My ReaperCon 2015 Classes

Hats off to the artists who teach classes at ReaperCon! One of the things I like the most about this convention is the opportunity to interact with the guest painters and sculptors who share their knowledge and take the extra time to give people requested feedback on their work. The Con-goers are encouraged to approach them in between their classes and ask questions or just watch them paint and/or sculpt. Most are only scheduled to teach one class per day so there's plenty of time to meet with them.  

I attended a maximum of eight classes at ReaperCon this year. I challenged myself with taking classes on topics that were "out of my comfort zone". I enjoy painting the figure as they're seen ideally-- with perfect smooth blending, beautiful face features (no scars, etc), and squeaky-clean line quality. What I have not applied is weathering techniques, advanced sculpted-from-scratch diorama basing, conversion sculpting of any kind or airbrush techniques. Those were the classes I focused on since I have so much more to learn!

My first class was Aaron Lovejoy's "Airbrush Basics" class. Aaron shared his knowledge about which airbrush models he enjoys using, how using airbrushes can speed up the initial painting process, and most importantly, how to keep your airbrush in good, clean working condition (fight the clog!). He gave a tutorial on a large Bones miniature that we passed around the room in between each step as he explained what he was achieving through layering airbrush colors. Prior to this class, I was not ready to invest in an airbrush (they can be very expensive!), but after Aaron's suggestion of starting with the cheapest model and just trying it out to see if you like it, I think I'll give it a shot! He recommended using an airbrush only in the beginning stages to block out interesting lighting effects before you pick up the paint brush for detailing "cause you still have to paint it. An airbrush is a tool but it shouldn't be the only tool". I definitely recommend this class if you're a beginner to airbrushing!

Weathering Techniques - Brice did a nice job teaching this class. Attempting to cover a myriad of weathering techniques (and fielding on-the-spot requests) is quite a challenge! Although the projector was set up to capture the tutorial details, it wasn't as successful as we'd hoped. While the cameras and TVs were a great idea, it was the first year they were used and were bound to run into a few quirks. We ended up passing around the miniature as Brice demonstrated different techniques-- we made it work! I've avoided weathering until now, and I notice it's significantly limited the variety of miniatures I can paint. For example, an orc wouldn't have a pristine shield with polished, expensive  metal, so I avoid painting them. As I struggled to paint my Troll Axer, I realized: there's no such thing as a pretty orc! The idea of taking a sponge or dry pigment and applying paint in random patterns to make a miniature purposely sloppy or messy makes me cringe. However, this is exactly why I wanted to take this class! Brice's competition entries are proof that weathering can be beautiful and add lots of personality and character to your miniatures (and his cloak freehand-- wow!)

Crafting Terrain & Diorama Bases - Bob is awesome. I can't say that enough. He's a nice guy with an endless supply of funny stories and a wealth of knowledge that can only come from decades of industry experience. I took one of his classes at the Reaper Artist Conference back in October and knew going to this class, I'd learn quite a bit about what to use and, sometimes more importantly, what not to use, especially if you're clumsy like me (MEK glue - Methyl Ethyl Ketone. It's super-toxic!). We watched him put together a base and work his magic with styrofoam, styrene, cork and kitty litter (yes you read that right, unused litter of course!). It was really useful for me to see which order he puts things down in and how he applies it with his special mix of watery wood glue paste. And now I have a nice, long list of cheap-and-effective basing supplies to collect! I love the bases he sculpted out of styrene and plastic or metal cogs-- "They're easy!"

Intro to Competitive & Display Painting - My brain overloaded in this class-- it blew my mind (in a really, really good way!). Justin McCoy, founder and President of Secret Weapon Miniatures, spewed rapid-fire brilliance at us and covered an array of intermediate-to-advanced topics that turned everything I thought I knew upside-down and made me more passionate about this hobby (though I didn't think it possible). It was like taking a college-level art course (and not that "Art Appreciation for Non-Art Majors" bullsh*t). What'd we cover? Lots. Too much to list here. He covered everything from dissecting individual design elements of classical paintings, re-evaluating the color wheel concept we think we know, explaining what-makes-this-awesome examples from his slideshow and applying these concepts to our miniatures. Of the few classes I took that incorporated a TV and visual references, this one was executed the best. Justin's energy is contagious (think Philip DeFranco) and while the concepts are serious, his style of teaching is fun and casual. I could go on, but you'll just have to take the class yourself-- I hope he teaches it again next year! 

