A New Podcast!

A little while ago, I decided to add interviews to this blog, starting with Calvin Tan’s fantastic discussion on Art and Modelling To make that I had a video chat with Calvin and used an edited transcript to produce the blog post.

A few people asked if it would be available as a podcast and at the time I wasn’t sure. But in the end, I thought, “its not a lot of extra work, so why not?” and the Model Philosopher Podcast is now a thing!

The Podcast will not replace the blog. I will continue to post these interviews in edited transcript form, with illustration, on the blog. I will also continue to post my editorial style blogs, but for those that prefer to listen, the interviews will be available as a podcast.

I hope you enjoy it.

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An Absence, and an Apology

I often think “Sorry I haven’t been posting much, guys.” Posts are kind of lame. For one thing, they assume people were missing you posting, which is somewhat presumptuous, for another, they don’t really add anything to the general conversation. I always resolved not to make that kind of post.

But here I am. Making an apology for being absent.

The fact is, I’ve been very busy. (I know, everyone is busy, get over myself already.) As you may have read here , I had to call it a day on my publishing business due to the decline of hobby publishing, and Brexit. Of course, I can’t just sit on my hands if I want to eat and pay the bills so I started learning Fusion 360 CAD, and starting designing stuff.

What a frickin’ rabbit hole! Not only has the design sucked me in like like a duck into a jet engine, but the business has taken off and its an endless round of design, send to print, package and dispatch. It is still early days, but it looks very promising. You can see, and shop, what I’m doing at https://www.insidethearmour.com/shop-1

Some of you may know I was a big scratchbuilder (I even published three books on the subject as ITA Publishing, and co-wrote a fourth recently for AK Interactive) and my journey into CAD as a scratchbuilder has been eye opening. A blog will follow on that soon.

So, anyway, between learning Fusion, the new business, building models for others to publish, and recording and editing the Sprue Cutters Union Podcast; there have not been enough hours in the day to do a blog as well. However, you should know by now that a new blog was published recently, a discussion with the incredible Calvin Tan, and more in this style will follow in future, where I take a topic and get a modeller with a particular insight to join me to discuss it.

Thank you for your patience (if you noticed I was gone! And if you didn’t, I hope you enjoy the new blogs upcoming anyway) and thanks for reading

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Art & Modelling, a Conversation with Calvin Tan


Today I sat down with Calvin Tan (via a webchat) for the first of what will be an occasional series, where I discuss a single topic with a well known and highly respected modeller.

Calvin is undoubtedly well-known, and highly respected by modellers around the world as literally a world-class historical figure painter. Calvin is also an Art Educator, so who better to discuss the Art/ Modelling debate with?

Chris

If we’re going to talk about art and modelling, we need to establish the definition of art first. What do we mean by art?

Calvin

Exactly. So I think for me, this is my take. I would consider art is something that basically defines any work of expression that evokes sentiment and elevates our human experience. I think that’s the main thing. When we talk about art, there’s always another thing that we always talk about, because it comes together with craft.

Arts and craft, it always comes together. So, craft and these two terms are usually connected. Because art has a craft, but craft doesn’t necessarily translate to artWhen I read the book, “Art and Fear”, it did say, for example, if you look at a violin, it’s been created by an old master, it takes many years of apprenticeship to shape the violin until it reaches its final state. But the tragedy of this, and I do say it’s a tragedy, that despite the numerous years and expertise to craft the violin, most people won’t call that violin a sculpture or a piece of art. But however, when a musician picks it up and maybe he plays a tune, and suddenly that becomes art.

The tune becomes the art. And when you look at a violin, although it requires years and years of mastery to create an instrument, it does not enjoy that level of prestige. And I say that when it comes to modelling, the same could be said, because models have always been sort of a representation. It’s always seen as a tool of learning. People don’t see it as a sculptural piece at all.

So it sort of, you know, goes back to Marcel Duchamp when he plays the fountain, remember the famous “fountain?” So what is this now? Is this a urinal or is this a sculpture?  So,  questions like this start to arise. And this has been, you know, this has always been provoked. I mean, hundreds of years ago. And in terms of when you go into the gallery, when you look at the urinal, is it now a piece of sculpture or is this an instrument?

