Let’s Get Together… Separately

I’m a little later than I planned making my next blog post. I’ve got a few topics that I’m working on, but I keep having to put them aside to work on projects for ReaperCon, which is fast approaching! But wait, I hear you think, ReaperCon was cancelled. Gen Con was cancelled. This is 2020, everything is cancelled.*

They were, and it sucks that we can’t get together in person. But the people who work so hard to bring us that in-person fun have switched gears to working on ways for use to get together via technology so we can still game, shop, and share cool hobby tips and tricks.**

Here are some great upcoming events that I’m aware of to help you get back to having some good geek fun, and some of them are happening right now or in the next few months.

Cyberwarsgraphic croppedTechnology gives me ulcers too, sometimes, but Napolean and I still both recommend it over the alternatives. 

You can enjoy a virtual convention this weekend (July 25 to July 26) even! HMGS, which puts on the conventions Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In, had to cancel their July in person gathering, but instead offers us the fun of CYBËR WÅRS! It features panel discussions, virtual gaming, and paint class videos. And a paint contest!

Main information page: https://www.hmgs.org/page/CyberWarsSTD01
Links to the round table panels and the virtual gaming events are near the top of that page.

But also check out the Virtual Hobby Room on Facebook! Already posted are links to videos on weathering, painting black, and painting white. 

Or enter something you’ve painted in the Virtual Painting Competition. (Click the discussion tab and look for the pinned post for rules. There are SF/Fantasy categories, never fear!)

Aces 2020Atomic Mass Games has generous donated the figure for the Aces contest.

No need to be sad once Monday rolls around. You can start planning for Gen Con Online, occurring from July 30 to August 2. There are all kinds of events, including games, and even miniature painting, sculpting, and terrain classes!

And put a note on your calendar for July 31 to attend the Ace of Aces Painting event. This event pits a number of pro painters head to head in a speed painting competition. Once the winners are declared, the complete set of figures will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity. (Usually Gen Con’s chosen charity of the year, and I assume that will still be the case this year.) There is a lot of heckling and joking between the competitors and from the emcee and audience. I suspect this will be a very unique version of this event since the fact that the painters will be painting individually via camera streams likely means you’ll get a much better view of how they work their magic than if you were viewing in person at Gen Con. I have enjoyed this event tremendously as both an audience member and a competitor, I highly recommend it.

RC2020Events will occur on Twitch, Zoom, and Discord, and probably other online places too!

The virtual fun doesn’t end there. ReaperCon Online takes place September 3 to September 7. Classes, games, and other activities are not yet open for registration, but expect that soon. 

Preorder for a selection of swag boxes is up already. These boxes and the individual contents will also go up for sale on the main Reaper store during ReaperCon. Some items are pre-printed by third party vendors so are only available while supplies last. (So pre-order folks guarantee getting all contents of the box they order and will receive them sooner in the mail.) Note that you do not need any of the contents of the swag boxes to participate in and enjoy activities at ReaperCon live. Any classes with required materials will note that in their descriptions or via another avenue.

I can tell you that the 36 page guide to the pirate city of Brinewind is pretty darn cool, because one of the things that’s been keeping me too busy for blog posts has been working as the editor for that. So I’ve read it and I know. I’ve read it over and over and over again, and I still think it’s pretty darn cool! (Unrelated side note: it was pretty weird to actually use my college degree and do some editing! ;->)

Brinewind bookCover art by the immensely talented Izzy “Talin” Collier, written by the imaginative Joseph Wolf.

*If you are reading this some years from now – Hello visitor from the future! I hope we have once again returned to a life where people safely mix and mingle and attend fun activities like conventions again and this all seems like a bad dream we barely remember. 

**I know people interested in ReaperCon online are frustrated about how long it’s taking for event information to go up, and I’d guess that there are hitches and glitches with all the other online events, too. Please be kind and have some patience with the people working on these. Even the most experienced coordinator of an in-person convention is having to put aside years and decades of established procedure and systems to figure out how to do something new and create an online event instead. There’s no precedent for these things and a lot to figure out. My husband and I run sections of a local convention and our own tiny private convention, and none of us had clue one for how to replace planned in person events with virtual ones, so we just had to cancel those. 

Title image by Lucrezia Carnelos from Unsplash.

How to Teach Miniature Painting Classes – Why, Who, What, and Where

As the popularity of the miniature hobby expands, so does interest in taking and teaching classes on painting and sculpting figures, as well as related topics like basing and 3D printing. I’ve put together this series of articles to help prospective teachers. This first part explores whether you might enjoy teaching classes, and if so, what topics, and in which venues. Later articles will explore how and what to prepare in advance, and tips for the actual class experience.

I’m not the most well-known or accoladed painter in terms of winning awards and painting high profile figures, but over the years I have gained a reputation as a skilled teacher, and my classes sell out quickly in most venues. I’ve been taking classes for all of the 17 years I’ve been painting miniatures, and teaching them for at least 13 years. These suggestions are drawn from my experience as both a student and a teacher in this hobby. 

Because it’s based on my experience, the content of this guide focuses on the areas I’ve explored most thoroughly – teaching adults, painting classes specifically, and convention classes of 90-180 minutes in length. I’ve tried to provide information that will also be useful to teaching sculpting and other related topics, and to teaching in a longer workshop format, or even online teaching, but your mileage may vary. 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional teacher and make no claim to that level of expertise! I also don’t think that the way I teach is the only successful method. I hope that other teachers and students will share thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

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PART 1: WHAT TO TEACH, WHERE TO TEACH, AND ADMINISTRATIVE DETAILS

Why Teach Classes?

Share the Fun!
I think the best teachers are those who find teaching enjoyable or fulfilling in some way. That doesn’t mean they’re never anxious about public speaking or that they enjoy every single aspect of the process. Rather what I mean is that good teachers are people who get something out of sharing the enthusiasm of their hobby with others, who genuinely want to exchange information with their students, and who challenge themselves to become better teachers as well as better hobbyists.

