Look at almost any modelling group on Facebook, and you will find the same rule: “no politics”. It is a commonly accepted trope in modelling that politics = bad.
Terms of Reference
What do we mean by politics? For once, a dictionary definition may help, especially as there are many forms of “politics”.
Legal government and lawmaking, from national government to local councils, and the parties that compete for governance.
The relationships within a group or organization: such as office politics, or group dynamics.
The Politics of the person: where identity becomes a personal politic, such as feminism, race equality or gender equality.
Geopolitics: the ways countries relate to each other.
These are common definitions, but at its most basic level, it’s the constant conversation within any group or society, about how people, as individuals, relate to each other within a group.
“Chris, Knock off the Undergrad Waffle, Stick to Modelling”
Don’t worry, I’m getting there…
First, what are we talking about when we say “modelling”? we tend to consider it within the paradigm of making miniature versions of full-sized, real-life, military equipment and personnel. But modelling is far broader than that, it also includes civilian real-world machines and people, fantasy and sci-fi machines, and people (military and non-military) and pretty much any subject you can think of, recreated or artistically referenced, in reduced (or, technically, increased) scale. Don’t worry, this is relevant, I promise.
Why don’t we allow political posts in modelling groups?
The short answer is Admins don’t like spending all day moderating grown men fighting on the internet.
The slightly longer answer is that political discussion is off topic and divides people along political lines. The concern is that a post about politics will bring negativity to a group.
You can make very arguments that discussion of politics as defined by 1 or 2 above, and with some exceptions: 3, have no relevance to modelling (I might disagree, but you can). But in reference to 4, you cannot legitimately say war is non-political.
People on Facebook are fond of quoting Carl von Clauswitz: “history is written by the victor.” He never said it (it is sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill but he didn’t coin it either, best research attributes it to French sources on the death of Robespierre c1855.)
But Clausewitz did have something to say about war and politics:
“24. WAR IS A MERE CONTINUATION OF POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.
We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses. That the tendencies and views of policy shall not be incompatible with these means, the Art of War in general and the Commander in each particular case may demand, and this claim is truly not a trifling one. But however powerfully this may react on political views in particular cases, still it must always be regarded as only a modification of them; for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”
[Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918).]
Clausewitz is of course, correct, War (and by extension, the military) is not separate from politics, it is a geopolitical instrument, either through exerting political will onto others, or in preserving the native chosen politic (self-government) from foreign political will.
Therefore, when we model the military, we model the martial embodiment of political will.
Does that mean modelling a military is an endorsement of the politics of the military depicted?
However, any military model will always be freighted with the politics of the military it represents. There is no escaping this without deleting any context from the model. Thus, to take the politics from a Tiger tank, or an A5M Zero, or a USMC marine on a pacific island, you have to remove all context: nationality, historical period and location. And if you remove these things, you remove any reference to the history of the model.
We must acknowledge that any military model expressly referencing historical events cannot be claimed to be apolitical in nature, even if not in intent.
Historical Military Modelling is one thing, but modelling current conflicts is quite another. I discussed this a while ago with Barry Biediger from the Small Subjects Podcast on my Models from Ukraine pod (https://modelsfromukraine.buzzsprout.com/2035660/13596069-episode-14-combat-giraffes-and-moral-models-with-reskit-and-barry-biediger).
Modelling current conflicts is not like the dry academic historical discussion of the past. This is happening to people right now. This is active politics by other means, being prosecuted as you read this blog. If we choose to model these conflicts, how can we possibly claim that it is apolitical, and deny others from reading the models in a political context? To do so would be absurd.
To be clear, I am not saying that your intent is political, but I am saying that its is, nonetheless, a political model because that is how people will read it, especially (in the internet age) those in countries actively involved in the conflict. The internet is not restricted to your safe, currently pacific, country. To summarise, we can’t claim military modelling is apolitical because the military is not apolitical. We can certainly say we have no political intent in modelling it. When I model a Luftwaffe aircraft it is very definitely not an endorsement of the Third Reich, but I will not try to wear the absurdly facile figleaf that there is nothing political represented in the model.
If we want to argue that modelling is art, then surely it should be subject to the other definitions of art, beyond simply ‘creative expression’. Politics is a big part of art and always has been, from Franceso Goya’s anti-war, anti Napoleon “Disasters of War Series”
(“Por Que” (1863) Franceso Goya)
To Diego Rivera’s activist Murals
(“Pan American Unity,” (1940) Diego Rivera, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Photo: SEBASTIAN HOCHMAN/The Stanford Daily))
To Norman Rockwell’s Civil Rights Era work
artists have always not only accepted politics, but actively engaged in it.
So if modelling is art, like art, why should it be apolitical? Why is there no room for politics in modelling? I’m not saying modellers are in the same category as Goya, Rivera and Rockwell, but I am saying we can express politics in our ‘art’, too.
One modeller embraces it, our good friend Robert Blokker. He has been bold in accepting that modelling can be art an art can be political with is busts ”Real Life Joker” and “The Great Polonium”.
(“Real Life Joker” (2020), Robert Blokker)
(“The Great Polonium” (2022), Robert Blokker)
And I have Robert to thank for inspiring my own new piece “The Criminal”. As I have mentioned before, my education was at art school, and honestly this feels like the closest think I have made to art since I left art school, and it is also modelling.
(“The Criminal” (2024), Chris Meddings)
Robert’s pieces, and my own, have provoked people when we posted them. Most people have been fine with it, either because they agree with them or they accept our right to express ourselves this way, or they just don’t care (never underestimate the power of indifference). But a sizeable minority are made angry by these pieces. Good. If you want this to be art, art can be provocative. Even if you think its just models, why can’t models be provocative?