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07573

Chris

I remember when I was at art college, the debate was, is ceramics art? Because you know, you make a pot, it’s a craft to be able to throw a pot or to be able to hand form a pot, or ceramic, or what have you. And it seems like that’s one that was always very much debated, whether it was an art or a craft. And there’s a great deal of skill that goes into making it. And I think like the violin, It really depends how it’s made and the intent, because in recent years in this country in the UK, Grayson Perry has become very famous as an artist and he’s made mainly ceramics. But they were, it’s what they were decorated with, how they were decorated and how he made them, that made them art. And I think the same with the violin because people would argue that a Stradivarius is a work of art.

Grayson Perry “We Shall Catch it on the Beaches”

Calvin

Yes.

Chris

But it’s interesting because of what you said about when it’s played. I think some people could appreciate looking at it, that it’s a work of art, but most people would only be really able to appreciate it by the quality of its tone when it’s played. Because a lot of violins have been made throughout history and a lot of them are quite basic violins that look to the untrained eye like any other violin.

Calvin

Yes, correct.

Chris

but there’s a huge difference in quality between one and the other.

Calvin

Exactly, exactly. And this I would say that it’s within that very exclusive group of people who perhaps within the field or within the community of the artisans, they may consider a very well -made violin a work of art. Because again, I mean, firstly as far as the artisans are concerned, they appreciate the labour, the discipline it goes to creating something. And I think what the takeaway, if let’s say a violin is to be regarded as a work of art, the takeaway would be the emotional connection the viewer has with the object. I would say that is what art has. People will say that a piece of work will have a soul, but the soul is actually assigned by the viewer, whether or not we’re able to recognize and appreciate and see you know, the invisible. So, it’s almost very Zen, right? The Japanese believe every object has a soul. We’re able to see it, able to appreciate it. In a sense, they are a bit more sensitive and more in tune with certain objects, inanimate objects.

Chris

I think you say it’s assigned by the viewer and it is because if it doesn’t affect the viewer, I don’t think it’s art. I think it can affect you intellectually as well as emotionally or instead of emotionally, one or the other. But I think it’s a conversation because the art exists between the artist and the viewer, if you see what I mean, between the intent and the reception of the intent. And the craft comes in with how well that intent and effect is communicated.

Calvin

But I think the concept I can see is actually very universal. I would say that at the end of the day, there’s also what you call cognitive biases when people judge things or basically view objects. There’s a cognitive bias. For example, if you are into Spitfires, it’s like, oh, I know every model and a history of this.

And when you see a particularly well -made model represented in its full glory and accurately represented, I mean, you feel like your heart is skipping a beat and say, wow, this is so well done. And suddenly, you look past the model as a piece of plastic and metal and what else there is on the model and see it as, you know, an object with a soul and something to tell. So at that stage, at that point, you can see that object has transcended to just being a model to something of an artwork, an art piece. And that’s where you will start to be drawn into it and start to look at it more and immerse yourself in that model.

by Calvin Tan

Chris

Something that people often talk about when this debate comes up is modelling art is that it’s creative. Do you think making a model kit is inherently a creative act?

Calvin

Yes.

I would say creativity is universal. Human beings are creative by nature. I mean, it is hardwired into our brains in order for us to survive, right? And creativity, I would say, is often conflated with artistry. Well, it’s actually more linked to problem solving. So it’s not so much about creating something new or refreshing.

Sometimes it’s about solving problems. Oh, for example, if your decals are damaged, how do you go about solving it? Is there a substitute? Is there an alternative? Things like this. And you can see creativity being utilized and being, what do you call that, leveraged to solve problems. For example, I don’t want to build so many tracks. So what can I do to get around it?

Some modelers, they tend to take shortcuts. But you can also see it from the flip side. You can see it as taking a shortcut could be something very creative, so long as they don’t get caught. So it’s always about trying to get away with murder. That’s what some people are trying to do, sort of speed up the process. I would say that building a model is inherently a creative act.

But. having said that, however, if building 1 ,000 models of the same, like say you’re painting an army for wargaming, now I don’t think there’s much creativity in that anymore. It becomes labor. You become a line production worker. And it does not engage your creative faculties at all. And therefore, it becomes a menial chore.

Chris

I think sometimes I felt like that when I’m building a kit which doesn’t require any or very little problem solving other than the usual basic modelling skills, you know, filling, sanding, so on. And you can kind of feel like, am I paying to work on an assembly line? You know, am I paying someone in order to be able to assemble something?

Do you think there is any creativity in that?

Calvin

I don’t think so. I would say that with every model, the experience should be different. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? It’s like watching a new movie, right? You don’t want to watch the same movie again and again and again and again. Unless there’s something new to discover, then yes, then it’s great. Oh, I didn’t notice this. I didn’t notice this.

