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NOVA Open 2015

NOVA Open 2015

NOVA Open.

It’s rather awesome having such a large convention so close to home. The con takes place over Labor Day weekend every year in Crystal City, and focuses on a massive 40k Grand Tournament along with events for nearly every other tabletop system that you’ll find on a shelf at your LGS.

Killer Terrain

In fact, NOVA threw some serious money and effort at the X-Wing event this year, commissioning an LED lit, to-scale Star Destroyer for their narrative campaign:



Pew! Pew! We’ll get you, you Rebel scum! It’s really hard to not make ship noises around that thing.

In addition, the organizer of the Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit event made some amazing tables for his players:

Dale, the lake town
Dale, the lake town
The Goblin Town
The Goblin Town, which was lit
Helms Deep
Helms Deep
Weathertop (I think)
Weathertop (I think)

Hobby Seminars

One of the things I look forward to every year at NOVA are the Hobby Seminars. This year had a spectacular line-up, with classes being taught by MisterJustin from Secret Weapon, Caleb Wissenback, and both Roman and Raffa from Massive VooDoo! I was able to attend three this year: Sculpting Conversions with Raffa, Painting Faces with Raffa, and Freehand Secrets with Caleb Wissenback.

The first class of the weekend for me was Sculpting Conversions. Raffaele “Raffa” from Massive VooDoo is a very accomplished sculptor, and he showed us quite a few things. He covered capes, skulls, chainmail, straps & buckles, scrolls and a coin purse. The class was very spontaneous, he had a few things he knew he wanted to cover, but he also asked us for ideas an input. he said he chose a GW ogre because it was larger, and it would be easier for everyone to see, which was very considerate. Here’s a shot of the cloak he made:


What’s really cool, is that this was ridiculously simple. The clay was left to harden for a bit (He had mixed it about an hour before the class started, this clay has about 3 hours working time he said), and then rolled out flat, to a thickness of perhaps 1mm. He did this between baking sheets, and after coating the clay in talcum powder. It was then torn to create the ragged edges, and then it effectively just acts like cloth. Since the clay is water soluble, Raffa used a wet brush to push the clay into the model’s neck, locking the upper bits in place. The rest can just be pulled and pushed as if it were cloth. Just prop it up for it to harden for a day, and it’s solid as stone. Cool, eh?

The next class I took was Painting Faces, also taught by Raffa (sensing a theme?). He had an ogre face for each of us in the class, and after about 10 minutes of slides, we got started on painting the face. This class confirmed several things I had learned from Meg Maples, and also covered some new things. The primary take away for me was color bands for male faces. The upper third needs a yellow tint, the middle third a red tint, and the bottom third a blue or grey tint. This represents the light on the forehead, the thin layers of skin around the nose and eyes and the general flush-ness of a face, and the shadows (plus stubble) of the lower cheeks and chin. This was another 2-hour class, and was about equal parts watching over Raffa’s shoulder, and sitting working on my own face.

Here’s my end result:



The final class I took was Freehand Secrets, by Caleb Wissenback. Caleb made sure to bring some credentials to show us:


This class again confirmed some of the things I already had read about freehand painting, but several of the things that Caleb covered really helped lower the false barrier I had put up. I’ve avoided freehand (and weathering) for a long time, for fear of messing up the work I’d already done on whatever surface I was working on. I found all sorts of clever ways of explaining why battle hardened guys were in pristine gear, but I really just need to man-the-fark-up, and try some new stuff. Caleb showed us a few tips that really take that fear away (mostly keeping the paint to super thin layers, and keeping your base coat colors handy for repairs). This class was primarily lecture and demo, but we had about 30 minutes to work on a bones mini he kindly provided for us.

I worked on replicating an abstract, dragon-inspired design that Caleb had showed us, mainly because it would force me to make smooth curves. I really feel like I achieved the main goal I’d set going into this class: overcome the fear of trying freehand. I’m pretty excited to try out some ideas on some practice minis.


Painting Competitions

The first competition I took part in was a speedpainting competition sponsored by Grex Airbrushes. There were multiple time slots to participate, and they had over a dozen people enter. We were each given a station that had an airbrush, a mini, and several other hobby things. We were given 2 hours to paint, and only had what was at the table. You can read the details here (.pdf download, with software like Soda PDF).

I’d never painted a historical tank before, but I did have a plan going in. I wanted to airbrush on a camo pattern, and then use the waethering pigments to weather the crud out of it, so it looked abandoned. I did those things, and basically had a very rust colored, vaguely tank shaped blob of shame and disappointment. I just didn’t have much else I could to to the model after the pigments went down, so I looked at the clock, hoping the time was over. But, no. I had blown everything I had in an hour, and had nothing else I could do.

Ultimately, I wasn’t terribly happy with how it turned out, and this was a very humbling experience. I also don’t have pictures of my model, mainly because I forgot to pick the thing up at the end of the convention.

Here’s a picture of said shame in progress:

Grex Speedpaint_1

The main painting competition I was looking forward to was the Master Craftsman portion of the Hardcore tournament. I spent most of the day hanging out with a few other painting enthusiasts, discussing methods, favorite models and oogling each other’s minis.

Hardcore is a long event, and running through five 50-pt games is tough, especially for me. I don’t play but one game a week, if that, and rarely am I under time constraints like Hardcore requires. That said, having very few models in my army helps mitigate that pressure, and I feel like I did very well, only having to stop my turn early due to time once or twice during the entire event.

The NOVA Open Capital Palette judges visited the tournament mid-way through and judged everyone’s army. This took quite a while, which led to a long delay in the tournament, but I don’t post negative things here, and I know they’re going to work on a better system for next year. Live and learn, right?

