Finishing is Overrated

How many times have you seen someone beat themselves up for never finishing a model? Or abandoning a project unfinished? Who reading this, has a “Shelf of Shame”?

Let me turn that on its head: Why is not finishing kits, a bad thing?

Think about what you enjoy about the hobby, and what you don’t enjoy. If you enjoy construction and don’t finish because you don’t enjoy painting, don’t paint. The model police is not going to come knocking on your door if your airbrush has cobwebs on it.

Maybe you enjoy painting and building, but worry that your weathering will ‘ruin’ your work. Well, you have two choices: you can either let go of the idea that you have to weather, (you don’t if you don’t want to); or you can buy a cheap Tamiya, slap it together, spray it, and experiment at lower risk than some build you spent months on. When you finish that, strip the paint back off and save it for next time you feel you lack confidence, it’s now your mule.

Maybe you just like opening a new box and assembling for a while, then get bored. Maybe you lack the time to finish models. The problem is often not that we start too many models, but that we put pressure on ourselves, or perceive pressure from convention, to finish them.

I’m here to give you absolution, a get out of jail card, a free pass to the next ride:

Finishing models is overrated and you don’t have to do it.

You can enjoy your hobby any way you want. One person, one bench. Define how you enjoy that for yourself, and if you don’t enjoy finishing models, don’t finish models. You don’t owe a model kit, or anyone, anything.

“Yeah Yeah, but what if I WANT to finish more?!

Well, you can finish more if you still don’t feel happy with just doing the part you find easy to get done.

Maintain the Momentum

Most models get abandoned because we abandon them (duh Chris). Don’t. There comes a point in every build where it sucks: this is The Point of Resistance, push through it. I know it sucks, I know you might not feel confident doing it, I know you won’t enjoy it. Suck it up buttercup, because the other side of it is fun again, and the road to that finished model you want to finish.

“What if I ruin the model?” Yeah, you might. But chances are you that you won’t.
More than likely, you will overcome any problems and get a model you like a lot, and that achieve that satisfaction you wanted from finishing.

An abandoned model will never be ruined, but neither will it ever be finished. You have to decide if the disappointment of never finishing is more palatable than the disappointment of a finish you don’t like. But I guarantee you this, that if you don’t push through, you will never get it finished. You and I both know it will sit there forever, or until you bin it.

Squirrels!

Don’t start anything else. Yeah I know, easier said than done, but if you can’t discipline yourself not to open new boxes before you finish something, you will likely never finish anything. In that case, you are better off being honest with yourself and accepting that your hobby is opening boxes and enjoying a little building, not finishing models. (And as I said, that is A-OK). But if you want to change, then stop chasing squirrels.

When you do finish a model, instead of opening a new one, try taking one off the Shelf of Shame and finishing that instead. I often do this and usually I can’t understand why I ever abandoned the project in the first place. Often the Point of Resistance on this one has been overcome by experience, improved skill, or maybe even just distance from the build for a while. At worst, a model taken from the Shelf of Shame is not far from a mule, and you probably won’t have as much invested in it as you did when you abandoned it, so the risk of finishing it is lower than it once was. At best it can rekindle your original love affair with the subject and give you a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding experience.


Fail to Plan, and You Plan to Fail

Most projects that fail, do so before you even open the box. You need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve before you start a project if you want to complete it. I know from my own experience that if I don’t have a pretty clear idea of what I want a project to turn out like, whether it is for a dio or stand alone, the scheme, the markings, the weathering, everything, I am unlikely to ever finish it. I have started many models because I wanted to build the kit, but never finished the project because I didn’t really know how I wanted it to look, and building out of the box is anathema to me.

Before you start, make that decisions, and make a plan. You can change it later, if you get a better idea, but being aimless is a killer. If you have a clear goal, you will know what you want and need to do at every stage of the build, and if something is going to be a challenge, (I often take on a build because it will give me a new challenge) you can plan for it in advance. If you have a plan, you will succeed.

Do or Do Not, it Doesn’t Matter

Seriously, you should not beat yourself up if you don’t enjoy finishing. You don’t have to. Embrace your hobby for what it is, not what you feel others think it should be. But if you want to finish more, try the above, and I guarantee that if you commit to it, you will succeed. All you need is confidence and I, for one, believe in you.

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Setting the Standard: Scale Model Challenge 2023

This weekend I attended what was, by my reckoning, probably my 6th or 7th Scale Model Challenge. In the last few years it has become the unmissable show in the modelling calendar for me and I would never willingly miss another.

The dust is slowly settling, and social media is full, as it is every year, with so many posts about the fun we had and the friends we met and made. Every year the show seems to grow and new people discover it, and honestly, seeing people discover it for the first time is one of my favourite things, because they all love it. All of them.

The show is, without a doubt, the most welcoming and positive model show I have been to. (with perhaps the equally welcoming and friendly Shizuoka Hobby Show, where I exhibited twice, thanks to the good offices of Mr. Norio TAKEMURA.) There is no snobbery at the show, no negativity, it is a pure celebration of the full range of modelling from fantasy miniatures to scratch built AFVs and Aircraft and everything in between. Of course, all shows pretty much welcome all genres, but arriving at SMC is like getting a massive, warm and comforting hug. Its not just your models that are made to feel special at SMC, is YOU too. Because of that, SMC has easily the most diverse attendance, in terms of age, gender, sex, race, nationality, everything.

This is not a show dominated by pale, stale, males like me, and I LOVE it for that.

But There Are Models?? RIGHT?

Dude, chill, there are models. Oh My Goodness there are models. 2300 models in competition plus 46 Club stands with another, maybe, 1000 models to look at.


