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Golden Demon 2018

On Sunday, 13th May I made my annual pilgrimage to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena to take part in the Golden Demon Classic. I’ve been going to Golden Demon events since 2011, so I’ve got to know a lot of the other painters and studio staff over the years. Consequently the day generally passes in something of a blur as I spend the whole day talking to people (an unfamiliar experience for a hard core introvert like me) and this year was no exception! Nonetheless I thought it would be worth giving a flavour of the day from my own perspective.

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Trajann Valoris, Gold, Warhammer 40,000 Single Miniature

The doors were supposed to open at 10 am but I arrived at the venue at 9:30 and went straight up to the studio area on the top floor, sidestepping the long queue to get into the sales area. This year was the first time that competitors have been able to put miniatures into the contest on Saturday but the cabinets were fairly empty when I arrived so I guess not many people took advantage of that opportunity. I think it’s a great idea to try and extend the length of the event but sadly the reality for many of us is that 2 days away from home is tough to arrange!

Within an hour or so the cabinets had filled up and I tried to get a look at the entrants. This is always really difficult because of the number of people that are trying to do the same! I don’t think there’s a good solution to this, although it would be nice if the organisers were able to do something similar to the days when the contest was held at the NEC and images of the entries would be shown on large screens throughout the day.

This year the lighting in the cabinets had improved a bit (the halogens had been replaced with LEDs) but it is still quite harsh and could definitely be improved with some LED strips.

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Celestant on Dracoth, Silver, Age of Sigmar Single Miniature

As usual I had a fantastic time catching up with all my painter mates and met loads of other great people for the first time. As the years have rolled by, this is definitely the main reason for going to the event for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love picking up trophies as much as the next man, but it’s definitely more of a bonus and not the focus of the day.

At 12 pm the judging began and this year saw another innovation in the form of the highly commended entries. The organisers felt that because there can be a big difference in quality between an entry that scrapes in the finalist category and one that just misses out on a top 3 spot, it would be nice to recognise the latter with the extra award. I think it’s a great idea and there weren’t very many of these awards given out from what I saw so it’s definitely a big achievement if you get one!

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Nazgul of Dol Guldur, Bronze, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit

I’d taken no fewer than 4 entries along with me this year, and as usual I stuck to the single miniature categories. I was really pleased to take the gold in a super competitive 40k single category that was stacked with previous winners and slayer sword holders. This also meant that I successfully defended the gold I took in this category last year! In Age of Sigmar single I got the silver, runner up to Angelo di Chello’s slayer sword winning Horticulous Slimux and picked up a bronze in Lord of the Rings with my Nazgul.

The big shock of the day for me was also getting bronze in open with my Blood Angel lieutenant. This really wasn’t intended as a competition piece and I just brought it along as a last minute decision, putting it in open since I already had my 40k single entry. There was a slightly embarrassing moment when I was called up on stage to receive the award, only to find that the awards for open hadn’t made it to Coventry but I’m happy to say that it’s in the post!

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Blood Angels Lieutenant, Bronze, Open

Speaking of award ceremony cock ups, for the second year running there were no photos of the winning entries on the big screen as the awards were being collected. In my opinion this is pretty unforgivable and really needs to be sorted out. The upshot is that everyone went away from the event not really certain of which entries had won what and until the golden demon website is updated we still don’t know! How difficult can it be to put some pictures on a laptop and hook it up to a projector?

Overall, a fantastic day as usual. Of course there were plenty of other things to see and do as part of the wider Warhammer Fest that I won’t cover here. Despite the difficulty in seeing the entries my impression (confirmed by a few other people in the know) was that the overall standard wasn’t quite as mind blowing as last year, but some categories were definitely as competitive as ever. As usual I came away feeling re-invigorated to paint more miniatures and do better next year! Big thanks to the judges and everyone that had a hand in running the event, and congratulations to all the winners!

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Preparations for Golden Demon 2017

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Up until a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I’d attend Warhammer Fest. Although I always enjoy chatting to my fellow painters and the studio guys that I know, I find I no longer have the hunger that I used to for winning painting awards. After factoring in the cost of attending, I was leaning towards not going.

It has now transpired that I have another good reason for going (which I won’t go into here), so last week I bought my ticket. And of course if I am going then I may as well enter golden demon! Happily I still had my recent Blood Angels librarian and High Elf sea lord sitting around, so I already had one more entry than I managed to take last year (when I was only able to get Legolas painted in time).

Since these pieces now needed to be competition standard, I spent some more time working on the base for the sea lord. Online reaction to this piece has generally been very good, but I got some great feedback from a handful of my facebook friends regarding the poor standard of modelling on the rocks.

I will freely admit that I’ve never particularly enjoyed basing. I really appreciate the amazing work that so many people in the community put out in this area, but I’ve never felt that this is where my talents lie. I love super clean, precise painting and this doesn’t really sit well with the approaches needed to create believable looking scenes. But I wanted to make the piece as good as it could be, so I took the feedback on board and had a go at improving the cliff face with the aid of some milliput and reference pictures on google. I’m sure it’s still not great, but I hope it’s better than it was.

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Sea Lord before modifications

 

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And after!

 

I was happy with the librarian as is, so my thoughts turned to whether or not I could get a third entry done in time. It seemed only right that I should attempt to defend my title as Lord of the Rings/Hobbit champion from last year, so I needed to get my hands on a simple miniature that I could paint fairly quickly. After perusing the GW website for a while I settled on Thranduil, King of Mirkwood.

Now at this point, particularly observant readers may be thinking that the purple robed lady in the first picture is a funny looking Thranduil. And yes, I have to report that unfortunately my plan to paint this lovely looking miniature was undone by the abomination that is finecast. It has been a good long while since I bought any resin from GW and having heard reports that it has improved recently I foolishly thought I’d give it another go. Sadly I received the all too familiar mix of bubbles, warped parts and chunks of resin obscuring details.

Happily I had hedged against this possibility and also ordered Arwen in good old solid dependable metal, so she will be my final entry. More pictures of Arwen coming soon!

So there we have it – three entries ready for golden demon next Sunday. I honestly have no idea how I’ll get on in the competition. The standard seems to be driven ever higher each year and I’ve already seen pictures of jaw dropping work from the likes of David Soper and Michal Pisarski that make me think I’m in for a serious schooling! But regardless, I’m sure I’ll have a great time meeting up with everyone. Looking forward to it!

How to win a golden demon

Good news! If you live in the UK it has never been easier to win a golden demon. Currently there are no fewer than four golden demon painting competitions throughout the year, so no shortage of opportunities!

(If you don’t live in the UK, you have my commiserations. But it seems like things may be improving since a European competition was announced last week at very short notice.)

But even with so many possibilities, it’s not necessarily that easy to take home one of the fabled resin monstrosities. After several years of success I’ve pretty much retired from competition painting, but I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts about the process. Entering competitions and meeting other painters is good fun (even if you’re an extreme introvert like me), but it can be even more fun if you win something.

This post will be focussed on golden demon, but I think that many of the same principles apply to other competitions. Obviously this is only my opinion as I’ve never been on a judging panel, and I don’t imagine I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but there you go.

Master the fundamentals

This is pretty obvious but has to be mentioned. You need to be able to paint neatly with high contrast and smooth transitions, and have at least a rudimentary grasp of colour theory.

Unfortunately there aren’t really any shortcuts here – you will have to spend a lot of time practicing. Happily there is far more information about than there used to be so a lack of knowledge shouldn’t ever be a roadblock.

(Really useful advice there: “to win a painting award you need to get good at painting”. Genius. Hopefully the rest of this post will be a little more valuable!)

Choose your category

If you’ve never won a demon and you just want your best chance of winning one then you should consider that some categories are generally less competitive than others. Squad is generally less competitive than single miniature for example.

However, category picking is a risky game as there’s no way of knowing what other people will bring. It only takes three top notch entries to appear in your chosen category and your chances of winning just got a lot worse.

If you’ve got time, it’s not a bad idea to bring more than one entry and cover a few categories. But only if you genuinely have the time. One entry that is painted to the absolute limit of your ability is better than two that are a bit rushed.

Personally I’m not a fan of category picking. Instead you should…

Paint what inspires you

Here’s the thing: if you’re going to win, you’re probably going to have to spend many hours painting your entry when you’re pretty much sick of the sight of it.

You know how it goes, at the start of a project you’ve got loads of enthusiasm and can’t wait to get stuck in. Then about halfway through the process you’ve put plenty of time in and the thing looks cack – loads of rough blends you need to go back neaten up, bits that you caught with the brush while painting something else… Urgh.

It’s very easy to put a miniature down at this point and work on the next shiny thing instead, or just rush to completion so it’s out of the way. You’ll have a much better chance of avoiding either of these pitfalls if you were really, really keen on your subject at the outset. That’s why almost all my entries are elves and red space marines. 😉

Plan it properly

Don’t start painting until you’ve really thought through your composition (more important in some categories than others) and colour scheme. You should also have a good idea about any other elements like object source lighting or freehands you’re going to bring in before you start.

It’s a little bit cheeky me saying this, as I have been very guilty of being impatient to get stuck into painting and letting the planning side suffer. But planning is definitely a good idea: do as I say, not as I do. 😉

Make sure you respect the IP

You need to remember that Games Workshop want to use images of golden demon entries in their marketing material. So it’s not a good idea to prepare some hugely elaborate entry that doesn’t really fit into the background. I’ve seen some flat out stunning entries win nothing because of this reason.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative. It’s just that you need to make sure that your creativity occurs within the bounds of the intellectual property. If this is too much of a limitation for you then I would recommend going to a different painting competition – there are plenty.

Bases don’t matter

Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s definitely true that a simple base is no barrier to winning. The miniature is what matters most.

Obviously don’t do something that is going to detract from the miniature, and it’s great if you can make a little scene that will reinforce the background. Just don’t get so sucked in to this that you neglect the painting on the miniature.

Oh, and you definitely don’t need to get one of those fancy name plates for your plinth. I never have. A plinth is a good idea though, as it makes life easier for the judges and photographers to handle your miniatures without worrying about breaking something. Model Display Products are great for simple resin plinths.

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Boring base. Result: slayer sword

 

Play to your strengths

Are you really good at freehands but not very experienced at object source lighting? Do you have a great technique for painting faces?

A competition piece probably isn’t the best place to try and learn a new technique. Or if you really want to do something new then practice it on another miniature before you commit yourself.

Make it perfect

I can’t emphasise this enough. Ok, so it’s not possible to attain true perfection, but that shouldn’t stop you trying. This is a competition and you can’t afford to be handing something in with an obvious problem. It’s tempting to think ‘ah, they’ll never notice that little mould line’, or ‘yeah, that blend is probably good enough’.

Trust me, if you’re seriously in contention for a win then these things will get noticed.

What you want to be doing is trying to make it impossible for a judge to find something obviously wrong with the miniature. A fantastic composition and a beautiful colour scheme will not compensate for a technical error. Don’t give them a reason to put your piece out of contention.

(Incidentally I suspect that this issue is at the heart of a lot of post competition whinging. You see a lot of entries that look amazing and yet somehow come away empty handed. The chances are that they made an error that you can’t see just by looking at photos, but becomes apparent when the miniature is inspected at 3 inches under good lighting. Only the judges are in the privileged position of being able to do this, and I’m often amazed that the armchair enthusiast is so vehement that they know better. And being able to look at the pieces in the cabinet is no better – the lighting in those cabinets is awful.)

When I think I’ve finished a competition entry I like to take high resolution photos of it. In looking at the pictures I always find a few areas I think I can improve, so I go back and do it. Eventually I’ll really be struggling to find anything I think I can improve and that’s when I consider the piece competition ready.

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Super close up – try to spot the mistakes! Coin is not mandatory.

 

Make it stand out

It’s really difficult to wow the judges, as the chances are they’ve seen everything before. But if you can include a few neat tricks that the competition probably won’t have done then this may help your chances – but only if you can execute them well.

Things you might consider include non metallic metal, colour fades, freehand, texturing, object source lighting, weathering.

Ask for feedback and listen to it

If you’ve been unsuccessful it’s definitely worth asking a judge the reasons why. They’re a great bunch and usually very willing to give feedback.

Once you have the feedback, don’t just dismiss it. Use it to do better next time.

Keep a sense of perspective

It has been known for an unsuccessful contestant to boo the winner at the award ceremony, and post competition whinging on the internet is usually pretty rife.

At the end of the day, this is a competition around painting toy soldiers. Yes, it’s disappointing to put so much effort into a piece and feel that it hasn’t been recognised, but really there are bigger problems in the world. Accept it and move on!

Conclusion

Well, that’s everything I can think of. I suppose a lot of this can be boiled down to having the right mind set, and how hard you’re prepared to work.

If you’ve never entered golden demon before but you’re planning on attending one of the events where a competition will be held, give it a go! It doesn’t cost anything, and what have you got to lose? Maybe you won’t win first time round but you’ll probably learn something useful. And you may get to take home a neat little finalist pin, which is guaranteed to greatly enhance your sexual magnetism whenever you wear it. 😉