MSP Open and Medals FAQ

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When the judges were giving feedback at the 2021 edition of the MSP Open at ReaperCon, I realized that a number of the questions being asked were specific to the structure of the contest and the judging of medals. I love the open show format of the MSP Open, but how it’s structured isn’t especially intuitive to grasp in some respects. There are also some nuances to the medal placements that we have not been able to make as clear as we might like. I want to try to answer some of the questions people have.

If you are interested in more information on the feedback about your miniature(s) you may have received, I have written articles going over the most common issues that we see when giving feedback. There are several, but one important one covers presentation and general issues, and another other discusses purely paint related concerns

If you’re not very familiar with the open show format and/or painting contests in general, I recommend that you read this overview of contest terminology article first. I also want to note that while some of the points I am discussing in this article may pertain to other open show events, many of my answers here are specific to the format of the MSP Open at ReaperCon.

IMG 1868The awards table just before the MSP Opens award ceremony began at ReaperCon 2021. Winners had to supply their own water and clipboards though. ;->

Q: Bonze X entry is notably better/worse than Bronze Y entry.

A: For this first answer, I’m assuming that you’re comparing figures within the same category, like two figures from Painters, I’ll address comparisons between categories in another FAQ below. First off, you’re not wrong! In the Bronze medal grouping in particular, there is a decent range of variation. People tend to think of the Bronze – Silver – Gold standards as being like steps in a staircase, or evenly spaced like measurements on a ruler. That is actually not the case. Bronze is a gentle slope that covers an array of experience levels, painting knowledge, and approaches. The level of standards required to place at the Silver level is much more stringent, and the standard to place at the Gold level is quite challenging. Note that there are also sub-levels within each medal category as outlined in the next FAQ.

The diagram below shows the rough proportion of the standards for each medal level. IMG 1162

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Q: I get the same medal award every time, I don’t feel like I’m improving.

A: You may be improving more than you realize. Each medal level actually has sub-levels. This is why we recommend that you look at the judges’ scores if you want more information about your placement. 

The judged figure for each entrant is assessed by a team of three judges who award it a numerical score – 1 for Certificate, 2 for Bronze, 3 for Silver, 4 for Gold. If all three judges assess a figure at 2, that is a solid placement at the Bronze level. But sometimes one judge awards a different medal level than the others. This can give you information about whether you’re trending upwards, especially if you keep track of it over multiple years of entering.

Here’s a chart to break that breaks down the sub-levels within each medal type.

Screen Shot 2021 09 19 at 3 42 08 PM

Another thing to consider is that the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is a bit misleading. Continuing to spend years painting in the same way you always have is rarely enough to propel a painter at the Bronze level to the Silver or especially Gold level, regardless of how often you paint. Significant improvement generally requires focused study (in person classes, video tutorials, books, personal feedback, etc.) and then deliberate and extensive practice of the techniques and ideas you’ve studied. In particular, it is helpful to identify one or two of your weaker areas and focus on improving those for a time, and then switch to another one, and so on. It is pretty much impossible to successfully work on getting good at everything at once. It’s also exhausting. Another helpful tool for improving your painting is to improve your skills at assessing and critiquing the work of other people, both those you admire and those more similar to your own level. Doing so can help you identify how to better apply techniques and colours, and also helps you improve your ability to evaluate your own work. Painting and sculpting are half craft, and half developing a better eye and understanding of how best to apply that craft.

On the other hand, keep in mind that you aren’t obligated to take classes, or work to improve, or do anything other than what you most enjoy doing. Some people genuinely enjoy learning and constantly striving to improve their work, although even those who choose this path suffer periods of frustration and disappointment. Other people get more satisfaction out of painting in a more relaxing way after work/school, or creating fun, but not necessarily amazing, figures to populate their game tables or share as gifts for friends. Neither approach to the hobby is superior to the other, and I know very happy hobbyists in both camps. However, you do need to be aware of what you really enjoy doing in your hobby time. If you’re someone who prefers to paint/sculpt in a casual, more relaxed manner, but you are also expecting to steadily move up in the medal ranks, you are creating some frustration for yourself by not matching your actions to your goals (or vice versa).