Neeeeeeeooooowwwww! The Aircraft

I’ll say this upfront, this is not a show dominated by aircraft models, like your average IPMS show. There were about 100 in competition, although all were stunning, including this gold medal winner, and Best of Show (Ordnance) contender by Damian Piekarczyk.

This also demonstrates how you don’t need to heavily weather your model to place at a European show. This was a stunning example of technical model making and a tour de force of scratch detailing and precision modelling.

Also in Aircraft, Sébastien Tartar scored a gold with this beautiful display of 1/72 aircraft

I was especially happy for my good friend Will Pattison for his gold for his “Armastang”

So while there were not as many aircraft at SMC as you would find at the USA IPMS Nats or Scale Modelworld, the standard is uniformly excellent and very varied in style and subject. Of course there are also a lot of wonderful models not in competition, so at the show I would say there were 200-300 aircraft models

TANKS!

Armour is always very well represented at SMC, and honestly, I think the best armour modellers in the world attend this show, but at the same time beginners and intermediate modellers are welcome. This year, I judged the beginners category and we sought to encourage the best in what we saw and to reward people for their work. This is a positive show, not an elitist one.

Some things I loved this year in AFVs an Dioramas:

Seeing Spud‘s Sherman in person was a treat:

As was seeing Sam Dwyer’s Panther

I also really enjoyed Dan Sankey‘s ‘Pigeon Break’!

International Modellers were in huge evidence at this year’s show, another thing the show seems to have over others with more people in attendance from places as far away as New Zealand, China, South America, North America (more on that later) and Japan. Including Yamashiro Masaya with his “Mined Scape”, which I loved.

I don’t know how many AFVs were entered, but I know it was a LOT, and the standard was stellar. In addition there was plenty to see, again on the club tables, including superb displays by the Four Corners Model Club, and Scale Model Brigade, amongst others.

Ships…

Ok so there are not many ships at the show. I can tell you as a ship modeller myself, that there are not many of us, but you will get a better showing at other shows like Mosonshow and Scale Modelworld for ships. That’s just a fact. I hope it improves in coming years, but honestly the numbers seem to oscillate.

I did hugely enjoy these models though:
Christian Bruer’s HMS Belfast (Silver, Ships, Masters).

(I could not get a good photo at the show, so here is one from Christian’s Page)

Also I loved Guido Hopp’s incredible HMS York:

both of these models got Silver in Ships/ Masters. but for some small flaws, they could both have been Gold, but Gold in masters is HARD to get. These are not participation trophies. Christian and Guido had to make superb models to get Silver

Also, I loved Therese Emilie Tilrem’s 1/700 HMS Dido cruiser. This was just beautiful. This is a Flyhawk kit, and they are superb, but it takes a skilled modeller with a very deft hand to get this much out of them. This won Silver in Ships/ Standard

Again, ships are also well represented on the club stands. I had the incredible honour to be able to literally handle Marijn van Gils stunning Trafalgar diorama pieces in progress


Its Not All WAR WAR WAR

Civilian vehicles, dioramas and figures play a big part in the show at Scale Model Challenge.

In fact, Per Olav Lund won Best in Show (Ordnance) [There are separate Best of Shows for ordnance, fantasy figures, and historical figures.] with his “Men and Wales” (previously featured on this blog)

As you can see, Tracy, Will and I liked it so much, we also gave it the Sprue Cutters Union Best Storytelling in Miniature Award

There was also a wonderfully rendered and detailed Apollo 11 capsule by Gert Mertens, who won Silver in Aircraft masters (photo by Erich Reist)

There were also cars and motorbikes and anything you could want to look at.

Such Fine Figures of Men (and Women, and Orks, and Fairies, and Spacewarriors and ……)

Of course, SMC is widely known for attracting figure modellers. I spoke to famous figure artists at the show, and loved admiring their work. Figures, sometimes more than armour or aircraft, are so hard to appreciate in photos, no matter how good the photos. Seeing them in person is just another level.

But I also spoke to a lot of beginners new to the hobby and the show: hell I’M a beginner figure modeller and I entered the beginner’s historical and fantasy category, and was lucky enough to get a gold. Getting a gold means you have to move to the next level and I was thrilled to know that I am good enough now for the standard category, but honestly, if I wasn’t I would still be thrilled to show my work with so many amazing modellers. and there are a LOT of amazing figures at this show.

A lot of these beginners and people new to the hobby were kids and under 25s. They were incredibly eager and excited to devour everything at the show, and they were fearless in asking questions and approaching people. And the conversations I saw showed people were excited to meet these young people and talk to them about the hobby.

This show doesn’t enable gatekeeping, it encourages us all to burn the gates down and dance on the ashes.

Lets look at some of the incredible work in the figure categories, starting with best of show for fantasy, by Patrick Masson (Sculpt) and Eric Swinson (painting).

This photo is by Martin Visscher

You can see why it won. The sculpting is simply incredible, by any measure, and as if that isn’t enough, the painting is outstanding, as befits an BoS.

Best of show in historical was “Ignacio Wills. Alpens- 1873” by Juan C Avila Ribadas. This was unusual, because to my memory, in past years the BoS has usually gone to a group compostion (but I could be wrong). Anyway, it is a very simple figure and I think that makes the miniature all the more impressive to be so arresting and well conceived and finished. It truly is sublime. (Photo by J C Avila Ribadas)

But SMC is accused by some (who have never attended the show, of course) of being elitist. Let’s bury that stinking zombie. As I said, there were a lot of beginners and young people at the show, and they were not only allowed to be there, they were enthusiastically welcomed. The Sprue Cutters Union ran two discussion panels and both were attended by a mix of young and old, and old masters and neophytes, and their questions were embraced by the panel and without the usual “‘pay your dues, you must learn to do the hobby how we did it in the 60s and 70s”* dogma that haunts scale modelling. This is a show for, and attended by, people who embrace change*, while some others make a virtue of resisting it.