So, let’s stop this ludicrous fiction that politics can be removed entirely from modelling. You can of course claim you make no deliberate political statement with your model, but you cannot complain if a military model is read in a political context, especially if you chose to model a current conflict.
And should politics be kept out of modelling? This too is facile. Politics is threaded through our every day life, because politics is the dynamics of how we relate to each other, and if you want modelling to be art, you should accept that one way people use art, is to comment on politics.
Sorry everyone, its been a long time since I have posted.
The fact is, I’ve been struggling in modelling. At the end of 2023 I finally decided to call an end to Inside the Armour Publications.
Sales have been declining for some time and, undoubtedly, Brexit was the main factor in this. I know this because the EU was my biggest market, and since the customs changes in Europe when Brexit was enforced, came into effect, overnight my EU business vanished. Completely.
However, Brexit was not the only reason. Whilst the EU business was 60% of my sales, The UK was a big chunk at around 20% (UK Modellers have never spent as much as other countries, in all my years in the hobby business) and the rest was basically US and Asia. Asia and US shipping has climbed dramatically and US distributors have told me “books don’t sell anymore”. Overall, friends in the Hobby Publishing business tell me that people just aren’t buying books anymore, and ebooks just don’t sell.
People say that the phrase “the hobby is dying” isn’t true. But the fact is: parts of it are. The publishing side is really suffering right now, and before you say “oh that’s the internet and youtube vs books”, hobby stores tell me their sales are declining too.
The average demographic of modellers, is ageing, and not enough people are coming in. Sure, we get new models all the time, and new companies, but don’t mistake the effects of lowering barrier to entry for healthy sales. (the cost of making a kit, has reduced dramatically over the last 25 years, and CAD has made design of kits so much easier as it has become more widely used in society and more people can do it and afford it)
This decline has, to a certain extent, been masked by the ability of those older modellers to spend more. But with the current economic crunch, the cracks are showing. Ask yourself, how many kits or books have you bought in the last 12 months compare the past? How many of them were second-hand? How many people do you know that proudly tell you they haven’t really bought a kit in months?
Does it Matter?
Many of us have stashes to last forever, right? And “I can get what guides I need for free of the internet”.
The fact is modelling is a consumer activity. it requires us to consume a kit and get another. It is a hobby that demands supply in order to continue, and ultimately, if people are not spending money, no one will create high quality curated content, because they won’t be able to afford to. Magazines and books will be the first things to go, and they are not, arguably, essential to modelling, but if sales continue to decline, the commercial argument for importing kits and consumables becomes weaker, and we could see more announcements like the closure of Railway Hobby giant Hattons, on the horizon…
Anyway, while my hobby business is dying, you can get 50% off books at insidethearmour.com
For a long time, I’ve been interested in the limits the modelling community place of modelling. It is often said to be about having fun, and perhaps because of how we associate it with a childhood hobby, and certainly as a hobby for all ages, there is a certain amount of peer-pressure, to “keep it light”. This manifests itself in person, but especially in social media, as a pressure to avoid anything too dark, and anything ‘political’. These two are big subjects on their own, so I have decided to split this blog post so as to avoid it being too long for most to read. Politics in modelling will follow soon.
Modelling the Darkness
Modelling the darker side of humanity is not as taboo as it once was. Around ten years ago, I can recall people being upset about the modelling of dead bodies and injury. Since then, the hobby has come to accept these, to a certain degree, but it remains fraught with challenges.
There is still a propensity to focus on engineering rather than a full picture of history. Modellers tell themselves that because they know how many quarts of oil you need to lube the transmission on an M4A2, or how many shots the barrel on a Tiger tank was good for, they are historians. To an extent that is true. They are very well informed on aspects of history, but they are very narrow in their field of knowledge and often know very little about the wider picture. That leads us to concentrate on the vehicle, or aircraft, or even a single figure and their uniform details, as the only real purpose of the model. Essentially, we model without context. We model the war machines, without modelling the war. Let’s not forget the business of war is to kill each other till one side can no longer tolerate its losses, but we don’t usually model the actual killing, only the men and machines that are employed in doing the act. But if we rarely model combat, we virtually never model the ‘crimes’ of war. But this too happens in every war in history, in some to an endemic or even to an industrial degree.
But if we think modelling can be an art form, or at least, more than just playing with toys, then why shouldn’t we tackle controversial subjects? Why shouldn’t we take on the darker side of war and humanity? Why shouldn’t we push our modelling, if we want to, so say more than “this is what this tank or plane or ship looked like”?
Let’s put a pin in why usually do not tackle these things, and have a look at a modeller who does
Rick Lawler and Burden of Sorrow in 2013, Rick Lawler unveiled his new piece, “Burden of Sorrow”. It remains probably the best diorama or model I have ever seen, that addresses the Holocaust.
We recently Interviewed Rick about his more serious work on the Sprue Cutters Union and asked him about how that diorama came about:
“Burden of Sorrow in particular, was a very specific, emotional directed type of scene. So, I had the idea … of doing something around the Holocaust for some time, knowing full well that subject in and of itself is somewhat taboo. You just don’t go into certain sorts of subjects because they’re controversial, for lack of a better word. And I wasn’t necessarily ready to do it either…I went to the Smithsonian, to the Holocaust Museum and it was the second time I’d been there… This time I did it by myself, and that gave me the time to really be a part of the museum. ..and you go into that train car and then come out and then you have that smell, they have all these shoes behind this kind of plexiglass wall there and the entire place smells of old leather and old shoes.
