Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 year-end review

As we enjoy these final days of 2014 I can't help but look back and think about what happened in our hobby, reflect on what we've talked about, and think about the kits and aftermarket that we most enjoyed.

If you're a long-time reader of Scale Model Soup you may recall that the last two years I published a series of posts as I selected the best online build, best WIP, biggest surprise, kit of the year, etc. I find myself unable to do that for 2014 because our hobby and community are as vibrant as they've ever been, and selecting just one of anything is nearly impossible. Instead, I thought I'd share some general thoughts about what resonated with me this year.

The year of the decal

My best friend declared 2014 the "Year of the Decal," and I think he's right. Speed Hunter Graphics, the decal arm of Reid Air Publications, stepped up in late 2013 to fill the void left by Afterburner Decals and released several great decals for fans of modern aircraft. It's easy to believe that Jake has a backlog of many exciting sheets that we'll see next year. Furball Aero-Design has also become a powerhouse in this small niche. In 2014 they released three sets of decals for the new Kitty Hawk Cougars, four for the Hobbyboss and Trumpeter Intruders, and four for Vietnam-era Phantoms.

Likewise Caracal Models has been more prolific than ever releasing 30 sheets in 2014 with more coming in 2015, including a set of B-1B markings and decals for the F-117 that include weapons bay art. Vagabond Decals gave us one of the coolest decal releases of the year for the new Wolfpack and Trumpeter T-38s; product 48-006 allows you to create literally any T-38 used by the USAF Thunderbirds. That's 73 options, my friends!

For armor modelers, Bison Decals released a ton of really interesting new decals under their new brand called Star Decals.

The power of conversation

2014 was also about the power of conversation. There were disappointing releases (hyperbolic rivet counters would describe them as crap), which as you might expected generated a great deal of conversation online, around contest tables, and at club meetings.

The conversation that dominated the year was the flap around Eduard's 1/48 Bf-109G. Despite the company's reputation for quality, they produced a kit that was slightly over-scale and featured a number of minor flaws that raised the ire of rivet counters around the world. Eduard, being a company of integrity, quickly announced they would re-tool the kit to address the errors. There was similar conversation about the Great Wall Hobby F-15, and they too stepped up to address most of the issues in subsequent releases.

Within the armor community this 14-page discussion on Armorama highlighted modelers' frustration with Dragon's M103. Dragon responded to the feedback and slightly re-tooled the molds for their follow-on release of the kit under the Black Label series.

Revell Germany had a great idea this year and set up a website where modelers could upload a photograph of a desired car and then opened the suggestions to customer vote. This gave Revell invaluable feedback on what modelers wanted and allowed modelers to (possibly) decide what the company’s next automotive models might be. Time will tell if this generates interesting models from Germany in 2015 or beyond.

Are these a sign of manufacturers' willingness to respond to feedback from customers? Perhaps, but I don't think it's likely to be pervasive. For every re-tooling of one poorly researched kit there are several that go ignored. It seems that some manufacturers are content producing models that are accurate enough for the majority of modelers. That's not a bad think per se, as we're getting subject matter many of us only dreamed about 20 years ago, but if that's true we should reset our expectations to avoid the anxiety and resentment that follows every new model that fails to live up to our desires.


I joked (half-joked, really) in this post about the harsh reality that most of us will die without having built all of the models in our respective stashes. The manufacturers are making it worse as they continue to give us dozens of new releases!

In 2014 we finally saw the long-awaited 1/32 A-6 from Hobby Boss and were surprised by the release of their YF-23. Revell released its 1/48 PT-17 Stearman, which some might argue is, dollar for dollar, the best kit of the year.

MPM, Special Hobby, and AZ Models released a number of interesting 1/72 kits, including very nice models of the AH-1 Cobra, a subject which until now has been served only by Monogram's crude tooling from the 70s. We also finally got Academy's long-overdue KC-135s in 1/144.


Armor modelers gobbled up a seemingly endless line of T-62, T-64, and T-80 variants from Trumpeter. Mirror Mirror Models and IBG Models have churned out extensive lines of softskin vehicles that have long been ignored.

