If you haven't already, please check out the previous blog entry on my judging style. It'll give you some more insight into the decision process involved in this year's competition, and hopefully give you a better chance at any future competitions (or just help you create more eye-catching pieces).
Well, back to the Squad / Unit entries for 2013.
Ryan Despres' 15mm Flames of War Artillery Battery was the only small scale entry this year. Very nicely done example of the genre (super itty bitty WWII models... so cute!). While I have seen Warmaster models do very well in painting competitions, even stacked up against larger models, they tend to be the exception, not the rule. I really like Ryan's little battlefield details... the camo netting in particular tell a story. You can imagine these guys desperately tossing up this "cover" in order to screen them from enemy aircraft. However, the smaller the scale, the more important your contrasts become... otherwise the details get all muddled together. Throw camo into the mix (camo is designed to break up your recognizeable profile, obscuring details that would make you identifiable), and you've got some really nice gaming pieces that would look fantastic on the gaming table... but perhaps not as great in a dedicated painting competition.
Jon Calvert's Thunder Cavalry are wonderously dynamic. His paintjob does not detract at all from the flowing sense of motion captured by the sculptor. However, contrast needs to be ramped up a few notches... more highlights, and definately more shading would have helped this entry. The yellow on the shields especially... I would have started with a dark ocre colour, and built up the yellow highlights over that. Blacklining would also help the eye identify the individual details. I would also have made the stones on the bases a darker colour... the grey is much too light, and just fades into the white of the snow effects at a distance. Again, solid gaming pieces, and probably looks amazing as part of his overall army, but they need more work to pass the scrutiny of a diehard painting judge.
Alex Yeun's Eldar Rangers were very striking. They immediately jumped out at me, and were able to stand out in a crowd. Great colour composition, TONS of contrast (you can almost never have enough, in my opinion), and nice brush control. When viewed up close (and I mean, really close to the eye), the heavy and thick layering was a bit jarring though. It was straightforward line highlighting, which is fairly easy to do, once you've developed a nice steady hand and good brush control. Perhaps if Alex thinned down his highlight colours a bit more (try using a wet palatte, or perhaps mix in some matt medium), and used twice the number of layers, it would have come out looking much smoother. The bases were nice too, but could have used a little extra detailing to really put them over the top. A light coat of Testors Dullcote to seal them would have helped kill the excessive shine as well. Just a few steps shy of fantastic, but nearly there.
Brenna Anderson-Dowd's only been painting for a few months now, and these are some of the very first models she's ever painted. I sincerely hope they are not her last, because she has an enthusiasm for the art that is wonderously joyous. These are much better than any of the models I ever painted in my first year of painting, so she's already ahead of most painters in this regard (I'll have to post pics of some of my first paintjobs one of these days... I still love them). She's already laying down some impressive highlights (see the fighter on the left), and even painting the eyes (demonstrating guts and brush control). I would advise thinning down your paints, and not trying to get full colour coverage on your first coat. By laying down multiple thinner coats of paint (allowing each coat to fully dry before applying the next), you preserve the surface detail better. Still, a solid start to a lifelong hobby, I think.
Jason Lindholm's Stormguard are well done in just about every regard. Excellent brush control, some nice highlights and shading, nice bases, and all the detail is easily recognizeable. The only thing I can really say is that they are a few steps shy of where they could have been. I really wanted to see more contrasts (deeper shades, lighter highlights). The bases are fairly standard fare... well done, but nothing exciting. This is a great example of excellent gaming / tabletop quality painting, but it lacks the exceptional quality that would make it a competition standout. All the skills are demonstrated, but not enough passion and extra time invested. This entry is the equivilant to comfort food, not haute cuisine. While pleasant, they're not spectacular or memorable. Regretable, since all it would have taken would have been just a bit more painting time to push the envelope a bit further.
