The Art of Disagreement

“You aren’t curing cancer”

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a more positive place than Facebook can sometimes be. What I envisaged was a place where I can wax philosophical on modelling, and indulge my adjacent hobby of thinking about the hobby. Regrettably this seems to have upset some people, who seem to think people should not be thinking this deeply about making models. I would argue is not that deep at all, but they seem to think its “too deep”. Some people say “its not world changing or curing cancer!” Of course it isn’t but between just building a model and not even thinking about it, and thinking it is “world-changing”, there is a massive gulf of room for various levels of discussion, and there is plenty of room for people to discuss modelling any way they want, without thinking it is earth shattering.

You don’t need to dump on people for enjoying the hobby differently to how you enjoy the hobby. Some people like to just build a model. That is correct. Some people like to build a model and think a bit more about how or why they do it. That is correct. and some people (like me) like to think a LOT about how and why they build models. That is correct.

It’s all correct. No one of those approaches is superior to, or negates another. So how about live and let live?

Plurality is Healthy

Something else that has happened, is that people disagree with things in this blog, or with responses to it on reposts on social media. One such thread of conversation is Matt McDougall’s recent, extremely well written and argued blog HERE which is not a response to this blog, but touches on it, and other discussions currently in the modelling milieu. It’s a great blog and you should read it.

Another is Marc Schwegler’s reply to Robbert Blokker’s recent guest blog, which you can read HERE

Marc argues for things I cannot agree with. But he argues very well, and from an honest and good faith position. and I love it.

There are lots of times I disagree with responses and comments, and just accept them as different points of view. Just because I don’t agree, it doesn’t make them “wrong”.

I want this blog to be a place where ideas are exchanged, and discussed, and disagreement is OK. This is not a vanity project or Patreon Paywall of Solitude echo chamber

Over the coming weeks I will invite more people to guest blog on here, and I will not always agree with what they say. But I am sure they will have something interesting to say, that may or may not spark interesting conversations and responses.

All I hope, is that it is interesting to read.

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The Demise of the Original Story.

The controversial opinion of a dioramist. 

By guest writer Robert Blokker

Go back five years or more at any decent event, and your mind would have been blown by the creativity and unique storytelling in dioramas and vignettes.  You could expect 20 to 25 absolutely stunning pieces of unique work, or even more at a really big show.  You could look forward to seeing what the likes of Marijn van Gils, Mario Eens, Per Olav Lund and a multitude of others had come up with, and it would be the talking point among modellers for many weeks after.

Fast forward to now and the situation couldn’t be more bleak…. or maybe “bland” is a better word.

Returning from the last brilliant SMC, I decided to test how many dioramas and vignettes I could remember purely for their storyline, without looking at my pictures, and that number was a dismal 7. Just 7 out of 150 or so entries. Take away those 7 and what was left was the traditional farmyard with part of a barn.  A vehicle with a few figures sprinkled over and around it and a height element in the shape of a tree or a telegraph pole.  Replace the farmyard with a dirt road and you already had half of the entries.  The rest had rather vague (or multiple) storylines or worse: simply no storyline at all.  A single vehicle on a base with a single figure is just a fancy vehicle display, and I’m willing to die on that hill.  Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I think all those projects were bad, I’m not going to kick that hornet nest as well and I’m pretty sure Chris will not appreciate if I start a riot in his house.

Pretty much everything was of incredibly high standard, with the exception of the storylines

Where Did it All Go Wrong?

What happened to that original storyline?  Is it a lack of creativity? Of imagination? Lack of belief in skills, or simply not having the cojones to experiment and try something new and out of the box? Maybe it’s because a lot of modelers have found a formula that earns them medals and they are content with basically building the same diorama over and over to keep the flow of medals going? Another theory is that most modelers simply start with a vehicle and want to give it context by mixing in some figures and groundwork and call it a day instead of starting from a concept and build the diorama around it starting with the fundamentals of composition, planning and then choosing the elements. I don’t have a definitive answer yet. But trying to beat the Guinness Record for plonking the most soldiers on top of a tank on a dirtroad somewhere in [insert location name] [insert date] requires no thought at all, it’s already been done a hundred thousand times by an equal number of modelers and when I go past the third of those on a contest table, my mind starts to drift already, looking for something more interesting.  

