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!

ReaperCon 2018 Photos – Miniatures, People, and More

I think the thing that finally gave me the push to start this blog was my frustration at trying to share painting tips in photo captions on Facebook. But on the flip side of that, I think a blog is a terrible venue for a massive photo dump. So this entry is primarily some links to the photos I have posted over on Facebook.

First up, some photos of the contest entries. Sadly this is only some of the entries. My window of time to take pictures of the entries was briefer than I would have liked by far! ReaperCon is always a super busy show for me between teaching classes and serving as captain of one of the judging teams. I had another complication this year in that I had an episode of bursitis in my hip start up a couple of days before traveling to Texas, and that slowed me down a fair bit a the show. (In related news – I’m old!) So if you do not see your entry here, please trust that it was just a failing of time to get through the whole room with my camera, not a judgement of your work! When I take photos of minis I just work my way down a table taking pics of everything as I come to it, but occasionally having to move to another table as I attempt to avoid being in other people’s way.

After the miniature photos are a series of badly composed and occasionally blurry photos. These were taken at the awards ceremony. I was sitting near the front, but my position wasn’t optimal, and people move fast! Nonetheless, I thought I’d post what I had of people’s moments of glory!

https://www.facebook.com/pg/wrenthebard/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1587853734674471

If you would like to check out photos of all of the entries, go to this page. The show photos are terrific!

https://reapercon.com/mspopen/2018

My other photo directory is filled with pictures I took of a few of the activities at ReaperCon, and many of the people who help make the show what it is.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/wrenthebard/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1711390415654135

I think that wraps up my Reaper coverage for this year. I’ve been painting away on something that I’m excited to post about soon, I hope it’ll be a nice visual example that might help people in their painting.

A Kudo-Filled Promenade

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to take the legendary colour theory workshop of Alfonso Giraldes (aka Banshee). He talked a lot about colour theory and use of colour in miniature painting. We worked on applying the principles to a bust in class, but we didn’t have nearly so much time to paint as I would have liked. When I returned home, I wanted to try to practice a little more, and to try to apply the principles to the type and scale of miniatures I most frequently paint. I had this figure conveniently prepped and primed, so I picked her up, and gave it a go. I think I’ll write a second post in a few days with more about the process behind painting the miniature, for now I’ll just focus on the end result.

After I painted the majority of the main figure, she sat around for a few weeks while I got busy with another project. Then it was about time to get ready for my yearly trip to CMON Expo, and thought she would be a perfect figure to take to enter in the painting contest there. I had an idea for the base that I didn’t end up having time to do, and now I’m vexed that I can’t even remember it! Anyway, I finished painting the figure and entered her in the contest. As usual for me, I hadn’t really thought about a good title for the entry before starting to fill out the entry form. I think she’s based on art where she’s meant to be a shaman. But I ended up painting her in less rustic colours and clothing, so I decided she was more of a fashionable minor noble type out on a leisurely walk, and titled the figure Promenade.I was pleased and honoured when she was awarded first place in the contest! Here is a picture of me looking super dorky holding the very cool Crystal Brush Qualifier trophy.

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This figure is pretty much the only thing I’ve painted that wasn’t for a commission this year, so of course she also came along with me to ReaperCon to enter into the MSP Open. For me that contest is kind of the end of the miniature painting ‘season’. Some contests, like CMON Expo, require that only new pieces can be entered. The MSP Open allows you to enter works that have been in other contests, they just can’t have been entered in the MSP Open previously. I also entered ReaperCon Sophie I showed in the previous post, but this more experimental figure was my primary entry. It is the figure that the judges chose to assess, and was awarded a gold medal. 

Dark Sword Miniatures is the manufacturer of this figure. The owner of Dark Sword, Jim Ludwig, is also a very generous supporter of the miniature hobby. Every year he supplies miniatures to go into the ReaperCon swag bags, and he sponsors special awards at ReaperCon. This year he went even further by having gorgeous trophies created to award IN ADDITION to the already generous cash and product prize awards. I think he also created additional categories for awards. So there were lots of fantastic Dark Sword entries, and lots of lucky winners of super cool prizes. Since there were so many fine Dark Sword entries, I was surprised when Jim announced that I had won first place in Single Miniature. And another super snazzy trophy! I am a little sad that Michael Proctor beat me out to win the best overall Dark Sword piece since his award was Funko Pop Deadpool Bob Ross! Very jealous!

