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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.
This is the third in a series of four posts each concentrating on a different entry category. You can find information about the scoring system itself in the Painter Division post. From here forward I will just concentrate on how the component guidelines apply to the other three divisions
The Diorama Division does not exist in the MMSI structure. At MMSI a diorama goes into the Open Division as it encompasses the same set of skills. I, however, felt the Open Division ignored or down played the story and what is a diorama without a story? This is the division that lets you show off the same skills that the Open Division does and wrap it around a story. Again if you have just a single entry then the judges can just go ahead and score your entry, no discussion is necessary. If you have multiple entries, then there will be a discussion between the judges on which entry they want to score. That conversation is typically the only conversation although these discussions tend to be longer than they might be in the Painter Division. However, when selecting the scoring entry the conversation is still based on “I can score this one higher than the others” or words to that affect, till they come to a decision just as it would be for the Painter Division.
Let’s take a quick look at the scoring guidelines the judges use (which is published as part of the MSP Open rules. One cautionary note’ these particular scoring guidelines may change slightly):
Painting Skill: 30%
What does this mean for the Diorama Division? In this division we are really want to see all your hobby skills as well as your story telling ability. While the components remain the same the emphasis has obviously changed a great deal.
Difficulty: This is a tough one for the Diorama category, since most dioramas are difficult to begin with. We reduced the emphasis here because we feel that you should not take a hit for a good story that is comparatively simple to tell.
Creativity: Creativity steps up a bit here. While painting is still factor this is the portion that shows us the story you are telling. Now painting is combined with your ability to convert, sculpt and tell a story to your audience. The entrant’s imagination comes into play here, you are looking to tell a story to your viewers. You are striving for the audience to understand your story without commentary from you. It can be subtle or in your face but if you have to explain it then you have not succeeded.
Workmanship: This remains a pretty straightforward component but in the Diorama Division there is a higher emphasis on it. It reflects how well constructed the entire piece is. Any type of non-painting effort is represented here. This is includes your ability to do conversions and/or scratch sculpt or at least be able to blend your miniatures in with the scene you have constructed. A missed mold line, poor assembly or a poorly executed conversion could easily drop you a while numeric value in the scoring.
Painting Skill: Everything that was said about painting still applies in the Diorama Division but there is less emphasis. At this point workmanship and creativity components exceed the painting component. While we don’t expect your abilities to be exactly equal in those areas you cannot count on your ability to paint alone to carry you over the top.
Presentation: There is more emphasis on the is component as well. You are building the entire entry, essentially from scratch, and the presentation of everything you do affects the story. From the miniatures to the setting, this is where it all comes together. How you present it can be the difference between gold and silver.
This is the second in a series of four posts each concentrating on a different entry category. You can find information about the scoring system itself in the Painter Division post. From here forward I will just concentrate on how the component guidelines apply to the other three divisions.
The Open Division is far more of a freeform division than the Painter Division. Here is where you get to really strut your stuff with major conversions and scratch sculpts. If you have just a single entry then the judges can just go ahead and score your entry, no discussion is necessary. If you have multiple entries, then there will be a discussion between the judges on which entry they want to score. That conversation is typically the only conversation although these discussions tend to be longer than they might be in the Painter Division. However, when selecting the scoring entry the conversation is still based on “I can score this one higher than the others” or words to that affect, till they come to a decision just as it would be for the Painter Division. If multiple entries are visually very thematic the judges may decide to judge them together as a single entry.
Let’s take a quick look at the scoring guidelines the judges use (which is published as part of the MSP Open rules):
Painting Skill: 30%
What does this mean for the Open Division? In this division we are really want to see all your skills. While the components remain the same the emphasis has obviously changed a great deal.
Difficulty: This is far more intuitive than it is in the Painter Division. The level of difficulty depends entirely on the difficulty of the conversion, with a minor conversion being the least difficult with graduations on up from there with a complete scratch sculpt being the most difficult.
