I'm in my mid-forties, and I have to admit that my brain may not be as sharp as it once was. If I don't think through the process of assembling a model there's a strong chance I'll forget something. Like installing the control column in an F-15 (done that) or adding weight to an F-117 to avoid tail sitting (almost done that). The best modelers I know have the keen ability to "see" the assembly of a model before they actually bring the pieces together, so for me to even begin to approach that level of competence I have to spend a good bit of time preparing.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Fixin' to build a model (as my friends down South would say) begins with research. Once I select a model, I look through my library for books on the subject, and I surf the interwebz for reviews, online builds, and reference photos. To gather the latter, I create a folder on my laptop's desktop and drop photos or copy the URLs of helpful web sites. For larger, more complex projects, I've been known to create subfolders to better organize photos, such as Wings, Fuselage, Landing Gear, etc. Or for armor: Hull, Turret, Running Gear. Yes, I can be anal retentive.
Next I'll study those online builds and photographs and make notes on the instruction sheet, usually with a red pen. I'll highlight any kit parts that will be enhanced or replaced by photoetch pieces, and I'll note any areas that I think may require special attention.
Finally, as I build the model, I'll informally check off the parts and pieces as I assemble them. That's not really part of the preparation phase per se, but each step essentially prepares you for the next.
There you have it. I failed to mention the ongoing prayers to any god willing to listen, but I assume y'all do the same thing. Prior preparation doesn't necessarily ensure exceptional performance, but it gets me a step closer.
Did you enjoy this article? Just a little bit? Check out the thoughts from my blogging colleagues of The Sprue Cutter's Union.
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