Prom awards 600

But enough babble, here are pictures of the figure itself. If you saw the pictures I posted on Facebook after CMON Expo, these are slightly different. Based on feedback from Banshee and a few thoughts of my own, I did a few touchups before bringing her to ReaperCon. Though there are lots of other things I could have addressed, and that is some of what I’ll be talking about in the next post. After the pictures I’ll post links to where you can buy your own copy of this miniature and other information mentioned in this post, including lots of links for where to see cool looking miniatures.

Prom face base 700

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Links to miniatures and people mentioned in this post:
Buy your own copy of the Shaman figure here: https://www.darkswordminiatures.com/shop/index.php/miniatures/elmore-masterworks/female-shaman.html
ReaperCon 2018 MSP Open awards and pictures of all entries: https://reapercon.com/mspopen/2018
Or you can watch a video of the entire awards ceremony here (jump to time 1:09 for the Dark Sword awards): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pyk3cR6vXU
Alfonso Giraldes’ gallery on Putty & Paint: https://www.puttyandpaint.com/BansheeArtStudio
Alfonso Giraldes’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/alfonso.giraldes?fb_dtsg_ag=Adyp3vAe4JREObizhYIGugtO319zaeaCFzugEFxLHHNQNw%3AAdxYwbavi8F-3SpFp6hg7hgTPkobyQmhTDRGi7VFQdImdA
Michael Proctor’s Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/CleverCrowMinis/?fb_dtsg_ag=Adyp3vAe4JREObizhYIGugtO319zaeaCFzugEFxLHHNQNw%3AAdxYwbavi8F-3SpFp6hg7hgTPkobyQmhTDRGi7VFQdImdA
ReaperCon main page – come join us next year: https://reapercon.com/
CMON Expo main page – and/or come here next year: http://cmonexpo.com

ReaperCon 2018 Sophie: Painting Process

A couple of weeks ago I posted pictures of my completed paint job on ReaperCon 2018 Sophie. (https://birdwithabrush.com/2018/08/22/painting-figures-to-match-art-reapercon-2018-sophie/) She is now available for purchase online at this address. You can also purchase Barglemore and Camille (I’ll share more about painting those soon), the convention mouslings, and a few other figures. And even a swag bag from the convention! I haven’t unpacked mine yet, or I’d show a few pictures here. Maybe next post. Anyway, if you’d like to get your hands on any of that, run, don’t walk, to this link, they’ll only be available for a few days: http://www.reapermini.com/NewReleases

Now that lots of other people can get their hands on this fabulous Sophie sculpt, I thought it might be nice to share some insights into how I painted her. Lately I have really enjoyed using a process that I am calling value mapping. In art world terms, value refers to how light or dark a colour is. Every colour has versions in different values – a light sky blue, a medium value royal blue, and a dark navy blue, for example. Value is one of the major forms of contrast. It is critical to all of the visual arts, but is particularly useful for miniature painters. It is helpful to us to paint adjacent areas on a miniature to have different values. On Sophie, for example, the middle value blues and purples of her dress stand out against the paler colours of her skin and underskirt. So it’s easier for you the viewer to see which parts are which right away. 

Value is also a very useful tool to build contrast within an area. If I really want Sophie’s underskirt to look like it has peaks and valleys the way that Izzy “Talin” Collier drew it and Bob Ridolfi sculpted it, I need to make the peaks appear like they’re receiving more light, and the valleys appear as if they’re shadowed and receiving less light. It is always hard for we miniature painters to push our contrast like this, but we need to do this to make our figures look truly three dimensional!

Usually I paint in the value transitions of lights and shadows as I paint. Lately I’ve been starting by painting a ‘map’ of the major values and the transitions between them by using brush-on primer. (I live in a pretty humid climate, so I often use brush-on primer instead of spray cans anyway.) Reaper makes brush-on primer in black, gray, and white. I usually mix one or two additional values of grey. I didn’t take any pictures of my palette this time, but hopefully you can get the idea looking at these pictures of the miniature. I think I had 4-5 mixes of primer colours in total. I spent somewhere between one to two hours at this at most I think.

Sk wip faceSk wip frontSk wip back

In these first sets of pictures above you can see the main body of the figure after priming on the left, and a work-in-progress shot on the right. You can plainly see on the left version that I am not worried about super smooth blends or picking out every little detail. I’m worried about the big picture of what value do I want on the major areas of the figure, and where are the primary transitions between light and shadow within those areas. Then once I have established the ‘map’, I begin to apply paint on top. I am applying a full coverage of opaque paint on top, I’m just using the value map as a guideline.  You can see that pretty well in the area of her bracers/gloves, I think. 