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Q: The painting of a Bronze/Silver/Gold in Open or Diorama seems like a different level than a Bronze/Silver/Gold in Painters.

A: Again, good eye, this is absolutely true! All of the categories in the MSP Open are assessed using the same five criteria: Difficulty, Creativity, Workmanship, Painting Skill, and Presentation. But each of those criteria are weighted differently in in each of the categories. There is a numerical breakdown on the MSP Open rules site, and the judges also reference this breakdown when making their decisions. The ReaperCon website includes an archive of photos of every entry since 2012, so you can scan through entries in a category for the past few years to get examples of what was entered into which, and how that entry placed. (Look for the Painting Contest drop down menu at the top of the page. This may not work on mobile.)

Painters: Painting Skill is the primary criteria considered, and is weighted at 70% of the overall assessment of the piece. Painting skill is only 30% of the consideration in both Open and Diorama. A figure can be be awarded Silver or even Gold in those categories with a more modest level of paint job than the standard expected in Painters. (There is more information on the role of a figure’s base in Painters in another FAQ towards the bottom of this article.)

EXAMPLE: The stock figure has a wand in one hand. I replaced this with a familiar, which also required removing the original base of the familiar. This is a very minor conversion. I constructed a larger base which included mushrooms I sculpted and the addition of some rocks and brass etched ferns on the back. Those construction elements are also pretty minor. This piece is not in the spirit of the Open category, and would best be entered in Painters.

Tristan combo open

Diorama: Story and characterization are as important to this category as paint or sculpting. The stronger the story, the better. Creatively compressing the characters and action into a tight scene is better than aiming for something strictly realistic in size dimensions or overwhelming the viewer with a ton of characters and scenic elements. Think of it as making a 3D movie poster or book cover, or a major story panel in a comic book. You need the viewer to grasp your story/vignette after a few seconds of looking at the piece. Achieving the higher medal levels also requires strong workmanship and presentation skills. (Most open format shows do not include a Diorama category. It was added to the MSP Open to reflect the unique interests and focus of the audience at the MSP Open.)

EXAMPLE: For the piece below I had to swap in a hand from another figure (because I lost the original), and I sculpted some rubble. As you can see in the finished pictures below, I later added a second skeleton, and some ground work to mesh everything together. While this involved more sculpting, conversion, and construction work than in my Painters example, this is a fairly minimal amount of sculpting and construction compared to the standard expected in Open. Since it’s painted to a high standard I might receive a Bronze medal, but the piece is not really in the spirit of the category. However, this piece does tell a story, so it would be suitable to enter in Diorama. If I already had a more elaborate entry for Diorama, this would also be appropriate to enter in Painters.

Minx wip combo

Minx closeup combo

Open: Workmanship is worth 30% of the assessment, and Painting Skill is worth 30%. The Gold standard here is a competently painted entry of a figure that is either completely scratch sculpted/heavily converted on a simple base, and/or a significantly converted figure on a more complex base. Open is usually the best choice for non-miniature OOAK (one of a kind) entries. Over the years we have had some wonderfully creative entries including a pendant, a constructed/sculpted abstract sculpture, stuffed animals/puppets, a figure set into a pocket watch, and more. The category is intended to showcase sculpting and construction skills more than painting skills. (Although the first two criteria are equally weighted, much of the assessment for Difficulty, Creativity, and Presentation involves more sculpting/construction than painting.) A head/weapon swap or a simple sculpted addition of a few pouches or similar is not really in the spirit of the Open category, even if such a figure is on a somewhat elaborate base. If you would like your basing skills to be considered more highly, we recommend that you construct your base and paint your figure(s) as a story or vignette and enter your piece into the Diorama category.

