Painting With Voltaire

I know you’re familiar with a guy named Pareto and a principle that was named after him because you’re such a devoted fan of this blog and have read that other post. But in case you’re new here, you might want to check out that other one first (don’t worry, it’s not that long). There’s another guy, a French philosopher named Voltaire, who sounds like he knew something about miniature painting, going by one of his most well-known quotes: “Don’t let perfect [minis] be the enemy of good [minis].” Actually, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but the gist of it is basically the same.

File:Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPG
Props to you if you knew that this is a portrait of Blaise Pascal and not Voltaire before reading this caption.


Not every miniature has to be painted at showcase-quality level. This is an incredibly important concept to realize and accept if you’re interested in playing miniatures games that go beyond skirmish-level scale¹. Sometimes, “good enough” really is good enough. When you have a mob of 50 ork boyz or hormagaunts on your table, not to mention the possibly dozens of other minis that make up your army, it’s ok if not every single one is painted to the best of your ability. “Tabletop quality” really is a thing.

It’s much more enjoyable playing a game with a fully-painted army that’s painted reasonably well than playing with a mostly unpainted army with a few minis painted at an extremely high level. It’s fine to spend more time painting your larger or more important models, but as much as possible, it’s better to separate minis that are intended to be display pieces from minis that are going to be used for gaming. Not only will this prevent your display pieces from being subjected to the normal wear and tear of tabletop use, but the dirty little secret is that from a tabletop viewing distance, most of the extra effort put into a showcase-quality piece will be lost.

Perhaps a good approach is to use the Pareto Principle as a guide when painting display-quality minis and Voltaire for tabletop quality. Pareto can help you realize and appreciate the fact that there will come a point where you’ll start getting tired of the mini that you’re painting, most likely when there’s still quite a bit to go. Mentally preparing yourself for this can help you keep going to the end when the time comes, when it becomes a slog. Or, perhaps more importantly, it will help you avoid wasting time by quitting at the right time: before starting². That is, realizing that you don’t actually want to put in the necessary time and effort to finish a particular mini, and avoiding adding a new member to your “shelf of shame.”

I don’t have anything else to add to what Voltaire said. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.


  1. Either that, or be prepared to have an already expensive hobby become more expensive as you outsource your painting to a studio. What’s that? “Third option”? Ok, you can play with unpainted minis, but since so much of the appeal of miniatures games comes from the visual spectacle of it all, it really is worth making your best effort to get your minis painted.
  2. I’m borrowing from Seth Godin here. Look up his book The Dip if you want to learn more about quitting before you start. Or anything else by him, actually. It’s all good stuff and will be worth your time.

One response to “Painting With Voltaire

  1. Pingback: Painting With Pareto | Gamer Multiclass

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