pride in the finished result, now I sometimes despair of picking up the paintbrush and showing the results to my fellow gamers.There can be no doubt that the standard for wargaming miniatures has risen steadily since the dawn of the hobby. An interesting observation made in the essay is that the rising standard has also led to increased homogenization of style. I tend to agree. I certainly wish these days we'd see more John Blanches or Bryan Ansells held up as worthy standards of aspiration alongside the McVeys and the Dallimores.
Interestingly, my personal bugbear is not painting, per se, but basing. It's my own version of "back in my day . . .". Wellsir, back in my day, ya painted the base green, ya slapped some glue on the top (or, if you were really lazy/painting a big unit, you just used the paint while it was still wet as an adhesive), and ya dipped the base in a bag of Woodland Scenics flock and called it good enough. You did this even for your centerpiece figures, your exquisitely-painted masterpieces. But somewhere along the way, it was decided that bases needed as much attention as the figure itself. First it was texturing bases with gravel and stone. Then it was adding static grass. Now it's adding flowers and bushes and skulls and whatever else until the base becomes a miniature in its own right.
And in that, I echo Priestly's lament. Painting figures for the joy of it has always been a big part of the hobby for me (always secondary to actually playing, mind). But, even though I've gone along with the crowd along the Fancy Basing Road, it's enervating, just like in the quote above; the daunting task of spending another 30 minutes on a "proper" base after finishing with the figure. Basing used to be my favorite part of miniatures painting, because it was quick and easy while still giving the figure a nice "finished" look - putting the bow on, so to speak. Now it's my least favorite task.
Back when I was collecting old Grenadier and Ral Partha figures for my Fantasy Warriors armies, I intentionally used a more old-fashioned basing method (as pictured above), and it was a welcome relief. And yet I continue to base all my other figures in the latter-day styles. Because, let's face it, it looks good. I just wonder sometimes if there's a middle ground.