NOTE: The judges are not familiar with every miniature that exists, nor even all of the Reaper line. It is very helpful to include a WIP picture of the piece after you’ve finished sculpting and construction but before you’ve primed or painted. Or at the very least to list the figure(s) you used and the changes you’ve made to them on your entry card. If your work is of such high quality that we can’t tell what you added/changed, we may not be able to detect all of the work you’ve done to give you credit for it!

EXAMPLE: For the piece below, I did a head swap for the groom, using the head of the figure on the top left and the body of the lower left. I also had to chisel away the hat and repair the suit. I sculpted a yarmulke onto the groom. For the bride, I removed the belt from the original sculpt and sculpted on a sash. I modified her empty hand to appear as if clutching a bouquet of flowers. Both figures had one hand removed and resculpted to better appear as if they were interacting together. I used stamps to create the texture patterns on the floor. The canopy was constructed from beads, skewers, plasticard/styrene and mesh cloth coated in white glue to form it into my desired shape.

This level of conversion and construction makes this piece appropriate to enter into the Open category. Neither the sculpting/construction nor the painting is top notch, so I wouldn’t expect a Gold, but it’s suitable for Open. Since the piece tells a story, it would also be well-suited for entry in Diorama.  I would likely choose to enter it in Open as this is the most extensive conversion/construction I have ever done.

The picture below that shows the original figure and the piece before painting is the kind of thing that is super helpful to the Open judges. (And it also helps viewers appreciate your work more too!) You can include multiple pictures that reveal your components and sculpting/modifications in more detail, or you can write out the changes and additions like I did in the previous paragraph, but something like this is what we need to be able to identify all the work you’ve done.

Ns wip 800

The mesh cloth did not paint up the way I expected, so I later went in and replaced it with tissue paper soaked in white glue instead. After painting I added flowers to the bride’s hair and gave her a bouquet, and the crushed glass under the groom’s foot, which are also elements of construction compatible with the spirit of the Open category.

Next step front full

Here’s another example. On this figure, I sculpted straps on the dress and shoes on her feet, and added an additional hair decoration. I sculpted the candle and wax drips, and constructed the table from wood. To finish the piece after painting I added a bouquet of flowers and a distressed paper flyer. This would be suitable to enter into Open, ideally with a before painting picture like the one on the left, since this is an older figure that many people might not be familiar with. This piece was designed as a vignette of a scene from The Colour Purple movie. It would also be possible to enter this into Diorama, but since the scene somewhat depends on the viewer recognizing the film scene, I might prefer to enter it into Open. If I did enter it in Diorama and I included the photos, the judges would have enough information to decide to move it to Open if they feel I would score better there.

Purple combo

Ordinance: Painting Skill, and the Workmanship involved in assembling complex kits and depicting the vehicle/weapon within an appropriate environment (including weathering and similar) are significant criteria in this category. Note that any figures or creatures included on the piece are essentially considered as scenic elements would be in another category. Even the most skillfully painted of these has a very minor contribution to the assessment of the piece as a whole.

EXAMPLE: The piece below includes a cannon, which makes it suitable for entry into the Ordinance category. My work on the skeleton would not have a lot of bearing on my placement level, the ordinance figure is the main portion assessed. While the way I painted it isn’t terrible (I used reference photos for the cannon itself), I would probably get dinged pretty hard on the Workmanship criteria since I assembled the cannon the wrong way around on the wagon. (I haven’t painted any true Ordinance entries to have a better example, sorry!)

Spirit cannon face

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Q: I couldn’t get feedback from my specific judges because they weren’t at their desk when I was looking for them or they had long lines of people. Or I couldn’t get feedback at all because I had to leave soon after the awards.

A: The judges do our best to give feedback to everyone we can, but as the attendance of the convention grows, and the number of entries into the contest grows,, that can sometimes be a little more challenging. The judges also have classes to teach or other events they may be involved in, and they’re humans who get tired and need meals. Serving as a judge adds between 5-10 hours of additional duties at the convention.

