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Gencon to Nova: A figure painter’s perspective (Part 2 of 2)

   GenCon kicked my ass. I stumbled through my door, shoulders aching from bag weight, head pounding, half asleep. I had one week until NOVA, and 60% of an entry to finish. I feel like this cycle will never end – start a project, set a deadline, ignore the deadline, and do %40 of the work with %25 of the time remaining. I’ve participated in five competitions now, entered six pieces, and haven’t polished a single-one of them. I’m trying hard to prospect my work better, so I can let my eyes rest on a piece, review it, analyze, correct, and refine. I crave that. But, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the rush that comes from sprinting to the finish-line. I find excitement in the late-nights on the weekend, the isolation, the lack of distraction. When I click my painting light on, I feel a rush of adrenaline from knowing that I’m diving into the creative process. It feels like my mind splits into distinct egos, as parts of me conflict, abide, question, and execute with another, to create a result. It can be captivating, and has produced some fond memories. Like being 48 hours sleep deprived, and feeling like I time traveled back to 2003, when  Space Ghost: Coast to Coast blinked on the Adult Swim graveyard-shift. Or, having a truly quiet moments to talk with my brother. Then taking breaks outside to clear the mind, listen to the winter night’s silence, and fill the nostrils with clean, cold, fresh air.  All of it orbiting around the excitement of finishing a project, and taking it to show where dozens of other incredible entries will be present. Maybe I don’t want to change. We’ll see. Anyway, thanks for staying off topic with me, on to NOVA.

   This was my first year attending the NOVA Open, and I really wouldn’t mind going back. NOVA is an acronym for NOrth Virginia (VA), and is held at the Crystal City Marriott Hotel/convention center, in Arlington, on Memorial Day weekend. A stones-throw from the Reagan airport, and a few miles south of D.C. proper. NOVA functions primarily as a war-gaming convention. A place where war-gamers from across the US come together and compete with one-another for prestige in their chosen arena. NOVA hosted nearly 2,000 attendees this year. Making it respectable in size, and it is definitely growing. As a backdrop to the war-gaming, NOVA functions as a charity for a variety of noble organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Fisher House Foundation, etc. For me, this is a unique incentive that NOVA organizes well, via their charitable org. NOCF (NOVA Open Charitable Foundation). As a whole, the event was a pleasant experience.


   Not bad. Really. NOVA offers a room-special that filled with only one month remaining until the event. So there was plenty of time to purchase. No millisecond page refreshing to secure a spot through the discount portal. The per-night for the block special was $890–before taxes and fees–and roughly $100 after. For the price, there is plenty to look forward to. My girlfriend and I really enjoyed our stay. Not to mention, Crystal City is the D.C. business-lodging-district. Meaning that there is a hotel on every corner, to house those not fortunate enough to land a spot at the venue.

Convention access and attendance costs $40 base. Then one would have to pay the cost associated with whichever event, or seminar is chosen. “Unlimited Entries” in the Capital Palette painting competition is $20 (I’ll elaborate later in the article). So, my base cost is $60. If the Unlimited Entries pass is not chosen, then each entry has a $5 fee associated.  This brings the base cost–for the figure painter–to $45-$60. Now, I do feel that is a bit steep, but I believe it is an effort to compensate for the potential of mass processing by the staff and judges, because of the format. I’m not pleased with the base cost, but I can see why it is implemented.

   Dining in the immediate area is versatile when considering affordability and selection. I forced my vegan girlfriend to watch me devour Chic-Fil-A, then happily joined her to a cafe/restaurant the night after. Everything was within a one-mile radius. When considering entry, lodging, and food cost, NOVA has been the most affordable event, compared to GenCon and Adepticon.


 Quaint. A descriptor overused, but I think it’s suitable. The hotel is small (with only 7 floors), but is clean, and cordial. The convention is packed pretty tightly, consequently. It’s not insufferable. No no no, nothing like Gencon. But Gencon is a spectators event, mostly. War-gamers need playing space, and the Marriott  holds up, for now. The gaming halls were cramped. Lots of gamers, playing, rolling, sweating, heating things up. Seminars are comfortably held in the third-floor conference rooms, but there were only three rooms assigned for seminars, in total. So not a whole lot of space to work with, but they handle it well. The vendor area is centralized on the main floor, and is laid out nicely. Again they manage their space well. There were a good number of vendors isolated to small nooks, alcoves, and along walls.  The hotel elevators couldn’t seem to keep up with the demand, and are slow. But it didn’t bother me, as I wasn’t on my feet gaming all day. NOVA staff does a great job aligning and structuring the layout, but its clear that this event is growing out of its shoes.

