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How tough should Open competitions be? (Opinions wanted)


Dicey
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I recently went to an Open-style painting competition and I was really taken aback by the judging criteria. It was not what was posted online (they said that they had a much more laid-back "Intermediate" level of judging, but in practice everything was graded to the same level), and while I was upset at the time, now I'm mostly curious. All the feedback I got on my models was valuable and I don't disagree with any of it. I can use it as an experience to grow. However, it was clear to me that unless you were painting to a Gold level at ReaperCon, you were not going to qualify for any award, not even Bronze. So, I got to wondering, how tough should Open competitions be? Is there anything wrong with fostering a very strenuous judging environment? Should there be multiple judging levels? What is the general thoughts of the community here, whether you do competition painting or not. I'd love to hear it.

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I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me but I believe that competitions like that discourage a lot of people from even trying, because they feel they will never be that good, and that they will be looked down upon if they can't paint competition level quality figures. 

 

 

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I kind of like a tiered judging thing for open competitions.

 

Tiers that mean someone new to painting isn't being judged against someone who might be a professional there. There's also the entire thing of someone painting normally versus someone who is a commission or professional at it where there is an unfairness about it in comparison.

 

I've been in one painting competition which was Halloween 2019, where you paid $1 to enter and were given what to paint with some restrictions on what you could do with it. They used the plastic dollar tree spider wall toy that is supposed to stick to the wall and roll down, you were allowed to remove the mechanism and the lower parts, you were allowed to base it if you wanted on something up to a set size for either a plaque, base, plinth, or whatever else, and the way things were set up, that was only for if you took it apart to hide the mechanism.

 

They separated age categories for it and with people who had been in their store or connected store locations for other competitions along with some other competitions would count that would shift your category. There were some issues that could did cause, I probably shouldn't have been in the category I ended up in because I'm more experienced painting, but I was burning stockpiled vacation days since I'd hit the cap and was staying with my uncle due to him having an injury that needed help for a bit, but that's something very hard to weed out with new people in the area compared to people already in the market, but even matchmaking programs have the same mess when someone has a new account.

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Comparing photos from ReaperCon to some of the rankings on other sites and in other competitions, I do think that Reaper's judging is a bit easier than some others. They do tend to cater to table top painters more than display painters though, where others serve a more display painter crowd.

 

If there are a lot of different level painters, having tiered categories to account for painting experience is a good idea. Perhaps Newbies (painting for less than 1 year), Kiddos, Teens, Commission Painters (folks who tend to paint armies and D&D characters for hire), Amateurs, High Experience Amateurs, and Professional Painters (folks who do box art, classes). Combine at the end for a "Best In Show" award in case there are surprises.

 

But for a small local shop competition? They may not have enough entries to make tiers worth having. Then just have a rubric to grade on.

 

As long as judges are consistent with a known rubric, I think they can have a range of harshness - including very strict. I'm pretty comfortable with harsh grading, especially if it is known why a score is being given. I'm actually pretty salty about people demanding golds for everything, or grading everything as gold when a paint job is clearly mediocre. I don't gain motivation from being told I am great. I gain motivation by getting a grip on a task, then getting constructive critique to improve it. If it is in fact amazing, I want it to be darn honest when I'm told it is great. I sometimes paint something really good, and I know my good pieces aren't actually masterpieces - they shouldn't be graded as such. If any piece is awesome, then what's the point of competition? Have a workshop or paint club instead.

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Thank you all for your responses so far. 

 

To clarify, this is a relatively small painting competition that is at a very large convention. The convention itself does not focus on the painting overmuch, which is why it's small. I believe the creator wants to grow it, though. 

 

They had a Youth, Intermediate, and Masters entry levels. However, when I asked for my numbered score (according to the rubric stated online), the judges said they didn't use it. They just said that they "weren't as strict" about certain things for Intermediate entries, but no quantifiable differences in judging. Looking at the entries, unless you were already entering into Masters with a really nice miniature, or entering a mini that could have gone into Masters into Intermediate, you weren't going to be recognized. All of the ones that were would definitely have been Golds at ReaperCon. In fact, some of the entries were at ReaperCon and did actually get Gold. I have issues with the judges not using the rubric stated, but that's beside the point.

 

I took a miniature that judges said would have gotten Silver at ReaperCon (they chose another model to judge instead that also got Silver), and it got Silver at another local Open competition judged by Lyn Stahl (who runs Gen Con's painting stuff I believe). So, I felt fairly comfortable that that one model was at least at a certain level and also painted a couple new models for this competition. None of them qualified for any recognition, not even at the intermediate level. Now, I know my paint jobs weren't flawless. I'm under no illusions there. I got valuable feedback from the judges and I had previously used similar feedback to improve upon the entry I've taken multiple places. I shouldn't have gone in expecting anything, and that's my fault, but having some time and distance from it has caused me to wonder about what is generally accepted or expected of these things. 