But it’s important to note that consulting the people who judged your entry is not the only way to get feedback on your work! You also don’t have to wait until after the contest results have been announced to get feedback. Part of the role of all of the artists in Artist Alley is to give people feedback on their pieces. You can start requesting feedback from people as soon as the convention opens on Thursday morning. Don’t be worried that it will affect the judging of your entries if you get feedback from an artist who ends up on the team judging your piece. If someone has given you such extensive feedback that they feel they can’t assess your piece without bias, they will recuse themselves from judging it. We have alternate judges available to step in as necessary for just this kind of reason. Asking for feedback in advance is the best answer for those who plan to leave Saturday night or early Sunday morning, but it’s a great idea for everyone.

If you do wait until after the contest to request feedback, you don’t have to ask only your specific judges. If one of them has a long line, look around Artist Alley for someone else who isn’t busy right now. You can continue to try to connect with your chosen judge, but if you aren’t able to, you’ll at least have some feedback to work with. There tends to be a lot of commonality with the issues we see at the Certificate and Bronze level. If you place at those levels, any of the judges or the artists as a whole are likely to identify and discuss with you the same elements that your judges would.

Whoever or whenever you ask, it is helpful to consult at least two or three people if you can. Even if each identifies the same strengths and weaknesses in your piece, they may each have different different ideas of how best to address those or different ways of explaining the kinds of things you can do to improve in the future. Everyone explains things a little differently, and everyone understands things a little differently, so it’s helpful to get multiple viewpoints.

Artist alleyI took this picture on a Saturday morning when many artists were teaching classes, but there are still several artists available to answer questions and give feedback. This is just one of four rows of artists, and in 2021 when we had fewer than usual. 

 

Q: I had one piece I really wanted feedback on so I entered only that one and showed the rest of my pieces as “Display Only”.

A: I think this is the first year we’ve had people do this, and it was a bit perplexing to the contest administration and judges. For me, the fact that you can enter several pieces in one category instead of feeling like you have to try to game the system and figure out which figure or painting style is likely to get you the best placement is one of the biggest appeals of the Open show system! Which piece is chosen for judging is often surprising to entrants, and something we get a lot of questions about. (The answers to which I’ll cover in a separate FAQ below.)

As I outlined above, you can ask for feedback from any of the instructors in Artist Alley at any time during the show. That includes asking your judges why they chose the piece they did, and asking for feedback on any of your pieces, not just a judged entry. You can get the feedback you want and still enter multiple figures to give yourself a better chance for the best possible medal placement.

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Q: Why did the judges pick this piece to assess? I don’t think it is my best work.

A: This is a very common question. And I get it! I have several times been surprised at the figure an Open show judge team picks to assess from my display. There are two aspects to consider here. One is how and why the judges make their choices, and the other is additional factors that affect how artists might feel about their entries. (Remember, if you want feedback on a piece that wasn’t judged, feel free to head to Artist Alley to get some!)

On the judges end, we are always working to make the choice in your favour. We pick the piece from your entries that we will score the highest. That choice isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always immediately universal to all the members of a judging team. Discussions about which piece to choose are often more contentious than any other aspect of judging. When judges like different pieces, we discuss it, with each judge pointing out the merits of their favourite and issues that might make them a little less enthusiastic about another judge’s preference.

After a few minutes of spirited discussion, we stop and ask ourselves this question: would I give piece X a different score than piece Y. Most of the time the answer is no. Whatever level an artist paints/sculpts at tends to apply to most of the work they do, or at least the work that they choose to bring to enter into a contest. If we are in agreement that all of the pieces from an entrant are of equal merit for the judging criteria in that category, we try to choose one that showcases your work best to viewers, has a great title, or in some other way stands out a little. We try to pick the one we think you would have liked us to pick, but we don’t always get it right.

Occasionally one of the judges does feel that they would give a more positive score to piece X than piece Y. When that happens the other two judges agree to judge that figure too. On the rare occasion that multiple judges on a team have strong opinions about different pieces, we keep talking it out until we come to an agreement.