Lets have a look at some of the awesome work from painters at the show.

We are… North American Chums

I said I would come back to Americans, so I am. This year also saw the first visit to SMC for the Plastic Posse Podcast, and it was awesome to meet TJ, JB, Jensen and Jackson. I was very glad to see they enjoyed the show. Its always a worry after hyping something that it can’t possibly live up to it, and although I know they didn’t come because of anything I said, I know it was part of a general hype that SMC gets in the model world (unless you live in an IPMS bubble, apparently none of them had even heard of the show in its 14 years…)

Jensen’s comment on his own page said it all:

“Once you attend Scale Model Challenge you learn what the standard is!”

And he was right. This is the greatest model show in the world. It doesn’t have the biggest competition, that title went to World Model Expo, and IPMS USA Nats is still bigger at a record of 3300, but at 2300, its in the top three.

It doesn’t have the most vendors, that goes to SMW, but only by 16 this year (SMW 166, SMC 150). But it has the best variety of vendors I have ever seen at a show and 99% of them are small hobby business you will not usually see at shows, selling unique and interesting stuff you didn’t know you wanted till you found them.

But it does have the best atmosphere, it is so much more welcoming, vibrant, diverse, and dammit HAPPY than any other show I have been to. If I had to use one word to describe SMC it would be “exuberant” (full of energy, excitement, and cheerfulness, characterized by a vigorously imaginative artistic style: Oxford English Dictionary). Other shows are great, but no other show feels like this.

While SMC does not exceed all other shows in every measure, it exceeds all others in some. It is the best all round package and the only show I would never, ever miss. As I get older and poorer (thanks Brexit and the Economy) I necessarily have to limit my travel. But this is nailed on. And this is repeated by everyone I ask, and I asked a lot of people this weekend. For many people this is the only unmissable show in the calendar and only people I ask who have never tried it disagree, once you have been to SMC, you never miss it again.


That’s how it sets the standard: in sheer, unalloyed, profound modelling joy.

My deepest and sincerest gratitude to the team at SMC, What you do is incredible, and unbelievably, every year it gets better…

Chris

PS Erich Reist did a stunning set of images of people enjoying the competition that really captures the atmosphere of the show and the people. Check it out here:

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Look Again

Modelling, like any visual medium, has its own language. There are obvious tropes, like Tigers and Shermans and Spitfires and 109s, and there are modern modelling tropes like “‘heroic’ German retreats from Russia” models, whitewashed T-34s and Panzers with rusty metal and primer red panels, that have become clichés in the last 20 years. But I’m not here to bash tropes and clichés (as much as I LOVE to).

At the same time, there are finishing tropes. accepted ways to depict rust, bright Olive Drabs, rain and dust streaking, and panel streaking on aircraft. These are looks that are accepted as the way something looks, somewhat divorced from how something may have looked. But again, I’m not here to complain about realism (I already litigated that HERE.)

What I’m getting to, is that modelling has become so full of clichés and tropes, and accepted ways of depicting things, that an expectation has creeped in: that you must use these things if you want your model to be understood.

What Are You Looking At?

This has raised its head for me recently with Will Pattison’s 1/48 Easy 8.

When Will posted this on Facebook, people assumed it was intended to be the improvised wooden armour on Shermans in the Pacific theatre, like this one on Tinian:

But it wasn’t.

Will was making a what-if speculative model where some crew had welded steel angle to their tank. This didn’t stop people telling him his wood looked wrong, he needed more woodgrain chipping, and just generally lots of comments about his wooden armour. If you look closely at the picture, you can see its angle metal.

The problem is that people were seeing what they expected to see, rather than what was there.

Will took that as a failure to communicate; that what he was doing did not translate to what people were seeing, but I don’t think the failure was his.

Some time ago I did a museum diorama of the Cobbaton Combat Collection‘s Centurion AVRE, using the superb AFV Club kit.

A feature of the museum is that they use mannequins in the exhibits and they like to make the vehicles look ‘lived in’

I decided to paint some 1/35 figures like the mannequins and pose them like them.

When I showed progress to Will and Tracy they said they didn’t work. That people might just think they were badly painted figures. And they were right, but for me, they were also wrong. While people may think that when they look at the figures, it was more important to me to paint them as I wanted them to look, to be true to the actual thing, than to fit what a modeller may see through the lens of their conception of the hobby.

Later I painted rust on a vehicle and I had the same dilemma. The rust on the real thing did not look like rust on a model. There are many many many kinds of rust of course, but in modelling we more commonly go for a very uniform look, that is usually tending towards oranges and reds, with some grey, and a lot of speckling. But my reference didn’t look like that:

(Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)

I tried to replicate the photo and failed, but again it was more important to me to try to do this, than to conform to the common visual language for a subject like this.

EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG

That’s what happens right? Often when a modeller makes a poor model, they blame everyone else for not getting it, that’s what I’m doing right? No. I’m not blaming anyone who doesn’t get what I’m trying to do, for not getting what I’m trying to do. I understood when I did these things that they may be misunderstood because they don’t conform to the usual way we see models.

When you come up against something like this, you can decide, is it more important to be understood, or to make it how you want to make it? Why do you make a model?

Its up to you

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Sprue Cutters Union Episode 51: Alex Duchamp

I speak to a lot of people while I am writing these blogs. The ideas in them are not all my own imaginings, they are things I have learned from discussing issues with people like Tracy and Will on the pod, and friends like Ivan Cocker, Lester Plaskitt, Marijn van Gils, Flip Hendrickx, Adrian Davies, Barry Biediger, and others. In discussing these ideas we often test them through picking them apart and taking opposing views, and I love that.

