Sword and Lance 2023

A couple of weeks back, the Ely crew took a wee jaunt into the Grim North for the resurrected Sword and Lance. Last time we came, it was just me and Martin, and we sort of cleaned up, so I was interested to see what the new iteration of the show would be like. Also, despite its reputation, the North is actually pretty great, and I do like Darlington a lot.

So, to kick off, the usual pictures of variable quality:

So, time for the usual commentary.

The show had a pretty incredible turnout, especially given the extremely low visibility online. I assume most of the advertising was done through clubs rather than really seeking out painters outside that sort of community, which is a little sad, but it was effective at getting numbers. All up there must have been close to a thousand models on display, which is a great result for any show in the UK at the moment.

The quality was also very high – many of the painters there would easily win medals at the major international shows (and some had!).

The canteen didn’t serve beer, but there was a pub a short way up the road for those in need of show beers.

(I had over-indulged the night before and mostly just wanted coffee. The canteen coffee was one of the worst I’ve ever had. Also, the canteen served pies. To those of you not from New Zealand, this might sound like a Good Thing. However, pies are basically the national dish of New Zealand, and we do not accept mediocrity in pies. Even pies from petrol stations have to meet a certain standard. Pies in the UK – almost entirely without exception – are terrible. Don’t even get me started on the apparent lack of emotional response to calling a stew with a pastry lid a pie. In 17 years in this country, I’ve had one good pie that I didn’t make myself. For the record, it was in Lowestoft, of all places.)

I think the judging was generally quite fair. There were some outliers here and there – some people not having their work properly recognised, some being over-rewarded – but they were relatively few and far between, and I didn’t hear anyone moaning about the results.

However, it wasn’t all peachy. In my usual fashion, I must raise some bullets:

  1. Category names
    The main historical figure category was called ‘Figure painters’. This was clarified with a note below the sign, explaining that it really meant ‘historical’ and ‘military’. This sort of linguistic silliness bothers me – it suggests that anyone who paints fantasy or civilian figures isn’t a ‘figure painter’. I doubt it’s deliberate, but having spoken to a number of painters over the years, there is still a large contingent of painters who sincerely believe that the only modelling worth doing is military history, and that everything else is just silly (and, to some, actually ‘disrespectful’). If you want a military category, just call it ‘military’ (but, if you must make distinctions, make sure you also have a category for non-military historical).
  2. Temperatures
    The trading hall was freezing, while the display hall was roasting. The extremely low temperatures in the trading hall probably affected sales, too, and I know at least a couple of the traders were quite annoyed by it all. It certainly didn’t help that the trading hall was quite a long way from the club stands and the display area.
  3. Lighting
    The display area relied solely on natural light from windows on one side of the room. It wasn’t too bad if your models were on the side with the windows (it’s still relatively early in the year, so the light wasn’t too intense), but if you were on the other, it was difficult to see much. My camera even had trouble with its autofocus because of the extremely low light.

However, to counter my previous however, I was delighted to hear them announce that they recognised the two latter issues and would be working to fix them for next year. It’s quite rare that a show recognises its issues literally on the day, but they’ve committed to sorting them out, which is absolutely magnificent. It’s an enjoyable show and I look forward to seeing it grow and improve.

As to results, all of the Ely crew managed to get golds, which I’m pretty sure exceeded our expectations. The next show for the crew will be Salute, but, as you might recall from my post about the last one, I’ll be skipping that. The rest of the crew will be there, though, so do say hi to them and tell them Fet says they suck at painting.

Hammerhead 2023

I know I usually wait until after the pictures to get into my discussion of a show, but I feel this point is so important that it needs to be addressed up front: show beers. When I go to a show, I like to have a beer at some point. If it’s a multi-day show, I might even have several beers.

Now, not all shows have suitable catering on site, and I appreciate that. However, when a show has had such catering in the past, it is a nigh-unforgiveable offence to remove the opportunity in later years. Hammerhead has committed this sin.

Last year, the show was across two buildings, with the second building containing a bar. The beer was, frankly, a bit mediocre, but at least it was there. I could stay at the show and enjoy a beer. This year, however, the show shrunk a little, so it didn’t need the second building and, as you have no doubt deduced, the opportunity for beer evaporated, much like the beer I didn’t have might have evaporated if I left it out too long.

