Tips for Contest Entries – Part 1

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In person conventions are back on the calendar, and with them many opportunities to enter painted figures in contests and shows. Online contest opportunities will continue for those unable to attend an event in person. I’ve been entering figures into online and offline contests and shows for years, and have also acted as a judge at several. I want to share some suggestions to help you show off your work to best advantage. Even if you’re not interested in contests, many of these tips are relevant to anyone looking to improve their work.

I also have an article that explains the different formats and terminology used in miniature contests. It includes links to upcoming events with miniature contests.

Beckley displayElizabeth Beckley’s contest entries at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

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1. Build a Solid Foundation

Judges assess entries not just for painting quality, but also overall craftsmanship. Minor issues can make or break your chances in a top three contest. Imagine that the judges are considering two figures for third place. The pieces are fairly equal in painting skill, effectiveness of colour scheme, etc. The judges have to look for small things done better or worse. If they spot noticeable mould lines, a gap in a join, or some other kind of workmanship issue, that makes the choice for them. If the situation were choosing between a piece that was slightly better painted but has construction problems versus one that is well constructed but slightly less inspired in paint, the latter might win.

The importance of this varies some with category as well as with each contest, but the point I want to make is that if you’re looking to be competitive in contests, you need to practice your hobby skills as well as your pure paint skills. In an open show like the MSP Open this aspect is a smaller part of what is considered in the Painter category, but basic or egregious issues could still affect your top medal placement potential. It is a larger part of what is considered in the Open category, and is important for placing in the top three in the manufacturer categories.

Areas to consider:

Mould Lines
We all hate ‘em. They’re a pain to deal with in every material. At a minimum you should remove pronounced mould lines or those that travel over prominent areas viewers will easily see. This would include on the face and areas of skin in general, and large smooth expanses like a cloak or robe. For the MSP Open, mould lines would not affect your ability to place Bronze, but start to be more of an issue for being awarded Silver or Gold.

MouldlinesMould lines on a plastic figure coated with a layer of paint (left) and bare metal figure (right).

Assembly Gaps
When you glue an arm or a head on a multipart figure, sometimes there is a gap at the join. So instead of the appearance of smooth flesh, you have a crevice at the shoulder or the elbow. These are best addressed prior to painting. Modelling paste works well for small gaps. You may need to use a two part putty like Greenstuff or Milliput to fill large gaps. Putties also add to the structural integrity of joins. You can use these same materials to fill gaps on pre-assembled figures. If you have a pre-assembled figure that has excess glue in the join areas, you can carefully chip it off with a hobby knife.

GapAn assembly gap on a plastic figure. Metal figures can be even more problematic since different pieces may experience different levels of mould compression in casting.

I recommend using pins when you glue parts together, particularly on metal miniatures, and particularly for gaming miniatures. This increases the strength of the join and reduces the chances that the join will break during transit or handling. This is less of an issue for lighter weight plastic or resin miniatures. 

It’s easiest and most efficient to complete all gap filling and assembly prior to beginning to paint, but sometimes that is not possible. When it is not, try to dry fit all the pieces to check that they go together as well as possible. Paint what you need to paint to be able to assemble. Be prepared to have to do a little gap filling and paint touchup after assembly.

Floating Feet
It’s fairly common to attach a figure to a base via a pin in one or both feet (or its cloak or whatever part is touching the ground.) It’s also fairly common for this attachment to not be 100% flush, even if it looked like a tight fit when you did your dry fit test. This is another gap that needs to be addressed. If the feet or clothes that are supposed to be touching the floor appear to be floating above the earth, it breaks the illusion of the scene, as well as being a craftsmanship issue. You can use the same gap fillers as with figure assembly. It is worth filling the gap and doing a little repainting even if this occurs when gluing a fully painted figure to a fully painted base in the end stages.

Floating feet crI learned to plant the figure on solid ground early on, so I don’t have a lot of examples at hand. The figure in the above photo is pinned via the opposite foot. This foot was glued down, but has broken free of the glue and is floating. A photo of the solid footing version is included in the Category Divisions section below so you can compare.

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2. Paint the Base!

Most basing materials need to be painted. Even if the sand or gravel you used on your base is a suitable colour of dirt or rock for your scene, you should paint it. The reason we add washes/shadows and drybrushing/highlights to figures is because they don’t really look three dimensional under standard lighting. We are simulating the effect that in-scale lighting would have on the figure. We need to paint the basing material for the same reason – so it looks in scale with the figure. Painting both the figure and the base also helps join them together as being a part of the same world. It gives you the opportunity to use some of the same colours and unify your colour scheme. Like if you used a dark blue or brown on your figure’s cloak, you could use the same colour as a wash on your stones or earth. I often use lighter colours I used in painting the flesh or leather for the lightest highlights when drybrushing stone or dirt.

(I learned this tip soon after I started painting so I don’t have a convenient example, but will try to add one as time permits.)

Materials like static grass, undergrowth, and leaves may not need to be completely painted, but they often still benefit from a little paintwork. For example, applying a wash on the grass with a shadow colour from your figure can help unify the scene or dull down bright grass that might compete for attention with your figure’s gritty colour scheme. Drybrushing the tips of the grass/vegetation can also contribute to your scene. You can use a light greenish-yellow if you want the grass to look healthy, or a brown or tan if you want it to look like it’s dying. Adding some paint to your basing materials helps you tell more of a story as well as looking more realistic. I recommend doing some tests on adding paint to your materials prior to assembling your contest entries. I’ve had some grasses and vegetation that resisted the paint a little and caused spatters. With these I paint them off of the piece and then glue them on once the paint has dried.

At the MSP Open, unpainted basing materials are a very common issue that we see with first-time entries. It’s not a deal breaker for placement at Certificate or Bronze, but it does affect consideration for Silver and Gold.

3. Clean up Your Act

Quick and even slapdash may be the order of the day in getting a figure to the game table quickly, but entries with a high degree of finish tend to place better in contests. This is particularly important in top three style contests where the discovery of an unpainted area or unplanned paint spatter or streaks can make the decision for a judge who is torn between two figures for a placement.

During the construction phase, check for excess glue, basing gravel drifting onto the base rim, and similar types of things that might look a little sloppy, and tidy these up as best you can. After the painting phase, carefully check the figure for stray streaks of the wrong colour paint, bits of primer showing through, or a small item you completely forgot to paint. (It happens. A lot!) Taking a photo of your figure from a few different angles can be very helpful to spotting those things.

Paint streak

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4. Consistency Counts

People often think that use of a ‘flashy’ technique is required to do well in a miniature painting contest – something like freehand, source lighting, texturing, weathering, non-metallic metal (NMM). Those techniques can be good ways to demonstrate brush skills, creativity, and an understanding of light. And since so many people think of those as difficult or advanced techniques, they can certainly attract votes in popular vote contests. 

In contests and shows judged by experienced painters, however, it isn’t always the case that you ‘need’ to use a technique like that. If you do try a flashy technique, the judges will assess how well you executed that technique/effect in addition to considering the overall painting skill you demonstrate on the piece. It’s also important to remember that the judges are looking at the figure as a whole. If you painted some jaw-dropping NMM on the metals but just a basecoat and a wash on the leather, both are factored into the judges’ assessment. Many competition painters have been in a situation of having spent hours and hours on the main parts of their piece only to run out of time and have to phone in a few areas, and it has made the difference in where they placed, or if they placed at all.

Another way to think of it is this – your figure isn’t being judged only on the single best part of it, or the single worst part of it. The judges are looking at it as a whole, both in terms of how well you convey the story and character of the figure(s), and kind of calculating an ‘average’ of your hobby and painting skills.

Brefore after new frontI entered the version on the left in a contest. I ran out of time before I could add wood grain texture to the staff. When I went back later to paint that in, I also realized that some areas did not have enough contrast, and I adjusted those, too. These were some sections of the non-metallic metal, and increasing the texture on the leather parts, which is most noticeable on the staff. The level of detail and finish on the staff does not match the rest of the figure. There is a close-up below. (Any differences in colour, as on the hair, is due to the photographs.)

Before after staff cu crIn this close up of the staff you can see that I added both texture and also more contrast. Compare the shadows in the crevices and under downward facing curves in the before and after versions. The after fits better with the levels of contrast and detail on the rest of the figure. In MSP terms, the original version of this figure would probably have been awarded Gold level, but it’s possible that one or more of the judges might have judged it Silver quality based on the weaker areas.

In the MSP Open (and other show style contests), people are often surprised at which figure from their display that we choose to judge. Usually they expect us to judge a piece where they used a difficult technique that they struggled over. Sometimes we chose another figure than expected because we feel it comes together as a whole better, or that it displays your overall skills to better advantage. The fact that something felt simpler to paint doesn’t necessarily make of lower quality than something that felt really challenging. It may have felt simpler because you were using skills that you have more mastery over.

Note that painting a figure to completion or consistently throughout doesn’t mean that you should paint every area with the same amount of contrast, the same number of layers, etc. If you read the Focus section in my Mistletoe Goblin post, it gives some examples of making decisions to emphasize some sections of the figure and deemphasize others to create areas of focus. The basic idea is that you need to paint the boots or the belt pouches so they look finished and like real items that are part of the scene, but you only need to paint them enough for that. Then focus the bulk of effort and bright colours/contrast/interesting effects and so on in the key areas of attention, like the face.

Bugbear before crNote that consistency is relevant to all levels of entries. The skin, pouches, and shield of this bugbear are painted with good contrast. Some other areas are painted decently but not quite to the same standard. The face isn’t all defined or interesting to look at, and there are a few other sections that are just flat basecoats. In MSP Open terms, the pouch and shield might be Silver level painting, but the face is Certificate level, and other areas are Bronze level. This would be awarded Bronze at best. (Award levels cited are for example purposes only.)

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5. Read the Rules!

I know it sounds obvious. But ask just about anyone who’s entered contests for a while and they’ll have a story of how they or someone they know was disqualified from consideration for rules-related reasons. Misreading the rules can also result in entries being shifted into a different category than you expected. Read the rules before you begin working, and then read them again while you’re working. I’d go ahead and read them again just before the event, as well. It’s easy to misread something or confuse it with how the rules work in another contest.

Many contests tweak their rules from year to year, so even if you’ve entered that contest previously, it’s best to read this year’s rules to be certain you’re familiar with them. Unfortunately It is not uncommon for contests to take a while to upload the rules each year. All of these efforts are organized by volunteers and can take much more coordination with other entities than you might imagine, so delays are often unavoidable. If you need to make an early start on an entry, you may need to proceed as if the rules will be similar to the preceding year, and hope you can shift gears a little if something does change.

I’ve made rules-related goofs myself. Long ago Reaper ran a monthly contest on their forum. The rule at the time was that you could show multiple views of the figure, but each photo had to be uploaded individually; you should not combine them into one large picture. I combined, and I was disqualified. On another occasion, I entered a unit into the contest at Gen Con. I assumed the rules were the same as the previous year. When I arrived at the event I discovered the rules had been updated to require that units be submitted on a movement tray, and I found myself scrambling to buy something from the vender hall and paint it flat black with paper towels in order to be able to submit my entry.

