27 April 2006

SALUTE - A Controversial Viewpoint!

A Debt of Gratitude
The first ever post on my blog, at the end of January (see January Archive), was all about my chance visit to Salute Zero Five at Olympia in west London last year. The exhibition was responsible for reigniting a long-lost passion to paint Napoleonic miniatures. A year later, I believe my painting technique has come along way, aided by the web sites and amazing work of some of the leading painters of Nap miniatures today (again see my Painters links). Yes, I owe both Salute and these painters a debt of gratitude.

And so I found myself back at Salute and their new venue at ExCel, the international exhibition and conference centre in East London, full of expectation and not only as a visitor but as a participant in their painting competition. I must thank top painter and fellow West Countryman Martin Kelly for his suggestion to show a day-by-day progress of my painting of Perry’s Uhlans and it was a pity we didn’t meet. Clearly, I had bitten off more than I could chew. Nevertheless, it was an interesting and very worthwhile exercise.

Like Martin, my journey from the West Country to the venue was surprisingly easy despite an early rise. On arrival and with an excitement normally associated with a child at Christmas, I entered this vast complex. The first dramatic difference from Olympia, apart from its size, was the abundance of eateries and fast food outlets in the main concourse as well as plenty of places sit and talk with other Salute devotees.

Stark but Spacious
Salute was housed in N7, one of 17 halls each the size of a giant aircraft hangar, covered by a sea of tiny stands and wargaming areas. My first impression was of a giant film set and a cast of thousands in a vast impersonal space that lacked the cramped character of Olympia and, found myself constantly referring to the floor plan in my free programme to ascertain exactly where I was, further exacerbated by poorly placed stand numbers.

Above: The display cabinets housing entries to the Painting Competition

Despite the hall’s stark and impersonal appearance – four towering plain walls that made one feel like an ant – I must doff my hat in recognition of the enormous effort put in by Steve Dunn, the show co-ordinator, his assistant Paul Davies, John Treadaway, Club President of the South London Warlords and his delightful wife, all of whom I had the pleasure of meeting, along with their army of volunteers – a superb effort! The move IS a vast improvement on Olympia allowing for further expansion in years to come. Yet, the organising committee should not sit on their laurels as there is still much that can be improved. Like any move, it brings with it a host of logistical problems most of which were overcome on the day. Aside from obscure stand numbers and my concerns regarding the Painting Competition, which I’ll come to shortly, there was little else to criticise from an organisational perspective. On the subject of clearer numbering, I can only hope that next year each exhibitor will feature their stand number (and even their company name) above their stand and not at eye level so that we visitors can work out where the hell we are.

Stuck in a TIME Warp
To any first time visitor, Salute is NOT the Motor Show, with state-of-the-art stands, video monitors and semi-naked women reclining on the stands of the 163 manufacturers and companies present – though I live in hope. One couldn’t be farther from the truth. Salute is where the modelling and wargaming industry come together for one great day out each year so that hobbyists like me can buy everything they need for the next twelve months. To view it as a big shopping day may appear a little unfair and take away the enormous effort put in by a staggering 87 wargaming clubs displaying games covering every genre and period possible. Yes, it is an enormous logistical achievement but the industry is most definitely stuck in a time warp as are many of their web sites and it’s time it was said.

I realise this is not an industry flush with money though I estimated that of the +6,000 visitors to the show, at least a £1million pounds changed hands that day. But like last year, visitors were confronted with poorly presented stands where little or no thought had been put in. Apart from Perry Miniature’s beautiful revolving display cabinet, most of the big manufacturer’s of miniatures once again fell way short in the display stakes but then you only need to look at the web sites to realise that one could expect nothing else. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I for one want to see beautifully painted miniatures whether Ancients, ECW, ACW, 7YW, Napoleonic, Western, WWI, WWII & Modern so why is the fare so paltry?

