Classes and Workshops – Who ‘Should’ Take Them?

I’ve been taking miniature painting classes for more than 15 years, and teaching them for more than 10. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend several weekend workshops taught by talented painters in the past few years. I’ve heard some common and diametrically opposed reactions to who should or shouldn’t be taking classes and workshops, and I wanted to write a post to share my general experiences and recommendations.

The reactions I hear tend to break down into these types of comments –

I’d love to go to a weekend workshop, but those are only for advanced level painters and I’m not a good enough yet.

But you’re a pro/advanced painter, why are you even in this class/workshop? (I sometimes get this from the instructor!)

How do I know if I’m the right level for this class/workshop?

The answer to the question of why would I attend a class or workshop if I’m already an advanced level painter is easy. At least it’s easy for me. Because there’s always something to learn! Maybe there’s a more efficient or quicker way to do something than the way I usually do. (There’s bound to be, I’m a pretty slow painter, and have a tendency to do things the hardest way possible.) Maybe it’s a different approach to lighting, or colour, or some other philosophy behind how we choose to put paint on miniatures.

Random Encounter bustThe bust I painted in the Fernando Ruiz workshop. This featured several techniques used in different ways than I usually use them. That included lots of washes on the skin to bring out the textures and add different colours, and a kind of ‘cheat blending’ on the cloth.

So now let’s look at the question of whether weekend workshops are appropriate for beginners, and whether they offer enough material for quite advanced students.

I’ve now attended four weekend workshops. They were with the painters Kirill Kanaev (aka Yellow One), Alphonso Giraldes (aka Banshee), Fernando Ruiz (aka FeR), and Sergio Calvo Rubio. Alphonso’s workshop was a little bit different as the focus was use of colour theory rather than specific painting techniques. In the others, the students all worked on the same figure(s). The instructor would explain an element of theory and/or technique, often with diagrams and/or photos for examples, and demonstrate his painting of it. Then the students would have a period of time to practice that same element, which was followed by some critique of their execution. Then the instructor would explain and demonstrate a new element, and so on. 

Two days of learning a lot of information like this can be pretty intense. You might have moments where you get a bit of a headache, or feel quite tired. But I also think that it’s very accessible to a wide range of experience levels. There is a lot more time to digest information than there is in a short class. The instructor can spend a bit of extra time with someone who is having trouble while the other students practice, without that extra attention to one person sacrificing learning opportunities for everyone else. A beginner may find that one or two elements that are demonstrated are beyond their current skills/comprehension (Kirill’s texture painting method demands a high level of brush control, for example), but beginners should still get plenty of useful information out of other elements. Likewise an experienced painter may find some of the segments of the instruction kind of basic, but is going to profit from others, as well as from the opportunity to see another painter’s process, philosophy, and overall approach to painting a figure.

Each of the figure painting tutorial workshops that I’ve attended has included a mix of student levels. All of them were attended by at least one person who felt that their skills were more on the basic side, or and/or who lacked confidence in their painting ability, and those people felt like they got a lot out of the workshops. To my knowledge, so did the experienced painters who attended. In some ways being newer to miniature painting can be an advantage! Sometimes an experienced painter can get frustrated with the effort it takes to put aside the way they usually do things to follow someone else’s approach.

Tsukigoro front viewWe painted this larger scale formidable orc warrior in the Sergio Calvo Rubio workshop. Lots of emphasis on texture and making highlights really pop in key areas.

So my advice is to do what you can to attend a weekend workshop! It is an unparalleled opportunity to learn not just one specific technique or effect, but to get a real insight into how a skilled painter approaches the overall painting of a figure. If you are in doubt from the description of the workshop as to whether it is too basic or advanced for you, contact the painter or organizer of the workshop to request more information. Ask if there are specific techniques or skills you need to already know to get full value out of the class. Check whether the teacher feels there is enough material to interest a painter of your level. Most instructors teach workshops on a regular basis. They prefer that the people who attend feel like they got a lot out of the experience, so they’ll recommend it and create more interest in future workshops by word of mouth recommendation. 