Experience Conventions
Attending conventions is a great way to meet fellow hobby enthusiasts, make industry contacts, pick up cool new supplies, and take classes to develop your own skills. Payments for classes allow many painters to attend a wider selection of conventions than they would otherwise. Note that while class fees offset convention costs, or if you’re very careful you can break even, very few people actually ‘make money’ teaching convention classes. When you are considering whether something is affordable to you, remember to consider ALL of your costs: travel, luggage and related fees, transportation at the venue, housing, food, and cost of supplies. Don’t forget to factor in whatever money you won’t be making during the time you spend preparing for, traveling to, and attending the convention. (And considering con crud and exhaustion, maybe add a few more lost days after the con!)

Promotion of Services
Teaching classes and attending conventions can expose you to a wider audience and help you promote other services you may offer – Twitch streams, Patreons and other online courses, etc. Since the bulk of the hobby class audience is made up of people trying to learn to paint for themselves, teaching is probably not a great avenue to find new clients for commission painting services. It’s possible that you may make industry contacts at a convention who might be interested in commission painting, but I wouldn’t rely on or expect that to happen.

Learn More
One of the things I love about teaching is how much I learn. Figuring out how to explain concepts to other people makes me explore and understand them much better for myself. To really get the most value out of this you need to review your class content every few years, not just teach exactly the same thing every time.

Help the Hobby
Interest in miniature painting is ever-growing, and thus so is the need for people to teach it. If this is a key motivation for you, don’t forget there are options other than classes in established venues. Your local store and small local conventions looking to expand their slate of offerings might need you the most! I’ll talk about that a bit more below.

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Who Should Teach Hobby Classes?

People sometimes think that only really well-known artists who work in the industry or have a lot of awards to their credit should teach classes. Certain topics are more advanced and do require expertise and experience to explain well. But there is room for teachers with a variety of experience levels and interests. Many display level painters who spend hours painting a single figure are not the right fit to teach classes on quick painting armies. An intermediate level painter or sculptor is capable of doing a great job teaching the basics to new hobbyists. They may even do a better job than an expert, who might inadvertently overwhelm students with too much information too quickly. (I’m guilty of that!)

The key thing that you need to do is be realistic and honest with yourself, the venue, and your students about your skill level and the level of your class! There are lots of people just starting out or just beginning to expand their horizons of techniques and effects. Where you will run into issues is if you pitch your class to an incompatible level of students, or if you make it sound as if your class appeals equally to beginners and experts and it does not. If the content of your class is fairly basic but you attract some students who are more expert than you are, they will resent having wasted their time and money. You will also risk losing some of your potential audience who are at a more appropriate level but assume the class is too advanced for them and don’t even buy a ticket.

Here’s an example with the technique of non-metallic metal. There is an audience for a class of quick tips to paint NMM that looks okay and that can be painted fairly quickly, and plenty of mid-level painters would be able to provide class content that audience would enjoy. There is also an audience for an NMM class that includes a review of the physics of how light reflects on metal and how to portray that in the most accurate way on a figure, but that audience requires a more expert teacher to meet their needs.

Beginner, intermediate, and advanced are somewhat nebulous concepts – classes that might be considered advanced in at a smaller convention might be only intermediate at a large hobby-focused one. Just aim to be realistic about what your own level is and provide as much information as you can about what you’ll be teaching so people can make an informed decision.

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Where to Teach Hobby Classes?

Conventions with established hobby classes tend to in instructors in one of two ways – as guest instructors or as event instructors. Though there are several conventions with elements of both. There are also lots of exciting possibilities for teaching at local conventions and non-convention venues.

Guest Instructors
Some conventions work with instructors using a ‘guest’ system. In the guest system, the convention and the instructor agree to an exchange of services. The convention offers some combination of travel expenses, housing, and/or per diem in exchange for the instructor running a set number of classes. The convention has a lot of input into some key elements of your events: how much they cost, how many people can attend, what the topics are, length of classes, and when they occur. Usually you will work with the convention on some of those elements, but you may have little to no say into others. You may also be asked to fulfill other commitments like judging a painting contest or taking part in a panel discussion.You may be reimbursed for travel expenses and costs before or some time after the convention, or a mixture of both.

Event Instructors
Other conventions treat hobby classes as an independently run event. These conventions allow instructors to submit their events just as a game runner would. Instructors pick the topic, number of students, length of classes, and other elements. Sometimes you can pick the times of your events, sometimes you can just indicate when you are or aren’t available. In this system, you also choose the cost of your class. Usually the convention adds a small fee on top of yours to pay for the space your event uses. At some point after the convention you receive payment. All travel, housing, and arrangements are your responsibility and expense.

Local Conventions and Game Stores
If you want to ease into teaching or help grow the hobby, don’t overlook options in your local area. If you have a local game or hobby store, talk to them about running a demo or a basic how to paint class. Find out what you can about conventions within comfortable driving range. Some may not have space to add additional events. Others may not currently have any miniature focused events only because they don’t have any volunteers interested in organizing and running those, and might be eager for your help! For these types of events you’ll likely want to focus on beginner friendly topics. It has also been my experience that the prices need to be low to entice people to try a new activity. (And also because many regional convention attendees don’t have a lot of cash to spare.) I have charged as little as $5 for a local class at a charity fund-raising convention and as much as $50 for classes at a miniature-focused convention. The length, content, and take-home supplies varied with each of these, of course, but they varied a lot less than you would think!

ReaperCon
ReaperCon uses an invited instructor list for their hobby classes. If they have additional classroom spaces available, they may open up class submission to other interested instructors. If you’re interested in teaching at ReaperCon, I recommend joining the Reaper forums and monitoring the ReaperCon subforum for requests for new instructors. You can also follow the ReaperCon Facebook group. ReaperCon uses a guest instructor format. Depending on the number of classes you teach, you may receive a free pass to the convention, a swag bag, or even travel expenses and a shared room at the venue. ReaperCon instructors pick their class topics and can request a general day and time of day to teach, but the available options become more limited as the schedule fills up. The class submission process usually starts in March or April and runs for a few weeks in different waves of invites. (My info on ReaperCon page. The official ReaperCon page.)