Creativity: Creativity stays about the same as it does for Painter. Painting is still a factor here. Now painting is combined with your ability to convert and sculpt to reach your audience. The entrant’s imagination comes into play here, you are looking for impact on the audience. Are you straining the boundaries of believability or are you trying to evoke a specific emotion from your viewers? Have you achieved what you set out to do at the end?
Workmanship: This remains a pretty straightforward component but in the Open Division there is a higher emphasis on it. It reflects how well constructed the entire piece is. Any type of non-painting effort is represented here. Again a well done conversion means that the judge can’t tell that anything has been converted. A scratch sculpt should be properly proportioned and well sculpted (no thumb prints!). A missed mold line, poor assembly or a poorly executed conversion could easily drop you a while numeric value in the scoring. This is a category that we really encourage documentation, show us what you did and how you did it.
Painting Skill: Everything that was said about painting still applies in the Open Division but there is less emphasis. At this point workmanship and painting are equal. While we don’t expect your abilities to be exactly equal in both areas you cannot count on your ability to paint alone to carry you over the top.
Presentation: There is more emphasis on the is component as well. If you are building the entire entry, essentially from scratch then the presentation of your entry is going to have a significant impact on how a viewer perceives your entry. Bring your entry to life!
Breaking out the scoring or How your models are judged at the Reaper Con MSP Open
This will be a series of four posts each concentrating on a different entry category. These scoring “rules” are based on the MMSI painting competition in Chicago and variants of this system are used on an international basis. Michael Proctor and I took a good hard look at the rules a number of years ago and introduced a few tweaks to the system to better represent what we, as judges, are looking for when scoring your entry at Reaper Con. The basis for all of these is still the MMSI rules and there is not a whole lot of difference between the emphasis of the components in each division. One thing to keep in mind is that manufacturer awards do not necessarily use the MSP Open system. Those winners are, typically, chosen by the manufacturer (including Reaper for the Sophies) or their representative on site using their own criteria.
The scoring is quite simple. A judge assigns an entry one of five numerical values based on their opinion of what the entrant has earned for their entry:
0 – no award
1 – Certificate of Merit
2 – Bronze Medal
3 – Silver Medal
4 – Gold Medal
The Reaper Con judging teams are made up of three judges (There are options to use 4 or 5 judges but regardless of how many judges are used only three scores are tallied). Each judge assigns one of these 5 values to each miniature assigned to their team. The three scores are tallied which gets a value somewhere between 0 and 12. That final tally gives a number that tells the team what award to give to the entrant for that entry. Judging is typically not done by committee, each judge assigns the score they feel the piece deserves and moves on to the next. Most discussion takes place around which piece to score when there are multiple entries. Judges do consult with each other when they have difficulty assigning a score to an entry.
0 – 1 No Award
2 – 4 Certificate of Merit
5 – 7 Bronze Medal
8 – 10 Silver Medal
11 – 12 Gold Medal
That’s the basics, now let’s take a look at how a judge uses the five components to decide what score they are going to give you.
The Painter Division is for stock models, those that come straight from the package or are assembled as shown by the manufacturer (it can include minor conversions). The Painter Division is the largest category at the MSP Open, often encompassing hundreds of entries at each show. There is no limit to the number of entries that an individual can enter in this category. I personally would limit yourself to your three best, but if you intend to be considered for other manufacturer or theme awards then it would not be out of place to see six or more entries from an individual.
If you have just a single entry then the judges can just go ahead and score your entry, no discussion is necessary. If you have multiple entries, then there will be a discussion between the judges on which entry they want to score. That conversation is typically the only conversation that needs to occur for any given entrant. When selecting the scoring entry the conversation is based on “I can score this one higher than the others” or words to that affect, till they come to a decision which is usually pretty quickly done. If the entries are visually very thematic the judges may decide to judge them together as a single entry.
Let’s take a quick look at the scoring guidelines the judges use (which is published as part of the MSP Open rules):
Painting Skill: 70%
What does that really mean? In a nutshell we want to see how well you can paint! Did you really execute the different techniques to the best of your ability? Hence why painting skill is the predominant component that a judge is going to look at. Let’s look at a breakdown of those components and how they relate to a miniature in the Painters Division.
