Dragon and Stocking – 12 Days of Reaper

Next up in the 12 Days of Reaper is a figure brand new this year – the Dragon and Stocking. He is the figure free with $40 purchase for December 10. I love Julie Guthrie’s sculpting on this, he has such a mischievous expression. In my mind he’s not filling up or handing out that stocking, he’s pilfering it for his tiny hoard of Christmas goodies!

Dragon and stocking, front view

Dragon and stocking, face view

Dragon and stocking, back view

Dragon and stocking, second face view

As I have been doing with a lot of figures lately, I started by roughing in my shadows, highlights, and midtones with mixes of grayscale brush-on primers. This allows me to concentrate on where things should be darker and lighter based on my light source as a separate step. I was aiming to paint the light as coming from above and to the left when we’re looking at him in front view. (I discuss this and other approaches to painting with more contrast in this post – https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/10/16/how-to-paint-contrast-hands-on/)

Stocking Dragon grayscale primer front

Stocking Dragon grayscale primer, back

Stocking Dragon grayscale primer left

Stocking Dragon grayscale primer right

My next step is to begin to apply colours over that value map. I work wet in wet drying to make rough blends. So I’ll place a shadow colour in the correct location, then a lighter shadow or midtone next to it trying to blend a little, and then the next lighter colour, etc. Sometimes with a little more back and forth than that. At this stage I am concentrating on the big picture only in considering where things should be lighter or darker over all. Look at the shoulder of the wing and arm on the left side of the front photo as an example, and compare with a a later step and the end result. At this point I’m just blocking in a light colour green for highlights over the entire shoulder and neck area since the light would be falling strongly on that section. I’m not worried about the shallow crevices or the small mounds of individual muscles. And similarly with the shadows that become darker under the shoulder and where the wing is slanted downwards. Since green is a somewhat translucent colour, I needed to do two or three passes of block in to build up the colour.

Stocking Dragon colour block in front

Stocking Dragon colour block in, back

Stocking Dragon colour block in, left

Stocking Dragon colour block in, right

Only once I have those big picture shadows, highlights, and midtones in place do I start to worry about pulling out detail and refining the appearance of the blending on the figure. Compare the shoulder and neck in the following pictures to the ones above. I’ve added additional highlighting on the curves of the small muscles, and a little shading in between the muscles to add definition. And a similar process on the wing. In these photos I’ve just worked on that shoulder/neck/arm area, and the back of the wing. The detail is applied on top of and in a way that supports the big picture shadows and highlights.

Stocking Dragon refining step, front

Stocking Dragon refining step, back

This last set of photos is what the entire green area looked like after I had finished the refining and detailing stage.

Stocking dragon completed greens, front

Stocking Dragon finished greens, back

Stocking Dragon completed greens, face

Stocking Dragon completed greens, right

Hopefully that gives a little insight into the process I’m using when I do a grayscale underpainting in primer.

Reaper Miniatures is running their 12 Days of Reaper promotion from December 5  through December 16. During the promo, one special holiday figure of the day is included free with every purchase of $40 or more from the online Reaper site. And for the first time ever, they are making the 12 Days figures available for purchase separately, for two weeks following December 16.

The 12 Days promotion stacks with the promotion to include a free Dungeon Dweller of the month with each $40+ worth of order. So for every $40+ you order at this time, you’ll receive two free metal figures. And if your order totals more than $65, you also receive a Christmas Sampler package that includes Bones miniatures, candy, a postcard with cool art by Talin, and a naughty or nice surprise. There are a fixed amount of Samplers, so those are while supplies last.

Here is the schedule of figures for each of the 12 Days of Reaper. 

12 days promo

The Dungeon Dweller of the month is Caerindra Thistlemoor. I posted pictures and information about her last week, including some work-in-progress shots with lighting reference pictures and some information on how I rough in the lights and shadows. You can read that here: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/12/03/caerindra-thistlemoor-roughing-in-lights-and-shadows/

 

You’ll find the Reaper website here: http://www.reapermini.com/

Christmas Dragon Hoard – 12 Days of Reaper

The 12 Days of Reaper figure for December 8 is this charming little dragon and his hoard of presents. This is the first of the holiday dragons that I had the opportunity to paint a few years back, and I just adore him. I think gifts are a perfect thing to hoard, as they represent love and possibility. 

Unfortunately I did not take any work-in-progress shots while painting this figure, so I don’t have a lot to offer in the vein of how-to. I will say that I think snowflakes are an accessible pattern if you want to try your hand at some freehand wrapping paper, since they’re mostly straight lines. Use a brush with as fine a point as you can find. You are unlikely to be able to paint this sort of thing with a standard synthetic brush. You will need a Kolinsky sable watercolour brush to paint these kinds of details. You may find that one on the smaller side or with a shorter bristle head is a bit easier to control, but experiment with the brushes you have to see what you can draw the finest, most controlled lines with. I always recommend practicing on a base or an old miniature or something similar before painting freehand on your intended figure.