  There are some perks of the venue. NOVA offers a relaxing lounge held in a room on the seventh floor. A small place to grab a complimentary snack, or buy a coffee. Around beer drinking time, they start serving drinks and the place fills up with attendees, many of which came for the miniature painting, which was really fun. The place heated up quickly, as one might expect, but it’s a nice gesture and a enjoyable meeting space. There is also a comfortable bar/cafe near the lobby. It is a good place to grab a bite and a coffee in the morning, then a beer in the evening. 

   Internally, NOVA is well organized. I enjoyed their online purchasing and identification system, that lets the individual know what they are signed up for, when, and where it falls along a timeline for the weekend. It can be checked and updated at any time prior to the Open. And when placed on a waiting list, there is a numerical value letting you know your place in the line. They have a neat, designated area for registration on the 1st floor, below the lobby, and an area for general assistance. Both seemed to function smoothly, and I didn’t once have a poorly answered question. There is a noticeable level of professionalism, and care for their work.

Incentives for the figure-painter?

Many. Notably, the quality seminars, paired with a well oriented, judged, and organized painting competition.


Seminars: Roman Lappat

Halt! Hammerzeit.

   Quick intro about Roman: Bavaria based. He is a full-time, professional figure painter. He has a style that I really resonate with, and the thought of learning from him personally was a big attendance  incentive. He leads the group-site MASSIVEVOODOO.COM, which is a staple in the community, and a place where painters and modelers from all backgrounds go to enrich themselves, as the site is saturated with knowledge based in tutorials, articles, videos, tips, tricks, you name it. I signed up for Color Theory, and “walked in” to a–barely–open spot for Blending (which Roman was kind of enough to allow).


   I want to express something real quick. I feel that Color Theory is one of the most critical and important topics that an aspiring painter should consider, when searching for a seminar. Especially, when it’s conducted by someone of Roman’s caliber. Why? Its theory. Its subject to speculation, discussion, experimentation, etc. Yes, we can all agree that (for some reason) red compliments turquoise, and violet with green, etc, etc. However, even these “objectives” have seemingly infinite alteration options, when considering subject and perspective. On the other hand, technical approaches like blending, o.s.l, basing, whatever, have a finite declaration. So, while attending classes for those techniques is very helpful, I feel it is not as inherently difficult to learn them through trial-and-error, as Color Theory can be. I urge anyone that is new to these topics, and interested in attending seminars, to pursue Color Theory first.

   His class opened with an introduction to the color-wheel, and then allowed us to create our own. While demonstrating how to achieve certain colors and temperatures, he detailed which hues are placed where, and why mixing is a vital learning process. After, we began with our exercises.

   Exercise one was to try and replicate “figure line”, pre-mixed colors, using only the primaries (magenta, cyan, and yellow, with black and white). This was a relieving exercise and something that the class seemed to cherish, as I heard other students naming their favorite “line” colors as they replicated them. It is a fulfilling activity, that opens the figure-painter’s eyes to the deceptive ease of mixing, as many of us have been spoiled with too much color choice from manufacturers. 

   Exercise two was to replicate a portion of your own flesh-tone. Daunting really, as flesh never has a simple or singular hue, due to its subtle transparency. There are identifiable bases, but it is still difficult to pinpoint, as my photo probably shows. This was a real eye-opener, because it highlighted how flesh seems to require a stark technical approach, paralleled with a creative one.

   The last exercise was an attempt at replicating all the hues from this wolf photo. A very fun exercise, as mixing and finding a match is a rewarding and novel experience. If anyone has the opportunity to attend a seminar with Roman, then I suggest this one takes priority.