But the thing is that if it gets too repetitive and gets too mundane and boring, that’s where you need to know that it’s time to move on. So yeah, why do it? Exactly. So I think at the end of the day, we humans want to be challenged. And I think a lot of modelers, they want to be challenged in terms of challenging themselves or attempting a new sort of project or mastering a technique.

For example, like figure painting or maybe painting camouflage. I think that’s something that’s refreshing. And I think I think there’s something unique that this hobby offers, the sort of challenges. So as I said, creativity is something that I would say that, I mean, being able to engage in a creative act, being able to engage in a creative act helps to basically enrich your life.

in that sense, because often you will come up a bit wiser, better, happier from actually going through that experience.

by Calvin Tan

Chris

You said something interesting earlier though that creativity is not the same as artistry.

Calvin

Yes, I would say creativity is definitely a broader term. I mean, that artistry.

Chris

So if creativity is problem solving, what is artistry?

Calvin

So artistry is something that you does require creativity. But  you also need creativity to be a successful engineer as well in any other fields. So creativity is present in everything in that we do. To be a chef, to be a sportsman, or whatever, it is there. You need to find innovative ways to solve problems.

Artistry, I would say, in a sense, like art is, is how do we use the resources that are at our disposal, our talents, our abilities, to create, enriching human experiences for others. If you have a good voice, you sing a very nice tune, you brighten up somebody’s day. And that is what essentially what art does, right? I mean, the good ones are thinking in terms of, oh, how can I make a difference, right, in this world, right? And how do I enrich the lives of others in that sense? I think that’s one of the purposes, you know, and, but there are some people who sort of hijack this and do it for their own ego and selfish intentions. It’s just to, you know, but again, we have to acknowledge these are very different people. They have been brought up very differently.

It’s part of their innate personalities. I mean, that’s how I see it. So in a sense, in terms of art, I think generally, it should serve the purpose of actually bringing people together. And I would say that it should possess these sort of virtues, in that sense. It should uplift and enrich the lives of others. So every time when I sort of paint a figure or create a piece, I always think of this at home, I mean, how do I accurately represent it? And such a people can learn from this, not just in terms of the technique, but how do I bring the story out using this medium of modelling and using it as a medium to tell a story? It can all basically to express my inspiration in that sense.

Chris

Do you think it’s the story that creates the emotional connection?

Calvin

I would say it is the response of the artist because every artist is like a vessel. You need to be inspired and once you’re inspired, you have this energy, this excitement, this flame that’s in it. And the question is how do I bottle this up and ship it to the rest of the world? And that’s where art comes in. You channel this inspiration outwards into your art. So be it poetry, music, and even modelling as well, right? And that’s how it is. So, I would say that as an artist, the main thing is to always be open and always learn what’s around you, absorb what’s around you, take it in. And that’s where the craftsmanship comes in. That’s where you are using modelling as a language rather than just focusing on the technique, or producing very decorative pieces, you know, and that’s where the work becomes expressive.

Chris

Do you think we focus too much on the craft side as modellers?

Calvin

Yes, I would say so. There is a difference in terms of arts and crafts. Now the thing about craft is that it is possible to attain perfection with craft. And that’s the difference between art and craft because art itself is not exactly very perfect. It may be rough around the edges, but the thing is that you get a sense of what the soul of this object is supposed to represent. There is a certain quality, semi almost indescribable, but you know there is a certain quality about it and it’s not perfect. Now with craft it’s very different because for longest time, scratch building as a craft, it’s all about precision. And now with 3D printing, there’s not really any need to bust up any styrene because you know whatever you’re going to do is only going to be 99 .9%. It won’t be 100 % as accurate as what a machine can print.

So in a sense, that’s where, in terms of craftsmanship, the age of perfection has arrived, through 3D modelling. It’s possible to scan an actual object and shrink it down to the exact size and print it out with precision. So as far as art is concerned, it requires the human intervention to come in and discern what is relevant and what’s irrelevant. And that is where the human touch comes in. And that’s where your sensibilities as an artist, as a person come in. You decide what to include or what to take away, and such that your audience will be able to grasp what you’re trying to communicate.

Chris

is fair to say we’re on the same page that modelling is generally speaking a craft but it can be art or you can make art with models.

