Monday, 6 June 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 Birmingham NEC- 10th Anniversary!

Well, a year has come and gone since my last blog post report on the UK Games Expo - Britains largest and of course, best, board gaming convention. Its great to see the show constantly expanding and improving, this is my 4th event and every year the organisers have always responded to guest feedback.  Attendance totaled 12500 unique visitors this year, a 40% increase!! Just as well it was in the NEC!! A big thank you to the organisers and volunteers for making the weekend so great!!

2016 sees some welcome changes - the addition of the NEC Hall 1 to the rooms at the Hilton Metropole. We all had space to breathe this year, the Hilton was definately getting cramped! All the usual things were going on - demo games of new products, games still in Kickstarter stage, games to playtest, open gaming areas with the Thirsty Meeples Board Game Library, the bring and buy, RPG gaming, tournaments, face painting, a family zone for the children, seminars, the trade hall (of course!), cosplay, competitions and celebrity guests.

So, I'll do my usual little overview of good and bad stuff before I go on with the photos and my own weekend. So if you have never been to this event before, by the time you've read this, you should be rearing to go for 2017.

 I managed to take some videos this time around, including one with the 6th Doctor Who,  Colin Baker, talking with John Robertson and an arm wrestling match at the Dr Who quiz. Also artist Ralph Horsley gets interviewed and artist James Hayball talks a little about making it in the industry.

The Good

This year we had a few new things going on.......

Firstly a ticket price reduction. £25 for the whole expo was a bargain! I always attend on the Friday and the ticketing and organisation for the opening of the day was flawless.

Elliot from Quirkative Games was running "Orctions" throughout the weekend  along with a reverse auction style product table with a large selection of games for sale which got cheaper as time passed, all the way down to £1 per item by the end of the show on Sunday! I hope to see these guys back doing the same next year, two great ideas for expo events I think!!

The Orction was even more popular this year and it was seriously crowded. Dont let this photo fool you! Next year Elliot will have real life Orcish Gladiator slaves for sale. There will be whips, there will be chains, so be there next year.

£12 per item on the table? I smell a bargain! I also smell orc....

Food stands were plentiful with various world cuisine and a bus bar at the front of the Hilton (see last years report for more on that) in addition to the Hotels and the NEC's own facilities. A few new stands turned up inside the convention hall too. There was a hot dog and burger van, ICE CREAM (in caps for a reason!) Cornish pasties and a bar. So the catering far surpassed last year and everyone's stomachs were well looked after. For next year, I'm thinking a candy station with marshmallow and chocolate fondue fountain. Oh, and a gingerbread witches cottage,...hmmmmm gingerbread witches cottage.......

A main stage area is a necessity, this year we got one! Activities were held here over all three days. We saw some Viking weapon demonstrations, Cosplay parades - great for photo opportunities, Dr Who radio plays and award ceremonies. The stage was a good idea,  there just needs to be more seating for next year.

 If you have attended previous events you may well have seen some fantastic displays of Viking weapons and armour in the Hilton Lobby. This year they got bolder and raided the NEC Hall 1 stage. These guys would have been arrested by NEC security if they started plundering the Trade Hall or setting fire to stuff, so they set about killing each other instead with a fierce combat demonstration. Bits were literally flying off. My money was always on the big one with the fearsome beard.

Victoria Johnson, Cosplay Coordinator for the event

Dr Who radio play in progress

Having the players on stage makes taking some great pictures really easy
Awards ceremony with prizes being handed out by John Robertson, Tom Vasel and Colin Baker

Ah, this is Sarah whose name was ommitted from the programme!!


Yeah, I could take him. But you know, I had to do the photos.

So yeah, some good new things at the event I enjoyed very much this year. I'm sure there's  more to come in the future to!

The Bad

Time to get mean, mad, bad and sad! I moaned about it last year and I'm going to moan about it this year too. SPACE at the Bring & Buy. Despite the organisation and speed of checking in and buying games improving every year, space is still a problem. We are in the NEC Hall 1 and still, there are queues stretching to Scotland to get in. There was a large amount of unused space of Hall 1 boarded off that should have been utilized here to make the aisles wider, everyone was squeezing past each other and it felt like you were on the Tube in a London rush hour. I really hope this problem can be tackled next year - I'm not prepared to queue personally, but I don't think there should be a need for anyone to have to. In the end, I didnt really bother to look around it properly this year due to that.

That's all. So not bad at all really!!

The Ugly

Ohhhhhh....ugly. Those car parking prices. U_G_L_Y. It was free in the NEC car park before. Now they've cottoned on and it's time for them to hold you upside down and shake every last drop of change the traders gave you to pay for your parking. £18 got you parking for the weekend.