In episode 51 of the Sprue Cutters Union, which I just uploaded, Tracy and I got to do that with Alexandre Duchamp, who I also featured in the blog on Art in modelling . We had a fantastic discussion covering a wide range of ideas and I think its a great representation of what I’m talking about here. Ideas, tested, and debated and discussed.

You can listen to it on any podcast app, or directly, here: https://spruecuttersu.buzzsprout.com/

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Storytelling


Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I’ll Begin….

A long time ago, in a far and distant land, modellers started saying ‘storytelling’ at each other in excited whispers. It started with the strange people of Diolandia, and soon the people of all the kingdoms started thinking their models were great novels and storied fables…

Seriously though, “storytelling” is the latest buzzword in modelling, especially on the Model Podcasterati (I’m sure as hell guilty on the SCU) but what does it even mean?

Before I get into it, I want to refer you back to my previous essay on Art HERE, as the two are related. I would also like refer you to a fantastic chat I had with Barry Biediger (from the Small Subjects Podcast) on one of my podcasts: Models from Ukraine, recently, but you won’t need to listen to it to understand this argument.

I can also strongly recommend Marijn van Gils’ book for AK Interactive, the snappily titled “DIORAMAS F.A.Q. 1.3 EXTENSION – STORYTELLING, COMPOSITION AND PLANNING” (Jeez, what a mouthful). Ignore the title, it is actually the only book you will ever need on the art of the diorama.

Enough supporting material, lets dive in:


A Disclaimer

Storytelling has taken on an importance in a lot of modellers minds. It’s something lots of people now want to get into, but it is not important for a model to tell a story. As I outlined in “The Tyranny of Realism”, it’s perfectly fine to make a model that is just a study in engineering. Basically, to make a small version of the real thing, as accurately as you can. That is a more than legitimate way to model and I am not saying you need to make models into stories or art, and I am not saying models that do that, are better than any other. I want to make that clear, because on social media, a few people have misrepresented these blogs in that way.

Enough Supporting Material, and Caveats, Let’s Dive In:

What are we even talking about? What is a story? In modelling terms, we are basically talking about adding a sense of time to our models.

There are two schools of thought on how to do this:

1. Contextual story telling – This is where we read the weathering of a model, or the setting, to deduce what has happened to it in the past, and maybe where it is now. This form has no narrative theme, it is a history of the depicted model rather than a true story in the sense we associate with a novel, say, or a film or play.

2. Narrative story telling – This has a story, with a cast of characters, that the view can read or decipher. It tells us that an event is happening. This usually takes the form of a vignette or diorama, but not always. This is a story in the traditional sense, with characters and events depicted or implied.

These are difficult to describe in brief, so lets look at them in depth, and with some examples.

1. Contextual Story Telling

The benefit of this method is that you can apply it to a single model, if modelling a single machine, or figure, is your preference.

In this style of storytelling, how you build and finish the model tells the story. You may add elements and details to the model such as personal items for the crew, or battle damage, to give the object of your model an individualised past, that a clean, prototypical model does not have.

Example A – “Super Bug” by Will Pattison

On the face of it, this is a very dirty late version F-18. Already I can hear the gnashing of ‘Realist’ teeth about its filthy appearance. “They aren’t old enough, they never get that dirty, no crew chief would ever!” blah blah, use your eyes. The clues are on the model, it tells you the story if you look close enough.

The first things you might notice, are the dirt and the paint patches. These tell us the aircraft has done a lot of deployments on a carrier and been patched a lot for corrosion control. It looks beat up, which is not what we expect to see on a Super Hornet. But look closer and we see the clues. On the left side of the nose, the message “300 HEI 26Nov32” is written, and the ship name on the rear fuselage is “USS Doris Miller”, the planned forth carrier in the Gerald Ford class, which will not be laid down until 2026. So, what we are looking at is a future projection of how an F-18 will look in 10 years. With these clues the weathering makes sense. The story is completed by the well observed dirt and corrosion control, translated from older aircraft like F-14s to an F-18 in 2032.

Example B – Sherman by John Murphy
Spud’s Sherman is multi-layered in visual cues that tell a story too. The patina tells us the tank has done some miles. There is dust clinging to the matt paint and collects in the crevices and where angles meet. But where the crew mount the tank, and around high traffic areas like hatches, the dirt is stained with ground-in darker grime, and edges and hatch cushions are polished by regular contact. We can picture the crew without the model having a single figure, reading the story of regular contact. Stains, one dark and oily and one light, run from fuel and water filler caps and the drainage holes, telling us about refilling spills.

On top of the turret, we see spent shells and belt links from the .30 and .50cal MGs, suggesting not just a little use, but some quite heavy firing. But by contrast, a bucket of baseballs hangs from the MG clamps on the back of the turret, and a baseball bat, mitt, and ball rest on the rear deck. The baseball stuff adds arguably more to the story of this model than anything else. We can see beyond the warlike nature of the machine and its weapons, to a life the crew has outside of fighting, and we can picture them off-duty, playing catch and laying out a scratch diamond for a couple of innings.

Finally, the wear on the on-vehicle tools is a nice touch. Paint has worn off the wooden handles through wear and use and the metal components have dirt and grime and grease ground in, adding a picture of hard work to the image of the crew.

Overall, the story Spud is telling us, is of the men that crew this tank. Even before figures are placed on the model, the ‘shadow’ of the human is all over it and we get a detailed picture of their life through the weathering, and the items Spud has added to the model.

When Spud adds the figures, it completes the story, with the loader’s jacket…

2. Narrative Storytelling

Example A – “Men and Whales” by Per Olav Lund
Per Olav is a master of narrative storytelling, and this piece is no exception. In this piece, he uses our common cultural knowledge to bring to mind stories like Moby Dick, and sepia images of whale hunting from the end of the 19th century. This is an image of whaling in the age of sail, rather than the mechanised whaling of contemporary times that proves so deeply controversial. With their hand-held harpoons, and the immense size of the whale, it also recalls the cave paintings of men chasing mammoths from millennia ago.