Calvin

Yes. I would say if you look at this, you can categorically place scale models as sculpture. So the question is, is Marcel Duchamp’s a fountain or urinal? So it depends on how you want to sort of, how do you take it? How are you going to use this medium and bring it to the next level? So for example, when you start to represent certain objects in a different scale, people will have a different feel with that particular object. So if you look at pop art like Claes Oldenburg, he takes a clothes peg and blows it up to like giant. It’s like 1 ,000 times larger than its original size and suddenly becomes a sculpture. But you look at it in terms of the shape, it is a clothes peg. But suddenly, when you start to change the scale altogether, it becomes a sculpture. The aesthetics and all this. And you can suddenly look at the humble clothes peg and think, I never thought that there’s such elegance and beauty in this shape and this form. And this shape is, to be honest with you, any efficient objects that’s built from function is actually very beautiful.

Because it does serve the function, and there’s a certain geometry that governs its creation. And in that sense, that respect for geometry and nature gives it that inherent beauty. And that’s what I feel. I mean, there’s a reason as well. If you look at a Spitfire, it looks so sexy. It’s because the artist did not create that. That instrument, right?

It was actually created by engineers and designers who respected basically laws of aerodynamics to create and fashion that particular wall plane. And with that, you can see the aesthetics comes with it. And it seems that the aesthetics was like, oh, it came together because we did the math and the physics. And therefore, that’s why its shaped like this. And it functions very well.

So any object of beauty, I feel, has to represent certain truth and uphold certain ideals. And I think that’s what constitutes as beauty.

Chris

Do you think though, do you think when something is removed from its function by changing its scale, that allows us to appreciate the aesthetic? I mean, we see scale in relation to ourselves. So the clothes peg, once it stops being something you could literally peg clothes with and becomes a monumental object, changing its scale removes its function and allows you to appreciate the aesthetics.

Claes Oldenburg “Clothespin” (1976) Philadelphia, USA

Calvin

Correct. In a sense, it does, because you start to, you will not think of this anymore as a functional item, and you will start to look at it as a shape and you will appreciate it at an aesthetic level. And I think that’s what it does.

Chris

Do you think it’s kind of a fallacy to treat models as a real object at a distance when we’re working on them, if you see what I mean.

Calvin Tan

Well, I don’t think so. I mean, it all depends, whether or not. OK, for example, if you’re going to build a model and you’re going to build, like, say, a 1 .48 scale plane, it depends on your intention. You can just build it up and blow it up with firecrackers, or you’re going to use it as a token for wargaming, or you’re going to say to yourself, this is a small representation of history. You know?

And the thing is that all you want to do is a tribute to perhaps a Battle of Britain veteran who has flown in this particular plane. And you want to capture the whole story, the period, everything in that piece. So the things that determine how well the model is going to eventually look will largely depend, the creator, the modeler, what he hopes to achieve by building the model. Because the thing is that we are going to invest a lot of time and a lot of effort and to learn certain skills to build a particular model. And if you want it to be as realistic as possible, as convincing as possible, then it requires a longer journey. And the thing is that if your intentions are to create, let’s say, an accurate and realistic model, then you will be willing to make a sacrifice. So it all depends on the intent of the modeler. So for example, like Mirko Bayerl he’s actually a historian who models. I would never consider Mirko as a modeler. He’s more like a historian who models. He loves to see the truth, you know, in his pet subject, for example, Hungary in 1944 to 45. He likes that all the models represented during the period to be as accurate as possible. In a sense, he serves almost like a custodian, a gatekeeper to make sure that everything is as accurate as possible because he has interviewed a lot of veterans. And I believe that he has a lot of stories and he’s able to sort of channel all these stories into his work. And that’s what he wants to sort of represent. So he gets pretty annoyed and I can understand why, when they are not accurately or properly represented, he gets pretty annoyed with that. Because the thing is that he has all these references, you all need to do is just ask. He will gladly share this all with you.

I just want to see the truth being represented in the models as well. And I think a lot of people treat this more like a recreation as a hobby, say, oh, take it easy, man. I’m just gluing pieces of plastic together, making it look cool. But I think if you’re a historian, I think you find that this is a bit of a travesty. When you distort historical fact, amd turn it into some Hollywood, you know, what do you call that, action flick. Yeah, low budget B grade movie, right? Correct? Yeah.

Chris

 But if you want to tell the truth, do you think sometimes the art comes in with exaggerating certain aspects or changing the exact representational side of it to heighten the emotion of it in some way?