 

I agree with @Inarah personally that if they do want the competition to grow, perhaps they should be more open to lower-quality painters. I was fooled by their rubric into thinking that they weren't going to be as harsh as they were. And it's their prerogative to be harsh. They should just be more open about it if so. I doubt I'd try again if I knew, not unless I had significantly upped my painting game. I know ReaperCon is generally one of the most uplifting of the painting conventions and I understand wanting to set a higher standard. But how high is too high? 

 

On the other hand, if they want to grow to be a very difficult and respected painting competition known for setting a high bar, maybe this is the way to go? 

 

I'm mostly looking for discussion and other perspectives. I appreciate all of your comments.

I also wanted to add that besides the one other local competition (in its first year), I've only ever taken minis to ReaperCon before this. 

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i dunno, I definitely agree with Inarah's point about not wanting to deter folks from entering at all.

 

On the other hand, I like regional competitions at different levels. I can win a lot of local art exhibitions, especially if I tailor the piece to the venue (and definitely if I know the judge and just play to their tastes). I don't play the game that way, but it's there to be played. Point being, it's mostly hobbyists (like me) and a smattering of professionals to keep the competition honest. Feels good to win, doesn't feel bad to lose.

 

But then stepping up to regionals, you get for-real competition from medium market professionals and the better hobbyists (who usually run a summer business at that point). Winning these is difficult and I never expect to, because the level of competition is stiffer. But it's very gratifying to win (and money is usually a thing starting here). This is probably my current favorite level, I can compete with people who are better and have a chance to sneak a win with a good piece, but I've got to be on my a-game (especially as I don't play to the judges/venue).

Bigger exhibitions, I can't jury into. A variety of reasons, and quality is one of them. You're starting to bump into national and even international talent at this point.

So I think as an event gets a larger draw/more popularity, it's naturally going to stiffen the competition, just on the quality and volume of entries. Outside of pro/hobbyist delineations, I don't know how you could fairly divvy up competitors. There would be a lot of hard feelings at the cutoff point, as the best hobbyists might end up in the professional-level bracket, and some of the lower level pros might sweep the hobbyists in the lower tier.

 

That's why I just make art so I can have cool stuff on the walls and smile behind my hand at exhibitions.

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If the judges weren't using their own rubric, they're total jerks imo. The rubric is there to set expectations for painters, and keep judges fair and as consistent as they can. How they use it afterward - many different ways (medals, points, prizes, or just a painter's score card). They could have different rubrics for different categories potentially, but not necessarily. That's probably more style dependent than a level dependent thing (judge a diorama differently than a bust, but an intermediate vs a masters would have the same list of check marks in either category).

 

Recognition is a bit hard - if there are a lot of good models, Best In Show is Best in Show... and others may not stand out. A few good ones will end up taking the spot light. Kinda true for any sort of competition.

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20 hours ago, Dicey said:

I recently went to an Open-style painting competition and I was really taken aback by the judging criteria. It was not what was posted online (they said that they had a much more laid-back "Intermediate" level of judging, but in practice everything was graded to the same level), and while I was upset at the time, now I'm mostly curious. All the feedback I got on my models was valuable and I don't disagree with any of it. I can use it as an experience to grow. However, it was clear to me that unless you were painting to a Gold level at ReaperCon, you were not going to qualify for any award, not even Bronze. So, I got to wondering, how tough should Open competitions be? Is there anything wrong with fostering a very strenuous judging environment? Should there be multiple judging levels? What is the general thoughts of the community here, whether you do competition painting or not. I'd love to hear it.


Just to clarify, when you talk about an Open Style painting competition you are referring to the Open judging system we use at ReaperCon, as opposed to a Trophy type, 1st, 2nd, 3rd place kind of competition.

 

My personal feelings are the judges should be setting a standard to judge to before entering the competition. A competition should foster interest and growth and it needs to evolve if it’s going to grow and, to certain, extent it should be gauged to the painters in the area (you said large convention elsewhere but that doesn’t mean much without actual numbers). When we shifted to Open judging in Colorado the standards were relatively high, the painting group was well established and there were already high level painters living in the area that would compete. It comes down to deciding if you want to grow your event or not. Overly harsh judging will kill off interest faster than anything else. We have been accused that our standards are a bit lax for Reaper Con, although I would personally disagree with that and I think those that have taken years to hit “gold” would as well.

 

An Open Competition should emphasize what you did right and not base it on an artificial standard of “we like person X’s work that’s our gold standard”, that will frustrate people and drive them away. It’s why, at a minimum, a judging team consists of three people and while they do converse they do not actively engage in a scoring conversation. It’s along the lines of “I can score this piece higher than that piece”, once the piece is selected then each judge decides what score between 0 - 4 to award it. They do not review each other’s sheets and won’t know the final score until it’s tabulated. There are no beginner, intermediate or expert levels, that defeats the whole philosophy of the system and makes sure that the same rubric is used is, relatively, consistent to everyone that has entered. That way beginners are likely to receive certificates of merit rather than bronze and experts are more likely to receive silver or gold. I have five or six pinned posts in the ReaperCon section that really help explain what we do and why. I’ll edit this later and add links at the bottom.


ReaperCon is big enough that we run multiple teams of judges, typically one team for dioramas, one for armor/ordnance, one for Open and as many as four for painters. It’s one of the reasons that you might see difference in gold, silver and bronze awards, different teams judging different categories. We do try to balance out the teams so you don’t have three tough judges or three softer judges on the same team. I try to mix and match judges when making up the teams and there are judges that won’t be assigned to a specific categories because they it’s not a strength for them, in particular Open and Armor are tough for some of our judges. Not having access to a large judging pool can be a real issue for small shows.

 

https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/71583-msp-open-judging-what-you-were-afraid-to-ask/

 

https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/82789-judging-the-reaper-con-msp-open-open-division/

 

https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/83014-judging-the-reaper-con-msp-open-armorordnance-division/

 

https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/82838-judging-the-reaper-con-msp-open-diorama-division/

 

https://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/82720-judging-the-reaper-con-msp-open-painters-division/

Edited by Heisler
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42 minutes ago, Cyradis said:

If the judges weren't using their own rubric, they're total jerks imo.

 

I think this was a big reason for my initial upset. I set expectations based on the way they said they would score them. It was a 1-10 scale for all entries, regardless of category. If you were a 8-10 on your score and in Masters, you got Bronze (8), Silver (9), Gold (10). However, you only needed to get a 5-7 in Intermediate to qualify for Bronze, Silver, Gold. And for Youth, it was a 2-4. So, that said to me that they judged everything to a certain standard, but you didn't need to do as well if you were in the lower category. Apparently, that was not true. And, when I first heard that my models did not get recognized for anything I immediately jumped to the scoring outline I had seen and thought that it meant that they were basically at the level of Youth painting or worse (not to knock any Youth, I've seen some amazing young painters at ReaperCon). It wasn't until after I went for feedback that the judges told me that they didn't do any numbered scoring and couldn't even tell me what my number would have been 1-10. 

 

But this post isn't really to vent about my experience there. I'm already over it and have chalked it up to a learning experience. I appreciate the different perspectives, especially since I haven't competed much.

 

Typically Open systems are more about competing with yourself, seeing if you can do better next year than the last. But, they had no scoring system in place just a "did this meet our standards" discussion with the judges, so that's hard. The whole point of an Open system is that everyone who meets the quality of Gold, Silver, or Bronze is awarded, no matter if that's one person or 20. Of course there's still a Best in Show, but you can be satisfied knowing you met a certain desired level or did better than last time. 

1 minute ago, Heisler said:

Just to clarify, when you talk about an Open Style painting competition you are referring to the Open judging system we use at ReaperCon, as opposed to a Trophy type, 1st, 2nd, 3rd place kind of competition.

That's correct. They awarded 1st, 2nd, 3rd overall, but they did do it Open style like ReaperCon and gave out multiple Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards to those that qualified. I am not at the level that I would ever expect to truly win something with a single winner.

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8 minutes ago, Dicey said:

 

 

That's correct. They awarded 1st, 2nd, 3rd overall, but they did do it Open style like ReaperCon and gave out multiple Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards to those that qualified. I am not at the level that I would ever expect to truly win something with a single winner.

 

Honestly, I don't know why anyone would think that kind of hybrid system would work without ticking off everyone that entered. I know it kind of seems like we do that at ReaperCon but the Sophie Awards are truly a medal type competition and its separate from the regular Open Competition.

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@Heisler - I appreciate your insight. Of course, I read all of your ReaperCon MSP Open posts and guides before my first time going and absorbed so much of it. I don't think ReaperCon's judging is "too easy", though I did hear one of the judges express similar at this event. (There were 5 judges for this event.) I do, however, think that ReaperCon's reputation as one of the most friendly the miniature painting competitions is accurate. Friendly and easy are not the same.

6 minutes ago, Heisler said:

Sophie Awards are truly a medal type competition and its separate from the regular Open Competition.

They may have treated it this way too. Who knows? It feels like a fine line. I know that they awarded a Best, Runner-up, and Second Runner-up. These had cash prizes. All entries in the Open competition were eligible. 

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