Hopefully you can also see spots where I refine the initial map. In this second stage I’m working on making smooth blends and adding a bit more detail. So in the value mapping stage I applied the broadest highlights and shadows to areas like the torso plates and the tiny ruffles of her sleeves. When applying colour, I worked a long time on the smooth transitions on the large panels of her dress, and added detail shadow and highlights to the torso plates and ruffles. 

There are variations of this technique that involve layering transparent paint over the value mapping. In the traditional art world, this is known as grisaille if done using greyscale paints, and other terms with different colours. If I were using one of those variations, I would have to take more care in the value mapping stage to make smoother blends and bring out more details. In fact in this case, many of the colours I used were slightly transparent, so it was a bit of an effort to get down nice opaque coats to completely cover my value map over. So why did I take that effort?

I am finding more and more that if I can break up some of the stages of painting a miniature, I’m more likely to get more elements correct. We ask a lot of ourselves as miniature painters. We have to figure out where there would be more light and shadow on a figure based on our imaginary light source. And blend smoothly between those lights and shadows (or correctly apply texture strokes). That’s a lot to try to work on at one time, and it’s really common to have the location of shadows and highlights spread or drift, or to end up with insufficient contrast between them. If I use the value mapping method, I break the task of figuring out where things should be lighter and darker into a separate step. Then I can concentrate on applying the paint as smooth blends or textures to the best of my ability as another separate step. 

In the case of Sophie, things were complicated a little bit by the fact that I could not attach her wings at the beginning, or I wouldn’t have been able to get the paint everywhere I wanted it. I did a little priming on them prior to assembly, then once I glued the wings on (I love that extra attachment point on the skirt, thank you Bob!), I went through the process of value mapping again with the wings, and also with the stone texture on the base.

Sk wip wings frontSk wip wings back

Here on the wings the process may even be more obvious, at least from the front view. I did not bother at all picking out the bony spines of the wings at the value mapping stage. I’m a fairly messy painter, and likely any detailing like that would only have gotten covered over while trying to do the blends. So it saved me time to only worry about the big picture when value mapping. In the picture from the back, you can see that I also can course correct if I haven’t done a great job of all the areas on my map. As I was painting I decided that the top of the wing in the lowered position would be receiving more light than I originally thought, so I added more highlights.

One more picture to share. One of the things I love about Bones miniatures is how useful they are for doing practice and study. In the past I would have practiced freehand shapes on a flat surface like a base or primed piece of plastic. This can easily lead to sizing errors between the practice and the real figure, and doesn’t help you figure out how to apply the freehand to a three dimensional shape. Or I would have had to go through a lot of trouble to prep and prime a metal miniature. Now I just look out for a Bones miniature that has similar shapes to what I’m trying to test, bust out some paint, and get to testing immediately. Below you can see how I was working out how to break down some of the shapes from Izzy’s concept art into patterns I could replicate in freehand painting. If I had had the time time or was a little less practiced at this process, I would spent a lot more time practicing on my test figure.

Sk wip freehand2

So that is my little bit of insight into my painting process for ReaperCon Sophie 2018. As of the date of upload of this blog, she is available on the Reaper website for purchase along with some of the other convention figures, but they are limited release figures that will only be available for a brief time. So if you want to try your hand at painting this lovely figure (and it was fun to paint despite the deadline issues!), go grab one now!

Other figures featured in this post –

Sir Malcolm, Templar Lightbringing (also available in metal): https://www.reapermini.com/search/malcolm/latest/77423
Pre-cast resin base of forgotten origin.

ReaperCon 2018: MSP Open Contest – Diversity!

One of the things I love about an open show like the MSP Open at ReaperCon is the diversity of entries I get to see. Garage kits, tanks and armour, a scratch built ship – with  dozens of crew!, book ends, gumboil prizes, fan statues, snow globes… I can’t even remember all of the cool creative things I’ve seen over the years that I could never have imagined seeing in a standard miniature contest. 

I hope to be able to post a lot more pictures of contest entries once I get home and have more internet access, but in the meantime, here is an overview of some of the variety we enjoyed looking at this year!

(Also here’s a link to the official contest photo page with photos of all of the terrific entries and winners: https://reapercon.com/mspopen/2018)

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Hopefully I’ll be back blogging soon with more insights into ReaperCon 2018 fun!

 

 

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!