Manufacturers - A Desire for Presentational Improvement!
The answer lies within the tawdry web sites of many of the companies exhibiting. Too often customers are confronted with web pages featuring long lists of miniatures totally bereft of images, the very source to ignite our passion. And on the rare occasion that a gallery or image is available, we customer are given a tiny and often poorly painted image from which to make a purchasing decision! I for one am at a loss as to why they do this? There are so many amazing painters out there who’d love to paint these very manufacturers and I for one have no answers as to why they don’t snap them up!

It is no wonder that Foundry, Front Rank and Perry stand above all others. Their web sites are dynamic and easy-to-browse providing customers with vivid images of the minis both painted and unpainted with easy-to-use ordering systems. The excuse that web sites cost thousands of pounds does not wash anymore. Once again, there are many kids out there who’d die for the opportunity to build a stunning web site for any one of these companies so that they can add it to their own CV.

The Winning Formula is NOT Rocket Science
So if you want me to spell it out…we budding painters want to see ALL your miniatures or accessories (YES – all of them, not 3 or 5 30…all of them) up close and in detail unpainted and PAINTED both on your web site and at shows like Salute.

Q. Who gets the bigger response?
Let’s give you an example – online dating sites - not that I have any expertise in this area!

Example: Advert one features a photograph of me and advert two features no photograph – which advert stands more chance of soliciting a response? It’s NOT rocket science and I for one am fed up viewing web pages without images…guys, you don’t stand a chance of winning me as a customer or my hard earned cash if you continue in this manner. There are 6,000 people who came to Salute and put up with this small time mentality. Do them a favour and put your house in order.

It is no coincidence that my blog has received over 70,000 hits in less than three months and had more than 18,000 unique visitors from around the World…and it didn’t take money or rocket science to put it together! Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed!

Harrod’s Sale Feeding Frenzy
Salute is a wargamers & painters’ utopia, a veritable shopping heaven with a hall filled with manufacturers and traders more commonly associated to web sites and small ads in the back of modelling magazines. For the unbelievers amongst you, there are real people behind the anonymous web pages and mailing lists of Perry, Foundry, Fighting 15s, Front Rank and Timecast to name but a few. My attempt to put names to faces was sadly dashed due to a Harrods Sale feeding frenzy that went on for most of the morning! Experienced Salutees, clearly arrive having meticulously planned which stands they’ll visit and in what order. Armed with well-planned route maps and meticulous wish lists of minis, terrain, flags, paints, brushes, books and accessories to buy, it was nigh on impossible to get a word in with many of those who have appreciated my little blog. I’m sure the guys working at Perry’s stand were fed up with me asking every 15 minutes if Alan or Michael were there! C’est la vie! Hopefully we’ll have a chance to meet next year.

A Painting Competition that still has someway to go!
[Before I discuss the painting competition in some detail, can I direct readers to my
Gallery to see how I got on as well as the latest photos of my Uhlans.]

Salute is all about wargaming across a range of periods and genres, whilst featuring stands of most of the leading manufacturers of beautifully sculpted miniatures in the World today as well as many of the UK’s top wargaming clubs, making many of us feel like kids in a sweet shop spoilt for choice. I go to Salute to marvel at the array of miniatures on display despite poorly displayed and being thin on the ground, as well as stock up on my next year’s worth of painting – which I strangely didn’t do. Yet why is so little emphasis put on the Painting Competition? Or should I say, why do so few of the top painters, especially in the UK, not enter?

In my view, the competition should be the main centrepiece of the entire show, a place where amateur and professional painters can display their figures of the previous twelve months to this massive 6,000 audience who come to show to admire and buy miniatures – but sadly it is not. Salute is one of the premier wargaming shows in the UK, and from a position of strength, it should be placing far more emphasis on attracting the very painters of the miniatures we come to buy. I get the feeling that Salute is treated more as a shopping day for hobbyists than anything else – a vast car boot sale - and though I commend Steve Dunn’s valiant efforts, I feel the show has so much more potential.