With the subject matter from World War Two slowly drying up (is it?) Takom and others jumped on board the Wayback Machine gave us World War One armor, and Meng released the FT-17. Who would have thought we'd have an injected-molded kit of the French heavy tank St.Chamond as well as male and female versions of the Mk. IV!


2014 was an interesting year for the racing enthusiast and modeler. It certainly seems the bigger the scale the more interest a model earned, with the boutique small production manufacturers tending toward 1/12th scale releases.

Model Factory Hiro leads the way with quite a few new offerings. They released full detail kits of the Brabham BT46/46B Fan Car and the McLaren MP4/5B. Ebbro had a fantastic year with some wonderful classic cars from the 60s and 70s added to their range, such as the Team Lotus Type 72C 1970, Team Lotus Type 72C Rob Walker, Team Lotus Type 72E 1973, Team Lotus Type 49 1967, Team Lotus Type 49B 1968, Tyrrell Type 003 Monaco 1971, and Tyrrell Type 002 1971 German GP (Cevert). Aoshima have been promising the McLaren MP4/2 for some time now and has created plenty of interest as this model has been available only as a multimedia kit, so for those who do not want to spend a lot of money, this injected release is quite exciting.

The current trend from manufacturers has been “vintage” F1 kits, with F1 mainstays Tamiya and Fujimi producing no new models of contemporary cars. Maybe licensing fees on these older cars are lower, or maybe it’s simply easier to get details on them. Surely racing teams are reluctant to release details of their latest challengers; for example, the engine on the Tamiya Red Bull RB6 was basically a blob, so it was more of a kerbside build. Another possibility...we modelers are an aging group, so maybe our interests lie more towards the older generation cars.

One of the best trends for the automotive modeler, as well as other areas of the hobby, has been the use of 3D printing. This has opened the doors to some very interesting products. They’re not cheap, but if you really want it and this is your only option….why not?

Parting shots

The most important release of 2014 in my opinion -- though not the best kit, mind you -- was the Airfix 1/24 Typhoon. Having seen it at the IPMS Nats, it's an outstanding model. The level of detail is mindblowing, with the kit building up almost like the actual aircraft. While there are other kits on the market with more detail, none can be had in the $110-125 pricepoint. Airfix is on a roll, providing affordability and value. Airfix won't be giving us another 1/24 scale kit next year, but we are sure to see a number of other models that are sure to fit any modeler's budget.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the end-of-year surprise from Wingnut Wings, the 1/32 Felixstowe. I wrote earlier in the year about my fascination with seaplanes, so this model completely piqued my interest. I was willing to spend the $250 on the model knowing it will be arguably the best kit of 2014, but the reality of its size and complexity convinced me to forgo the purchase. It's a little too far outside my comfort zone, and frankly there are dozens of other models that I'm likely to find more compelling over the next 30 years. Nonetheless, I can't wait to see the Felixstowe on contest tables next year. If you've never attended an IPMS contest before, the possibility of seeing this kit in-the-flesh should draw you out of your basement!

Even after my article about painting what you see, someone went onto one of the popular forums and asked, "What color red is right for the F-4 speedbrakes?" Another asked, "Can someone tell me what is the difference between regular white, Insignia White, and RML21?" Seriously guys, red is red and white is white. Don't over-think it.

The year's best example of hyperbole comes from comments about the Hobby Boss F-80, which one rivet counter said failed to "remotely begin to represent the aircraft that it's advertised to represent." Really? Y'know, I've learned to love rivet counters, but comments like that turn my stomach.

The year's biggest WTF moment comes to us in this bizarre video from Eduard to promote their outstanding 1/72 MiG-15bis.

Well, that was 2014. Looking into next year, Trumpeter and Hobbyboss have previewed most of their 2015 catalog, and Airfix announced a number of their upcoming releases. As always, what most excites me the most is what we don't know about!

A Happy New Year to all of you.

My thanks to Shayne over at Motorsport Modeller for his input to the automotive commentary above. I don't participate in every part of the hobby, so his thoughts were crucial to providing a more comprehensive view of the hobby in 2014. If you have even a passing interest in motorsports, be sure to check out his blog.