AdeptiCon
AdeptiCon also uses an invited instructor list for their hobby classes. I’m not entirely sure how to get on the list. Monitoring the AdeptiCon Facebook group is a good place to start. Invitations to teach for the next year often go out in August, with class submission starting soon after. Instructors submit their subject preferences for a few different classes. AdeptiCon assigns each instructor from one to four class time slots, and completely determines the schedule (though I believe you can let them know you’re not available certain days.) Apart from that AdeptiCon uses the event instructor format – you choose the subject and format of your class, how many students you’ll take, and what the cost per student is. You receive a cheque from AdeptiCon a few months after the event, and must provide them with tax filing information. Instructors receive a free badge to the convention, but take care of booking and payment for their travel and housing. (My info on AdeptiCon page. The official AdeptiCon page.)

Gen Con
NOTE: I have not attended Gen Con since 2014. Some of this process may have changed since then. I recommend contacting Lyn Stahl of MetalHead Minis for more current information. Gen Con uses the event instructor format. You must collect and submit tickets, and receive payment several months after the convention. Instructors pick out their class subjects and formats, number of students, and cost of tickets. The last time I submitted classes to Gen Con you could request a preferred date and time to give your class, but it was not guaranteed. During the later years that I was teaching at Gen Con it was required that you bring all of the supplies that you needed for your classes, including water cups, palette plates, paints, brushes, etc. I have heard that Gen Con may no longer allow ticket fees for lecture and demo classes, and that instructors should provide all materials that a person would need to take the class, but this is the kind of thing that evolves back and forth at a convention like this, so it’s worth checking with Lyn or other Gen Con instructors about how things work currently. Depending on the number of hours of events you provide, you may be eligible to be reimbursed for your badge. I believe hotel room shares are only provided to volunteers (in the hobby events or other areas) and must be arranged through a volunteer coordinator. (The official Gen Con page. Check the Host drop down for a number of topics for event runners.)

General Convention Guidelines
It is very helpful to have previously attended and participated in hobby events at any convention you’re interested in teaching at. This ensures you have an idea of how the hobby area works and what kind of classes they provide and so on. It is also helpful to participate in online social activity related to the convention – join the Reaper or Gen Con forums, participate on the AdeptiCon Facebook page, etc. And participation in the general hobby community, as well. Participation in the community and being known to attendees makes artists much more attractive as instructors. 

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Coordinate with the Coordinator

Many conventions have a coordinator for miniature hobby classes. That is not an easy job! It is definitely to your advantage to help the coordinator by following instructions and meeting deadlines promptly. People who are difficult to deal with or who consistently fail to meet deadlines are the last to be considered for benefits like extra class slots and first choice of teaching times. Or they may even find themselves dropped off of invitation lists. Someone who is pleasant to work with and follows instructions is much more desirable to a convention coordinator in the long run than a ‘big name’. 

Your usual responsibilities to the convention coordinator include:

Answer Communications Promptly
You might be asked to confirm attendance at the convention, fill out a tax form, what topics you want to teach, asked to read guidelines for instructors, other things along those lines. Some conventions coordinate flight and hotel through the events organizer, so you may also have instructions to follow for booking flights and choosing a roommate. There is almost always a date by which you must complete these tasks. Complete them all, and do it before the deadline. 

Know the Guidelines
AdeptiCon has a handbook for instructors. So does Gen Con. Gen Con’s is quite long and detailed, in fact. If you’re asked to read something like that, you’re expected to actually read it, to ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand, and to follow the guidelines and procedures it lays out.

Submit Detailed Class Information
Class information is often submitted via an online form. Occasionally you’ll email it directly to the convention coordinator. I’ll get into more detail below about how to write class descriptions and submissions. This is more of a note to remind you to make sure you know what you need to know from the coordinator on how what what to submit. If you have questions or are confused about something, contact the coordinator. A good coordinator would rather you ‘bug’ them in email ahead of time than have to work with you on fixing something after a deadline has passed.

Follow Onsite Instructions
The coordinator may ask teachers to check in at a particular time and place. There may be an orientation session or a meet-and-greet. You should be given some information about what supplies are provided onsite, so you can make sure you bring anything you need that won’t be available. Usually there are guidelines for wrapping up your class in a timely fashion so you have enough time to clean everything up and leave the room is ready for the next class to begin promptly.

Behave Responsibly
You are entirely responsible for yourself at a convention. Your primary job is to get yourself to where you need to be at the right times and teach a good class. Keep yourself as well-fed and as well-rested as you need to be to do that. Everyone wants to have fun at a convention, but you need to balance the fun with your responsibilities. You also need to follow the code of conduct for the event and comport yourself in a way that won’t reflect poorly on the coordinator or the event as a whole. There is no downside to as being pleasant and helpful as possible with all of the convention staff and your fellow instructors.

Continue to Answer Communications Promptly after the Convention
Occasionally there is some post-convention paperwork. This might include a survey to help the coordinator plan better for the future, information on where to send cheques, etc.

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What Should You Teach?

The big question for every teacher at every event! Here are some ideas for how to decide:

Nature of the Convention
Are you teaching at a local gaming convention adding miniature events for the first time? Classes that focus on foundational techniques, ways to paint quickly, and perennial problem areas (skin, faces, metallics, basic basing, simple conversions and assembly) will likely garner the most interest. There is room for more involved techniques and more specialized topics at an event with established hobby classes – faces or female skin, problem colours like white, black, red, yellow – lots of options for a variety of levels.

Your Strengths
Are there elements you regularly receive compliments or inquiries about? How did you paint that skin, how did you get those cool looking plans on your base??