Despite the enormous improvement on last year’s competition, when it was held in a far flung corner bereft of display cases and where lighting was completely non-existent, Salute has some way to go before it does attract the very painters we all so want to see. I concede at this year’s event a major effort was made to improve the contest – not too hard if compared with last year. Firstly, the registration process was better organised and this year, a wall of free standing glass display cabinets housed the entries – a great addition none too soon. Still the buts appear…as readers may have seen in my Gallery, those entries that arrived late, were destined for the second or, worse still, the third shelves of each cabinet and thus further from the small strip light on the top shelf that beautifully lit the entries fortunate enough to be placed there. It was quite demoralising to see all my hard effort fade in the dim lighting of the bottom shelf and possibly of one many reasons why established painters don’t enter. This is not sour grapes of those small-minded enough to believe the contrary then you have not taken the time to understand my affection for an attention to detail.

Before continue my rant, let me talk about the actual competition. In my category, I was up against some great entries and one that stood out and was the deserved winner was Sascha Herman’s beautiful diaorama. I’ve posted a rather poor photo in my gallery of his superb winning entry but if you go to his web site you’ll see his stunning vignette of Dutch Militia at Quatre-Bras in all its' glory! That my blog was his inspiration makes my efforts all the more worthwhile – nothing beats inspiring others who then compete against you and walk off with the prize (laughing). I was fortunate enough to meet him and his delightful wife after he received his award and to congratulate him personally – well done Sascha and see you next year.

Above: Sascha Herman's beautifully constructed Vingette and winning entry.
I was also fortunate to bump into the brilliant painter Spencer Keen who like most of the UK’s top exponents declared his understandable reservations for entering his own work.

Showcase or Painting Competition?
Personally, I was not interested in whether I won or not (as stated in previous posts), though it would have been great if I had. It was about allowing readers of my blog attending the show to appreciate and above all view my work at first hand. As any painter knows, there is no comparison to seeing painted miniatures in the cold light of day – yep, no photograph however well taken can do it justice.

Perhaps a painting competition is the wrong type of event. What if Salute called it a “Showcase” rather than a “Painting Competition” and awarded commendations as one finds at Chelsea Flower Show for example, i.e. Best in Show, Gold, Silver & Bronze Award, Commendation etc. They did this back in the days of the Military Modelling Exhibition” at the Wembley Conference Centre in the late 1970’s where entries we housed in beautifully lit cabinets allowing visitors to take in the breath-taking work on show. As I’ve said, I come to Salute to view the miniatures of the likes of david Imrie, Kevin Dallimore, Spencer Keen, Martin Kelly, Frederic Machu, Paul Barker, Steve Dean, Clarence Harrison, Sacha Herman, Phil Olley, Brian Phillips, Joe Videki, Tom Weiss, David Woodward and their just a few who happen to paint Napoleonics… I’d love to see the top painters of all the other periods as well. If we need to be told, just go to CoolMiniOrNot.com and view the vast array of talent on show in the UK and globally. So why are so few entering?

OK, if you’re an overseas painter then we have a problem of logistics but that still doesn’t disbar one from sending in your miniature – especially if you know it will be well cared for – a key concern to any painter. Mishandling of any kind is a clear deterrent to enter.

Poorly Lit Display Cases
As I’ve mentioned on my Gallery, the two unlit shelves below the beautifully lit top shelf did not bode well for those entries like mine that fate sent to these the murky depths. Yep, my “black” Uhlans were sadly not seen under any trace of light! Such a pity after the effort put in and despite their safe home, the display cabinet did little to allow the visitor to see my efforts and those of others demoted to the third shelf of each display cabinet. Yes, attention to detail is everything and I hope that this problem will be addressed by the organisers next year.

Above: My knee-level dimly lit Uhlans looking a little sorry for themselves.