Crew frontPaper towel and black paint to the rescue!

Areas to look out for particularly in the rules are:

Size
There may be a size limit for entries based on the available display space. Sometimes people with larger entries are asked to contact contest management in advance to check if there is room or reserve space for their entry. Remember that the size applies to all three dimensions. Sometimes the limitation is in place because of the height or width of display case shelves.

Category Divisions
Many contests divide entries into different categories. These may be based on subject, size, number of figures, or other criteria. Make sure you understand the guidelines for a category you plan to enter as well as possible. One contest might consider a piece that depicts a victor with a subjugated victim at their feet a single figure and the victim is just scenery. Another contest might rule that the piece is composed of two figures so it can’t be entered in single figure. Be aware that most contests reserve the right to shift entries to more suitable categories or combine categories if   fewer people enter a category.

Minx front closeAre the skeletons on the base scenery or characters? One contest might allow this in single figure, another might require it to be entered in diorama.

People are sometimes confused about which category to enter in the MSP Open at ReaperCon. The following includes some guidelines to consider when choosing your category. If the team judging your piece feels it is likely that would receive a higher level award if your entry is shifted to another category, they will shift it. (If you already have entries in the other category, they will not shift it.) You can see the entries from previous years by category and how they placed by looking through the galleries in the Painting Contest dropdown menu on the ReaperCon site.

There is an index of MSP Open questions, including specifics on categories and expanded information on the judging process, thoughts from judges, etc. on the Reaper forums.

Painter: The majority of the consideration is paint based – colour choices, success of paint application techniques, success of paint related effects, etc. Basing, conversion, and sculpting are considered in terms of presentation, workmanship, and creativity. 70% of the consideration is paint alone. However, it is certainly the case that adding some scenic elements to your piece gives you additional opportunities to show us your paint skill and make your piece much more creative! Creative and well-done basing and scenic efforts can also improve your chances to be considered for the manufacturer awards and special prizes. 

Open: This category is for pieces that have been heavily converted and/or scratch sculpted. The gold plus standard here is a figure sculpted completely from scratch that is also expertly painted. A figure with a simple weapon or head swap on a basic base is not likely to place higher than bronze, regardless of how well painted. An elaborately constructed base is also unlikely to achieve high placement if the figure(s) on it are stock or only lightly converted. In Open, paint related elements are only 30% of the consideration. Workmanship, difficulty, and presentation are highly valued here.

Diorama: The focus here is on story. A simple piece with two figures telling a clear and evocative story may place higher than a complex scene with multiple figures if the interaction and story between them isn’t very clear. Basing, conversion, and overall workmanship are valued here, but if you can tell a great story with stock figures and scenic elements, that is great too!

Ordinance: Workmanship and painting skill are weighted fairly equally here. Weathering and evoking the appropriate environment for the vehicle are helpful to demonstrate these. Any figures that may be present are considered in the same way that as scenic items would be on a figure’s base in another category. The focus is on the painting, staging, and presentation of the vehicle itself.

Basing Guidelines
Some contests have rules related to basing. Contests by gaming miniature companies may require bases of a particular size and shape for certain figures. Units may need to be entered on a movement tray. Plinths may or may not be allowed. In all cases there may also be guidelines of whether or not additional basing like trays and plinths is or is not considered in judging. 

There was at least one year at Gen Con where several units were entered on paper plates. The contest required a movement tray so judges could safely transport the figures to and from the case for judging, but the tray itself was not considered in the judging. I heard about another contest where painters who customized their plinths who were disappointed to find that the plinth was not photographed or considered in the judging of the entry.

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6. Don’t Forget Manufacturer and Special Awards!

Many convention contests and shows have a central structure for awards, but also have one or more supplemental awards. The supplemental awards are often sponsored by manufacturers, but some may be awarded for particular subjects or other factors. It’s always worth looking out for a manufacturer whose products you like. You’ll help them by showing off their figures, and you’ll have a chance at winning some prizes and recognition. I’ve been at many a competition where manufacturer contests were lightly entered, even when the manufacturers were offering generous prize support and/or cool trophies! That said, it is generally the case that higher value cash prizes attract more entries, particularly if it’s from a company that’s already established and many people may own some of their figures.

Msp prizes 2019 2The medals at the front are the general awards for the MSP Open in 2019. All of the other trophies and items are special awards and prizes!

At ReaperCon, the main MSP Open is a show that is open to figures from all manufacturers. Reaper also sponsors top three trophies in several categories, including special awards for entries of Mouslings and awards for giant sized monsters, and there are additional manufacturer awards as well. The Atlanta figure show includes awards for best flat, best Napoleonic era, and best fantasy, among several others. Gen Con’s contest usually includes several manufacturer awards. 

AwardsThe special awards table at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

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Figures in this Post

Savage Beauty by Black Sun Miniatures
Beorogg Black Rime Frost Giant Jarl is available in plastic or metal.
I don’t know the dwarf and chibi figures
Torlan the alligator man
Blacksmith is available in plastic or metal.
Frost Giant Queen
The Bugbear is available in plastic or metal.
The Heresy Inspectors
The sorceress is out of production.

Miniature Contests at Conventions and Shows

If you like the work I do on this blog, please consider supporting it via my Patreon.

This article provides some general information about miniature painting (and sculpting) contests at conventions and shows. I occasionally write articles with tips for people entering contests, and rather overstuff every contest-related article with general information and definitions, I’ve put it here for easy reference. I also have an article with some general information on why it’s worth attending a convention or showing up to a show.

