Three thoughts on judging

As mentioned in previous articles, I had made it to a few model shows over the past several months. At these shows, people bring their models and place them on display on the table next to other models in the same category to be ogled at by mere mortals and judged by volunteers for awards. Categories vary across all different types of models, from fantasy figures to historical aircraft and everything in between, and can be either fairly general such as “Historical Figures” or as specific as “1/72 Single-prop Inline-engined WWII Axis aircraft.” Judges then decide on first, second and third place in each category. There are some variants to the rules such as whether one person is allowed to sweep the category, scoring first, second and third. And of course, there are pages upon pages of rules.

Generally, judges are instructed to be fair and focus on objective criteria like fit and finish, alignment, etc., rather than whether the model has the proper number of rivets on the glacis plate for the late war model. Also, scope of work is a secondary factor to technical competence, so someone who went above and beyond in converting, scratchbuilding, and doing a complicated paint job will only really help them if they did a really good job of it. Finally, judges are also generally told to ignore bases and the like, except for dioramas, which is fair – people who build armour want to build armour and be judged on the quality of their builds, not on their base.

Anyways, I’ve got three thoughts on judging in the context of the IPMS 1-2-3 system.

  1. Judging will always be a little arbitrary

judy.jpgSo, I’ve taken mostly the same models to a couple shows (my theory being they’re good for a season or until they no longer represent my current skill level) and have noticed something interesting. In one show, Nancy Steelpunch was my highest placing model, while in another, she was beaten out by Laril Silverhand.

I’m not complaining here, but I think this is an example of the limits to how finely we can objectively judge a model. There is always going to be a little bit of subjectivity in the judging process. Different judges will spot different things that they like and dislike about a model. Some may be more lenient on certain flaws and harsher on others. Finally, some (probably most) people may just have an unconscious bias towards certain subjects or colour choices, and a first impression can go a long way. On the two teams I ended up judging with, there wasn’t always agreement right away. That doesn’t take away from the accomplishment of anyone who is skilled and lucky enough to come away with an award, but it means that people shouldn’t get bent out of shape if they don’t do as well as they expected.

  1. How well you do depends on who else shows up

At HeritageCon, the busts section was extremely competitive. There were something like 20 busts on the table, and all but a couple were really good and likely in contention for at least the top three. In part because of the intense competition, and in part because I have no idea how to paint feathers, I didn’t place. Contrast that to Torcan, where there were only a couple busts on the table and my (slightly fixed up) Mary Read edged them out to take home first place.

Now, there are pros and cons to competitive judging systems like the IPMS 1st, 2nd, 3rd, versus the open judging where you are judged against a set criteria and receive whatever award corresponds to the level of skill on display. However, one of the properties of the 1-2-3 judging system is that it isn’t an objective standard that you can measure yourself by because you end up in direct competition with your fellow modellers and painters. As such, the exact same models may get you either showered with medals or going home empty-handed based on who shows up. And that’s without even getting into the possibility of different models being placed in different categories.

Again, this isn’t to say that people who won a sparsely-entered category didn’t deserve it. However, this is the sort of hobby where while there is some competition and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling to be recognized, at the end of the day, we do it for ourselves. If you’re happy with what you made, there is no shame in coming home empty-handed because someone like Sergo Calvo Rubio or Kirill Kanaev decided to show up.

  1. Volunteer to be a judge

Often at these shows, they are looking for people to judge. I know there is the stereotype of a model show judge as a nit-picking rivet counter, so it can be a little awkward at times – especially when you have to judge models that are better than anything you can do. While judges sometimes do have to go down to tiny details and flaws in order to separate the first, second and third from each other and from the rest, it’s not quite that bad and judging can actually be quite enjoyable.

First, spending an hour or two staring at models in detail together is a great way to meet new people. Doing some judging can help break up a long day, as there is only so much to do at these shows once you’ve looked at all the models seven times and lightened your wallet at the vendor tables. Also, since we learn a lot in this hobby by making mistakes, being a judge gives you the opportunity to learn from mistakes without making them yourself. Finally, you might get a free lunch or something out of the deal, so bonus.

Just make sure you know how many rivets are on the glacis plate of a late-war model.

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