Show up to a Show – in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and…

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.

Entries display at Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018This 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.

Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford's entry to Fantasy Painters in 2018 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.

Horror entries from Atlanta Military Figure ShowIf 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!

Scratch built interpretation of a panel of a Mayan engraving.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.

Example of a Fantasy Open entryIn 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 of flats are as diverse as figuresThe 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.  

Awards at AMFS 2018In 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.

Award winnersFantasy/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. 

A range of levels is welcomed in the Open show formatYou 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.)

Seminars

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.

Vendors

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.

Vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showBoxes of busts and larger scale figures at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

More vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showModel kits on the near table and a view of one section of the vendor hall at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

Hospitality Suite

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!

Hospitality suite at AMFS 2017Enjoying 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. 

Magic cards come to lifeI 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 schedule for AMFS 2018

Scan of AMFS schedule 2018Scan 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.

Hands on How To with Paint Resolutions

We’re a few days into the new year, and I imagine the reality that resolutions are a lot easier to make than they are to keep is coming clear for a lot of us. (I certainly have not been a brand new me…) So as promised in the last post, I want to discuss some concrete strategies for how to put resolutions like ‘paint more’ into place amidst the reality of busy lives and crowded homes. Many thanks to the people who posted ideas and experiences on my Facebook posts to help contribute to this post If some of the issues you’re having or some successful strategies you have tried aren’t mentioned below, I hope you’ll share them in the comments and continue the discussion!

My New Year's photoHey, it’s the photo I’ve been using at New Year’s since 2017! In my last post I promised to share what happened with these figures. Read through the comments on photos in this post to find out. I have to admit that sharing this photo and realizing how long some of these had been mouldering did push me to do some work in Januarys past.

Time Constraints

It’s easy to feel like you need a block of several hours to sit down and paint or it’s just not worth the bother. But with work, school, family, friends, and other demands on our time, it can end up pretty hard to find blocks of several free hours. If you’ve been waiting and waiting to paint until you have some free time like that, you might want to try painting in shorter blocks of time. If you can get an hour to yourself every few days, or even 30 minutes every day, you might be able to get more done than you think. It might not be the way you want to do it, it might not be ideal, but it might also beat the alternative of not getting in any paint time at all. So if this is your issue, give shorter sessions a shot! Maybe it’s a perfect time to try speed painting, or work on grunt type figures for your game. I recommend some speed painting practice even to those who primarily paint display. I found that working this way really did end up helping my painting in general. Partly in terms of time, and partly just to help me loosen up a little and discover that a lot of things can be corrected or improved later. You don’t have to get every step right along the way or it’s all doomed.

If you are able to set up a painting area in your home, that will help a lot. Try to create a system of logical (to you) storage for your materials, as well. If you keep your paints jumbled up loose in a box, you’ll lose a lot of time searching for particular colours. Store paints and other tools in a more systematic way. Put a drop of paint on the lid of each bottle and/or paint a swatch of paint onto the label to help you find colours more quickly. Have a drawer for brushes and paper towels, and another for basing materials, etc. I’m not saying you have to be a super organized neat freak. That would be very hypocritical of me as my painting area is generally pretty messy. :-> But it’s a chaos organized in a way that my brain understands. Every paint has its place, and I can usually find my commonly used paints and tools very quickly. (Finding the less commonly used stuff can be a bit more of a trick, granted.)

Tillie, Fighter PilotTillie, Fighter Pilot by Bombshell figures was the first of the miniatures in the New Year’s photo that I finished painting. She was awarded a silver medal at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018, and first place Bombshell Babe at ReaperCon 2017. I had a lot of fun making her leather suit look well-worn but still army tiptop.