The snowflakes I painted are six pointed. Start by painting a center line, then paint two lines over it in an X shape, trying to make the end points of the lines roughly equidistant apart. (Or you could experiment with painting a wide X and then a center line through the middle of it. Experiment and find what works for you!) Then you can use straight lines or dots to customize the flakes. Cross the end or mid-point of each line with a small dash mark, or put two dots to either side of the end points, or put dots in between the lines. There are all kinds of options.

Christmas Dragon Hoard face

Christmas dragon hoard gift pile

The dragon comes on a small base of holly. I used the forest floor mould from Basius to create more foliage, and then placed him on top. There weren’t really any berries in the press base, but some rounded spots I painted in a similar way to the berries to make it look like he was resting on a larger base of holly.

Christmas dragon back

Christmas dragon hoard face - from above

Christmas dragon hoard wings

Reaper Miniature is running their 12 Days of Reaper promotion from December 5  through December 16. During the promo, one special holiday figure of the day is included free with every purchase of $40 or more from the online Reaper site. And for the first time ever, they are making the 12 Days figures available for purchase separately, for two weeks following December 16.

The 12 Days promotion stacks with the promotion to include a free Dungeon Dweller of the month with each $40+ worth of order. So for every $40+ you order at this time, you’ll receive two free metal figures. And if your order totals more than $65, you also receive a Christmas Sampler package that includes Bones miniatures, candy, a postcard with cool art by Talin, and a naughty or nice surprise. There are a fixed amount of Samplers, so those are while supplies last.

 

Here is the schedule of figures for each of the 12 Days of Reaper. 

12 days promo

The Dungeon Dweller of the month is Caerindra Thistlemoor. I posted pictures and information about her last week, including some work-in-progress shots with lighting reference pictures and some information on how I rough in the lights and shadows. You can read that here: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/12/03/caerindra-thistlemoor-roughing-in-lights-and-shadows/

You’ll find the Reaper website here: http://www.reapermini.com/

See you in a few days with pictures of this year’s new holiday dragon!

Mylk and Cookies – 12 Days of Reaper

Reaper Miniatures has always gone in for holidays in a big way, which is probably why frantic deadline painting has now become one of the ways I celebrate Hallowe’en and Christmas. :-> So to help me get more in the holiday spirit, I’m going to share some pictures of the figures I’ve painted, and some work-in-progress insights.

This year they are once again running their 12 Days of Reaper promotion from December 5 (yesterday as of writing, I missed a day, sorry!) through December 16. During the promo, one special holiday figure of the day is included free with every purchase of $40 or more from the online Reaper site. And for the first time ever, they are making the 12 Days figures available for purchase separately, for two weeks following December 16.

The 12 Days promotion stacks with the promotion to include a free Dungeon Dweller of the month with each $40+ worth of order. So for every $40+ you order at this time, you’ll receive two free metal figures. And if your order totals more than $65, you also receive a Christmas Sampler package that includes Bones miniatures, candy, a postcard with cool art by Talin, and a naughty or nice surprise. There are a fixed amount of Samplers, so those are while supplies last.

Here is the schedule of figures for each of the 12 Days of Reaper. 

12 days promoI painted a number of these figures, and will be trying to upload pictures to my blog on the appropriate days so you can get a better view.

The figure for December 6th is Mylk and Cookies. Mylk is an adorable baby yeti who is just too excited about all these yummy cookies that she’s found. I had a lot of fun painting this, it’s a cute and creative twist on traditional Christmas motifs, sculpted by the incomparable Julie Guthrie.

Mylk and Cookies front

Mylk and Cookies back

I started my experiments with underpainting and grisaille some time last year, and I used that approach with this figure. As usual, my emphasis was on figuring out where to make things lighter and darker. As you can see below, I didn’t worry about details like the eyes or mouth, or shadow lines between each individual cookie or anything like that.

Yeti grisaille front

Yeti grisaille back

The cookie decorations are textures, not just paint. After I painted the cookies plain, I went back and added acrylic medium products to create the decorations. Though if you plan on trying this yourself, it might be just as well to add these touches after or even before priming.

For the poured icing on the stars and trees, I used acrylic modeling paste. Thick acrylic gel medium would also probably work. Experiment with a toothpick and a damp brush and see which you like better. You might use the toothpick to apply and the damp brush to smooth things out. For the decorations on the gingerbread men, I used an even thicker product, Woodland Scenics Water effects. If you get a glob on the end of a toothpick, you can usually pull out a small string of gel. I used these pointed gel strings to ‘draw’ on the stripes and dab on the circular buttons and eyes. Once the acrylic medium product fully cured (which doesn’t take long at all for small things like this), I painted over it with the appropriate colours. I had been dreading painting the decorations, but it was easier and more fun than I had expected. And far less sticky than decorating real cookies!