Miniature painting classes are also very valuable learning experiences, but are are a bit of a different thing. They most often occur at conventions. The two conventions that I particularly recommend for painting classes in the United States are AdeptiCon and ReaperCon. Both have literally dozens of instructors and topics to choose from. There are several other conventions with great painting classes. I’ll add links to the ones I know of at the bottom of this post. If you know of additional conventions with miniature painting classes to recommend, please let me know so I can add those as well! (Worldwide or US based.)

Classes are often categorized as being geared towards or appropriate for levels of beginner, intermediate, and advanced, but everyone seems to have a slightly different definition of those terms. So it occasionally happens that someone ends up in a class that is too advanced for them and they feel overwhelmed, or which has little new information to offer them.

The typical convention class is an hour and a half to two hours long. Occasionally a convention will offer longer format classes. Because of the short time frame, classes tend to focus on a very specific topic – painting faces, using the metallic or non-metallic technique for arms and armour, or two brush blending are all examples. Hands-on classes, which are overwhelmingly preferred by attendees, need to be particularly focused in scope, in order to provide enough time for attendees to practice, and for the instructor to give everyone feedback on their attempts.

Depending on the topic, the short time frame and tight focus of a convention class can mean that an instructor has to teach the class assuming that the students have certain prerequisite skills and knowledge. As an example, there are a lot of effects that feature smooth transitions from light to dark or from one colour to another. In a class on one of those effects, the teacher needs to concentrate class discussion, demonstration, and feedback on the specific theory and approach related to creating that effect. To try to teach blending on top of that is essentially trying to teach a class within a class. Or a class may reference a concept like colour theory or the rule of thirds in composition, but there may not be time to give a comprehensive explanation of the concepts. (Happily that kind of knowledge can generally be researched after a class if it is not well known before.)

Angel Face bust front viewThe bust I worked on in the workshop with Kirill Kanaev. The practice with textured cloth is on the back, shown in the title image of this post.

Here’s where there can be a disconnect between people using terms like beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I tend to think of knowing how to use a blending technique to create smooth transitions as intermediate level. You start with drybrushing and washing as a beginner, and then learn blending and start to transfer to intermediate level. So I designate my classes that assume knowledge of blending as intermediate. A student attending their first convention decides to sign up for my class. They’ve been painting for years using drybrushing and washing. They’re the best painter in their circle and at their local store. So it’s natural to for them to assume they must be at least intermediate in level. We’ve each made a logical but incompatible assumption about what the term intermediate means.

This disconnect can occasionally occur in the other direction, too. People tend to assume that OSL (object source lighting) is an advanced level technique, and they need to be able to paint to a certain level to attend. Maybe that is true for some instructors’ classes. In my mind, OSL is primarily about understanding where to place areas of light and dark, and which kinds of colours to use for each. Although the most refined versions may require blending, the basic ideas I teach can be executed successfully with drybrushing and careful washing. 

I don’t think there’s a perfect solution to these misunderstandings of terminology. I think it helps a lot if instructors include any necessary prerequisite skills (and materials/tools, like certain kinds of brushes) in the descriptions for their classes. Give people as much information as possible to determine whether the class is appropriate to their skill level. It is also incumbent upon students to take the time to carefully read the descriptions for classes to determine whether they have the necessary skills and knowledge. (And to try to remember to acquire and bring along any necessary tools and materials.) 

If a class description does not provide enough information for you to determine the appropriate skill level, I encourage you to contact the instructor directly. Even if the convention events system does not offer a way to do that, you will likely be able to find the instructor on social media or one or another miniature enthusiast site. Take the effort to reach out to get the information you need. This is something you will be paying to do, after all!

Rurik front 400This is the second figure we worked on in the Fernando Ruiz workshop. The buckskin leather cape featured more of Fernando’s magic with washes. I did already know the trick to highlighting red that he showed us, but I still got a lot out of the workshop overall.