Calvin  

OK, so I think that is it. So the thing is that when it comes to that, in this case, when we start to move into painting technique, some of the painting techniques especially, they tend to go over the top. Because it’s all about creating the strongest visual appeal. And as a result, what happens is that it loses its what you call its original intent. The Panther, right? OK a Panther, 1944 Hungarian Panther, may not look like, it may not represent the period anymore. If you start to use a different palette of colors, it’s like, oh, this looks cool. I’ll just do it because it looks cool. And the markings are just an afterthought. And suddenly you feel that it’s well -built, but it does not really convey the mood of that particular time. And I think that artists, you need to understand your subject matter. And that’s where the research comes in. And I think a lot of people, especially the younger modelers, they are seduced by the look, the aesthetics of the model, but they fail to consider the historical context behind that. And I think in a sense, I think what a lot of the older generation of modelers who are more historically in tune

by Mirko Bayerl

They get very annoyed because they look at the skill and the abilities like, wow, with this ability, I would have done it differently. And it’s like you can sense that. I think at the end of the day, it depends. Because for me, my approach has always been to read up a bit about the subject before I actually embark on the subject itself. And I think you can see this with Mike Blank and Bill Horan, and as well as Shep Payne.

by Bill Horan

They are in, if you speak to them, if you interact with them, they are all historians. They know, they are able to tell you everything about the subject that they are modelling. And I think that is what gives depth to the models. And you can see there’s a very big difference between a very skilled Russian painter, a fantasy slash historical painter who’s able to paint very well. And if you look at, if you compare the work together with what Bill Horan has, or Mike Blank has with the very skilled painter who only paints. It’s like a gun for hire. You can see there is something missing. You know, it’s something missing. So in a sense, it’s like, if you take ramen and you like cook it and you squeeze tomato ketchup over it, you can’t really call it, you know, bolognese, right? And some people are like, okay, if you take an Instagram photo, it looks the same, but you know, it’s not going to be the same.

Chris

I’m thinking of Mirko’s work though and Roger Hurkmann’s and maybe Volker Bembenek as well a bit. They use quite a desaturated palette and they are dark in a lot of areas. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that was photorealistic, but it adds a mood which is sympathetic to the story they’re telling. So that’s what I’m talking maybe about how you heighten something in order to tell the truth. Because they add that sort of depressive pathos.

by Roger Hurkmans

Calvin

Yes. Yes, but at the same time, it should not distort. That’s the thing that a lot of people are doing. They’re using all these techniques. And invariably, it will create a much more visually appealing work. But you get the sense that it’s distorted. It doesn’t really convey the pathos of that particular period, for example.

Chris

Maybe it’s more like craft then, because it’s not done in service to the message in service to what you’re trying to communicate.

Calvin

Exactly. Exactly. And you can see that it’s pretty, and you can see this happening in the fantasy realm, where you’re looking at every piece that you look on the competition tables for the fantasy category, you will see every piece is very bright. It’s out there to catch your eye. And it’s very eye -catching. It’s very decorative. It’s aesthetically, it’s like a table of desserts, right? And that’s what I mean.

I’m not a fantasy painter, but that’s what I sense. I do love desserts, but if I look at it, it’s all sweet, it’s nice, it’s awesome.

Chris

They use incredibly high contrasts, whether it’s light and shade or colors or what have you. It’s ‘s like, you know, you get your stereo and you turn everything all the faders up to the max basically. But I have seen it done really well. At World Model Expo, there was an ogre with a fairy on his finger, tiny little fairy on his finger. And he’s looking at it. But all the light was focused between his eyes and nose and her body and it pulled the focus to the place and created that emotional sort of, joy moment which he’s supposed to be feeling and so on so it can be used well.

Modeller unkown, please contact me if you can help with attribution

Calvin

Yes, and it does require someone with the sensibility as well as the level of craftsmanship, you know, it takes years of experience to discern what is necessary and what’s not necessary to include in the work.

Chris

I think as well for some people they’re innately good. I don’t know if it’s emotional intelligence which allows them to do it, but some people are very good at.

Calvin

They are more sensitive vessels. And as I said, as artists, we are like vessels. We take in from the, we sort of take in with all the experiences that we have. We bring them together, we coalesce them, and then we sort of channel it into the artwork. And that’s what it is. And everybody has a different take. If everybody has a unique take on life, everybody has a very unique take on a particular story. And everybody will have their own way of trying to tell the story in their own.

Chris

Do you think as modelers we should be trying to put more art into our models?

Calvin

I would say it is useful if that is the purpose. Again, it depends on the approach. So I wouldn’t say that, but I’m saying that we should be recommending that there are many approaches. If you get tired of trying to glue plastics together, you can take it up to a new level and turn it into a work of expression. Because for most people, this is seen as hobby craft. It’s a hobby craft.