If that seems like we’re being cavalier or off-handed, I assure you that is not the case. Remember that we are judging not just your entries, but upwards of a thousand entries from hundreds of artists. We have a limited number of judges and deadlines to meet. We would rather spend less of our limited time deciding which of your figures to judge and more time actually looking at the piece we choose to judge in detail!

So that is why the judges do what they do. But it’s also worth thinking about why you may have feelings about their choice. Often people who feel disappointed expected a particular piece to be chosen because they were trying out more complex and challenging techniques on it – you’re trying to push your non-metallic metal or paint source lighting or something like that. We artists often tend to place less value on work we’ve done that didn’t feel difficult to make. If it felt easy, then we can’t have been using our very best effort making it, right? However, sometimes something feels easier to do because we’re using skills we’ve already mastered. It’s not necessarily that the task really is easy, it’s that we’re more practiced and comfortable performing that task. Whereas if we’re trying out new skills and techniques, the first few times we do them we’re beginners again. The skill may be considered ‘higher level’, but maybe our current mastery of it isn’t quite yet.

Occasionally you may also produce what I call a ‘happy marriage’ piece. This is one where your style, the techniques you used, the subject matter, and your colour choices all come together to make something that just really works, regardless of how easy or hard it felt to make it. If you post a piece online and it gets a lot more likes and shares than your usual work and you’re a bit puzzled by that, chances are it’s a happy marriage miniature, and it’s happened to all of us occasionally!

I think the other reason people are surprised or upset about which piece was judged is the difference in experience between being the maker of something and being the viewer of something. Viewers see only the piece before them. They may bring some emotions and preferences along with that, like maybe you used their favourite colour or the figure is a subject they really love. (Contest judges are trained put those kinds of feelings aside to the best of our ability and assess the pieces as neutrally as we can.)

As the maker of something, you can never really look at it through other people’s eyes. You’ve looked at your piece too long, too hard, and through all different stages to ever be able to view it with a purely neutral eye. In addition, your experiences and emotions are wrapped up into your assessment of it. Maybe you feel very excited about this piece because it’s the first thing you’ve finished after an art block. Maybe you feel protective of this figure because it was made as a gift for someone you deeply care about, or during a very emotional period of your life. Maybe you think the piece that was chosen didn’t deserve it for similar emotional reasons – it didn’t come out the way you wanted, or it was painted during a tough time in your life. The judges, and viewers in general, can’t know what you know or feel what you feel about the piece or your life circumstances. There often is emotion in our work, and viewers respond to that, but the complex tapestry of feelings and life experiences that goes into the making of a contest level piece (or anything you’ve spent a lot of time on) isn’t readily apparent to the outside viewer.

I imagine most people who’ve entered an open style contest or who post their work on social media have had this experience. I certainly have! I’ve painted pieces where I felt throughout the process that I was levelling up and addressing the most common critiques of my work, only to have those pieces receive the same old feedback. I’ve had pieces I thought were quite skillfully done that neither judges nor viewers much cared for. And there are other figures where I believe I failed to achieve basic principles that have gotten tons more likes and shares than pieces I’ve done that I like the most or feel have more artistic merit.

Below is a picture of my display at the World Expo open show in 2017. I originally only intended to bring the four pieces to the right, but a friend suggested I add another to have an odd number of figures in my display, and I picked the one on the left. The giantess is covered in freehand and has a much more elaborate base than any of the others. I had expected that one to be judged, partly because the viewers and judges of many open shows are accustomed to figures of a larger scale. The figure on the lower left is still the most popular of anything I’ve posted online. The figure on the bottom right won a previous contest that it was entered into. The judges chose to assess the one on the far left, which I had painted eight years previous and hadn’t even planned to bring originally. I did have some feelings about that for a bit. Had I really not improved at all in eight years? But I decided not to dwell on it. The judges chose what they did in my favour. Now that some years have gone by and I’ve continued to study and learn, I understand that there are areas where the older piece succeeds over the others.

World expo 2017

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Q: I was told the base of the figure didn’t matter in Painters, but the feedback from my judges included a lot of commentary about improving my bases, what gives?

A: Painting skill assessment is 70% of what is considered in the Painters category. Workmanship and Creativity are each worth 10%. Difficulty and Presentation are each worth 5%. The base of your figure can factor into the consideration in those four latter criteria, and even give you more scope to show off your painting skills. These are some likely scenarios:

Base Factors that can Negatively Affect Scoring

* The figure is visibly floating on a pin or has one leg not firmly glued down – lowers Workmanship and Presentation

* Basing materials like sand, gravel, or stones are unpainted – lowers Workmanship and Presentation, also reflects a little on Painting Skill since this is an area where you could be using to demonstrate the ability to paint different kinds of materials and textures

Base Factors that are Neutral to Scoring

* Figure is on a plain black base, clear flying stand, wood plinth or similar with no basing elements added

* Figure is on its integral base or a simple stone/wood/sand texture base that is competently painted

* There are some more complex basing elements and everything is competently painted, but maybe it’s not the most seamless or perfect base construction

Base Factors that can Positively Affect Scoring

* The base is well-constructed and competently painted

* The elements present on the base add additional opportunities for the painter to demonstrate skill painting different materials and textures, or to demonstrate different kinds of painting techniques or effects. This is particularly helpful if the figure itself is very limited in materials/textures, like an elemental or statue that is made up of only one or two kinds of material.

Neutral or even negative scoring on a base occasionally affects placement at Certificate or Bronze level. If your judges scored you 2 2 1 or 2 2 2, it is very unlikely that you would have earned a Silver Medal if your figure had had a different base. If your judges scored you 2 2 3 and your base had elements that I listed as negatively affecting scoring, it is possible that you might have been able to earn a Silver with a neutral or more elaborate base.

Hr group fullI entered these as a single entry in 2017. The figures are sculpted with those bases, I just painted them. I was awarded Gold. Many of the figures I’ve won Gold with have been on integral or simple bases.

I have won multiple Gold medals with figures that just had standard Reaper integral bases, or minimal scratch sculpted basing. I even won enough votes for Best in Show votes in 2014 to place second with a stock base. I’m well-known for simple or even kind of bad bases, but I do paint them up as well as I can! ;->

Sophie2014 faceI won second place Best in Show with this figure in 2014. It is also an example of a piece that other people gave me more credit for than I thought I merited (Largely this is because I just followed the colour scheme in Izzy’s design art and there wasn’t any particularly fancy painting other than the base being a lot of NMM. I think its popularity was due as much or more to Bobby Jackson’s sculpting and Izzy “Talin” Collier’s fine design work.)  The judges chose to assess another piece in my display, which is something that I had put a lot of care and thought into painting and that I really loved, but the voters chose this one

I can’t speak to all judges, but I am very unlikely award a Silver score to a base with unpainted basing elements, regardless of the quality of painting on the figure. I consider painting the stone/sand/wood/etc. on the base to be in scale with the rest of the figure to fall under the umbrella of the Painting Skill criteria. I would have no problem awarding a Silver score to a figure on a plain/clear/wood plinth or base. Your judges are mentioning basing factors to you because a competently constructed base and one which offers you additional painting opportunities can help push you into the Silver level, and is pretty much required to place at the Gold level.

Cersei by marikeThis Cersei figure from Darksword Miniatures was painted by Marike Reimer. It demonstrates how even a fairly simple base can expand your painting options. Marike sculpted the back of the skirt to flow over the stones, which allowed her to paint the transparency effect on the dress over an additional material. She also added regal pillows that contributed to the characterization of the figure and the composition of the piece as a whole.

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Q: Why do some people’s entry displays have photos and/or documents next to them?

