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Some Thoughts on Scores for the MSP Open Painting Competition
What follows is a complete wall of text, you have been warned!
Maybe it’s your first time entering the MSP Open, or you are veteran that is still a bit mystified by how your entries are scored. Let’s start at the beginning with some scoring basics. Once entry into the MSP Open competition is closed (Friday if you have a weekend pass, Saturday if you have a single day pass for Saturday) we unleash our judging teams. There are multiple teams at work but only one team in any given category will judge your work. Typically, there is one team each for Dioramas, Armor/Ordnance and Open. There are as many as 4 teams for Painter (that’s 21 judges if you are keeping count plus interns, it’s akin to herding cats). All of this depends on the number of entries we receive, so changes do get made.
A 3-person team will review your entries, in each category, and then each member of the team will give your entry a score from 0-4. The judge assigns that score based on the criteria for the category the entry is in. If you have multiple entries in a single category only one will be judged and the judging team will make that decision. While there is discussion around which entry to score if you have multiple entries the score a judge assigns to an entry is private. In theory no member of the team knows what score the other members gave the entry. After the scores are turned in, they are added together to get a number from 0-12 which determines what you will be awarded:
0-1 No award
2-4 Honorable Mention (paper certificate)
5-7 Bronze Medal
8-10 Silver Medal
11-12 Gold Medal
That’s the easy part! But now you are thinking, wait a minute, the criteria; Difficulty, Creativity, Workmanship, Painting Skill and Presentation all add up to 100% how does that work? Well, those percentages are the judges’ guide to what is important in each category.
Since the Painter category is by far the most popular, let’s look at that and what those percentages represent:
Difficulty 5%, Creativity 10%, Workmanship 10%, Painting Skill 70% and Presentation 5%.
A quick glance at the numbers tells us that, obviously, the most important part of the category is painting, standing tall at 70%. Creativity and Workmanship are 10% each and Difficulty and Presentation are 5% each.
How those percentages are used varies from judge to judge which is why a team is made up of three people and not one (in the Open System teams can have as many as five judges but the minimum is three. When there are 3 judges all the scores are used, with four judges the lowest score is tossed out and with five judges the highest and the lowest score are tossed out). Before we go further let’s define what those criteria mean:
Difficulty (5%): This is definitely not an intuitive concept in the Painter Division. While the judge is looking at the techniques (including freehand) you used on the miniature. They are also looking at how difficult is the miniature itself to paint. How difficult a miniature is to paint is pretty subjective, subtle shading on flat or nearly flat surfaces is much more difficult to pull off than shading on a surface with more surface texture. Often difficulty is going to come into play when a judge is on the fence between two scores.
Creativity (10%): This component looks at use of color, color schemes and freehand designs in other words things that aren’t part of the sculpt itself. This is also where painted effects also come into play, like OSL (Object Source Lighting) or NMM (Non-Metal Metal). This is the component that really addresses your freedom of expression on your entry and how well you bring that across to the audience.
Workmanship: While I used to think this was a pretty straight forward component, it does seem to be an elusive concept for some painters. It reflects how well you prepared your model for painting. Any type of non-painting effort is represented here. In the Painter division this includes finding all the elusive mold line and eliminating them, but it also includes assembling a multi piece miniature or executing minor conversions. A well-done conversion or well assembled miniature means that the judge can’t tell that anything has been converted or that it had multiple pieces. A missed mold line, poor assembly or a poorly executed conversion could easily drop you a whole numeric value in the scoring.
Painting Skill: This is the whole key to a Painter Division entry, how well you apply paint to the miniature. This is where you are evaluated on the techniques you used and how well you executed them. Tying everything together is another factor, did you create a coherent whole? Everything you do must come together as a whole composition. It is an area where judges need to be aware of everything that is going on and how it is fitting together. While this is the predominate component of the Painter Division it is also the most subjective.
