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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 – hotel now available for booking, and Adepticon – coming up soon!) Now I’d like to write a little more about shows. I’m going to focus on a show in Atlanta, the Atlanta Model Figure Show, which takes place February 15 – 17, 2019 but this information is also generally applicable to shows in other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Long Island, Tulsa, and Folkestone UK. Links to those shows are available at the end of this post. I know there are others in the United States, and hope that readers who might know more about those will share links and information in the comments. The show format is popular in Europe, and some marvelous large scale events are held there. Sadly I cannot as yet offer any personal experience with these, but I would love if people with more information on them shared their experiences in the comments!
A figure show tends to be a smaller and more focused event than a convention. That focus 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. The focused nature of these events offer a lot of advantages, though it may not appeal to those whose primary interest in gaming over painting and modeling.
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, this is a wonderful revolution in viewing experiences! 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. Granted the high tables are less ideal for very short people or those in wheelchairs, but traditional convention display cases are also going to present some difficulties for those folks, 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 at a figure show enter their work into a few broad categories. An entrant can enter as many figures that conform to the rules as they like into each category. (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.
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 of a dozen, each entrant creates a display for their entries in the category area. This display can include small risers and/or a backdrop. These elements might be used to make it easier to focus on the figure for viewing (and photography), or to create a more pleasing composition for the selection of figures in the display as a whole. 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 your work, or anything else you 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 skill of 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. (The overall presentation and 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 as 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 entrants also enter the 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 his/herself. The team of judges selects the best work from an entrant’s display to consider. (It is also possible for the judges to decide the work in the display is all of the same quality standard and to judge the entire display as a group instead.) So you don’t have to wrestle with deciding whether this one that you’ve done is the best you have right now, or is it that one? Then they judge that work 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. So one entrant’s success never takes anything away from someone else in the general show awards. 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 feedback on their current level and what they might yet have to strive for. There is no reason not to enter this kind of show. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been painting a few months or a few years. 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 top 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 in the Open format, even those painters who are newer or more casual in the hobby can still have their work considered for medals and appreciated in the display of the show.
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.)
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. It is common for there to be a 1-3 day workshop in the days preceding the start of the show. This is a 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 have for sale tends to be much different than what you’ll find at a 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 etch 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 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 room open to attendees staying at the hotel to gather and hang out and 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 from that one meeting 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 certain 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 or even require snail mail advanced registration. Also these events are completely volunteer run, unlike a large gaming convention that has a core professional staff in addition to its numerous 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.
It is also important to note that 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.
Scan of the schedule from the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2018.
The Atlanta Model Figure Show
This year the Atlanta Military Figure Show takes place on February 15 to 17, 2019. It will be located at the Atlanta Hilton/Marietta Conference Center. If you want to attend but not enter any of your figures, the cost is $10 for the entire weekend. The fee to attend and display your work is $25 if you pre-register, and $30 at the door. For more information, check this website. You can get to the gallery pages from there to enjoy work submitted in 2017 and 2018 as well.
Atlanta Miniature Figure Show homepage: https://atlantafigures.org/amfs-show-2019/
Other Figure Shows
I have only had the opportunity to attend a few shows. In addition to Atlanta, I attended the World Expo in Chicago in 2017. This was hosted by the same group that puts on the MMSI show. MMSI also includes the participation of several members of the fantasy/SF community, so I have no qualms about recommending it, and I’m hoping to get there one day! I also have heard good things about the Miniature Figure Collectors of American show in Philadelphia. I’ve heard of shows in the past in Southern California, but was not able to find any information about upcoming shows. I did find a show in Long Island and another in Tulsa, but I have no personal experience or information about either. I also found one UK show to share. My guess would be that there are others out there as well. If you know of any, please let me and other readers know about them in the comments!
The Miniature Figure Collectors of America Show, April 12-13 2019: http://www.mfcashow.com/upcoming.html
The Military Miniature Society of Illinois Show in Chicago, October 11-13 2019: http://www.military-miniature-society-of-illinois.com/2018-chicago-show/
Euro Miniature Expo in Folkestone UK, May 11-12 2019: https://www.facebook.com/EuroMiniatureExpo/
The Long Island Miniature Collectors Show: http://www.longislandmodelsoldiers.com/limcs_model_soldier_show.htm
The Tulsa Show by the Historical Miniatures Society of Northeastern Oklahoma: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Historical-Miniatures-Society-of-Northeastern-Oklahoma-HMSNEO-211702852223535/events/
Note on the Lateness of this Blog Post…
Clearly my resolution/good intention of trying to blog a bit more regularly has not been going that well. My aim of painting more has hit similar snags. We’re trying to organize a bunch of work on our house and prepare for that, and I’m also attempting to move all my data and my computer use from an eight year old PC to a new Mac. Which is wonderful, of course, but also I’m a human who doesn’t like change, so it’s also kind of ACK and fraught with time-consuming technical snags. It was my aim to get this information out earlier, but hopefully it’s still early enough for making plans. I’ll be at the Atlanta Show, and if you can attend, I highly recommend it, and I’d love to see you there!
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.