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I entered a few minis in RCon 2013's Master Series Painting Contest, and was skilled/lucky enough to earn a bronze, and later I was lucky (no skill required, really; Derek is incredibly approachable in person, a fact for which I am quite grateful) enough to take 15 minutes or so of Derek Schubert's time after the judging was over. In the hopes that my experiences might be of interest and use to other forumites interested in entering the contest or improving their showing, I'd like to post a few of the insights Derek provided. To start, I'll briefly explain the way the contest works, as it applies to my case specifically. First, there are several categories (Open, Painters, Ordinance, and now Diorama) one can enter, These are all detailed elsewhere, suffice to say my entries were, ultimately, all under the Painters' category. As you may surmise, it is possible to enter multiple minis in the same category. The judges will then select one of your pieces as that which best represents your level of skill. First, let me introduce the minis in question. I entered three, and you can see their individual show-off posts in that forum: Janissa (Cassie, Female Gnome); Niko (Lem, Halfling Bard); and Gwynneth (Saori). Initially, I planned to enter Janissa and Saori in Painters, and Niko in Open. After seeing the field in the Open category, I decided Niko's conversions weren't pervasive enough to warrant that category, and I'll admit I lacked confidence in the cleanness of the flute/hoopak conversion, so I decided to have him judged primarily on the strength of the painting on him. Thus, all three minis went into Painters. Janissa was painted quite some time ago, and was one of the pieces I look at as a "level up" moment in my painting. She was likely the most ambitious mini I'd painted at the time, and is the reason I feel confident in my ability to freehand simple designs now. She also has some very bold color choices, and a fairly expressive face. This is why I entered her. Gwynneth is much more recent. She was painted to be of a high tabletop standard, but I am quite pleased with how her cloak came out, and there are other aspects that I felt were very solid. I decided to enter her based on this, but I really didn't expect her to be the piece chosen by the judges for consideration. That mini, I expected, would be Niko. I spent a great deal of time on him, including a good bit of conversion and scratch-building/sculpting (which makes me, in some ways, a bit of a coward for pulling him out of Open at the last minute! Now I'll never know how he'd have fared there...a lesson, in that). He has simple but clean freehand, a clear color palette, and one of my favorite faces I've painted. The judges chose Janissa as my best piece. After receiving my medal, I was surprised at the choice, and this was the major part of my conversation with Derek. Here's what we covered. We only looked at Janissa and Niko. . Looking at the two minis from the front, it's not an obvious decision. They're both brightly colored and draw the eye. They both have something going on in their bases, a mild amount of story being told, and they both display a certain proficiency with the brush. Janissa does stand out, though, with a slightly more striking face and, more important, darklining. Although the freehand stripes on Niko's pants are well painted, they are the same color as the hem of his shirt. Heavier darklining would help hold the two surfaces apart. The same is true for the pale metal of his bracelets and the cuffs of his sleeves against his skin. Derek didn't say it, but the fact that some things on Niko seem lined fairly clearly (e.g., necklace, top of belt) and others aren't probably didn't help Niko; inconsistency usually isn't the best thing. Also, and it's hard to see in this picture, but Janissa's boots exhibit smoother blends than do Niko's. Looking at the back, the freehand on their coats is the immediate draw. Here, it's easy to say Niko is the clear winner, but let's take a look. As positives, Derek pointed out the creativity of Niko's freehand pattern, and the parallels across the different elements of the pattern. The star is very angular, and the dagged corners of the outline echo that. Compared to Janissa, the lines are much cleaner, and the colors stand out brightly against each other. Even so, there are inconsistencies (remember my earlier comment?): take a close look at the bent-back ends of the lines near the center split of Niko's coat. Where the dags on his sleeves and the bottom corners of the coat are quite pointed, the points at the center are curved much more gently; they don't fit the pattern. Compared to Janissa, the overall pattern is much less complex (alchemical circles ain't easy, let me tell you!); neither does Niko's freehand utilize more than one color. Perhaps most important, Janissa's freehand is shaded and highlighted. Niko's is not; I relied on the underlying shading of the blue to do that for me, which worked poorly (and was dictated by lack of time procrastination; I finished the freehand the night before the entries were due...another lesson, here). The lack of shading on Niko's coat is compounded by the fact that I did shade the freehand stripes on his pants, and am quite proud of how well I did it. Consistency, again. Here we can see a few more reasons Janissa comes out ahead in this equation. Her hair is much more smoothly highlighted than Niko's, and her eyes are much cleaner. It also helps that she isn't slightly walleyed. So, let's sum up our lessons. First, be brave! With Niko, I chickened out late in the game with the category selection (open or painters), but I could easily have done so at any point in the creation process. From miniature selection to color choice, on through details like freehand or transparent fabric, it's important to commit to the mini you're entering. Pushing your comfort zone will also help you open new avenues in painting. I certainly plan to push some of my skills for next year's contest! Second, be consistent within each piece! If you're going to darkline, do it everywhere it makes sense. Once you start on a particular path, don't leave it in the middle of painting the mini. This can be as obvious as using the same family of colors across a single object, or as miniscule as making sure you give your skin the same depth of shading as your fabric. Third, give yourself enough time to finish your mini without hurrying. There are several aspects of Niko that I knew were problems when I entered him, but I had allowed myself to run out the clock and had no chance to finish him properly. Finally, for competition, take the chance to walk away from the mini at various stages, so you can come back to it refreshed and ruthless. Nearly everything Derek told me was, ultimately, unsurprising to me and fairly obvious, looking at Niko after letting him sit for three days in the competition room. I hadn't seen them before because I was too concerned about getting him done to a high standard. Had I been able to come back later, I might have seen the places where he wasn't hitting that standard (unfortunately, the day after the contest ended was too late to affect the outcome!). On the whole, I'm very proud of both these pieces, and I'm quite pleased to have earned a bronze medal in the competition, regardless of the mini selected to earn it. I'd like to thank all the judges for their work; it was a huge competition this year and it's nice to know my modest entries received the same attention as those that won Best in Show. Also, thanks again to Derek for taking the time to talk me through all this. I hope a few people who made it through this post find my experiences useful when thinking about future contests. Anyone who has similar experiences, or would like to add to the observations outlined here (either specific to my entries or in general), is welcome and encouraged to chime in on this thread. I'd like nothing more than to be one of a hundred gold-level entries next year!