Difficulty: This is definitely not an intuitive concept in the Painter Division. The judge is not looking at the techniques (including freehand) you used on the miniature. They are looking at how difficult is the miniature itself to paint. While how difficult a miniature is also subjective, subtle shading on flat or nearly flat surfaces are 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: This component looks at use of color, color schemes and the use of freehand designs in other words things that aren’t part of the sculpt itself. This is also where painted effects first come into play, like OSL (Object Source Lighting). 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: This is a pretty straightforward component. 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 the elusive mold line and eliminating it but it also includes assembling a multi piece miniatures 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 while numeric value in the scoring.
Painting Skill: This is the whole key to the Painter Division entry, how well you apply paint to the miniature. These is where you are evaluated on the techniques you used how well you executed them. Tying everything together is really important as well. 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 as long as you executed it properly regardless of how the judge feels about that technique.
Here is an example of how 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.
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 with 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 that one that a judge will often use when making that final decision between scores, a tie breaker as it were.
If you made it through that wall of text, congratulations! Hopefully that helped explain away some of the magic behind the scoring in the Painter Division.
This wall of text post is the result of a private conversation I have had with someone here on the forums. I have edited it a bit and removed names and things of that nature. Hopefully it may answer some of those questions people can be afraid to ask. I'm happy to have conversations like this and I thought that this might spur some more questions that people are uncomfortable asking,
It starts off like this
Let me ask you honestly, do you think that some things are judged more harshly for the genre they are painted in such as some may like say historical better than fantasy?
Also, do you feel there are ever biases for people who've gotten awards in the past or are "well known" or "friends of" the judges?
Reason I ask is because I saw some and looked very closely at a few figures and things that I got "dinged" for seemed to be overlooked on figures which got higher marks.
I'm not calling anyone out or trying to start trouble, but I was a bit put off by how varying the standards were and I talked to a few friends who had certain judges that'd mark at say a Bronze and one would mark at a Gold citing that the bronze didn't like the technique, but the gold uses it and loves it. I felt some were inconsistent.
Really, I just want to know how to "level up" and be able to achieve higher standards with how varying the judging is. It's a bit confusing at this point.
Those are hard questions for early in the morning, quite frankly they are hard questions period because we are dealing with people in a subjective environment. I'll do my best to explain it.
As you know a team consists of three judges who after deciding which piece to score (if there are multiple entries in a category) then assign a score of 0-4. Michael and I do instruct the judges (and we are usually on teams as well) spending about 15 minutes refreshing everyone on what we are trying to accomplish. In general judges on a team don't consult with each other on what score they are going to give, they will consult with each other if they are struggling on how to score something. In general Michael and I both tell them to start with silver score (a 3, we also try to avoid giving 0s at all, except in the youth division) and then move up or down from that point.
Do judges have a bias against different genres? While I don't believe that judges have particular biases between genres there are certainly areas where judges are stronger or weaker. For instance, we have judges that we won't put on a team that will cover vehicles and ordnance because its weak area for them. However, they are excellent when judging in the painters category. I think it has more to do with how comfortable a judge is within a category rather than a bias towards a particular genre.
Do judges have a bias for past award winners, or friends? This is a really tough question and its one of the reasons there are three judges on a team and not a single person doing it. There is a kind of a yes and no answer to this question. As judges we do expect a higher quality of work from a past gold medalists, Sophie winners, best of show winners or even instructors. In general they probably get judged a bit more harshly because of their past work, we know what they are capable of. Do we maybe allow some of them to dial it in anyway, quite possibly, again it depends on the judging team and quite frankly when someone like Jen Haley or Jess Rich dials it in they are still head and shoulders above the rest of us.