That was the moment when I said, I need to figure out how to do something about this subject… So that became the motivation to… to figure out how to make this happen. Coincidentally, this is where this lightening in the bottle kind of concept starts coming through… So, that rail car [LZ Models resin German Rail Car] came out and all of a sudden it just coalesced. I knew what the scene was going to be now. The rail car was gonna be the center of the scene. It needed to be captured because I just walked through that rail car. And so it needed to capture that rail car and somehow capture the surroundings, the smells, the experience of walking through that museum and everything that goes around that museum and what it represents. So now I had a focal point, I had an idea, and now I can start making it come to fruition. But I couldn’t force that.”
“Well, unlike a lot of dioramas and the stuff that we see even at the best shows… this is something that has to be handled with real sensitivity in order to be respectful and to convey what you’re trying to convey without being garish or flippant. And it’s a lot different… from a Tiger tank with a bunch of guys standing on it, pointing.”
“Yeah, and I was fully aware of all of that. Even back in the day, people would do, even start touching on sort of these subjects and it would roundly get criticism. “That’s gross, we don’t portray that in Scale modelling” I think the barriers have come down somewhat, but it was very much just about the model, like you said, Tracy, the tiger tank with the commander pointing and all that kind of stuff. But to actually tackle the realities of what our subjects often touch on, the brutality of it all, that was like that fourth dimension, that was that wall that no one really had approached before that.”
…..”You know, to say that I intentionally went to make Burden of Sorrow is not accurate. To say that it started with a base-level kind of, you know, back of my head, sort of an idea, theme, if you will. Then, like I said before, all these things started kind of accumulating until the time was right to actually express it in the modelling.”
Chris …”You said that subjects like Burden of Sorrow are controversial. Why do you think they’re controversial in modelling? Because, something people always like to say whenever there’s any criticism thrown around about their panzers or whatever it is.“I’m just honoring history.” But quite a lot of the time, I think modeling sanitizes history. It shows a very non-violent, quite pacific, and quite attractive vision of war. Why do you think the darker side is so controversial?”
Rick “Because it’s uncomfortable. I think it makes us take a look at ourselves and, perhaps question why we are attracted to, say, the glamorous side, you know? And so, you know, everybody loves a good tiger tank in a black Panzer uniform because they look really, really cool, but that level below that is not nearly so attractive. And so it’s, I think there’s a kind of a self-editing buffer someplace in there, which people just say, you know, we’re showing history in terms of the vehicle and the uniforms and this and that. Glamorize it for lack of a better word, but we don’t show the consequences. And that’s where Burden of Sorrow went, in a very deep way, to show the consequences of not just the Tiger Tank, but a regime, which takes it to a much broader scope. So, I don’t know, that’s my short answer, I guess. I also think that, its very difficult to portray, And I’ll use the term specifically, the horrors of war without being overt or grotesque in doing that. And that’s a very difficult line to follow in terms of being able to capture the essence of the scene to show the emotion to give, to tell the story without it just being a huge mess, aesthetically, physically, visually, not portrayed well, whatever, however you want to say that. So that’s the other challenge in terms of all that getting our own filters out of the way, in terms of how now do we actually do this? And that makes it much more tougher of a realm to push our modelling into.”
Rick’s “Burden of Sorrow” barely needs any introduction, it is arguably world famous, and rightly so. Of course, it’s a tour de force of actual modelling. There is not a single element which is not superbly executed (and trust me I can always find an element I think is not quite right) for me, modelling-wise, its probably as close to perfect as it gets. The composition is dynamic and original, the rendering of everything, from cloth, to metal, to wood, to the ground, is incredibly detailed, from the macro impression to the fine marks and micro colour shifts, and over colour palette is muted but verging in warm, which lifts it and gives it some vitality that a fully desaturated palette cannot give. This edgy of warmth stops the colours blending into each other too much and keeps tonal separations.
But of course, all of that is subconscious support to the wider point of the piece. What hits us is not the execution, it’s the emotion. It’s the story of the piece and the humans in it. The figure in the piece is not the only human, in fact I would argue the humans in the piece that hit us like an emotional bomb are the ones missing from it. The ones that left their possessions behind. What Rick has done is hit us with the absence of them, the essence of this crime against humanity.
As Rick said in our SCU interview:
“the biggest tool that we have as a modeler, as a presenter of our work, is actually the mind’s eye of the viewer… We don’t necessarily have to tell the entire story. We don’t have to put every detail out there. We have to start the paragraph and allow them to fill in the verse behind that” … “So you don’t have to be gross and gory and horrific in terms of what really happened there in terms of actually modeling that. You just have to kind of let them kind of, tell themselves that story and then they’ll fill in the blanks” …”This is I think was where we start getting into the art part of it. If that’s done well, if you’ve given them that little bit of a teaser at the beginning, each viewer is going to have a different experience. So when they look at that, you know, Chris will have one vision in his head and Will will have another vision in his head and Tracy will have another vision in his head and they will be unique but they’ll also be within the theme.”
In this case, Rick has handled this atrocity very carefully, and with great sensitivity, without lessening any of its power to shock and touch us, by leading us to the idea of the war crime without showing us the worst of the war crime.
SOME KIND OF MONSTER
A few years later, in 2020, Rick made another diorama, at the behest of Fernando and AK Interactive. This time he tackled the genocide of the Rwanda Civil War of 1994.