Even just storing the paints and tools for your current project on a tray you can safely store on top of a bookshelf can help speed things up. If keeping things out of the way of others isn’t an issue, fit setting up and putting things away in around other tasks (while cooking or doing laundry, say), so that when you’re ready to sit down for your 30-60 minutes you can spend the whole time actually painting (or prepping or basing.) Another thing that is helpful with this approach is to try to map out your next session before your last has ended. While you’re working, try to identify one or two things to work on next time, so you will be able to just sit down and get started. Write down your ideas if you’re a forgetful person. It is also helpful to be working on two or three figures at a time. Then if a wash is drying on one, you can pick up another and work on it while you wait. A hairdryer is a useful tool to speed paint drying. 

Space Constraints

It is very helpful to have a dedicated area of your home set up for you to paint in. As outlined above, this makes it easier to keep your tools tidy and to-hand, and to jump in and get to work on projects and then stop as needed. Unfortunately that kind of space is not a luxury that everyone will have. But there are definitely ways to manage with less space, or even to make a portable painting kit that you can travel with to paint wherever you find yourself.

This is an area where I don’t have a lot of personal experience to offer, but I have seen discussions with many creative answers to the problem in forum discussions and Facebook groups. So if you need more ideas, try starting a conversation in a venue like that. If you aren’t currently a member of a group like this, two I can recommend as helpful and lively discussion areas are the forums at Reaper Miniatures (http://forum.reapermini.com/) and the Hobby Hangout group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thehobbyhangout/).

Portable Paint StationThis portable paint station was part of a Kickstarter and is available for preorder. I have no experience with the company or the product. The Kickstarter page with pre-order link is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/695455704/portable-paint-station-take-paints-minis-and-tools/comments

Start by trying to condense your tools and materials down to just what you need for your current project. Pick out a small selection of paints and brushes. Find a container with a watertight lid to keep your water in. You will also need to find a palette solution that works for the way you paint. This could be as simple as a plastic plate, or a low profile food storage container if you like to use a wet palette. Include a small box with bubble wrap or other method to secure your miniature(s) while your hobby supplies container is in storage or transit. You can buy small brush holders to protect your brushes, or try using poster tac to stick them to the inside lid of your storage box. If lighting is an issue, you can buy small and inexpensive LED lamps off Amazon. For a storage box you can consider solutions as diverse as craft organizer tubs, large gun cases or brief cases, and many other options. I have seen some very creative solutions that people have built for themselves if you happen to be handy. There’s a link to some great pictures on this Pinterest collection: https://www.pinterest.com/captainfatnasty/portable-paint-stations/. For more commercially available options and inspiration ideas, try doing a Google search for ‘portable paint station’.

Mental Constraints

I’m going to discuss some dilemmas that are purely of the mind, but I think a lot of issues like the space and time constraints also have a mental component. If you feel like you don’t have enough time and/or space to paint, there’s no way around the fact that it is going to take some shifts of thought as well as process to make it happen, and that’s uncomfortable. You’re going to have to identify issues and come up with solutions, and you’re going to have to accept that these solutions might not look like what want or how you think things should be. I think sometimes it can be helpful to be very mindful about your alternatives. Is it better for you to not paint at all if you can’t do it the way you want, or is painting an activity that you get enough out of that it’s worth pursuing some alternatives to see if you can make it work after all?

For example, you might be someone who likes to have a collection of 100 or 200 paints. Maybe you find mixing paint to be time consuming and inconvenient, or maybe you just aren’t very confident about colour. But if you just don’t have space to keep out that amount of paint right now, or if all your paint dried up and you can’t afford to replace that many, you just can’t paint the way you prefer. So why not try the idea of putting together a small set of paints and mixing? It’s a pretty great way to learn a lot more about colour. It might take more time to mix, but at least it’s time spent at an activity you enjoy. Or maybe you try it for a while and you learn that you just cannot handle painting that way, and you choose not to pursue this hobby at this time. That is you making an active choice then, not feeling like life is keeping you from what you want to do.

Burgundy Wine MageThe second time I posted the New Years photo I figured I really needed to finish up this figure. It was just so close to done, needing only some gold NMM and to paint up the pages of the book, plus a few touch-ups. Seeing the photo again pushed me to finally get those parts finished! It’s not the best mini ever but it was a fun test of unifying colours. (Every area of the figure incorporates the dark pink seen on her boots, including shadows of hair and skin.)

