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:

Euroma 2022

I’ve been trying to make a point of going to as many shows as I can. This is partially because the End Times stopped all shows for two years, but also because I genuinely enjoy shows, and to see what works and what doesn’t, so I can apply the lessons to the Fen Model Show. When a show turns up somewhere that I’d also like to visit, it makes the decision much easier. While travel is expensive and time consuming, it’s something I thoroughly enjoy and, if the location is right, I can turn it into a holiday. Rome, obviously, is that sort of location.

Euroma has quite a good reputation in certain circles – predominantly historical, but also among flat painters. It’s not so well known among the fantasy crew, but I find there’s less antipathy between the various camps these days, so it may just be a matter of advertising.

Anyway, photos first (with usual disclaimers around the quality of my photography):

In terms of results, I won a silver in Master Flats and a bronze in Nature (no Master/Standard split in that category), as well as a special prize from Cixmodels for (presumably) my fox in the Nature category. I’m pretty happy with those results, especially as it shows that I’m right in concluding that I’m pretty good at flats (just as well that I enjoy painting them!).

I’d say the judging seemed very consistent and much as I would expect from a good show. They clearly set a high bar for achievement, but then provide really nice medals for those who reach that level. The level of work present was also very high; some really excellent work on display.

Overall, the show is pretty good. I think there’s room for some improvements, especially in terms of providing information about the show up front. They have a Facebook page and a website, but there are some key bits of info that aren’t easy to find. For instance: there are no tickets. The show is free to visit. You pay to enter models (one flat rate, regardless of how many models or categories you enter), which I was able to find out about beforehand, but I went along not knowing if I’d be charged extra on the door. The fact that I hadn’t seen anything advertising tickets suggested that I didn’t need to book one (which would have been terrible to discover on the day), but I was pleased to discover that there were no hidden costs.

Signposting around the show also wasn’t great. There was a sign outside the hotel saying the show was inside, but nothing telling me where to go for it. I ended up following some people to the first floor and got lucky. I think a basic addition to the sign would have been an easy fix. It’s not something that really matters after the first few hours, but I did find it a touch offputting. Once on the first floor, there were a number of rooms with different categories in them. I don’t remember if there were signs indicating which displays were in each room other than on the display tables themselves.

(Yes, these two points could be resolved by talking to people, but I’m very introverted and prefer to figure things out myself from the information available. I suspect I’m not alone in this.)

Lighting at the show was a bit 50:50. The lights they had were good – suspended panel lights over the displays in the fantasy and historical figures room, some lamps over the flats, etc. However, in some places the large windows let in far too much light, and some models I think really suffered from that.

The prizegiving was… something. It was 30+ degrees, which I’m sure is positively mild in Rome, but for some reason they opted to do it outside, with very little shade provided. For those of us from more temperate climes, this was a distinct struggle, especially as the ceremony took more than an hour.

The organisers were very good about making sure they clearly enunciated the names of non-Italians, which was greatly appreciated. I don’t expect them to conduct the prizegiving in English, so it was nice to have it obvious for those of us who don’t speak Italian when to go up.

Would I go back to the show? Probably not, if I’m honest. Rome is lovely and the show was enjoyable, but it’s quite a lot of effort that I don’t feel the need to repeat. The show could entice me back if it tried to be something different from other shows. As it stands, it is very much like the usual sort of event you can find in a lot of places (lots of categories to appease the various rivet counters and isolationists…), just in a much nicer city than most.

The other thing that put a bad taste in my mouth was Roman public transport, which isn’t the show organisers’ fault at all. On the plus side, I did find out that Google Maps is very good at finding alternative public transport routes.

World Model Expo 2022

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this up for a few reasons:

  1. I had 200+ photos to sort through, all of varying quality, and all to be done on an aging laptop that often tries to take a nap in the middle of a process.
  2. The event was a massive shock to the senses, so I needed a bit of time to process it all.
  3. I was busy. Pretty crappy excuse, really, given I’m usually busy with one thing or another, but it worked as an excuse to procrastinate. “Oh, I suppose I could write up a blog post about WME, but I have this other thing to do that absolutely could also wait.”

Anyway, contrary to my usual format, I thought I’d do the write-up up top with the pictures below. This is at least partially because I know that my laptop will panic at uploading all those pictures (and then freak out about loading them onto the page), and that part of the process will take forever. Might as well get this bit out of the way first so I don’t have an excuse to delay. Again.

The models

As you’ve probably seen and heard, this World Expo had more than 4000 models on display, and courtesy of the pandemic giving everyone a lot more time at home to work on their hobbies, the overall standard was consistently high, whether in Master or Standard. I was in fairly early and managed to get my models on the displays while the shelves were still fairly empty, and I felt pretty good about them. They looked like they’d have a decent impact.

That feeling lasted all of an hour or so.

It’s pretty humbling seeing the best you can do set alongside the best produced by someone with considerably more talent. On top of this, my fantasy models simply vanished into the sea of ultra-saturated models with powerful light sources.

I’ve always favoured a more realistic approach – partially because I’ve always preferred grittier, more realistic fantasy and sci-fi content, partially because I just don’t like highly saturated art in general. I am clearly in the minority, and it’s given me things to think about. I doubt I’ll suddenly throw fluorescent pigments at everything, but ramping up the strength of the light sources for a touch more drama might be useful, and I can always chuck some really high saturation at key features if I need to really draw attention.

One thing I did find interesting when comparing this World Expo to the last one I attended in Stresa in 2014, is that the fantasy open category felt much more restrained. What I saw at Eindhoven were a surprisingly large number of entries that were relatively simple – a few stock models on a base, for instance. Generally beautifully painted, but… In Stresa, the open category was awash with collaborations between sculptors and painters, which showed off enormous creativity. Some pieces at Eindhoven were certainly of that calibre, but it did seem like there was less ‘ambition’ generally in the fantasy open.

I’d also like to mention that the World Federation really should rename its ‘diorama’ category, as that clearly caused a lot of confusion. So much, in fact, that the show organisers had to put up signs advising people (mostly fantasy painters) that, under World Federation rules, a ‘diorama’ has to have a vehicle in it, and if your [apparently not a] diorama lacks a vehicle, you need to re-register it in the appropriate category.

I can’t fathom why a ‘diorama’ category needs such a ridiculous requirement unless it’s deliberately intended to separate ‘vehicles’ from ‘vehicles with figures’, in which case surely a more descriptive title would be valuable? Anyway, I gather this has been an argument for some time within the World Federation. Maybe one day they’ll realise that it’s just silly.

The people

One of the best parts of going to shows is to catch up with friends and meet new people. I’m not great in crowds, however, and it takes me a long time to warm up to socialising, especially after two years of hiding inside. I spent the first day or so trying very hard not to just hide in a corner with a lot of beers.

Having said that, the Danes made excellent company – especially Tue, who’s always fun to be around and has an incredible mind for the hobby.

Anyway, if you saw me at the show and thought I was standoffish or brusque, I was probably actually just trying to avoid having a panic attack.

One thing that was very lovely was the dozen or so people who approached me to ask if I was ‘the duck guy’ (or variations on that). That was quite humbling, especially as many of the people who approached me about the ducks are painters I’ve admired for some time.

The show itself

I had misgivings about running the show at the Koningshof, simply because I remember Stresa well and one of the things I loved most about that show was that you weren’t stuck there. You could easily treat it like a normal holiday in an incredible location where there just happened to be a model show. I thought it was a shame not to move the World Expo into Eindhoven, giving people the opportunity to see the city (which, I maintain, is lovely and vibrant).

In the end, I’m happy to be wrong. Would the show have been better if it was in the city? Perhaps, but it didn’t need to be. The venue was large enough and there was enough going on that there was no need to have an escape to hand.

The barbecue was also an excellent idea – with limited dining options (and dining space) at the venue, it was a really good way to not only provide dining for many more people, but it also encouraged everyone to stick around and socialise outside of the show itself.

(It’s my opinion, however, that a barbecue really should have sausages.)

The prize giving at the end was also very well handled – I was pleased to see that they didn’t run out of medals as they had at Stresa – and as far as I could tell, the judging was generous but justified. I’ve seen moaning online about the sheer number of medals handed out, but I think that sort of argument fails to take into account the self-selecting nature of the World Expo: everyone who is at the show is very serious about the hobby, and they are bringing the best they have to show off. Unless you impose an arbitrarily and unnecessarily high standard (which you have to determine on the fly, because you don’t actually know what’s going to turn up until it does), you’re going to end up giving out a lot of medals.

The results

I was quite shocked – but very pleased – to win two bronzes and a silver. Silver for fantasy master painting, bronzes for historical master painting and historical master open. I’m still not quite over that silver, if I’m honest.

Martin, meanwhile, also got silver in fantasy master painting and also got bronze in historical master painting. Had he entered historical master open, he probably would have got a bronze in that, too, just to maintain the symmetry.

The pictures

The usual caveats apply: I am a terrible photographer, etc. I should note that while the light seems very harsh in the pictures, it was actually perfectly fine in person.