“I just want to come in and I just want to just open the cap of thinner or cement and stick pieces of plastic together and build a scene.” For them, it can be as simple as that. But there are some who are a bit more, well, I would say they are more knowledgeable. They read a lot. They get inspired by the stories. And they say, oh, now I want to recreate this moment. I’m going to do this, this, this, this. And they have a clear vision of what the model is going to be.

There are some people who just enjoy the process. I just want to just stick pieces of plastic together and that’s it. And they’re happy doing it. Sometimes you go to clubs and then you see some people say, I’m happy with what I… And the thing is that I don’t really tell them on how to paint. If they’re happy with it, if they’re happy with the results, that’s great, man

Chris

I think 90 % of modelers, that’s what they want to do. And I think in a sense that if we talk about modelling as a hobby and call it one thing, which I don’t think you can, but anyway, then that is it, because that’s what the majority of people want to do. So I think, I mean, I asked whether you think we should, but I don’t think we should be telling people to put more art into their modelling because modelling isn’t really about that. But if you want to make art with models, you can.

Calvin

Yep. Yes. Exactly.

It’s essentially a medium. So it depends on what hat they choose to wear. If you just want to be a craftsman, you put on the craftsman hat and just focus on the craft. And just make sure everything is precise. And then send it to the IPMS show and you get audited. And if you have the least mistakes, you get an award. Right?

Chris

or maybe not show it to anyone just model for the joy of doing it.

Calvin

Yeah, exactly. Correct. You don’t need to show anyone because it’s a hobby, right? You can just build it together, put it in a tupperware, and then put it into your closet, and then start a new piece. I know a lot of modelers like that. They don’t show the work, right? They don’t show the work. It’s purely for their own personal pursuit and mental well -being that they set to build this. But there are artists who want to sort of show, and they feel that perhaps, I guess they feel that the work can make a difference.

They want to show it, and they want to help, they want to be part of a bigger conversation, so to speak, in terms of, or want to be part of a bigger community. And take this art form, take this hobby, and bring it up to a level of an art form.

Chris
Who do you think is making art in modelling at the moment?

Calvin

I would say, OK, so I would say that it depends on the different genres. So if you look at it like Jean Bernard André, he’s actually more in terms of the fine arts because he talks about, I mean, the subject matters that he deals with. It’s more soulful. It’s more emotional. And you can see, he adopts a surreal approach in his work. So in a sense, in terms of the genre, I would say he’s particularly very successful.

Jean Andre, “Swordfish” (2024)


Then if you’re looking at traditional, like for example, Bill Horan, Mike Blank. These guys are more traditional artists in that sense. So they sort of capture the drama and the human, what you call that, emotions, right? During the Victorian or American Civil War periods. So they are particularly successful in this.

Mike Blank, “Richard III” 2013

Marijn (van Gils) is more playful, he dabbles in everything from doing a Picasso’s Guernica. And you can see he’s very inspired by Marcel Duchamp. So it’s all about redefining this. So that conversation, I think, Marijn has started out many, many years ago, back in the mid -2000s, as he’s doing this. Always trying to challenge existing status quo, challenging taboos. So that’s one way of looking at it. You can’t really call it fantasy, but I think his work does provoke a lot of thought and thinking.

Marijn van Gils, “Busted” (2011)

So I think that is something that is, I would say, one of the very defining qualities in which a lot of the artists that model, or modelers who produce some miniature art have in common. The works themselves inspires not just an emotional response, but also inspires conversations. It becomes what you call that a centerpiece to promote another conversation. So it’s like, I would say, yeah, that’s how I would say that three people are talking about it, and you’ll be using this as a segue to discuss something even broader, for example.

Chris

Modelling doesn’t need to be art. People like to call their modelling art. They don’t need to use that word to justify what they’re doing.

Calvin

I don’t think you need to. I think for us, it depends on whether or not are you doing this professionally as an artist. And then because it’s going to be very different if you’re pursuing this as a hobby. Because if you’re doing it as a hobby, then as long as I’m happy creating something, people enjoy it, I’m pretty happy about it. And the thing is that about art is that it needs to have an audience. And ultimately, once the work goes into the public domain is no longer yours. It’s going to be seen through the lens of others, and they’re going to have their opinions about it. Some may love it. Some may hate it. But eventually, it’s still the work. So unless the artist, the creator, has a specific intent for the work, and that’s where criticism and critique comes in to sort of perhaps helps you suss out any blind spots that you have overlooked.

