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Tips For Entering Reaper Painting Competitions

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25 minutes ago, LittleBluberry said:

Not caring about competition results can be a healthy start.  

This - it's about being able to relax, and being happy with your work.  it doesn't even have to be official competitions, either.

I spent the early 2000s trying to to get as good as a friend of mine, and my progress was minimal.   I didn't get as good as him until I stopped trying to, and just started painting for fun again. 


41 minutes ago, LittleBluberry said:

What I love about your work is the life and creativity you bring to it.  It's possible to learn any technique and still produce something boring, but to capture the imagination is a gift.  

Quoted because I feel the same way about your work, Siri. 

I'd love to see you sculpt some more dragons from your mythology.  I think that's an area you can thrive in, and the passion you have for them will probably help drive you to do your best in ways that shooting for a gold medal simply can't. 

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Larger minis tend to take more time. We pour more hours into them.  If I were to spend an equal amount of time on a small figure and a dragon, and then enter them in the competition, the dragon would

I plan to, I am learning zbrush and my dragon species are some of the first things I am going to try and make, since they are easy for me to envision    Thanks everyone. I do feel better now

@Sirithiliel    I'm no where near good enough for a bronze yet but I can offer some insight into that step from silver to gold. I do Japanese fiber arts for reenactment groups. While it

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5 hours ago, OneBoot said:

I know of at least 2 forum members who decided that the contest experience was not for them, and had a relaxing time at the con not stressing about it.


I'm sort of in that box. I still want the brighter medals, but I absolutely made the choice this year to paint some fun stuff and not sweat the things I would have to sweat to get silver or gold.


This made me much happier. And by stopping work on the "serious" pieces when I did, I still plan to go back to finish them a bit at a time and expect to have fun with the painting rather than grinding through until I thoroughly hated them.


But I also know people whose hobby is very much about the level of perfection that gets a gold. Which is great for them, too.


4 hours ago, Sirithiliel said:

Part of my problem with reaching competition level painting is that i like varied and interesting color schemes, i like to have markings, i like to have counter shading, and that means i have to get every single shadow to fall across multiple color regions, and get them all to blend smoothly


i like color, i like interesting patterns and colors rather than just paint a dragon one single color and shade and highlight it. My entire class i teach at Reapercon is teaching people to go outside the box and do something other than one single color for a dragon. To mix colors that don't match a D&D stereotype of a dragon, to add markings, to just create something new rather than following a book picture


i think i'll work on the bones 4 skeletal dragon next year for the painters. he would only use bone colors and i won't be tempted to try something exotic with him


FWIW, I think your work is very strong. And I share your desire to use patterns and colors in interesting ways.


To some extent, I think that there is too much emphasis on precision in competition pieces and not enough on emotion and artistic impression. But I've come to an accommodation with that for myself; competition painting is a thing of its own, and it's a thing that I probably don't care enough about to do well in competitions.


I'll probably keep entering them, though, if for no other reason than that it's a further incentive to actually finish pieces instead of getting them to 80-90% and then stopping. 

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FWIW I won silver for a stock Bones Black ogre in the Painter's division. He was mounted on a 2 inch square cut MDF base (so it matches 5e sizes on a battlemap) with some painted gravel, a couple of rocks, and some static grass glued on- nothing elaborate. The feedback I got was that the judges wanted me to do just a little bit more highlighting around his delts. Nothing crazy, just a smidge more. Fair enough!


Definitely paint for your enjoyment, not for a competition. If you are enjoying something you will practice it more and naturally learn new things, fixating on awards is a good way to get frustrated. Sure, try to get an award, there's nothing wrong with that if done in fun, just don't make that the be all end all.


But regarding the basing thing you should be able to win gold in the division with a standard model on its standard base.

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Somewhat piggy-backing on what @Guindyloo mentioned is that tabletop (or what I would say painting for personal enjoyment) is different than competition painting (attempting to impress others/push personal limitations of capabilities). Most of the time, those two are mutually exclusive.


I am not in a place to give advice on how to move forward in your painting journey, but if you choose to continue to compete (in painters), I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find the areas you need to develop to get to where you want to go. If you decide not to continue to compete (in painters), then I hope that you continue to find joy in painting what you enjoy, and teaching others what you have learned along the way.


If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone in feeling disappointment or the struggle with placements. Many other painters have gone through the same process.

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About basing. There are three things that a base can do for you in a competition:

1) A neutral base - Does not raise or lower your score. It does not enhance the entry but neither does it detract.


2) A bad base - In this case we are talking about a base that is either not finished or finished so badly that it actually detracts from the miniature.