A: Entrants are welcome to submit related material with an entry. Some share WIP pictures, some talk about their inspirations, and some may share historical or other facts related to their entry. Entrants are also welcome to jot some information like that down on their entry card. We particularly encourage entrants in the Open category to give us more information about what sculpting changes and additions they’ve made, with before/after pictures if possible. When entrants are very skilled we might miss the changes you’ve made and give you less credit than you deserve! It’s impossible for the judges to know every miniature and what it looks like stock out of the catalog, or even just to be that familiar with the Reaper ones. We try to do some research if we have something to go on to do it, but we just don’t have a lot of time to spend trying to remember the names of figures and looking for catalog pictures of them online.

BessieAt the Atlanta AMFS open show, I included this card with my entry, to give more information on the historical figure Bessie Coleman. (I forgot to take a picture of my display at the show, I took this photo later at home.)

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Q: What is ‘Display Only’?

A: When you set up a display for your entries, you can also include pieces designated Display Only. These figures are available for everyone to enjoy viewing, but they are not assessed by the judges. They may be figures you’ve entered previously or work you want to safely show off to people. It’s a way for everyone to put out their work to be appreciated similar to the way the instructors in Artist Alley do. If you have a commission service or a miniature-related social media show/page, it’s a way to display more of your work and include a business card with your contact information.

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Figures in this Post

Tristan the Loremistress is available in metal.
The Sorceress was a Kickstarter exclusive from Minx Miniatures and long out of production.
I believe the scenic base was produced by Reaper and is also out of production.
The RPG Geek is available as part of a pack of Townsfolk: Geeks in metal.
Tasker, Henchman is available in metal.
Tinley, Female Wizard is available in metal.
The African Queen is available in metal.
The Soul Cannon is available in metal.
The Frost Giant Queen is available in Bones plastic.
Bourbon Street Sophie is available in metal.
Treasure Rocky is available in Bones plastic.
This version of Tara the Silent was a special addition and is out of production.
Ar-Fienel was a limited edition figure and is out of production.
The High Rollers are available in Bones plastic.
Sheriff Sophie is available in metal.
Cersei Lannister is available in metal.
Tillie Fighter Pilot is available in metal.

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

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

TantrumCon, Charlotte, North Carolina: February 24-27
Paint a mini onsite at the Paint & Take booth and enter in the contest. Beginner friendly!

Hammerhead Open Gaming Show, Neward United Kingdom: March 5, 2022
Rules for the painting contest which is hosted by Wargames Illustrated.

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.

KublaCon, San Francisco, CA: May 27-30, 2022

Origins, Columbus, OH: June 8-12, 2022
More details pending.

Historicon, Lancaster, PA: July 20-24, 2022
Information page for the painting contest.
Information on events, including Hobby University classes.

Gen Con, Indianapolis, IN: August 4-7. 2022
More details pending.

Nova Open, Arlington VA: August 31 to September 4, 2022

ReaperCon, Dallas TX: September 1-4 2022
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.

Warfaire Weekend, St. Louis, MO: November 4-6, 2022
Information on the painting contest.
Information about hobby events.

List of Shows

Atlanta Military Figure Society Show, Atlanta, GA: February 18-20 2022, for best onsite hotel room rate book by January 31st.

Monson Show, Mosonmagyaróvár, Hungary: April 23-24 2022

Miniature Figure Collectors of America Show, Trevose PA: May 12-14, 2022

Historical Miniatures Society of Northeastern Oklahoma, Tulsa, OK: June 11 2022
The webpage does not seem to be updated. Check their Facebook page for more current info.

World Model Expo 2022, Veldhoven, The Netherlands: July 1-3, 2022

Euroma, Rome Italy: September 3-4, 2022

Military Miniature Society of Illinois, Chicago, IL: October 21-22, 2022

Monte San Savino Miniature Show, Monte San Savino, Italy: November 2022

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

The Long Island Miniatures Model Show, New York, NY: 2022 date pending (possibly November)

The International Plastic Modeller’s Society also holds shows, which include categories for fantasy, sci fi, and historical figures, and which are open to figures in other materials than plastic. 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. I hope to attend the next one in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 6, 2002.

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 or a Ko-fi tip.

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.