A Question of Categories?
The awards ceremony at 3pm was an eagerly awaited and crowded affair, adding substance to my belief that the competition is a key component of the show. The painting competition featured three historical categories, as follows:

1. Historical Wargames Unit: Infantry or Cavalry – 25mm to 54mm (5 - 40 figures)
2. Historical Wargames Unit: Infantry or Cavalry – 6mm to (and including) 20mm (5 - 40 figures)
3. Historical Wargames Unit: Other – up to and including 54mm: up to 5 figures or models

Stupidly, and like most entrants in my category, I assumed that “historical wargames unit” required entrants to base a historical unit according to their preferred rules set but clearly I was wrong. Not taking anything away from Sascha’s beautifully painted winning vignette, his Dutch Militia unit bore no resemblance to a wargame unit and would have looked most out of place on any wargaming table. On reflection, category 3 (see above) would have been more pertinent for his diorama – or maybe, I've just misunderstood the rules! Let's hope that Salute can clarify them so that wargamer's entries are placed in wargaming categories and dioramas in another. If the competition is to be run properly then this type of detail is exactly what's required.

Perry, Bicorne & Fighting 15s
Despite my negativity thus far, the show had many pluses. I managed to see Perry Miniatures long awaited French Napoleonic line infantry in all their unpainted glory and, despite not buying any, look forward to painting them some time in the future. The revolving display unit featuring the work of Stephen Roberts, Mark Wilkin, John Morris and Jim Bowen were a wonder to behold and a brilliant example of how superbly painted miniatures should be displayed.

The Bicorne Miniatures stand was equally inviting. The painted ECW personalities on display (possibly by Simon and Michael Curtis) were a true revelation as my photos below show. I’d certainly recommend their 25mm Napoleonic range to anyone and hope that they heed my advice and feature unpainted and painted examples of all their ranges on their web site.

Above/below: Bicorne's beautiful 25mm ECW personalities

I managed to have a quick word with Ian Marsh of Fighting 15s – my favourite supplier! Despite running a very busy stand, may I thank you for taking the time to say hi. I will be back on your doorstep with my very next order as I begin in earnest to build two Quatre-Bras armies. Like many devotees of AB miniatures, may I add to the clamour for an 1815 range of French figures and that Nick at Eureka continues to generate and furnish you with a good supply of 1815 Napoleonic miniatures.

Like the previous year, I found Foundry’s display somewhat lacking. Despite a good supply of unpainted miniatures to buy, there were no painted Napoleonic minis on show at all! OK, so the infamous Kevin Dallimore and a vast array of his painted minis were just around the corner is a fair excuse. Foundry’s artist in residence was on hand all day, providing answers to any question posed along with his own unique painting tips. Whether you’re a fan of his easily identifiable style of painting or not, one can’t help but marvel at the speed at which he paints and the end result and once again, it was a pleasure to meet with him. His recently published book, Foundry Miniatures Painting and Modelling Guide (featured at the top of my links) is a welcome addition to anyone wanting to learn how to paint any type of miniature and one of the few purchases I made during the day.

Above: A small selection from Kevin Dallimore's impressive display of painted Foundry miniatures.

Above: Painting horses as featured in Kevin Dallimore's new book.

Above: Loughton Strike Force and their excellent 15mm re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo

Congratulations David Brown – Mon General de Brigade!
Of the many I managed to talk on the day, one stands out above all others – David Brown (pictured right), author of my Napoleonic rules set of choice – General de Brigade (Caliver Books) and part of a team of wargamers present at Salute – the Loughton Strike Force who deservedly won The Most Impressive Troops category in the Games Competition. My photos do little justice to their excellent 15mm re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo and will add my plaudits to a most impressive display.

See you next Year!
Having safely retrieved and packed away my Uhlans, I left the show motivated once more. Despite all my reservations, Salute is truly an inspirational show and one that I’ll continue to recommend and support. With limited means and the support of an army of volunteers, Salute has much to be commended. My abiding hope is that my criticisms are viewed constructively by both the organisers and the exhibitors alike and even better, taken onboard so that the show and the industry continues to flourish and grow to the benefit of one and all.

COMMENTS – So what do you think?
Do you agree or disagree. I'd welcome your feedback . Click the comment button below and post your views on any of the points raised in my article.



Matakishi said...