An additional note on tools. Convention room lighting is not the best. Rooms are often unevenly lit, with what lights there are way up on a tall ceiling. If you typically paint with magnification (reading glasses or a magnifying visor) and strong lighting, I highly recommend you bring a light and magnifier along to improve your class experience. LED battery lamps are fairly compact, lightweight, and inexpensive. Even if you don’t normally paint with magnification, you might consider it for a miniature painting class to help counteract the poor lighting. Almost every class I teach there is at least one person who ends up struggling due to feeling like they can’t see as well as they need to, and that’s not really something I can help with. :-< (I do loan out my lamp and magnifier if I can without compromising what I need to do to teach the class, but it is not always possible for me to do that, and sometimes more than one student is struggling.)

When you’re teaching a class and discover one of the students does not have the prerequisite knowledge you assumed, you have a few ways to handle the situation. Unfortunately none are optimal. One is to stop the class and try to teach the missing skill(s). This can consume a lot of class time, and leaves the student in the position of trying to learn a lot of new material at once. I also think this option is irresponsible to the rest of the people in the class, as it deprives them of everything you would otherwise have been teaching them in that time span, and they will be getting a smaller share of your feedback time. (This is particularly unfair to the other students if the class description was clear about prerequisite skills.) Another option is to teach for the majority of the students, running the class as you originally designed, and then trying to spend extra time with the student(s) who needs extra help while other students are practicing painting. This is a workable solution if someone is only a little bit lost, and particularly if they’re seated near others who are also willing to give them a little extra help. The last approach I’m aware of is to refund their ticket price. Depending on how the convention is run, this may be direct from my pocket, or with a note/accompaniment to a registration area. 

Figures Featured in this Post

The Random Encounter bust and Rurik, Prince of Holmgard are available as gifts with purchase from FeR Miniatures, or through some workshops taught by Fernando Ruiz.

Tsukigoro, Orc Warrior was part of Sergio Calvo’s Kickstarter for Hirelings of Asura. Late pledges are available. He will eventually sell the figures online, but the webpage is not yet up.

The Angel Face bust was sculpted by Kirill Kanaev. I’m not aware of his having a web store. You may be able to contact him online to see if he has any available for purchase.

Upcoming Workshops

San Diego CA, May 25-26 2019: Army Painting 101 with Aaron Lovejoy and Allan Pyle
Osseo MN, June 29-30 2019: Army Painting 101 with Aaron Lovejoy
Mountain View CA, August 17-18: Skin Tones Masterclass with Anthony Rodriguez
Various US and a few UK locations, various dates: Airbrushing, Large Figure, and Heavy Metal workshops taught by members of CK Studios (Caleb Wissenback, Vince Venturella, Sam Lenz, Justin Keefer)

If you know of any others, please let me know!

Conventions that Offer Painting Classes

KublaCon, San Francisco CA: May 23 – 27, 2019 – register for classes now!
Historicon, Lancaster PA: July 10 – 14, 2019
Gen Con, Indianapolis IN: August 1 – 4, 2019 – event registration opens soon!
ReaperCon, Dallas TX: August 29 – September 1, 2019 – event registration opens soon!
Nova Open, Arlington VA: August 29 – September 1, 2019
Sword and Brush, Toronto, Ontario, Canada: September 7 – 8, 2019 (And their Facebook group)
Las Vegas Open, Las Vegas NV: January 24 – 26, 2020
CanCon, Canberra Australia: January 24 – 26, 2020
Cold Wars, Lancaster PA: March 12 – 15, 2020
AdeptiCon, Chicago IL: March 22 – 29, 2020

If you know of any others, please let me know!

Classes at Cold Wars 2019

I am very pleased to be the special guest and a painting class instructor for the Cold Wars convention, which takes place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on March 14-17!

I have not had the opportunity to attend this convention previously, so I can’t share any personal experience with it and I don’t have any past photos. Though I hope to report back with both of those after (or during) the event! But I have known several of the people involved in the Hobby University activities for some time, and they’re a great bunch. They work hard to organize and run classes related to painting, sculpting, and terrain for the several conventions run by the HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society.)

I know this is late notice for trying to attend Cold Wars, but the good news is that the HMGS offers three conventions each year, and the Hobby University provides classes at each of them, so you can start planning right now to attend the next one that works with your schedule! Even if you aren’t particularly into historical miniature gaming, if you’re at all interested in miniature painting and in the region of Lancaster Pennsylvania, you should definitely check them out. Here’s the link for the main HMGS website, which links to each of the three yearly conventions: https://www.hmgs.org

There are a lot of interesting classes on the Cold Wars schedule this year. And the cost couldn’t be more reasonable – free with your convention badge! This is the schedule of classes that I’ll be teaching. I believe registration is available online through the website linked above.

