Friday, May 09, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For

I swung by the GW store last night to shop for a model. I can't tell you what... that's a secret. Anyway, a friend was there and he had brought a model with him. It had apparently placed third or so in another GW store's painting competition, and his demeanor clearly showed that he thought it should have placed better. He told me that he was considering entering it into Golden Demon, and asked for my input. I was... how do I put this... diplomatically blunt. I told him what I liked about the model and I told him what I didn't like. His expression indicated that he didn't like being told what I didn't like about his model. I advised him to take a month and clean it up. He repeated the "take a month" part to himself with a sour face.

Now don't get me wrong... it wasn't a bad model. It looked good, but not competition good. I had never seen competitions models before Chicago last year, but I had seen enough photos on Cool Mini Or Not to know that my average model was not that level. I think he was expecting me to say that he had a chance for a trophy with that model. It was a good looking gaming model, but really had no chance in competition. I tried to offer helpful suggestions, mostly my rules of competitive painting. Here they are:
  1. It has to look intentional - Every part of the model has to look like you intended it to look exactly as it looks. No part should look like you arrived there by accident, even if the end result looks cool.
  2. It's not good enough - No matter what you are working on, look it over again and again to see what can be improved. Never be satisfied, but instead keep improving everything a little at a time.
  3. If you can't do it well, don't do it - it may be a cool idea, but if you can't satisfy rule #1, then you shouldn't be doing it. This is sort of (very sort of) a Jeet Kun Do approach to painting... play to your strengths. If you're a speed skater, don't compete in the pole vault. If there's a super cool technique that you are dying to try, use it on some other models until you are good at it and then use it on a competition model.
The model I was asked to critique violated rules 1 and 2. A lot. There were numerous examples of places on the model where surfaces met indistinctly or where paint from one area seemed to be bleeding into another. I pointed out some places where tide marks from washes had formed, and I was told that boiled leather looks exactly like that. Maybe it does, who knows? To me, a painter and not an expert on boiled leather, it looked like tide marks from a wash. Maybe the judges will have more leather savvy than me. The model may have gotten first cut, but it wouldn't have won a trophy. Not even close.

I had a few models on me, so I showed my friend what I had been working on. What I got was what I gave, and that's only fair. I know the models I'm working on aren't competition models. Okay, one is a competition model but it's really only just started. I got a detailed list of what he didn't like about the model. At least one of the problems he pointed out had escaped my attention, so I'm glad he showed me. If we both walk away from yesterday better painters, then it was a good day.

I took the time to win a LotR painting competition while I was there. The only other guy to compete had to use store brushes, so it wasn't exactly an even race. Gotta give him credit for competing without his tools. Chutzpah!

So here's the dilemma for me. I'm a "pretty good" painter. Not a great painter. Most of the people who frequent the local shop are mediocre painters. A few of them just enjoy painting, but some of them want to be really good at it. They seem to turn to me for feedback on their minis, but they only want to hear how great they are. Most of the time I oblige and just tell them what I like about a particular model. Sometimes, like yesterday, I give real critique. It's seldom well received. When I met Tim Lison he not only told me what he liked about my model but what he didn't like about it. The didn't like parts were far more helpful. I didn't feel like Tim's comments were attacks or insults. Either I need to learn how to deliver critique as well as Tim or just forgo giving constructive comments altogether. "Yeah, looks great! You should so enter that into Golden Demon!" I don't know... I have a hard time saying it if I don't mean it.


  1. Good post, I totally get where you are coming from. I too know Tim , and he's been very complimentary of my models and I don't consider myself a 'great painter' by any stretch. Despite my own assumption of being in top tier of local of non-competition painters I would'nt think of entering my stuff into a GD, and I paint on average probably 2 hours a day.

    There are alot of local GD winners in my area and it doesn't take much to figure out if you can cut it or not. You are never as good as you think you are. For example I recently played in the 115 person WFB tourney at Adepticon and as I walked around browsing other players armies I was confident I was in the 10% of painted armies there, well I wasn't my comp scores only put me in the top 25%, so it was back to the basement with a bit more humility.

    You did your pal a favor, people ask me for painting advice all the time and if one of them said, Hey I am thinking of entering this in the GD, I would have said the same thing. Although given what you describe above I probably would have give yourself props for being a nice guy about it.

    You can always tell them that a "bad" model stands out at the GD just as much as the "exceptional" ones, so sounds like you saved him the humiliation.

  2. You know, that is true about everything in life. A friend asked me my opinion of a song she had written and recorded, and although I really tried to talk about the good points, knowing that she doesn't take criticism... period, I could tell by her expression that she had wanted me to tell her that it was marvelous, would sell a million copies, that the lyrics were fantastic (they weren't) and that her idea to market it was a good idea, and suggestions for how she could do it.

    I'm proud of how I take criticism (is it possible to be arrogant about humility? apparently so, according to Screwtape) because I DO want to know what needs fixing. There's nothing difficult about it for me. In fact, I tend to DISMISS compliments, especially with individuals who give them so copiously on what is patently inferior, that they lose all credibility in my eyes. I mean, I like a compliment when a color becomes me, or when I design a good newsletter... but when ALL you get are compliments, then there's no value in them.

    I feel sorry for people who can't receive constructive criticism - life is one big disappointment with that deficiency!


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