Friends are a bit of different story, in general we tell judges that they need to bow out of judging a piece that they have a vested interest in because it was done by a friend or because they consulted a significant amount on it (I was pulled into this myself this year when they were judging the Dark Sword awards). We always have alternate judges available to fill in when something like this happens and it is not an uncommon occurrence. Unfortunately, it is not always clear when something like this has happened because you have to see the physical judging sheet to see if a different set of initials are in the scoring box for that piece. [Edit: Judges don't score their own pieces either, this is another place where the alternate will step in.]
Are judges inconsistent? [this was my initial answer "To a certain extent yes". As I reread this I have changed my mind]. Judges tend to be very consistent with how they score things (I have been tracking judges' scores for years now), what is inconsistent is that no two judges view entries in quite the same light, we are human after all. We make mistakes or we are grumpy because we have been on our feet all day teaching and that can be unconsciously reflected in how an entry gets scored. While Michael and I try to catch the obvious ones like a judge scoring a 4 and another judge on the team scoring the same entry a 1 scores like a 1, 2, 3 (which adds up to a bronze) are not uncommon. We are dealing with someone's opinion on what they are looking at. Remember, in general, the judges don't discuss how they are going to score a piece with each other. If there are multiple entries the discussion is more along the lines of "I can score this piece higher than that one".
We try very hard to encourage discussions in positive terms not negative terms. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen and many of our judges have a background in trophy judging where the first thing you are looking for are flaws. We want our judges to look at the good things first.
I can't speak to the last question because I would have to see the circumstance. Most judges don't put down comments on the scoring sheets (we can, but often time gets away from us). For your particular example I would have to know what entry is being talked about and what category it is in and who the three judges were. Also what was the third score?
I do track the judges' scores and we try and make sure teams the teams are balanced. Some judges in general are tougher than others. I don't want two "tough' judges on the same team nor do I want to two "easy" judges on the same team either. In general, I think that the results are for more consistent than most people realize but unless you are right there doing the scoring and involved with the conversations it is hard to see that. And yes, we have had individuals that are not particularly good at judging despite how good a painter and instructor they may be. For that one year, they are going to have an influence on the entries they score in the competition. The judges, like the entrants, are human and have their own inherent biases and opinions. By using three judges we hope to achieve a balance and get realistic scores for every piece that was entered.
With our need to get more judges into the pool we did run a bit of an experiment this year. In vehicles and ordnance, I judged the category with two newbies to the ReaperCon competition. However, they are both experienced judges in that category at other shows. I was pleased to find that our scores were almost in lock step with each other with a few 1 point variations which I would expect to find. Will they do as well as we introduce them into the painter, open, and diorama categories? I donâ€™t know, but I would be comfortable using them as dedicated vehicle and ordnance judges now. This lets me use a third judge that is not familiar with the category get experience under their tutelage.
I also have people asking how they can become judges. A hard question and not one that you asked. We like our judges to have some experience as instructors first. The first thing we need from a judge is the ability to communicate with people and be familiar explaining techniques and able to give good critiques. The easiest way for us to do that is make sure they are good instructors first. It doesn't always mean that they are going to be good judges but it gives us a starting point. The first year a new judge serve as an alternate. They are typically assigned to a single team for that year and step in when a primary judge needs to step out. That way they get the advantage of being involved in the discussions and can get in and score a few things themselves. The year after that we try and work them in as a primary judge on a team, that is usually a make or break year for us to figure out if they are going to be a good judge or not.
I'm not sure that I have answered your questions very well. It is hard to sit down, based on the judging, and figure out what you need to do to "level up". We emphasis the feedback portion of the competition but sometimes that can cause confusion when you are getting hit with multiple opinions. I think the best critiques start out with the judging asking you what you think you did really well and what you didn't like. Often you know what needs to be done you just haven't acknowledged it.
Thanks for taking the time to write out such a great response, Kris!
I really do appreciate it. I know it's very subjective, and all judges are human (well some may machines with how well they paint!).
Really I guess it comes down to conflicting feedback from judge to judge for me. Some may love your blending and use of colors and give high marks, others may think it's crap and give you low marks. I was just curious if there are "standards" they should follow to try to keep personal feelings on techniques used out of the equation. A good example of this is drybrushing. I know a few judges who quite literally sneer at the usage and feel it's something that shouldn't ever be used and others who respect it as a tool in the toolbox to be strategically used if done well.
