Miniature Contests at Conventions and Shows

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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 than 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 Ordinance (vehicles). 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 penalty. 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 or 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 rigours of travel, 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.

IMPS – Models (and Miniatures) Closer to Home

Please see this Facebook gallery for many more pictures from the Smoky Mountain Model Convention of 2019!

I’ve posted a fair amount about large national figure shows and conventions, but I do understand that many people face constraints that make them unable to attend such events. This weekend I was able to attend a local event by a chapter of an international organization that has chapters and events all over the world, and it is my hope that this will offer hobby options to some of the people that aren’t able to make it to other events.

In case you’re not very interested in my personal experiences at my local show, I’ll just go ahead and share the information to help you find the closest group to you. The International Plastic Modellers’ Society started in the United Kingdom, and now has chapters all over the world. While the emphasis of chapter meetings and local and national contests is on plastic model kits (including Gundam and other mecha style), models of metal or resin and figures of all materials are included, including busts and dioramas. (By at least some chapters and shows, I don’t have encyclopaedic knowledge of the organization by any means!)  

KSMA figure displayThe historical figure subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Convention in 2019.

While the audience may not be laser focused on miniature figures or gaming with figures, there’s a lot in common in terms of skills and interests between the two groups. If you aren’t able to make it out to a gaming convention or miniature figure show, it seems worth the effort to do a bit of digging to find out if you have a nearby IMPS show or chapter. You might be surprised to find more recognition of and interest in figures that you were expecting – I was!

The Wikipedia page for the IMPS links to the websites for the branches of various countries. The site for the United States branch has a map and a chapter listing for all of the US chapters. And they aren’t all in the most populous states or near big cities.

If any readers have more experience with the IMPS and any of its chapters and shows, I hope that you will share your thoughts in the comments for others to learn from!

VW Bug at Smoky Mountain Model ConventionI believe this one won first place in its subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Convention in 2019.

I first heard of the Smoky Mountain Model Convention held in Knoxville, Tennessee three years ago via a flyer at my local Hobby Town store, but for the past two years it conflicted with the dates of another event I attend. This year I was finally available to attend on the date of the show. I don’t know a lot about the organization, or model kit making, so I wasn’t sure what I would find at the event. But the website had detailed information on the categories and rules for entering the show, so I figured I should overcome my introversion and go check it out.

Frost Giantess front viewThis seemed like a good choice to bring both because it was larger in scale, and because I had painted it to a high display level. It ended up being an opportunity to talk with other attendees about Secret Weapon snow, as well.

I picked out three figures from my collection to enter into the show. It seemed likely that the group was more accustomed to seeing larger figures and model kits, so I selected my giantess and the Random Encounter bust as entries. I don’t have a huge collection of dioramas. I probably should have picked one that was a big larger or showier, but warm weather was in the forecast and it amused me to bring a Christmas-themed piece. (Not that I have a huge array of dioramas of any size/scale!) 

Seeing Red front viewI was sort of stunned to realize that I painted this as long ago as 2007! While the painting could certainly use more contrast, and the base has some issues, I am still proud of this and find it amusing.

The check in process was inexpensive and simple, particularly since I had printed out and completed my registration forms at home. I was excited to see that the entries were displayed as they are in the show format events that I’ve attended previously – out on raised tables where it is easy to get a good view of them from multiple angles. It is so much nicer for viewing than when entries are trapped behind glass and located on shelves too low or too high to be visible to the eye line of many viewers.

Registration at Smoky Mountain Model ConA view of the registration desk, awards ceremony seating area, and the table way at the back overflowing with raffle prizes.

The tables were well marked with their respective categories. I got my entries set up and then started to wander around to look at what everyone else had brought. The entries were divided into four rows of tables of overall categories, with various subcategories within those. The main categories were Aircraft, Armour, Automotive, and Miscellaneous. Subcategories might be based on scale, time period, or other factors, with all including a Junior subcategory for younger modellers. Entries with figures as the main subject all fell into Miscellaneous subcategories, including specific categories for science fiction/fantasy figures. 

