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.

About Chris

I'm Chris Meddings, Modeller, Author, Publisher of Modelling Books, Podcaster, and armchair wannabe thinker
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10 Responses to Celebrate Craft

  1. Bas Slaats says:

    Love the idea. “The world needs more makers” (Adam Savage)

  2. Stuart Halton says:


  3. Ramon says:

    You have given me new ideas to consider, although I still have difficulty finding that line between Art and Craft. Maybe there is no line. Maybe its a gradient fade between one and the other. Anyways, you have made me think.

  4. Rob Booth says:

    Agreed … More celebrating, less “judging”. In competitions, what’s being judged is not necessarily the model itself, but a summation of the skills and craftsmanship of the modeler. As such, appreciation of it is valued and feels good. “Judgement” of it is personal, and can be painful.

  5. Nigel Rayner says:

    Agree totally Chris. There’s a fairly easy dividing line between art and craft. Unless the piece is unique and causes some kind of emotional response, it’s not art. Assembling a model, no matter how much additional stuff you put on it and how many hours you spend painting and weathering it, is craft. And like you say, should not be undervalued.

    I don’t think painting figures is art either. It’s craft. Sure, it requires a greater understanding of artistic principles (like handling colour, treatment of light and so on), but it’s still a craft. It’s not creating anything unique. It’s only when you get into sculpting figures or storytelling through dioramas that demand an emotional response that you are in the world of art (like all the examples in your previous blog on this).

    I take great pleasure in the craft aspect of the hobby. It’s relaxing, enjoyable and should not be undervalued. The skill levels of master modellers can be incredibly high. But I also enjoy challenging myself by trying to create unique dioramas. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But I do find it much harder than just building a model. So let’s not pretend we are all “artists” when we are not. Let’s celebrate our craft.

  6. John Murray says:

    Spot on. I too follow a lot of channels on very diverse subjects as I appreciate the skillset that goes into these tasks. They are not artists, but, they are craftspeople of the highest calibre.

  7. I celebrate and enjoy craft. This article gave me reasons to do more so. And I agree that you can’t find much art in our hobby. And those crying art usually mean high level of craftsmanship, so it’s about the word one is using and not the meaning. And in competitions it’s always about craftsmanship and never about art.

    I rejoined our hobby some 15 years going just for craftsmanship. I soon got into scratch building, and dioramas, and then into figure sculpting to broaden my tools and possibilities. Yes, my teacher and friend in figure sculpting (well-known and with many international distinctions, grand master titles etc.) was adamant on this matter; he was always telling us he is not an artist and he is not even interested in art. Fair enough.

    But at some point the work of a certain dioramist showed me that there is a way to art in our hobby. And since then that is what interests me in my personal work.

    I always enjoy craftsmanship and skills and I am trying to learn new techniques or master those I already know at some level. I buy and try new tools and new materials.
    And I appreciate skills and techniques when I see them on works of others.

    But what I am after is art. I do not say that I make art in my little dioramas, just that that’s what I am trying to do.

  8. Thanks for another thought provoking piece.
    Obviously, from what you have written, high quality craftspersonship does not have to be art. But I wonder if a piece can be art without also being high quality craftspersonship. Can a piece that is less than perfect convey that emotional message that distinguishes art from craft? I suspect that the answer it ‘No’ but I don’t get to enough displays/competitions to have seen a broad enough sample.
    I also wonder if the sense of exhaultation or awe inspired by seeing a perfectly made piece of craft can be mistaken for the emotional response of being effected by a piece of art? Thus the confusion between craft and art.

  9. Jamie Stokes says:

    I’m in agreement with you on this.
    The arts and crafts as a profession has been around for several hundred years, and shifted to a much smaller part of the population with the advent of the industrial age.

    “Is modelling a display of craftsmanship? ” is a much better question than “Is modelling art?”
    Modelling is a odd overlap between industrially produced scale kits and the application of learned skills in assembling, painting and finishing the model.

    So long as we enjoy the process of applying the skills, that’s the craft.

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