We can instantly read the story. These men have set out to hunt a whale, and they have found a big one. Per Olav always does his research, the boat is a ship’s boat known as a whaleboat, which features point stem and stern, and a low freeboard and shallow draught. This design gave the boats optimum speed under sail or when rowed, which of course was essential for catching up to whales to allow them men to use their harpoons. Typically, these boats would be launched from a ship, the crews would harpoon the whale, then the whale would have to drag them and the boat, tethered to the harpoons in its flesh, until the whale tired too much to run, then it would be towed back to the ship. But of course, this was not so simple in practice.

In this case the whale has turned to attack the whalers and the boat is lifted by its tail, the crew spilling and falling. The whaler at the front of the boat hangs tight to the rope of the harpoon they have already lodged in their quarry. He braces his foot and leans hard back, knowing that letting go could be the end of their chase. Behind him, his shipmate readies another harpoon, hoping that two will slow the whale and say its strength. Two sailors tip into the water, from the violet thrust of the whale’s tail under their boat. At the back of the boat, a boy clings to the gunwhale, cowering in terror in the bottom of the boat. Another sailor reaches for him to hold onto him and stop the boy also being ejected from the boat. It was common practice for boys as young as 12 to apprentice on ships, even in navies, up to the 1940s.

Below them the sea is dark and deep, and the tail of the wheel flicks their boat with such energy, that the men, their boat, and everything they have is tossed into chaos.

The basic story is obvious, but in the details, the motion, the expressions of the men and the boy, it becomes so much deeper and richer. A masterpiece of storytelling.

Example B – “Fear” by Ivan Cocker

Ivan Cocker is another superb modeller at depicting emotion and telling a story. In this diorama, he gives us a story from Operation Barbarossa.

The scene shows three young Russian soldiers hiding in a shell hole under an upturned BT tank. The shell hole and the upturned tank tell us that they are in the middle of an artillery barrage. The telegraph pole with its severed lines is symbolic of them being cut off. (Visually it also creates a nice triangle to the composition, of course). The tree trunk resting on the tank has been torn up by titanic forces, and dropped there, and in the hole, the three men hold their helmets, their rifles and each other for dear life as the world around them explodes in sound, fury, and fire.

We can imagine them running into battle with their comrades, we can imagine them coming under the barrage, and we can imagine them emerging from the hole and into captivity as the unseen enemy advances. In a nutshell, it encapsulates the steamroller advance of the German forces in the opening of Operation Barbarossa, and the overwhelmed and shell-shocked Russians they overran. Great, simple, narrative storytelling.

Conclusion

You don’t have to tell a story in your model: like whether or not you weather, or choose one scale over another, or build OOB or superdetail, its just another choice in your modelling.

But if you choose to, it can really enrich your model, it can add a depth and context to a model or scene that you can’t get with a model of a prototypical machine. If you do elect to do it though, make sure you understand your story and make sure everything on the model serves the story you are telling. And please, try to make it an interesting story! Ground grew loading ammunition in the wing of a P-47 is a story, but does it say anything interesting? Or is it just “there were men who did this and this is how they did it?” Consider making them look tired to tell the story of round the clock operations, or maybe have them goofing off, to show young men conscripted to warlike activity reverting to their true selves. Try to make it a story that adds some emotion or character.

That’s it for this one. I hope you enjoyed reading this and I look forward to reading your comments as always

Chris

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The Tyranny of Realism



Start any conversation about scale modelling, and sooner or later, someone tell you “the purpose of modelling is realism”. Indeed, many arguments centre around whether something is realistic, from the tired old ones like “panel lines aren’t visible from scale distance” to arguments about colours. The default assumption seems to be that realism is the goal of modelling for everyone.

It is not.

Nor should it be.



What’s Wrong with Realism?!

Nothing. It’s a totally legitimate aim, and I concede that it is the aim of the majority of modellers.  I’m all for rivet counters. I used to be one myself, and many modellers I hugely respect count rivets. They make highly detailed, highly accurate models and I love what they do. But that is only one way to model.

In addition I see a lot of people who, frankly, don’t make spectacularly accurate models, but complain about ‘over weathering’ and panel lines because “They aren’t realistic”. If these guys don’t like these things, of course they are entitled to. But projecting it on others, is a problem our hobby does not need.

One thing is bullshit, Ima gonna say it. The idea that what we are doing is making a model that looks like the real thing seen from the distance required to make it appear that small to your eye. What kind of mental gymnastics is that?! Holy cow people if that’s your argument, you might want to ask yourself how you need to work so hard to make it make sense. If that offends you, fair enough, stop reading here, but don’t try and ‘educate me’ on Facebook, when I post a link to this, because I could not give a crap.

The argument I will totally accept is that we are making scale models of real things. This should be more-or-less obvious to anyone, it’s the aim of manufacturers to make an accurate representation of the real thing, and it’s the aim of most modellers to assemble (maybe correcting) and finish it to accurately resemble the same real thing. So far, so obvious, and uncontroversial.

I Like Big Buts and I Cannot Lie

BUT, you don’t have to make realism the object of your hobby. This hobby is often referred to as ‘an art’. Art is not concerned with hyper realism. Art has something to say, and it plays with realism to get that over. The impressionists are probably the most popular artists of the last 300 years. Tens of thousands of people flock to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris every year to see Monet’s “Water Lilies”. Tens of thousands visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam every year to gaze at ”Starry Night”, “Sunflowers” and his self-portraits, and the Sistine Chapel is nearly constantly full of people staring up at the work of Michealangelo and his apprentices.