Time for Change

I’m going to break a lance here for the return of the original story.  That is what a diorama or vignette should be all about. 

Simply put: no story = no diorama (or vignette).

Some 40 years ago, a man by the name of Shep Paine wrote a book about how to build dioramas. In it he said a diorama was: “a scene that tells a story”, and a bit further down “in its most developed form a diorama is a scene that tells a story”.  This does not imply a story in the narrative sense, it simply means that a diorama can show something going on.  In this sense, a diorama is not just a model of an object, or a group of objects, but of an event.” You can check it out yourself.  It is on page 2 in the introduction, or at least it is in my well-read, slightly foxed and probably heavily ferreted copy. 43 years later, that little line of text is still relevant, and mister Paine became known for his beautiful little scenes with strong original narrative. 

That is exactly what you want.  A diorama should be a stage. Where a storyline is performed with the aid of the cast of figures. Vehicles, buildings, and nature are merely décor, the whole designed and composed to aid in bringing that story forward.  All under the guidance of you: the director of the show, and all for the pleasure of the viewer, whether it’s only for yourself or for viewers at events.  People want their minds boggled, their fantasies tickled, and in the more extreme cases: their gasts flabbered! When I started a discussion on my Facebook page, a lot of people commented that they think they lack imagination and skill.  Thinking up an original story is not as hard as a lot of people think. It doesn’t have to be high-literature level storytelling, it only needs to be original because people recognise originality pretty much immediately.  It mostly requires a bit of thought and a bit of extra time. The skill is something you learn on the go, and that will only come if you are willing to try new things. Who knows what secret skills you might have had hidden for years? People tend to think that they don’t have the skills to make an idea work, but if the story is strong enough it will overcome a lesser skill level.

How Can We Create Original Stories?

Maybe you have read something interesting or funny or poignant from a book.  Try to visualise how that could look.  Look up pictures from the period your subject is in. and combine features you like from those pictures to create an interesting composition. 

If you only work from photos, try to think of interesting events that could have happened before, or after, the picture was taken. This is probably the easiest pathway to an original story.  

There are fun, weird, wonderful, poignant, or interesting things happening worldwide, every day.  Things that could have happened at any time in the world and can serve perfectly as new original stories. It only needs a new backdrop. 

Go with stories that people can recognise or relate to. that always works well. Try to keep your stories compact, the less distractions, the better the story can be read. 

Some people have great imaginations and can hit it out of the ball-park time and time again, while others need a bit of help.   But that shouldn’t matter because thinking up those stories is a lot of fun. The same goes for bringing them to life, it is incredibly satisfying.

Failing is Not Bad. 

People tend to think that you need to be able to sculpt, and that is the only way to be able to make a new story. This is nonsense. Sure, it helps: if you can sculpt, there is no story you cannot tell, but there are plenty dioramists that are perfectly able to create interesting stuff using nothing but stock figures.  You can try converting first, it’s not as hard as you think, and for most poses you can find a commercial figure that is already 90% there.  Make sure that figures interact and look at each other, or at least at what they are doing.  But most of all…. try. And fail. Then try again.  You might still fail but maybe a bit less, and from that point on it will get better and better.  Be bold…. be brazen even.  Try whatever you want, you won’t get more stupid by trying. and you won’t get more stupid from failing. In fact, you learn even faster from failing. Even Rembrandt started with a simple pencil at some point in his life…

Book Recommendations for Dioramists

For those that need a little help to get over that threshold (if you don’t have them already)

Shepherd Paine “How to Build Dioramas”.  (ISBN 0-89024-551-7) out of print but there still should be plenty of second hand examples around. 

Marijn van Gils’ “Diorama FAQ 1.3 Storytelling Composition and Planning”.  This, if you want to build dioramas is without doubt the only book that is worth its weight in gold.  It is about what makes a diorama a good diorama.  Get the bones right and your diorama will be on to the best start possible.  Available from AK interactive AK8150

“AK Learning Series #11 Figure Sculpting & Converting Techniques”.  This book covers all you need to get started from a simple conversion all the way to full sculpts.  And is a very good entry level publication into the world of original storytelling. Available from AK interactive AK512

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Filthy Lucre

I added a buy me a coffee button to this blog.