   But, his Blending seminar held its own. Now, I know I just demonized those a bit, but Roman achieves a unique “look” with his models that seems to stem from wet-blending, and I wanted to learn about it.  I found his approach is one that doesn’t confine you to specific, manufactured styles of blending. Rather, blend in a manner that is enjoyable to yourself, and subjectively effective. Wet, stippling, void, whatever. It’s all blending, just do it the way that works best for you. However, my main takeaway from the class wasn’t blending oriented. It’s how he applies his saturation. He de-saturates the intended hue, then highlights with it, in its starting chroma/saturation. This was really helpful because saturation is something that I struggle with, but never could quite find an explanation. ( I didn’t manage to take any photos of that class, unfortunately).

    Overall, Roman’s seminars are excellent. They are possibly the best that I’ve ever attended. Highly recommended.


Seminars: Matt Di Pietro


   About Matt: A very prolific painter, and one that seems to have separated himself from the herd with his twist on an illustrative style. He operates his own creative platform at Contrast Miniatures, and entered my favorite piece of the show.

   This seminar sparked my curiosity. When I read the description for “Artistic flesh-tones”, I was intrigued about the direction he would take. In this, he highlighted techniques that produced a beautiful, realistic, and  illustrative effect. The premise is that you start by blocking the undertones of the figure based on the anatomy of the flesh. Meaning, yellows around the forehead, reds around the cheeks and nose, blues near the jaw and chin. Then glaze the flesh-tone over to create layers of color variance. It is an attempt to replicate the transparency of flesh, while maintaining an illustrative zeal. Below are pictures of his class example.

   It was novel approach for myself. As Matt painted, he lectured, provided step-by-steps, and dutifully answered questions. He is a insightful instructor. He verbalizes his knowledge and techniques well, and with enthusiasm. I’d recommend this seminar to anyone. Despite it being a tad advanced – it offers some excellent insight into flesh anatomy, its corresponding colors, and then the application that garners beautiful results. I mean beautiful.

Figure Show

Roman’s display.

   Onto the show itself. First and foremost, the display booths were miraculously well lit. It was soooooo refreshing. Bright, crisp, led lights lining the entirety of the booths. TAKE NOTES CRYSTAL BRUSH. It’s not hard to outfit booths like this.

So bright – Even from the elevators!

   The format was…hmm…multi-category open? You could enter as many entries as you desire, into any category, if the “unlimited entry” pass was purchased. The medal selection was based on meeting a static criteria, and not isolating the triarchy of gold, silver, and bronze. For example, if there are ten “gold-level” criterion for a category, then there are ten golds awarded. I love this system, as I always feel some entries are barely discernible between first, second, and third and sometimes arranged for arbitrary reasons. The entries were well organized in the case, and the lighting allowed everyone to have a place to shine. One discrepancy I had was with a couple of tall, vertical, display cases that were not outfitted to be as well lit as the cabinets. I feel they will alleviate that for next year.

   The judging itself is very assuring. Roman, James Wappel, and Dave Taylor  were the head judges this year, and one can justly assume that they took time and care when analyzing each piece, and giving it the respect it deserves. Like GenCon, I wandered down to the judging area during judging hours, just to satiate my curiosity about how they operate (what lights they use, etc). I encountered them at a table, behind the cabinets, out of eyesight, but in earshot. I overheard one of the judges saying something along the lines of, “this is a very nice touch, but I wonder if it fits what the artist intended, overall”. That’s a nuanced approach. That’s how you know they are conscientious with their analysis. Bravi. Thanks you three.

   The ceremony was quick, efficient, and everyone that placed got to come up, accept a medal, and take a Presidential Pic with Roman.

Don’t mind my derp.

   Unfortunately, they held the award ceremony on Sunday afternoon, and the event’s closing ceremony began Sunday evening. Like many others, I had to boogie right after the award ceremony. Now, this event does fall on Memorial Day weekend, every year. Meaning the USA has the following Monday off. But it is still hard for those that want to get back home, and unwind before the work week. So that is a small downside. But I’ll re-iterate – the hotel is a quick shuttle away. So getting into, and through the airport, takes considerably less time than one is likely used too.

All-in-all NOVA was very worthwhile, and I’ll be doing my best to attend in 2018.



  • NOVA is well priced and a rich environment for the figure-painter
  • The quality seminars offered, and the execution of the competition makes it my preferred show of the year. Not as talent-laden as Adepticon’s Crystal Brush, but it’s very rewarding and enjoyable nonetheless. Jump on it if ya can.


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