You'll notice I don't have any commentary on naval releases. If you're an avid ship modeler and would like to contribute to Scale Model Soup, drop me a line at scalemodelsoup@gmail.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

6 downsides to being a scale modeler

Being a scale modeler isn't easy at times. Aside from the typical challenges of filling seams, using an airbrush, rigging a bi-plane, and dealing with "that guy" at contests, there are the more mundane issues we face on a regular basis. Here are six experiences that you may have muddled through.

1. Deciding when to tell your new girlfriend that you build models

You've been dating a beautiful, sexy, vivacious woman for several months, and you've carefully hid your hobby from her. "What's behind that door?" she asks, pointing to your workshop. "Oh, that's just a closet. Nothing to see there," you tell her. Your weekend at the IPMS National Convention was explained as a weekends with your college buddies (true story!). But now it's time to tell her. Dealbreaker? There's only one way to find out.

2. Sneaking new models into the house

If you're not on the dating scene you're happily married and your wife supports your hobby...more or less. She doesn't understand why, given your big stash, you need to buy more kits. You've tried to explain it -- the appeal of all of those cool schemes for the Phantom, the intricate differences between wet and dry stowage Sherman turrets -- but she just doesn't understand. Now you have to resort to sneaking new kits into the house. Late at night. When she's out with the girls. In an empty Revell 1/48 B-1B box. Despite the challenge and risks though, like Walter White, you enjoy getting away with it.

3. Trying to look rugged as you look for diorama supplies in the dry flower aisle in Michael’s

I'm looking at you armor and diorama modelers. You know that certain dried flowers provide the basis for convincing foliage in 1/35 scale, but how do you browse the dried flower section in stores and still look like the tough, rugged man you are? Early in the day is best, and a leather jacket doesn't hurt. Better yet, bring your wife or girlfriend.

4. Realizing you’ll never build all of those models in your stash

Holy crap, you're approaching 50! You sit in your workshop staring at your impressive collection of unbuilt kits. You know the exact paint scheme and markings you're going to use for each and every one of them, but then you realize that at your current rate of productivity there's a very strong likelihood that your Meng M2A3 or the Hobby Boss A-10 will be sitting on that very same shelf unbuilt when you die 20 or 25 years from now. Sad but true.

5. Watching your LHS close knowing that it’s partly your fault

You fondly remember your first hobby shop and always look forward to visiting the hobby shop in your town. But this week you learned it's closing and, being the intelligent person you are, you realize that its closing is due in part to your many purchases from the online retailers, eBay, the trading discussion groups. Sure, you've saved some money, but where are you going to buy that bottle of Olive Drab now when you need it at the last minute? We reap what we sow.

6. Being unable to watch a war movie without pointing out the inaccuracies

You're 10 minutes into a great war movie and then, boom! The producers made a mistake (the passengers in that Huey are holding a conversation as if they're sitting in a Camry!) and it ruins the movie for you. Has there ever been a perfect movie? Probably not, but we keep holding out for it and complaining as we go.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Creative ideas for bases

The right base can set your model apart from the others in a contest or simply when displayed in your home. A base highlights a model as a frame complements a drawing, print, or painting. Finding suitable bases can be a challenge, so here are a few ideas that you might not have considered.

Award plaques

Check with local award shop, the businesses that provide trophies and plaques to schools and sports leagues. Many will sell you the blank wood bases used for award plaques outright, and they sometimes have plaques that have gone unsold that you can buy on the cheap.

If you're lucky to have won at a few contests over the years, you can re-purpose the awards as display bases. I've never been one to have a "love me" wall where I display all my winnings (there really aren't that many), so I sometimes remove the aluminum applique from an award, apply rectangular sheet plastic painted to represent flightline, tarmac, or groundwork, and boom! I have a nice base.

Here's an Egyptian T-34/122 conversion on a wood award base, with groundwork created from Celluclay.

Here's a 1/72 F-16A on a base from which I've removed the applique. All it needs is a piece of suitably sized and painted plastic to make it complete. Or a mirror even.