Msp prizes 2019 2Prizes and awards at the MSP Open in 2019.

At the bottom of this article is a list of all of the conventions and shows with miniature contests that I’m aware of, with dates and links to further information. If you know of a contest that isn’t listed here, please let me know about it so I can include it!

First up is a glossary of common terms related to contests.

Podium or Top Three Contest
Many gaming convention contests and online contests are organized podium style, like the Olympics. Within each category, there are a set number of winners. First, second, and third is pretty common, but some contests award first through fifth place, and a small contest may only award first place. In these contests the entries are ranked by judges or popular vote, and the best three (or designated number) are awarded trophies/prizes. Some contests allow ties. There are usually limits to how many figures you can enter in each category and/or overall. There may also be additional prizes offered by specific manufacturers for the best first through third (more or less) figures painted from their company.

Depending on the size of the contest and the way it is organized, judging may be conducted by a single person or a team. Judges may be miniature painters, guest artists, or representatives of a sponsoring company.

Msp prizes 2019Left: Sophie trophies for the top three Reaper figures in each category at the MSP Open 2019.
Right: Large Monster trophies.

The Reaper MSP Open includes a podium contest element in the manufacturer awards. All entries that include Reaper figures are considered for top three placement in their categories. The winners earn bronze, silver, or gold Sophie trophies. Other manufacturers also sponsor awards at the MSP Open.

Another podium contest many miniature painters are unaware of are the IMPS shows. While awards are first through third place, IMPS shows have some elements in common with shows. Entries are displayed on tables rather than cases. They are judged by teams following established guidelines for standards. Although the focus of these shows is on models, they have categories and prizes for miniature figures, and attending one of their meetings or shows could be a great way to meet local miniature enthusiasts. I really enjoyed attending my local IMPS show, both as an entrant and a viewer. There are IMPS clubs and shows around the world. The USA site has a map and listing of clubs so you can find one near you.

Open Show Contest
The open format began in the military miniature figure community, but in recent years has been adopted by some convention and manufacturer contests. In this format, entrants can enter a number of figures into each category, and even arrange them together in an attractive display that might include risers and a cloth backdrop. Entrants can also include information about the piece with their entry. This might be a description of the inspiration or historical background, and/or work in progress pictures that document steps of sculpting, conversion, and/or painting.

World expo 2017 2The medals at the World Expo in 2017 filled several tables!

Figures are assessed in given criteria against a standard of achievement, and are awarded a placement based on the standard. If 40 people enter gold quality work, 40 golds are awarded. If no one enters gold quality work, no golds are awarded. There are often additional special awards that might be sponsored by the host organization or individual members. The Atlanta awards show includes special awards for best Western themed piece and best Monster, among several others.

In the military shows and those that adopt the same format, there are guidelines for the overall process, category judging, and training of judges –  the International Judging Criteria. The Reaper MSP Open is one of those shows. Open shows at gaming conventions or organized by miniature manufacturers may be conducted in a different fashion. Under the International Judging Criteria, entries are judged by a team to make judging as equitable as possible. Alternate judges are on hand to step in if a judge has a bias for or against an entrant, and judges do not assess their own pieces. The process is overseen by an overall director who is available to review discrepancies in judging and help resolve any technical issues or confusion.

IMG 5822Example of a display area at the Atlanta show in 2019.

Note that there can be a difference in the standard for each medal level between shows. The MSP Open at ReaperCon is a very encouraging show. The World Expo Open is a very stringent show. Many figures awarded gold at an encouraging show might instead earn silver at a tough show, with only the best of the best earning gold. But the idea of judging to a standard and maintaining consistency is the same among all of the shows who use the International Judging Criteria. 

Volunteers Make it Happen
Convention or show, all of these events depend on volunteers. Contest volunteers often work a full workday or more of hours each day of the convention. They provide fun content to attendees at the cost of limiting their own time available to attend events, take classes, shop, or even just socialize. They are not paid for this, at most receiving a free entry badge and hotel accommodation. Respect their efforts by being polite, making yourself aware of the contest rules and schedule, and following them. Events have been reduced in scale or disappeared completely for lack of volunteer interest because volunteers burn out.

Reapercon entering 2019The volunteers in any contest area work hard to help you enter and retrieve your entries, organize the judging, and answer a lot of questions.
Volunteers Alison Liu and Debby Lewis (seated) assist entrant David Cecil, while award sponsor Michelle Farnsworth looks on.

Judges
Most contests select experienced painters as judges. Contests with a small judging team may not permit judges to also enter the contest. When judges are permitted to enter, they do not assess their own work or make podium decisions in categories that include their own work. Judging a larger contest takes hours, and is often conducted late at night to minimize disruption to viewers of the contest entries. It is a lot of fun to be able to see all the entries up close and from different angles, but it is also a gruelling process filled with difficult decisions. Judges know how much work goes into an entry, and it is tough to know that you will be disappointing some people. Note that many judges also work as contest volunteers and/or hobby class instructors, which is a lot of additional work that limits their time to enjoy the event as a whole.

Dark sword judging rc 2018Dark Sword has generously supported convention contests for years. Here owner Jim Ludwig is assisted by Mengu Gregor in choosing the Dark Sword winners at the MSP Open in 2018

Contest Rules
Every contest has rules. While there are commonalities, the rules of each contest are unique, and may change from year to year. The onus is on you to be aware of the rules. Entries that don’t conform to the rules may be placed in a different category than you intended, or completely disqualified from consideration. If it is later discovered that someone did not follow the rules, they might be stripped of their award.

Contest rules include guidelines for each category, and maximum size of piece accepted. There may be rules related to the kinds of bases required or permitted.  Most contests require you to be attending the event to enter. Many require that only the entrant have worked on the piece (apart from the use of commercially available figures and components). Others may not have rules forbidding multiple artists to work on an entry, but may only allow one entrant to be named as the creator.

I’ve linked to contest rule information for each convention at the bottom of this page, where I could find it.

Submission and Pick Up
It is very important that you familiarize yourself with the schedule for entering and retrieving entries. Fill out forms in advance if possible. Remember that lots of people try to enter at the last minute. Contest staff reserve the right to stop accepting entries after a certain time even if a line of people remains. Be kind to contest volunteers and make your life easier by entering well before the deadline!

You will not be able to pick up your entry prior to a certain time, and you must retrieve your entry by a certain time. Be familiar with these times and make your event and travel plans accordingly. Venues give the convention or show a strict deadline by which they must be packed up and out of the venue. You may forfeit ownership of your entry if you do not pick it up by the deadline. Events are not under any obligation to mail unclaimed entries or prizes. At conventions, you will be given a receipt during submission that you will need to present when you come to pick up your entries. This ensures that only the owner can pick up miniatures. If you are unable to pick up your entries, you can give your receipt to a friend to retrieve them for you. If you earned an award or prize but were not present to pick it up (or the contest doesn’t have an awards ceremony), you can usually pick it up at the same time as you retrieve your figures.

Award winnersAward ceremonies move fast and can be hard to photograph. It’s often easier to get pictures of award winners with their trophies afterwards.
Left: David Diamondstone accepts a gold Sophie trophy from award presenter (and painter) Michelle Farnsworth.
Right: Michael Proctor poses with his Crystal Brush trophy following the awards ceremony.

Award Ceremonies
Many contests announce winners and award trophies and prizes at a scheduled awards ceremony. Since they know people may be involved in other events, it is generally not required to be present to accept your award. You will be able to pick it up later. (But of course check the rules, some may require you to be present to win!) Whether a contest is larger or modest, it is a lot of fun to be present to receive an award and to see friends be recognized for their work.

First Cut
In podium style contests it’s common for judges to do a first cut. They separate out the most competitive entries, and then rank these to select the final winners. Some contests have a shelf set aside for first cut miniatures so entrants can at least get the feedback of whether they were in the running. Some contests may not have an official first cut area, but you can sometimes get an idea by how figures have been moved around in the display area.

Honourable Mention
Occasionally when there is a very tight race for placement, the piece that didn’t get awarded will be called out as an Honourable Mention. This lets the entrant know that their work was of very high quality and competitive for an award, but they do not receive a trophy or prize.

JudgesA judging team confers at Smoky Mountain Model Convention in 2019.

Judges’ Selection/Mention
Some contests award this regularly, some occasionally, some not at all. This is a piece that the judges loved, but which did not win another award.

Best in Show
Some contests award a Best in Show prize to a single piece or the top three pieces. For some, this might be a judged award. The judges usually consider all of the pieces awarded first place in their category and then select the Best in Show winner(s) from these. In other contests, this might be a popular vote. The Best in Show at the Reaper MSP Open is a modified popular vote contest. Everyone who has entered a piece in the MSP Open can vote for their favourite to win Best in Show. Three total prizes are awarded – overall Best in Show, runner up Reaper, and runner up non-Reaper.

Popular Vote
Some contests or some prizes within a contest are awarded by popular vote. Popular vote via likes is common for online contests conducted on social media platforms like Facebook. In a popular vote contest, viewers or a subset of viewers chose their favourite piece, and the one with the most votes wins. Viewers tend to be drawn to the same kinds of quality as judges, but they are also heavily influenced by other factors. Viewers are more likely than judges to factor in their personal feelings about the sculpt rather than considering only the merits of the workmanship and presentation. Viewers are as strongly drawn to story and character as they are to technical prowess. When considering technique, viewers tend to put a lot of value on techniques that are considered challenging, like freehand or source lighting, but they may not assess these as critically as judges would. They may not recognize the challenge level of more subtle techniques like smooth blending or complex colour use. 

Rc bis ballot box 2018Voting can be serious and thematic!

Manufacturer Awards
Many manufacturers offer awards within the context of a larger contest. For example, Dark Sword Miniatures has offered awards at Gen Con and the MSP Open. The manufacturer decides the number of awards and the prizes, which might range from ribbons, to trophies, to free product, to cash. The manufacturer also determines how their awards are judged. Often it is someone from the company itself, but they may designate or be assisted by one or more seasoned miniature painters.

Manufacturer awards, especially for smaller or newer manufacturers, are often much more lightly entered than the main categories. They are a great opportunity for an up-and-coming painter to get some recognition and win some prizes. It is not uncommon for information on manufacturer awards to be announced some time after the main information for a contest is posted. Keep an eye on the contest information page and follow your favourite companies to keep an ear out for late additions to the awards lineup.

Category Divisions
Many contests divide entries into different categories. These may be based on subject, size, number of figures, or other criteria. Make sure you understand the guidelines for a category you plan to enter as well as possible. Podium contests often divide categories by size and broad type. Examples might include gaming scale Sci-Fi/Modern Single, Monster, Bust, Large, Unit. Open shows group figures regardless of size into Painter (the focus is primarily on painting), Open (the focus includes both sculpting and painting), and Vehicle. The military shows separate Painter and Open by subject – Fantasy Painter/Open includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Historical Painter/Open includes figures from any period of history, including modern day. Some open shows may have additional categories, such as diorama/vignette.