Judges must overcome their prejudices about which techniques they prefer. As an example, there is nothing wrong with drybrushing when executed properly regardless of how the judge feels about that technique. Here is a place where a judge needs to be aware of many different styles and techniques. Blending doesn’t always have to be a smooth transition from light to dark, there are multiple different types of blending, it is how well you executed the technique or style you opted for. Do you blend like Jen Haley or like Alfonso “Banshee” Giraldes? They both achieve marvelous blends, but their techniques are markedly different in achieving those blends.
One point to make here, while speed painting techniques are perfectly acceptable, they are not likely to garner you a silver or gold medal no matter how well executed they are. These techniques are primarily designed to look good from a distance and in competition painting entries need to hold up to close scrutiny, within a foot or less. And no, we won’t be adding a category for pure gaming figures using fast or speed painting techniques.
Presentation: While not the most important component in the Painter Division it is another example of getting the little things right. A nice, well executed base will set the “scene” for your miniature. It can be the simple base that the miniature came on or it can be more elaborate (although I would save the effort on a really elaborate base for a miniature going into the Open or Diorama divisions). This component is another one that a judge will often use when making that final decision between scores, a tie breaker as it were. A key point me is harmony, is your base in harmony with your paint work. If you have beautifully painted miniature and all you did was glue unpainted rock to the base you are likely to pull your score down the unpainted rock clashes with the painted miniature. While there is certainly a place for natural materials, those natural materials in their natural state will often clash with our paintwork. Natural materials really need at least a bit of paint to bring them into harmony with the miniature. Like anything there are exceptions to the rule but when in doubt paint it all!
How in the world do the judges make any sense of this! All Michael and I can do is guide the judges but this is how I apply the criteria to an entry. I take the percentages and translate them into numbers based on the those percentages. So, for me the painter category translates into the following:
Difficulty: ½ pt
Creativity: 1 pt
Workmanship: 1 pt
Painting: 7 pts
Presentation: ½ pt
Now I have ten points to work with in my head. This is the order I tend to work through when judging a piece.
Difficulty: what miniature did you choose to paint? How hard was it to work with? Does it have a flowing cape with lots of folds or is it a simple cape that is waving a little bit but almost flat. Did you pick a Bobby Jackson sculpt or Kevin White sculpt? The canvas the sculptor provides really determines how difficult (as a side note, I like both of these sculptors, but I would consider Kevin’s work to be more difficult to work with than Bobby’s. Kevin’s details tend to be a bit more subtle and Bobby’s a bit more exaggerated) it is to paint. In general, I’m not going to take anything away from you at this point, just going to put that ½ point in my back pocket for the moment.
Workmanship: I come from a modeling background so this is a big deal for me. Get all the mold lines (and if you try and turn a mold line into a scar, you had better make sure it really looks like a scar, otherwise I will not award that point). Quite frankly, your workmanship should be nearly flawless. Did you catch all the mold lines, how well did you assemble a multi part mini, how well does the mini integrate with the base, that sort of thing? Depending on your workmanship I’m going to start you off with either a 1 (you got the point!), 0 you did a solid job or even a -1 (which has the potential to drop you a medal rank). At this point if you did well you have 1 point.
Creativity: This is more complex that it first appears. It certainly includes special effects like OSL or NMM. But it also includes freehand and use of colors. I’m looking for wow factor here but I’m also looking for harmony and how the colors lead me through the miniature. Another aspect that I look for is use of materials. There are a plethora of different materials we can use on our minis which would include “weathering” like mud along the edge of a cape or on the boots (leads back to the harmony aspect, as you integrate the miniature into its environment). Much like Workmanship I’ll either start you off with a 1 (well done), 0 you did a solid job or a -1 if there is nothing of note. Potentially you now have 2 points.
Presentation: Again, more complex than you would think at first glance. While I typically hold this ½ point in my pocket. This really is a bit about basing and how the miniature and the base go together. Do they compliment each other? Do they form an integrated whole? It doesn’t have to be complicated just a simple base that tells me a bit about where the miniature is at. Or it could be a miniature, well mounted, on a finished block of wood that is in harmony with the miniature. Just remember that if you use a wood block or something similar, judges tend to use these as handles so make sure your miniature is well fastened to it.