Draw organizers

Visit any home furnishing store and you'll find a variety of wood boxes that are used for organizing the contents of kitchen or bathroom drawers. You can paint them (or not), flip them over, and apply a piece of plastic to represent a flightline or groundwork. The Container Store is a particularly good source for these.

Here's a 1/72 Gripen on a narrow organizer (which I have yet to paint and finish) but you can see the general effect that a higher base provides.

Wall cubes

When you’re at a home furnishing store with SHMBO, look for the deep, square cubes that are intended to be mounted on a wall for displaying bric-a-brac. I’ve seen them in black, white, and oak. Laid flat with a suitable surface applied they provide a pedestal for displaying models.


Frames can provide the, um, framework, for a variety of eye-catching bases. Michael’s, HomeGoods,  and similar shops have a huge variety of bases, so think creatively as you browse the store. Each of the models below rests on a base created from a frame.

Cabinet doors

If you have a cabinet shop near you, they may have surplus cabinet doors for sale. You can find them in many shapes and sizes, so look for those that will fit certain types or sizes of models. For example, a long and narrow aircraft or vehicle (such as my Su-15 below or an SdKfz 231 8-rad) will look good on a long narrow base, while a shorter aircraft or vehicle (MiG-3 or Pzkpfw Ib) will look good on a square base.

 If you need a large base for your next epic, Letterman-esque diorama, I found these at Ikea a couple of years ago. I don't remember exactly how much they cost, but I they were affordable given their size.

Tissue boxes

Yes, tissue boxes. There are homeowners who wish to hide their tissues (these are the same people who buy knit cozies for their spare toilet paper), so you can find these unfinished boxes at Michael's and other craft stores very inexpensively. Here's one I'm working on, which will ultimately be painted black and a surface applied to better show of this 1/48 A-4 Skyhawk.

Craft store bases

One final option are the unfinished bases you find at most craft stores. Please pardon me if I get on a soapbox, but when I've seen them used to display models at contests, they usually look cheap and shabby and almost always detract from what are otherwise excellent models. Unless you're a master woodworker, I suggest using one of the options I've described here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Me and Squadron's Black Friday sale

Another Squadron Black Friday sale has come and gone, but the echo of complaints will echo well into the week. I thought it might be useful to take a step back, take a deep cleansing breath, and consider the place that Squadron's annual sale has acquired within the hobby and to share my thoughts about their sale, which I did not take advantage of this year.

After reading several discussions on the forums this weekend, I came to a big realization: we're spoiled. Simple as that. We expect epic sales. We expect to buy a lot of models with very little money.

It began several years ago with Squadron's first Black Friday sale. If I recall correctly, they offered 50 percent off if you spent $300...with free shipping. Friends, a sale doesn't get much better than that. That said, if the wholesale value is generally 40 percent of retail, I honestly don't know how Squadron made money that year, particularly when you factor in the cost of mailing what, for most of us, were large parcels.

Over the following years Squadron has progressively increased the minimum order to enjoy the maximum discount while decreasing the discount. It's easy to see why so many modelers have had strong reactions. They've come to feel entitled to deep discounts, but the truth is, Squadron is running a business and seeking to make money, so they have the right to offer promotions that they believe will drive sales and maximize profits. It's a bummer that we don't enjoy half-off pricing, but that's life. Accept it or continue to work yourself into a collective frenzy.

As I said up-front, I didn't order from Squadron this weekend. I could have. I had a list of models that exceeded the $500 threshold, due in part to three 1/32 scale jets (which coincidentally were out of stock during last year's sale), but I decided not to pull the trigger. As enticing as the sale was (even one that's less than 50 percent), I had to a personal sanity check and realized:

  • I have more models than I can build in my lifetime. Never mind how many, but I pretty much have everything that I "need," more than enough to make me happy. Most of what I could have bought this weekend would've been impulse purchases made for no other reason than to take advantage of a good sale.
  • I really don't need to start building 1/32 models. I'm a 1/72 scale guy who's intrigued by large-scale models, but after reading a post from Jon of The Combat Workshop -- about how much time his current 1/32 F-16 building is consuming compared to his usual 1/48 scale kits -- I realized that the Trumpeter 1/32 F-105 in my stash will satisfy my need to explore a large scale project when the time comes.
  • I have lots of stuff in my eBay watch list awaiting purchase. Sixty items to be precise, and most of it is aftermarket for models that I already own. I should probably buy those before bringing new projects into the stash.

