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Being my highly-personal thoughts on building scale models

I've been building scale plastic model assembly kits for at least 50 years, and it has been a lot of fun. I have learned for myself a great deal about model building. I have also met a large number of fellow model builders, and they have taught me a lot. Based on these experiences, I believe model builders are like any subset of the general population: one way they can be understood is as a group fitting under a fairly typical bell curve. On most modeling topics, there are extremes at both ends of the spectrum, with a large majority whose views fall somewhere in the middle.

Below are a few of the topics that often evoke strong opinions among model builders, and my very personal take on each.

Model kit building, in general
In my opinion, building plastic model kits is a hobby activity, done in my spare time, using discretionary income. It has no importance whatsoever, beyond giving me a little pleasure, in my leisure. It takes place only after everything else of greater importance has been done, for now: service to others, family, work. It is a hobby, a pastime, an amusement; it is not The Meaning Of Life.

Building and painting models "correctly"
In my opinion, model building is an art, not a science. How I choose to build and paint my models is up to no one but me. In my opinion, the only valid, minimum criteria on what constitutes a well built model is that all joints and seams are invisible, no glue or glue smears are visible, and that all components are appropriately plumb, true, square and symmetrical. The only "correct" paint scheme is whatever satisfies the modeler who painted the model. This includes the accuracy of historic colors on models of historic subjects. (See the separate tab on Scale Color, for my opinion on this topic.)

I would no more criticize how another modeler built or painted his model than I would criticize how someone sang a song or wrote a poem. If a fellow modeler asks me for constructive criticism, I hope that I will tell him at least two things I admire about how he did his model, before I offer any opinion about how I might do something a little differently, if at all. There's always room for improvement, and we all can provide help to each other (when it is requested), but there is never any reason to tell another modeler they have done something "incorrectly."

In model building, "weathering" is the application of additional finishes to the basic paint of the subject (washes, drybrushing, ground powder pastel dusting, many other techniques) to simulate wear, tear, rust, dust, oil, soot, age, and fading due to exposure to the elements. In addition, weathering can be used to highlight or emphasize the fine details that are molded into the surfaces of the model, to make these textures more visible to the viewer. In my opinion, whether to weather or not weather is entirely the choice of the individual. Those who do weather, more power to them; those who don't, ditto. Over the decades, I have experimented with weathering, and my philosophy is: don't.

My reasons not to weather are as follows: My model is a miniature approximation of a real machine (prototype); it is not the prototype. It is made of plastic, not steel, so it can't rust. It does not have a working engine, so it does not produce exhaust or leak oil. It does not have working guns, so it cannot become blackened with gunpowder residue. It is not aging in the outdoors, so it does not fade. It does not drive on real terrain, so it cannot become muddy. It is an idealized, three dimensional illustration of the prototype, as complete and accurate as I can make it, but I never imagine it as being the prototype.

I warned you these opinions are highly personal.

AMENDMENT: Since I wrote these words years ago, I have built quite a few more AFV models, and I have evolved to add a modest amount of washes and drybrushing to these military vehicles, to help emphasize the raised and engraved details, and to modulate the surfaces of what might otherwise become a very bland model of a monochromatic subject.

When we stop learning and growing, we die... 

Model Competitions 
In my opinion, model building does not confer upon me any importance or status. In the same way, winning (or not winning) trophies at model building competitions also does not confer upon me any importance or status. It is nice when I win a trophy, but it is not important. Anytime I am interacting with fellow model builders, at a club meeting, in a hobby shop, or at a competition, the most important thing to me is that I always try to be friendly, helpful, generous and encouraging to everyone I meet. Nothing about model building is worth getting at odds with anyone.

In my opinion, the only suitable way for model contest judges to judge other modeler's models is the way it is done at AMPS (the Armor Modeling and Preservation Society). Each model is entered by the modeler at skill level of his choice: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Master. Each model is then scored by at least five judges on the basis of how it rates in several areas: neatness of assembly, paint finish, appropriateness of details and modifications, weathering, etc. The highest and lowest scores are set aside, to ensure fairness, and the average of the remaining scores produces a number, which corresponds to winning a bronze, silver or gold medal (or nothing). In this way, all contestants are competing against a hypothetical perfect score, instead of each other. I have won trophies at both IPMS and AMPS national contests, and I find the AMPS method of judging and awarding much more satisfying.

Purchasing models and model supplies
In my opinion, since the money I spend on hobby materials is discretionary, not mandatory (like food, gas, utilities, etc.), I do not feel the need to bargain with whoever is selling me the materials. If the price they have set for a model is what I am willing to spend, I buy it; if it is more than I am willing to spend, I don't.

I have worked in a hobby shop, so I have witnessed the following: the customer who comes in and wants to dicker over paying the marked price on a kit. I can't go into a grocery store, a gas station or a restaurant and negotiate the price of my purchase. I can choose to buy, or I can choose not to buy. If the hobby shop owner offers a discount, at certain times or on certain stock, that is his perogative. If he offers a discount to model builders who belong to a modeling association, like IPMS or AMPS, that is his perogative. My dues-paying membership in some group or club does not obligate a business owner to give away his profits.

Hobby shops and the Internet
I love being able to find just about anything to do with model building on the Internet. Through PayPal, I can safely buy stuff from anywhere in the world. Through eBay, I was able to acquire, one or two kits at a time, a complete, vintage collection of every single Matchbox 1/72 aircraft kit in both the Purple and the Orange Series. I appreciate, but don't expect, a discount on my purchases online. If the price is acceptable, I buy; if it isn't, I don't.

All that being said, in my opinion it is essential that anything I can buy from my Local Hobby Shop (LHS) I should buy at my LHS. If I want to be able to drive a short distance and buy one tube of glue or one bottle of paint, today, I'd better support my LHS. Any kit that I want to have that he has in stock or can get for me, I'd better buy from him, if I want him to stay open. Internet hobby shops are fantastic, but they are utterly killing the LHS. I have seen the numbers of LHS in nearby towns and cities shrink drastically, because of internet hobby stores. It happened to the LHS where I worked. I realize demand drives market forces and times change (need a buggy whip? how about a coal bucket?), but I can do my part to keep my options as open as possible.

Only at my bricks and sticks LHS can I examine in person the kits, supplies, decals (registrations issues, anyone?), magazines, etc., before I buy. Only at my LHS can I see first hand the model work of other modelers. Only at my LHS can I give and receive model building advice, face to face with other model builders. Long live the LHS.

Buying and selling (and re-buying) plastic models
Over the decades, I have bought hundreds of plastic model kits. I currently own about 1,000 kits, more than I could possibly build, if I retired tomorrow and did nothing for the next thirty years but build plastic models. Years ago, I worked in a hobby shop, and was paid in models and hobby supplies. I took home as payment for my time worked the plastic models that I would never have bought with cash.

Often, when the stacks of kits grew so high that I felt mild disgust at my addiction, I would cull through the inventory and weed out the kits I just knew I would never build. I would then sell these second hand kits (opened, but complete and not started) to several different hobby resellers I knew. I got something like 10% to 15% of the retail price for these kits, and I usually promptly spent the money on, you guessed it, new kits, somewhere else.

Over time, I realized I was slowly re-buying new kits of the subjects I had sold, that I thought I would never build, only to discover that, yes, I might build that model, someday, after all. Once I realized what I was doing, I stopped selling kits. What was the point? I'd just have to buy it again, with the inflation of the passing time added to the original cost.

These days, I'm reconciled to having more kits than I could ever build. In my library, I have more books than I could ever read; and on the shelves of my living room, I have more Blu-Rays, DVDs and music CDs than I could ever watch/listen to, and what's the harm? My model expenditures are such a relatively small percentage of what I spend on the bills, utilities, groceries, insurance and taxes, that I don't consider it wasteful. Besides, popping open a new kit box (or one from the vault) gives me pleasure all out of proportion to the cost in dollars. And someday (I hope) I will be able to retire, and the kit I want to build on that day may no longer be available, even on eBay, but I will already have it waiting for me, on that shelf, over there.

Scratch-built 1/72 M-65 Atomic Cannon

Scale 1/72

Email: AtomicCannon(at)embarqmail(dot)com