Show display and judgesAs you can see, the tables are raised up slightly, which makes it very easy to get a good look at the entries for most viewers. I believe this is the judging team conferring over one of the award decisions.

There was also a table for entries to the special show theme category. This year’s show theme was Wild and Dangerous Creatures, and I enjoyed the diversity of the interpretation of the theme. Entries included Godzilla (the eventual winner), Rommel, a pair of War Toon tanks, and an Arab fighter on a camel. There was also an area where the Knoxville Scale Modelers Association members could display their work outside of the contest entry area, and there was some very nice work on display. 

Godzilla in Wild and Dangerous Creatures categoryThis Godzilla was the winner of the Wild and Dangerous special show theme category. There was another Godzilla entered in the SF/Fantasy figure subcategory.

The selection of figures as an overall portion of the show was low compared to vehicles and armour and such, but there were definitely figures there. And some very interesting ones, like a life-size furry werewolf head! The KSMA member area included a small display of busts, and a nice display of historical figures. I spent some time talking with the painter of the figures, David. I found that people in general were quite appreciative and complimentary of my work, and welcoming and friendly. 

Werewolf Head - life sizeThis enormous entry was very popular with viewers.

David's figure displayDavid’s figure display on the Knoxville Scale Modeller Association club table.

I enjoyed looking at the entries in the other categories, as well. I know I lack the historical and modelling knowledge to have fully appreciated them, but I enjoyed what I did understand. The vehicles were especially fun. Other shows I’ve attended have featured armour, aircraft, and nautical vessels, but I haven’t seen a lot of automotive vehicles elsewhere. Modellers use some terrific looking paints and finishes on those cars. There were also some fun examples of weathered old junkers with lots of little Easter egg tidbits to look for in and around the vehicle. There were two very fun automotive dioramas, as well. One was a recreation of a classic 50s ice cream stand. The other was commentary on the features and bugs of Ford vehicles.

Old truck from Smoky Mountain Model ConSo many little details to enjoy on this old truck, as well as the weathering.

There was a small vendor area that I only perused briefly, and that did seem to be completely focused on model kits. I imagine there is a bit of variation in the vendors that attend in different regions and countries, however. The club also ran a raffle for a table full of prizes. 

Ice cream stand at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis ice cream stand diorama won in its subcategory at the Smoky Mountain Model Con 2019.

Ford diorama at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis Ford diorama was also a very fun entry in the automotive diorama subcategory.

When it came time for the awards ceremony, I was very honoured by the recognition my work received. I was awarded first place in each of the three subcategories I entered, overall Best of Miscellaneous category, and Best of Show! I had not expected anything like that when I decided to go to the show. But even had I not won anything at all, it still would have been very worthwhile for me to attend as an opportunity to meet local enthusiasts of my hobby.

Hobby woes diorama at Smoky Mountain Model ConThis was one of my favourite entries in the show. Those of us with a hobby and a spouse/partner have all been there, I imagine! The subtitle reads “You are not bringing anymore model kits into this house.”

During the awards ceremony I realized that I had gotten sidetracked on my rounds of picture taking and completely failed to take pictures of the armour category row. You would think that at a smaller show I’d be able to finally get pictures of everything, but alas, I have once again failed! You can see all of the pictures I did take over in a gallery on my Facebook artist page.

AwardsI did not expect to be awarded to this degree. I am very honoured, though I think my cat is unimpressed.

Figures from this Post

I sadly lack knowledge of the many model kits featured in these pictures to be able to help you find them. I am also not familiar with most of the historical miniatures that were shown at the convention.

Frost Giant Queen, Reaper Bones plastic.
Random Encounter bust, resin, gift with purchase from FeR Miniatures.
Mrs. Claus is a Hasslefree miniature. I thought she was still available, but I could not find on the site. Perhaps she is only sold at Christmas.
The naughty creatures is a Waggamaeph, produced by Crunch-Waffle Enterprises, which is now out of business. Noble Knight has some Waggamaephs on resale, but not this figure by the look of it.