Friday, March 15, noon to 1:30pm: Smooth Blending via Layering and Glazing

Friday, March 15, 2pm to 3:30pm: Next Level Faces

Saturday, March 16, noon to 1:30pm: Next Level Flesh

Saturday March 16, 2pm to 3:30pm: Level Up from Intermediate to Advanced

Below are the rest of my scheduled convention appearances for the rest of 2019. It’s always possible I’ll add another or two, but these are the ones I know of right now.

March 27 – 30: AdeptiCon – Schaumburg (Chicago), Illinois
Information about AdeptiCon from a previous blog post. My classes are sold out, but if you’re really interested in one (of mine or any other sold out class), you can show up at the time of the class with the class fee in hand. If not all of the people who bought tickets show up (and that happens more often than you’d imagine), you will be able purchase a ticket on the spot and join the class. More information on the AdeptiCon website

April 12 -14: Save vs. Hunger – Knoxville, Tennessee
My hometown convention to raise money for Second Harvest of East Tennessee. I run a paint & take table, where I’m happy to offer painting advice as time permits. Other events include lots of role-playing games, fantastic raffle prizes, cheap food, and a board game library with experienced gamers available to teach. I’ll write more about this convention soon, but for now, you can visit their website or check out their Facebook page.

August 29 – September 1: ReaperCon – Denton (Dallas), Texas
I have a blog post with an overview of all of the fun things you can do at ReaperCon. Classes and other activities have not yet been scheduled, but I will try to put up a blog post once I know what classes I’m teaching. You can already book a hotel room via this webpage, which will be updated with additional information as it becomes available. In the meantime, you can find lots of general information and helpful tips on the ReaperCon forums.

Links and Information

Cold Wars 2019 information: https://www.hmgs.org/page/CWHome
Cold Wars Hobby University class schedule 2019: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.hmgs.org/resource/resmgr/cold_wars/2019/hu_cw_2019_final.pdf
Historical Miniatures Gaming Society – three conventions per year!: https://www.hmgs.org
Hobby University Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HMGSHobbyU/
My AdeptiCon overview: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/11/16/adepticon-2019-registration-opens-monday-november-18/
AdeptiCon webpage: https://www.adepticon.org
Save vs. Hunger Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/saveversushunger/
Save vs. Hunger webpage: http://www.savevshunger.org
My ReaperCon overview: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/15/reapercon-not-just-for-reapers/
ReaperCon webpage: https://reapercon.com/
ReaperCon forums: http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/forum/23-reapercon/

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

Workshops and Bootcamps

Miniature painting and sculpting classes at conventions are a wonderful resource. Typically they are an hour and a half to two hours long, though occasionally you will find three or four hour classes. That is enough time to get some insight into a particular technique or effect, like wet blending or non-metallic metal, and it is invaluable to see how other painters handle their paint and tools in person. Many classes are hands-on, which gives you the opportunity to get direct feedback on your efforts with the subject of the class. But convention painting classes also have their limitations. If you think of painting like a puzzle, you get an in-depth look at one piece or section of the puzzle, but you may not get a good sense of how that piece relates to the whole picture. And generally you only have 40 minutes or so to practice before you go on to the next class or convention activity, which may not be enough time to fully internalize the new information.

There is another type of in-person miniature painting (and sometimes sculpting) instruction that you might not be as familiar with – workshops and bootcamps. These are all-day intensive instruction from a single painter that might run for one, two, or occasionally even three days. The instructor has a lot more time to go over their general painting process, as well as their approach to specific techniques or effects. Students have more time to practice, and more opportunities to get feedback. You still might not completely finish a figure in a workshop, but you tend to get much more of a sense of how that painter approaches painting a figure as a whole. 

Alfonso In April 2018 I attended a workshop on colour theory with Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes. He has toured the United States several times giving workshops.