Unfortunately I do not have any photos of the process of applying or painting the decorations as the deadline was looming by that point. I do have some pictures from before I added the decorations, though, so you can see how much it adds to the final look of the figure. 

Yeti pre front 450

Yeti pre back 450

If you aren’t sure what to buy to get to the minimums for free promotion products, Reaper also has a selection of holiday figures available for sale only at this time of the year, as well as a set of holiday themed paints only available in the set. Some of the colours in that set are definite fan favourites, and others are fairly new, having only been introduced last year.

2018HolidayPromoMarquee960x480

I’ll see you back here in a couple of days with some pictures of an adorable dragon hoard!

Link to Reaper Miniatures: http://www.reapermini.com

Caerindra Thistlemoor – Roughing In Lights and Shadows

Throughout 2018 Reaper Miniatures has been running a monthly promotion. For each $40 spent through their webstore, the buyer receives one free Dungeon Dweller figure of the month. These figures are also available for purchase throughout the month and going forward. They’re not limited edition, just a bonus for buying through the site. For me, one of the coolest things about this promotion is that each of these figures has been painted by a different painter, and each has a free PDF painting guide available via Reaper’s site. This gives you the opportunities to have insights into the working process of a wide variety of painters. There’s even a free dungeon adventure available!

http://www.reapermini.com/DungeonDwellers

There is one double-up of painters throughout the dozen figures –  I painted the February figure, and just recently I also finished the December figure. I’m still putting the finishing touches on the painting guide to go with it, but in the meantime thought I would share a little bit of the painting process here. First here, are some pictures of the completed figure.

Caerindra front view

Caerindra face

Caerindra back view

I chose not to use any of the pre-painting techniques to build contrast that I talked about in my contrast series. I did, however, pose the miniature under a strong light source to take photos I could reference while painting. (Here’s a link to the contrast painting techniques post: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/10/16/how-to-paint-contrast-hands-on/)

Photo of front of primed figure under a strong light.

Photo of back of primed figure under a strong light.

When applying paint to the various areas of the figure, I began by roughing in the main highlights, shadows, and midtones. I did not worry about small details like rivets or finer folds, or things like pulling out the edges. My goal was to the capture the big picture areas of light and shadow as depicted in the reference photos. However, I was also conscious of the fact that not every material reflects light in the same way. The figure in the reference photo is one single material – primed metal. But in painting the figure I was trying to create the appearance of several different materials – metal, leather, cloth, skin, hair, etc. So I had to consider the nature of each of those materials and factor that in to the appearance of light and shadow upon them.

Here are some work-in-progress pictures to illustrate how I approached this process when painting the non-metallic metal areas of the figure.

Rough in of NMM from side view.You can see that I’ve ignored details such as the rivets and the dark shadow lines between the plates. I’ve done some rudimentary wet blending while applying the paint, but I’m not overly concerned about a smooth finish at this point, either. My goal is correct and effective placement of the main shadows, highlights, and midtones.

Blended stage of NMM from side viewOnce I establish the placement of the main shadows, highlights, and midtones, then I can start to refine. First I work on cleaning up the blending and refining the shadow and highlight placement. Then I pick out the details like the rivets and the shadow lines between plates.

Rough in of NMM from front view.Another view of the process. You can see how the placement of the shadows and highlights is influenced by the shape of the objects. The highlights appear to one edge of flat planes like armour plates, but as more of a bullseye circle on the round form of the helmet. Some kneepads are sculpted with a rounded form and would be painted more like the helmet. The kneepads on this figure have a ridge down the middle turning each into two different faces. Placing the shadow and highlight in opposition on planes that meet like that helps create the illusion of shininess. If you scroll back up to the finished figure, you can see that I did the same thing with the sword. This was particularly helpful on the kneepads. I kept those relatively dark so as not to compete with the main areas of interest on the figure (and due to their position), but I still wanted them to ‘read’ as shiny metal. Juxtaposing very dark shadows with lighter areas helps create that illusion.

Blended version of NMM from front view.Smoothness and detail can seem like the important elements, but they won’t have any substance if the choices for placement of highlights, shadows, and midtones is incorrect, or if they lack sufficient contrast to represent the depicted material. 

Hopefully that peek into the painting process was useful. I’ll be detailing the exact colours I used and talking about painting red hair and freckles in the painting guide that will go up on the Reaper site. If you’d like to grab a copy of Caerindra Thistlemoor of your own, you’ll find her at the link below. Though Reaper is about to unveil their 12 Days of Reaper special promotion, so you might want to wait a day or three…

http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/7012/latest/7012

Fall Colours

I live in the southeast of the United States, and while our days are getting colder and shorter, we are also still enjoying the last gasp of the beautiful colours of fall foliage. All the red and gold splendor and cool blue skies got me thinking about these figures I painted not too long ago, which also got me thinking about a useful tool to use for developing a colour scheme for a miniature.