Apologies for the horribly blurry pic of Bryce Jensen's Necrotech and Scrap Thralls. These models are an example of what I think Jason's Stormguard could have been, had he invested more time in them. Bryce has just so many more layers of highlights and shades on them, the contrast is absolutely stunning. Every segment and component jumps out at you from any viewing distance. His brush control is so sharp and precise, I don't think Bryce is a real human (I'm sure that if you peeled the skin back from his head, you'd see the Skynet trademark stamped into his metal skull). The colour selection is absolutely spot on... at first they look like the standard colours straight from the studio paintjob, but I'm certain there are a few pigments mixed in that aren't in the usual gamer's repetoire. However, the bases are interesting, but lack that really mucky texture that would have suited a swamp better. Also, at close inspection, the highlights are layered on a bit thick, with easily discernable "steps" from one tone to another (a little bit of wet blending or some feathering would have been an effective, if time consuming fix).
Chris Brakefield's GorkaMorka Gang were easily overlooked at first glance, but put a huge smile on my face once I took a closer look at them. His technical skills were well demonstrated, but it was the sense of quirkiness infused into them that I really liked. All the multi-part models were posed in dynamic contortions that I could easily see Orcs getting into. Great contrast, and subtle but nice details (scratched up shield even). However, bases were very uninspired (the type of base you do when you just want to model finished and game-playable), and I think he could have pushed the highlights a bit more, particularly on the reds, metals, and even a bit more on the green skin (mixing a touch of Bleached Bone or Rotting Flesh might have helped).
So who won?
Third place ribbon went to Chris Brakefield's GorkaMorka Gang. Technical proficiency was sharp. And the whole gang was just smothered in fun. Even now, I'm just noticing little details like the sky-earth reflection in the gobbo's goggles. A few more steps invested in these models, and this could have placed higher yet, but I still had no problem with this unit being on the podium.
Second place went to Jeremy Fleet's Blood Angel Terminators. I know I bitched a bit about his contrasts not being as pronouced as I would have liked, but his blends were "Neet" (ie, silky smooth like a supermodel's legs). Red is also an incredibly challenging colour to pull off well. My only other beefs with this entry is that it's nothing really different from the Eavy Metal paintjobs, and if you simply follow the established path, you will always be held up against their standard of work.
So, who won first place?
Not a big suprise to many, but Bryce Jensen took it with his Necrotech and Scrap Thralls. They're the models that grabbed the most attention due to his razor sharp precision and incredibly pronounced contrasts from the staggering number of tones in his shading and highlighting. Bryce's paintjobs are possibly the pinnacle of what I would call, "Tabletop Quality" painting. There's a solid workmanship involved, and would be the highlight of just about any gaming army. However, there's just something missing from them that would elevate them to eye-searing art. I struggle to put my finger on just what it is, but here's my best guess:
He needs to learn to blend better. Seriously. Simply laying down one highlight after another isn't going to cut it at some of the painting competitions I've been at. If only Bryce would feather the easily discernable line from one tone to another, his colours would blend together SOOOOO much nicer. Perhaps experiment with wet blending (Alison McVey has an excellent video on the technique here). However, this is what works for Bryce... he produces dazzling armies in a minimum amount of time invested. Wet blending and feathering would add to the time necessary to complete his models, so whole armies would be a challenge to complete that way. One technique that may work for him, since it's basically what he already does, only more time-consuming, is layering with progressive glazes. Since a layer of glaze doesn't have as much pigment strength, it basically tints the highlight or shade on. This allows for more gradual colour / tone transitions, but you need to start with a lighter base coat colour, and it will take at least twice as many layers. It also takes precision and patience, but Bryce has both those qualities in abundance.
Also, I don't see anything really out-of-the-mould here. Standard Cryx models, with a semi-standard paint scheme. Warmachine models don't really lend themselves to easy conversions either, so it's hard to blow people away with something incredibly original. However, these models came straight out of Bryce's gaming army, so it wasn't likely that he was going to remodel these models from the ground-up with greenstuff.
Regardless of all that, Bryce is still on a level that's hard to comprehend. And the fact that he can casually toss off these paintjobs in the same way that you or I would fold our bedsheets or brush our teeth makes him that much scarier. Imagine how much deadlier he would be if he attempted the next step in his painting.
So congrats to Bryce Jensen, winner of the GottaCon 2013 Best Painted Unit / Squad catagory.
To everyone else, THIS is the guy you're gunning for. It's do-able... just keep studying the art of miniature painting, and practice like crazy. The future CAN be saved from Terminators like him. ;)
Next blog: the Large Figure catagory!