This is the first time that I didn't take advantage of Squadron's sale, and guess what? I'm alive and well. I don't regret not purchasing anything. I'm not angry at Squadron because a few models that I wanted were out of stock. I remembered that I don't have to buy. I can choose to spend my money in productive ways, in ways that advance my enjoyment of the hobby, and not in response to an enticing offer. I think that makes me a smart consumer.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Clean that airbrush

I'm guessing that most of you use an airbrush on a regular basis. My first was an inexpensive Testors contraption powered by canned air. I eventually upgraded to a Paasche VL, powered with a compressor but no air regulator, and finally several years ago I upgraded to an Iwata HP-CH and compressor (with regulator).

I love my Iwata and would marry it if the State of New Jersey would sanctify such an unconventional union, but the paint control it provides is only as good as its cleanliness. I've always used cotton swabs to clean my airbrushes, but I always felt like I was leaving something behind.

I confirmed this recently when I purchased a set of small, stiff-bristled brushes on eBay. The smallest is perfect for getting into the tight spaces of the airbrush, such as the tunnel the needle passes through behind the trigger assembly. With my first cleaning using it, all kinds of pigment came out, which you can see in the photo below. I now use the brushes after every painting session, which I believe has allowed me to extend the intervals between my completing disassembling the airbrush and giving it a through cleaning.

If you don't have a set of these brushes I strongly recommend going to eBay or another source and buying them. It's a small investment, but it will contribute to the quality of your painting, not to mention extend the service life of your airbrush.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Your vomit is the wrong color

If you've ever painted a room in your house you've probably been amused by the paint names as you considered your options in the local Home Depot. Pensive Sky, Blushing Apricot, April Mist...who comes up with this stuff?

After receiving Squadron's latest 20 percent discount offer and paging through their new products (looking for something that's actually in stock) I stumbled upon Vallejo Vomit Special Effect.

My mind immediately pondered a number of random thoughts and musings:

  • Is there someone who actually needs this color?
  • If you need to portray vomit, what's so hard about mixing the color yourself?
  • I've never actually seen a diorama in which a figure is vomiting.
  • Can a single color adequately represent all forms of vomit and the countless variations of vomit contents?

I Googled Vallejo vomit and was surprised to discover a number of other weird colors in their line, such as Filthy Brown, Plague Brown, Parasite Brown, Charred Brown, and Scrofulous Brown. Mind you, the irony of so many gross variations on the color brown is not lost on me considering my last name is Brown. And yes, I admit I had to dust off my dictionary to learn what scrofulous means!

I also found that the wargaming paint manufacturer Citadel produces a number of similarly grotesque colors: Dead Flesh, Snot Green, Bubonic Brown, Scab Red. I guess these are targeted at the zombie enthusiasts among us and those of you modeling 14th century soldiers.

What made me laugh the hardest was finding Smelly Primer (yes, that's the actual name), from Citadel. Brilliant! Maybe it's just me, but if a primer isn't smelly I question its efficacy. Isn't that why everyone loved Floquil's grey primer? Or were we all just too high to realize we had other options.

I've shared my thoughts here about how lazy we're becoming and I've wondered why some people can't seem able to paint what they see, but finding Vallejo Vomit makes me think we're past a tipping point where craftsmanship has been replaced by paint-by-number solutions. Should I vomit in between my laughing fits at the hilariousness of these colors or should I just paint of figure of me vomiting?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Three dollar decals

I recently wrote about my first hobby shop, Carl’s Hobbies in tiny Inverness, Florida. As I was thinking back to those days enjoying the shop and the hobby, I remembered the excitement of discovering Microscale decals.

I first learned about them from an advertisement in Scale Modeler. There was a short list of new releases, and it seemed that – wow! – I wasn’t restricted to using the decals that came with the kits I bought. I could actually make my models unique!