For some of us, the main issues holding us back in our pursuit of our hobby right now might be primarily mental. Perfectionism is one that several people mentioned in our discussions on Facebook. I think there are a few different varieties of that – avoiding doing anything cause if you don’t try you can’t fail; spending a lot of time and/or stress on something trying to get it just right; starting off with the intention of trying freehand or another technique/effect but then wimping out because the figure is going well so far and you don’t want to ‘ruin’ it, and many, many other scripts that our brains recite that knock us off track.

Unfortunately there are not quick or simple solutions for this like swatching your paint or finding a storage container, or even better time management. You’re going to have to spend some time trying to dig into your mind scripts and figure out root causes and ways to soothe or sidetrack your mind. 

One suggestion I’ll make is to have a conversation with yourself about the alternatives and consequences. What’s the worst thing that happens if you try something and you fail? You don’t even have to show it to anyone else! You can paint over it, or strip it and paint over it. Or just call it done, figure out what you’ve learned, and move on to the next figure. And on the other side of the equation, what’s the worst thing that happens if you keep not painting at all? You’re just as guaranteed not to succeed as you are not to fail if you don’t do anything. It’s also a great way to make sure you never learn anything and never improve at all. And most of all, it’s a way to deprive yourself of the enjoyment you get from painting.

Along those lines, it might also be helpful to figure out what you enjoy about the process of painting miniatures. What do you get out of it apart from the figure at the end? Make sure to include those things regularly in your painting process. If you need to, write the list of benefits down so that when you start roadblocking yourself, you can remind yourself that it doesn’t matter if what you paint ‘sucks’, you will still have gotten to relax/play with colour/whatever your personal joys of painting are. 

Consider adopting the goal of ‘finished not perfect’, at least for a while. Most of the time it’s better to finish something that’s just good or okay or even not amazing than it is to never complete something that might be awesome. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes just from completing a project, and never finishing things can be very discouraging. We don’t only learn from striving for perfection. In fact if you’re working on a particular skill, you are likely to learn more challenging yourself to work on it to a competent level repeatedly rather than trying to render it perfectly once. You’ll gain experience using it on different shaped surfaces, with different colours, for different moods, etc. I recommend following the artist page of Jessica Bathory if you want a great example of someone who practices finished not perfect, and who has also forged ahead with her own style of painting miniatures when she found attempts to conform to the more generally practiced styles frustrating. (https://www.facebook.com/Blood-Busts-Booze-the-painted-miniatures-of-Jessica-Bathory-329890724470632/)

A far as ‘ruining’ a figure that is going well, which was certainly a fear of mine for many years, and one that held me back considerably… Getting something that looks great can be a fluke, but if you’re really learning, success starts to become repeatable. One of my big fears was freehand. Looking back at it, I had reached the point where I was pretty competent at blending. So if my freehand sucked and I had to paint the blends back over the cloak, I would be able to paint it back to pretty much the same standard. So it was silly of me to be afraid to do that.

I was also over concerned about ‘wasting time’ in this same time period. I was (and still am, really) a pretty slow painter. So the idea of having to repaint that cloak from a time point of view was not appealing. Looking back, that also seems sort of silly. Yeah, sometimes I was on a deadline to enter a contest or for some other reason. But overall, I think I would have learned more, and more quickly, if I had paid the price in time of taking risks and failing. I think I would also have learned a lot more if I’d done more speed painting or half-assed areas that weren’t the focus of that figure. Being super persnickety and perfectionist about figure painting has had some benefits, but there are things definitely have regrets about, and I know I’ve held myself back in several ways.

Victorian Lady - contrast shiftI’ve got a blog post about this Victorian Lady, who had been sitting on my desk for upwards of three years before I put brush to hear again earlier this year. She ended up being a great example of what more and less contrast look like. I’ve since repainted her handbag. She’s still not quite done, but largely this is because I have four of these Victorians that are all on similar bases so I figure it’ll be quicker and easier to paint all the bases at once. I might give up on this notion just to get the three that are almost done to be truly done. (Blog post on this figure here: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/09/27/compare-and-contrast/.)

