Some Prose on Cons (Conventions and Shows)

For the past few days, my social media feeds have been awash with updates from friends at Gen Con. And now many of us in the miniature painting/sculpting hobby are headed into the crunch time of preparations for ReaperCon (or Nova Open, or DragonCon). The convention and show season for the year is starting to wind down, but at the same time we’re already starting to get ready for next year’s con season, what with room bookings for AdeptiCon having opened a few weeks ago. In today’s blog post, I want to discuss what the deal is with all of these conventions, and what value they offer to a miniature enthusiast. In a couple of days I plan to make a post about ReaperCon specifically (it’s not too late to plan to go!) But at the end of this post I link to some of the main conventions with miniature painting and sculpting related activities.

Meet the Miniatures

Conventions and shows* with a contest offer the rare opportunity to see the work of a lot of different artists and hobbyists in person. Miniatures are three dimensional objects, so it’s difficult to capture the nuances of sculpting and paint with two dimensional photographs. I remember being very struck by the differences in what the figures painted by the artists I admired looked like in person compared to photographs. Many were less perfectly smooth than they had appeared in photos, but they were also much more lively and interesting to look at in person. This was not just a curiosity – the belief that people achieved perfect smoothness drove my study of miniature painting and very likely distracted me from other valuable techniques and effects. Having the opportunity to view a number of well-painted miniatures in a large contest will show you a myriad of styles and approaches to our hobby and can be very inspiring.

*Look for more information on what a show is as compared to a convention, and for some show dates and locations at the bottom of this blog post.

Make the Miniatures

Do you have trouble finishing your miniature projects? Do you hesitate to push yourself to try unfamiliar effects and techniques?  Entering contests and shows is an excellent way to push yourself to meet deadlines and try new things. Painting for contests is not for everyone, and I have largely taken a break from it myself in recent years, but for many years I found working on entries to be very motivating in several different ways. (Luckily there are online contests, too, so even if you can’t get out to a convention you can still take part in those if you need a little push.)

Classroom 600Michael Proctor, Brice Cocanur, and Aaron Lovejoy – Instructors setting up a classroom for ReaperCon 2017. 

Shop the Miniatures (and accessories)

Most conventions and shows have a vendor area. Shopping at conventions is a great way to expose yourself to new product lines, try out miniature games, and save the cost and wait time of shipping. Again, as miniatures are three dimensional objects it’s not at all unusual to find a miniature that you thought looked pretty meh in an online photo is actually much cooler than you thought when you get to look at it in person.

Improve Your Skills

Most conventions that are focused enough on miniatures to include a contest/show also feature classes and/or seminars related to painting, sculpting, and other hobby topics. These are a fantastic opportunity to learn from the talented artists you admire. I can categorically state that I would not be where I am today as a painter without the dozens of classes that I have taken at conventions over the years. Miniature hobbyists today have some terrific resources online with both free and pay videos, documents, podcasts, etc., but there is still no substitute for an in person class where you can observe more directly, ask questions about what’s confusing you, and get feedback on your own work. 

Adepticon boothBooths at conventions are often as fun to visit as they are to shop.


Meet the Makers

Another opportunity conventions and shows offer is the opportunity to meet the people who create the products you love. This includes both company representatives, sculptors, and painters of your favourite studio miniatures. At ReaperCon you can even get a tour of the factory to see how miniatures are made from start to finish! It is a lot of fun to meet the personalities behind the products. And to have the opportunity to give them your feedback to hopefully see more of what you love in the future.

Be Part of the Family

I think this is the thing that really keeps people coming back to conventions and shows. It is also the thing that doesn’t seem at all compelling to consider if you haven’t yet been to your first one. It is an almost magical feeling to be surrounded by people who share your enthusiasm for the miniature hobby. ReaperCon and AdeptiCon are probably the two places on earth where I don’t feel awkward wandering around wearing my painting visor. :-> And although a convention may not seem like the ideal activity for the more introverted among us, keep in mind that a lot of the other attendees are also introverts. And geeks and nerds. Chances are very high that if you’re a little awkward, or you need to take some time to yourself, or you have some mobility issues or other things like that, there are other people there who will understand that, and you.