Bards face 600

These figures were painted for Dark Sword Miniatures. They were part of a Kickstarter campaign for a line of classic character class miniatures appropriate for use in role-playing games, which were designed by the talented artist Stephanie Law. Bards are my favourite character class, so I was excited when Dark Sword offered me the opportunity to paint these. Stephanie’s concept sketches included some fallen leaves, so an autumnal colour scheme was a pretty natural choice. I also tried to incorporate the values (light, medium, or dark colours) she used in her concept sketches into my colour choices for the figures.

22d4f73c8718bd7886083bb5cf9a939a original

I don’t paint with oranges and yellows very often, so this was a novel experience. The face on the female bard is one of the loveliest face sculpts I’ve ever had the opportunity to paint. Sculptor Patrick Keith really did a fantastic job with this one. It reminded me of a figure from a Renaissance painting. I enjoyed the rest of the miniature quite a bit, too. I love painting hair, and she has lovely flowing locks. The sense of movement in her skirt was also a lot of fun, as well as the fun detailing to her outfit. 

A9a692b020dd27ca333bba1023453d8e original

I also enjoyed painting the male, of course. His clothing is more finely detailed than hers in several respects, which made the occasion for some different types of painting. He also has some fun details on his instrument. 

Bards front 600

When you look at the two figures side by side, they work as a bit of an example of how using the same colours in different proportions can alter the appearance or effect of the colour scheme as a whole. The woman’s colour scheme is almost entirely made up of warm colours, with just a small area of lace and her jewelry in the cool blue colour. The man has a much larger proportion of the cool sky blues used. Where the yellow was more of an accent colour on the woman, the yellow, orange, and brown appear in almost equal proportion on the man. 

When you’re making a decision about a colour scheme, the colours you choose are not the only consideration. Where you put those colours and the proportion of each to the others can have a dramatic impact on drawing the viewer’s attention where you want it (or shifting it along from where you don’t), and the overall mood and personality of the figure. 

This next picture might look kind of goofy, but it’s a handy tool for working on colour schemes, so don’t dismiss it too quickly. It demonstrates a couple of ways that I work through and test colour ideas. Up top are basic swatches. I’ll often try to make these roughly match the areas of a figure and the proportions in which the colours would be used, but the main point of the exercise is to get colours next to each other to see if they look good together and give a decent range of values. You can see that my initial thoughts about the colours were still autumnal, but very different from where I ended up!

IMG 5165

Just above the figure are some transitions from light to dark. When I find a midtone colour that I like for an area, I’ll often test different shadow and highlight options in this way to see what fits the colour and what I’m trying to do with the piece.

Lastly you can see a very rough representation of the male bard. My goal with this is not a fine drawing or painting, it’s still about testing the colour. I place the colours down in roughly the place and size of how they would appear on the figure to better get an idea of whether the colour scheme works with the figure. I ended up changing the hair colour and increasing the proportion of the cool sky colour, but overall I ended up painting pretty close to my test version. It might seem that something like this wastes time, but it’s a lot quicker to do a few rough colour sketches like this than to do a lot of repainting on the figure itself! I used to use index cards for this, but I have since found that good quality drawing paper is better but still quite affordable tool for these kinds of tests.

The painter who first exposed me to this idea is the very talented Derek Schubert. His colour sketches are quite lovely and artistic. He keeps a sketchbook for doing colour tests and working out ideas for figures. I’ve since seen other painters do similar things. If you have a picture of a plain sculpt of your figure, you can convert it to black and white and use a computer or tablet photo or graphics editing program to ‘paint’ on colours for similar tests, or print it out onto paper and paint on it. If you look at the beginning of the video at this link, you can see a colour scheme test like that of Marike Reimer’s Crystal Brush winning piece, Kraken Priestess: http://www.destroyerminis.com/kraken-priestess-video/

Another option is to ‘sketch’ directly on the figure and roughly block in your colour choices. This can occasionally be risky with smaller scale and very finely proportioned figures (as Dark Sword figures often are) as it risks clogging up some of the detail of the figure with paint if you revise your colour scheme ideas multiple times. 

Bards back 600

Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post:

Dark Sword Stephanie Law figure line: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/stephanie-law-masterworks.html
Stephanie Law’s website: http://www.shadowscapes.com
Patrick Keith’s website: http://www.patrickkeith.com
Derek Schubert gets a lot done by spending minimal time online, but here is a short bio: http://www.reapermini.com/Artists#Derek%20Schubert
Marike Reimer’s main website: http://www.destroyerminis.com

AdeptiCon 2019 – Registration Opens Monday November 18

I’ve written before about why I recommend that miniature painters and enthusiasts attend conventions. I’ve also previously talked about ReaperCon in particular. It remains my favourite miniature-focused convention, but AdeptiCon runs a close second, and it offers some features I have not found elsewhere. (See the bottom of this post for links to previous articles and other sites/companies/people mentioned in this post.)