Rick “This one was, prompted, let’s put it that way. Fernando, [ head of AK], he’d had in his mind to do a publication that was going to be about what he called ‘provocative subjects’. So kind of. as we were discussing before, subjects that would move the modeling world a little bit into that side of the direction, you know, create some buzz, some…controversy in a good way, some retrospect[sic], some thought. He had asked if he could use Burden of Sorrow, and of course I said yes, and he said, well, I’d like you to also do a new piece … for the book, and I just said, … I don’t know if I can do that, because…you know, to try to force something like that. I just said, I don’t know if I could do that because it was a special time, special place for that first one [Burden of Sorrow]. So he kept saying, you know, let’s give it a shot. Let’s try it. Let’s do this. And that lasted for literally about a year that he would say from time to time, hey, Rick, how are you doing with that project? And I would say, hey, Fernando, I don’t feel it…
So finally, we get to a point, like I said, about a year later, and he said, well, this book is going to happen, and I’d really like to have your contribution, a new piece from you. And we had that same back and forth, and he said, how about if we do something around Rwanda, the genocide in Rwanda? … I knew of it, but I wasn’t really versed into it, or anything like that. So he sent me some photographs… and says, what if you did a scene such as this? … They were of like front end loaders, like John Deeres and Hitachis or big construction equipment, basically scooping up bodies and clearing land that people had been basically slaughtered in and putting them into ditches, much the same as you would see in those Holocaust videos at the end of World War II. And I said, okay, I’ll do something. And I started actually down that exact path of what the photographs laid out. So I actually built a loader. It’s a Hasegawa, a little front-end loader. And once I got that finished, I started trying to conceptualize what the scene would look like. Because I still didn’t have it in my head what this was gonna look like when I got done with it. And it was at that point I’m going like, … this concept is not gonna work, at least for me… The loader was too large, which created the scene that was gonna be, the base was gonna be too large. I was gonna lose all the emotional impact of what this was gonna happen. It was gonna easily slip into that it’s too grotesque, just all these bodies, that kind of stuff.
“And I thought, I need to recalibrate this. So that led to what it ended up being, which was take the mechanical part out of this, which was, had this fellow who, you know, happens to have the task of having to bury these bodies and he’s just got his spade and he’s just like basically standing there in the scene, taking a break or reflecting on what he’s doing, this terrible task that he has to do.
and then this small child that’s above him, who is either like I mentioned, either his son who’s there just to help, or maybe he’s a child of one of the victims that’s in this trench. And that brought it back down to a very much more emotional and personal level that I think a viewer could empathize with.”
Again, Rick created a scene that relied more on the emotion of the witnesses, the gravedigger and the child, than it did on the death in the scene, although this time ‘bodies’ are present in the form of body bags. We know there is death here, but the emotion is in the two witnesses, not in blood or gore.
However, like Burden of Sorrow, it presents us with an aspect of war that people do not model. These are not cool looking tanks, they are not technical models of perfectly researched specific aircraft types. They confront us with what war is, and what its depths can descend to. When it Isn’t Done Well
The book “Some Kind of Monster” was made for, was the now infamous book “Condemnation” from AK Interactive. I asked Rick about why this book became so controversial.
Chris “… the book seems to have had very, I think, very laudable aims of trying to do what we’re talking about, of doing it and doing it well, but it wasn’t received very well. Why do you think that was?
Rick “Well, I think it came down to just the initial marketing campaign. It was certainly off the mark. …As a contributor, I sent in my articles and again, this, this project had been going on for, for quite some time, I had no idea of the, when the release date was going to be. And I wake up in the morning and I check my emails and my Facebook and whatever, and it’s jam packed with a bunch of people who are very, very angry at me and wishing not very good things, which is like, what the heck just happened? You know? So I didn’t even know it was been released. I had no idea. I finally did see the clips. There was one initially, I think another one came out either a few hours or the next day. And. I was taken aback, personally, by the clips and the marketing because… I understood what the intention of the book was supposed to be, which was to ask these questions and to kind of push modeling in, like I said, a provocative direction showing the… not the greatest sides of life and humanity. What it came across as, was a Freddy Krueger sort of horror story promo because there were splatters of blood. There were red backgrounds. There was a bunch of…barbed wire crosses here and there, and it just, it literally was a horror movie promo versus a promotion for provocative works of art. And of course the subjects inside were difficult by intention and so you put those two overlapping each other and yeah, it took quite a hit. I contacted Fernando I think the next day and I said, listen, I understand what you’re trying to do here but you totally missed the mark on the marketing here. This is absolutely backfiring. You probably know that by now. So I ended up doing a rewrite of the entire book for him, for them, over the next couple of weeks. They pulled it. They pulled the marketing for sure. I don’t know if they pulled the book, but they pulled, basically, I got the book and he says, okay, Rick, go through it and you take out [or rewrite] everything that you think is controversial, especially the introductions, because AK had written introductions to most of the chapters. So even my work had a new introduction to it. So, I rewrote all those, because they were much more aggrandized in terms of the horror and the whatever. And so. I sent that back and then they came out with a second edition or new release a month or so later.”
Tracy “Yeah, it also underlines how… if you’re going to broach these subjects in scale modeling, you really have to do so with some sensitivity, you know?”
Chris “Some respect as well, I think.”
Rick “Yeah. And that was an interesting, that was certainly interesting few days to a week right there because that turmoil did not go away very quickly… It was… fascinating. You hear these stories about teenage girls getting bullied on the internet and such like that and they do all these things. That was … the closest I’ve ever felt like, oh my gosh, this is actually a pretty real feeling that you get when people that you know, people that you’ve had conversations with, other modelers, people you respect and such, are just chastising you for being involved in that project. And I’m like… you know, I don’t know what to tell you here.”
Chris “I think the aims of the book were laudable and in a way it’s a shame that it got mishandled and that it did because I think it is important that modelling covers these things and goes beyond the usual kind of tank on a plank and stuff and tries to ask the audience questions.”
Rick “Yeah, there’s some good pieces in there, in both editions actually, and including, and this is somebody that can be a very much part of this conversation that we’re having, is Pete Usher. His little boy sitting on top of those trash bags is part of the addendum of that book, or the gallery in the back of that book, which is a fantastic piece that, once again, communicates a very strong message.”