Painting Fur, Scales, & Feathers - Derek Schubert, you make this look easy. Studying miniature painting with Derek will show you a more intellectual side of painting. He's articulate, methodical in his painting, and he does a mean Monty Python impression! Oh and his painting is stupid-good. While some people take his classes thinking they'll be able to paint just like Derek after only 2 hours, we have to remember that he's been honing his talent for many years. Last year I was lucky enough to see the very first miniature he ever painted in person. He may have painted it when he was 11 years old, but it was encouraging to realize that it looked a lot like my very own first miniature. During this class we each painted a Reaper wolf mini (which he sculpted for Reaper) while he shared with us tips & tricks to painting more natural textures. Derek created a great piece awhile back titled "Liriel Unplugged" which included many well-painted critters gathering for a musical show under the forest canopy. He encouraged us to do our research and find various pictures of these animals to reference while we paint (he brought us each different wolf references to use during the class). He also demonstrated his techniques for feathers and scales and passed around previously-painted examples of his, including the Lamia I love so much!

"Sculpting Accessories for Conversions and Bases" with Bob Ridolfi. I'm new to sculpting, but I've been curious about conversions and adding more interesting custom elements to a base. Many times I've thought "if only I could fix ____" (maybe a funky hand that didn't quite translate from the original mold) or "I wish I could add a ___ detail on this base" when working with a mini. Of course, there's always the "Oh @$&# I just cut off part of her foot with the clippers, how can I salvage this?!" (trust me, it happened). One of the things I really like about Bob's classes is that he keeps it a fairly open format. He's so knowledgeable that he's able to say "Ok, what do you want to see? What do you want to know?" and you make requests and his hands go to work while he makes it on the spot, all the while talking about what he's doing and how. We passed around a few examples, including some "Captain Goodhair" fun when we wanted to see how he applied & sculpted hair. Love it!

Advanced Basing with Michael Proctor

Michael's work is a whimsical mix of color and texture. Many of his pieces incorporate natural elements-- dried leaves, mushrooms, interesting pieces of bark, and whatever else he finds interesting on his nature adventures (he lives in the beautiful state of Colorado). In this class, we passed around a few examples of his work that have won multiple awards at different conventions. One of my favorites is his "Toad King" GenCon entry. Michael explains how he creates bases to enhance the story and character of his miniature. While he's painting, he's inspired to craft a base specifically for the miniature, rather than building a base first and hoping it matches a future painted mini. 

NMM Special Effects with Derek Schubert

Derek used examples of his past work to explain how he approaches Non Metallic Metals-- in both traditional metals (i.e. a Paladin with bright silver armor) and fantasy metals (i.e. an elf in purple armor). The most important part of the process, he explained, "is visualizing how the light will interact with a reflective surface". He painted a sphere, cylinder, cone, and cube on a piece of paper to show us where the highlights, shadows, and other values would fall. My struggle with NMM is just that-- while I could study individual metals in different shapes, I never quite seem to know where to paint them when combined as interacting shapes in sculpted armor. Taking them more than one section at a time while paying attention to the overall light source is my new goal. I'll incorporate a shaded base coat technique so I don't get bogged down in details and look up only to realize I've skewed my intended light source. Derek's class helped me "see" details that I previously not been able to process. For example, I'd see an NMM sword and think, "That sword looks amazing!" Why? "Well it's just painted really well" But why? Now I'm able to identify that great NMM will contain color reflections in the surface, appropriately placed values with high contrast. The idea of "putting the darkest color next to the lightest color" is not a realistic, universal technique. This class really made me think!

I have a lot to work on in the next year. I practiced the techniques I learned in my 2014 classes last year over many months, and I'm happy to report that I've seen a lot of improvement in my own painting! I'll be creating more "Work in Progress" blog posts where I attempt to recreate some of these new techniques and I can't wait to see what I discover-- many of the lessons I've learned have been the result of trial-and-error, or as I like to call them, "happy accidents". I still have a long way to go, and I have plenty to keep me fueled in my continued miniature painting journey!

Epic Summary of ReaperCon 2015

ReaperCon 2015 was a resounding success. The Reaper folks make it look easy, and I swear they don't sleep. Maybe that's why next year's theme is horror-- I bet they're all vampires. I had a great time at the convention, mostly because of the classes, camaraderie, and interacting with some of the best-of-the-best in the industry. Each day offered something new, and I was glad that I didn't take as many classes as last year which left me time to shop, socialize, and sleep in after a long night of painting last-minute details on competition entries. While I had initially intended to include descriptions and my thoughts on each class I took, this blog post ended up being far too long! A "Reaper Classes" summary will be my next blog post! Here's how each day went:

Wednesday - Meet & Greet

I arrived in Dallas Wednesday and attended the kick-off "Meet & Greet" at Reaper Miniatures HQ. Barbecue was served and a great time was had by all-- they even gave away free foam miniature cases left over from their most recent Kickstarter. Awesome! I met a few people I'd seen on the forums, and "Hey, you're ____? Nice to meet you in person!" when we exchanged our forum names. The night ended with me receiving my "Swag Bag" with coupons, Reaper Bucks (for Sunday's auction), free miniatures and paint, my Con badge, and many vendor samples. 

Thursday - Day 1

I arrived late on Day 1 because I stayed up until 5am catching up with family I was staying with during the convention. I'd seen them only once or twice in the last year, and I knew I'd be spending entire days at the convention only to leave late each night. However, I didn't have anything scheduled early Friday, so once I arrived around noon, I spent it visiting with Con attendees and checking out the miniatures they had brought this year. I set up my mobile painting area in the main ballroom at one of the many large, round tables with power cords underneath. Reaper does a nice job making sure people can paint at the convention, which is great since I needed to finish up half of my miniatures for the contest submission deadline on Friday afternoon! I wasn't alone either-- many people were painting in the main hall and I realized just how hard it is to talk and paint at the same time! 

After an hour or two of painting, I visited with a few of the artists on "Artist Row" where long tables are set up to feature the guest painters and sculptors at the convention. When they're not teaching classes, they're available for questions and you can find examples of their work displayed at the edges of the table. Reaper encourages you to talk to the artists-- they are friendly folks ready to share their knowledge! A few of the friends I made at last year's convention were asked to be guest artists teaching classes this year! Erin "Corporea" Hartwell, a super-talented painter & sculptor and overall fabulous person taught Color Theory, Creative Scenic Bases, and Flesh & Faces. Ian "Kuro Cleanbrush" Markon, who has his own YouTube channel, taught Blending & Layering, Non-Metallic Metal: Exotic Colors, and Eyes Without a Face-- a class specifically designed to painting the dreaded eyeball. It was really nice to catch up with these two since I have so much respect for them as artists as well as the fact that they're genuine, amazingly nice people! 

My only class Thursday was Aaron Lovejoy's "Airbrush Basics" class. This guy is a hoot! He started out the class saying "Hi, I'm Aaron and I'm weird like you". Aaron won overall "Best in Show" in this year's contest -- this guy is a badass. You can see his competition entries here (note the lighting in the pictures isn't perfect, since they had to photograph 500+ miniature entries and keep the line moving). Since I don't have any experience with airbrushes, I was eager to take this class and start with the basics. 

I went home fairly early that night and had dinner with family. Knowing that I had to finish up my miniatures for the contest entry deadline the next day, I was feeling the pressure. With all the personal stress of the last few months, I was woefully behind. I stayed up until 4:30am finishing my entries, and at one point, accidentally dropped one of my miniatures in bright orange paint. I suddenly burst into tears and started screaming uncontrollably "No no NO NO!!!". In that slow-motion moment, I saw over 24+ hours worth of work risk being destroyed because of my clumsiness. Thank goodness I was able to pick her up and dunk her repeatedly in my paint water to minimize the damage. Funnily enough, she was the miniature they chose in the Painters category to be judged-- and she ended up winning a Gold medal!

Friday - Day 2

After suffering some early morning car problems and a severe lack of sleep, I dragged myself to the Con (seriously, this was becoming a bad pattern. Finish your entries EARLY, my friends!). Today was my day where I scheduled classes galore. While last year, this was pretty much my schedule every day, I realized it's almost impossible to pull off when sleep deprived. Here's what I was working with:

  • 10am-12pm: Weathering Techniques with Brice Cocanour
  • 12-2pm: Crafting Terrain & Diorama Bases with Bob Ridolfi
  • 2-4pm: Intro to Competitive & Display Painting with Justin McCoy
  • 4-6pm: Painting Fur, Scales, & Feathers with Derek Schubert
  • 6:30pm: Friday Night Artists' Banquet

It left little time for me to turn in my competition entries by 4pm. I was late to my second class since the 10 minute break wasn't enough to wait in line and submit in my entries. Obviously, I should have planned better-- lesson learned. After the solid block of classes, I attended the Banquet which was tons of fun! I loved the space-themed alien center pieces. 

Food, good conversation, raffle prizes, and the big reveal of the night, the future launch of the Bones III Kickstarter coming in early June! After the banquet, we were invited to come look at the concept sculpts of the newest creations. All I can say is WOW!! Did you see Julie Guthrie's Tiamat work in progress? One word: EPIC. (pardon the glare)

Saturday - Day 3

Saturday started off as a much more laid-back day. With only one class, I wandered around the main hall and spent a long time looking at the amazing entries into the painting competition! (I'll list them along with the names of the fabulous painters in a future picture-heavy post). I bought some amazing Hangar 18 fabric backgrounds, which should help me take nicer pictures of my miniatures for my blog!

I also jumped into a fun round of Speed Painting-- 45 minutes, with one Bones miniature and a few paints. It's much tougher than you'd think! As we painted, blew on our miniatures in an attempt to get them to dry faster, we joked and hurried to complete them while time seemed to pass faster and faster! In the end, everyone had completed their minis and I was surprised to hear that I won! Here's our lineup-- mine's the one in the top right with the light-to-dark purple hair:

At 4pm, I went to my "Sculpting Details for Conversions & Bases" class with Bob Ridolfi (and I'm sure at this point he thought I was stalking him) which ended up being another one of my favorite classes. After that, it was once again Banquet time! More raffles, awards where Jason Wiebe was inducted into the Hall of Fame and Aaron Lovejoy was this year's Master Series Medalist. Congrats to the both of them! One of our forum friends won a boxed set of paints, and since he already owned it, we did a Round Robin and passed it around the table each choosing a paint in turn for us to take home-- so generous! 

The Awards Ceremony - What can I say? It was a blur-- lots of clapping and cheering for our friends and newest acquaintances. I was happy to be a part of it and cheering for the wins of others, when all of a sudden, I had been awarded 2 Gold Medals from both the Painter and Diorama categories and a Gold Sophie Trophy for my Reaper vignette! WOW, I'm grateful and truly shocked! The amazing painters and sculptors who judged this contest gave me some great feedback after the ceremony and I was all smiles after that. I learned a lot from them and it gave me confidence and inspired to keep painting! Last year, I was awarded an Honorable Mention at ReaperCon 2014 which made me super-happy since I was still fairly new to the hobby. In turn, I started a blog to track my progress after taking lots of classes at ReaperCon 2014 to level-up my painting skills. It definitely paid off! I know it's all subjective-- one judge may love your piece, another may not, and each year is different. I kept an open mind and a humble, positive attitude, focused on being proud of everything I'd worked hard to achieve this past year regardless of if I won anything or not. While part of my brain screams "Wait, this can't be right. I'm unworthy!", the other part is pleased-as-punch that my hard work paid off in a tangible way. I attribute any personal successes to the great teachers, friends, and mentors who shared their knowledge with me. I hope I can one day pass on that same knowledge and passion for this hobby to others. 

Drunken Celebrity Speed Painting - Yes, I'm listing this as an event. A spontaneous, unofficial event, for sure, but one I won't soon forget (at least the parts that I remember!) I'm not a terribly irresponsible person, but when I get wound up in the excitement, I'm like a pinball in a pinball machine. I'm everywhere wanting to talk to everyone and I'm a total spaz. I admit, I made the mistake of over-imbibing during the post-ceremony celebrations and ended up lending my obnoxious talents as heckler during Celebrity Speed Painting. Great fun was had as many of the guest artists and celebrity painters speed painted and trash-talked back and forth between two dueling tables. Shenanigans ensued as one table tried to sabotage the other with their silly antics and issued challenges-- one performed an Othello monologue while standing from atop a chair, another executed ballerina twirls onstage to win her table more time! We some sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs, and John Bonnot, the master heckler that he is, convinced me to read the first part of Chapter 8 from 50 Shades of Gray in a British accent to distract the opposing table. Yep, that happened. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, goofy pics of speed painting antics!

Later, as most of us wound down to a considerably more responsible state, I was approached by one of the hotel employees as I chatted with James Wappel about blogs & snowstorms (I'm sure I was embarrassing myself-- I was just babbling since he's another fascinating artistic genius I admire). Evidently it was much later than I realized and I had forgotten to relay to my family that I would be out late-- so late, that they called the hotel in a panic after being worried sick. How embarrassing! "Excuse me Mr. Wappel, it's been wonderful chatting with you but my mommy called and I have to go now". Mortifying at the time, but I have to laugh at it now! It doesn't matter how old you get, there are pros & cons to staying with family during conventions. Honestly, it was my fault and I apologized to them for making them worry with my lack of communication. Lesson learned: don't be a jerk-- if you're going to save money by not booking a hotel room at the Con, make sure you call your family & return at a reasonable time!

Sunday - Day 4

Sunday was rough. Thanks to the previous night's shenanigans (and the medicine I was taking after being sick the previous week which amplified the ill-effects of alcohol), I was hurting badly. I shuffled into Michael Proctor's "Advanced Basing" class and by the time I sat down in Derek's "NMM Special Effects" class, I fetched a cup of ice to fight the intense dizziness I was feeling. Under any other circumstances, I would have excused myself to lie down, but there was too much knowledge to be gained from these classes!

After that class was the Auction, though I was unable to stay for it. I hurried to the mobile Reaper store they'd set up in the main hall to use my gift certificates to buy a few miniatures I'd been eyeing. Since I couldn't stay for the auction, I gave my 1300 ReaperBucks to Erin (aka "Corporea") telling her, "Win something AWESOME for yourself!". She didn't disappoint! I later on found out that she won a huge dragon with the pooling of a few more "forumites" and I can't wait to see what she does with it. Cheers to the Reaper forumites, who made a great showing this year! 

All in all, ReaperCon 2015 was amazing. I could go on, but Justin McCoy summed it up perfectly: "It's practically made of magic, and covered in awesome sauce". Word. And the best part? Anne Foerster asked me to help out in the judging room next year-- I'm so excited! So if you're attending and entering miniatures in the ReaperCon 2016 competition, chances are I'll be one of the friendly faces checking you in and logging the information for your miniatures-- hope to see you there next year! 


I've been attempting to paint shiny tentacles without resorting to glossy varnish. While a layer of gloss varnish is a great all-around solution for rendering a shiny surface, I wanted to challenge myself in my painting skills. In any case, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning of my personal lack-of-decision-making:

Thank goodness for social media. I needed a second opinion. After that, I took Denniz's suggestion and started on the base of my most recent Speed Paint Challenge #4. I've wanted to finish this miniature I mounted on this base from Micro Art Studio. I really like this base. I'm attempting to paint glowing rune-like shapes & glossy tentacles emanating from her feet, as if she's summoning magical energy to defeat potential foes. 

I'll need to consult my Color & Light book for a few tips. The biggest obstacle I have is the two-dimension vs three-dimensional issue. While it would already be a personal challenge to paint the dark, shiny tentacles in a two-dimensional format, I need to paint it where it looks interesting and accurate from most angles. My approach was to wet my brush and give a light wash over the tentacles. This way, I could mimic the natural highlights that the light source would identify. It's not unlike a "Paint By Number", reminiscent of those old children's puzzles I enjoyed as a child. In any case, I decided to once again use social media to reach out for some additional advice. 

In the meantime, I'm opening a box of prize loot won from a Reaper forum contest where I won second place in the Single Figure category. Jasper was nice enough to sort & ship miniatures he'd been storing, after his friend closed a miniature shop. The best part? He gave us the opportunity to pick from the mostly out-of-production miniature hoard & he then arranged to have them sent all the way from Canada. So generous!

I'm truly looking forward to giving these miniatures a new home where they'll be lovingly painted in addition to having a "Cool, where'd you get this one?" story. These minis are classics and easily date back to the early 90's. While it's exciting to paint recently-released miniatures that are newly popular in the industry, there's something rewarding about the knowledge that you're probably the only person on the planet painting this specific miniature at this one point in time. 

In the meantime, if you haven't watched the new Star Wars trailer, you should. After chuckling at the light saber that sprouted hilt-like additions (What?! That's not a thing!) and the fudgesicle land speeder, I admit this has more potential than I initially thought. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around the original trilogy, so I'm keeping an open mind, despite being an enthusiastic, reasonably discerning critic when it comes to Star Wars. Many of us have been traveling over this Thanksgiving weekend, so if you haven't yet seen the Star Wars trailer, enjoy!