Roadblock: Burnout

If you paint because you’re trying to fill your table (particularly on a deadline), paint for commission, or constantly paint to enter contests, chances are good you’ve experienced burnout. You’ll reach a point where you drag your feet and avoid sitting down to work because it feels like all of it is just work and you’re just plain tired of it. Sometimes taking a break and not painting is the correct answer. But if painting is something you love and you don’t want to stop forever, try to reconnect with what it is about it that you love. Sometimes just shaking things up is enough – painting something just for you or a friend, painting a different subject matter/scale/colour than you usually do just because you want to, not because you have to.

If you’ve been suffering with burnout for a while or find that too often your painting sessions are mired in negative feelings, it might take a little more work. You’ll have to do some detective work to reconstruct or rediscover things you find fun about the process and develop ways to fit those into doing your work. Some of the tips in the next session might also be helpful for that. You might also do some work to identify which aspects are most stressful and if there are ways you can ameliorate those.

Roadblock: Boredom and/or Discomfort

Sometimes the problem isn’t getting yourself into the painting chair, it’s keeping yourself there. It’s all too easy to take a five minute break to check Facebook that turns into an hour. Or get up for a drink and forget to go sit back down. As fun as painting miniatures can be, there are likely to be parts of the process you find tedious, like painting basecoats or cleaning mouldlines. 

My first tip is to minimize discomfort. For years I painted on a chair with no back. I lean forward to paint, so why not just use the broken chair instead of wasting money on a new one? Because yeah, I lean forward to do most of my painting, but it’s also good to be able to lean back to take a break and generally shift position. My back was a lot happier once my husband forced me to buy a better chair. In a similar vein, having a desk at a good height for you, good lighting, magnification if you need it, an insulated cup to keep a drink cold/hot, whatever simple things that add to your comfort and ease – why not figure out what they are and do them so simple discomfort isn’t making you want to stop painting? 

Noir detective front 450I’ll be honest – this is not the same figure as in the photo. I painted this one years ago. The one in my New Year’s photo was from a class on painting in monochrome. And for subsequent sessions of that class, I think it’s useful to have a WIP figure to show various stages of work, so I don’t really plan on finishing the other.

The second issue I would have is that many painting tasks do not really occupy my mind that much, so I would get bored. And then I’d notice how much my back hurt on my bad chair, and then I’d definitely not want to paint for too long. My painting area was in a different room than my computer. Once tablets became a thing and I got one, that was a whole new world for me. I could put TV shows or YouTube videos on in the background! I could listen to audiobooks! Likely you’re already doing something like that, but my suggestion would be to use something like that as a lure to get you into your paint chair. Have a TV series or an audiobook that you only consume while you’re painting, and make it something really engaging. Then even if you aren’t excited to sit down and paint, you might head for your chair because you’re excited to watch the next episode and find out what happens.

Many of us are introverts who are happy to enjoy our peaceful alone time painting and listening to audiobooks. But not every geek and painter is, and even introverts need some human contact sometimes. Sharing our hobby frustrations and triumphs, having people to ask for opinions, those are very helpful things. For some it may be enough to visit hobby forums or discussion groups online, or to form a small critique circle with some friends in email or message. Others might benefit by having friends to paint with. There are people who use technology like Twitch and other chat channels to gather to paint with others. Check the Hobby Hangout group linked above for people who do this, or ask on your favourite forums or groups if people have suggestions for how to meet up with others to paint. I know a lot of pro painters and sculptors who ‘get together’ with other friends and colleagues via digital applications like this to keep their workdays from being so lonely.

I hope you’ve found some of these suggestions helpful! If you’re running into different roadblocks or you’ve been successful with other strategies, I hope you’ll share in the comments so others can benefit from them. Thanks for reading!

Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post

Tillie the Fighter Pilot by Bombshell Miniatures – http://store.bombshellminis.com/10024-tillie-fighter-pilot/
Victorian Lady (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/50327
Victorian Lady (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/80068
Female Mage by Dark Sword Miniatures – https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/visions-in-fantasy/female-mage.html
Noir Occult Detective (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/91013
Noir Occult Detective (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/59039
Reaper Miniatures forums – http://forum.reapermini.com
Hobby Hangout Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/thehobbyhangout/
Jessica Bathory artist page – https://www.facebook.com/Blood-Busts-Booze-the-painted-miniatures-of-Jessica-Bathory-329890724470632/

Resolution Revolution

Tis the season for resolutions! As I mentioned in my last post, it’s a time of year when we tend to look back on what’s come before, and think about how to improve ourselves and our lives as we look ahead. But at the same time, January first as the beginning of a new year is just a made up date on a made up calendar. It’s not even tied to a particular solar or similar phenomenon. So if you don’t feel like reflecting or making changes right now, don’t! Goals for change are just as valid on a Tuesday night in August as they are on a Monday or January first. My most successful life changes have come on random Tuesday nights than from start of the year convictions.

Happy New Year photo by crazy nanaPhoto by Crazy Nana on Unsplash.

If you are in the mood to make some changes in your life, I think prioritizing your hobby and artistic pursuits is a very valid avenue to pursue. It’s also a rare area where we can resolve to do MORE rather than less. Instead of (or along with) eat less, spend less, work less, etc., consider resolving to paint more and share the hobby more. I have some suggestions for specific goals, but before I get to that I want to talk about a more general approach to resolutions and self-improvement goals.

We tend to concentrate on the end result when we make goals – lose X pounds/kilos, paint a mini a week, save $50 a month. It can seem sensible to focus on the ultimate goal of the action/change you’re undertaking. But with a lot of these, we don’t control enough factors to guarantee constant success in the end result. If you have a month where your car needs service and your sink explodes and it’s just plain impossible to find $50 to put into savings, you ‘fail’ at your goal, even though the events that occurred were beyond your control. Instead I recommend framing resolutions around the element you can control – your behaviour. If you make an eating plan and exercise schedule your goal and you follow those, you are successfully meeting your goal even if you don’t lose exactly the amount of weight that you think you should have. You are building healthy habits and also a healthier frame of mind.

On the hobby front, an example would be instead of resolving to paint X figures per week/month/year, resolve to paint for a certain amount of time each day/week/month. This gives you the flexibility to work on something more complex, experiment with new techniques, or take as long as you want to paint a high level diorama for a gift or contest. As long as you get your butt in your chair and paint, you are succeeding at meeting your goal. DaveKay suggested this in the comments on my last post, and says his productivity dramatically increased when he reframed his goal from an end result goal to an activity based goal.

I had a similar experience with working on traditional art. I was working on it in fits and starts, but was unfocused and often had days where I wouldn’t feel ‘inspired’ or I decided I was just too tired and it was easier to just go browse Facebook. Inspired by a ‘deer’ friend, Morihalda Silversage, I joined a challenged to do some kind of artwork every day for a month. I kept going after that initial month, and have now been doing art on a daily basis for over two years. I have missed only two days in that entire span. There have been plenty of days where I only manage a few minutes worth of sketching, and others where I’ve drawn or painted for hours. But I always do something. It’s been helpful in building discipline, and making me much more accepting of failure. There are a few nice paintings or drawings that have come out of it, but there is plenty of dreck. I’m still very proud of myself for doing it. The activity itself has merit, and the discipline of doing it has merit, and both those things would make it worthwhile even if nothing I had drawn or painted was worth the paper I did it on.

Marking days off a calendarIf you do make an activity based goal, it can be helpful to record the activity to confirm that you’re staying on track. This is how I know for a certainty that I’ve done art daily for the past 25 months and that I have missed only two days. I use an activity tracker chart in my bullet journal, but there are also lots of app options and different sorts of planners. Or you can go old school like in this picture. (Photo by rawpixel from Unsplash.)