A Partial List of Conventions for Miniature Enthusiasts

Chances are good that I’m missing some great conventions! This really only covers what is available in the United States. There are many events in other parts of the world, and I hope that those of you with information on these will share in the comments.

ReaperCon, Dallas TX: August 30 – September 2, 2018 – https://reapercon.com
Nova Open, Arlington VA: August 30 – September 2, 2018 – http://www.novaopen.com
Las Vegas Open, Las Vegas NV: February 8 – 10, 2019 – https://www.lasvegasopen.net
Cold Wars, Lancaster PA: March 14 – 17, 2019 – https://www.hmgs.org/page/CWHome
AdeptiCon, Chicago IL: March 27 – 31, 2019 – http://www.adepticon.org
CMON Expo, Atlanta GA: May? 2019 – http://cmonexpo.com
KublaCon, San Francisco CA: May 23 – 27, 2019 – http://www.kublacon.com
Historicon, Lancaster PA: July 10 – 14, 2019: https://www.hmgs.org/page/HconHome
Gen Con, Indianapolis IN: August 1 – 4, 2019: https://www.gencon.com

A Partial List of Shows for Miniature Enthusiasts

I have referenced shows as distinct from conventions, and you might be wondering about that. Conventions tend to be part of the gaming side of things, and usually include game events as well as painting classes and contests (and panels and media and all kinds of things). Shows are more of a part of the historical miniatures side of things. These days the majority of shows actively include science fiction, fantasy, and horror themed miniatures as well as historical ones, and at some shows the non-historical miniatures may even dominate. There are a number of big shows in Europe, and I think this format may be more popular than the convention style events there. 

The contest at many shows is one where entered figures are judged against a standard and awarded a rank based on that. Some conventions are switching over to this format, others continue to use the top three in a category win an award approach. I’ll talk more about types of contests in a future post, I’m sure. The other thing that is really cool about a show contest is that the miniatures are placed out on raised tables. So you really have an opportunity to look at them up close and from a variety of angles. (This is how we do it at ReaperCon, too!)

Shows sometimes have an intensive workshop you can sign up for that takes place the day or two preceding the actual show date, but very rarely have hands-on type classes during the show. Free seminars with slide shows are common, however. 

Many of the vendors at a show sell products that are unfamiliar to or difficult to access for gaming miniature hobbyists, like cool diorama bits, wood plinths, busts and historical figures, books and magazines related to the hobby, etc. Many of them also have no or poor online presence, so you’ll see things for sale at a show you might not easily see otherwise.

I attend the Atlanta Military Figure Society Show and have been to the recent World Expo that was held in Chicago, but I am sure that my knowledge of the military figure shows is incomplete, and I hope that people will add others they know of to the comments.

The Military Miniature Society of Illinois, Chicago IL: October 19 – 21, 2018 – http://www.military-miniature-society-of-illinois.com/2018-chicago-show
Long Island Miniature Collectors Society Show, Freeport NY: November 16 – 17 2018 – http://www.longislandmodelsoldiers.com/
Atlanta Military Figure Society Show, Atlanta GA: February 15 – 17, 2019 – https://atlantafigures.org/amfs-show-2019/
Military Figure Collectors of America Show, Trevose PA: May? 2019 – http://www.mfcashow.com/upcoming.html
The Historical and Fantasy Miniatures Society of Southeast Oklahoma, Tulsa OK: June? 2019 – http://www.hmsneo.org
Euro Miniature Expo (Euro Militaire) Folkestone United Kingdom: September 22 – 23 – https://www.facebook.com/EuroMiniatureExpo/

Show display 1000Example of an entrant’s display area at the World Expo 2017 show in Chicago. The figures in the center of this photo were painted by Erin Hartwell.