Registration for AdeptiCon passes, events, and hobby classes opens on Monday, November 18 at 1pm Central time. For more information on the convention in general, start with the following below. To see a preview of classes and events, select the Register option at the top of that page. I’ll share some information about the classes that I am teaching here, but for full details, check out the events on AdeptiCon’s site. There are a wealth of classes with lots of different instructors.

https://www.adepticon.org

Hobby Classes – Painting, Sculpting, Scenics

AdeptiCon offers an impressive array of hobby class topics and instructors. The focus is on painting topics, but there are also classes for sculpting, and for scenics like terrain and bases. One interesting feature of AdeptiCon classes that started just last year is they have variable length classes. The short class this year is 1.5 hours long. There’s a medium length of 3.5 hours, and a long format of 5.5 hours. As both an instructor and a student of miniature painting classes, I love this idea! Some topics just can’t easily be squeezed down to 90-120 minutes, especially if you want to teach them as hands-on classes where people get a chance to practice concepts and techniques during the class.

Painting class with Raffaele PiccaTaken during a class with Raffaele Picca at AdeptiCon 2016.

Another notable thing about AdeptiCon’s class schedule is that it typically features sessions with international painters. Every year several international artists travel to AdeptiCon to participate in the Crystal Brush painting contest (more on that below). Most of them also take the opportunity to share their wisdom in painting classes. I don’t think there is another convention in North America with as much access to international artists.

As if all of that weren’t enough, the AdeptiCon hobby team works very hard to make the experience as positive as possible for everyone involved. The class rooms are large and decently lit. Each holds only one class at a time and doors can be closed, so it’s a quiet, focused environment. Where instructors request it, access to airbrushes or computer projection screens and the like is provided. Classrooms are also furnished with basic paints, brushes, and related supplies. Damon Drescher is the current lead of the hobby team, and he and all of the other volunteers do a wonderful job with the coordination, logistics, and on-site help with this event.

If you do want to take a class, I recommend that you consider bringing a few supplies of your own, however. In particular, bring your own brushes, and bring good quality ones if you’re taking intermediate or advanced classes. You will need a quality sable brush with a good point to be able to execute most techniques taught in anything other than basics classes. Hotel/convention center lighting isn’t always the best, so if you use magnification at home, bring your visor or reading glasses with you. In a similar vein, if you can squeeze a small battery powered lamp into your travel kit, I highly recommend that. Every class I teach I have at least one person frustrated about not being able to see as well as they’d like. It’s not feasible to expect the convention or instructors to be able to provide lighting (or magnification) for every student in every class. A variety of cheap battery operated or rechargeable lamp options is available via avenues like Amazon.

Rhonda Bender’s Classes for AdeptiCon 2019

This year I am teaching one shorter lecture/discussion class, and two mid-length hands-on classes.

Level Up Your Painting From Intermediate to Advanced
Thursday, March 28 from 2:30pm to 4pm CET
A survey of a lot of topics aside from technique that can help painters progress from intermediate to advanced level painting – understanding critique and assessing your figures with a more critical eye, improving contrast, improving use of colour, composition, referencing real life, balancing visual interest with realism, and many more. Includes a 12 page handout, but I recommend you bring paper and pen to take additional notes.

Painted Ladies
Friday March 29 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
What characteristics make a person look more feminine or more masculine, and how can we apply that to small miniature figures? We’ll start with the body and howto  place shadows and highlights on those tricky curves. Then we’ll work on how to render a face and its features in a way that appears more feminine, even at gaming scale. This longer class format will allow us plenty of time to both discuss the theories and practice hands-on.

Transparent Cloth
Saturday, March 30 from 1pm to 4:30pm CET
How do you make a solid material like metal or resin look like filmy transparent cloth? I’m excited to have this longer class format to show people. It will give us time to discuss the theory and then practice hands-on with the various areas of a miniature that need to come together to create this illusion. 

I would like to thank Dark Sword Miniatures and Reaper Miniatures for their support of my classes, at both this event and over many long years. I couldn’t offer what I do without their generousity and assistance!

James Wappel in the Hobby lounge at AdeptiConThe legendarily speedy and creative painter James Wappel is a prominent fixture in the hobby lounge. He is always very generous with his time in explaining and demonstrating his unique techniques, use of oil paints, and his general creativity. His wife Cathy is also a great painter and often found nearby. A lot of the luminaries of miniature painting who attend AdeptiCon will spend some time painting here and may be willing to share some tips and information.