Carl didn’t carry Microscale decals, but I asked him if he could special order them. He could. The price…$3.00! I couldn’t believe it! That’s a lot of damn money for just decals! Hell, the Monogram 1/72 F-15 I wanted them for cost me $6.00 at the toy store across the street! Luckily my friend Steve offered up $1.50 for the Streak Eagle markings that were included on the sheet, so my pain was halved, but still!

My first decal sheet. Note the $3.00 price tag!

I still have that very same decal sheet (I’ve used some of the markings as you can see), along with dozens of others that I’ve acquired over the years. I’m almost embarrassed at my stash of decals, but I’m glad I have them.

It’s amazing how much we now pay for decals given the three dollar price tag you can see on the Microscale decals above. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’ll be the first to support the cottage industry and argue the value of, not just decals, but our hobby as a whole, but these retrospective voyages back into my earliest experiences in the hobby sometimes prompt me to pause and assess what it is that I enjoy about scale modeling. For me, variation is important, and at the very least decals – even inaccurate decals, as many of those early Microscale decals were at times – allow us to create models that reflect our interests and creativity. They offer ideas and possibilities every time I browse through them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two new figures for your Airfix 1/24 Typhoon

Figures are usually an afterthought within the aircraft modeling community. Unless you're showing an airplane in flight or creating a diorama of a plane being loaded with armament, figures rarely have a place with aircraft. I've always thought that unfortunate, because unless you – and the people who see your models – are familiar with aircraft, it's difficult to appreciate the size of any one particular airplane without a common point of reference. And what better point of reference than a human being, who we instinctively assume to be roughly six feet tall?

When you think about it, the lack of figures in the hobby shouldn't be surprising given how many poorly sculpted pilot figures are on the market. I've seen many great looking aircraft online or in contests where a shabby figure detracted from the overall appeal of the model.That's why I'm always excited to see quality figures of pilots. Series 77 was among the first of the major manufacturers to produce one back in the 1970s. In the 1980s Verlinden's cadre of (anonymous) sculptors gave us two or three more. Even today, there's generally a lack of really good figures of pilots.

But hold your horses! Two exceptional new figures are coming to the market this month, and those of you who own or are planning to buy Airfix's outstanding 1/24 Typhoon will want to take a look at them. Each is sculpted by one of the best sculptors in the figure hobby.

The first is from Steve Warrilow of The Fusilier. The company is best know for its extensive line of World War One subject matter, but this release comes as a welcome surprise to those with an affinity for World War Two aviation and the Typhoon. The figure can be displayed with or without the life vest and includes a choice of three heads.

The other figure comes to us via Barracuda Studios from the hands of one of my absolute favorite sculptors, Mike Good. Mike's work is unrivaled in the hobby, and all of his figures, regardless of the subject, are must-haves in my book. Mike reports on planetFigure that it will be available to those of you attending the Telford show.

Both figures look outstanding and will be an excellent addition to your display of the Airfix Typhoon. Not to mention as a standalone figure, too.

Monday, October 27, 2014

5 hard truths about scale modeling

Like any endeavor or hobby, scale modeling is full of challenges. Here are five hard truths about our hobby that you need to accept.

1. There are no “tricks”

Is there a trick to scribing around external fuel tanks? Are there any tricks to painting instrument panels? Is there an easy way to paint ejection seat handles? These questions have recently been asked in one form or another on the forums. All too often I see modelers looking for easy solutions or “tricks” to the challenges of building, painting, and weathering models, and with few exceptions I find myself wanting to be brutally honest and tell them that nothing is easy.

My favorite example is modelers looking for a trick to paint the eyes of a figure. There are none. It's fucking hard. No, decals don't work. You need a high-quality brush, a steady hand, and practice to apply the white of the eyes, the iris, the pupil. If you’re looking for an easy solution, you’re going to be disappointed.

2. There’s always someone else better than you

A few months ago someone wrote on ARC that the last time he’d entered a contest he saw that other models were much better than his. Welcome to the real world. No matter what you do in this life, someone is going to be better than you, make more money, own nicer things. For example, I exercise regularly. Many of the guys in the gym are stronger than me or can run farther than me. So what? I have my own path to follow based on my body type, my genes, and my fitness goals. Comparing myself with other people only sets me up for frustration.