I think critique is also very important, because some people may critique this based on the historical context. Some people may even critique it based on their own personal experiences. So if you have just, for example, I can understand why the Nazi symbol, the swastika, is particularly offensive to some people. Because they have lived through it, there are certain memories, bad memories, horrific memories connected with that particular symbol and therefore, you know, it conjures up, you know, a lot of, a lot of sentiment as well.

Chris

if art’s a conversation, then, which I think it is, between the artist and the viewer, then the artist has to listen as well as speak. So when the critique comes back, they have to take on board that if people don’t get it or something isn’t right about it or they’re getting something negative, then it’s possibly a fault in how they communicate what they’re trying to say.

Calvin

Exactly. Yes. I think a lot of people, on the surface, they may seem that they are asking for feedback, but in actual fact, their intent is to, you know, they are fishing for praise, basically. They’re fishing for compliments, actually. So generally for me, where I look at it is that I always treat critique as a way to sort of, you know, learn from mistakes because I do not know everything.

And sometimes I think we also have to defend the decisions that we have made with regards to the style we have adopted to represent our subject matter. Whether or not to use post -shading, modulation, or is it too much to put the chips too much, so on and so forth. I think we need to defend it. And it depends on what you want to convey. And as well as the colors as well. When do we use a highly saturated color, and when do we use a very desaturated palette, for example. And I think, again, it’s all about the individual’s take. And I think what we want to do is we want to promote a very safe environment whereby nobody’s wrong, but nobody’s totally right either. But we want to make sure that we have this exchange.

Chris
Yes

Calvin

It’s OK to have disagreements. But I think at the end of the day, as long as we are able to respect each other’s positions, I think that’s the most important thing. And I think it takes a lot of maturity for a community to sort of adopt these practices.

Chris

Yeah, I think that’s a great place to end. So thank you very much Calvin

Calvin

Yep. All right. Thank you very much




You can find Calvin’s Blog at https://zyclyon.blogspot.com/
He is on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/CalvinTanEuJin

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STOP IT

Stop Using Realism to dismiss the work of others.

Bear with me, this one is about to get conceptual (dare I say: philosophical), but it is not possible to make this argument without doing so.

Realism is often taken to mean that there is an objective truth, observable to all, to the way the world is, and appears to us. In modelling, this means that an object, person or machine will look exactly the same to one observer, as it looks to any other, and that this is a measure by which we can judge models, and their visual fidelity to a real-world object.

In modelling terms, this is assumed by many to be the goal of modelling. To recreate in miniature, a real-world object, as faithfully and accurately as possible. I have a huge problem with this premise, but I don’t want to digress just yet. For now, lets accept the premise in order to examine “realism” as a concept

Our perception of reality depends completely on the physical abilities we have to observe it, our cognitive abilities to process that input, and often our experience, psychological perceptions and personal biases.

Physically that might mean our eyesight and even the number and the variety of cones in our eyes. Of course, this is a minor difference, but every person’s sight is different, which means their visual input is different.

Now cognition, each of us equally has a different brain. So in addition to minor variance in the input, there is additional variance on how that input is processed, but again, so small as to basically be negligible, but there is a difference.

The real divergence occurs with how we subconsciously interpret this cognitively processed visual* input.

It is not possible for most of us to completely perceive something like a tank or an aircraft with one experience of the object, such as walking around it or looking at a photo. Even for those with eidetic memory, there will be things they cannot or did not see. This is why we need lots of reference images when we are trying to make an accurate model.

If you ask five people to observe something, they will all observe it differently, based on what they are used to looking at and why they are looking at the object. We can observe this with our non-modelling friends and family. Ask them to look at a picture of an F-18 and they will say maybe “It’s a plane” or “A grey plane” or maybe “it’s a fighter jet”. Maybe they will even say “Its an F-18”. But will they say “it’s a VFA-22 F/A-18F, probably not. But your experience and knowledge has allowed you to observe more about the aircraft and given it a different level of ‘realism’ in your mind.

Similarly, when two modellers observe a photo of a muddy Churchill tank in the Reichswald, they might both know it’s a MkVII Churchill and it’s the Reichswald. They might both know the unit and its place in the order of battle, but one might notice the convoy light is missing on the right fender, and the other might notice the stowage box on the turret is non-standard.

They are both observing reality, but they are observing it differently, with their experience, interests and biases dictating what they see, and crucially how they remember it.

