09 November 2021
Shake, battle and roll (some Dice!)
Interview by Conrad Kinch
One thing age and injury has spared me so far are the shakes. I get the odd wobble in the morning if my butler is slow bringing up the tray with my breakfast laudanum, but it is very rare. I would probably get better, which brings me to Dave Walker of MS Paints.
MS Paints is a YouTube channel by Dave Walker, who is a wargamer, modeller, terrain maker and musician and he isn’t going to get better as he has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an incurable disease of the central nervous system that affects the brain, spinal column and the eyes. Dave was diagnosed relatively recently and decided to start the channel to explore the hobby through that lens. Dave isn’t going to get better, but what he can do is manage the decline while enjoying the hobby, finding ways to paint and build that not only work for him now, but will continue to work for him.
The result is a collection of videos that are aimed at wargamers who aren’t as physically capable as they’d wish to be and they are excellent. While Dave regularly gives call outs to his “movers and shakers” (as he refers to fellow MS sufferers), that is just one aspect of the channel: the main thrust is top-quality hobby know-how, filmed and produced by a man with years of experience in the film industry. While the majority of the videos are about science fiction and fantasy subjects, there is a lot to like for the historical wargamer. There are tutorials on weathering and chipping, scratch building terrain and basing all of which are scale and setting agnostic. It doesn’t hurt that Dave looks a bit like a friendly Yeti and talks fluently and with humour. Some of the videos open with skits done with a puppet called Tony. I thought they were funny, but if they aren’t to your taste, they are brief and easily skipped.
I was fortunate to catch up with Dave from MS Paints and got the chance to pick his brains on wargaming, modelling and MS. This is the result of my questioning:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get started in the hobby?
I got started like most kids of my generation with Warhammer Fantasy and 40k. My friends were into it, and – since my dad was a big wargamer – he had some second hand gear he could throw at me to get sacrificed and caked in paint. I was pretty hot on it for sure: I remember when Grimsby got a Games Workshop and it was pretty crazy for late 90s Grimsby to get anything new, let alone a shop as niche as a GW. My dad was gold on saving cash at boot sales though, so we had a lot of new/old gear coming through the house. Weekly he’d come home with multiple sets of Space Crusade and Heroquest, which in hindsight (and having recently paid about £180 for a collector’s grade Heroquest) we probably shouldn’t have used all those sets to practice painting and kit bashing.
I got back into the hobby again about three years ago... My mum got wind of it, told my dad, who was over the moon that the hobby was still alive and well in me: it felt like I’d just got my doctorate or something, he was so proud. I’m a working musician, so I suppose my folks gotta take what they can when it comes to this stuff.
I’m obviously into Warhammer, Sigmar, Gorkamorka, Necromunda and all that business, but I got into Star Wars Legion pretty big last year too. For Historicals I’ve tentatively dipped into Black Seas and Bushido.
What’s your greatest wargaming achievement?
It’s about eighteen months old now I think, for Armies on Parade at my local GW. I tried entering the year previous but I was having my first relapse, and I couldn’t finish the project. It came around to the following year and I was all fired up. I took my initial concept of clueless imperialist looking explorers in long grass being stalked by lizardmen. Then I levelled it up by adding a coastline, sourcing some older minis, 3D printing a Stargate with an LED rig, hand crafting palm trees and sculpting waves. It was a furious two weeks – but I got it done. That was the big turning point for me.
MS killed my entry the year previously so I just put everything I learned into this new board. It’s probably the best thing I’ve made in terms of storytelling and practical technique. It starts at the ocean, with the human characters collecting some kind of flowers they probably shouldn’t. A bold explorer points out to sea while his advisor looks through a telescope – all the while behind them there’s a load of warpainted lizardmen and an actual dinosaur coming out of a Stargate. It’s a mental diorama to enter into a local Armies on Parade – but I didn’t even place... So maybe I should’ve gone more mental with it. Note to self: next time have two Stargates.
What is the idea behind MS Paints? What do you hope to achieve with it?
The core idea behind MS Paints is to share my journey as I learn new ways of painting and crafting, as my illness progresses. And hopefully there’s others going through what I am, and can get something from it. That’s really the only ‘prime directive’ I try to stick to. I started the channel last March. Youtube is a highly evolved beast today and if you wanna make a hobby channel, you gotta do the hobby. Then you gotta film it and light it, record your voiceover, understand marketing, photo editing, video editing and motion graphics. Sure – you don’t need to do all that to get started. But I had a chance for a clean slate and the opportunity to learn a load of new skills.
I worked in the film industry for 12 years as a movie composer and sound guy, so regardless of how long COVID was going to last, I knew I wouldn’t be getting any new work for at least 6 months. So I made youtube videos – and learned video and motion graphics as I went along.
It’s been great to have people get in touch over the last year to throw support my way. There are folks out there in way more difficult hobby and wargaming situations than I am, and they’re owning it (I’m looking at you, The Real Iron Hand!) But to have these guys tell me they love my stuff and my approach is the most rewarding thing.
What age were you diagnosed at and how long had you been wargaming at that point?
Thirty-two’ish so I’d been back into the hobby for about a year. We locked down the condition early so it’s not as immediately affecting as you’d think. I can generally still do everything I could before. I just have to be mindful in myself, and the information I put out on the channel, that things will gradually deteriorate in motor skills and eyesight. That usually means I’ll pass on highlighting and edge highlighting, and find other ways to make a model pop.