Same thing applies to scale modeling. I’m a good modeler, but there are others much better than me. That doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the hobby. Changing your mindset from intimidation to inspiration will make you a happier and potentially better modeler.

3. Airbrushing is difficult

One of the most difficult skills to master in our hobby is airbrushing. It’s easy to ask questions about paint preferences and thinning ratios, but ultimately you have to spend a lot of time with your particular airbrush/compressor setup, different types of paint, and dozens of experiments with thinners and thinning ratios to discover what works for you. And once you find that perfect formula, you’ll still need to spend a great deal of time learning how to apply the paint to the model so that it’s not too thick, too rich, or out-of-scale. If you’re new to the hobby, expect this process to take several years, at least.

4. Models are expensive

I remember balking at the $21 price tag of the first Hasegawa 1/48 F-4 Phantom that I purchased in the mid-1980s. Today that would be a bargain, even for a 1/72 scale kit. We need to face the harsh reality of our hobby today: kits are expensive. We can debate price relative to accuracy, but it is what it is. If models are too expensive for you, find a new hobby or do what most of us do, which is to wait until they go on sale or you can find one up at a contest. The incessant complaining about prices is pointless and annoying. And frankly, I believe the hobby is still a good value relative to other ways you could spend your money.

5. Figure painting is a completely different hobby

Have you ever tried to paint a pilot for your aircraft or paint figures for an armor diorama? It’s hard, right? I built plastic models – aircraft and armor – for years before I first attempted a figure. When I did, when I started using artist oils that most figure painters use, I realized that figures have practically nothing in common with plastic models.

If you’re looking to incorporate figures into your models, be ready for a steep learning curve or be willing to accept figures that detract a little from your otherwise excellent craftsmanship.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Scale modeling is not art

A few days ago a friend shared a photo of a model on Facebook he thought was particularly well done (it was not my Gripen pictured below) with the comment, "Work of art!" I sent him a private message and told him not to use the word art, because scale modeling is not art. We had a brief exchange over whether scale modeling can be considered art, my friend taking the position that it is. It wasn't the first time this question has been debated, and it certainly won't be the last.

One of these is a great work of art, and the other is a plastic model.
I declare with as much finality as I can muster that, no, scale modeling is not art. Here's the conversation that I would likely have with the "Artist Wannabe" in our ranks.

SMS: What we do is not art.

AW: Of course it is! We use many of the same tools, media, and techniques.

SMS: Big deal. I used geometry, a saw, and sandpaper to fix the framing around a window in my house, but that doesn't make me a carpenter. Another example. I love to cook, and I'm very good at it. That does not make me a "chef." There's a big difference between my following a recipe to prepare a meal -- even when I improvise along the way -- and a trained chef who knows how to combine ingredients in new and unexpected ways. Calling myself a chef is an insult to the men and women who are.

AW: But we create things and make artistic decisions in the process.

SMS: We do create things, but we generally use parts and components that have already been created for us and follow a fairly strict process to bring them all together...using instructions, mind you! When we assemble the parts of a kit, there's only one "correct" way to do so, so there's negligible creativity in the output. If both you and I build a P-51, the results will pretty much look the same. Ask two artists to represent the feeling of love with paint and canvas and you'll likely get two very different paintings.

AW: Wait, I make artistic decisions. I decide what ordnance to use, how to paint my models, how to weather them.

SMS: Yes you do, but those decisions are constrained by norms about what is expected and even acceptable. That P-51 flown by Robin Olds can be painted only one way. Show too much creativity and scale modelers will dismiss your efforts as "fun" or "silly." Your decision to weather it -- often using off-the-shelf washes and pigments, by the way -- requires very little creativity on your part. The fact that there are so many articles and books that show us step-by-step how to achieve certain looks is evidence that many modelers are dismissing any desire to be creative in preference for proven techniques that are intended to achieve same result model after model after model.

AW: Wow, I never thought about it that way. Well what about modelers who scratchbuild models? Surely they're artists.