The same happens with things like weathering. Someone more interested in modelling clean, technical models, where their modelling is more about their appreciation of the pure prototype, will see the aircraft in the pictures, they won’t necessarily see it when the aircraft is dirty or worn, not because they are biased against dirty aircraft, but because that’s not what they are looking for in the picture. This can lead to them not recalling seeing a dirty aircraft in their experience.

In the same way someone else might see a heavy weathered aircraft and not notice that it’s a MkIX instead of a MkI and might just replicate that dirt they were looking for on an inappropriate version of the aircraft,

So in conclusion, ‘Realism’ is not an objective state. It is subjective, based on the person that sees it.



Stop Applying Realism Outside of the Source
I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen someone say a spitfire is ‘overweathered’ because they used to be ground crew on peacetime military aircraft in the 80s. That’s like me saying I know all about submarines because I went on a passenger ferry once. Unless your experience or knowledge refers to that actual type, it is at best, marginally interesting. It is not decisive.

By the same token, people, please, for the love of all that is plastic, stop using that same single photo of a Greek A7 to ‘prove’ aircraft get dirty. If you want to take the high ground, find a photo of the type in question looking dirty. It’s out there, they always are.

Stop Appealing To Realism as “THE” Standard.

In my experience, most modellers appeal to realism as their goal. That’s fine, good even; although as I have just outlined, its not a single standard, but rather overlapping personal perceptions,
 
But it’s not the only way or reason to model. The only goal of modelling, that is (as far as I can ascertain) universal, is to have fun. Anything supplemental to that, such as recreating a ‘realistic’ model, making an artistic statement, or even just tinkering with models and never finishing one, is optional, and all options are equally valid.

Seriously, if you want to make ‘realistic’ models, you do you, you’re awesome. But if you want to judge others’ models based on whether or not you consider them realistic? No. you don’t get to do that, at least, you don’t get to do that without me laughing at your presumption. Stop complaining about other people’s ‘unrealistic’ models as if its some killer criticism, because actually it’s just you, being a dick.

STOP BEING BORING

All of this leads me to this boorish bullshit:

This meme has been around so long its pretty much eligible to vote. Its been around so long, the technique its dumping on has all but disappeared in modelling. Get a new joke.

This also applies to jokes about ‘sneaking models past the wife’.

And while I’m here, stop making threads about ‘models are overweathered’, etc. We all know ALL the answers we will see in that thread before you post it, because the arguments are so rehearsed and so often repeated their repetition makes us all physically nauseous. Please, just stop it. Get some new conversation.

I’m bored now.



*Of course, sight is just one of our senses, and I use vision only in this context of modelling as a visual medium often shared via pictures on the internet

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Challenging Modelling Pt.2 The Politics and Polemics of Modelling

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”.

  1. Legal government and lawmaking, from national government to local councils, and the parties that compete for governance.
  2. The relationships within a group or organization: such as office politics, or group dynamics.
  3. The Politics of the person: where identity becomes a personal politic, such as feminism, race equality or gender equality.
  4. 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?

*Absolutely Not*

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.

Is It Art Though?

(callback beetches)

One of my earliest bogs asked whether modelling was art (https://modelphilosopher.com/is-it-art-though/) Spoiler Alert: No, but it can be.

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

Norman Rockwell (American, 1894â??1978). New Kids in the Neighborhood (Negro in the Suburbs), 1967. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 57 1/2 in. (92.7 x 146.1 cm). Story illustration for Look, May 16, 1967. Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Printed by permission of the Norman Rockwell Family Agency. © 2013 the Norman Rockwell Family Entities

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0459-830x1024.jpg

(“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.

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The Hobby Kinda is Dying

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

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Challenging Modelling: Part:1

Introduction

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:

Rick

“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.”

Tracy

“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.”

Rick

“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:

Rick

“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.

You can here the full interview with Rick, where we talk more about this, and about Ma.K, 1/16 armour and a running a Youtube channel on episode 54 of the Sprue Cutters Union

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Building The Diorama

My ‘day job’ is not having opinions on the internet (honest), it’s actually Publishing and selling scale modelling books at Inside the Armour Publications.

If you follow my other activities like the Sprue Cutters Union, you will know I spent most of 2022/2023 working on a secret project, which was revealed at Scale Model Challenge 2023, and is the subject of my new book “Heroyam Slava (Glory to the Heroes)”

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 Title and 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 Diorama

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

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.

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Celebrate Craft

Earlier on in this blog, I laid out my argument as to why modelling is not art

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.

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The Art of Building

Building is grossly underrated in this hobby.

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.

Simply put:

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.

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