I very much agree with Rick that the marketing, and the sensationalisation of the subjects in the book were major mistakes that AK made in tackling such sensitive, but ultimately important topics. The vast majority of the content was very sensitively handled, and the marketing undid the subtlety of that.
But also, some of the content was, for me, problematic. In particular, the gas chamber diorama. In most cases the book was treated in the same way as any other AK book, and was largely a step-by-step book, and for me, colour call outs for gas chamber tiles, was a level of banality that jarred in a very distasteful way, with the subject of the model. If we are to consider works like this, as art, which they can be, I think we should be focussing on the subject, not the execution. The inference that we are encouraging people to copy these pieces is, at best, strange.
As Rick says, the book was re-edited and reprinted, at (no doubt) considerable cost and loss to AK. It is a fact in publishing that you have to sell a very significant proportion of a print run to even break even, and the way the second edition followed the first so closely, suggests to me that a large part of the first print run was probably pulped.
Although the first edition missed the mark so terribly, the ideal of the book is, in my opinion, noble. To make a statement about the darker side of humanity, and to try to use modelling, in the same way as art, to tackle these subjects. It is notable that in all the furore over the book though, that anger at the way the content was handled, and the marketing of the book, crossed over significantly with a subsection of anger that these subjects were even tackled at all by modellers.
What Modelling Can Do and What it Should Not Do
The reaction to the book is seen as being one thing, but really it was different kinds of complaints that merged into one reaction and dare I say, some of those complaints are the kind of reactions that I discussed at the start of this piece, that modelling should not address things like war crimes. I think that opinion is wrong. Pieces like Burden of Sorrow, and Some Kind of Monster, and Peter Usher’s ‘Childhood?’ are important models. Modelling can have a social conscience, it can ‘say’ something, and a culture that represses that is a culture that seeks to prevent modelling being something more than making scale representations of a vehicle, accurately built, and adequately finished, and I don’t want to work in a hobby that chooses to limit itself that way.
On the other hand, the legitimate criticisms of the book are fundamentally true. They go against what makes work like Rick’s and others so powerful: the understatement, the inference rather than the gratuitous show. The subtlety that focusses on emotion and not shock. If we are going to elevate modelling through addressing such serious subjects well, then we have a responsibility to do it with a huge amount of introspection and thought, and a sensitivity and subtlety that allows is to leave nothing out emotionally, while avoiding gratuitous detail.
This diorama represents a distillation of many things I have been learning through meeting some of the world’s best modellers on the podcast, and ideas and themes that have been engaging me for some time.
Lets have a closer look at the diorama, and the ideas and themes it attempts to address
The Titleand the Intent For those that don’t know, “Heroyam Slava” literally translates as “Glory to the Heroes” and it is a traditional response to “Slava Ukraine”: “Glory to Ukraine”.
Over the last few years, I have come to know many Ukrainians via scale modelling. Ukraine is a powerhouse of model kit production. When the latest phase of the war (which started in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and Russia fomenting insurrection in the east of Ukraine) commenced, with the full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, all of them became in some way involved in the war. Some volunteered, immediately, for military service, many had previously served and returned to service, and those that could not serve volunteered to support their friends who had taken up arms. Everyone became active in supporting the military resistance to the invasion.
So, to me, these guys are heroes.
The dio began as a way to pay tribute to the friends I have in Ukraine, and to the fighting men and women resisting the invasion. But it also became a way for me to develop my understanding of scratchbuilding, composition, sculpting, storytelling and painting and finishing.
Along the way I had to learn about T-72s, MT-LBs, BMP-2, BMP-3 and a more about other vehicles that didn’t make it into the diorama at the end. I learned about economy and concision, and the importance of eliminating items to improve the ‘signal to noise’ ratio. I learned about how to use light and colour to direct the eye, and about presentation, how the model is viewed and how to direct a view.
It cause me to think about my modelling in all three dimensions, not just how to make it, and what to make, but why to make it, and how it will exist in the world outside of my head, and my bench.
The book is a description of the model, how I made it, and why. But it is also a discussion of the ideas that made it and changed it along the way, and an acknowledgement of the people that influenced it and helped me make it.
I hope you will order it and follow this process and model making experience. Click on the image below to order today.
Part of my thesis was that modellers use the word ‘art’ in a misguided attempt to legitimise what we do. I argued that modelling does not need to be legitimised, it has significant value in what it is, without needing to be ‘art’.
This is the second part of that. I’m here to celebrate the craft of modelling.
Craft and Artisans
Craft, in the modern world, seems to be largely associated with hobbies (and that’s great), but it has a deeper meaning and a longer association. A craft, traditionally, is vocational and associated with small scale manufacturing or highly skilled labour. Craftsman were also sometimes referred to as artisans, and it is from artisans that we get the word art.
Now don’t get this confused right out of the gate. Artisans became artists in the late 18th century when their work became separated from the traditional patronage system and they no longer necessarily created work to order to fit a brief, allowing them to develop their own motivations and artistic visions. Essentially, they went from people who painted stuff they were told to paint, to flatter the patron, to people who painted what they wanted to say for themselves.
But I digress…
Craft was not something casual. It was something you dedicated yourself to learning, improving, and developing. It was a serious business. It was carpenters and wood carvers, stone masons and shoemakers, it was metal smithing and shipwrights. It was something that needed an incredible amount of knowledge and skill, developed over time.
I have always loved craft, as well as art. Even today, every day around us, you can find someone who is truly superb at their craft. Etsy and Instagram are full of them. Pinstripers, potters, jewellers, I follow a ton of them.
