Sunday, April 23, 2017

We visit the 2017 AMPS International Convention

I’ve been going to Armorcon in Danbury, Connecticut for several years now, so I was thrilled when AMPS chose Danbury for their 2017 International Convention. Armorcon is a good show, but this weekend’s convention was a great show.

The contest is the core of every convention, so with just over 600 entries there’s no denying the success of this year’s show. AMPS makes a strong effort to accommodate all modelers’ skill level — Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced categories offer a place for every modeler. Each model is judged individually and scored as objectively as possible. A team of Associate Chief Judges reviews the scores of all the models, looking for consistency and unusual outliers, and when aberrations are found, ask the judges to review their scores. A friend who was involved in the judging told me this was done several times during the two shifts that he worked. Kudos to the organizers and leadership for doing all they can to create a competitive but fair environment. (Read more about the AMPS judging philosophy here.)

Armorcon’s strength has always been its vendor room, so it’s no surprise that the International Convention’s vendor room was a compelling attraction. There were a number of vendors selling practically every armor kit currently in production. Other vendors offered a huge assortment of painting and weathering products — Mig Ammo, Vallejo, Wilder, Hataka, you name it, it was there. And there were a handful of vendors selling books and magazines ranging in price from $5 to $500. I don’t think anyone walked out of that room empty-handed. The only weakness might have been the lack of modelers selling models from their private collections; there were only one or two, so true bargains were few and far between.

There were seminars, too, another credit to the convention organizers. It’s unfortunate that contest attendees enjoy seminars only at national or international conventions like this one. I wish clubs that sponsor small, local shows would make the effort to do the same for their customers.

Next year’s convention is in my old neighborhood, Dayton, Ohio. Until then, here are some of the models that stood out for me.

My favorite entry was this Dragon 1/35 Su-100. Perfectly built and finished.


The most interesting model on the tables was this 1/35 jeep and carrier pigeon conversion. Most unusual and fascinating!


There were a number of really well done T-34s.



I've always had an affinity for the M5A1. This example was as well done as any I've seen.


I've also had a long interest in IDF subjects. This Tiran was expertly finished, I suspect with a very effective black base.


At every contest there's always one model of a subject that hadn't been on my radar but, upon seeing it, prompts me to say, "Damn, I gotta build me one of those!" This weekend it was this nicely done Dragon 1/35 Su-76i.


There were many, many more great looking models. Watch the AMPS Facebook page and the forums for more photos.

See you next year!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Inspiration: Diego Quijano

I’ve met many excellent modelers in my 30 years in the hobby and seen the work of hundreds online and in print, but there are a handful that have truly inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or approach to the hobby shaped the modeler I am today. This is another installment in a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions.

One of the best models I’ve ever seen — albeit, never in person — is Diego Quijano's 1/72 Fujimi F/A-18A Hornet. It’s one of the handful of models I’ve seen over the years that’s remained in the front of my mind and serveed as an example of the qualities that I try to incorporate into my own work. The model reflects Diego’s diverse talents, and I can think of few modelers who attain this level of excellence.


You’ve probably seen this F-18; photos of it have circulated in magazine articles, on the web, and on Facebook for many years now. It’s just one of a large number of models that you can see on Diego's web site, and I have no doubt that you’ll be as impressed with his work as I am.

Here’s what inspires me about Diego's modeling.

Years ago an early mentor of mine pointed out that modelers tend to reside somewhere between engineer and artist. That is, we tend to be really good at building and detailing models, or we tend to be really good at painting and weathering them. Few modelers do both exceptionally well, but Diego is one of them.

Diego understands composition. He’s not always content to display his models on a flat base. He’s willing to take risks by displaying models in extreme vignettes, such as his Shades of Death, as only one example.

Diego builds science fiction. Check out his Jedi Fighter and you’ll see that it’s not hard to imagine him building models for a Hollywood studio.

Of course it’s with aircraft that Diego truly excels. In addition to the F-18, the natural metal finish of his 1/48 Fw-190, about as realistic as I've ever seen in scale, is further evidence of his skill.

And the best thing is, Diego doesn’t keep any of his techniques secret! He’s published five books that explain his techniques, an investment that’s probably worth everything that you’ll learn, particularly if you’re new to the hobby. He also has a Facebook page, but don't send him a friend request; he seems to have reached the software-imposed limit on maximum friends.

Someday I hope to meet him.

My thanks to Diego for allowing me to use one of the photo of his F-18.


Read more about other inspiring modelers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fencecheck is no more

One of my favorite web sites for modern military aviation has long been Fencecheck. It was a hangout for aviation photographers — amateur and professional alike — and was a valuable repository for us modelers. Unfortunately, I learned over the weekend that the owner of the site has shut it down.