None of these are photorealistic, but they represent things how we perceive them as human beings. Starry night speaks to us on an emotional level, the sunflowers still look like sunflowers, and the Sistine Chapel is obviously a narrative, and one that most people with even the most basic knowledge of a Judeo-Christian religion knows about the “creation of man”. We don’t need these works to be photo-realistic to be ‘true’.

You Can Handle the Truth

But I’m wandering into art again, and this is about models. Many modellers want to represent a conception of their subject. They want to make a tired spitfire that has flown a lot of sorties and seen a lot of action, or they want to make a Sherman that has fought its way from Normandy to Nuremburg, or a Tiger I that has seen a Russian winter, or A6M Zero that’s seen a lot of coral strips and hot pacific suns. They can look for a photo and copy it, and quite probably the photo won’t match what you see on these models. But these models still tell the viewer what the modeller wanted to say. Not that “this is what a Sherman exactly looked like”, but “this is a tired, war weary Sherman” (“war-weary” really is a terrible modelling cliché, but that’s a personal hobby horse I’ll die on another day, its still a legitimate thing for a modeller to do if they want). Using the heavy weathering, pumping the colour contrasts and adding a ton of stowage may not be realistic, but it creates the full impression the modeller wants to make, an impression based on their conception of the history of that machine. It may not be a story taken from an actual life, but it is their conception of the truth of the object that they are representing.


We Aren’t Inventing the Shrinko-matic

The fact is, for most people, we are not making shrunken versions of the real thing. I know some of you will be experience blood-pressure spikes reading that, but we aren’t. If we were then you had better be shaving edges to actual scale, adding every missing detail, and applying your paint in scale thickness because if you are trying to make a perfectly scaled replica of the real thing, and you content some modelling things are “unrealistic” then you are either opening an all-or-nothing can of worms, or your are cherry picking to suit your personal bias.

What we are making, is models. A model is a physical object that represents (representation is a very broad word, don’t get hung up that it means total fidelity) a full-sized real world or fantasy (in the case of sci-fi etc.) object. It is not the real think shrunk down, it’s a model, and a model, necessarily, makes compromises to represent the thing it is based on. How many compromises, and how big they are can be a personal choice. You do not have to worship at the temple of (perceived) realism.

Free Your Mind and the rest is Models
 

Once you break free of the self-imposed restriction of realism, you can give full rein to that creativity everyone claims to want to have with their models. You can firmly, and forever, put what you want to say, or the story you want to tell, in front of the need to faithfully and slavishly copy reality.

That doesn’t mean you have to abandon accuracy. I still like to make accurate models, for sure. But you don’t have to let accuracy get in the way of making the model you want to make, that tells the ‘truth’ you want to tell.

Unlike the compromises I was talking about with the idea of creating a true scaled replica, you can choose which ones you make in order to let you achieve your goals, some accuracy you can keep if you want, some you can discard, but you don’t have to slavishly keep them all if they don’t serve the purpose of your model, if you are no longer trying to tell everyone that your model is ‘realistic’.

Realism is Only One Way

To reiterate, because I know by now some heads are a poppin’, there is nothing at all wrong with realism as the goal of your modelling. For many people their ‘truth’ is to as faithfully as they can, represent the prototypical object. This is as valid a goal of modelling as any other.

But it is not more valid, nor should it be accepted as *the* goal of modelling. When it all comes down to it, we are one person, at one bench, making a model. The rest, how you do it, and why, is up to you.

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Is it Art Though?

Yeah, I know, the perennial question: “Is modelling Art?” This is not an answer, more of an opinion, I guess.

What is Art? Mirriam Webster can swing; I’m not going to bore you with a dictionary definition that fits my bias. Defining art is like wrestling jelly (Jello. if you are a north American), you can’t get to grips with it, and you end up with a mess. However, we need a frame of reference, so I suppose I had better give it a try. Before I do though, bear in mind this is an opinion, and the arguments thereafter will hang on this opinion. Others are very much available, and I encourage everyone to always seek a plurality of opinions.

The short answer, to quote United States Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, is “I know it when I see it?”

The long answer is this:

Most people in modelling fall back on the same basic argument: modelling is creative, and art is the act of making an object using creativity. However, I have two issues with this.

The first is that creativity means to make something using your own imagination or conception. When you talk to most modellers, nearly all I have spoken to, there is a need to conform to the reality of the object they are making. They try to get the colours right (or at least in the right ballpark) and to make the model so that it looks like the prototype. So how is this creative? You can argue that there is some wiggle room, you can put it in a scene, or weather it a certain way, or use non-kit decals, but really, isn’t this just fiddling with the detail? The aim is to faithfully replicate something real. So, if we accept that (yes, I can hear teeth grinding as I type this, but bear with me), then necessarily the second part of the basic argument outlined above, falls flat.

So, I am saying modelling isn’t art, right? No, that is not what I am saying. Well…. OK, it is. A bit.

Most definitions of art say that it elicits an emotional response. I can agree with this, although I would also argue it can challenge intellectual responses too. In other words, it makes you feel, or think. So, can this apply to modelling? Yes, it can.

Let’s look at some models that I consider good examples of this:

Marijn van Gils: “Zappa”



The emotion that sizzles off Marijn’s “Zappa” like steam of a volcano is sheer, unalloyed, joy. Marijn captures Zappa in an exultant moment of unselfconscious abandonment to the power of the chord he has just struck. You can hear it ring from the speakers even though there is no speaker on the scene, and you can feel the feeling Zappa is feeling right now. This feeling, and the power with which Marijn communicates it, is Art, with a capital ‘A’.