Atlanta Model Figure Show Photos Coming Soon

The Atlanta Model Figure Show takes place Friday February 15 to Sunday February 17. Prior to the show I will be attending a workshop by the Spanish painter Fernando Ruiz. I had been hoping to figure out how to blog on the road prior to this convention (to practice for the many conventions I have coming up), but sadly an ill-timed bout of the flu has prevented both that and the completion of the miniature I had hoped to bring as my main entry. But at least I’m getting better just in time to still attend the events!

Rather than the originally planned blogging live on the scene, I will instead try to post some pictures to my Facebook artist page, and then hopefully  do a highlights blog post once I return home. Though I’ve got another topic I’ve been working on that’ll probably jump the queue. I just need to work up some photos to add and give it a once over.

My Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/wrenthebard/

Show up to a Show – in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and…

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

I’ve written before about why I think it’s valuable for miniature painting enthusiasts to attend a convention or show, and I’ve gone into detail about a couple of specific conventions (ReaperCon – hotel now available for booking, and Adepticon – coming up soon!) Now I’d like to write a little more about shows. I’m going to focus on a show in Atlanta, the Atlanta Model Figure Show, which takes place February 15 – 17, 2019 but this information is also generally applicable to shows in other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Long Island, Tulsa, and Folkestone UK. Links to those shows are available at the end of this post. I know there are others in the United States, and hope that readers who might know more about those will share links and information in the comments. The show format is popular in Europe, and some marvelous large scale events are held there. Sadly I cannot as yet offer any personal experience with these, but I would love if people with more information on them shared their experiences in the comments!

A figure show tends to be a smaller and more focused event than a convention. That focus is on showing off, viewing, and assessing painted miniature figures, although there are also seminars, vendors, and opportunities to hang out and make friends with fellow miniature fans. The focused nature of these events offer a lot of advantages, though it may not appeal to those whose primary interest in gaming over painting and modeling.

The Show at a Show

The entries in a show are all displayed together in a room (or multiple rooms for large shows) on tables that are roughly chest height. If you’ve only ever seen miniatures in photographs or behind glass at a convention contest, this is a wonderful revolution in viewing experiences! You can see every figure at close to eye level. You can move your head to see figures from the side, or even from the back from the other side of the table. It’s far easier to get good photographs without having to deal with the glare and reflection of glass. There’s a whole room full of tables, so if you run into a traffic jam, you can just move to another section and come back to the jammed area later. Granted the high tables are less ideal for very short people or those in wheelchairs, but traditional convention display cases are also going to present some difficulties for those folks, as well as those of us with back issues who can’t easily bend down to see the lowest shelves.

Entries display at Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018This is just a small section of the display area at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. You can see how easy it is to view the pieces displayed up on tables with lots of open walkway space. A far cry from trying to peer at figures crowded together in glass cabinets at a convention contest!

People who wish to display at a figure show enter their work into a few broad categories. An entrant can enter as many figures that conform to the rules as they like into each category. (Generally the rule is something you haven’t displayed in that show previously, and which fits the category guidelines, but always check the specific rules of any contest before you enter it!) There are helpful people at the registration desk if you have questions or concerns about which category is the right one for your work.

Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford's entry to Fantasy Painters in 2018 An example of a display of entries in the Fantasy Painters category at the Atlanta Model Figure Show 2018. These figures were painted by Elizabeth Beckley-Bradford.

 Whether entering one piece of a dozen, each entrant creates a display for their entries in the category area. This display can include small risers and/or a backdrop. These elements might be used to make it easier to focus on the figure for viewing (and photography), or to create a more pleasing composition for the selection of figures in the display as a whole.  A card with information about each figure is placed next to it, so people can see what it is, and who painted it.

Horror entries from Atlanta Military Figure ShowIf you like horror, whether modern or traditional, you’re bound to see something you’ll like at a figure show.

Entrants are also welcome to display additional information alongside their figures. This might include work in progress pictures that detail the customizations and conversions, research related to a particular time period or historical person that informed your work, or anything else you might like to share with viewers. Getting the chance to read/view a little more about the background of how a piece came together is one of the very fun features of a show!