The challenge with workshops is that they tend to take place only in large cities, as a minimum number of attendees is necessary to make it feasible for the instructor to do. So unless you are fortunate enough to live in the cities where they are often organized, you will likely need to travel to attend one. That is an added expense on top of the cost of the workshop itself. (Though I will note that these events in the miniature painting world tend to be less expensive than similar ones in the traditional art realm.)

If you live in the United States, you have the opportunity to attend a workshop next year with the fantastic Spanish painter Sergio Calvo Rubio. Not only is he an excellent painter, he has also worked to develop a process for painting quickly. I took a couple of classes with him at AdeptiCon 2017, and just those few hours really jumpstarted me on finding a way to paint with more directional lighting. I am very excited about what I might be able to learn from him in a full two day workshop!

You can look at Sergio’s lovely miniatures here: https://www.puttyandpaint.com/sergiocalvo

Below is a list of the dates and locations for the Sergio Calvo workshops in the United States in 2019. 

Sergio Flyer Spring 2019 FINALIf you can find a way to get to one of these events, I highly recommend that you do it! Contact miniaturemonthly@gmail.com for more information or to sign up.

I have previously attended two weekend workshops. The first was with renowned Russian painter Kirill Kaneav in 2017. I highly recommend taking a workshop with him if you ever have the opportunity. He really opened my eyes to the value of using photo reference in miniature painting, and showed us some fantastic techniques for creating shadows and highlights to build three dimensional form with texture strokes instead of just smooth blending, and showed us several other things in addition.

Bust I painted in Kirill Kanaev workshopThis is the bust I worked on in the Kirill Kanaev workshop. The cloth texture work is on the back. 

Below is a pair of figures I painted after the workshop to practice with the texture techniques. I also used photo references for the faces, as we had in the workshop. I referenced a picture of Helen Mirren for the woman, and one of Sean Connery for the man. These sculpts are pretty rough, particularly given that they are 54mm scale. Smooth blending looked awful on them, but building highlights and shadows with textures looked much more attractive.

Textured cloth examples on male and female dancersI maybe went a little nuts with the textures…

This year I took a workshop with Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes, a Spanish painter and sculptor. He is well-known for his bold use of colour. He is a strong champion for a more painterly style to be used in miniature painting. (In a painterly style, the aim isn’t necessarily a perfectly smooth or photo realistic finish, but rather one where the hand and intent of the artist are visible through brushstrokes and colour transitions.) The workshop I took was specifically focused on colour theory and colour use. So it was less focused on painting an entire miniature, and more about exercises and experiments with colour. (Although we did also work on a miniature bust.) I recommend this workshop to people who would like to learn more about colour theory and how to apply it to miniatures, and who would like to mix colours from a small set rather than using a huge collection of pre-mixed paints. 

My painted figure: PromenadeI painted this figure to practice colour mixing after taking the Banshee workshop. You can read more about my painting process here: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/09/14/a-critique-filled-promenade/

The best way to hear about upcoming workshops is to participate in the miniature painting community via Facebook groups and website forums. It is also pretty common for the historical painting shows to be preceded by a one or two day workshop with a renowned painter. So it might be worth finding out if there is an historical painting show near enough to you to attend. I’ve listed the shows I know of near the bottom of this post: https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/09/some-prose-on-cons-conventions-and-shows/.

Have you ever attended a workshop? Are you thinking of going to one of Sergio’s next year? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments!

Links to figures and people mentioned in this blog post:

Miniature Monthly Patreon (organizers of the Sergio Calvo workshop tour in the US): https://www.patreon.com/miniaturemonthly
Sergio Calvo Putty and Paint gallery: https://www.puttyandpaint.com/sergiocalvo
Sergio Calvo Miniatures page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sergiocalvominiatures/
Sergio Calvo Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/sergiocalvominiatures
Alfonso Giraldes Putty and Paint gallery: https://www.puttyandpaint.com/BansheeArtStudio
Banshee page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Alfonso.Giraldes.Banshee/
Banshee Miniature Art Academy on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/miniatureartacademy
Kirill Kanaev Putty and Paint gallery: https://www.puttyandpaint.com/Yellow_one
Angelface bust – sculpted by Kirill Kanaev and used in his workshops, but I can’t find a link to buy it, sorry.
54mm dancing couple – these were a commission for a client. I’m pretty sure you can buy these, but I don’t know where, sorry.
Dark Sword Shaman figure: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/elmore-masterworks/female-shaman.html

ReaperCon 2018: Day One

ReaperCon 2018 is officially underway, complete with classes, games, and lots of fun with friends.