But it’s not just the feeling. It is successful because Marijn gives you only just enough to make it work; we have the figure, the guitar, a tiny piece of monitor, and the stage. That’s it. Any element which does not serve the piece, is removed. Any distraction from the main area of focus is removed. It is of single purpose: the message, and anything which does not communicate that message is noise. Marijn eliminates the noise to allow you to purely engage with the signal.


Of course, the main element is the figure. Here, Marijn references Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 cubist painting “nude descending staircase” and the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s work on capturing human and animal motion with multi-exposure sequences (which he made between 1878 and 1886).

Nude Descending Staircase 2 -  Marcel Duchamp 1912

Eadweard Muybridge, "study of man running"

Motion is expressed by multiple sculpts of Zappa in stages of his motion forward and upward, which have been compressed into a single multi-limbed figure, with each stage differentiated by colour saturation. This is incredibly difficult to sculpt and paint, especially so successfully, and the deceptively simple scene belies the outstanding technical achievement, as it should. You don’t want the technique casting shade on the message.Clean, audacious, with an emotional blast that you can’t ignore.

Exuberant Art.

Peter Usher: “Mind the Gap”

Peter Usher, "Mind the Gap"

Like Marijn’s work, I could have picked almost anything Peter makes, but I’ve chosen his famous “Mind the Gap” diorama.

This is the kind of scene that a lot of modellers try to do, and most fail. They fail because they don’t put enough thought into the composition, and the details. Peter has kept it very simple, dividing the scene into thirds. These remind me of classical altar piece triptychs of the Calvary, such as Paul Peter Reubens “the Raising of the Cross” (1610) In the centre is the suffering. On the left the onlookers, and on the right the loved one in anguish.

In artistic terms, the central two protagonists are perhaps most reminiscent of “The Creation of Adam” By Michaelangelo. Although the theme of “Mind the Gap” could obviously not be more different, Peter mirrors the reaching action of God and Adam, to create the message and drama of the diorama in the wounded soldier in the centre, and his comrade reaching for him.

Of course, the message of this piece is that relationship, and the anguish of the situation. Everything else around the diorama is set up to support the emotional impact of these two figures, and once again, nothing is redundant. The trains either side create a channel down the centre of the diorama that indicates the sniper’s line of sight, which adds the aspect of threat, which creates the anxiety, along with the central figures exposed position. We can read the situation immediately, but it’s the reaching hands and the men holding the would-be rescuer back, which turn the emotion up to 11. The men on the left of the scene search for the sniper, but the viewer knows that the wounded man has maybe minutes to live, and he is just bait for his comrades.

Although I have compared this piece to classical art by old masters, and I don’t want that to seem pretentious, it is important to look at how models can borrow the artistic language of great artists to amplify their effectiveness and impact. They help us see how the elements are used to focus on the emotional impact of the two figures.

No matter how many times you look at this piece, you won’t be able to escape that emotional gut-punch. Even understanding how it works, does nothing to reduce it. That fear for someone you care for, in immediate danger is visceral, and universal. This is Art.

“With the Asaro Mudmen. Goroka Highlands, German New Guinea, 1915.” Alexandre Duchamp

Alex is a master of the small vignette, but this form comes loaded with constricting elements. You can use only one or two figures, and you have only a small space to establish a setting or context. Because of these factors, it is hard to tell a story or explain a complex idea clearly. Alex works with the constraints of the form using mood, symbolism, and allusion. Let’s have a look.

The setting is tropical. We have lush ferns and plants, bright green low foliage and a single palm tree that works to suggest woodland or a forest. The setting is high contrast with the bright plants and dark earth, which gives the feeling of tropics and a forest canopy above.

Stood in this scene, is a rather surreal character. He is wearing boots and khaki brown jodhpur style trousers which suggest German military in the late 19th or early 20th century. He is shirtless, and wears full head mask of aboriginal origin, (some googling on the title lead me to the Asaro “Mudmen” of Papua New Guinea, who craft these full-head masks from mud). He is holding a framed portrait of Kaiser Wilhem II (A portrait photograph made by T H Voight in 1902) and appears to be presenting it to the viewer.

If you want to do what I did, and do a bunch of googling, you can deduce the exact historical context and view it purely as a historical figure piece. But if you stop there, you are missing the point. You don’t need to know the exact date, or the historical context, to read Alex’s intent here. Essentially, it’s a piece about European colonialism.

Overall, the mood is like a fever dream. The setting is hot and humid, you can imagine rain dripping from the canopy above, and the shirtless figure hints at the heat. The man has discarded most of his uniform, and his sober bearing. Something strange is happening here.

The military trousers and boots in this setting, shout “colonialism”, but the portrait nails it on. This is the military coloniser as cultural coloniser. When European powers grabbed land all over the world, they didn’t just take from the indigenous peoples and their land, they attempted to assimilate them culturally, exporting their European laws and symbols, and religions, and forcing them on the colonised.

But the mask, tells a more complex story, Part of this is the theft and cultural appropriation of the art and culture of the colonised. Thousands of artefacts would be taken for display in museums and private collections, but also words and culture would be absorbed into the culture of the coloniser for their own purposes and uses, in a system that ultimately sought to neutralise the culture of the colonised through acquisition. But the cultural assimilation is not always one way. In colonial circles, there were always those who assimilated part, or whole, into the culture of the colonised. There are disdainful words for it ‘going native’, ‘gone Asiatic’. Is this figure looting or is he teetering between two worlds?

The colonisers would invariably see themselves as more civilised than those they colonised. Alex challenges this with this figure. He appears to have discarded part of his western identity, but he still carries his holstered pistol. Is he losing his mind, or is he losing his morals?

This piece in one single figure, in a deceptively simple setting, challenges our beliefs and memories, or concept of European vs African, Asian and South American. Our understanding of European history and the actions of our ancestors, and our concepts of civilisation, humanity, and quality.