Other Classes
Sometimes you don’t have any advance information about what other classes will be available. Where you do have information (some of the schedule is already set or you know the other instructors and their usual topics), you can use that information to your advantage. Are there topics that are missing or have only one or two classes? Is there a way you could provide a different perspective than is represented in the current slate?

Student Requests
One reason to be active in discussion groups for the convention is to look for suggestions for classes that people would like to see. There are at least a few discussions a year on this topic on the ReaperCon forum.

Nature of Class – Hands-On or Lecture/Demo
Hands-on classes are always most desirable to the most people. There are certain topics best suited to a lecture or demo format, and if you feel that is how they are best taught, you should teach them that way, but you if you are concerned about tickets for your class selling well, I recommend that you focus on hands-on classes until you are more established in the hobby overall or at that particular venue.

Number of Classes
If you’re teaching three classes, don’t feel as if you need three different topics. People often appreciate it when you teach the same subject on different days and at different times of day since they are scheduling around the other events that interest them. However, you may want to do only one or two sessions of a more specialized topic, like say transparent cloth, or resin-poured bases.

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How Many Students?

You will have to decide early on how many people you can accommodate in your class. The class coordinator or venue may set minimum numbers for a class in order for them best use limited space. They will also likely have maximum numbers based on table and chair availability in the space. But what should you take into consideration apart from that?

Class Format
Large class sizes work well for a lecture/discussion format. Depending on the equipment available, larger class sizes may also work for demo classes. For hands-on classes, remember that a primary appeal for attendees is the opportunity for them to receive your feedback on their work. You need enough time to look at, assess, and comment on each student’s work several times, in addition to the time it takes you to explain and demonstrate the topic to the class as a whole and answer questions.

Topic Complexity
You’ll find you can be more efficient to teach simpler topics that you’re very familiar with and so can handle larger class sizes here. You’ll probably need to leave more time for questions and expanding on explanations with more complex topics and so will benefit from a smaller class size.

Organization Level
The more advance work you’re willing to do and the more you can organize your supplies and class format, the less time you’ll spend on those functions in class, which gives you time to work with more students. Making notes for your lecture or figuring out how to hand out supplies quickly and efficiently are examples of what I mean. I’ll make more suggestions for this in the second part of this series.

Ticket Sales Appeal
A lot of students are aware that a teacher will have more time to spend with them in a small size class. Keeping your class size on the smaller side is a good way to add appeal to your tickets while you’re still getting established as a ‘name’ in the hobby. 

As a general guideline, 6-10 students is probably a good class size for your first time teaching a hands-on class. As you become more comfortable teaching and more familiar with the common questions and issues students will have, you may find you can handle as many as 14-16, but I strongly suggest starting on the lower end and using your personal experiences as a guide as you decide to increase the number. 

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How Much Should You Charge for Classes?

If the fee for your class is up to you, how much should you charge? This is a difficult question to answer! There are several factors to consider:

Event Guidelines and Custom
The event may have guidelines for appropriate ticket prices. Even if it doesn’t, you can get an idea of the range that is customary for that event from prices for tickets in the past year or two, and/or consult with the class coordinator or other instructors you may know who are attending the event.

Name Recognition Factor
Instructors who have won prominent awards, who work with well-known companies, or who have significant social media followings are able to successfully charge higher fees for their classes. Keep this in mind when scanning prices for previous years!  Note that name recognition can vary with venue, and it can change over time in a venue. I paint Reaper studio models and wrote their latest learn to paint kit series. I am well-known to attendees of ReaperCon and my classes there always sell well. AdeptiCon’s focus is Games Workshop and other competitive miniatures games. The first time I instructed at AdeptiCon, I assumed that few people would know who I was, and I priced and pitched my classes accordingly. People that attended enjoy my classes, and with years of word of mouth and repeat students they sell out quickly now.

Attendees are Price Sensitive
There are always people who won’t pay more than a certain amount for a class regardless of who is teaching it. They will be interested in a class on the same topic that costs less even if they don’t know the instructor.

Your Costs
Remember to factor in all of your costs, and aim to have the ticket prices cover as much of those as you need them to. Costs include travel expenses (parking, baggage fees, etc. as well as ticket/gas), housing, and food. But also the costs of any supplies you need to buy. You may need to provide your own figures, or buy a few brushes for students to use. Don’t forget the costs of printing out a handout. 

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Information About Your Class

Once you decide what you’re teaching and how much to charge, you will need to provide more information about your classes. This information will appear in the online event purchasing systems and event catalog books. Prospective students review this information to decide which events they would like to attend.  This is your students’ first encounter with you and your class. What can you share with them to help them decide if this class is for them?

If you aren’t a skilled writer (and lots of visual artists are not), then I recommend that you ask a friend or two who is read over your class information to see whether everything makes sense and sounds appealing to prospective students. 

Keep a Copy
Whether you submit information to an event coordinator or submit it via an online form – keep a copy for yourself! Making a copy of your class descriptions gives you a starting point to write new ones or customize the class to various conventions, and saves you time in the long run.

But it is also a good idea to make notes of the other information you submitted about your class – how many students, the cost, what figure/supplies you’ll provide, anything you might need to reference later to plan what you need to bring or be able to answer questions from prospective students. 

When you submit through online forms you usually receive an acknowledgement of your entry, but this often does NOT include all information you submitted, and some of the information you provide may not be included in event catalogs or other material for you to reference. I have forgotten to note everything down in the past and made things difficult for myself had to bother an event coordinator. (For example, your class might list the total number of tickets that is available, but this number will change as people buy tickets, so you need to have a note of the maximum for students you submitted to be able to plan supplies.)

Scheduling Tips
As mentioned previously, you may not get a lot of input into the scheduling of your classes. If you do, here are some observations I’ve made. People get more exhausted later in the day and the further into the convention. Schedule lecture/discussion classes or those that are complex for earlier in the day and earlier in the convention. Sundays and early morning classes are great time for fun hands-on classes.

Title
From conversations with event coordinators and other instructors, I can confirm that a snappy name for a class can be as effective a method of marketing a class as having a big name teaching it. However, my personal approach is to take the nature of the venue and events listings into consideration as well.

