Artists from around the world flocked to the AdeptiCon wargaming convention last month for the 2023 Golden Demon, the biggest Warhammer painting competition in the world. It was the second such competition to be held in the United States in more than a decade, and featured work from some of the best miniature painters around.
At the end of the weekend the top prize — the legendary Slayer Sword — was given to Neil Hollis for his work on Dark Angels Space Marine Master Lazarus. Publisher Games Workshop, in its official announcement, noted that Hollis’ work made use of some of the most difficult and time-consuming painting techniques, including non-metallic metal and freehand work. After hundreds of hours spent on the roughly 1-inch-tall figure, the results are absolutely stunning.
Dozens of other models filled the cases in Schaumburg, Illinois. Polygon sent photographer and Warhammer fan Jim Vondruska to capture the scene. You can click on individual photos below to view even larger versions of his work, all captured with a medium-format Fujifilm GFX 50R.
The first day of AdeptiCon, a Wednesday, is usually the slowest and most lightly attended of the event. As guests start to trickle into the venue, representatives from Games Workshop are already on hand setting up lighted glass display cases. The smell of window cleaner fills the air.
The Golden Demon has multiple categories, including small-scale models and dioramas. There’s even a category for young painters, the so-called “young guns” who will carry the hobby forward into a new generation. Artists patiently line up for their turn, before gingerly handing over their work to be judged.
Models are placed on display without the names of their artists attached. The anonymity is intended to even the playing field somewhat between hobby painters, professional artists, and popular YouTube presenters. Everyone is invited to participate in the Golden Demon, regardless of their skill level, and no fee is required to enter the competition.
Over the next few days, Games Workshop staff carefully judge and photograph each of the winning entries. All the while, AdeptiCon’s many thousands of attendees make their way around the cases. Cell phones and SLR cameras held high, there’s really only one rule — please, no touching the cases.
While the shelves are overflowing with models from the Warhammer 40,000 science fiction universe, many other Games Workshop properties are represented as well. They include the fantasy-themed Warhammer Age of Sigmar, of course, but also a fantasy version of American football called Blood Bowl and the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game based on the works of author J.R.R. Tolkien.
Various scales of miniatures are all represented at the Golden Demon. The most common is 28mm scale, where individual soldiers stand roughly 1-inch tall on their circular bases. Figures for games like Adeptus Titanicus and Aeronautica Imperialis are much smaller, with single-seat space fighters that can practically fit in the palm of your hand.
The most imposing miniatures on display are called knights. They represent ancient and esoteric robots piloted by small, highly skilled crews. Some stand as tall as 1 foot in height, and their many armored panels leave plenty of room for artists to show their freehand painting and weathering skills.
The Golden Demon is held several times each year, and often serves as a showcase for the previous year’s most beloved new miniatures. There were several mega-gargants on display this year, likely inspired by Chris Clayton’s award-winning piece presented in England late last year.
Other popular subjects included the Leagues of Votann, better known as space dwarves or “squats,” which were reintroduced to the 40K pantheon just one year ago.
Ironically, the Golden Demon awards themselves are not actually made out of gold. The resin sculptures are spray-painted and lightly weathered ahead of time using Games Workshop’s own line of Citadel paint. We found judges touching them up by hand Thursday afternoon after a long trip from overseas.
While we weren’t able to capture images of all the winners, you can find the complete listing on the Games Workshop community website.
The next Golden Demon will be held at Warhammer Fest in the United Kingdom on April 29.