What makes someone a craftsman (or I should say: Craftsperson). For me, its someone who excels at their craft, someone with a high level of understanding of their materials, their tools, and their techniques. Someone with a deep appreciation of their craft and the confidence and ability to execute it at a professional level.
What craftspeople do not generally concern themselves with, is creating an emotional response, or challenging their ‘audience’. They are not making art, they are making things and the making of the things is what they excel at. Not what the things may or may not say. It’s about the skill.
Yeah, but What About Modelling?
OK so straight away, forget the “professional level” part. Most modellers do not make their living from making models. However, all Craftspeople have to learn and develop their craft and its required skills, and this is something we all do.
Modelling contains a vast array of skills, and even that range is variable, depending on what you like to model and how you like to model it. Even within basic model construction, we can find skills that can be developed to a high level: seam filling, surface polishing and preparation, cleaning up parts. All these things can be done adequately, but for a truly good model, they need to be done very cleanly, and well. Move on to painting, and you get into a new range of skills, be it hand-painting or airbrushing. You have to understand materials, how different paints work and react, you have to understand colour, the skills of using a paintbrush or an airbrush and within that, the finesse of using either well.
We haven’t even touched on weathering, detailing or dioramas and already there is a depth of skill here to be learned and to learn to excel at.
Modelling is a deep physical craft, and like all such crafts, it requires learned skills, mental agility and fine motor skills, all of which need to be learned, refined and developed. How much you develop them is up to you. Like I said already, for most people it is not a job, so the speed of your development, or even if you choose to settle at a level and simply enjoy that, is up to you, but it is a craft and that craft needs to be learned over time.
It’s a craft that deserves some respect for the dedication and investment the craftsperson puts into it. It does not need to be ‘art’, it is already something special.
The Celebration of Excellent Craft
Of course, even within craft, there are some who really raise the bar. Look at any reputable modelling competition (i.e. any competition that is well judged, by people who are able to discern the difference between high level skill and the median) and you will see models which epitomise the highest level of the craft. Sometimes these models also satisfy my description of art (creating an emotional response, having a message to communicate and so on) but more often they do not. I would go so far as to say they are rarely art, but they are always fine craft, and at such a level, it lifts us to admire and understand them. These are models that exemplify the possibilities of the craft we all love to practice.
It does not matter that they are not art.
We can appreciate the sheer excellence of the craft for what it is: the work of a supremely skilled person who has used their skills and knowledge to manipulate their materials to create a sublime and near-perfect object. It does not need to create an emotional response, or communicate a message, because the skill of its manufacture is the point.
Celebrate that skill. Celebrate that craft and stop using the word “art” to try to elevate it. This excellence needs no elevation, it is already worthy of our acclaim, and worthy of our own time, effort and dedication to pursue.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to put on my slippers, reminisce about bagged Airfix kits, and bemoan the lack of ‘beZiK MolDeriNg SKizz’ and ‘Millennials’ like some bitter old guy. I assume all modellers have basic modelling skills and, frankly, they are a given and not some super power only a subsect of aircraft modellers possess.
I’m not talking about competent clean building, I’m talking about the art of building. Building to a very high level to make a unique and far more interesting model. The Fun Bit
In luddite-grandpa’s days (pre-2000) kits could be a chore. You had to put a lot of work into getting a decent result, just to get the thing together in a good clean build. Added to that, the standard of detail on most kits up to the late 90s, was not great. If you wanted sharp, crisp, scale detail, you needed to learn to scratch, or to use PE well. Kits in the last 20 years, and especially in the last 10 years have come a hell of a long way, and its now possible to build a very sharp, detailed kit right out of the box.
This has lead in many cases to people focussing purely on painting as a way to drive their modelling forward. It is certainly true that there is a lot in painting and weathering to learn, to practice and to explore, and I am not here to say that artistic painting and finishing is a bad thing. its a freaking awesome thing and I love looking at it, reading about it, and doing it.
But along the way, building has kind of been side-lined. Its seen as the thing people do to ‘get to the fun bit’.
I am here to tell you it can be the fun bit, and more than that, it can make your painting and finishing even more fun.
Make it Yours
If kits are so much better now, why are we even talking about this?
Kits are much better, but they are still not as good as they could be. There is still room to improve kits, either as conversion, correction, or just super-detailing. Building can be a major way you can add distinctiveness to your model and make it unique. Kits are a mass-produced thing, and most people building them will build them out of the box, and to one of the schemes in the box.
You don’t need to be constrained by the box. Make yours different. Make your model, Your Model.
How you do it is up to you, you can add PE, 3D parts, wire, scratch, your options are almost limitless, so long as you can open your mind to all of them, but make your model unique. Look for period photos to find unusual features, or damage or anything out of the ordinary that you can replicate.
Stretching Your Canvas
As some of you will know, if you listen to the Sprue Cutters Union, I went to art school (drink). I practiced painting and printmaking, so you could say I am a painter by training. But I also learned the value of preparing your surface to paint. Your model is your canvas, if its not on your model, you can’t paint it; so even if you are all about painting: good, interesting, unique building, gives you a good surface to paint and lots of stuff to pick out, highlight, shade and otherwise show off your painting prowess.
Yes, you can make a model unique looking with how you paint it, but if you rush to paint, you are denying yourself 50% of the distinctiveness your model could have.
Good building + excellent painting = good model
Excellent building + good painting = good model
Excellent building + excellent painting = outstanding model
Building vs Painting
There is a common argument in modelling, “are you a builder or a painter”. This is going to ruffle some feathers, but so be it.
You should be both.
Finally, to slay a myth that perpetuates among certain modellers, good building is always important, whether you scratch, add AM, whatever it is: clean building and seam elimination is always a must, because you can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still be a pig. Make your surface ready for your paint: Build well.