The good news is that many Fencecheck participants are now collaborating and sharing photos in a new group on Flickr, aptly named Re-Check, which is fine for new photos going forward, but what about all the photos that had been posted on Fencecheck?

All is not completely lost. Although there’s no way to view the old discussion threads (they’re not accessible via the Wayback Machine), you can find many of the photos using Google. Here’s how.

Let’s say you’re looking for photos of T-38Cs for your upcoming build of the Trumpeter kit. Go to Google Images and enter this search query:

“T 38C" site:fencecheck.com/forums/


Most — but not all — of the resulting photos should be accessible. Simply click on an image, click the View Image button, and enjoy the photograph.

You can search for photos of any other aircraft, base, exercise, or unit by replacing T-38C as appropriate, for example Red Flag. And if it’s not obvious, you can use the same search strategy to find photos from other web sites; simply replace fence check.com/forums/ with the URL of the web site of interest.

Happy searching!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Your stash is out of control when...

You may think you have a lot of models, but your stash isn't really out of control until you’ve experienced at least five of these six scenarios.

You store models vertically in the empty spaces

No matter how big your storage room, space inevitably becomes precious at some point. You have to take full advantage of those nooks and crannies between your carefully stacked kits.


You display models as if your workshop were a hobby shop

When all the nooks and crannies have been filled, you find extra space on top of the larger kits on the shelves.


You relegate models to boxes in the basement

I know you want all your models to be easily accessible, but sometimes you just have to push them deeper into the bowels of your home.


There are models in your bathroom

True story, no joke. Many years ago I was in a club whose president received a call from a local modeler who wanted to sell his kits. He didn't want to wait until the next club contest, so the guy invited several of us to his apartment for a garage sale of sorts. On the way over I joked with my friends, “Watch, I’ll bet he has kits in his bathroom.” And you know what? He did!


You have overflow in cute baskets

You old timers will remember bagged kits. Where do you put those and other random kits that don't fit anywhere else? You steal baskets from your significant other and stash them away.


There are models in your car

You bought a huge 1/32 scale kit at last week's contest but don’t have room for it? Leave it in the trunk of your car!



Where’s the most unusual place we’d find the overflow of YOUR stash?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Disagreements and opinions

Several bloggers whom I respect — and dozens of modelers across the interwebs — have worked themselves into quite a tizzy these last few weeks. It all started with Kitty Hawk’s release of their Su-17,  Doogs’ Models comprehensive build and review of the kit, and the conversations that followed. I was tangentially part of the conversation sharing Paul Cotcher’s thoughts on the kit as part of my Other Voices series.


In case you’ve been asleep these last few weeks, here’s a summary of the conversation.

Some modelers, such as Paul, are thrilled to see the KH Su-17 because it represents an improvement over the old KP kit that was produced more than 20 years ago. Other modelers, such as Matt over at Doogs’ Models, are critical of KH for many engineering shortcomings that make the model difficult to build.

Modelers seem to be falling in line with one or the other camp and, as in all things remotely political, I find myself somewhere in the middle, which positions me to be The Voice of Reason in this mess.

Here’s the thing. I think very highly of rivet counters, really I do. In fact three years ago I wrote about how I learned to love them. People like Matt provide a valuable service to the hobby by digging into new models to assess their buildability, and other modelers are quick to assess new kits for their accuracy and share their thoughts on sites like Hyperscale, ARC, and Missing Links. I remain impressed that modelers — total strangers, mind you — will invest a significant amount of time to help the rest of us make informed buying decisions. Every one of them should be commended.

I also have great affection for casual modelers, people who are content to have a reasonable representation of a favorite subject, even if it requires significant modeling mojo to build or if the model is somewhat inaccurate. My “godfather” in the hobby, a man I met more than 30 years ago, has an almost childlike enthusiasm for the hobby and could care less about accuracy. When I feel myself getting bogged down in the hobby, struggling with a model or obsessing over the accuracy of small details, I'll call him and his spirit immediately renews my own enjoyment for what we do. Mind you, this is a man who scratchbuilt a Spitfire wing out of playing cards after he bought a model and found that a wing was missing. Who among us would do that in today’s world?

I don’t blame Matt, rivet counters, or other bloggers for this or any other hubbub (have you seen related conversations about the Airfix 1/48 P-40 or the Z-M F-4?). I blame the rest of us. You see, the frustrating aspect of internet conversations is the need that most of us feel to comment on everything we read that we disagree with. Facebook and blogs like this make it easy — even enticing — with those little Comments boxes, and many of us are absolutely compelled to share our thoughts. But here’s the thing…just because I can comment on a post doesn’t mean I should comment on a post. Believe me, I see plenty of things online that I want to comment on, but I continually remind myself that it’s okay to remain silent, to hold my opinion to myself.