With that out of the way, here are some suggestions for positive hobby goals for 2019.

Paint More!

You can get more done painting for 30 minutes a day than you will get done if you wait and wait for a day when you have a good few hours to sit down.

Watching videos and reading forums and Facebook tips is a great way to learn about new materials and techniques, but you will never really learn and improve until you sit down with some brushes and paint and practice.

Be More Daring!

Try something that scares you a little – a more advanced technique, a more complex colour scheme, a different genre of figure than your usual, or a fancy basing element or technique. This is a great way to mix things up when you feel in a rut. 

I’m not sure why, but a lot of us are scared to paint the ‘good’ figures in our collection until we can paint really well. We hesitate to try new things so we don’t ‘ruin’ what we’re working on. Maybe you don’t want to experiment on rare collector’s items, but a great many good quality figures are easily available at a reasonable price. Don’t punish yourself painting old lumps of lead or green army men – practice on high quality figures you like that stay in catalog, like figures from Reaper Miniatures or Dark Sword Miniatures. Also an acrylic paint job on a figure is easily added to, painted over completely, or stripped off if you want to adjust a paint job from the past or start over from scratch. Apart from conversions and the like, little we do in the hobby is irrevocable. You will learn more and more quickly by taking risks and failing than you will by only painting with the techniques and colours you feel are ‘safe’. Playing it too safe is one of my biggest regrets from the period of time when I was learning to paint.

Enter a contest! Even if you feel you have no hope of winning, pushing yourself to paint at your highest quality can be a spur to try new things and get better at deadlines.

New Year's hobby photoI’ve been sharing this photo since New Years 2017 on my Facebook artist page. Next post I’ll give an update on where I am with the figures in the photo.

Share Your Hobby More!

Miniature painting can be a solitary activity. That’s one of its strengths, but it can also make it easy to lose enthusiasm. Connecting with other fans helps rebuild your excitement, and is a great way to learn and contribute.

Volunteer for miniature related events or companies at a convention. Convention event staff and miniature companies can always use more help running games, doing demos, with painting activities, and in lots of other ways. This is just as true, or more so, for small local conventions as it is for big national ones. 

Talk to your local hobby store about doing a demo or starting a regular painters’ meet up night.

Offer feedback to your fellow painters on Facebook groups, site forums, CMON, etc. Honest critique is hard to come by and very valuable. There are always new people coming into the hobby with questions about brushes, paints, all kinds of stuff that you might have answers to.

Have More Fun with Your Hobby!

It’s good to push yourself to learn more and do more, but it’s also important to remember what you find fun about this hobby and make sure you do that on a regular basis. Don’t get trapped in a cycle of perfectionism or escalating deadlines. 

 

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for your visits to this blog and interest in my thoughts. I appreciate it more than I can express. 

In my next post I’m hoping to discuss some specific strategies for trying to paint more in the coming year, and ideas for how to address some roadblocks that might prevent someone from being able to do that. I would love to hear more about what has held you back from achieving your hobby goals, and strategies you’ve tried in the comments. This is definitely an area where we can all pool information and help each other!

Links to Figures and People Mentioned in this Post

Previous post with comment by DaveKay with more on how he improved his productivity – https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/12/21/looking-behind-planning-ahead/
Morihalda Silversage’s Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/Morihalda/
Unsplash photo resource – https://unsplash.com/
Tillie the Fighter Pilot by Bombshell Miniatures – http://store.bombshellminis.com/10024-tillie-fighter-pilot/
Victorian Lady (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/50327
Victorian Lady (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/victorian/latest/80068
Female Mage by Dark Sword Miniatures – https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/visions-in-fantasy/female-mage.html
Noir Occult Detective (plastic) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/91013
Noir Occult Detective (metal) by Reaper Miniatures – http://www.reapermini.com/OnlineStore/noir/sku-down/59039

Looking Behind, Planning Ahead

Today marks the end of the solar year, and we’re in the lead-up to the end of the calendar year. It’s a good time for reflection on the year gone past, and doing some thinking about the year next to come. And this is just as relevant for our hobby interests as anything else in our lives! On this darkest day of the year (in northern climes), I’d love a little cheering up or food for thought by hearing about your hobby year.