3) A good base - A base that enhances the miniature. Good enough that for a judge that is waffling between a gold or a silver that it pushes the mini over the top to gold. It’s a tough point to hit though, if you go to far with it you could put it in the bad base zone because the base over shadows the miniature.


When in doubt just shoot for the neutral base.

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I'm no where near good enough for a bronze yet but I can offer some insight into that step from silver to gold.

I do Japanese fiber arts for reenactment groups. While it's been touched on, I don't think the difference between silver and gold has been fully revealed. For years I wondered why I wasn't making that leap, what was I missing? I just couldn't see the difference between my Japanese braids and the experts' braids. They all kept telling me I was improving but I just didn't 'see' it. So I didn't believe them and felt very frustrated. So much so that I took years off until someone came to me for questions. I started braiding again, then I 'saw' the difference between my old braids and the experts' and my new braids. So much so, that entering them in a competition in Feb and writing where the mistakes and changes were the fiber art judges couldn't see them. It is very frustrating to not see that difference between silver and gold until you're on the other side. A good friend of mine explained it to me that the step between silver and gold is twice as wide as the step between bronze and silver.

There are a lot of good advice above, paint the models that give you joy, use the colors that give you joy, focus on one model for next year, and don't worry about medals but I'd like to add one. Take frequent breaks, paint a different model or even do a different hobby for short periods of time and don't look at your entry for a few days or even a week/s. When you come back to it, your brain will see the next step. I'd even say pick your model but don't start work on it until the end of the month. But please keep painting the things that give you joy. 

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You have among the best dragon and big creature color composition I've seen (okay, photo only, but still). Your work is gorgeous and creative and each of your pieces has life and character. They pull from fantasy and actual cool creatures and that's phenomenal. All I can think is that it is that smooth blending and more intense shading inside individual color blocks could increase your chances of a gold. That would hardly change your compositions, but it would make pieces take a ton more time, especially since you like big ones. Nitpicking every brush stroke for the precise fine hue or tone difference is tiring, more-so when you have a wing-span to work with instead of a millimeter on a small figure. Whether it is worth it or not is up to you. No one does dragons like you do; don't let the competition drive change your awesome dragoning :winkthumbs: All this with lots of grains of salt, since I haven't gotten to compete, and I just temporarily shelved my zombie dragon at 75% complete because I was tired of painting Big Ugly things.

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21 hours ago, kristof65 said:


Quoted because I feel the same way about your work, Siri. 

I'd love to see you sculpt some more dragons from your mythology.  I think that's an area you can thrive in, and the passion you have for them will probably help drive you to do your best in ways that shooting for a gold medal simply can't. 


I plan to, I am learning zbrush and my dragon species are some of the first things I am going to try and make, since they are easy for me to envision 


Thanks everyone. I do feel better now that a few days have passed after the con, and I am determined to just paint my dragons and enjoy it, and work on my sculpting , rather than chase the gold

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On 9/3/2019 at 12:27 PM, Sirithiliel said:


ah, but see, my entries for this year i worked all year on. I started them immediately after last ReaperCon. 


and i know no one, off of the forums, that i can go to for critque. my husband doens't know anything about painting and i have no IRL friends



I commend you for working in advance rather than last minute. There are people who manage to be very successful working under last minute deadline pressure. I don't think I'm one of them. If I have time to think I'm finished and then leave a piece for a while, looking at it now and then, I often find that I eventually come to realize that it could use more contrast, or the effect is way too subtle, or twenty other ways I could spiff it up a bit.

I will second the idea of getting a private critique circle of friends. It doesn't have to be off-forum people. Ask some of your friends on forum if they'd like to make a critique circle in PMs or via email or something. My work improved a lot when I stopped relying solely on public comments or brief chats with 'expert' painters and instead formed a critique circle like that with some friends. They don't need to necessarily be at exactly the same level painting as you, or have the same interests, in fact diversity can be helpful to seeing things from other perspectives. They just need to be people you feel comfortable asking for the unvarnished truth from, and who you feel comfortable doing the same for.

There are a variety of reasons I recommend this. The obvious is that you get other people's perspectives, which is really the only way we have to try to see our work as other people do. The Reaper forum comment culture is very positive and encouraging, which is great in a lot of ways, but it is not always helpful to those of us who are trying to drill down deep to our weaknesses and address them.

Another benefit of you critiquing the work of others is less obvious - it helps you build up your artist's eye is as important as your physical and technical paint skills. Someone said there are people who literally can't see the difference between a bronze and gold mini, and that's true - they have poorly developed artist's eyes. Unfortunately our emphasis in education and cultural priorities really don't help us learn this at all. The more you start to see what works and what doesn't in other people's figures, the more it helps you better assess your own. (Especially with the distance that not painting everything last minute provides.) You can also spend time looking at figures in the Show Off forum and on Putty and Paint and other gallery sites and critique them to yourself - try to identify what you like and don't, and then think about what the painter did to create those elements and how they might have done it differently.

