Thursday, December 31, 2020

The box art of 2020

 Let’s take a look at the box art of 2020.

Worst box art of 2020 goes to the Dora 1/72 Lysander. I really, really like the kits that Dora has been releasing these last couple of years, but this box art fell short, particularly given how great the model itself is.

Best box art of the year goes to the Takom 1/35 Merkava Mk. 2D. I’m usually not a fan of head-on shots of armor, but this is nothing short of awesome.

If there were an award for most daring box art of the year, I’d have to give it to Airfix for their 1/48 Spitfire Mk. Vb. The plane is inverted! I don’t recall seeing another model marketed that way. Kudos to the graphic arts department at Airfix!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 in review

Every year provides its share of dazzle, amusement, and head-scratching. 2020 was no exception.


You may recall the crazy suggestion in 2019 to use cinnamon to weather armor. Well, this year we saw someone suggest using oatmeal to create water for ship models.

We also saw that the sexy women trend that we noticed in 2018 refuses to die, with numerous manufacturers releasing additional models, such as Armor35's bikini girl. At this point, I'm conceding that this is no longer a trend. It's clear that we're a horny bunch, and we're going to see more sexy women in the years ahead.


The Shizuoka Hobby Show, which had been scheduled for May, was cancelled as the Coronavirus took hold in China and other Asian countries. This would portend the cancellation of practically all model-related shows and contests through the remainder of the year.


Members of the Facebook Airfix Modeling Club worked themselves into a frenzy after Facebook began deleting photos of models with swastikas. Several members suggested creating a new forum on a different platform, but as far as I know, no one did.

Much of the world locked down for the Coronavirus, but modelers barely noticed as we carried on enjoying our solitary hobby in basements around the world. Rye Field Models kindly included two masks with orders for their kits; not wheel or canopy masks, mind you, but the kind you wear.


In one of the biggest disappointments to hit our hobby in the last 10 years — maybe even the last 20 years — Wingnut Wings announced the closure of their business. Kit prices have soared on the secondary market, and fans of the company’s kits expressed hope that some of the designers would find employment elsewhere. At least one has so far, Bryan Wall, starting Beacon Models and promising a range of kits in 1/144 scale.


Bandai announced their newest model…of a cup of ramen noodles. Yep. You can’t make this stuff up. Will we see a split in the Miscellaneous category at the IPMS Nats next year for “Food?"


A new company named Suyata releases some bizarre, abstract series of military subjects. If it entices newcomers to the hobby, why not?


In what is the most game-changing product to hit the hobby since Eduard introduced pre-colored photoetch, Quinta Studio’s released 3D-printed resin cockpit decals. Modelers were immediately impressed by their quality and the ease with which we can now represent cockpits in scale. And that’s one less skill we have to master!


Modelers went berserk on AK Interactive when they used video from POW camps to promote their new book, Condemnation: When Modeling Becomes Art and Art is Social Commentary. They apologized a day later, but the modeling community was not impressed. Regardless, the book features some well-executed dioramas.

We lost two significant players in the hobby. Bill Koster was an early pioneer in the cottage industry and helped design dozens of Monogram kits that are to this day exceptionally accurate, such as the 1/48 F-4C/D, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-100D Super Sabre, and P-51B.

Mark Bilas might not be as well known, but he produced nearly 150 decals sheets over the last 10 years, mostly in 1/72 scale, featuring roughly 900 markings. I could be wrong, but I think only Microsoft/SuperScale has been more prolific.


One of the greatest aviators of the twentieth century passed away, Chuck Yeager, capping off a year of suck.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reflections on the year of Covid

I have to admit, when my employer told me on March 4 that I would be working from home indefinitely, I was very happy. You see, my commute is a lengthy one, about 90 minutes door-to-door, longer in the evening when traffic in the greater New York tri-state region gets heavy. Working from home, instead of returning at 7:30 pm, I’d already be here when I “leave” work at 5. Good times!

The first few months were good. I’d typically be done with dinner and other minor chores by 7, and then I’d spend a couple of hours in the workshop. I made good progress on a number of kits. Then I hit…not a wall, but more of a series of rumble strips. Things got busy at work and, despite working from home, I was dog tired by 7 or 8 and didn’t have the energy to focus on the tedium of model building. I still spent time at the workbench, but more often on weekends than weeknights.

As I sit here in late December, my output in 2020 was very good. 

Dragon 1/35 T-34/85
Italeri 1/35 L6 Carro
Trumpeter 1/35 BTR-80
Tamiya 1/35 Schwimmwagen
Monogram 1/72 A-1E
Platz 1/72 T-33A
Trumpeter 1/48 P-40B

My typical output is roughly four models a year, so it’s been a good year. Except….

No one has seen these models.

