Many parents, if they saw their teenage offspring playing with model figures, might tell them to grow up and stop wasting their time. But one Beijing student has turned his hobby into a lucrative sideline. We asked Liu Chong, whose English name is Peter, to tell us more.
“When I was a little kid,” he said, “one day I was walking in a mall and I saw the name of a store: ‘Warhammer’. I went inside the store. The fantasy miniatures were so wonderful: the knights with heavy armor, the swordsmen battling against evil, the space marines using plasma guns to fight aliens… and people were using those miniatures, with all their delicate details, to fight battles on tabletops. I started falling in love with that world.”
Warhammer was developed by British company Games Workshop, and has spawned novels, comics, and video games exploring its fantasy and sci-fi universes. However, the core of it is a war game played with miniature figures. And for many enthusiasts, including Peter, the real fascination is collecting and painting the “minis”.
“I enjoy painting,” he told us, “but I don’t play the game a lot.”
But even painting is a social activity, not a solitary one.
“We have a club for painting minis,” Peter said. “We meet in a store which sells the models but is also a club. We have a table there to paint and play. People help each other because most people are painting models to play with. Also, we communicate in a WeChat group – my painting friends are from so many cities! There are painters all over the world.”
If you have never heard of Warhammer, you might be surprised to learn what a vast global business it is. Games Workshop have over 460 stores around the globe, and the company was recently valued at one billion US dollars. While there are cheap starter sets, providing basic armies of plastic figures, the most expensive single figure, which rejoices in the name of Archaon Everchosen, Exalted Grand Marshal of the Apocalypse, retails at USD 140. Rare, out-of-production minis can change hands for thousands of dollars.
But what can be a very expensive hobby is also a money-making opportunity, for entrepreneurially-minded youngsters like Peter. As the figures are sold unpainted and usually need to be assembled from many tiny parts, those who just want to get on and play the game are happy to pay others to do the work for them. So Peter buys figures, paints them, and sells on them on via Taobao.
“If I buy a mini for RMB 400, when I’ve finished painting I’ll sell it for RMB 750 or 800. But if it’s hard to do, maybe it will be RMB 1000.
“My price is lower than other model painters because my painting skill is not really very good!” he adds modestly. Readers can judge for themselves from the pictures whether his diffidence is justified, but a quick search on Taobao revealed that figures can indeed sell for up to RMB 10,000.
“Sometimes I have orders from customers,” Peter told us, “but sometimes I just sell my own ideas.”
We asked what he does with the money he makes.
“I save it, and I can buy anything I like,” he said. “I’m also building my own army of minis, and I will not sell them.”
For Peter though, painting models remains primarily a labor of love.
“I like any kind of way to show my thoughts about art. Painting miniatures is what I’m working on now, but I also like to practice my singing and guitar.
“It can show the world you have creativity in your heart.”
This article appeared in the beijingkids November 2018 Beijing Makers issue
Photos: Courtesy of Liu Chong