For a miniature hobby focused convention like ReaperCon and AdeptiCon, I will happily use a catchy title if I can think of one. The majority of the audience are familiar with the hobby classes and what they are, even if they aren’t personally interested. Examples I’ve used in the past include Hair’s the Thing and Amazing Glazing

I prefer to use duller, but more descriptive titles for conventions that are huge and/or have a vast array of activities, like Gen Con. These kinds of conventions encompass lots of different crafts, hobbies, and types of gaming, and attendees may peruse thousands of different events. Similarly, if a convention is just adding hobby classes to their event offerings, I’d probably err on the side of boring but descriptive. My titles for the above class topics in this situation would be Painting Hair on Miniature Figures and Glazing: A Versatile Miniature Painting Technique.

About the Instructor
You may be asked to provide information about yourself as part of your class submission. This might be for a separate instructor biography area of a website or convention guide. It is also useful to add a little information of this nature to your class descriptions. The more information attendees have about you and your work, the better able they are to decide if your class is for them. I sometimes take the trouble to do a general web search to find examples of someone’s painting to see if I’m interested in taking their class, but lots of students won’t go to that effort.

Include the following if possible:

* Your nom de brush on online discussion forums and galleries.
* Major awards and accolades.
* Significant working relationships with hobby companies.
* Link to a website/blog/gallery – somewhere people can look at your work.

Level of Your Class
Class submission forms usually ask you to indicate the appropriate skill level for attendees of your class. The trouble with this is that there is not really a universal definition of terms like beginner, intermediate, and advanced. People use and understand these in different ways. I tend to think of beginner techniques as washing and drybrushing, and thus assume that knowledge of blending is understood by the term intermediate. Someone who has been painting tabletop for 15 years and is the best painter at their game store is likely to figure they are at the very least intermediate in level, even if they have no knowledge of the skills I think of as intermediate. Both definitions are reasonable!

After I experienced a few issues due to a mismatch between the level of some attendees and the level of the material in a class, I adopted the strategy of including key prerequisite skills or knowledge in the descriptions for my classes instead of relying solely on class level indicators like beginner/intermediate/advanced. An example of a prerequisite skill would be whether students need to know a form of blending (layering, wet blending, etc.) to be able to execute the effect that you’re teaching. 

Giving some idea of the required skill level is particularly important for hands-on classes. Time is short enough for getting through your main topic overview and then giving critiques to people as they make hands-on attempts. You do not really have time to also teach one or two people the foundational technique needed to execute the subject of your class. People who don’t have the skills to practice hands-on will be very frustrated that they aren’t getting it, and the rest of the class will be frustrated if too much of your time gets used up trying to help just one or two people in the class.

Class Content Description
The description for your class is the only way you have to communicate with all of the students who take your class prior to the class. Snappy titles get people to read the description, but descriptions should provide clear, useful information. If I am very interested in a class topic that has a very brief and uninformative description, I will occasionally take the trouble to look up the instructor’s work to help me decide whether to take the class. But generally speaking, if the instructor couldn’t be bothered to write out clear and descriptive information, I lose confidence in their ability to provide that kind of information in a class environment. (I do make allowances for people offering classes in a second language!) 

Information your class description should include:

* Specific details on what people will learn. Not just ‘how to paint hair’, but information that includes specific details, like ‘where to place highlights and shadows to make hair look shiny, colour recipes for specific colours of hair, and, how to use glazing to shift the colour’.

* Any skill prerequisites people need to have to get full value from your class (and keep them from derailing the class for others.)

* List items they take home from the class (free mini, handout, paint samples, etc.)

* List any materials they need to bring themselves to the class (brushes, etc.) I’ll expand on this in the next section.

Student Supplied Supplies
If you’re traveling and need to prep a class for a lot of people, it seems reasonable to ask the students to bring their own supplies. That works well for a day or weekend workshop where people are packing and traveling primarily for that experience. It typically does not work well for convention classes. People will see the requirements in the class description when they pre-register months before the convention, but forget to refer back to that when packing. Or they’ll remember to pack their supplies, but leave them in their room that morning. People attending a beginner class or a very specialized topic might not even own the necessary supplies, and may be taking the class in part to decide whether they want to spend money to acquire them.

The main supply I ask people to bring is a good brush. Even then, I know that at least one person will forget, and at least one other will bring poor brushes. So I have kept any brush I’ve had that had a goodish point but I just didn’t like or considered worn out for some other reason to use as a class brush. If I were starting out from scratch teaching I would try to find some decent and not too expensive brushes to buy to use for that purpose. I can’t provide one for an entire class, but it has saved a lot of people’s class experiences for me to bring the handful I have. (Do an Amazon search for ‘bulk round brush size 0’ and you should find a reasonably priced option for smaller size synthetic brushes.)

For sculpting/conversion classes, you will likely need to bring tools for every student. People often take sculpting classes to dip their toe into it and thus may not have any tools to bring. Even if they do, the tools are likely to be all over the map in terms of shape and size, and may not fit what you need people to have in order to execute the techniques you demonstrate. I have attended sculpting classes where the teacher purchased tools to make up small tool kits and incorporated the cost of those into the class ticket price. I’ve attended others where the instructor provided handmade tools for each student to use during the class, but kept these to reuse in future classes.

Lately I have also started suggesting that people bring a visor or other magnifying aid, and a battery LED lamp. Some conventions provide a lamp in the class room for the instructor to do demos, but it isn’t practical for them to provide lamps to all students. Convention room lighting can be indifferent, at best. I have been finding that at least one and often two or three people in my classes struggle at times due to feeling like they can’t see what they’re doing. I can’t make people bring those things, but I can recommend it in my class descriptions so they’ll at least think about it. I bring one to class to hand around with sample miniatures, and if someone is really struggling I loan it out to them during the hands-on portion of the class.