Now give it a quick swing and send the orc screaming back to the bowels of Mordor! Or you could just imagine it's one of the parking guys taking your money.....

Cosplay at UK Games Expo 2016

As an artist, I can really appreciate the skill the cosplayers have for costume making and prop building for their favourite characters. Its a real labour of love and every year I come there are always people in great costumes. Over the last few years attending UK games expo there has always been a cosplay attendance. This year with Vijay from Thanet Cosplay this attendance has exploded with a cosplay zone, make and repair area, displays and the opportunity to green screen photos.

The costume groups represented at UK Games Expo this year were Galactic Knights, Who's Company, Independent Charity Cosplayers, The Vikings and Thanet & Eastbourne Cosplay. Three years ago I featured a picture of Vijay in a UK Games Expo report blog post. That photo set in place a whole chain of events that led to her being cosplay coordinator for a number of events in the UK. Among these are Play Margate, Wyntercon and of course UK Games Expo. Very pleased for Vijay's success!

On the main stage we have seen performances from clockwork dandy noodles who is representing the UK at the EGX European Cosplay Championships. Sophi from No Limit Cosplay who gave a wonderful rendition of Remilia, Floki from Punks Dead Cosplay and Drewett Cosplay, a radio play from Who's Company and the Charity Daleks.

There were two panel seminars one featuring the newest cosplay materials worbla Eva and thermal plastics in armour making and the other a general introduction to cosplay. I missed the armour making one unfortunately. Hopefully they will do another next year and I can book myself in! All of the cosplay team at UK Games Expo were keen to get across the message that everyone is welcome to join in and get dressed up on a big or small scale and it doesn't need to cost a fortune. So next year head along and get dressed up!!

Don't fancy walking around in these all day! 


This Uruk wanted to eat my camera, but I said "No way it's far too precioussss to me."

No Smoking! 

Lara Croft showing off her guns

This lady blew bubbles all over me. I didn't mind.

"Listen!" I said, "I can stand here all day, 5 feet in front of you, and you still miss."

Cosplayers were able to come up individually onto the stage for a moment so everyone could get photos


Nice helmet.

Jarrod's probably up to no good....

Is there a Dr. in the house?

Here Be Dragons...

This poor guy is still waiting to be taken back home by Bill & Ted. Excellent.

Not a happy bunny

"Put Zee Camera down or I will empty 15 roundz into your belly and cut off your head!"
The Cosplay Corner had some interesting displays and lots of props. These steampunk objects are from Mostly Curious Games and created by Mark Goodman, a steampunk artist. Head on over to his site and there are more steampunk inspired objects to be found. 

My personal favourite, this is awesome.


The Trade Hall

Not much to be said other than buy, buy, buy and haggle. Don't forget to haggle. All the usual traders were here along with stands I hadn't seen before. Its not just games of course. Plenty of accessories, minis, gamer wear etc. You can spend a long time looking around here. Here's a few photos....

Crowds around Quirkative for their Orctions


Ahh nice quills. Bought 15 raven feathers from china for £3.95 all in, I'm gonna make my own haha. I was holding a bathroom door today in fact whilst DIYing. Where's Hodor when you need him?

This chap was gonna give me a deal because I've spent so much on rennovating our house. But you don't have to be doing DIY to get a discount, whatever your financial situation this guy will make a deal with YOU!

Geek Game tables. You cant get cooler than that. They had the simple to the luxurious gamer furniture.

Creator of the awesome Lone Wolf, Joe Dever

Great Sculpts

Ahh finally, a Labrinth game

Artists hard at work...the orcs will be along shortly to whip you harder.

Cornish games company Grublin demonstrating their expanding catalogue of games. Coming from Cornwall myself, its great to see these guys doing well.

Grublin Games have their Kickstarter campaign for their new game, Perfect Heist HERE.

This stand sold some nice leather journal covers amongst other things, Too bad, I bought a similiar product last month!

Some real nice arty T-Shirts and prints and other apparel.

Imperial Assault..hmmmm

Kids Corner

There's plenty to keep the young at heart and the actually young occupied at the UK Games Expo...


Yes, they have them. Wotan Games had a great big double decker bus and were running a bug hunt game collecting stamps for playing games with traders etc.

Kyle wins first place and free tickets for the whole event in 2017! Every year we come Kyle wins something,....


I love miniatures. Who doesn't, if you're a gamer. Here's some photos from the boothes of some of the sculptors and companies who I was most impressed with at this years event.

Alex from Warploque Miniatures was working on some figures for his ArcWorlde games next release "Troubles In the North". The current release "Battle For Troll Bridge" was represented by a fantastic model of a game set up.