Brain fog is awful though. It’s part of the condition which doesn’t have much in the way of understanding around it – but it’s tied into the fatigue. There’s entire two week stretches where my brain just isn’t in gear. Like pulling the chip out of a Terminator at times: I just go into total mental shut down until you prod me.
You do a lot of work on terrain making: what are your top three terrain making tips?
Keep it Real: this is a twofold thing. Key off the real world. If you’re copying a copy of a copy of an already unrealistic idea you’ll end up with something uninteresting. That’s mostly a shout out to Warhammer related projects. If you’re making a spooky tower, make a spooky tower: go back to the core of the inspirations that inspired the models and miniature terrain you’re looking at. If you’re pulling from multiple sources of inspiration, then building something off the back of those, your learning experience is so much stronger, man. Keep your ideas fun, but keep them obtainable.
There’s tools and materials popping up everywhere currently that make life easier. Sure there’s a lot of gimmick tools, and those can make more problems than they fix, but simple things like switching out filler for sculptamold, or working with those nifty, too-good-to-be-true paints from Greenstuffworld, and backing it up with traditional painting methods to sell an overall effect. There’s just so much stuff available out there. I have to give a shout out to GeekGaming: their base ready range – even if you don’t like the colours they offer – well the out-of-the bag ground textures can’t be beaten.
Secondly, power through the disheartening mid-phase. Up to the point where washes and drybrushing starts happening terrain will often look like dog sick. Don’t throw in the towel. It’s only a few steps away at this point, so just keep going. Any stage of terrain making can often look bad. Just trust in what you know, what you can do, and keeping going with your processes.
There are days where you might find it’s hard to pick up small objects or drop things a lot. Is there anything to be done?
Just do something else. It’s rare that I can’t physically hold a brush. But I’ll wrap elastic bands around it to thicken the handle if I need to. But if it’s real bad I’ll go and work on some terrain or play some Playstation. But whatever I’m doing, I’m removing the problem. However, I will add that my choice of paint brushes have made my life easier. There’s loads of debate out there about expensive brushes being better than cheap craft ones. It took me a while but I settled on the very affordable Raphael 8404 series. They have a decent grip, amazing point, good body, and
a decent bounce. I get five of these brushes for Christmas every year now and they last me: and that’s with everyday, intense use. They may not be for you, but that’s the idea: find what works better for you.
Are magnifying glass lamps useful? I presume those don’t help if experiencing optical neuritis or partial blindness.
I had issues with those lamps before MS did a number on my right eye. I couldn’t get a grasp on distance and perspective with them. Maybe if I wore those head mounted ones, sure. But I prefer to pop my glasses down and pretty much touch my retina against the model. Bizarrely my dad does the exact same thing when he’s painting. Put us side by side and it’s like looking into the future. Thankfully my dad is pretty handsome, so I got a good future.
Is airbrushing a better long term option than hand brushing or does it require more skill and better motor skills?
Airbrushing is best used in conjunction with other techniques, for sure. Terrain loves an airbrush, especially if you’ve got busier surfaces. It’s an amazing tool, but it’s not a crutch. It has its own learning curve, and – if you try some stuff with it – it’s a faff, it certainly can’t replace brushes. Just think outside the box with it: try inks; try contrast paint; try enamel washes through it.
What would you advise the wargamer or modeller with MS to prepare for beyond the obvious decline in motor skills and visual problems?
The news is gonna hit like a Mack Truck. I can’t speak for everyone but the condition isn’t always as bad as what your mind perceives. The way the neurologists were speaking to me made out like I was gonna drop dead in a couple of years... but it hasn’t been so bad. Prepare yourself mentally though: take time, reflect, but don’t wallow. Adapt where you can and make little changes to the things you’re gonna have issues with down the line. MS is also triggered by stress, so – if things become difficult – take a step back and have a think, or – even better – talk to someone. Mentally prepare more than anything: talk to support groups with MS if you can. You’ll see folks from all age groups just dealing with it.
You got this.
What equipment could help ameliorate the decline?
I’m not sure really. My type of MS, relapse and remission comes and goes as it pleases and ultimately it’s affected by infections, heat, stress and sleep. The better I take care of myself, and stay aware of stuff, the less symptoms rear their head. All I can really say is use tools that cause you the least stress and you can use without pain or strain. It’s trial and error.
What about numbness? Will that affect the ability to hold a brush and accurately paint small figures?
Absolutely. Trying to paint during my first relapse when we didn’t know what was going on was rough. Have you ever seen that Push The Tempo video by Fatboy Slim? It’s not far off that. Trying to paint a Tyranid – easy painting days, all one colour if you fancy – but I couldn’t even get that done. Gripping things was fine... sort of... but I had to actively glare at my hand to get signals for it to do stuff.
I think a miniature wargaming channel is an odd place for puppet-based comedy, it’s also an odd place for an ex-powerlifting, dreadlocked film composer who can’t hold a brush steady. So there’s that!
So there you have it. I think what impressed me so much about MS Paints and the man behind it was not so much the quality of the modelling advice – which is very good and consists mainly of techniques that can be learned, rather than skills that need to be mastered – but the unsentimental approach Dave has taken to his disability. The refusal to allow his hobby to be taken away from him and his desire to share his methods with others. We wargamers play toy soldiers for fun. It’s a strange hobby where we steal other men’s glory and re-enact it on miniature battlefields. We are not called to be brave ourselves.
But, I think what Dave has done in MS Paints is a truly brave thing and one that exhibits rare courage and grace in the face of something genuinely frightening. I wish him every success. Check him out at the links below.
This article originally appeared in issue 457 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.