What moments stand out to you from the past year? Did you experience revelations of learning? Did you find tools, processes, or techniques that helped you out? What did you make? What treasures did you add to your collection?

What are some of the less positive moments of your hobby life over the past year? And most importantly, are there lessons you can draw on from those to work on a plan to improve your hobby life next year? Resolutions are nice pithy proclamations, but I think it’s probably more helpful to reflect on your experiences and work to create more of a plan of action for how you might accomplish more of your hobby goals and avoid more of your hobby pitfalls in the year to come.

Cat Dragon – 12 Days of Reaper

Whew, getting close to the end of the 12 Days of Reaper! The miniature for December 15 is the last of this year’s offerings that I painted, and then tomorrow is the last day with one of the new figures for the year. Today’s figure is this adorable cat dragon. I think Julie Guthrie did a remarkable job capturing the mischief and wonder that is a cat (dragon) encountering a decorated Christmas tree. I know I’ve seen that expression many times – and dealt with the aftermath!

Cat Dragon left

Cat dragon right

Cat Dragon face

Cat Dragon back

Cat Dragon from above

As with the other holiday figures I painted in 2019, I used a grayscale underpainting with primer to paint this little guy, but I painted him first and didn’t take great pictures. I do have one camera phone picture of his grayscale stage.

Catdragon grisaille

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/

Winter Elf – 12 Days of Reaper

Before I highlight the next of the 12 Days of Reaper miniature that I painted (and my grayscale priming example of it), I’d like to talk about a limited time opportunity to own a very special miniature for a very good cause.

Jason Wiebe is one of the sculpting greats of the miniature industry. He does a lot of work for Reaper Miniatures, but has also worked for Dark Sword and many other companies. He’s suffered some health problems recently that required several major surgeries. He’s on the mend, but now his wallet is hurting badly. Bobby Jackson, another sculpting legend, has created a wonderful dwarf miniature that bears more than a passing resemblance to Jason. Reaper has cast 1000 of these in metal, and Trenchworx is working on some in resin. The metal copies are up for sale right now, and Reaper will put the resins up for sale next week. 100% of all monies received from this miniature will be sent to Jason Wiebe. Hop on over to the Reaper website if you’d like to get a copy for yourself and help out a sculptor in need.

http://www.reapermini.com

Johun rumblegutsJohun Rumbleguts is a proud dwarf, though some of his fellows find him odd for preferring cider over ale.

And now on to the 12 Days of Reaper figure for December 14. This figure premiered as a 12 Days figure last year. Bob Ridolfi did a lovely job with this one. I really enjoyed painting her with a bit of a twist on the traditional colour scheme by making white and blue the dominant colours, and the red, green, and gold accent colours. I won’t lie, the white is a little frustrating to paint at times because it takes quite a while to get smooth shadows on such a pale colour, but I loved the way it looked so much I didn’t mind. I have a small display wall shelf unit in my home, and she just glowed in there even though the light isn’t the greatest in that room.

Winter Elf front

Winter Elf back

This is another figure that I started off with grayscale primer. I used mixes of white, black, and gray brush-on primer to block in my areas of shadows, highlights, and midtones. And as usual, my focus is figuring out the big picture for those things. I’m not worried about blending, and I’m not worried about details. I think the following pictures are a pretty good example of how little I’m worried about those things. I’ve put in the highlights and shadows on her gold bodice piece, but completely ignored the stitching. The top half of her face is bright highlight colour, with no regard for smaller elements like the eyes and eyebrows or her forehead jewelry. And you can see just what I mean about rough blending on the back view.

Winter Elf grayscale back

Winter Elf grayscale front

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/

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/