Without having had contests to attend, finishing models feels incomplete. I’m not talking about the competition per se; as I said in a post a long time ago, “The main reason for entering your models is to share your work with other modelers.” I could share photos of my models online, but that’s not the same as seeing models in person and having conversations about them with like-minded enthusiasts. When a friend mentioned this to me a few weeks ago, I saw his point and made the analogy of writing a book without anyone ever reading it. To be sure, there is value — potentially great value depending on why you build models — in the process, but for me the endeavor in its entirety feels incomplete.

With the Covid vaccinations now underway, I’m looking forward to 2021 and the resumption of shows and contests. I miss seeing models. I miss exploring the vendor rooms. I miss my friends.

What’s it been like you for? Better? Worse? The same?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Facebook insanity

 Many of you enjoy my eBay insanity posts, so now it’s time to expand these lighthearted observations to what I’ll call Facebook insanity. These won’t have anything to do with selling models, rather people’s comments to photos or posts. Like this one.

You’ve probably seen this photo of an F-4S Phantom II with two bombs mounted backward on the inboard pylons. It’s pretty obvious to most observers that it was a joke that the ordnance guys played on each other or the pilot and WSO. But when someone posted the photo to a Facebook group, the responses were more amusing than the ordinance. I mean…ordnance.

One guy asked, tongue-in-cheek, “Are you referring to the really dumb, dumb bombs or the poor guy being eaten by the landing gear?” To which another responded, “I think he’s referring to the bombs.” Yeah, no shit Sherlock.

A former Marine wrote, “Must be Air Force.” Two guys responded, both clearly lacking a sense of humor that exists in inter-service rivalry, responded, “Air Force never used that paint scheme. Try again.” And, “Don’t be a dick.”

Speaking of no sense of humor, another member of the group wrote, “There has to be an explanation for this.”

One guy, who we’ll call Captain Obvious, wrote, “The bombs are mounted backward.” Mind you, this was after all of the other comments.

There's hope in humanity, because some guys got the joke and played along, one writing, “This is for those 90 degree nose-high deliveries.” Another, “Just turn the jet around.” And another, “It’s for bombing things behind you as you pass overhead.”

The next time you get bummed out on Facebook -- for any of the many reasons we get bummed out on Facebook -- click into your favorite group and read the comments.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Getting started with airbrushing

One of the most common subjects of discussion and frustration in Facebook groups — after D-Day stripes — is airbrushing. Newcomers want to know which airbrush to buy, and once they have one in hand, they struggle with its use.

If you struggle, don’t feel bad. Airbrushing is one of the most challenging tasks in our hobby to master, in part because there are so many variables:

  • Your airbrush
  • The cleanliness of your airbrush
  • The paint you use
  • The thinner
  • The paint to thinner ratio
  • The air pressure you spray at
  • Your technique
  • The weather

If you’re new to airbrushing here are a few suggestions based on my experience over the years.

Purchase any double-action airbrush

There are many airbrushes on the market in every price range. And modelers are quick to offer suggestions for all of them. If you’re new, the best advice I can offer is to start with a double-action airbrush in the $30-$50 price range. I want to suggest the Iwata HP-CH that I use, but the $150 price tag is a bit much for a beginner. You can always upgrade as you build experience.

Select just two or three paints

When you’ve purchased an airbrush, your first decision will be which paint to use. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the choices. You’ll find modelers who are strong advocates for each paint on the market, as well as some who will tell you avoid this paint or that paint at all costs. 

My advice is to but one color from two or three manufacturers so you can use them yourself and choose the brand you like the best. I’d probably recommend:

  • Tamiya
  • MRP
  • Mr Hobby
  • AMMO by Mig

In addition, purchase each manufacturer’s own thinner for now. There are alternatives, but if you’re beginning, best to keep it simple.


Before you even think about using your new airbrush on a model you care about, spend a few weeks learning how to spray each of the paints you purchased. Your goal is to simply explore the characteristics of each paint given these two variables -- air pressure and paint-to-thinner ratio.

You’ve probably seen YouTube videos where modelers are pouring paint and thinner directly into the airbrush and mixing by eye. If you’re new, you’re better off building your experience by counting drops of paint and thinner and writing them down for future reference. When you find a combination that works for you, you’ll want to be able to use it over and over. You’re not mixing a lot of paint at this stage, just enough to see how well you can spray the paint. 10-20 drops of paint and thinner will be sufficient for you to apply overall coats of paint and fine lines.

Practice, practice, practice

When you’ve found a paint manufacturer and thinning ratio you like, the next step is to practice on old models. Your goal is to reach a point where you can apply paint to your model with consistent results. When you’re ready to commit paint to a model that’s important to you, the last thing you want is an unpleasant surprise, so taking time to continue to master your airbrush and paint is important.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. Airbrushing is hard, but if you’re diligent and persistent, there’s no reason why you can’t use your airbrush with good results.

P.S. On final thought.... For all that is holy in this world, please, please keep your airbrush clean! A little extra effort after each airbrushing session goes a long way to ensuring your most valuable tool can give you the results you seek.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Inspiration: Mark Bilas

I’ve known many excellent modelers in my 35 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 the next in a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions to my participation in this wonderful hobby.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the loss of my friend Joe Caputo, who was a source of inspiration to me for a very long time. Last week I learned of the loss of another friend, Mark Bilas, who was the proprietor of Wolfpak Decals. Ironically, I’d just received what would be my last order from him two days before I learned of his passing.

Although I didn't know Mark as long as I'd known Joe, he inspired me in a different way. With Joe is was his joy for the hobby; with Mark it was his stewardship of his business and the decals he produced.

I can’t remember exactly when I met him, but I found email to Mark as early as 2008, probably soon after he started Wolfpak. What I appreciated most about him was his willingness to ask his customers for ideas. When I realized he was open to suggestions, I quickly started sending him photos and subjects for his consideration.

He was always excited when I found an interesting subject, especially when I could offer walkarounds that would make for more accurate markings. I think the photos I sent him resulted in at least a dozen subjects over the years. We were emailing just two weeks ago. He was considering the theme for his 2020 special sheet, and I’d set aside a small number of slides that I'd intended to scan and send to him. 

I valued the confidence he placed in my opinions, as well as my discretion, when he’d give me a preview of an upcoming sheet. Mark found a niche in the hobby – multi-subject decals – when many manufacturers insist they don’t sell.

Mark ultimately released 145 sheets under the Wolfpak label. Collectively they contain markings for nearly 870 subjects. Fans of contemporary, 1/72 aircraft are blessed to have had such a variety of decals available to them, and I doubt we’ll see anyone else fill the niche that Wolfpak owned. When I need inspiration, I look at my stash of Wolfpak decals and quickly find something that ignites my interest and enthusiasm for my next model. And the one after that. And so on.

Thank you, Mark. You will be missed. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

7 suggestions for beginners

 I can’t imagine what it must be like coming to the hobby today. Even if your interests are restricted to just aircraft, armor, ships, cars, there are hundreds of kits, aftermarket, and finishing products available that could be overwhelming to the newcomer.

That wasn’t my experience in the 1980s. There were only a handful of kit manufacturers, just two or three aftermarket companies, and no one was producing any weathering products at all.

There's a lot to explore these days, and I see a lot of new modelers asking questions in Facebook groups looking for recommendations on kits, paints, airbrushes, etc. Here are my high-level suggestions if you’re new to scale modeling. Clearly, you’re free to take whatever path you choose, but I think these ideas will put you on a solid path as you learn about scale modeling.

Select good kits

I think it’s important that your first few kits are well-engineered and relatively easy to build. You don’t want to spend time fiddling with assemblies that are over-engineered or trying to fix problems that are the result of poor kit design. Most modelers will recommend Tamiya as the standard of quality no matter your interests — aircraft, armor, ships, automotive — and I agree completely.

Ignore inaccuracies

If you spend more than 10 minutes in any Facebook group or discussion forum you’re sure to see guys pointing out inaccuracies in the kits you have or would like to build. These criticisms are justified, but as you build your first 10 to 20 kits, focus on mastering assembly and painting. You can learn how to fix kit inaccuracies later in your career. You may even learn to love the so-called rivet counters!

Skip the photoetch and resin

There are dozens of manufacturers that offer photoetch and resin to improve your kits, but they often present challenges that will challenge the skills of a beginner. Start introducing aftermarket products as you master the basics.

Buy an airbrush

I hate to recommend that you spend a lot of money from the start, but most modelers will say that an airbrush is a necessity. Yes, you’ll see really good looking models that are brush painted, but those modelers are wizards blessed with skills from the heavens. Most of us rely on airbrushes, even for small subassemblies. With practice you’ll find that an airbrush can produce results beyond a paintbrush. 

Don’t obsess with weathering

Like aftermarket products, there are dozens of weathering products on the market these days. Making sense of them all, much less mastering their use, is challenging. Focus on applying a clean paint job to your model with your airbrush, and then introduce weathering products and techniques later.

Don’t strive for perfection

I really don’t think this is a problem with most beginning modelers, but don't be too disappointed if your first efforts don't look as good as you'd like. Look at each model as a learning experience. Make mental notes (or better yet, written notes) of what didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, and look to improve with your next model.

Ask for help

Finally, ask for help. Scale modelers are a friendly bunch, and we’re eager to answer your questions. That can be a double-edged sword at times, as you’re likely to get conflicting advice. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment; each of us has products and techniques that work for us, but you’ll need to find what works for you.

There you go. None of us got where we are overnight, so pace yourself, look at others’ models for inspiration, and enjoy the experience.

Welcome to the hobby!