There is not a set of standards. It would literally be impossible to set something like that unless we selected a single artist to be our standard, so we have to lean on experience and skill. To a certain extent you are always going get different opinions from the judges and that's were their own bias towards something is going to get in. It doesn't mean that they necessarily dinged you for that for scoring, unless they were quite specific about it.
We do instruct the judges that all techniques are valid, that they are judging the execution of that technique even if it is a technique that they don't use or don't think is effective. If you executed drybrushing correctly then you shouldn't get dinged for it even if the judge doesn't like that technique.
Oh, no problem, it's mostly curiosity on my part at this point after talking to a few other friends and hearing their scores/feedbacks.
Again, this wasn't about my particular judges for painters category. I got 2 bronze and 1 silver scoring so it was pretty consistent. I also got feedback from others like Jen Haley which was very valuable.
And I'm not trying to cause trouble or stress, really want to be able to understand the system better so I can do better and know what people are looking for as they judge pieces as someday I would like to get golds and Sophies. I know that my biggest critiques are about contrast and I get it, but I personally like more subtle things like the Europeans are doing. Things with textures and grittiness. But I also know I should conform a bit because right now in painting in the US it seems to be all about the contrasts and smooth blends for judges.
Again, thanks for your time in talking about this and I really do appreciate the thought you put into your responses.
Many of our judges have been exposed to the European styles and have taken classes with the European painters. They should be able to appreciate that style as well. Just keep in mind that in some ways the Europeans take contrast, especially between light and dark even more extremely than we do.
Really there are a heck of a lot of styles out there now. It just feels to me like the biggest thing people look for in these contests is contrast and always upping values to the extremes. I get it, these are tiny pieces and the lighting isn't the best to judge by so subtly will easily get missed in competition when you are looking over hundreds of entries and you're tired and have certain things each judge looks for.
I always welcome conversations on how to get better with painting and composition and techniques so a full forum conversation could be pretty good for everyone.
I was a bit disappointed in myself for only getting bronze in painters as I felt that I leveled up on my pieces since last year when I also got bronze. I got a bunch of feedback from a lot of people on the forum and other places on my techniques. Really, I do just want to get better and am open to all advice and comments in order to do so. Taking classes and getting personal feedback are great ways to do this and part of the reason I love ReaperCon so much.
The leveling up in medals is really hard. One of the things that you have to remember is that while the scoring sounds simple:
0-1 - no award
2-4 - Certificate
5-7 - Bronze
8-10 - Silver
11-12 - Gold
the difference between all those scores is much bigger than it appears. The difference between scoring a 7 (high bronze) and an 8 (low silver) from the judging point of view is significant. I didn't do a lot of critiques this year since I only judged one category, but the single biggest thing I saw this time around was thick paint. Keep it thin!
While many of us are restricted to asking for advice and help online, it is hard to really to really get and give good feedback. Things I see in a picture may not be the result of your paintwork but more the result of your lighting. What looks great in person may look awful in a photograph and vice versa. Ultimately there is no magic bullet, you need to paint, paint and paint some more to get better. Which means that most people aren't painting enough to get from one level to another and if you take long breaks between painting you forget things and skills deteriorate. Its practice, practice, practice! Also if you are consistently painting for the table top you are in the habit of painting till its good enough. For a competition piece that is not good enough, you need to practice to a competition level to get better if you want to level up from bronze to silver or silver to gold. I remember reading about a Canadian painter (and he has been at ReaperCon in the past, but his name escapes me) who went to his first GW Games Day in Canada and decided the next year he would win the slayer sword. He succeeded in doing that, he also spent almost 400+ hours researching, painting, striping and re-painting that piece. He may have started off that year as a newbie painter but by the end of it he was master. Most of us don't have that kind of time, but it does show what can be done if you are up to the challenge and are willing to put in the work. There is no magic bullet to getting better except to keep painting and improving.