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Advertising Your Classes

The area where being a big name is most helpful is in advertising. People quickly snap up tickets for classes with well-known painters at almost any price. When they are considering classes from unknown teachers, they need more information to make a decision to attend, and they are far more sensitive to price and the value of free materials included with the class. 

Note that ‘well-known’ and ‘unknown’ are contextual on a variety of levels. I have seen amazingly talented European painters who had slow-selling classes at AdeptiCon because the audience was not immediately familiar with their real names, and their class descriptions were sparse. My name sells a lot of tickets at ReaperCon where I am well known, but prospective students of classes I teach at local events are far more interested in cheap ticket prices and getting as much take-home stuff as they can for the price than they are in who I am as a painter or a teacher.

A lot of the advertising for your classes will come through the convention’s website and calendar and so on, but you can also further both your own classes and the convention by spreading the world through whatever social media channels you regularly frequent.

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If you made it this far – thank you! And stay tuned for future articles with information about how to prepare for your classes in advance, and tips for teaching a great class.

Convention Schedule: From 60 to 0

A few weeks back I posted my convention schedule for the year. Since then I have been frantically preparing for those conventions. Developing new painting class subjects or significantly updating older ones is always a time-intensive process. In addition to prepping paints and figures for my classes, I was also getting things ready for the miniature painting activities at my local charity fund raiser con, including organizing volunteers, supplies, and donations. (Please consider helping Second Harvest of East Tennessee or your local food bank. Their mission is more important than ever, and they are deeply affected by isolation measures.)

Phone boothsTraveling to Amish country is kind of like going back in time…

A week ago last Wednesday (March 11, 2020) I got on a plane to go to Cold Wars in Lancaster PA. While much of the world was already in the grip of Covid-19, In the USA awareness of our lack of preparedness for it was just starting to build in early March. My husband and I made some ‘just in case’ preparations so we had that taken care of before I traveled. The night before I left I started to have some misgivings about the trip, but it still seemed a reasonable decision to make, and my travel experience was fairly normal apart from easily finding a parking spot at the airport.

With each passing day, things became less and less normal. A pandemic was declared, and the USA finally started to take action to mitigate the speed of disease spread. Even in the ‘con bubble’ (how I feel when I’m at a convention and separate from not only my workaday life, but the rest of the world in general), changes were felt. I washed hands, sanitized, sprayed my belonging with isopropyl alcohol, and worked hard not to touch my face. IHOP removed condiments from the tables and instead brought them pre-packaged with your order. My flight home included a safety briefing about Covid-19 as well as instructions on how to operate my seatbelt, and the flight attendant wore gloves the entire trip.

IHOP CondimentsBye-bye sticky syrup pourers.

Oh, and everything I had been frantically planning for got canceled. (Except ReaperCon!) I started joking that we were at the #lastconinamerica. Now I’m back home. Since I was traveling and socializing much more than is currently advised, I’m sequestering myself as much as I can for a full 14 days. Which at this point is pretty much following the recommendations for everyone in the country (and most others). I don’t work outside the house, so it’s not a huge change in my day-to-day lifestyle, and yet somehow everything is changed.

A lot of you are probably feeling the same way. It’s hard to do much other than scroll Facebook, new sites, and discuss it with friends (in messaging programs at an appropriate distance). It’s hard not to worry if you’ll be able to get toilet paper, or food, or keep your job. It’s impossible not to fret for the health of our friends and families and ourselves, and I know a lot of people are already affected by many of those those things. But if you’re still healthy, and your job is secure and you’re pretty sure you’ll have food on your plate, I’d like to make a suggestion: don’t let anxiety eat you up.

Michegan Toy Soldier booth at Cold Wars 2020One of the last times I was within 10 feet of humans other than my spouse. The Michigan Toy Soldier booth is always a treat! It won’t be at AdeptiCon because none of us are, but you can also check out their cool wares online.

If you follow this blog you are probably a miniature painter, or a traditional artist, or both. If not, I bet you have some solitary hobby or interest you don’t get to enjoy nearly enough. Stay informed, but also take time to turn off the TV or the computer and make use of this unexpected time to do that thing you love that you don’t normally have enough time for. Artists and teachers are responding to this an amazing way and freely making available resources you’d normally have to pay to enjoy. 

Dirty RatsYesterday I finally got to finish up these rats that I started at the Reaper Kickstarter party!

If you were planning to travel to AdeptiCon, check out the AdeptiCan’t 2020 Facebook group. A lot of hobby instructors and teachers are putting together some online together separately activities. There is a stream schedule set up that you can check. Vendors are even giving out swag!

Matt Cexwish is putting a number of his Joy of Basing Patreon videos on YouTube.

There are already a ton of great free miniature painting/sculpting resources available on YouTube that you probably haven’t had time to enjoy. (I know my ‘Watch Later’ list on YouTube is…not short.) And if you are financially secure, now would be a great time to jump into that Patreon or other online class you’ve been eyeing. You could learn a lot and help an artist.

NMM and RMMAaron Lovejoy taught us about real metallics and Elizabeth Beckley about non-metallics at Cold Wars. If you join the Miniature Monthly Patreon, they’ll teach you, too.

We are social animals and we need contact with one another. Yes even the most introverted among us. I don’t have links as readily to hand for how to ‘gather’, but I encourage you to spend some time on social media and figure out methods that might work for you to take care of your social animal needs. That might be phoning a friend/relations, or popping onto a stream chat or Discord. There are programs that allow you to game online with friends, whether you like video games, board games, or role-playing games. There are apps like Zoom that allow you to use your phone or computer to get a group of people together that you can see as well as hear. I’m one of those most introverted among us, so I don’t yet have all the technical intel on how exactly to do all of that stuff to link to, but just hop on your social media of choice and ask friends, and I bet you’ll get plenty of info. And while I am introverted, I am going to be working to figure some of it out to reach out to my more extroverted friends that I think are finding this time much more trying.