I know, some guys monetise everything, but please remember, reading this is free. The button is there in case you appreciate the blog and want to toss me a coin.

The fact is, its really hard to make a living in modelling right now. and if you want to help me, you can. If you don’t, don’t sweat it, just having you read this blog is awesome on its own.

thanks either way!


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Over the last 24 hours, pretty much everyone has seen the infamous Rinaldi Studio Press video about SMC.

For a moment, lets park most of the video and address his main point:

The Lack of Risk Taking and Innovation in the AFV Modelling Hobby

There is a lack of innovation at present in the AFV hobby. It is true that styles have moved towards each other and at the top end of modelling, a lot of modellers’ work looks superficially similar. However, it is also true that AFV Modelling has reached a very high level of excellence at the top end. Anyone (other than Mr Rinaldi it seems) who looked at the Masters category at SMC2023 saw models of a very high standard overall, and models that clearly stood out from others in the category. It is true that there were no models that stood head and shoulders above any other, but when every runner runs very very fast, it is going to be a photo finish.

That being said, we are due a breakout modeller, someone who changes the conversation, but how often do those come along? Mr Rinaldi opines for the early 2000s at Euromilitaire and the innovation of Mig Jimenez, and Adam Wilder (He doesn’t mention Phil Stutcinkas, but he should, considering Phil invented the hair spray technique MR uses a lot). Its true, those were exciting times. But they were exciting because the last innovation before that was Francois Verlinden 15 years before.

The fact is, big changes in style and innovation, are not constant. Style will always move on and someone will innovate, but it will take inspiration and the right model in the right hands at the right time. It WILL happen. but in the meantime the hobby, like all craft, does progress, incrementally, over time.

I look at the work of David Parker, Lester Plaskitt, Ivan Cocker, Peter Usher, and Mirko Bayerl, modellers I saw in Euromilitaire back then, and I have seen their work evolve and change in that time. I was at these mythic Euromilitaire shows Rinaldi was at. I’ve been to a lot of shows around the world since, and the hobby has moved forward. Not in leaps and bounds, but it has moved forward and although he won’t accept it, the standard has increased. The very high standard now, and the huge number of modellers circling it (myself not included, I would not have the arrogance to elevate myself to a position where I claim to have that authority) suggests to me the waters lapping at the rim of a dam. We can, I think, expect something huge soon, it will happen, but when it is ready to happen.

But lecturing modellers who are more consistent, and better skilled, that they are soft and playing it safe, won’t make it happen.

Judging the Judges

I want to close this one by addressing a couple of other things Mr Rinaldi said in his video:

1. Accusations of friendships affecting judging: Unlike Mr Rinaldi, I have judged at SMC a number of times. I have never seen anyone’s decision or comments affected by any knowledge of the name of the modeller. Not once. I have never heard of it happening either. Subconsciously it may happen, we are human, but I know I am aware that’s a possibility and check myself when judging models I know. I am sure I am not alone in this. This accusation is baseless and somewhat offensive to everyone else that judged at that show.

2. You don’t need to innovate to get a gold at SMC. Innovation is not in the judging criteria. I was at the Jury briefing on Saturday. I listened closely to Robert Crombeecke, Fabio Nunnari, Ivan Cocker and the team when they told us how to judge. We were there to judge the models on the table against the current standard of the hobby. Not some nebulous idea of where the hobby is going. We were also told by Ivan in the contest room, before we started, that we were there to find the best in people’s models, and to reward it. Mr Rinaldi’s Youtube rant was not in that spirit.


The hobby IS moving forward. Those of us that have remained in touch with it can see it. We see it every day. A big innovation is due, but it will come when its ready, and maybe if you want it to happen, you need to be more involved rather than demanding from the sidelines that others do it.

I won’t be deleting comments I don’t like

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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.


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


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.


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


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…


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.


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:

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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.


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


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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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