Scratch built interpretation of a panel of a Mayan engraving.Entry in the Open category at the AMFS Show 2012. This is a scratch built interpretation of a panel of Mayan art. The entry becomes much more interesting to view because of the inclusion of a reproduction of the Mayan engraving that inspired it and an explanation into the thought process behind the piece.

At the Atlanta show the main categories are Fantasy Painters, Fantasy Open, Historical Painters, and Historical Open. Fantasy incorporates traditional fantasy, but also science fiction and horror. Historical focuses on both specific individuals from history, or figures sculpted and painted to reflect relatively accurate historic uniforms and dress. In Painter categories, the focus is primarily on the skill of techniques used in the painting process. The figures may be lightly converted or customized, and the piece may be a diorama, but by entering it into a Painter category, the entrant is requesting that the skills which will be judged will be primarily painting related. (The overall presentation and preparation of figures is considered as a small component of Painter categories.) The Open categories are for figures which have been significantly converted or sculpted from scratch. This can range from a scratch sculpted bust or figure with simple presentation, to complex diorama displays with a lot of base work as well conversions to the figures. It is particularly helpful to include WIP photos demonstrating the sculpting process or level of conversions with Open entries. Painting is also judged, but as a smaller component of the overall score than in the Painter categories.

Example of a Fantasy Open entryIn this Fantasy Open entry, Laura Dandridge went beyond WIP photos and included an unpainted copy of the bust that she sculpted and cast as well as the finished entry!

Additional categories at the Atlanta Model Figure Show include Models, Junior, Basic, and Toy Soldier. Many shows will have similar categories, but may not have all of these, or may have additional ones. Junior is for entrants aged 15 years or less. The Models category includes tanks and other types of historical ordinance, but also science fiction ships, and other types of aircraft/vehicles/etc. Basically entries where the focus is on a mechanical contrivance, though there may also be figures included in the scene with it. Weathering and other concerns specific to this type of figure are the focus of judging for this category. Toy Soldiers are a specific type of figure that may have been sold pre-painted so it’s more about the display and arrangement of the figures, which can become quite elaborate or sizable. Basically if you know what it is you might enter this category, and if you don’t, don’t worry about it. :->

There’s a whole type of figure that you are unlikely to see at a convention that you will see multiple wonderful examples of at most shows – the flat. Traditionally termed Zinnfiguren in Europe, a flat is a sort of cross between a full round figure, and a flat drawing. It’s a sort of bas-relief. These are a great way to push yourself to paint with more contrast, since you can’t rely on the sculpted contours of the figure at all! Flat figures are available in a great diversity of subjects, and in different scales. Flats based on classic artwork are very common, as are flats of holiday and cartoon characters, and subjects like angels and fairies. (Which makes them great gift ideas for your non-gaming friends and relatives that you’ve been wanting to paint something for!) They are often displayed in picture frames on dark velvet backgrounds, though some are sculpted on small stands with both a back and front side, so they can also be posed in dioramas or displays. 

The subjects of flats are as diverse as figuresThe subjects and painting styles of flat figures are as diverse as those of figures in the round. They are not judged as a separate category from figures in the round. Stock flats are judged in Painters, and scratch or heavily converted flats in Open.

The Show is also a Contest

Although it is possible to enter one’s work for display only, the majority of entrants also enter the contest. If you are only familiar with traditional podium style contests where only the top three (or five) entries are awarded prizes, the way an Open format contest is run is a completely different thing. In essence, each entrant competes against his/herself. The team of judges selects the best work from an entrant’s display to consider. (It is also possible for the judges to decide the work in the display is all of the same quality standard and to judge the entire display as a group instead.) So you don’t have to wrestle with deciding whether this one that you’ve done is the best you have right now, or is it that one? Then they judge that work against an overall standard, taking into account the criteria of the category. So in a Painter’s category, the quality of the paint work and the challenge factor of the techniques attempted are considered, with an additional smaller consideration given to the quality of the prep work and general presentation. In the open category, the technique demonstrated in sculpting and conversions is a significant factor, plus some consideration of the painting, and the prep and general presentation.  