A very powerful piece of Art that challenges us on a more intellectual, rather than an emotional level, but with some emotion in there too.


Does it Need to be Art?


So I’ve laid out what I think art is, and how it can apply to scale modelling. But what about all the stuff I do not consider art? Is it not as good? Is it somehow less valid? Hell NO. Any model you make is as valid as any model anyone else makes.

People use the word “Art” to legitimise what we do with models, perhaps because of modelling’s historical connection with being an activity associated with children, the idea that some have that they are “toys”.

But here’s the thing, you don’t need it to be art for it to be legitimate. You can make something with no more intent than just to enjoy making a thing, whether it’s an out of the box 1960s Lindberg kit or a multi part diorama with sublime detail and fidelity to reality. It’s all the same. It’s all worth doing and it’s all as valid as anything else you can choose to spend your time on. The fact it isn’t Art (or at least 99% of it isn’t) doesn’t mean it isn’t *yours*, and it doesn’t make it any less valid.

If you don’t make actual Art with your models, that’s great! You are making something, and you get all the same rewards from it as anyone else. Celebrate it for what it is, making models. It doesn’t need to be anything else. Not art, not engineering, not history (don’t get me started), just being modelling is more than enough.


But if you do want to make art, you can do it. Anyone can. But look at what you are doing. Look at how things read, what they can say beyond what they are and a vague historical connection. Try to evoke a strong emotion or challenge the viewer’s ideas and beliefs. Go beyond the object you are modelling and make a connection to the viewer. You won’t always be successful, but it is very fulfilling and will change the way you do the hobby.

And if you just want to make accurate representations of a prototypical machine, do it! I love to look at those too!

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Chris.

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Oh Great, Another Opinionated Blog

Welcome to the Model Philosopher, your one-stop shop for pretention and over-introspection about modelling.

I know what you’re thinking “oh great, another opinionated blog from another modeller who thinks his thinking is worthy of my eyeballs and valuable time.”

OK, you got me. but I hope some of what I post might be of interest, and if it isn’t: well, at least it was free.

I’ll try to post once a week. Thanks for reading when you do.

Chris

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Where’s My Participation Trophy?!

I’ve been competing at model shows for around 20 years now. I’ve competed, or shown, (depending on your point of view) at shows from local IPMS shows in the UK, to the UK IPMS National show, to Open shows like Scale Model Challenge, BSMC, KMK, and Moson, and at Euromilitaire when it was still a thing.

As we know, the Anglo-model world is alive with conversation at the moment about the Open System vs 1st/2nd/3rd (AKA the IPMS system, although this is misleading as IPMS runs a number of different systems depending on the show). Despite the title of this article, I’m not here to refight the holy crusade of system X vs system Y. Small Subjects podcast recently had Marijn van Gils on their podcast to litigate this and they did a much better job than I will here.

Suffice to say, I personally prefer the open system.

 Proponents of the 1,2,3 system call the Open System ‘Participation Trophies’. They argue that the possibility of any model in a class getting gold, essentially means all models in the contest will win an award. Statistical analysis of the results of the US IPMS Nationals vs Scale Model Challenge (the two shows most comparable in size) shows that they give roughly the same number of awards per number of models entered, which immediately sinks that argument, but like I said, I’m not here to rake over that dumpster fire.

So what is this article about? (Come in Chris, I’ve wasted valuable time reading this get to the point FFS)

Historically I have placed much better at 1,2,3 contests than I have at Open System shows.  I have placed 1st at the UK IPMS Nationals, won some awards donated by IPMS member countries to the UK Nationals, and got some 2nds and 3rds over the years. I have had considerably less success at Open shows. Does my face not fit? Of course, it does, I’m modelling in very similar styles to the others at the show. Its not like I ‘build clean and they only reward weathered models’, I build weathered, and I’ve seen clean models place highly at these shows, but I’ve never done better than a single silver at an Open show.

So why is that? Brutally honestly? Its because I’m not good enough. The standard at these shows is very high, far higher than at the 1,2,3 shows, and frankly my models, so far, have not been good enough to place in Advanced classes (let alone Masters). Would I like to do better *Hell YES* but I judge at these shows too, I see the models on the table, intimately as we examine them for judging, and one thing I do pride myself on is my ability to visually analyse and assess a model, so I can see the standard at the moment; and, objectively, I can see that I am probably below the median.

As listeners to the Sprue Cutters Union (the podcast I run with Will Pattison and Tracy Hancock) will know, I’m a ‘continual improvement modeller’. I am constantly seeking to improve my models, and I hope one day to place. But being brutally honest with myself, as a guy now in middle age, I am alive to the idea that my skills, manual dexterity, and eyesight, are finite. Essentially, the clock is ticking on my goal, and I’m coming around to the idea that I may never reach the standard I wish to reach.

So how does a ‘continual improvement modeller’ address the idea that improvement is limited by physical constraint? I don’t know yet. Most likely I will have to let go of the idea of assessing my modelling through competition. Are there modellers much older than me that produce world class-models? Absolutely, there are. But it seems to me that these artists were already better than I probably ever will be.

So, I’m left with the question that may define my modelling for the rest of my life, what do I want to achieve with my modelling? What is the purpose of it? I appreciate that for many, it is simply relaxation, but for me, the challenge has always been the fulfilment of the exercise. I am incapable of deriving meaningful pleasure from simply building. It has to be more. I think the answer for me may lie in the other great question of modelling: “is it art?” That’s an argument for another blog entry, but I will say this, I believe modelling is not art, but it can be made into art. Maybe the future of my modelling lies not in attempting to technically excel in my models, but in finding better and more meaningful ways to say something with it….

Thanks for reading, I hope it was worth your time

Chris.

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