When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a more positive place than Facebook can sometimes be. What I envisaged was a place where I can wax philosophical on modelling, and indulge my adjacent hobby of thinking about the hobby. Regrettably this seems to have upset some people, who seem to think people should not be thinking this deeply about making models. I would argue is not that deep at all, but they seem to think its “too deep”. Some people say “its not world changing or curing cancer!” Of course it isn’t but between just building a model and not even thinking about it, and thinking it is “world-changing”, there is a massive gulf of room for various levels of discussion, and there is plenty of room for people to discuss modelling any way they want, without thinking it is earth shattering.
You don’t need to dump on people for enjoying the hobby differently to how you enjoy the hobby. Some people like to just build a model. That is correct. Some people like to build a model and think a bit more about how or why they do it. That is correct. and some people (like me) like to think a LOT about how and why they build models. That is correct.
It’s all correct. No one of those approaches is superior to, or negates another. So how about live and let live?
Plurality is Healthy
Something else that has happened, is that people disagree with things in this blog, or with responses to it on reposts on social media. One such thread of conversation is Matt McDougall’s recent, extremely well written and argued blog HERE which is not a response to this blog, but touches on it, and other discussions currently in the modelling milieu. It’s a great blog and you should read it.
Another is Marc Schwegler’s reply to Robbert Blokker’s recent guest blog, which you can read HERE
Marc argues for things I cannot agree with. But he argues very well, and from an honest and good faith position. and I love it.
There are lots of times I disagree with responses and comments, and just accept them as different points of view. Just because I don’t agree, it doesn’t make them “wrong”.
I want this blog to be a place where ideas are exchanged, and discussed, and disagreement is OK. This is not a vanity project or Patreon Paywall of Solitude echo chamber
Over the coming weeks I will invite more people to guest blog on here, and I will not always agree with what they say. But I am sure they will have something interesting to say, that may or may not spark interesting conversations and responses.
Go back five years or more at any decent event, and your mind would have been blown by the creativity and unique storytelling in dioramas and vignettes. You could expect 20 to 25 absolutely stunning pieces of unique work, or even more at a really big show. You could look forward to seeing what the likes of Marijn van Gils, Mario Eens, Per Olav Lund and a multitude of others had come up with, and it would be the talking point among modellers for many weeks after.
Fast forward to now and the situation couldn’t be more bleak…. or maybe “bland” is a better word.
Returning from the last brilliant SMC, I decided to test how many dioramas and vignettes I could remember purely for their storyline, without looking at my pictures, and that number was a dismal 7. Just 7 out of 150 or so entries. Take away those 7 and what was left was the traditional farmyard with part of a barn. A vehicle with a few figures sprinkled over and around it and a height element in the shape of a tree or a telegraph pole. Replace the farmyard with a dirt road and you already had half of the entries. The rest had rather vague (or multiple) storylines or worse: simply no storyline at all. A single vehicle on a base with a single figure is just a fancy vehicle display, and I’m willing to die on that hill. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I think all those projects were bad, I’m not going to kick that hornet nest as well and I’m pretty sure Chris will not appreciate if I start a riot in his house.
Pretty much everything was of incredibly high standard, with the exception of the storylines
Where Did it All Go Wrong?
What happened to that original storyline? Is it a lack of creativity? Of imagination? Lack of belief in skills, or simply not having the cojones to experiment and try something new and out of the box? Maybe it’s because a lot of modelers have found a formula that earns them medals and they are content with basically building the same diorama over and over to keep the flow of medals going? Another theory is that most modelers simply start with a vehicle and want to give it context by mixing in some figures and groundwork and call it a day instead of starting from a concept and build the diorama around it starting with the fundamentals of composition, planning and then choosing the elements. I don’t have a definitive answer yet. But trying to beat the Guinness Record for plonking the most soldiers on top of a tank on a dirtroad somewhere in [insert location name] [insert date] requires no thought at all, it’s already been done a hundred thousand times by an equal number of modelers and when I go past the third of those on a contest table, my mind starts to drift already, looking for something more interesting.
Time for Change
I’m going to break a lance here for the return of the original story. That is what a diorama or vignette should be all about.
Simply put: no story = no diorama (or vignette).
Some 40 years ago, a man by the name of Shep Paine wrote a book about how to build dioramas. In it he said a diorama was: “a scene that tells a story”, and a bit further down “in its most developed form a diorama is a scene that tells a story”. This does not imply a story in the narrative sense, it simply means that a diorama can show something going on. In this sense, a diorama is not just a model of an object, or a group of objects, but of an event.” You can check it out yourself. It is on page 2 in the introduction, or at least it is in my well-read, slightly foxed and probably heavily ferreted copy. 43 years later, that little line of text is still relevant, and mister Paine became known for his beautiful little scenes with strong original narrative.
That is exactly what you want. A diorama should be a stage. Where a storyline is performed with the aid of the cast of figures. Vehicles, buildings, and nature are merely décor, the whole designed and composed to aid in bringing that story forward. All under the guidance of you: the director of the show, and all for the pleasure of the viewer, whether it’s only for yourself or for viewers at events. People want their minds boggled, their fantasies tickled, and in the more extreme cases: their gasts flabbered! When I started a discussion on my Facebook page, a lot of people commented that they think they lack imagination and skill. Thinking up an original story is not as hard as a lot of people think. It doesn’t have to be high-literature level storytelling, it only needs to be original because people recognise originality pretty much immediately. It mostly requires a bit of thought and a bit of extra time. The skill is something you learn on the go, and that will only come if you are willing to try new things. Who knows what secret skills you might have had hidden for years? People tend to think that they don’t have the skills to make an idea work, but if the story is strong enough it will overcome a lesser skill level.
How Can We Create Original Stories?
Maybe you have read something interesting or funny or poignant from a book. Try to visualise how that could look. Look up pictures from the period your subject is in. and combine features you like from those pictures to create an interesting composition.
If you only work from photos, try to think of interesting events that could have happened before, or after, the picture was taken. This is probably the easiest pathway to an original story.
There are fun, weird, wonderful, poignant, or interesting things happening worldwide, every day. Things that could have happened at any time in the world and can serve perfectly as new original stories. It only needs a new backdrop.
Go with stories that people can recognise or relate to. that always works well. Try to keep your stories compact, the less distractions, the better the story can be read.
Some people have great imaginations and can hit it out of the ball-park time and time again, while others need a bit of help. But that shouldn’t matter because thinking up those stories is a lot of fun. The same goes for bringing them to life, it is incredibly satisfying.
Failing is Not Bad.
People tend to think that you need to be able to sculpt, and that is the only way to be able to make a new story. This is nonsense. Sure, it helps: if you can sculpt, there is no story you cannot tell, but there are plenty dioramists that are perfectly able to create interesting stuff using nothing but stock figures. You can try converting first, it’s not as hard as you think, and for most poses you can find a commercial figure that is already 90% there. Make sure that figures interact and look at each other, or at least at what they are doing. But most of all…. try. And fail. Then try again. You might still fail but maybe a bit less, and from that point on it will get better and better. Be bold…. be brazen even. Try whatever you want, you won’t get more stupid by trying. and you won’t get more stupid from failing. In fact, you learn even faster from failing. Even Rembrandt started with a simple pencil at some point in his life…
Book Recommendations for Dioramists
For those that need a little help to get over that threshold (if you don’t have them already)
Shepherd Paine “How to Build Dioramas”. (ISBN 0-89024-551-7) out of print but there still should be plenty of second hand examples around.
Marijn van Gils’ “Diorama FAQ 1.3 Storytelling Composition and Planning”. This, if you want to build dioramas is without doubt the only book that is worth its weight in gold. It is about what makes a diorama a good diorama. Get the bones right and your diorama will be on to the best start possible. Available from AK interactive AK8150
“AK Learning Series #11 Figure Sculpting & Converting Techniques”. This book covers all you need to get started from a simple conversion all the way to full sculpts. And is a very good entry level publication into the world of original storytelling. Available from AK interactive AK512
For a moment, lets park most of the video and address his main point:
The Lack of Risk Taking and Innovation in the AFV Modelling Hobby
There is a lack of innovation at present in the AFV hobby. It is true that styles have moved towards each other and at the top end of modelling, a lot of modellers’ work looks superficially similar. However, it is also true that AFV Modelling has reached a very high level of excellence at the top end. Anyone (other than Mr Rinaldi it seems) who looked at the Masters category at SMC2023 saw models of a very high standard overall, and models that clearly stood out from others in the category. It is true that there were no models that stood head and shoulders above any other, but when every runner runs very very fast, it is going to be a photo finish.
That being said, we are due a breakout modeller, someone who changes the conversation, but how often do those come along? Mr Rinaldi opines for the early 2000s at Euromilitaire and the innovation of Mig Jimenez, and Adam Wilder (He doesn’t mention Phil Stutcinkas, but he should, considering Phil invented the hair spray technique MR uses a lot). Its true, those were exciting times. But they were exciting because the last innovation before that was Francois Verlinden 15 years before.
The fact is, big changes in style and innovation, are not constant. Style will always move on and someone will innovate, but it will take inspiration and the right model in the right hands at the right time. It WILL happen. but in the meantime the hobby, like all craft, does progress, incrementally, over time.
I look at the work of David Parker, Lester Plaskitt, Ivan Cocker, Peter Usher, and Mirko Bayerl, modellers I saw in Euromilitaire back then, and I have seen their work evolve and change in that time. I was at these mythic Euromilitaire shows Rinaldi was at. I’ve been to a lot of shows around the world since, and the hobby has moved forward. Not in leaps and bounds, but it has moved forward and although he won’t accept it, the standard has increased. The very high standard now, and the huge number of modellers circling it (myself not included, I would not have the arrogance to elevate myself to a position where I claim to have that authority) suggests to me the waters lapping at the rim of a dam. We can, I think, expect something huge soon, it will happen, but when it is ready to happen.
But lecturing modellers who are more consistent, and better skilled, that they are soft and playing it safe, won’t make it happen.
Judging the Judges
I want to close this one by addressing a couple of other things Mr Rinaldi said in his video:
1. Accusations of friendships affecting judging: Unlike Mr Rinaldi, I have judged at SMC a number of times. I have never seen anyone’s decision or comments affected by any knowledge of the name of the modeller. Not once. I have never heard of it happening either. Subconsciously it may happen, we are human, but I know I am aware that’s a possibility and check myself when judging models I know. I am sure I am not alone in this. This accusation is baseless and somewhat offensive to everyone else that judged at that show.
2. You don’t need to innovate to get a gold at SMC. Innovation is not in the judging criteria. I was at the Jury briefing on Saturday. I listened closely to Robert Crombeecke, Fabio Nunnari, Ivan Cocker and the team when they told us how to judge. We were there to judge the models on the table against the current standard of the hobby. Not some nebulous idea of where the hobby is going. We were also told by Ivan in the contest room, before we started, that we were there to find the best in people’s models, and to reward it. Mr Rinaldi’s Youtube rant was not in that spirit.
The hobby IS moving forward. Those of us that have remained in touch with it can see it. We see it every day. A big innovation is due, but it will come when its ready, and maybe if you want it to happen, you need to be more involved rather than demanding from the sidelines that others do it.