Awards at AMFS 2018In addition to the medals awarded to the different standard levels, there are also special awards for particular subjects of figures. Awards at the Atlanta show include Best Horror, and Best Mounted figure, as well as several others.

Each judge awards the assessed piece a score, and the scores of the team are totaled and then averaged to find the score for that entry. Based on that score the entry might be awarded a Certificate of Merit, Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal, with each level becoming progressively more difficult to attain. As many medals of each level are given out as are achieved by the entrants. So one entrant’s success never takes anything away from someone else in the general show awards. Most shows also have additional prizes, like those pictured above. These might include the figure that best exemplifies the theme of that year’s show, or the best Napoleonic figure, or a number of other things. Many special awards are sponsored and selected by members of the figure painting club that hosts the show, so they can vary widely from show to show.

Award winnersFantasy/SF painters might recognize some of these proud award winners from the AMFS 2017 – Sabrina Ferguson, Aaron Lovejoy, a cute little creeper, and Liz Hunt.

I love this Open format for miniature figure judging and awards. It gives all entrants feedback on their current level and what they might yet have to strive for. There is no reason not to enter this kind of show. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been painting a few months or a few years. Prior to attending a show hosted by a model figure club, I had gotten the impression that all of the work of military figure painters was top level. I probably came to this erroneous conclusion because those of us more interested in fantasy and SF generally see only the best of the best from the military side of the hobby, if we see anything. I was very encouraged to discover that of course they have the same range of experience levels in painting as we do on the fantasy/SF side of things! But in the Open format, even those painters who are newer or more casual in the hobby can still have their work considered for medals and appreciated in the display of the show. 

A range of levels is welcomed in the Open show formatYou may see work of world-class quality at a figure show, such as the piece from Mike Blank on the left that won Best of Show at the AMFS in 2017. But work from less experienced painters is also very welcome and will be assessed with just as much care and concern, and awarded a prize as appropriate. (Unfortunately I did not record the name of the painter of the swashbuckling pirate on the right.)

Seminars

In the United States at least, you are not likely to find the kind of miniature painting/modeling classes at a figure show that you might find at a convention like AdeptiCon, ReaperCon, or Gen Con. It is common for there to be a 1-3 day workshop in the days preceding the start of the show. This is a more expensive cost to attend than a two hour class, and requires arriving and staying at the venue for a few days ahead of when the show starts. (I do recommend attending a workshop if you can, it’s a terrific learning experience!) But this doesn’t mean there are no learning opportunities at a figure show! There are usually a handful of free seminars on various topics given by top painters and modelers. While you may not get hands-on opportunities with these, they are well worth attending if there is a topic that interests you on the schedule.

Vendors

One of the fun things about a figure show is that the pool of vendors and what they have for sale tends to be much different than what you’ll find at a convention! Busts, and larger scale figures, great reference books on painting and historical time periods, wonderful scenic bits for dioramas, and speciality products like brass etch plants are some of my favourites. You are also likely to find at least one booth offering those high quality wood plinths and blocks you’ve likely seen on some of the busts and displays from your favourite painters online. And of course there should be at least one vendor of the flats I talked about above.

Vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showBoxes of busts and larger scale figures at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

More vendor tables at Atlanta military figure showModel kits on the near table and a view of one section of the vendor hall at the Atlanta Model Figure Show.

Hospitality Suite

Another fun feature of many shows is the hospitality suite. This is a hotel room open to attendees staying at the hotel to gather and hang out and enjoy snacks and possibly adult libations. This is a great opportunity to get to know people a little better and find out more about how they approach their hobby. I was nervous to attend my first model show in Atlanta in 2012, but everyone I talked to was super friendly and welcoming. Many even remembered me from that one meeting when I finally made it back again in 2017!

Hospitality suite at AMFS 2017Enjoying snacks with fellow figure enthusiasts in the hospitality suite at the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2017.