On the plus side, it turned out there was actually a very nice pub not too far away (with much better beer), so I suppose, on balance, it all worked out in the end.

But let this remain a warning for shows that do have bars: don’t take them away. Please.

(I should note that Fen Model Show not only has a bar, it has another bar immediately outside and another one a hundred metres away. That’s called ambience.)

On with the pictures.

So, other than the debacle with my show beers, Hammerhead was actually pretty decent. The turnout was, I think, larger than last year, and there was certainly a good level of painting present – much higher than many of the other small shows we attend. However, there were some issues:

  1. The models were, once again, displayed in small, round cases with shallow shelves, which meant that models on lower shelves were essentially invisible if they weren’t at the front, and that larger models ended up perched on top of the cases or on the table.
  2. The awards presentation did announce silver and bronze this year (last year you got told if you got one of those when you collected your models), but there was no actual award for it – not even a simple certificate or card. I don’t particularly keep track of most of my awards, but it’s a nice thing to get, especially if – as I suspect is the case for many painters at Hammerhead – it’s your first competition or your local show.
  3. The awards need to be announced by someone whose voice doesn’t fade into the space in the hall. We spent most of the presentation struggling to hear anything. Maybe I’m just old and my hearing is failing because I listen to too much dark synthwave and girly pop when I’m working.

It would be good if the competition could sort out these issues, because it’s otherwise quite a decent small show. The lighting in the hall is surprisingly good, so they don’t need extra lamps for the models, the judging seems to be generally pretty sound, there are a lot of shopping options, etc. If the competition continues to get bigger, they’ll definitely need to sort out the cabinets – they’re not really suited for anything except wargaming models on wargaming bases (they also make it really hard to get a decent photo). And given that the competition is run by Wargames Illustrated – a company that prints a magazine – I’m surprised they couldn’t organise printing some cards for silver and bronze.

As to results, Martin cleaned up a wee bit again, picking up gold in fantasy single with his Nurgle bloke and gold in open and best of show with his diver. I picked up silvers in historical single with my prehistoric shaman and silver in open with my old couple feeding chickens. Joey and Kev didn’t pick up anything, but I would hazard to guess they weren’t too far from making the podium themselves, but, as mentioned, the quality was really decent this year.

And to save you from having to tolerate a show photo of the best of show piece, here’s the ‘studio’ photo I took for Martin ages ago:

North Surrey Model Show 2023

A few weeks back, the Ely crew took a wee jaunt down south again – this time most of the way round the M25 into Surrey. The satnav, I’m fairly sure, was trying to lure us onto a badger trail, but we persevered and found our way to Banstead.

On the way there, I had what we have started calling my ‘senior moment’: I realised about halfway that I was still wearing my slippers. In my defence, they’re quite new – I’ve never really worn slippers before – and very comfortable, so I simply walked out the door without realising that I wasn’t actually wearing my shoes.*

Anyway, on to the usual show photos:

It wasn’t a particularly huge show, but it was kind of ideal for Martin’s brother, Kev, who hasn’t entered a competition in 15 years. Small shows like this are, I think, pretty good for people just getting into display painting. You’re not likely to see the really inspirational, incredible stuff that you run into at SMC or the Fen Model Show (hint: tickets available now!), but on the other hand you’re also not as likely to feel dwarfed or intimidated, and can build some confidence in your work with the typically lower bar of entry for medals. Having said that, you do often see some really good and interesting work.

I think this show, more than most of the small shows I’ve been to, had a really good set of interesting pieces. For one, the actual spread across the categories was pretty good – admittedly, only one boat turned up, but there was a good range of other vehicles, a flat (not one of mine!), some dioramas, wildly different scales, etc. There were also quite a few pieces that I considered really creative. In particular, I liked the scratchbuilt/kitbashed walking tank, which used models from (I think) three different scales to excellent effect.

Figures did dominate in terms of numbers, but that’s pretty common outside of the more vehicle-dedicated shows like MAFVA.

There was some consternation over which categories models went into, however, as the ‘historical’ category was actually listed as ‘military’. I steered clear of any weirdness by shoving my prehistoric shaman into fantasy, while Martin was involved in a brief discussion over whether pirates are, in fact, historical, which was amusing to listen in on.

With one exception, the judging was very much as you’d expect from smaller shows: a relatively high proportion of medals awarded and generally to the pieces you expect. The fantasy category, however, had some curious results. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a set of results like it – suffice to say that it is definitely not what I would have expected, especially when the other categories lined up pretty much as they should. I think all of my pieces got something, but in almost perfect reverse order from what I would have expected. My weakest piece (in my opinion) got gold, while my stronger pieces languished with highly commended and bronze. I would say the same was true of the rest of the Ely crew, and there were other pieces in the category that were either under-appreciated or over-regarded, in my opinion.

It’s a bit of shame, really, as the other categories were pretty much spot on. I wouldn’t say it ruined the show, but it did colour my experience a touch. It’s an odd thing to see.

Regardless, I do maintain that it had one of the more interesting sets of competition entries I’ve seen at smaller shows, so it’s tempting to return next year to see what else the locals cook up. I’ll try to remember my shoes next time.

* I went out at lunch and found a shoe shop so I wouldn’t ruin the slippers. I suppose it was serendipitous, as I’d been looking for a decent pair of shoes for quite some time, but Ely has a pretty limited range of shoe shops and my feet are apparently a weird size, so online shopping doesn’t usually work out.

London Plastic Modelling Show 2022

I should probably have written this up last month, when the show was fresher in my mind, but December has a way of discouraging me from doing very much at all. Also, I bought Elden Ring and have been a little distracted.*

Anyway, back at the start of December, the Ely crew went down to London to check out another show, this one run by Guideline Publications, which produces the very good Fantasy Figures International magazine. As usual, pics before the real meat:

It wasn’t a massive show, and clearly of much more interest for shopping rather than the competition, but there were some genuinely interesting pieces. In particular, it was quite cool to see civilian vehicles rather than just another table full of tanks. There were also a number of scratch builds (one took best of show – the Tsar tank). A few dioramas were more than just a bunch of soldiers doing something with a vehicle, which is always nice to see.

While I wouldn’t say that the level of painting was terribly high in general, the show was clearly focusing a lot on the broader elements of ‘modelling’ – rewarding scratch building and the work involved in customising models, for instance.

What actually made the show really enjoyable was the location – it was just down the road from Camden, so once we’d entered our models, had a look at some of the other stuff on display and done a circuit of the trade stands, we headed out to be reminded why we don’t live in London. Which is actually quite enjoyable every now and then. It’s much too busy a place for my liking, but the fact that you can wander around and find five shops selling different variations on the same hat that I wear is pretty cool. I normally have to order my hats online because I’ve only ever seen them in markets a couple of times.

As a model show, I’d put it on par with a small IPMS show (except that you don’t need to be member to take part!), but as a location I’d give it a solid 8. Easy to get to, and easy to find things to do nearby while the judging is happening. And if you’re looking for something to do with your painter mates for a day that can include heading to the Big Lights and having some beers, it’s a pretty decent choice.

I believe this year it will clash with a show I’m keen to support over in Cardiff, but otherwise I’d probably try to get the crew together again for a fun day out in London.

Oh, and the results. Previously, the show gave out golds, silvers and bronzes in what seemed to be an open format, but this year it was first place and three or so commended certificates per category. I don’t recall what Martin and Joey picked up (I think Martin got at least one first place, possibly two), but I nabbed three commended: fantasy (Apophys), vignettes and dioramas (snowball fight) and miscellaneous (POP).

* On Elden Ring: I’m not even sure I like the game much at all. The exploration is excellent, but it’s wilfully obscure, the writing is appalling, the gameplay is frankly silly (it relies on the fact that you’re briefly invincible during specific moments of certain actions, like rolling or getting on your horse), and would it kill them to include a pause button instead of relying on a weird hack so I can take a leak?

Monte San Savino 2022

Monte is one of those shows that many people have told me about for a number of years. I’ve been meaning to go since about 2016 or so, but it’s at a weird time of year and things just never worked out. With the pandemic abating, I figured now was the time. I also had Martin and Joey pestering me, and I know they’d never have made it without my amazing organisational skills (note for future: we will not be staying in the same villa).

I have some thoughts about the show, but I’ll bore you all to death with the usual screeds of poorly-taken photos first.

So, as mentioned, Monte has quite the reputation, and I was curious what exactly it was that made it so popular. After all, it’s not nearly as accessible as many other shows, it’s at a weird time of year, it’s relatively small (compared to behemoths like SMC and the World Expo), etc. I can conclude that what really makes Monte is the town square immediately outside the exhibition hall.

This gives all the painters a great social space; in fact, the town’s so small that for a few days it’s essentially completely taken over by painters, and the town square is the hub of all that activity. Because there are so many painters, it’s easy to meet new people essentially by osmosis – I know this guy and that guy, who know these guys, who know these guys, and sooner or later you’re chatting to people you’ve never met before, but your shared interests, experiences and friends bridge all of that.

Painters talk about how the ‘community’ or the ‘family’ is what makes Monte great, and this social space is what allows that to grow. See friends, make new friends, be nerds, have delicious Italian food and wine.

Would I say it’s the best show I’ve been to? Probably not, but my enjoyment was a little hindered by a shoulder injury causing a bit of pain as well as the start of what turned out to be a covid infection. I would say, however, that it had the same characteristics as the best shows I’ve been to (for reference, those are the World Expo in Stresa and the sadly defunct Herzog von Bayern): a social element enabled by the availability of social spaces that are physically separate from the show itself.

I make the distinction about social spaces being separate from the show because the World Expo in Eindhoven had social spaces, but they were all within the convention centre. There isn’t really anywhere else to go where you can have the same organic movement of people other than at the venue. And I think this is important, as it makes shows like Monte and Herzog von Bayern feel more like a holiday with friends that just happens to also have a whole lot of models, rather than being “I’m at a convention.”

Anyway, highlights of the show for me:

  • Being able to finally meet some people I’d only spoken to online, or hadn’t spoken to much before. In particular, the Other Canadian Kyle and Jakob. You guys are champs.
  • The Danes.
  • The Spicy Noodle.
  • The Danes.
  • The French guys who bought the plastic cups so we could enjoy wine from the wine vending machine.
  • The Danes.
  • The ‘ambient’ category.

I feel I should discuss the ambient category because I think it’s a really great idea and shows that Monte is trying something different, even if the other categories make the same arbitrary distinctions that I don’t like to see. The ambient category, at its core, seems to be there to reward creativity. It’s not just about ‘evoking a feeling or scene’ or ‘narrative’. It’s about models that attempt to do something with the medium that might not be recognised in more traditional competitions. In fact, some of the displays would be actively penalised at other competitions.

For instance, Jakob’s display (replicated below in my appalling photography) relies on the context that you build between two or more pieces – it’s not about how well one piece is painted, or about how well the whole display is painted: there’s a dialogue between each piece of the same type, and to a certain extent a dialogue across all of the pieces. You can’t pick up one piece to judge the whole thing because that ignores the overall context. Sure, Jakob would probably do well at any competition with any one of those pieces, but in some shows, your display is judged solely on what the judges consider to be the best single piece within your display. Jakob’s work is greater than the sum of its parts (which is why he was awarded ‘Best of Creativity’), and very few shows take that into account.

Seriously, I have no idea how to use my camera outside of my lightbox.

As I’ve mentioned before, the hobby is mildly obsessed with technical perfection. Thankfully ‘style’ is more accepted these days, so painters don’t have to aim for perfect blends if that doesn’t apply to the style, for instance, but there is still a degree to which painters are expected to approach their work as a purely technical challenge. I wouldn’t say this is rejected in the ambient category – after all, you do need a certain level of technical ability in order to construct a narrative or build context – rather that it’s not given the bulk of the weighting as it is in other categories.

Anyway, enough artsy rambling. Results:

  • Martin: Bronze in Master Fantasy Painting, Bronze in Master Fantasy Ambient
  • Fet: Gold in Master Fantasy Ambient
  • Joey: Sadly nothing

This was Joey’s first ‘big’ show, and I think he came into it with some higher expectations after doing well in old, established shows over here in the UK. Monte, of course, is famous for the very high bar it sets.

I’m personally incredibly stoked by my result – still don’t quite believe it. When it was announced, I literally said “What the fuck” out loud. Now, however, I feel like I need to come up with something even more bonkers to maintain my standing. I have a couple of ideas – one of which might be something I can get some other painters in on, but I’ll need to commission a wee sculpt first.

And here’s a pic of Martin behaving like an idiot in a candy store while flanked by perfectly normal nerds: