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


About Chris

I'm Chris Meddings, Modeller, Author, Publisher of Modelling Books, Podcaster, and armchair wannabe thinker
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12 Responses to Where’s My Participation Trophy?!

  1. Stephen Kennedy says:

    A great first entry Chris, and something to think about as one who is also middle-aged and pondering the limits of my modelling abilities. In my case, I attribute most of my shortcomings to fear of failure and/or just straightforward laziness, so I still have hope that these aren’t insurmountable and the progress will continue.
    Physical limitations are that, but perhaps some deep introspection might yield a better way to model.

    • admin says:

      I don’t think the limit of my physical capabilities is here yet, but I am now aware that it will not be far away. Time to assess what I do with that in mind…

  2. Derek Austim says:

    An interesting point of view. I’ve entered my club competition and in that limited arena have had some success but I realise I’m never going to compete with the best. I am left to compete with myself and at the moment, that’s enough. I can see the improvement I’ve made when I look at my early attempts to my latest stuff and I’m happy with that. There are also some very challenging technical builds that I want to have a crack at.

    I look forward to hearing your views on modelling as art!

    • admin says:

      really, we all compete with ourself first and foremost, and thats how it should be I think. but competition can be useful for assessing if you are progressing. But so long as you are enjoying it you are doing it right. But you took on a new challenge in middle age right Derek? you taught yourself 3D. Kudos

  3. Diego says:

    Interesting thoughts, and I have tasted these waters as well, being middle aged and with a limited skill to achieve what I want. To me, modelling is a hobby intertwined with imagination. As a kid I could have a much more intense pleasure derived from a) building a pretty miniature from a set of complex parts, all by myself; b) picture myself *into* the miniature world I just created (you know, flying the plane around the room, making appropriate sounds) and c) building up a collection of cool airplanes, boats, tanks, whatever, to display and be proud of. The simple joy of owning lovely objects.
    Time goes by and one changes the perspective: I picked a fairly constant scale, I choose my subjects by other interests, I became more interested in the process of improving the kits and finishing techniques etc. But at the heart of it, I still build because I want to imagine myself jumping into the cockpit of the gleaming fighter airplane and slip the surly bonds of Earth, and, perhaps, fling my eager craft through footless halls of air.
    Competitions? I can’t care less.

    • admin says:

      thats a completely valid reason to build and experience to have, and I think a mjaority of modellers will release to it. Sadly its not something I experience, that ability to feel yourself in your creations.

      Competitions, I made peace with not being a ‘winner’ years ago. but I still enjoy them, taking part and perusing the entries

  4. Pete The Punk says:

    Stephen Kennedy: Fear of Failure is a very real thing. It’s why I gave up competing. Now I just push myself to master new skills and techniques. Oddly enough, fear of failure doesn’t affect that. Thought-provoking article, Chris.

  5. Diego says:

    It’s completely valid as well, and quite the challenge to compete and be abre to measure the progreso of your skills against others. I enjoy exhibición tables as well, and often they give new and exciting ideas which I can rarely fulfill!

  6. Bruce Culver says:

    Very well said, Chris. I am 82, so I sympathise with the decline of age affecting our modeling. I suffered retinal damage in my right eye back in 2002, while I was scratchbuilding 1/700 pre-WWI US destroyers and have had double vision ever since. I had Lasik surgery that set the damaged eye for reading and the good eye for distance. I do have special glasses that allow both eyes to focus closeup, but it is still difficult. It is perhaps fortunate that my skills may not require superb vision, but I do like to think I can improve. I would be interested in hearing more about the European form of open judging, as I much prefer the US AMPS (Chicago style) judging to the IPMS 1,2,3 style. I wish you well, and will be following this blog…..

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Bruce. I think detail and finesse is really important, but they are not the only things, and not everything relies so heavily on our eysight and dexterity

      The best discussion of the open system I have heard anywhere is on the latest Small Subjects with Marijn van Gils, which you can hear HERE

  7. I was very pleased to read Bruce’s comments. He’s a few years older than me and has eye troubles too.

    The last time I competed was back in the mid 1980s. I got a First for my model but I didn’t like the person I became when I was competing. There’s enough competition out there in the real world that I decided I didn’t want to bring it into my hobby too, so I stopped doing that. My local club has an annual display day when we put our models out for the public to view, and the comments I get then are more than enough encouragement for me.

    As for the quality of my models. I know I could do better but I do the best I can with the resources I’m willing to allocate to a model. This means that my modelling hasn’t really got much better over the past two or three decades but, to be realistic, when you get to my or Bruce’s age the trick is to keep from getting worse.

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