After judging, the event got back underway, and shortly, I was up against one of my new friends, Devon, a.k.a. PG_Cutthroatcure, and under the camera no less. Yep, the local bat rep cast crew of Advanced Maneuvers was at the con, recording all weekend long. Devon’s army was a gorgeous blue and red Trollblood scheme, with dead Circle Orboros models littering the bases. What’s not to love? Here’s a picture of our armies clashing on the battlefield. When the recorded game goes live, I’ll be sure to post it – it was one of my favorite games from this weekend.


In the end, at 3:00 in the morning and after five exhausting rounds of combat, we were done. The awards were given out, and I was awarded my second Master Craftsman award for my Legion of Aquablight! We were able to look at the score sheet from the Judges, and Devon’s trolls came in second, only one point separating us – it was a very close competition!

My win, combined with some Iron Arena Games and a few generous friends allowed me to “purchase” from the Iron Arena prize pool a pre-release copy of the Twins of Everblight! (After 7am Sunday, we were allowed to transfer points from one person to another, at 2-to-1).


The other big painting competition is, of course, the Capital Palette. I did not have time to generate a finished competition piece before the con, but I did want to enter something. So, I entered my two Feat of Service warcasters, Katya and Maelrryn.

Both models made the cut to Finalist, but I did not make the podium (which I expected). I am, however, delighted that they both made Finalist, and made it into the upper tier of judging, and were considered for placement on the podium.

Next year, I *will* have a non-gaming competition mini to enter.


Hobby Bonus round, with Raffa!

I want to quickly talk about one amazing thing that happened at the con, and I owe it entirely to Devon.

Devon had just finished taking a course from Raffa on “Focus Area Painting” (which I’ll go over shortly), and he had been musing with Raffa on how you grow and increase skills as a painter – it all grows out of being critiqued, and discussing your work with other painters. Devon was expressing his frustration at the Hardcore judging process, and the lack of feedback on the scorecard (which contained only numerical scores). Raffa was kind enough to offer to critique Devon’s army (and mine) during the hour downtime between his two classes. It’s not every day you get to have a personal, one-on-one critique with a world-class artist!


Raffa first looked at Devon’s models, then mine, and we discussed many things. Raffa brought up the “Focus Area Painting” ideas that he had just covered in his class: use strong contrast to draw the viewer’s eye to the most interesting parts of the model, typically the face and hands. Use less contrast on areas that you want the viewer’s eye to pass over.

Raffa took a few minutes to explain how he would use this on Devon’s models, and even took a few minutes to execute his thoughts on one of Devon’s models (with Devon’s permission, of course). Here’s two of Devon’s models, side by side. One has been worked on by Raffa, and the other is Devon’s original model.


When comparing these two, your eye is drawn to the high contrast face of the model on the left. It’s the most interesting thing in the picture. The additional contrast that Raffa added just by increasing some highlights really helps turn the model on, so to speak. This isn’t to say that Devon’s work is bad or boring (far from it, his Mountain King is gorgeous), it’s that the small increase in contrast really pushes a good model into great. Tips like these are why we get feedback from people that are better than us, and why I enjoy taking classes.

When Raffa was looking at my models, I mentioned some feedback I’ve gotten, which was that the skin of my Legion looks flat compared to the very strong contrast on the armor. Raffa explained that there are several kinds of contrast: light and dark, warm and cold, broken and not-broken, comfortable and uncomfortable. Also, quiet and loud. He then explained that artists should try to use as many forms of contrast as possible, and that the simple skin helped frame the busy armor, and if I pushed the skin’s contrast too far, it would become gaudy and the model would be worse for it. I found that very insightful, and it gives me something else to think about when considering models and projects.

His main feedback on my models was that the white frosting overtook the arcane blue (it’s too big, not necessarily too strong), and I needed a softer transition.


It wouldn’t be a convention without swag, loot, and stuffs!

I had some fun money to spend, but most of it went to practical things, like two new KR multicases (a full card case and a half card case), some pigments and paints. I did, however, snag a few door prizes and a convention swag bag. NOVA does a really cool thing where your name goes into a raffle every time you loose a game. Since I’m super good at that, every so often, my name comes up.

My two door prizes were a plastic tank from some unknown manufacturer, and a box of pirate goblins / gremlins from Kromlech, a bits company out of Germany. These little guys are loaded with fun details, and will make one hell of a diorama some day. I plan on using the tank as practice for weathering techniques, another topic I have an irrational fear of.


The swag bags had loads of stuff in them (as they always do). First, there’s some promotional material from Army Painter, along with one of their Insane Detail brushes. This is my first Army Painter brush, and I’m interested in trying it out. It looks like it’s about the size of a 0/2.


There were some cool gaming bits, including a base from Secret Weapon (with attached coupon), some cool grass tufts, and some Kromlech bits.


Everyone also got a shot glass, tape measure and coasters with the NOVA Open logo on them. Additionally, there were some magnets, and a little bit of encouragement to keep up on your hygiene throughout the show.


There was a decal vendor there, and from what I heard, you could work with them to have custom decals made, as well. I happened to get some caution stripes in my bag. There’s also the usual set of ads with $5 off, or % discounts from most of the folks vending the show. I took advantage of these as best I could. Supporting them is important, because they provide the prize support for the events.


Lastly, there’s always a huge pack of snacks and a bottle of water!



The NOVA’s a fantastic con, that’s grown every year since it’s conception 7 years ago. I just wish it wasn’t on a holiday weekend, I can’t help but wonder how much bigger it would be if it were one weekend in either direction.

The guys from Massive VooDoo said they would be back again next year, so I look forward to taking more of their classes, and submitting a mini to the Capital Palette that’s not on a gaming base.

Well, I think I’ve developed Carpal Tunnel writing this huge post, so I’m going to sign off for now.

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