While it is definitely helpful to have the opinions of people who are in the hobby, it also doesn't hurt to run your work by people who aren't. My husband also has no knowledge of painting. There was one contest entry I did long ago that included some lily pads. I researched lily pads and found some that didn't have the typical veins, so I thought win, I don't have to try to sculpt or paint veins. And then in the public comments on my entry (this was an online contest), 80% of commenters mentioned it was weird the lily pads didn't have veins. And my husband said yeah, I wondered about that, but I didn't want to mention. So now I poke him to be truly critical and mention. ;-> Sometimes doing what people expect to see can be more important than matching real life! ;->

This is getting long, so I'll come back to comment on other points in another message.

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On 9/3/2019 at 12:27 PM, Sirithiliel said:

you make good points, and it just reaffirms my thoughts that contest painting is not for me. I don't enjoy painting tiny human people and stress days over a single eye ball. I like painting big things. I like painting colorfully, and it seems what wins in the contest is dull color schemes rather than colorful ones.

I'll just paint what i find fun, and give up on trying to get gold. i'll work for the large monster trophy, i'm 3 out of 4 years getting it so far, at least that's something i can do.


but i'd rather paint things i feel inspired to paint, that i find fun to paint, than agonize for months over something tedious and boring to me


I respect your commitment to painting things you enjoy rather than angling to satisfy someone else's taste. I've been in the same position. For years I accepted that my posts on CMON would score 1-2 points lower than equivalent paint jobs by others because I was painting Reaper and Dark Sword rather than GW and Confrontation. I painted 'portrait' style poses when super dynamic poses became the hot ticket. I painted what I like, and accepted that I might get less fame and glory than had I chased public or judging tastes.

An open style contest is much less dependent on figure choice than a top three style, but it's still a factor. So it might be worth talking about figure choice for a little bit to see if you can find some options that do what you like, but which still give you lots of opportunities to show your skills off to the judges. 

The figure you choose is your canvas for letting the judges see what you can do. So it is helpful to choose one that lets judges see as much of what you can do as possible. One of the issues with monster/creature type figures is they are often pretty limited as canvases. I've had people wondering how to go from bronze to silver who chose figures like a stone golem or walking tree or something else that had just one or two textures/materials. Those are really limited canvases. You can demonstrate being able to paint those one or two textures and materials well, but that's a small amount of information. So one of the first things I tell them is to pick a figure with more going on so we can see more of their skills.

This might also be where the basing is coming in as a factor that you might not have been thinking about. Adding materials/textures via a base is another avenue to showing what you can do. You don't have to have that kind of base in Painters, as Heisler mentions a solid neutral base won't do you wrong. But if your figure canvas is limited, you can add surfaces and textures and tiny critters or dungeon litter or whatever else that helps you show what you can do in terms of composition and painting skills through the base as well as through the figure. 

Someone else very accurately pointed out that I am the suck at fancy basing. I also used to be the suck at just painting bases. I used rote recipes for stone or wood. The bases were very much an afterthought. As an intermediate painter I started realizing that while my figure painting was pretty good, my bases were awful in comparison to the people I looked up to or was competing against. I spent years studying what other people did and taking classes I thought were relevant and came to realize that all the colour theory and use of light and shadow and fancy brushwork that I was doing on the figure had to be carried through to the base, however simple, for the piece to work as a coherent whole. It doesn't even necessarily take that much more time and effort to do than what I was doing before, it was the mind shift of seeing it and then figuring out how to use my brush to actually do it. 

I don't think it's impossible to win a gold with a large monster/creature. But some sculpts will make it easier than others. A dragon that is mostly just one kind of scale and some horns isn't a canvas to demonstrate a broad skill set, or will require more work setting up a base to show that skill set. Look for a figure that has different surfaces and materials, and push your skills in painting those - super shiny metallics/NMM, matte cloth, smooth blending on skin or wings, texture built up with brush strokes on worn leather or scales, freehand, dramatic lighting (not necessarily source lighting, though that is an option, too). A figure with a type of face that can convey emotion and expression to the viewer can be very helpful, and I think that's why you see a lot of humanoid figures in the highest placements, but I don't think it's impossible to get gold without that.

Are even the new larger Reaper giants too tiny for you to enjoy painting? Have you considered painting a bust or a garage kit? I feel confident that there is a compromise between your desire to paint large and colourful things and the benefit of a canvas that allows you to show a broader range of painting skills. (I'm totally down with colourful, btw, and gold winners like Corporea and Michael Proctor mean that judging in general is, too. Being able to make a mini clearly 'read' and be interesting with a dull colour scheme takes skill that can be rewarded, but it is far, far from the only approach that is recognized.)

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6 minutes ago, Wren said:

Are even the new larger Reaper giants too tiny for you to enjoy painting? Have you considered painting a bust or a garage kit? 


it's not so much the giants are too tiny, and more just that i don't enjoy painting humanoids. I know humanoid faces are my #1 greatest weakness, and i don't have any enjoyment in trying to get eyes that look right, get lips and face shadows that fall correctly


it is so much easier and more enjoyable for me to put expression and personality into a reptilian dragon face, to give them fancy eyes with fancy pupils, or pick out the large fangs in their open jaws. Mostly, i just find humanoids, even large ones, rather boring to paint and a lot more stressful than fun. I know i'd score even lower than bronze if i attempted something with a human face, because i can't even paint faces at a decent table top level

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On 9/3/2019 at 12:47 PM, OneBoot said:

Two months ago MrBoot needed a quick character mini, so I slapped something together super quick and gave it to him. When he put it on the battlefield, I made a rather startling discovery: that piece looked surpisingly good from that distance, and made the pieces I took hours and hours to paint look boring and dull by comparison. 


It was very confusing, having everyone at the table complimenting my rushed super sloppy paint job (the eyes were pretty horrific), when they'd seen my other pieces and given me a polite "it looks nice" and handed them back. It caused me to completely reevaluate what I wanted out of my painting, and realizing that my quick starkly contrasted minis were well-suited for gaming, but my more subtle, more technically good pieces were not. It was truly a mind-shattering realization, and while it didn't happen soon enough for this ReaperCon, it gave me a new perspective on what to focus on next year for my display pieces. 


I'll continue painting quickly and for fun on my tabletop pieces, but I plan to shift my focus on my display pieces and try to figure out how to paint for display. Truth be told, I've literally never done that before, so it's a whole different way of thinking I'll have to get used to. 



Something to consider as you work on this goal. And it is something that I am still learning the hard way, as I focused on display and had a lot of subtle, technically good pieces that just look blah in a display cabinet or on a contest table.

The ideal is to do both - to grab the viewer's attention from 2 feet away like you did with your gaming group. Then the viewer picks it up and looks at it closer and finds amazing brush skills and little details and all kinds of additional cool stuff. That is what the really top level people are doing. I'm still working on that 2 feet away thing myself...

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Larger minis tend to take more time. We pour more hours into them.  If I were to spend an equal amount of time on a small figure and a dragon, and then enter them in the competition, the dragon would not be scored, because it would be an inferior paint job. I should, in theory, spend much more time on the larger piece because I have that much more area to cover. Even if I pull out my super speed painting tricks and mix my colors directly on the mini, I'll still not be able to paint it to the same standard as a smaller mini.  It's just a question of surface area and time.


I agree with what's been said- I really love your patterns and the vibrancy you bring to your work.  It's insanely creative and joyful to see.  There is no reason to change that. I don't think it's that blander models are chosen because we don't like bright colors, but that many artists choose desaturated colors because it's what they see others doing or what they're comfortable with, or even a result of tendencies to use white to highlight, which will naturally desaturate the colors.  I don't think that's a better thing, just a different style. No reason to change your style at all!  Just keep working on your blending.  That's the thing that take painters from bronze to silver to gold.  Just more time.  Large models when I put effort into them, take me many months to finish. 


I also know that in my efforts to improve, I've had to push myself out of my comfort zone to learn.  I've had to take classes, teach classes, practice things that I didn't think I could do, paint paint paint and then repeat all those things again to another level.  I've pushed myself to tears with some techniques because they just didn't click or come naturally to me.  I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to.  Or maybe because I'm slightly masochistic, who knows.  :lol:  Point being, if you have the desire to improve, the best way to do so is to try new and hard things.  Just like learning to ride a bike and falling down a lot.  It isn't much fun, but it's the only way I know of to muscle through the barriers. If you're happy where you, are, change nothing!  Keep doing what makes you happy. This is our hobby after all!  We're supposed to have fun and enjoy it.  If it becomes work and not fun, only you can decide if that's worth it. Outside opinions don't matter in the end.  I get that we all need positive reinforcement, which is why I love our forum, because I can always count on a "good job" if I need a pick me up. But we have to love ourselves and what we do to find our true happiness.   Be you, be happy, be full of life and keep being awesome.


PS: I love your dragons.

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i plan to still learn, just at my own speed and no more stressing over how it's going to score. I will learn on the minis that bring me inspiration, motivation, and delight to paint. 

Since i'm going to be applying the techniques to big minis, i might as well learn it on them too, is my thought process. Better blending, better lighting, and i bet i can learn to do textures on them too

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