Tuesday, 4 March 2014

GottaCon 2014 part 1: Initial Thoughts and Coverage

So... back from Victoria's GottaCon 2014.  A bit sleep deprived, now with a raging cold coming on, but satisfied from a really well run event.

This year's venue was at the Victoria Conference Centre, a much bigger and more luxurious site than in past years.  Located right in downtown Victoria, and attached to the historic (and fancy) Empress Hotel, most gamers came away feeling very spoiled.  From all accounts so far, while it had some minor issues (as to be expected when changing to a vastly different venue), it was a huge success.

My role in the convention was to help run and judge the miniature painting competition for the 2nd year in a row, and to conduct a drop-in miniature painting clinic at the same time.  This meant I had quite a bit of stuff to drag along (desk lamps, paints, brushes, models, display cases, palattes, water containers, paper towels, reference books, notepads, hair dryer, fig cases, cameras, portable photo booth, as well as a change of clothes and my toothbrush!), and my duties kept me pretty busy throughout the 'Con.  Still, there was time here and there to quickly peruse the vendor area, sample some great food in town (John's Place and Cora for breakfast, and some brew pub for a three course dinner that finished up with some bacon ice cream), and brag to Spidey about my comic book collection (which includes the very last Spiderman comic drawn by Todd McFarlane, and signed by the artist himself).

He seemed pretty impressed.

On a related side note, people often ask me how I got "good" at freehand painting (I only consider myself, "decent", but I'll take the compliment).  Practice is the biggest thing... just being brave enough to try and try again, and not worry about the occasional failure.  But a big part of it is my love of comic book art.  I grew up collecting comics, and the strong line drawings and bold colours and brilliant contrasts of the art of the '80s and '90s really translates well in miniature scale.  Most comic art is read very easily by the human eye, even though it often occupies a really tiny box on a relatively small page.  Those are the same qualities that are needed for a successful piece of freehand... if the viewer cannot make out what the story is on the banner / tank mural / cloak / etc., then it has failed as a piece of miniature art, in my opinion.  I grew up drawing pics of superheroes on just about any piece of paper I could get my hands on, and even though I rarely draw any more, there are certain lessons learned that have stuck with me regardless.

Remember the "minor issues" I referred to earlier?  Really, the only one that affected me directly was the fact that the Warhammer Fantasy and 40,000 tournaments were held on a different floor (and opposite end of the convention) than the Miniature Painting Competition display cases and painting clinic.  We were situated near the Warmachine / Hordes, Malifaux, and Flames of War tournaments, as well as the Drake the Dragon Wargame demo tables (our sponsor for 2014), but being situated so far away from a good number of miniature hobbyists meant that there was little awareness in that crowd of the two miniature painting events.  Whereas in past years, there seemed to be a good blend of models from all miniature model ranges, this year it seemed dominated by Privateer Press models and Malifaux.

Unlike an event like Adepticon (with the Crystal Brush), Games Day (with the Golden Demons), and Lock and Load (with the P3 Grandmaster painting competition), GottaCon's painting competition is much more of a side event to the other miniature events.  Almost the entirety of the contest entries come from players in the gaming tournaments, who often bring extra painted models that they are not using in their tournaments that weekend to enter into the painting competition.  This differs from the more high-profile painting competitions in that many people consider those competitions as major events unto themselves, and painters often attend the convention with no other agenda than to compete in the painting competition, and to take part in any painting events that present themselves.

What that means to the GottaCon Miniature Painting Competition is that it needs maximum exposure to all the miniature gamers that attend the convention.  By doing so, they will be inspired to dig through their fig cases, and extract any painted miniatures that are finely painted, but not being otherwise used that weekend.  This year we had a strong showing of non-GW models, and gorgeously painted ones at that.  However, I was hearing stories of fantastically painted models and serious talent downstairs in the 40K and Fantasy tournaments, but very few entries from those painters.

Now, I don't think it's necessary to try and put ALL the miniature gamers in one area of the convention centre, but I think that next year we'll try and do more to ensure that any and all miniature gamers that attend the convention know about the painting competition and the painting clinic.

As for the painting clinic, it did take me some time to set up the painting table on Saturday morning.  It was a fantastic location... right next to the Warmachine / Hordes tournament organizers, and more importantly, next to a power outlet.  However, the convention centre staff could not get the overhead lighting to get any brighter than a few lumens, making us very reliant on the 2 desk lamps that I dragged over from Vancouver.  It still worked out fine, but a bit more light would have been nicer.

Yes, that's me wearing an optivisor.  Despite my initial skepticism on its use (I wrote a review some time ago), I find myself relying on it more and more.  I am having a harder time focusing on tiny details than I did when I was younger, and I am also much more aware of the fact that many people will be viewing my models on a gigantic computer screen, rather than in person.  The optivisor helps me visualize what other people will see, and it makes me notice the fine details and various minute flaws in my painting more easily.  I also used it while judging various competition entries, knowing that I would be posting pics of those models on my blog later.  If I knew what people would see when looking at pics that were many times the size of the actual model itself, then hopefully there would be less criticism of my judging decisions.