The most impressive sculpts I saw were by Savage Forged Minis who had a fantastic little display range which I photographed for your viewing pleasure. The work is by sculptor Dennis Zarnowski.


Always plenty laid on in the form of seminars, guests and celebrity guests. I attended only a few this year...

So we've had lots of photos. Time for a couple of videos. I must apologise in advance for the sound hiss from the crowd outside the seminar area. Its only a little camera! First up is the resolution of a tied Dr Who quiz via an arm wrestling contest. Then we have the interview of Colin Baker by comedian John Robertson. I got most of it but my camera kind of run out of memory. So excuse the schoolboy error, I wasn't planning to do video this year.

This isn't a quiz, it's war!!!

Magic artist Ralph Horsley lead the art panel on the value that art brings to a game.

Colin Baker playing the Dark |Room inbetween questions.

Talking about cosplay. Apart from the Uruk who was sniffing at the manflesh of nearby children
The Dark Room

The Dark Room is a ticketed event featuring John Robertsons famous viral internet game, which luckily for you is embedded below (I hope). Try it out and have some fun, it probably won't work on your mobile though I'm afraid. I didn't attend the show this year, but I will next year for sure!

Ralph Horsley Interview

I've always been a big fan of Ralph's work, I love the colour, the angles and the drama in many of his pieces. There is often a story going on! I possess 5 originals of Ralphs art myself including the board art of Talisman Revised 4th Edition and they take pride of place in my own studio. Here are a couple of his works and my two favourites. One from the box art of the Firelands expansion for Talisman and the other, a magazine piece I believe, "The Broken Gauntlet" .

Artist Ralph Horsley

A selection of Ralphs work. Both originals and prints were available on Ralphs stand.

The original painting for the Expo programme and ticket was up for sale!

From Ralphs "Wildborn" series....

Hi Ralph, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I hope they serve to help people looking to get into the industry or just love doing art.

1) Reading the interview with you inside this years event programme, you said you are a self taught artist. How hard did you find doing this and what methods did you find most useful to constantly improve and develop?
Yes, I am self taught. I studied art until the age of 18, but didn't then seek to pursue a career in art until I was 21. My studying was then somewhat haphazard. I was ignorant as to how poor my skill set really was. This was a mixed blessing. On one hand it meant that I did actually embark on the journey, and wasn't put off at the start, but also meant that my approach was somewhat unstructured. Key was that I spent as much time as possible actually producing artwork, a lot of which was for amateur, or semi-pro publication, which helped teach me to work from a brief, and to work on subjects I may have otherwise been wary to tackle. When producing our own work it can be very easy to stay within one's comfort zone, but that means you don't learn either - draw hands, horses and multiple figures!  I did read what I could get my hands on about technique ( this was pre-internet days). This was especially useful in areas like perspective and anatomy. I also made sure I enrolled on figure drawing courses. In general I tried to emulate the art and artists I particularly admired.

2) Do you think self teaching puts one at a disadvantage compared to other artists who are attending college and university courses full time and what advice would you give to help along those doing this at the moment?
The disadvantage is that you need to create your own structured study plan.  In retrospect this is something I could have been more focused on. However these days there is far more information available. The internet is an amazing tool, and it has made self study a great deal easier. Additionally when attending college you have set aside those 3 plus years specifically for that purpose, and are supported by a college to do just that, having the discipline and focus is harder when you are doing it solo.

3) What other artists work served as an inspiration to you when you teaching yourself and early on in your career?
I grew up playing D&D. That was a great inspiration for what I wanted to do, and naturally the artist's who created for that game, and others, were the ones I sought to emulate. Additionally there were many fantasy/SF art books I could find, which is how I discovered Patrick Woodruffe and Brian Froud.  I read Conan and came across Frazetta that way. I also listened to a lot of rock, and was particular struck by a lot of the album covers. Off the top of my head I can think of Ian McCaig's Broadsword and the beast - Jethro Tull, and Drew Struzan's- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Plus I read UK comics, especially the precursor to 2000AD which was Action. I guess I was a bit of sponge for anything even vaguely fantasy- I though Bosch was great!

4) I have seen some of your posts on Facebook that feature some armour and weapons. Do you ever use life models for your commissions and real prop reference in your paintings or photographic reference? How important is working with life models or outside for landscape
Yes, I do have props and reference resources. I do use them, and will pose for selfies, or occasionally rope in other people to be photographed. Working from life is very useful, even essential,  but I also made a decision a long time ago that I didn't want to go for a photo-realistic look, and have deliberately developed a more graphical approach.

5) What are the biggest hurdles for someone who is in the process of teaching themselves to paint and perhaps break into the industry?
Once you have achieved a professional quality on your work then you should be able to break-in. the tough part is getting there, and that requires learning to be as objective about your own work as possible, and comparing yourself with the best.

6) How hard was it for you to break into the industry and do you think the nature of the internet and social media makes it easier for the artists today to get noticed and score a break?
When I started everything was done through the postal service, that made it practically impossible to break into the US market. It also meant I was very isolated. I didn't know any other artists for a long time.

7) Typically how long do you spend preparing rough sketches and thumbnails before you send them to the art director?
I work on thumbnails for an hour or two before working up a sketch for the AD. The latter depends on complexity and size. Cover art will take a couple of days.
8) Do you find it frustrating if a rough you favoured and looked
forward to tackling isn't the one the art director picks? How flexible
are art directors in general with the freedom they give you to create
the piece?
Learning to accept an AD's decision is part of the job. I may have favourite compositional thumbnails rejected in favour of ones I'm less keen on, but you have to trust that the AD knows what they want from the brief. What they are looking for to go on their product can be subtlely different from what I think will make a cool picture. They might want to focus to be on a different character, or mood etc. Ultimately a commission is there to provide an AD with what they want, and I need to work to achieve that, not just satisfy my own artistic inclinations.

9) Are there any big differences between working in the publishing industry and the gaming industry?
Not really. Personally I don't see the distinction. It is all publishing and making the product look as good as possible.

10) And are there any big differences in the way you have to work between the big companies like Games Workshop, Wizards of the Coast and so on?
The working processes are almost identical. The differences lie in reflecting their product's look and style.

11) In Sunday's Art seminar you talked about how the companies define their brand by drawing in a particular style and try to create an original look for their characters and races and how easy it can be to instantly recognize a brand without any text or logos around it. Is it
difficult to master all these different styles and ways of drawing things or perhaps curtail habits of your own style that creep through?
This comes with experience. The better my skill set the easier it is to adapt that. But yes, working with a new client and product line can be challenging, but ultimately you want to demonstrate to a client that you understand what they are looking for and can produce that. You want to become a safe pair of hands, someone they will keep coming back to as they know you will deliver.

12) If you were forced to name 3 artists who have inspired you most,
who would they be?
Patrick Woodruffe, Todd Lockwood, Frank Frazetta.

13) You've done some fantastic work on Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft amongst others. What are your favourite cards that you have illustrated?
Favourites can come and go. falling in and out of love with my work in an ongoing saga!

14) I'm a very slow painter, slower than treacle dripping down a 100' wall. How long does it normally take to paint a large and complex piece? Is it a struggle to balance detail and quality with speed to meet deadlines?
I try to never compromise my work based on pay rate or deadline. Once I accept a job, a job has been accepted, I try and treat it the same as any other. However all the work is paid at a piece rate, so time is a consideration, usually that just means working longer hours. It can take a couple of weeks, or maybe more, for a complex piece.

15) Whats the largest painting you have ever produced?
A piece of board art 48" x 34" - though I am currently working on a piece now that is composed of nine paintings which fit together to make one image. Each painting is approx 19" x 25". Total size = 57" x 75".
16) What project past or present would you really love to have worked on?
The original AD&D book covers.

17) Have you done any work in the video game field?
Not much - the odd concept piece.

18) I know you have a Kickstarter project on the go at the moment. Could you please tell everyone all about that?
It is going to be my first self published art book. it will consist of a selection of my favourite paintings from my personal project - Wildborn. These are a series of landscape paintings that all contain a Dragon in there somewhere. I am aiming for the highest production values I can achieve. Check it out here

19) Can we expect to see anymore Kickstarters from youself in the future?
As this is proving to a success then yes, that is likely, but I am also aware that everyone and their dog is doing a Kickstarter, and therefore wouldn't want to overdo it!

20) Will you be coming back to future UK Games expo's?
Yes. It was  a great show, and I'd love to come back.

And just to finish some quickfire stuff....

What are your favourite brands of paints and papers?
Daler Rowney - Georgian brush series
Pro Arte - Prolene brushes.
Liquitex acrylics

Favourite band?
Giant Sand

Favourite boardgame?
Great Campaigns of the ACW series
Stone Age

Favourite weapon?
More into armour - high gothic Milanese.

Thanks very much again Ralph, I'm sure everyone will be looking forward to seeing you hopefully next year!

Another artist at the Expo was James Hayball who very kindly agreed to expand on his seminar talk with this article. Thanks James!!