The Hobby Lounge

The hobby team sets up the the lobby of the classrooms area as an open painting area. Tables are provided so that people have a place to sit down and paint. Which many do! Many people hang out here to swap tips and tricks, meet new friends or catch up with old, so don’t be shy. Some people just stop by for a moment to touch up their armies before heading to a tournament. And there are always some frantically trying to finish up their Crystal Brush entries! (In fact if you find the hobby lounge too crowded the first day or two of the convention, check back after the contest entry deadline and you should have much less trouble getting a seat.)

The hobby lounge may make a few lights available, but apart from that you will need to bring your own supplies.

Vendor Area

If you’re interested in miniatures, the vendor area of AdeptiCon is tough to beat. Many miniatures companies set up booths, of course, but there is much more than that. There are companies selling brushes, paints, and other hobby paraphernalia. There are booths filled with amazing buildings, terrain, and other scenic elements. It’s a great place to try out a new game or pick up some dice. And there are always a few non-miniature cool geek booths that might sell jewelry or drinking horns, or who knows what else?!

Games Workshop fans will also want to check out the bitz vendors in the hallways near the vendor hall. There are additional scheduled bitz exchanges for players.

A vendor selling cool Western buildingsBuildings, ships, terrain, I’ve seen just so many cool things for sale at booths at AdeptiCon!

Vendor selling diceIt’s not a geek convention without dice, is it?

Happy AdeptiCon shoppersSave up your pennies and then spend them at AdeptiCon, and you too can be as happy as Rex Grange and Jen Greenwald!

Reper Miniatures paint and take tablesReaper Miniatures is one of the vendors at AdeptiCon. Every year they set up tables where you can sit down and paint one of their Bones figures. They supply the paint, brushes, and other materials, and you keep the figure. The placemats on the tables also have a small preview of the material I wrote for Reaper’s Learn to Paint: Core Skills kit.

Gaming!

While the hobby offerings have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, AdeptiCon has always been a convention for gamers. The primary gaming focus is on miniatures war games, of course. These include casual play events and tournaments for a wide variety of game systems. Check out the events preview for more information.

Board Game library at AdeptiConApologies for the blurry picture! This is the board game library for AdeptiCon. There are more games than in the photo. See a link to a complete list of games in the library at the bottom of this post.

If you’d like a break from miniatures games, there is also a small variety of scheduled role-playing and board game events. And a board game library where you can borrow one of the provided games to play with your friends in between scheduled events.

Other Activities

AdeptiCon is a pretty focused convention, so there aren’t a ton of other activities, but there is some costuming. There is also a contest for army board displays that is separate from the Crystal Brush. These are huge displays that often feature light and sound effects in addition to amazing scenics. I am impressed by the creativity on display every year. In previous years these army displays get set up in the main hallway on Saturday evening. To see them at other times you will need to wander the various gaming areas where the armies are being put to use and not just on display. (It’s worth a little side trip to see!)

A costumer at AdeptiCon 2018.Costuming isn’t a big focus at AdeptiCon but at the same time, there are always at least a few really amazing costumes at the show.

Army display board at AdeptiCon.This is just a small part of one of the fantastic display boards that I have seen at AdeptiCon. Some of them take all the year between one con and the next for their builders to complete!

The Crystal Brush Painting Contest

The Crystal Brush is pretty legendary in the miniature painting hobby. The prize for the best in show figure is $8,000, with prizes of $3,000 and $2,000 for second and third. There are also Gold, Silver, and Bronze prizes for the best three miniatures in each category. These receive smaller cash prizes of $200, $100, and $50. There may also be additional manufacturer prizes awarded.

Given the purse, you can imagine that some pretty top talent throws a hat into the ring each year. It is definitely a very competitive contest. If that type of environment spurs you to greater heights, this is the contest for you! If you prefer more of an open show environment, you might find that you’d get more enjoyment as a viewer than as an entrant. I myself have gone one way some years, and the other direction in other years. 

Crystal Brush contest cases at AdeptiConThe cases fill up with entries as the contest deadline draws closer. Painters submit their entries at the white table to the far right.

One other thing that is unique about the Crystal Brush is how the winners are selected. There is an on-site judging team coordinated by the fantastic painter Jennifer Haley. The guest judges each year are well-known painters and hobbyists. But they decide only a half of the score for an entry. The top 10-12 first cut entries are posted on the CMON site for live voting during the convention. The scores they receive make up the other half of the voting. So an entrant needs to paint to appeal to both a team of highly skilled judges, but also consider the popular tastes of voters and making an entry that photographs well to succeed. If you do want to enter, make sure that you read all of the rules and guidelines on the page linked below. You don’t want to accidentally disqualify yourself for having the wrong size of base or having shown pictures in advance in the wrong venue. (This is a far more common occurrence at contests than you might imagine.)

http://www.crystalbrush.com

Even if you don’t want to enter the contest yourself, it is definitely worth taking some time to look at the entries. The level of craftsmanship and creativity on display is always impressive. Unfortunately the miniatures are displayed in cases in the vendor hall, so you can only access them during vendor hall hours, and there can be small crowds of viewers at times, but it is well worth the effort. The miniatures being in cases also makes them a little tricky to photograph, so the pictures below definitely do not capture the pieces to best advantage.