If you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, phone meetings are an option at this time. If you would prefer a more secular recovery group, there’s a Discord for that – With Out a Prayer. I imagine there are similar resources for other meeting groups sprouting up. Contact other members of your community to see what your options are. Don’t suffer alone in silence, you need your community more than ever at a time like this!

Lizard LampMy friend Liz gave me this little guy. He’s going to be my lamp buddy and remind me of my great friends in the painting community that I will see again.

Here are some other options to enjoy your unexpected free time inside:

Ever wanted to draw your own comic or teach your kids to? How to Think When You Draw released a great PDF.

The Virtual Instructor has made available several traditional art classes that use minimal supplies.

Audit a course at an Ivy League university and tell everyone how you studied at Harvard/Yale/etc.

Watch a Broadway musical. (Not all of these are freely available, but some are.)

Enjoy the best art in the world from dozens of museums. And unlike viewing it live, you can zoom in!

Watch a live concert from the comfort of your own home.

Take a virtual field trip to a zoo, the Louvre, or even Mars!

The list of institutions, zoos, small businesses, and individuals who are working to provide material to educate, amuse, and distract us is almost too much to keep up with. If you’re having trouble finding something to suit you, check with friends who have similar tastes and I’ll be you find something to do.

Here are a few more memories from my trip to #lastconinamerica. I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at whichever event ends up (safely) being #postapocalypticon.

Cold Wars swagMy Cold Wars swag and souvenirs.

IMG 0619In addition to my lizard friend I have this mug from the Atlanta Military Figure Society (which is not military figures only if you’re in the area!) and now my nifty Cold Wars brush rest to remind me that we may often paint in isolation, but we are a community, and we will come together as a community again.

I hope that you will stay well and take care of yourself as best you can!

2020 Convention Schedule

Every year I mean to do something like this fairly early. I’m remembering to do it this year, though not exactly early. ;->

2020 schedule graphic

 

Cold Wars, March 12-15

Registration is currently open for Cold Wars. Check back occasionally for scheduling of and tickets to classes. Look in the Hobby University section under Games/Events. I am planning to teach the following topics:

Object Source Lighting (OSL)

Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked

Non-Metallic Blades

Fur, Feather, and Scales

The Hobby University classes at Cold Wars are small so you get lots of access to the instructor. Aaron Lovejoy is also a guest this year, and the Hobby University staff offers a great suite of classes. 

AdeptiCon, March 25-29

Registration is open for AdeptiCon, and you can sign up for classes until February 28, 2020. 

Of the classes I am teaching, I still have tickets available for my Critique Clinque class. The aim of this class is to help you better understand critique you receive on your miniatures, and to improve your skills in assessing figures yourself. Both of these should help you discover ways to improve your own figure painting. We will definitely be talking about how ‘needs more contrast’ is a statement a lot more complex (and interesting to solve) than just higher highlights and deeper shadows.

Tickets for my other classes have sold out. However, it is surprisingly common for one or two people to fail to show up to classes. If you are interested in one of these (or a class taught by any of the many, many fine painters who will be attending), you can show up at class time with the fee for the class in cash, and if we have room, we will be happy to add you to the class! If I have an extra mini or two (and I usually do), I will sneak one or two extra people in even if all the registered attendees sign up.

Object Source Lighting (OSL)

Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked (two sessions)

I have written a general overview of AdeptiCon in the past. If you want to learn more about painting miniatures, this is one of your best options in the United States. Dozens of amazing painters teach classes at this convention. Note that the Crystal Brush competition ended as of last year. This year the focus is on manufacturer hosted painting contests, including the United States return of Golden Demon, and Creature Caster’s competition. 

Save versus Hunger

Save vs Hunger is a small convention local to me. It is a fundraiser for one of my favourite charities – Second Harvest of East Tennessee. The focus of the convention is on role-playing game sessions, but there is also a board game library, and a few other activities. I host a paint and take table. People are welcome to bring their own figures (and other supplies) to work on as well. David Cecil has kindly donated his time to run a couple of painting for tabletop classes (times TBD), and he and I will both be available to answer questions, do short demos, and offer critiques.

ReaperCon

Registration for ReaperCon opens on February 14, 2020. Class tickets are not yet on sale. 

I have not yet submitted what I will teach at ReaperCon. I am thinking about teaching OSL and Blending: Cheat Code Unlocked. That class features a method for achieving smooth blends that involves starting off with layering, and then using acrylic retarder to refine the blends as you would with oil paint. (Sort of a way to do wet blending where the paint stays workable for a much longer period of time.)

If you are attending ReaperCon and there is a class topic you would be interested to see me teach, please let me know and I’ll see whether it’s feasible for this year!

ReaperCon is an amazing convention for anyone interested in learning more about painting miniatures. There are dozens of instructors teaching hundreds of classes of all levels and topics. When they aren’t in class, the instructors hang out in the artist area at tables with name plates, so you can seek them out to get some feedback, or ask about their tools and techniques, or just say hi and admire their work up close and personal. ReaperCon is not just for painters, either. It offers the largest slate of sculpting classes and access to sculptors that I know of, both digital and traditional.

You do not have to be a Reaper fanboy to attend. Miniatures by any manufacturer (or that you sculpted yourself) are welcomed into the MSP open contest. You can talk about and use other company’s products. Plenty of other companies are on-site in the dealer hall! 

If you or your friend/relative/partner enjoy something other than miniature painting and sculpting (what, why?), there are also sessions of RPG games, miniatures games, a board game library, and a small video game/pinball arcade. Costumes are welcome – this year’s theme is piratey.

Suggestions for Contest Entries

I wrote this up to post in the Reaper forums as advice for people entering the MSP Open at ReaperCon in a few weeks, but since most of the advice applies to entering any contest, I figured I would share here, as well. (Also it’s not too late to come to ReaperCom 2019, come join us for the fun!)

ReaperCon stage

Hey fellow painters! We’re a few short weeks out from the Reaper MSP Open. I am really looking forward to seeing what everyone brings – it’s a highlight of the show for me!