To be fair to all of us who participate in these forums and Facebook, internet conversations generally mirror the conversations we have face-to-face. When I talk to my friends on the phone we chat about the same topics I see online — the prices of kits, judging at contests, whether the KH Su-17 is worth what appears to be inevitable frustration. I guess if those topics are fodder for in-person conversations, they should be for online conversations as well.

Where does that leave us? I can't help but think of two favorite quotes, one from an old work colleague and another from a modeling friend:

"Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant."

“Opinions are like Sherman tanks. Everyone has one.” (Obviously he’s an armor modeler.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Don't fix your mistakes

My decals silvered. What do I do?
How do I repair a cracked canopy?
The wings on my aircraft are misaligned. How do I fix them?

I often see questions like these on the forums and my gut reaction is usually to say, “Don’t fix it.”

We modelers can be perfectionists. Even though most of us aren’t driven by competition (it's true), we want our models to look good, and we’re usually willing to work and re-work a scratchbuilt detail, a troublesome seam, or a challenging paint scheme for hours on end. But at the end of the day, what’s so terrible about having an imperfect model in your display case, particularly if you intend to improve with every new model, year after year?

I found myself in this situation on my build of Trumpeter's 1/35 Pz.Kpfw 38(t). I attempted to use pigments on the model and the results were, well, pretty shitty. (Kudos to those of you who’ve mastered the black art of pigments.) I could repaint the model and start over, but that’s time that will be better spent on a new project where my enthusiasm is higher.


In our quest for perfection we forget that this hobby is a journey. Every model is not going to be perfect nor will every model meet your expectations. You’re going to make mistakes and bad choices along the way, and models will leave your workbench that are disappointing. That’s okay. There’s always another model in the stash whose prospects are higher than the last one, and that’s where you’ll apply what you’ve learned.

My advice is this. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and don’t fix them. Let them remain visible as reminders to not to that again.

Don't believe me? Here's a real artist's take on the subject.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcoming new members to your club

One of the benefits of a hobby is having the opportunity to meet new people. I’ve moved several times during my adult life, and each time I've immediately looked for a local club. I met two of my best friends as a member of IPMS Dayton a thousand years ago and several other friends via IPMS Columbus after frequent visits to their annual contest, Blizzardcon. Unfortunately I haven’t had any luck making friends in other clubs, and I think it has a lot to do with how welcome I felt at my first few meetings.


Duane Hayes, the newsletter editor of Model Creations Unlimited IPMS in Jacksonville, Florida, understands the importance of hospitality, even suggesting that their motto should be, "You Are Only A Stranger Once, After That You’re Family.” He recently offered some excellent ideas for making new members feel more comfortable at their first meeting, ideas that your club should begin implementing immediately.

- - - - -

Remember back to the time walking into a room full of people where you didn’t know anyone and just wanted to pretend you were invisible and stand against a wall. It was a very uncomfortable feeling, but after meeting other people during that first time, or after a couple of meetings, you began to enjoy the activities associated with the group.

After thinking about your personal experiences in new environments, think about a person who has built models for years and has never known anyone else who shares his interest. He doesn't know about any model clubs, but the website and Facebook page makes MCU sound just like a group that is going to offer a great experience for him and expand his hobby. He realizes MCU has a meeting coming up. He decides to show up to learn about MCU and see what it is all about.

If this person walked into our club meeting, how would he feel? Would he feel welcome? Would he be greeted by another member, perhaps an officer? Would club members introduce themselves to him? How would he be introduced to the club members?

Now, not all walk-ins become members, but I don’t want any prospective new member to walk away because they were not greeted, introduced, or not able to ask, or get questions answered about the model hobby or our club. Welcoming prospective new members into our club is an important role of all current members.

Make the guest feel comfortable enough to ask questions during, or after, the meeting. Ask him questions about himself. Why is he they interested in joining MCU? What are their favorite model subjects or interests?

Allow the guest to introduce himself and tell why he has decided to attend the meeting. Have ALL the current members introduce themselves; don’t make it a one-sided introduction by only having the guest stand up. When the guest asks questions, answer in a positive manner that allows the guest to understand. When a new member is proudly showing his latest model project, give him your full attention and don’t conduct side-conversations with other members.

Helping prospective members join our club is an on-going opportunity for MCU to strengthen the club’s membership and let all modelers know they are truly valued in our hobby. I think our club does a excellent job of welcoming new guests at our meetings, but there is always room for improvement.


Thanks to Duane Hayes for permission to reprint his editorial.