Bust entries at Crystal BrushBust is an increasingly popular category at Crystal Brush.

Chibi entries at Crystal BrushChibi style figures are one of the categories, and often the most fun and creative one!

Large size entries at Crystal BrushOther categories include large figure, monster/vehicle, and more And of course single gaming scale figures in a couple of different themes. There are also generally some nice historical themed entries, too.

Links and Information

I hope you’ll consider coming out to AdeptiCon 2019! If you are thinking of coming and have any questions about my classes, please just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Some Prose on Cons – why I think miniature painters should attend conventions: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/09/some-prose-on-cons-conventions-and-shows/
ReaperCon – not Just for Reapers (my description of ReaperCon specifically. Not too early to plan!): https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/15/reapercon-not-just-for-reapers/
AdeptiCon main page: https://www.adepticon.org
AdeptiCon events page: http://www.cvent.com/events/adepticon-2019/agenda-7822dab492fa4ed0bde10d960366d97c.aspx
AdeptiCon vendor list: https://www.adepticon.org/sponsors/
AdeptiCon board game library game list: https://www.adepticon.org/librarium/
Reaper Miniatures: http://www.reapermini.com
Dark Sword Miniatures: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/
Crystal Brush main page: http://www.crystalbrush.com/
Raffaele Picca web page: http://www.raffaelepicca.com
Damon Drescher’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/damon_drescher/?hl=en
James Wappel’s blog: https://wappellious.blogspot.com
Jen Greenwald’s blog: https://minipainterjen.blogspot.com

Measuring Progress – More than “Better”

I think many of us tend to judge our progress of improvement in miniature painting by indicators like making first cut or placing in a contest, going from a bronze to silver then silver to gold medals in open shows, scores on sites like CMON or Putty & Paint, or even just getting a lot of likes and comments posting to social media sites like Facebook or Instagram.

Portraits combo1You probably think that the portrait on the right was drawn after the portrait on the left. (And some time after, at that!) You would be wrong. I drew them both last month, and the poorly drawn one was drawn after the better one. Yet overall I still feel pretty positive about my progress in learning to draw, and I think that I am improving. How can that be so? Read on to find out!

Contest placements and viewer responses absolutely can be valid markers of progress, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competitive spirit pushing you to strive and try new things! But when we rely only on those kinds of external judgments, we risk getting discouraged if they don’t come when we expect or when we feel like we need a little boost.  It’s also possible to plateau for a while in terms of the objective ‘quality’ of your paint job, but still be improving by other measures. It’s not necessarily that we don’t value these other measures, but often other types of improvement are subtle enough that we overlook them, or dismiss their value.

So today let’s talk about how ‘getting better’ at an artistic skill encompasses a lot more than just generating a more attractive looking end result.

Faster

Speed is definitely an area to consider. If you can paint a figure of the same quality today in half the time or 75% of the time, or even 90% of the time that it used to take you, then that is definitely getting better. Faster means you’re can paint more figures within your allotted hobby time, or that you have some additional time to spend on each figure to work on pushing your skills with techniques and effects that eventually will drive your quality up a notch.

For my fellow super slow painters, the reverse is also true! If you are still taking 10 or 20 or however many hours to paint a figure, but you’re also gradually improving the quality of each, that still means you’re getting better and making progress. Do not despair!

And an important note – I’m talking about improving your speed using techniques/paints/tools with which you are familiar. When you try new things, you have to accept that it’s going to take you longer with them than with your usual methods and materials! I mention this because I’ve definitely been in the position of feeling like I should be able to just pick up something new and run with it because I’ve been painting for X amount of time or at Y level. There’s always a learning curve. If anything, the more practiced you are with one method and set of tools, the more of an initial hurdle of time and discomfort that you might have when trying something new.

6m man better stronger fasterThey didn’t just rebuild Steve Austin to be BETTER. They also rebuilt him FASTER and STRONGER.

Stronger (or Easier)

When you first started to paint, almost everything seemed like a challenge and required a lot of focused concentration. Just figuring out how to hold the brush and the miniature and then getting the paint to go close to where you wanted it (and not on top of something else you just painted.) Then you start learning next steps like making washes or applying drybrushing, or maybe painting layers or wetblending. If you’ve been painting a while, likely you then tried your hand at trickier effects, like non-metallic metal or source lighting or whatever else.

Whatever stage of the miniature paining journey that you’re on, the elements you’re trying to master right now are challenging and often it may often seem like you take one step forward and two steps back. But very likely you’re forgetting how much you’ve learned in previous stages.