For many years I have offered feedback on people’s minis after the contest, in classes, or just hanging out at the artist table. I expect I’ll be doing so again in a few weeks. But this year I thought I might also try offering some general advice in advance. These comments are based on the feedback topics that come up most often.

I know some of you have heard similar critique more than one year running, or from more than one critiquer. Which I know from experience is very frustrating! Trust me, I still get told that my work needs more contrast. And I’m still struggling to try to put that advice into practice! So I would like to start with a radical suggestion –

Go Big!

This one is for all the people who’ve received criticism about insufficient contrast, or their OSL not being dramatic enough, or another effect appearing too subtle. So many people worry about being too over-the-top or ‘unrealistic’ while they’re painting, and then after the contest receive feedback that their work is too subtle or subdued. So why not try the opposite for a while? Or try it for even just one figure?

Go big! Exaggerate! Be outright ridiculous! Put so much contrast in there you think people will be flabbergasted. Paint that OSL effect so brightly your viewers will need to wear shades. Exaggerate the action of your diorama story. Whatever you’ve been critiqued for in the past, try not only doing that thing, but dial that thing up to 11.

Then bring your crazy exaggerated piece along to the show. Put it in the contest. Bring it with some pieces you’ve worked on in your usual way. See which gets picked for judging. Take a look at the photos that are taken of all the entries and see which style looks more effective in photographs. Show the work of both kinds to your friends and your favourite teachers and see what kind of response you get.

If you have been painting for years and repeatedly gotten feedback about needing more contrast, or more vivid colour use, or more whatever else, what would it hurt to try at least one figure going to the other extreme? Maybe you’ll find out you need to dial it back just a little. Yeah, maybe your blending or fine detail painting will suffer a bit. But even if that is the case, you’ll probably be closer to where you need to be than you’re getting by slowing inching forward year by year.

Comparison Study

If you entered the MSP Open last year, I invite you to try this exercise. Go to the http://www.reapercon.com page and look at the contest picture entries from previous years. Find entries by other painters that were awarded the same level as you. Then scroll through and look at some of the entries that placed the next level up. So if you were awarded a certificate, look at a few other certificate winners, and the compare those pictures to bronze winning figures. Try to identify specific differences. Compare the level of contrast, the use of lining, whether and how the base materials are painted.

Dionne before afterComparison between different figures with different colour schemes requires a little more detective work, but is a valuable exercise that will improve your painting.

Try to find two or three specific things you want to do more like the people who placed a level higher than you did. Look at the pieces you plan to enter. Did you push yourself to do those things? If not, it’s not too late to go back to the hobby desk and try to incorporate them, or even try painting another piece or two.

(I suggest looking at other people’s entries at the same level because it’s harder to look at your own work objectively, but since it’s been a year, you might also try comparing your pieces from previous years to others as well.)

Read the Rules!

It is always a good idea to study up on the rules, and particularly the nature of each of the categories. https://reapercon.com/contestrules

Try to keep those in mind as you create your entries and decide which category to put them in. Also use that information to temper your expectations. If you put a figure with an elaborate base into the Painters category, the base work is only considered for a small part of the overall score. Regardless of how awesome the base is, the greater emphasis in judging will be on the standard of the paint work. Conversely, if you put a fantastically painted piece in the Open category but it has only a small simple conversion, the paint work is a much smaller component of the judging in that category, and the figure may place a level one or two lower than it would have if assessed on the paint alone.

For Diorama, story is critical. It’s not about having a number of figures together on a base. It’s about telling a story and setting a scene. Make sure your figures are interacting with each other and with elements in the scene. Add elements to the scene that contribute to the story or add interest to areas that don’t have a lot going on. Condense the size of the base if you don’t need that much space to tell the story. (The size of a scene base is another case where being as ‘real’ as possible isn’t always the best answer in terms of catching and keeping viewer interest.)

Bronze Sophie trophyThe MSP Open has fantastic trophies! And great looking medals. (Unfortunately mine are currently packed away for renovations, so I don’t have pics of those.)

Lining (aka Blacklining)

This is an issue that often comes up in feedback sessions. The various areas of your miniature need to be well-defined for the viewer. This definition needs to be apparent at arm’s length as well as in close up viewing. Using a tool like lining to distinguish one section of a figure from another is particularly important when you have adjacent surfaces that are similar in value. So if you have a pale skin person with blond or white hair, you need a bit of a line around the face to help the viewer see that this area is skin, and that area is hair.

Darklining is not the only method to achieve that. You can use strong contrast in your shading and get a similar effect. You can make adjacent surfaces very different in value (dark skin, pale hair). Note that generally speaking shading done via washes alone will not be strong enough. You don’t need to use a stark black. You can use a dark version of the colour of one of your adjacent surfaces (use a darker colour of the darkest surface.)

Sometimes people seem to feel like darklining is unrealistic. In actuality, it often simulates a very real situation. Take a look at someone nearby or in a photo. Where their sleeve meets their arm or the hem of their pants overhangs their shoes, you will likely see a thin line of shadow. Darklining is a way to create that effect on a miniature. Even when it isn’t 100% realistic, it helps make a tiny gaming figure more ‘readable’ to the viewer.

It looks like there are number of tutorials on YouTube that will help you out if you want to know more about the nuts and bolts of how to paint lining on your figures.
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=miniature+painting+lining

Contrast

You’ve probably been told you need it. Maybe you feel like you’re doing it, why can’t people see that? Or maybe you feel like it’s not realistic, why won’t people accept you want to paint in a more realistic way? Or maybe you accept that contrast is a good thing, but you just aren’t having much luck actually doing it. Whichever of the above best reflects your opinion, I have some blog posts for you!

More vs less contrastContrast! Try it!

First, an example of what more contrast actually looks like on the same figure.

Let’s talk about the issue of contrast vs. realism.

The way we think as we paint can make it harder to paint more contrast (includes additional examples of what more and less contrast look like on the same figures.)


And finally some hands on tips for painting with more contrast.


See you in a few weeks!