I also had a few of my more recently painted models on display in front of me, partly for ease of use in showing the final results of various painting techniques, but also in part to let people know not to judge my level of painting expertise based on the half finished models I was currently working on.  The display models also helped spark questions from the convention attendees, and were great conversation starters.

I was able to answer questions on a variety of topics (what brands of brushes do I use, how to take care of them, what particular paints work best for various techniques, how to approach OSL, etc.) and demonstrate a number of techniques that I employ (wet blending, feathering, blacklining, glazing, use of a wet palette, etc.).

Anyway, I hope everyone had a good time at GottaCon.  Like last year, I will be posting up pics of all the entries, and giving my thoughts on each one.  Many people approached me this year, and thanked me for the feedback for last year's event.  It seems that it really helped people analyze what they were doing with their paintjobs, and also see what other people were doing as well.  As someone who has entered many a painting competition in the past (and hopefully many more in the future), I really appreciate understanding what goes through a painting judge's mind when he views my model, and it seems that I'm not the only one.

As for how the competition and clinic went, I think Judge Dredd approves:

And no, he did not judge anyone's entries.  With that helmet on, I'm sure he would have missed out on quite a few details, and we all know that any proper Judge Dredd does NOT take off his helmet.  Ever.


  1. I think a couple of things that would help bring out more entries would be to put the paint comp on the map, and to give it an identity (like statues that are different colours/metalics and a name). "GottaCon Miniature Painting Competition" is a mouthful and not as prestigious as the "Gilded Cherub".

    1. Good point. I've been toying with the idea of adding a "Best of Show" style award... much like the Slayer Sword for the Golden Demons. I'm actually old enough to remember the days when the first Slayer Swords were actually real swords made by Raven Armouries in the UK (who were sponsors), as opposed to the cheap Chinese knock-offs that are awarded now. With all the medieval weaponry on sale by vendors at GottaCon, perhaps there's the possibility of having one of them offer a showcase prize to promote their business, while at the same time adding a certain cachet to the miniature painting competition.

      And while the cups and the ribbons were really cool, perhaps I could speak to this year's sponsor, Action Games Miniatures (makers of Drake: The Dragon Wargame) and see if I could convince one of their sculptors to create a sculpture to top our trophies with.

      But yeah, the GottaCon Miniature Painting Competition is still in it's infancy, so to speak. There's definitely room to grow and gain more identity.

  2. It was nice meeting you Kelly. I really appreciate the advice you gave me. Lee also helped a lot as

    I will put the techniques to use that you mentioned. Hopefully next year I will be just that much better.

    You had made a comment that really struck true. This was my first competition entered and you had said that by entering you become aware of what it takes to bring your work to new levels. So true.

    Thanks again for the inspiration.

    -The Hunters Grim Guy-

    1. I'm not certain why people are so scared of entering painting competitions, especially when there's no entry fee involved. I've entered plenty, with no expectation of winning anything. In fact, the watershed moment for my development as a painter was travelling to Toronto to enter the Canadian Golden Demons back in 2002. I brought a number of entries, and every single one of them placed in the final cut (4th through 6th), and not a single one of them won me a Demon. It was at that moment that I realized that my painting was good, but I needed to find a way to push it further in order to be truly excellent. Being barely beaten by the likes of Jennifer Haley was not a humbling experience in the slightest... placing a few slots below a painting icon was thrilling, and just made me want to work harder at getting better.

      Each and every painting competition lights a fire under you. It allows you to see your models displayed next to other amazing works of art, and see how your individual style differs from theirs. You see what others do to bring their models to competition level, and it can inspire you to do the same.

      Winning aside, if you are proud of particular paintjob, why wouldn't you want to show it off? Having your models in a miniature painting competition display case ensures that it will get maximum exposure, and allow everyone to ooh and aah over your brilliant work.

  3. Great to see you back, and a great write up!
    Wish I could travel home for GottaCon but i'll settle for NOVA instead. Very excited for it. No painting comps but lots of Infinity and some workshops with Justin McCoy

    1. Now you're just making me jealous. Justin is a longtime IPMA member, and a master of weathering techniques (as he should be, considering his company makes just about every component and tool needed for weathering).

      Not too far away from Vancouver is Seattle, and Meg Maples (ex staff painter for Privateer Press) is hosting a 2 day painting clinic out of her home there. Unfortunately, I have prior family plans, but I'm hoping we can get enough people in B.C. interested in getting her out here for a painting clinic at a later date. In particular, her ability to two-brush-blend interests me... it's supposed to be a very quick and efficient way to get seamless blends, but my own attempts to do it have been okay at best.