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