Good report.
There is a lot wrong with the Salute painting competition and always has been in my experience. This year was the best effort yet but still far from perfect.
It always sounds like sour grapes to complain about it but it needs improving.
I don't bother entering anymore for various reasons (detailed in my blog) and I've won a 1st prize in the past so I'm not just bitter :)

Paul J said...

I was there as a helper for a trade stand and, like you, have been singing the marketing song for a long time. There is a backwards looking trend in the hobby whcih seems to say 'well if you want the figures you will have to know what you want, buy them without seeing them first and put up with what i want to design next'
I know that most wargames businesses are cottage style and there is little extra time for thre frills and maybe that is holding things back.
In marketing terms, an event that attracts 6000+ people should be the flagship of the hobby and it should be a showcase for the best the hobby can offer. The standard of games has improved over the years but there are still some games that should have been left at home. The same goes for the painting competition. This should be the best. I would hope that the show will continue to grow into it's potential but it will be interesting to see how the traders react!

Legatus Hedlius said...

Everyone has different priorities: painting is mine and I do like to see nicely painted figures. Most of the people at my club are gamers first, however: some even pay to get their figures painted-something which for me would be pointless. So I think that your own painter's view makes you feel that this aspect is more important than in fact it is to most.

I agree with your comments about websites and I do like to see painted figures on displays. I bought my first ever 28mm metals from Gripping Beast as they had such nicely painted examples on display on their stand at Salute a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Hi JC,

Thanks for the kind comments. Space here is limited, so I'll post more fully on your discussion forum.


miniature wargamer said...

Hi JC,

As a person who lives on the other side of the world I found your "report" very in formative. Coming from the perspective of asthetics I tend to lean toward well painted figures and well designed terrain. There is a perception that the shows in the UK are 2nd to none and therefore untouchable. When I read what you had written I did not get the impression of sour grapes but a person with the passion to put forward his or her view. I hope to get back over there in 2008 and will aim if possible to attend this event. Well done both on your words and your Blog.

Mark Temple

Anonymous said...

The comments you made about the painting compation is a valid point.What u said about the winning entry(which were very well good)was true ITS NOT a wargaming unit so was in the wrong class. That i think the judges should have realised that, but hey there only human...Keep up the good work, i enjoy reading your 'blog'

Robin said...

I have only been to one Salute, and that was some time ago. However I agree in general with your comments about displays looking nothing like the figures/units/arrangements on bases seen on real wargame tables.

For years I was a 15mm wargamer who slowly moved from wargaming to just modelling and diorama making. This year I have given 15 mm a rest and have gone upscale to 54 mm. No problem with regulation sized bases - you are totally free to do your own thing.
It is also a totally different painting concept, but rewarding none the less. Love your site and well done with your Uhlans.

Robin said...

I have only been to one Salute, and that was some time ago. However I agree in general with your comments about displays looking nothing like the figures/units/arrangements on bases seen on real wargame tables.

For years I was a 15mm wargamer who slowly moved from wargaming to just modelling and diorama making. This year I have given 15 mm a rest and have gone upscale to 54 mm. No problem with regulation sized bases - you are totally free to do your own thing.
It is also a totally different painting concept, but rewarding none the less. Love your site and well done with your Uhlans.

Anonymous said...

I attended Salute and generally agree with your comments. Many of the same complaints have arisen over the years about HISTORICON and COLD WARS in the US. I have attended these for many years as a gamer and as a dealer, also attending SALUTE many times in the past. I also agree with your comments about manufacturers.....when I owned TRUE NORTH PRODUCTIONS (now TRUE NORTH MINIATURES), I was guilty of the same thing.....I have promised myself in my new company that I will improve things! (I have a small Napoleonic range, but only do production commissions and advertize by word of mouth now...no interest in the competitive "commercially viable" thing...)

Carry on with your wonderful site, it is a real inspiration! I thought your Uhlans were excdeptionally well painted....too bad you had not been able to finish that one stand tho.

Dave Jackson
"The Really Useful Figure Company"