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I’ve written before about why I think it’s valuable for miniature painting enthusiasts to attend a convention or show, and I’ve gone into detail about a couple of specific conventions (ReaperCon and Adepticon) Now I’d like to write a little more about show format events. I’m going to focus on a show in Atlanta, the Atlanta Model Figure Show, which takes place each year in February, but this information is also generally applicable to other shows both in the United States and Europe. Links to those shows are available at the end of this post.
The focus at a figure show is on showing off, viewing, and assessing painted miniature figures, although there are also seminars, vendors, and opportunities to hang out and make friends with fellow miniature fans. There are no game events, but if you have any interest in painting and modeling you’re bound to enjoy the experience. Figure shows and IPMS shows tend to be smaller and quieter events than conventions, so they could be a great place to start for those who are nervous of crowds or noise. (A few of the European shows are quite large, however.)
The Show at a Show
The entries in a show are all displayed together in a room (or multiple rooms for large shows) on tables that are roughly chest height. If you’ve only ever seen miniatures in photographs or behind glass at a convention contest, you will find this a wonderful revelation! You can see every figure at close to eye level. You can move your head to see figures from the side, or even from the back from the other side of the table. It’s far easier to get good photographs without having to deal with the glare and reflection of glass. There’s a whole room full of tables, so if you run into a traffic jam, you can just move to another section and come back to the jammed area later.
The tables can be high enough that they are difficult for people who are very short or in a wheelchair, but traditional miniature convention display cases also present some difficulties for folks in those situations, as well as those of us with back issues who can’t easily bend down to see the lowest shelves.
This is just a small section of the display area at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. You can see how easy it is to view the pieces displayed up on tables with lots of open walkway space. A far cry from trying to peer at figures crowded together in glass cabinets at a convention contest!
People who wish to display their work at a figure show can enter into a few broad categories. Entrants can enter as many figures as they like into each category, provided each entry conforms to the rules. (Generally the rule is something you haven’t displayed in that show previously, and which fits the category guidelines, but always check the specific rules of any contest before you enter it!) There are helpful people at the registration desk if you have questions or concerns about which category is the right one for your work.
It is also often possible to set out previously entered figures or other pieces ineligible for judging as for display only. These are available for viewers to enjoy, but are not considered for contest results. People who sell their figures or services often set up some pieces that demonstrate their abilities alongside a stack of business cards.
An example of a display of entries in the Fantasy Painters category at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. These figures were painted by Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford.
Whether entering one piece or a dozen, entrants have the option of displaying their work in an aesthetic manner, provided it does interfere with other entrants or the show staff. Many people create a backdrop with dark cloth and risers, but there are other methods for fancier display, as well. These displays are usually designed to make it easier to focus on a figure for viewing and photography, or to create a more pleasing composition for the group of figures as a whole composition. Some shows have an award for the best display setup. A card with information about each figure is placed next to it, so people can see what it is, and who painted it.
If you like horror, whether modern or traditional, you’re bound to see something you’ll like at a figure show.
Entrants are also welcome to display additional information alongside their figures. This might include work in progress pictures that detail the customizations and conversions, research related to a particular time period or historical person that informed the work, or anything else the creator might like to share with viewers. Getting the chance to read/view a little more about the background of how a piece came together is one of the very fun features of a show!
Entry in the Open category at the AMFS Show 2012. This is a scratch built interpretation of a panel of Mayan art. The entry becomes much more interesting to view because of the inclusion of a reproduction of the Mayan engraving that inspired it and an explanation into the thought process behind the piece.
At the Atlanta show the main categories are Fantasy Painters, Fantasy Open, Historical Painters, and Historical Open.
Fantasy incorporates traditional fantasy, but also science fiction and horror. Historical focuses on both specific individuals from history, or figures sculpted and painted to reflect relatively accurate historic uniforms and dress.
In Painter categories, the focus is primarily on the quality of the execution of the techniques used in the painting process. The figures may be lightly converted or customized, and the piece may be a diorama, but by entering it into a Painter category, the entrant is requesting that the skills which will be judged will be primarily painting related. (Overall presentation and the preparation of figures is considered as a small component of Painter categories.)
The Open categories are for figures which have been significantly converted or sculpted from scratch. This can range from a scratch sculpted bust or figure with simple presentation, to complex diorama displays with a lot of base work as well conversions to the figures. It is particularly helpful to include WIP photos demonstrating the sculpting process or level of conversions with Open entries. Painting is also judged, but it is a smaller component of the overall score than in the Painter categories.
In this Fantasy Open entry, Laura Dandridge went beyond WIP photos and included an unpainted copy of the bust that she sculpted and cast as well as the finished entry!
Additional categories at the Atlanta Model Figure Show include Models, Junior, Basic, and Toy Soldier. Many shows will have similar categories, but may not have all of these, or may have additional ones. Junior is for entrants aged 15 years or less. The Models category includes tanks and other types of historical ordinance, but also science fiction ships, and other types of aircraft/vehicles/etc. Basically entries where the focus is on a mechanical contrivance, though there may also be figures included in the scene with it. Weathering and other concerns specific to this type of figure are the focus of judging for this category. Toy Soldiers are a specific type of figure that may have been sold pre-painted so it’s more about the display and arrangement of the figures, which can become quite elaborate or sizable. Basically if you know what it is you might enter this category, and if you don’t, don’t worry about it. :->
There’s a whole type of figure that you are unlikely to see at a convention that you will see multiple wonderful examples of at most shows – the flat. Traditionally termed Zinnfiguren in Europe, a flat is a sort of cross between a full round figure, and a flat drawing. It’s a sort of bas-relief. These are a great way to push yourself to paint with more contrast, since you can’t rely on the sculpted contours of the figure at all! Flat figures are available in a great diversity of subjects, and in different scales. Flats based on classic artwork are very common, as are flats of holiday and cartoon characters, and subjects like angels and fairies. (Which makes them great gift ideas for your non-gaming friends and relatives that you’ve been wanting to paint something for.) They are often displayed in picture frames on dark velvet backgrounds, though some are sculpted on small stands with both a back and front side, so they can also be posed in dioramas or displays.
The subjects and painting styles of flat figures are as diverse as those of figures in the round. They are not judged as a separate category from figures in the round. Stock flats are judged in Painters, and scratch or heavily converted flats in Open.
The Show is also a Contest
Although it is possible to enter one’s work for display only, the majority of people enter their work into contest. If you are only familiar with traditional podium style contests where only the top three (or five) entries are awarded prizes, the way an Open format contest is run is a completely different thing. In essence, each entrant competes against themself. The team of judges selects the best work from an entrant’s display to consider. So you don’t have to wrestle with deciding whether this one is the best work you’ve done, or wait, is it that one?
The judges then assess the selected piece against an overall standard, taking into account the criteria of the category. So in a Painter’s category, the quality of the paint work and the challenge factor of the techniques attempted are considered, with an additional smaller consideration given to the quality of the prep work and general presentation. In the open category, the technique demonstrated in sculpting and conversions is a significant factor, plus some consideration of the painting, and the prep and general presentation.
In addition to the medals awarded to the different standard levels, there are also special awards for particular subjects of figures. Awards at the Atlanta show include Best Horror, and Best Mounted figure, as well as several others.
Each judge awards the assessed piece a score, and the scores of the team are totaled and then averaged to find the score for that entry. Based on that score the entry might be awarded a Certificate of Merit, Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal, with each level becoming progressively more difficult to attain. As many medals of each level are given out as are achieved by the entrants. In the overall show awards, one entrant’s success never takes anything away from another’s. Most shows also have additional prizes, like those pictured above. These might include the figure that best exemplifies the theme of that year’s show, or the best Napoleonic figure, or a number of other things. Many special awards are sponsored and selected by members of the figure painting club that hosts the show, so they can vary widely from show to show.
Fantasy/SF painters might recognize some of these proud award winners from the AMFS 2017 – Sabrina Ferguson, Aaron Lovejoy, a cute little creeper, and Liz Hunt.
I love this Open format for miniature figure judging and awards. It gives all entrants some feedback on their current level and what they might yet have to strive for. It gives them an opportunity to compare different styles, colour schemes, and types of figures at each medal level.
This kind of Open show is just that, open! It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been painting a few months or a few years, your work will be welcome. Prior to attending a show hosted by a model figure club, I had gotten the impression that all of the work of military figure painters was super high level. I probably came to this erroneous conclusion because those of us more interested in fantasy and SF generally see only the best of the best from the military side of the hobby, if we see anything. I was very encouraged to discover that of course they have the same range of experience levels in painting as we do on the fantasy/SF side of things! But the great thing about the Open format is that painters who are newer or more casual in the hobby can still have their work considered for medals.
You may see work of world-class quality at a figure show, such as the piece from Mike Blank on the left that won Best of Show at the AMFS in 2017. But work from less experienced painters is also very welcome and will be assessed with just as much care and concern, and awarded a prize as appropriate. (Unfortunately I did not record the name of the painter of the swashbuckling pirate on the right.)
The MSP Open at ReaperCon follows a similar philosophy. Entry is open to hobbyists of any level, and works of any scale or manufacturer. Entrants compete only against themselves, and are awarded Certificates of Merit, Bronze, Silver, or Gold medals. There are also special theme and manufacturer prizes awarded. You can read more about the MSP Open categories and judging.
In the United States at least, you are not likely to find the kind of miniature painting/modeling classes at a figure show that you might find at a convention like AdeptiCon, ReaperCon, or Gen Con. However, there is often a 1-3 day workshop scheduled in the days preceding the start of the show. This kind of intensive workshop is of course more expensive cost to attend than a two hour class, and requires arriving and staying at the venue for a few days ahead of when the show starts. (I do recommend attending a workshop if you can, it’s a terrific learning experience!) But this doesn’t mean there are no learning opportunities at a figure show! There are usually a handful of free seminars on various topics given by top painters and modelers. While you may not get hands-on opportunities with these, they are well worth attending if there is a topic that interests you on the schedule.
One of the fun things about a figure show is that the pool of vendors and what they offer for sale tends to be much different than what you’ll find at a gaming oriented convention! Busts, and larger scale figures, great reference books on painting and historical time periods, wonderful scenic bits for dioramas, and speciality products like brass etched plants are some of my favourites. You are also likely to find at least one booth offering those high quality wood plinths and blocks you’ve likely seen on some of the busts and displays from your favourite painters online. And of course there should be at least one vendor of the Zinnfiguren flats I talked about above.
Boxes of busts and larger scale figures at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.
Model kits on the near table and a view of one section of the vendor hall at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.
Another fun feature of many shows is the hospitality suite. This is a hotel where show attendees who are staying at the hotel can gather and hang out to enjoy snacks and possibly adult libations. This is a great opportunity to get to know people a little better and find out more about how they approach their hobby. I was nervous to attend my first model show in Atlanta in 2012, but everyone I talked to was super friendly and welcoming. Many even remembered me when I finally made it back again in 2017!
Enjoying snacks with fellow figure enthusiasts in the hospitality suite at the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2017.
A Few Notes
The atmosphere of a figure show is a little more casual than most conventions, including in the vendor area. A vendor might choose to close up early to go out to dinner, for example. Also while the schedule will generally list the vendor hall as being open on Sunday morning, my experience has been that a lot of the vendors will use that time to pack up, and some may already have left by 10 or 11am. So if you spot something you really want to buy on Saturday, don’t assume you can dither all Saturday night and be able to pick it up the next morning.
I love the creativity of this entry! Sady I did not keep track of the name of its creator.
The societies that organize these shows tend to have a lot of members who are a fair bit older than folks from the gaming side of the hobby. While they’re making an effort to embrace new technology, you may find that they’re a little slow to update webpages, or more likely to communicate by email thank forums/groups/Discord. Keep in mind that while a large gaming convention has a core paid staff in addition to numerous volunteers, show events are completely run by volunteers. If you can’t find all the information you need to decide whether to attend on their website or Facebook page, reach out to a contact address and ask what you need to know.
Many of these societies are eager to welcome new members of any age to their organizations, and many are very welcoming of fantasy and SF painters! If you live near enough to one of these groups to attend the regular monthly meetings, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn from some fantastic painters and modelers that you should not pass up just because their first interest is history and some of them are a little older than the people you normally talk to about painting. I wish I lived a lot closer to the Atlanta club than I do, I’d love to attend regular club meetings.
Scan of the schedule from the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2018.
Information on Specific Shows
If you’re interested in attending a show, scroll to the bottom of this page to find a list of dates, locations, and links to webpages with more information.
I normally try to provide links to figures shown in these blog posts, but I’m not sure where to start on this! If you’re particularly interested in one mention it in the comments and we’ll see if I can find it or another reader can.
4 thoughts on “Show up to a Show – in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and…”
I’d also recommend taking a look at any local IPMS (International Plastic Modellers’ Society) shows. Their styles of painting and subject mix are a bit different and they don’t do human figures especially well in many cases, but the best of their dioramas can be utterly amazing.
Our experience in Colorado has been that they’re also very accepting of the kind of modeling we do and at least as interested in learning our tricks as we are in learning theirs.
That is a great recommendation, thank you! I finally heard about the one in Knoxville a few years ago, but then it consistently conflicted with the date of an out of town convention commitment. I think this year the two are on different dates and I may finally get to attend! Also the fact that the groups are organized into one larger organization with a handy calendar like that is to be commended, and one can hope, replicated by the model figure show groups. (Or maybe there is some master calendar that I have failed to detect as yet for them.)
Thank you for your review of the figure shows. I have found the participants will gladly share their experiences and comments, sharing their “secrets”, if you ask. Masters like Bill Horan, Doug Cohen, Erin Hartwell and yourself have all commented on my hysterical miniatures giving me pointers for improvement. You don’t usually get that feedback on a 1,2,3 place show. Looking forward to seeing you at Reapercon.
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I look forward to seeing you there, too! Always a fun time at ReaperCon!