Painting: I save the painting for last because this is the point where I’m not only looking at your ability to paint but how well you executed any special techniques; OSL, NMM, freehand and/or the application of other materials. This is the make or break point and its worth up to 7 points. If you are hoping for a gold medal, I would need to be able to award at least 6 points right here. First thing neatness counts! If your painting is clean (no paint where it doesn’t belong) and no stray brush marks, I’ll be starting you off with at least a silver so 5-6 points for paintwork. Then the hard part, the special techniques if any (and I don’t down grade you if you didn’t use any) and how well you pulled those off. While we like to see painters push themselves to try new things, sometimes a contest entry is not the right place to experiment with it. I might give you the 1 for creativity but I may well ding you a point on the painting. Things to keep in mind.
Working out the numbers
All right so here is the running total in my head right now:
That’s 8 points for the elements that make up the largest portion of the scoring
which means you are sitting at a silver medal and I would give your entry a “3” on the score sheet. But I still have a full point to play with.
That point comes from; difficulty and presentation, ½ a point each. If I award no more points you are at Silver, if I take away 1 point you are still at Silver. However, if I award a full point (and in this case only a full point would do it) that pushes your score up to a 9 which would just push the piece to gold and I would score a “4” on the score sheet.
Now what’s the final score? Let’s look at some alternatives based on a final score of 8 (“3”) or a final score of 9 (“4”) from me. I would expect both the other judges to score within a point of my score.
1) Me: 3 Judge 2: 3 Judge 3: 3 Total Score 9 that’s a solid silver medal
2) Me: 3 Judge 2: 3 Judge 3: 4 Total Score 10 that’s a high silver medal pushing towards gold.
3) Me: 3 Judge 2: 4 Judge 3: 4 Total Score 11 that’s a low gold medal, congratulations!
4) Me: 3 Judge 2: 3 Judge 2: 2 Total Score 8 that’s a low silver medal with room for improvement
5) Me: 3 Judge 2: 2 Judge 3: 2 Total Score 7 that’s a high bronze medal pushing towards silver
If I scored a 4 then cases 1-3 each go up a mark ranging from high silver to high gold.
An entry could have a score ranging from 7-11 depending on the other two judges’ scores or high bronze to low gold. Those three scores are what’s really important to you and gives you an idea of where the judges feel that your work currently stands and shows if you are improving. While I realize that getting three straight bronze medals (been there, done that) can be discouraging, if your score is going up by a point each year (so 5, then 6, then 7) you are improving with every entry.
Each team has one judge designated as the lead. Basically, the lead will guide the conversations around entry selection, when there are multiple entries in a category, and collect and review the score sheets when the team has finished their assigned section. That review is to make sure everything has three scores and to see if there are situations like 4 and 5 above using an alternative score of 4 from me. These are an issue since my score of 4 is 2 points different from either one (case 4) or both the other judges (case 5). At this point the lead would pull the team back and make sure everyone scored the same entry or at the very least reevaluate their scores. We are concerned anytime one judge is scoring a piece for a gold medal but one or both others are scoring it a bronze.
If you made it through all of that, congratulations! If you have questions about it feel free to post them and I’ll do my best to answer them. As I stated in the beginning this is how I do it, I suspect a couple of the other judges do something similar but please don’t take this as the hard and fast way to do judging. It works well for me, but when there are 21 different judges things are going to vary from one person and even one team to another.
For the past few months I've been working on a series of articles and videos of advice for people working on entries for the MSP Open. (Or anyone looking to improve their painting a little.) I've reviewed the most common issues that we see with entries and tried to provide both good explanations and before and after photo examples. My plan was to put this up before ReaperCon so you have the opportunity to go over your entries and see if you want to change anything before the contest. (And I'm sure many of us are still frantically painting anyway!)
Common contest entry feedback and solutions.
There are quite a number of threads regarding the Reaper Con Painting Competition. As Labor Day tends to get here at the speed of light I thought I would create a short index to the various threads. There is a lot of information useful to both the beginner and the veteran competition painter here, so pick a thread to start with and come join the fun!