How to Get Started as a Fantasy Illustrator

by James Hayball

Fantasy illustration is a massive part of the gaming industry, yet there are still a lot of people that are lost on how to 'get into' the industry. I was one of those kids.
What I'm about to talk about is not the 'best' or 'only way' to get employment as a fantasy illustrator, nor is it completely revolutionary. I'm merely passing on what I was taught and told to you, hopefully some of it will help.
When I decided I wanted to be a fantasy artist, I had one major hurdle. My art sucked. Badly. So over the next few years, trying everyday, I painted and watched as many Youtube process videos as I could from any fantasy artist I could get my hands on. I would really advise this to any person just starting in art. It will be a hard road and you will be creating some bad art for a while BUT I guarantee if you really want to do this for a living and you stick at it, the progress you make on every painting you do will be enough to keep you plugging through.
The goal of these hard couple of years is to of course get your work to a level where it matches existing published work. When you have your work to about this level you can then look to start contacting people. I will get to that later though. So how do you know when your art is as good as published work truely?
Simple, you need to be brutally honest with yourself, not negative and beating yourself up after every piece. Just honest as you go though the grinding of getting your level up. You will get there. Ask close family or friends there opinion on your work as you go through. People that are going to give you an honest answer. Not random Facebook or Deviant Art 'friends'. Just because someone has 100 likes on a painting does not necessarily mean it is really good. I had a brutal girlfriend who even though may of mentally broke me at times did not hold anything back, good and bad when criticising my work. It really helped.
Once you believe your work is approaching a level that you deem to be getting 'professional' then it is time to start showing your work to the right people. How do you do this? You email the relevant companies you would like to work for, you can always find art submission emails on websites, However you need to tailor your portfolio to what they like. Don't fill a portfolio full of black and white paintings of spaceships if you want to try and work on World of Warcraft for example. Look at the subject matter the franchise uses, study closely the lighting and colours they use and start producing artwork following that, of course adding your own idea of subject. Also companies appreciate if you can put an interesting twist on there established art style. Nothing too crazy! just too stand out :)
I hope some this helps in your journey to getting started as a fantasy Illustrator.

James Hayball

Thanks very much for that James! Here are some examples of James fantastic work which were available as prints on the day....

Once again, thanks very much James. You can visit his website HERE to peruse more fantastic pictures!

My Weekend

Something bad or funny nearly always happens on our gamers group road trips to the UK Games Expo. We've had one numpty leave his jacket at the hotel, walk around without it all day, get 45 minutes down the road and then expect us to drive back for it. We've had keys left in the car overnight etc. This year Kyle went to Wembley and the coach dropped him off in Plymouth where we were going to pick him up. Only trouble was, we were picking him up at 11.00am and the coach dropped him off at 5.00am. Next stop after Plymouth was Penzance and Kyle lives 20 miles past the bridge. With no money he slept in the doorway and got thrown a fiver from a passing stranger. Nice one Kyle. Anyway we did the usual retro game trips. Stopping off to pick up the discs for some games that had been posted out to my mate as just empty boxes. After a good nights sleep and doing my best impression of Adam Sandlers Little Nicky we left for the convention.

If you guys carry two bags each thats fair says I....

RichKingRetro is an infamous bring 'n' buyer. We get this every year and still we carry just as much stuff back as he sells. Will it ever end??? The weekend for me is a fairly even mix of activities. I like to do a bit of everything and have a good look around, getting photos for this blog and doing the seminars. I didn't have much money to spend this year on goodies so only came away with a small haul. I did get to finish a game of Orctions with its creator and was fortunate enough to destroy everyone in the gladiatorial arena. Last year Elliot had to do the orction and so had to cut us short. I played a lot of Side Quest, a game by Steve Venezia which I helped do some of the art on. So it was an extra special treat to get to see my art in a fully produced card game which was great. Here are the cards I did.....

See, I told you! Just as full leaving as when we set out.

You might be asleep in the back seat Kyle, but you ain't gonna get a fiver out of me!
Bit of a tedious drive home but all the traffic and tailbacks were on the other side of the road muwahahah. We did pass some idiot who was full on asleep at the wheel with his head resting on the palm of his hand. Just as I turned to watch him his eyes flicked open and his head popped up like a rabbit caught in headlights. Man, get us out of there! When he got home Rich realised he had made the unfortunate error of forgetting one of his bags. It only had some old unwanted bring n buy stuff in, oh and his GoPro camera.....doh. Fortunately this was handed in.

I had a great time and enjoyed the whole event. It was great to listen to Colin Baker and John Robertson was a ball of energy and very entertaining. Obviously I will be back next year to do it all again. Many thanks to those who posed for photos for me!!