A Few Notes

The atmosphere of a figure show is a little more casual than most conventions, including in the vendor area. A vendor might choose to close up early to go out to dinner, for example. Also while the schedule will generally list the vendor hall as being open on Sunday morning, my experience has been that a lot of the vendors will use that time to pack up, and some may already have left by 10 or 11am. So if you spot something you really want to buy on Saturday, don’t assume you can dither all Saturday night and be certain to pick it up the next morning. 

Magic cards come to lifeI love the creativity of this entry! Sady I did not keep track of the name of its creator.

The societies that organize these shows tend to have a lot of members who are a fair bit older than folks from the gaming side of the hobby. While they’re making an effort to embrace new technology you may find that they’re a little slow to update webpages, or more likely to communicate by email or even require snail mail advanced registration. Also these events are completely volunteer run, unlike a large gaming convention that has a core professional staff in addition to its numerous volunteers. If you can’t find all the information you need to decide whether to attend on their website or Facebook page, reach out to a contact address and ask what you need to know.

It is also important to note that many of these societies are eager to welcome new members of any age to their organizations, and many are very welcoming of fantasy and SF painters! If you live near enough to one of these groups to attend the regular monthly meetings, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn from some fantastic painters and modelers that you should not pass up just because their first interest is history and some of them are a little older than the people you normally talk to about painting. I wish I lived a lot closer to the Atlanta club than I do.

Scan of schedule for AMFS 2018

Scan of AMFS schedule 2018Scan of the schedule from the Atlanta Model Figure Show in 2018.

The Atlanta Model Figure Show

This year the Atlanta Military Figure Show takes place on February 15 to 17, 2019. It will be located at the Atlanta Hilton/Marietta Conference Center. If you want to attend but not enter any of your figures, the cost is $10 for the entire weekend. The fee to attend and display your work is $25 if you pre-register, and $30 at the door. For more information, check this website. You can get to the gallery pages from there to enjoy work submitted in 2017 and 2018 as well.

Atlanta Miniature Figure Show homepage: https://atlantafigures.org/amfs-show-2019/

Other Figure Shows

I have only had the opportunity to attend a few shows. In addition to Atlanta, I attended the World Expo in Chicago in 2017. This was hosted by the same group that puts on the MMSI show. MMSI also includes the participation of several members of the fantasy/SF community, so I have no qualms about recommending it, and I’m hoping to get there one day! I also have heard good things about the Miniature Figure Collectors of American show in Philadelphia. I’ve heard of shows in the past in Southern California, but was not able to find any information about upcoming shows. I did find a show in Long Island and another in Tulsa, but I have no personal experience or information about either. I also found one UK show to share. My guess would be that there are others out there as well. If you know of any, please let me and other readers know about them in the comments!

The Miniature Figure Collectors of America Show, April 12-13 2019: http://www.mfcashow.com/upcoming.html

The Military Miniature Society of Illinois Show in Chicago, October 11-13 2019: http://www.military-miniature-society-of-illinois.com/2018-chicago-show/

Euro Miniature Expo in Folkestone UK, May 11-12 2019: https://www.facebook.com/EuroMiniatureExpo/

The Long Island Miniature Collectors Show: http://www.longislandmodelsoldiers.com/limcs_model_soldier_show.htm

The Tulsa Show by the Historical Miniatures Society of Northeastern Oklahoma: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Historical-Miniatures-Society-of-Northeastern-Oklahoma-HMSNEO-211702852223535/events/

Note on the Lateness of this Blog Post…

Clearly my resolution/good intention of trying to blog a bit more regularly has not been going that well. My aim of painting more has hit similar snags. We’re trying to organize a bunch of work on our house and prepare for that, and I’m also attempting to move all my data and my computer use from an eight year old PC to a new Mac. Which is wonderful, of course, but also I’m a human who doesn’t like change, so it’s also kind of ACK and fraught with time-consuming technical snags. It was my aim to get this information out earlier, but hopefully it’s still early enough for making plans. I’ll be at the Atlanta Show, and if you can attend, I highly recommend it, and I’d love to see you there!

I normally try to provide links to figures shown in these blog posts, but I’m not sure where to start on this! If you’re particularly interested in one mention it in the comments and we’ll see if I can find it or another reader can.

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.