When you first started painting everything was challenging and required concentration. But if you stop and think about it, I bet there are skills that you’ve mastered so well that you now perform them almost unconsciously. Think back to the first few miniatures you painted or tasks that you really struggled with when you first started painting. Maybe you still struggle with lining or freehand, but isn’t it easier overall to get the brush where you want it than it was at first? Is it as tough to choose wash or shadow colours as it was before? Do you need to go back over sections making as many corrections for brush slips as much as you used to?

Whatever you’re working on now might still feel really difficult, but give yourself credit for all the skills that you’ve already mastered. That genuinely does count as ‘getting better’! If you really hadn’t improved at all, you’d still have to concentrate and work hard at every single element of prepping and painting a figure.

Hand versus Eye

You may not have a bionic hand and eye like Steve Austin, but the concept of the hand and the eye, or sometimes, the hand versus the eye, is very pertinent to building art related skills.

The ‘hand’ refers to the mechanical type skills related to painting – methods of manipulating the brush and the paint and similar things. People learning art skills tend to get really hung up on this aspect of it. We spend the majority of our learning efforts concentrating on elements related to the hand.

We spend much less time thinking or talking about the ‘eye’ part of the equation, which is unfortunate, because it’s a lot more important than we often think. The ‘eye’ element encompasses the idea of being able to look at something and really see it. This is a more complex concept that it might seem, and I imagine I’ll make future blog posts that delve into this in more detail in the future.

One example of being able to truly see things is referencing life. If you want to paint leather or hair or metal that looks convincing, you need to study those things in the real world. You have to assess where they look darker or lighter, the proportion of darker to lighter, what the natural colours of those things are in different lighting circumstances, and a number of other factors, and then try to figure out how to apply that information to a figure in a way that looks both pleasing and somewhat realistic.

Looking at something and really seeing it also applies to looking at our work and the work of others and assessing its strengths and weaknesses, as well as making comparisons. A person newer to painting can look at a really world class figure and a fairly good figure and genuinely not see major differences between them. Or they might see some differences, but not really be able to identify what those are.

The ability of your artistic eye grows just as your manual dexterity skills do. One of the things that can throw us is that they don’t always level up at the same time. If you are going through a period where you feel like everything you paint looks worse than usual, it’s very likely that your eye has improved. You are able to assess your figures more critically and see your weaknesses more clearly. This very likely does not feel like positive progress! But it can be, if you use your improved eye to try to identify specific weaknesses in your work and then put together a plan of action for ways to possibly address them.

Conversely, if you go through a period where you think everything you paint looks pretty fantastic, it’s possible that your abilities to manipulate brush and paint have improved, but your critical eye is lagging a little behind.

Portraits combo2I was pretty unhappy with the drawing on the left. I do feel like I should know better at this stage of practice and training. But rather than beat myself up about it, I decided to just try again and push myself to do better. It is definitely pretty mortifying to be sharing something I consider a failure publicly, but it if helps other people learn or be kinder to themselves, then it is well worth a little public embarassment.

So if I know how to draw a decent portrait, how did I end up drawing a bad one like the above? Unconscious mastery and the importance of the eye are two of the pieces of that puzzle. The poor portrait was drawn at an art store demo. I knew I had limited time with the materials and was eager to try them out. I am still learning to draw, and getting proper proportions and correct shapes as well as placing the features of the face in the right places takes a lot of concentration and effort for me. In other words, I need to consciously put my eye (observation skills) into artist mode and check and recheck my work. With the poor portrait, I rushed through the steps of forcing my eye to do its job to get to the fun hands-on stuff of doing the shading and colouring in the drawing.

The better version of this same face was drawn with the opposite focus. I spent about the same amount of time overall, but a lot more of the time was spent on the basic drawing and checking proportions and placements. So it’s not rendered to the same degree, but it’s overall a much better drawing. But even the poor portrait isn’t cause to beat myself up as a total failure. I was a lot more comfortable with the tools and doing the shading and rendering than I was the first few times I did those things. I was a lot less phased by the limited colour selection of the tools offered in the demo than I would have been years ago before learning general colour theory. (In the event that anyone is curious, the pencil portrait up at the top is more finely rendered, and probably took 2-3 times as long to do as each of the colour portraits.)

The Big Picture

When assessing your progress, try not to focus on a single event or metric. And try to make note of improvements in your process and comfort level, rather than looking only to external markers like positive feedback or contest results. There are going to be moments when you try something new and don’t succeed as well as you’d like, or even at all. There are even going to be moments where you backslide on things you thought you mastered. Those are just individual points on a graph. If your overall graph line is moving upwards, you’re still making progress!

Have you had any moments where you heard a ding! and you felt like you’d leveled up? Or moments when you stepped back and realized that you were getting better in ways you hadn’t thought about before? I hope you’ll share your experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear!