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GenCon to Nova: a figure painter’s perspective (Part 1 of 2)

I had a busy summer. In the midst of moving to a new apartment, I was breaking my back trying to get entries done for–two–very exciting events, and painting competitions. Those being the almighty GenCon, and the small, but formidable, NOVA Open. Now, I always seem to bite off more than I can chew. Or, maybe it’s that my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. Because, these events happened to be one week apart this year…. but, I’ve only recently begun my venture into competition/display painting, and couldn’t resist the adventure of signing up for both events, even with the move exhausting so much time.

   So, I’ve been to GenCon the past few years, but this was the first time I’ve attended NOVA, and an event with my blog up. Therefore, I find it fitting to unload my brain (with pictures), breakdown both events, and give others an insight from a figure-painters perspective. Let’s take it from the top.


   This year GenCon was held between August 17-20, in Indianapolis, Indiana. For the unaware, GenCon is one of the most attended conventions in North America, and the one of the largest tabletop conventions in the world. Appropriately, GenCon has donned itself with the title: “the best 4 days in gaming”, and I don’t think I disagree. Now, when I write tabletop gaming, I mean all things tabletop gaming: pen-and-paper RPGs, board games, war games, card games, and even video games. It covers a massive game spread, and all affiliated aspects -including some of the world’s best fantasy artists and authors. Its truly a spectacle, and this year was the granddaddy of them all. It was GenCon’s 50th anniversary, and its reputation resulted in the first ever ticket sellout, with an estimate of 60,000 unique attendees. 60’000 people. 60’000 people, from all over the world, made a pilgrimage to the mecca of gaming.


   But, as you can imagine, a grandiose event has a grandiose cost. First, this year’s 4-day badge cost $90. Just being allowed in the joint costs one-hundred dollars. Thinking about securing a hotel room downtown to reduce commute costs, and enjoy convenience? Think again. The demand is so high, that when one tries to select a downtown “block” hotel, you are placed into a lottery system that generates a time-slot displaying when you are able to make a reservation. Obviously, per night prices are enormous. I believe my group’s, downtown, four-night bill (last year) was around 2,800 dollars….yeah.

   Fortunately for myself, I managed to land an amazing Airbnb,  a mile away from the convention center,  for only $78 a night. Lucky, I know. And honestly, Airbnb is the future for this event. There was also a one-bedroom smackdab downtown, for $130 a night. Because, even If you do a hotel outside the immediate area, then you’re still seeing a significant per-night cost, and then a commute expense. To GenCon’s organizational credit, there are shuttles in many of the “block hotels”, but that means you’re not in complete control of your time, and that can be frustrating when considering the magnitude of the event, and how easy it is to get stranded on Island GenCon with your days purchases

Not uncommon


   The Indianapolis Convention Center is massive. I mean, it would have to be, right? Right. But, the increase of bodies is quickly making things a feel a bit smaller. The lack of lane-space and congestion was noticeable right away. Four days of slithering between people can be a hassle, and I’m a rather healthy, not-very-large person. But, the layout of the venue is well structured, and navigation only takes a few laps to get down. I do enjoy the location, regardless of the hordes.


   The city itself is wonderful, especially in the late summer. Indy is a spacious, clean, and it comes out guns blazin’ for GenCon — with plenty of bars orienting their interiors to suit our interests. Night life is a riot, and there are so many fun late-night options. Not to mention, the convention never closes. Into the wee hours the night numerous groups of people play RPGs, board games, card games, you name it. Its an absolute blast to be a part of, and enjoying the revelry that GenCon weekend brings, in-and-out of the Convention Center, is something I cherish.


Incentives for the figure-painter?

   Well, it depends on your preferences. Do you prefer 28-32mm? Especially, if those models are associated with some of your favorite board, or wargames? Like Kingdom Death, Malifaux, Guild Ball, Warmachine, etc. If that’s the case, then GenCon can provide. There are plenty of places to find that scale range and see new releases. Yet still, its limited relative to the rest of the event, which is predominantly oriented around RPGs, card, and board games.  Personally I’d love to see booths full of busts, 54-90mm, etc. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case, even when considering events in the USA, on the whole. Hopefully, one day the European “boutique” manufacturers and distributors will flood some of these Cons.


   Aside from that, I must emphasize that if you are a fan of fantasy art, then GenCon can be a real treat. There are many tremendously talented fantasy artist’s displaying and selling their work. I find this specificity of the Con very exciting. For example, I bought only two figures during my visit, but ended up with five art-prints. Beautiful work from painters like Donato Giancola to sculptors like Doug Stannat. They are right there, next to their work, willing to discuss all the things they love about their craft, and I take full advantage of this. Figure painting is just 3d. There is so much to be learned from some of the 2d masters. So not only did I come back with some great artwork, but also with some priceless knowledge, a couple new friends, and a ton of inspiration. So, please, if you go there, approach the artist section and–politely–pick some brains.


Lastly, I just enjoy the magnitude of the event. I love walking around, checking out new things, old things, and stuff in-between. Remember, it’s a giant event that holds so many options to suite your gaming interests. The Vendor Hall alone takes one whole day to absorb, and another whole day to digest. If its your first time, you an spend four whole days just scratching the surface of whats to offer. It was my third year, and I was always stumbling into something new.

Painting Show

   Now, onto my main incentive for the trip, the Painting Show/Competition. Annually, GenCon holds a relatively small event that allows painters to bring their figures for display and competitive judging. It’s tucked away in a little quarter of the venue, and becomes our little nook and place to gather, talk, and enjoy what we love.

My favorite from the show.

   The event is….mmmmm…semi-open style?. It’s a gold, silver, bronze system, that allows–max–two entries per category. Entries are awarded on their merit, relative to the medal-ing criteria, and not so much against each other. Meaning, if there are ten “gold qualifying” entries, then ten people get gold medals. The entry categories are pretty standard (single figure, bust, large scale, etc.) and there are a variety of sponsored categories that can stand-alone, or be complementary to the main event, depending on your entry. So, one can enter in a sponsored category, and place his or her entry in the main one.  Personally, I enjoy this structure, and find it refreshing from the singular first, second, and third place system, like that of Adepticon’s Crystal Brush. I entered a diorama in the main event, and in the Rainbow Brush, which is the largest sponsored category. Rant: I will post pictures of my Dio. as soon as I learn how to take quality pictures. I finally have a new camera, and am struggling to get the shots right. I don’t want to post underwhelming photos, when I have to potential to make them much better. Back to the event.

   Unfortunately, the organization and execution of the event itself, didn’t go very smoothly. This year, the main show and The Rainbow Brush came under new management. The new caretakers seemed to have a heck of a time keeping the event running smoothly, as many elements went awry, seemingly because of poor timing control, entry monitoring, and judging. Now, I’m not going to go into detail, unless asked privately, because the new keepers are…well…new. So, I’ll give these issues a pass, and maybe attend next year. But, this year left a poor impression for someone whose primary incentive for attending GenCon, is the painting show. I’ll have to see where my finances are at as next year’s event closes in, before I settle on going again. Like I previously posted, there are some awesome reasons to attend GenCon, but when your principal incentive is lackluster, then suddenly the apple doesn’t seem so sweet.

Its a funky place, no doubt.



    • As an event for the gamer/fantasy enthusiast: GenCon is awesome, yet VERY expensive.
    • For the figure painter: this year has dulled the attraction. Hopefully it improves
    • Do I recommend a visit?: At least once. Its something to behold, that’s for sure, but there are other events more worthy of the investment, in my opinion. Those being Adepticon, and this article’s part 2….The NOVA Open.



One Comment

  1. Dave
    Dave October 1, 2017

    Very informative.

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