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Role-playing games were in full swing even before I finished breakfast!

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But maybe board games are more your speed?

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A bracing round of speed paint is a great way to wake up!

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Or if you like a slower pace, paint at your own speed at the paint and take or one of the open painting tables.

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There are so many class options this year!

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Or you can swap tips and stories at Fort Wappel or with one of the artists in Artist Alley.

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I love that the convention center is really getting into the spirit of things completely with thematic spirits!

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If you have never had Beth Marie’s ice cream, that is a lack in your life that you need to remedy as soon as you can! And they’re in the spirit, too! (I’m hoping to be able to go to one of their retail locations to snag some of their epic cinnamon ice cream, but this is available on site at the hotel coffee shop area.)

The rest of my pictures for the day are some of the vendors. There are more vendors than this, I wasn’t being very organized or thorough. Perhaps tomorrow I will do some more serious shopping…

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IMG 3587Tell Cheryl I sent you if you stop by the Reaper booth!

IMG 3583This guy is kind of a miniature, but not the kind you can paint!

Frantic Preparations!

No matter how many conventions I go to, how many lists I make, or how far I try to start in advance, I always seem to spend the night before I leave for a convention frantically running around trying to do more things than there is time to do! Preparing for ReaperCon 2018 has been no exception. In some ways I’m decently prepped, but there are several things I would very much liked to have done that I didn’t manage, and it’s all been a bit more annoying than usual because I have an issue with my hip that flared up on the weekend.

Those who’ve seen the giant duffle bag I pack for shows often comment on how excessive it is. But have a look at what I’m bringing just for classes that I’m teaching, and I think you’ll get an idea of why I need such a big piece of luggage! And this pile doesn’t even include the class handouts, since Reaper is kind enough to print those for us. (And I appreciate the savings of luggage weight every bit as much as the savings in printer toner and paper!) And since all the classes I am teaching this year use the same paint colours, it’s less paint than I would normally bring as well. This is only for three classes. I normally teach four (or five or six at some conventions), but with the extra duties of judging and other activities at ReaperCon this year, I thought I’d better go a little lighter.

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Many of the artists I know have spent the past couple of weeks frantically painting entries to enter in the contest. I will have to content myself with entering the ReaperCon 2018 Sophie that I featured in my last post and something painted earlier this year. I have been spending my time writing a handout for my newest class topic – Painted Ladies. I’ve also painted several demonstration figures to help people who attend the class see points more quickly and easily. My other class topic is something I’ve taught before, but as part of a longer workshop style class, so I’ve had to spend some time condensing down the information to just the topic of faces and expressions, and I painted a few more example figures for that, as well. So my travel case and my display area of artist row are going to look a little paltry next to the treasures most of the artists will have, but that’s usually how I roll. :-> 

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I am really looking forward to the convention this year! I’m excited about the new venue. It’s a lot more fun to have the convention areas directly attached to the hotel, and both are spiffy and new. But mostly what I’m excited about is the opportunity to spend time with good friends. My most consistent regret about conventions is that there just isn’t enough time to spend with everyone that I’d like to! But I will try to be at my spot in artist alley as much as I can when not busy with other duties, so please feel welcome to stop by and say hi or ask me some painting questions.

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The down side of traveling to conventions is that I’ll miss these three crazies, my cats. Except it’s sort of an upside, too, because they are troublesome creatures and sometimes I get more peaceful sleep away from home than at home! ;->

ReaperCon – Not Just for Reapers

If you’re not a big fan of Reaper or manufacturer specific events, I have good news for you: miniatures from any manufacturer are welcome in the figure show/contest, and there are vendors selling other brands of figures in the vending hall. And now I hope you will keep reading for more details on why this is such a great convention for miniature painting and sculpting enthusiasts of all kinds!

ReaperCon is Labor Day Weekend – August 29 to September 2, 2018

[Edit to add: ReaperCon is booked into the same location on Labour Day weekend through 2023! Start planning now for 2018!)

ReaperCon is two weeks away. (Ack, ack, ack!) It’s not too late to come to the show!. If you’re someone who needs more time to plan (which honestly I am most of the time), then consider this a discussion of why you should start planning now to attend ReaperCon 2019, which should be around the same time of year. :->

Disclaimer: I do freelance work for Reaper Miniatures, and have been one of the artists brought into ReaperCon to teach for many years. They didn’t ask me to write this, and I’m not getting any benefit or consideration for doing so. I started going to ReaperCon long before I did any work in the industry, and I credit the classes I’ve taken there (and at other conventions) for being a big part of how I got good enough to become a freelancer and painting teacher. I’ve only missed two ReaperCons, the first and the third, and I’ve twice made the long trip by car to get myself there. (I hate driving more than an hour!)

Painting and Sculpting Classes

ReaperCon has grown to the point where it has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) schedule of painting classes of any convention. I’m not sure there’s another convention that has anywhere near so many sculpting and conversion classes. There are dozens of instructors, each teaching multiple class sessions. Many of the classes are hands-on, though there are also topics that are best served by more of a demo or lecture format. There are topics of interest to any level, and even for children. If I had the time, I would love to be able to take classes here myself!

But there’s something Reaper does that I think is unique among conventions. Each of the sculptors and painters is assigned a spot at a long row of tables. They have name tags in front of them. When they aren’t teaching classes or judging, they hang out here. You can watch them work, which I always find very instructive. If you’ve taken a class and then practice what you learned for a while, you can bring your practice work over to the instructor for feedback. Or maybe you couldn’t get into a class, or just had a few questions on a topic – the instructors are there for that too.

WappelThe instructors also bring some of their work for you to look at and enjoy, though most of us do not manage to have such an extensive display as James Wappel has put on here!

Since it’s so close to the date of the show a lot of classes are already sold out, but there are also still lots of openings in many classes. And they hold back two tickets for day-of sales, so there’s still a chance to get into a sold-out class or two You can see the class slate here. You need to buy a pass before you’re able to buy class seats, however. https://register.growtix.com/schedules/frontend/reapercon_2018

MSP Open Figure Painting and Sculpting Show

The ReaperCon contest/show is open to entries from any and all manufacturers. Or even pieces which aren’t traditional minis. In the past entries have included garage kits, a repainted gumball machine bust, a scratch built sailing ship, and many more creative things. There are some special awards that are specific to Reaper miniatures, and there are some other manufacturer special awards. (This year includes Bombshell Miniatures and Dark Sword Miniatures.) Entries must be pieces that you have never before entered into a ReaperCon show, but that’s about it – they don’t need to be brand new work, and can have been entered in or won at other contests. One of the things I most love about this kind of show is that the entries are placed onto raised tables. So you can really get a good look at them and enjoy them in a more three dimensional way than you can in contests where they are closed away in cases. (There is someone to monitor the room, which is closed up at night.)

ReaperCon uses an open show style for its painting contest, with some additional special awards. In an open show, you can enter anything from one to a handful of figures into each category. The judges pick which of these they feel is the best piece that you entered into that category, and judge you against a standard. Each piece is assessed by a team of three judges. Their scores are averaged, and the entrant is awarded a certificate of merit, or bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on the result. So in essence, you are competing against yourself, and you strive to outdo yourself each year. (Though note that each level is progressively more difficult! It takes a lot more work to move from silver to gold than it does to move from certificate to bronze, for example.)

Msp open comboOn the left is an example of some entries into the 2017 MSP Open. One entrant has created an attractive display of his pieces at the back of the picture, but as you can see from the front of the picture, simpler displays are fine too. The picture on the right shows the trophies and medals waiting to be awarded to the entrants.

The judging standard takes a several elements into accounts and can differ by category. So in the Painters category, painting technique and painting effects are 70% of what is considered, but basing is just 5%, and conversions are considered only in terms of how they might contribute to the overall aesthetic of the piece. Whereas in Open, painting is worth only 30% of the score, and extensive basing and/or conversion or outright scratch sculpting are weighted much more heavily. 

In the event that a judge has advised an entrant on their piece or in some other way feels that they may be biased for OR against the entrant, there are alternate judges available to step in. The judging is not conducted in an adversarial way. We want to encourage people to enter, to keep on striving for their best results and to push the hobby ever onwards towards new cool things! As part of that, judges are available after the show results are announced to give feedback.

The Best in Show figure is decided not by the judges, but by the votes of everyone who enters the contest. Non-Reaper figures are eligible and have won this in the past. There are also two runners up awards for the Reaper and non-Reaper figure that got the next most votes. Reaper figure entries are eligible for consideration for the Sophie trophies for each category, with additional awards for best Reaper large monster type piece, and best Reaper mousling piece.

Get Your Game On!

Hobby activities are a big focus at ReaperCon, but there is also a lot of gaming. Which can be good news if you’re super excited about the painting/sculpting stuff but you have a family member or friend who needs to be convinced to come along with you. ;-> There are role-playing games, miniature games, and a board game library. You can ‘take out’ board games from the library, and the board game volunteer is available to teach you how to play. This year there is even a gaming-only pass. So if you do have a friend or family member who only wants to come out to game, they can purchase a less expensive pass. And they’re even still eligible to enter the MPS Open contest! (But not to take painting classes.)

Games comboOn the left is a great table of miniature gaming terrain. The right shows a portion of the board game library.

Other Activities

What else can you do at ReaperCon? You can take a tour of the Reaper facility and find out how miniatures are made! The picture on the left shows the metal miniature casting area. The picture on the right is the Reaper miniature gallery that you can tour at the facility. It is filled with literally hundreds of miniatures painted by some pretty terrific painters! (And some stuff that I have painted, as well. ;->)

Factory tour combo

Try your luck at the melt table. What is the melt table, you might wonder? During ReaperCon, you can exchange old metal miniatures from numerous manufacturers that you no longer want for credit to purchase new metal Reaper miniatures. The figures that are traded in are placed on the melt table, and attendees are welcome to scour it for wondrous treasures that they can purchase with trade-in credit or cash. It is not at all uncommon to spot classic figures that fetch a pretty penny on eBay or other long out of print minis. For more information on the figure brands accepted for trade-in or to ask questions about the trade-in program, see this thread on the Reaper forums. http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/39734-metal-trade-in-approved-company-list/

The auction is another fun activity. The auction takes place on Sunday, and the only currency accepted is Reaper Bucks. These are earned by taking classes, playing games, wearing costumes, and other convention activities. Auction items include Reaper products, but also other games and hobby related items. The auction is presided over by an experienced auctioneer, and is fun to watch as well as participate in. 

Other acts combo

The pictures below show another couple of great ReaperCon features. Pinball and classic arcade games are a great way to take a break from painting and classes! And the artists aren’t the only people who get to sit down to paint. Tables are available attendees to hang out and hobby at, too. So you have a place where you can practice what you’ve been learning in classes to really try to cement it in your mind, as well as the opportunity to swap tips and tricks with fellow attendees. You will need to bring your own paint and supplies, and a battery operated lamp if you’re concerned about lighting. (Though people are often pretty friendly about sharing supplies, especially since some drive and can bring lots of stuff, and others come via plane with limited supplies.)

Friends are a big part of the fun of every convention. Even if you don’t know anyone there when you arrive, chances are you’ll have made some friends before you leave! (I was extra introverty during my first ReaperCon so it took me two gos, but don’t be me. If it helps, you can start getting to know people beforehand on the Reaper forums – http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/forum/23-reapercon/

Friends combo

And lastly… vendors! You can of course buy a large selection of Reaper products at their booth, but you’ll also find the booths of other miniature companies – Arena Rex, Scale75, Black Heart Miniatures, Bombshell Miniatures, and others were present at 2017. Other vendors sell terrain, gaming products, basing materials, and general cool geek stuff.

Vendors combo

So, that’s where I’m going to be in two weeks. I hope you’ll come out and join us! And if not this year, start planning now for next year…