Entrance Fees
The cost to enter a contest or show varies considerably. Remember that there is a cost to the event to run a show or contest. They have to rent space from the venue and equipment like display cases or tables, and the cost of these can be considerable. Purchasing awards like trophies, ribbons, and medals is another additional cost. Fee options include:

* There is no fee or the fee is included with your event pass.
* There is a separate fee for exhibitors (entrants), but it covers as many entries as you are permitted under the contest rules.
* There is a fee per piece entered into the contest.

Hatchlings gc 2011Awards and winners in the junior division at Gen Con 2011.

Skill Level Divisions
Many contests have a Youth or Junior division or award system to help encourage young people to try out the hobby and participate in contests. It is rarer, but some contests have a Master category. Entrants who have won in the past or sell painted figures may be confined to this division. While this can seem like an equitable way to spread awards a little further, in practice there are painters who make a living selling miniatures who do not paint at the highest levels, and hobbyists who do, so it doesn’t always work as expected/desired.

Some shows have a grand master or similar system, to which one or two new members are added each year. The criteria for being voted into grand master generally includes not only entering consistently high level work over several years, but also having made contributions to the club or hobby as a whole. The MSP Open has the MSP Medallists. The existing members vote in one new member per year. While this is a great honour, it comes with a few penalties. MSP Medallists are not eligible to win Sophie trophies. If the work they enter into the MSP Open does not merit gold medal level, they do not receive any award. 

Viewing Entries
Contests that are held as part of a gaming convention are usually located in a high traffic area. Entries are placed into glass fronted display cases with shelves from the floor to five to six feet up. Viewing entries can be a crowd jostling experience at busy conventions, and you may have to bend down or stand on tiptoe to see all the pieces. It is common for the largest pieces to be located on the bottom shelves. Others are usually grouped by category. The display cases are locked when the contest staff is not available, and if they are located in a room like a dealer hall, the room is locked as well. At Gen Con the display cases of the main contest are in a busy hall, so they’re still accessible for viewing at odd hours. (And there’s enough traffic to deter thoughts of funny business.)

Adepticon cases 2018The display cases at Crystal Brush 2018 at Adepticon. Display case viewing isn’t always this busy, but it’s not uncommon.

One of the fun features of open style shows is that entries are displayed on tables. Entrants arrange their displays in each category as they wish, which may include risers, backdrops, or other elements. They must do this with the constraints of the room available and the needs of other entrants, however. The display tables are usually raised to approximately chest height. This is convenient for viewing by average height viewers, but may present difficulties to those in wheelchairs or of smaller stature. The tables are typically spread out around an entire room, so viewing tends to be less crowded than around display cases. There is no separation between viewer and entries, which allows you to examine the entries from different angles and without light glare, etc. Volunteer staff are usually on hand to remind viewers not to touch the figures or to ask parents to remove rowdy children who might jostle the tables. Display rooms are open for set hours and locked when closed.

World expo 2017All of those tables are filled with fantastic entries. And that wasn’t even the whole room! World Expo 2017 in Chicago.

The Safety of Your Miniatures
Entrants assume all risk when they enter pieces into a contest. Contest staff make every effort to treat figures with great care, but accidents do happen. Even at a show where you yourself set up the display of your figure(s), you should assume that your piece may be handled by the contest staff. Judges often pick pieces up to look at them from different angles. Figures may be transferred to a side table to be photographed, or judged for a special category or manufacturer award. If more figures are entered than expected, contest volunteers may rearrange the tables to try to make more room. Assemble your figures sturdily and completely, and attach them securely to whatever base or plinth you use. Judges are trained to pick pieces up by the base or plinth to minimize touching the figure itself. In an open show, you can include a sign with your display that a particular piece is fragile or not well attached and that will generally be respected, but bear in mind that you are still taking a bit of a risk with that. This is not feasible for a contest entry in a traditional display case contest.

Tray gc 2013Many contests use padded trays to transport miniatures to the contest case or photograph booth. These were entries at Gen Con 2013.

All of that said, it is rare for a figure to be damaged in a contest in my experience. It happens, but it’s rare. Transporting your figures to and from the event presents more dangers. You need to secure them against the travel itself, and also bear in mind dangers like a suitcase falling on your figure case or airport security opening your case without warning. Secure figures in position with bubblewrap, poster tack, double-sided tape or other means. Try to stay close to your case as it is examined at the airport so you can advise about the best way to open it if they want to test the interior.  Be leery of packing fragile pieces that need careful wrapping in your checked luggage, as security staff may open your suitcase and any container within it during the screening process.

List of Conventions with Miniature Contests

ReaperCon, Dallas TX: September 2-5 2021
MSP Open contest rules. You can also view past entries and awards by clicking the dropdown menu for each year.
There are numerous hobby class events.

Gen Con, Indianapolis, IN: September 16-19, 2021 (normally summer)
There will not be a miniature contest in 2021, per the Facebook group.
There are hobby class events in 2021.

Origins, Columbus, OH: September 30 – October 3 2021 (normally June)
Event information is incomplete as of writing, but there does not appear to be a contest planned for 2021. Check this page for more information.

Warfaire Weekend, St. Louis, MO: November 5-7, 2021
Information on the painting contest.
Information about hobby events.

Historicon, Lancaster, PA: November 10-14, 2021
Information page for the painting contest.
Information on events, including Hobby University classes.

Las Vegas Open, Las Vegas, NV: January 28-30, 2022
Information on the miniature contests and hobby class and workshop events is available here.

Adepticon, Schaumburg, IL: March 23-27, 2022
Adepticon 2022 is hosting the first US Games Workshop Golden Demons in years. There will likely also be several other manufacturer contests.
Information, rules, and entry forms for Golden Demon are available.
Hobby events have not yet been finalized and posted.

Nova Open, Arlington VA: 2022 date pending

KublaCon, San Francisco, CA: 2022 date pending

List of Shows

Military Miniature Society of Illinois, Chicago, IL: October 22-23, 2021

Miniature Figure Collectors of America Show, ?: 2022 date pending

Atlanta Military Figure Society Show, Atlanta, GA: February 2022 (usually around Valentine’s Day)

Historical Miniatures Society of Northeastern Oklahoma, Tulsa, OK: 2022 date pending
The webpage does not seem to be updated. Check their Facebook page for more current info.

Euro Miniature Expo (Euro Militaire), Folkstone, United Kingdom: 2022 date pending
Additional information available on their Facebook page.

World Model Expo 2022, Veldhoven, The Netherlands: 2022 date pending

If you know of other contests or shows than these, please let me know so I can update this page and encourage others to attend!

Many thanks to Jen Greenwald and Michael Proctor for fact checking and suggestions for additions.

Flotsam and Jetsam

As the tidal wave of work for ReaperCon 2020 recedes, it leaves in its wake a few pieces of flotsam and jetsam I’d like to share.

If you attended either of my Bones FAQ seminar sessions, here’s a link to the reference PDF. If you weren’t able to attend or you’d like to watch it again, you can watch it on YouTube. Check out this playlist to watch other video classes from ReaperCon Online 2020. The PDF is written as a useful reference even if you don’t watch the video, and includes information for tools and materials that work well with Reaper Bones and Bones Black miniatures. (And probably lots of other plastic figures like those in many board games.)

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And now some news: I have a Patreon!
I’ll make a blog post in a couple of days with some more information about why and where it’s going from here, but I figured why not share the link in the meantime?

Thank you so much to the people who have already signed up. I’m blown away by your support, and excited about the community we’re starting together! I really cannot express how grateful I am to you all!

Special thanks to Miniature Monthly for their shoutout on Facebook. Their Patreon is great, I’ve been a member for years. They also host classes outside of that. Right now Aaron Lovejoy is taking signups for some online airbrush classes, which will be handy for anyone who’s got an airbrush they aren’t quite sure how to use, or who just bought the new Reaper Vex airbrush. (Still need to get one myself!)

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ReaperCon left some more flotsam behind it bobbing in the digital seas. The Zoom classes were not recorded (many instructors are not comfortable with that for a variety of reasons), but several classes and a couple of panels aired on the Reaper Twitch stream. These will also be added to Reaper’s YouTube channel in the coming weeks, and are already available to watch in the archives on the Twitch channel. Twitch class topics include skin tones, freehand, airbrushing, shaded metallics, and more! Instructors include Michael Proctor of Clever Crow Studio, Anne Foerster of Painting Big, Michal Shultz of Mocha Miniatures, Josh Davis of Mini Painting Studio, David Diamondstone of Light Miniatures, Jimmy the Brush, Dan Holmes, and more. 

There were also a couple of panels. I was part of a painters’ panel where we discussed what makes a quality paint job. (Starts around minute 38 on the Twitch recording.) The sculptors’ panel starts around minute 45 on this recording. Lots of great insights in both.

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I’d originally planned one additional Pirate Parade post to share another couple of pirate figures. They’re topless female figures, and I started feeling that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to post them during ReaperCon when a larger audience including younger people might check out the blog. So I think for right now maybe it’s best to just link to photos of them and let you decide whether or not you want to check them out:

Treasure Chest is a miniature by Dark Sword based on class Clyde Caldwell artwork.

Cyndria Wavecaller isn’t topless, but I painted her shirt with a transparent cloth effect. 

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Are you also interested in traditional art, illustration, or animation? Like every other convention this year, Lightbox Expo is happening online next weekend – September 11 to September 13. You can register for as little as $1 US. You can’t access the schedule page without registering, but I think you can see the list of artists and companies involved to see if any of them interest you. (If you do register you’ll see the schedule in your timezone, which is very helpful!) There are dozens of names, and the people I know and am excited to see content from might be very different than yours, so I’ll just leave you to head over and check it out if it sounds at all interesting to you.

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If you saw my unboxing videos for the ReaperCon swag boxes and you’d like any of the figures, paints, or remaining stock of promotional con items, those are now up for sale individually. As of writing, the boxes are also still available. As are some copies of the Brinewind pirate setting guide that I mentioned that I was helping to edit a while back. At the time I said it was going to be 36 pages, but it grew to 48 pages in the end!

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And now a random nautical fun fact!

While editing the Brinewind guide I discovered that flotsam and jetsam have a brother no one ever seems to talk about – lagan. Flotsam refers to items left floating in the water due to a wreck or accident. Jetsam refers to items floating in the water that were intentionally discarded. Jetsam legally belongs to whoever discovers it first, but flotsam can be claimed by the original owner. So what’s lagan? Items that are cast overboard, but are heavy enough to sink rather than float, and the location of which is marked by a floating buoy or cork for later retrieval. Lagan is considered to remain property of the owner who jettisoned it and cannot legally be claimed by anyone who happens upon it. Wikipedia has a bit more detail for those who are interested.

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Figures mentioned in this post:

Treasure Chest is a metal figure available from Dark Sword Miniatures.
Cyndria Stormcaller is a metal miniature available from Reaper Miniatures.

Pirate Parade: Stylish Scallywags

It’s time for more pirates as we head into the final stretch of this piratical ReaperCon 2020! This group is pirates with style.

Barnabus front 450

This is one of three variants of Captain Barnabus Frost, who is one of the members of the pirate Consortium in the ReaperCon 2020 setting of Brinewind. I painted this years before the Brinewind guide was written, but I think it fits the character as described decently. Much more ruthless and cruel than you might imagine from his fine clothing and love for antiquities and historical lore.

Barnabus back 450

This version of Barnabus was sculpted by Bobby Jackson, based on concept art by Izzy “Talin” Collier. You can get the Brinewind guide as a separate purchase or part of the Brinewind Box, but only while supplies last. There is talk that it will be made available as a PDF, as well, and I’m crossing my fingers for that. The Brinewind guide includes Talin’s art of this and several other characters.

Barnabus right 450

I enjoy that this is sculpted as a character who is out to rule the seas, but look good doing it. You may notice that Barnabus above and Kalonice below have similar colour schemes – purple, teal, and red-brown. I will admit this is a favourite scheme of mine. For a few years around the time that Kalonice was painted, I had used it a lot. I had gotten out of the habit and wanted to visit with an old friend at the time I painted Barnabus.

Kalonice front 600

Every now and then even the most critical artist produces something they’re pleased with. Kalonice is one of those figures for me. She felt like a bit of a jump up in my skills at the time I painted her. She’s not perfect, and there’s plenty I’d do differently if I were painting her today, but I’m still pretty happy with her. I still use her face as my avatar picture on the Reaper forums!

Kalonice back 600

Although this looks like a simple base, it was challenging for me. How do you make broken pottery was one thing I wrestled with. I did some research on what the spilled wine would look like by pouring some juice out on our counter. As I think about it, I think I need to go back to trying to experiment with things like that and studying more from life and reference photos!

Rb pirate front 400

I don’t know the name of this character. I think he’s from the Rum & Bones board game. He has a great dynamic pose where he’s twisting his body in the motion of throwing the knives, but as is sometimes the case with dynamic poses, it’s challenging to photograph.

Rb pirate back2 400

I started painting him at the CMON Expo paint and take table a few years ago. Then I used him to test some of the colours I was thinking of using on the succubi figures. By that point I figured I might as well finish him up!

Rb pirate face 400

His colour choices are maybe a little flashy for a grunt level pirate, but I had fun!

Figures in this Post

This version of Barnabus is available in metal. There is a variant version in plastic Bones. And a newly available new envisioning in metal.
Kalonice was a licensed miniature from the Exalted line and is no longer available for purchase. 
A variant version of Kalonice is available in metal.
The Rum & Bones figure is a member of the Wellsport crew.

Show Off! Have Fun! Win Prizes!

(Hello! I just started a Patreon to support the blog and expand my teaching options! Right now it’s in ‘early access mode’, but I’ll be focusing on it a lot more after ReaperCon.) 

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Pirate Parade with this important message from our sponsor, ReaperCon 2020

Would you like to show off some miniatures that you’ve painted? Would you like to try your hand at an interesting colour challenge? This is a great opportunity to do one or both of those things AND win prizes!

To join in the ReaperCon Showcase, post your work to any or all of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the ReaperCon Discord using the appropriate hashtag. You can find the complete instructions here. Note that you can post work by any manufacturer. We want to enjoy all your cool figures and scenes! A number of Reaper reviewers will be picking their favourites as Reaper Choice selections. The painter of every piece selected as a Reaper Choice will receive a $20 US gift certificate to be used on the Reaper store. Entries must be posted by Sunday, September 6, 2020 at noon Central time to be considered.

Pg gob bottles 1000

The other painting event is the Quad Color Clash. For this one you must use Reaper paints and Reaper miniatures to be considered for prizes. There are also some steps to follow with the photographs, so please read the complete instructions here. (Note there is a typo in the hashtag on the page currently, use #quadcolorclash.)  You can post entries on any or all of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the ReaperCon Discord. And as with the showcase, Reaper reviewers will be selecting QCC Favorites that will win $20 US gift certificates to the Reaper Store. The deadline for this is also Sunday, September 6, 2020 by noon Central time.

Pg gob front 300

Even if you don’t care at all about gift certificates or ReaperCon, I hope you’ll consider trying out the idea of selecting four paint colours and painting a figure using only those. Art challenges and exercises that limit our options can spur new creativity. You might find this helps you learn a lot about how to use your colours for more than you imagined. Or some elements you absolutely need to include to successfully paint a miniature, and others that might be less necessary than you thought. 

Pg gob back 300

As soon as I finished this I thought had some thoughts about slightly different colours I could have used that might have given a bit of a different effect. Not to mention some other ideas entirely. I’m itching to try this some more. I’m hoping I’ll get to try a few more schemes in the next week or two so I can write a blog post and we can have a discussion about this exercise and why it’s worth doing. I encourage you to mess around with it over the next week or two so I can hear your thoughts as well!

Pg gob face 300

This figure is one of three sculpts in a Goblin Skirmishers pack. There’s a pack of similarly sculpted Goblin Warriors, as well. Bobby Jackson sculpted these, and I think he packed quite a lot of personality in these small packages. I’ve been planning to get back to doing some speed paint practice, and I think these will be great vict… subjects for that exercise. I painted this guy in about 65 minutes while I was trying to practice working with my new video set up. And they won’t be too tough to fight the next time we get together for in-person role-playing. Whenever that might be…

I think I might try something a little larger for future quad colour attempts, if only so it’s easier to see on video and in photographs. 

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!