SMS: Nope. I'd consider them craftsmen or engineers. Like the kit builder, there's only one way to create a B-17, a Sherman, or the USS Kidd, even if you're scratchbuilding them.

AW: What about modelers who scratchbuild hypothetical vehicles or spacecraft? Are they artists?

SMS: Hmmm....maybe. Those guys are making some artistic decisions, so I'll give you that. But I'm uncomfortable saying they're artists because there's rarely any desire to convey emotion, feeling, or experience, which is often the desire in art.

AW: And the guys who sculpt figures?

SMS: I feel comfortable calling them artists. The difference between them and the majority of us is they're creating something out of nothing. That requires a great deal of creativity that we kit modelers don't use. When they bring original figures together in a vignette or diorama, there's great potential for creating something that anyone would describe as art.

AW: You make some good points, but I still like to consider what we do art.

SMS: Obviously you're free to do that, just as I'm free to call myself a chef. But do this the next time you meet a painter or sculptor; when he asks you what you do, tell him you're an artist, that you build scale models, and watch his reaction.

What say you? If you think I'm wrong, how would you argue all this plastic modeling stuff is art.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jerrie who?

I wrote this article about two months ago after learning about Jerrie Mock but was holding onto it for a "rainy day," when I was desperate for something new. This morning I learned that Jerrie died yesterday. She's one of the more obscure characters in aviation history, so today is as good a time as any to learn about her contributions.

Do you know the name Jerrie Mock? I didn't, until I ran across this article about her on My Flight Blog. She was the first woman to fly solo around the world. I won't re-state what's in the article, so I'll just provide the linkage and let you explore.

I was surprised to find that Mock's granddaughter has a Pinterest page with more pictures of her. You see what you can discover when you play with the Google machine!

And here's her bio from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

P.S Her airplane, The Spirit of Columbus, hangs in the Udvar-Hazy Center, which should be among your favorite aviation destinations!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Those crazy Amazon prices

I know it's happened to you. You're browsing Amazon when you run across a book you've been looking for, but then wham, you see the price. "Holy crap! Is that really $1,200?" you exclaim, wondering if you'll need to get a second job as a Walmart greeter to pay for just one book.

Over the weekend I was looking through my Amazon wish list when I came across Yemif Gordon's book on the MiG-21. Two sellers had it listed for more than $3,000!
That can't be correct, I thought to myself, but rather than go onto the forums to vent as many people are prone to do, I emailed the seller to ask if the price was accurate. My message was simple:

I see this item for sale on Amazon, but the price seems extraordinarily high for a book, over $3,000. Is that accurate or a typo?

We're not the only people who've noticed these outrageous prices. A few years ago one blogger wrote about a book whose price peaked at over $23 million, which generated a great deal of buzz on the interwebz.

In case you don't know, these exorbitant prices are the result of what's known as algorithmic pricing or robo pricing. Amazone sellers use computer software -- provided by companies such as Revionics and Advanced Pricing Logic -- to  troll the internet looking for the same item and adjusting the price of their items according to the instructions fed into the software. As this article points out, algorithmic pricing is generally intended to drive prices down (have you noticed the many books on Amazon selling for one penny?), but it can drive prices up as well, which explains why we often see books and other products selling at ridiculous prices.

The seller of the MiG-21 book responded to me within a few hours with the following:

We purchased and listed about 20,000 book from a library we liquidated. After a few sold we realized there was a quality control issue so we had to raise the prices of all of those books to make sure no one purchased them while we manually go through each item and check to make sure the item is sellable.

Also some of our books were discarded but still listed in error. Given the number of emails we have been receiving we should have removed the books then relisted one at a time. I checked this book and it appears to be one of the books that was discarded. I've sent in a request to have it removed.

I don't know enough about how listings are managed on Amazon, but I'm not convinced that raising prices is the best way to make sure no one purchases select items. And I think it's unusual that two sellers on two continents have listed the same book within a few dollars of each other, so I suspect algorithmic pricing is at play regardless of what I was told.

Nonetheless, the next time you find something you want on Amazon, don't hesitate to contact the seller. The response may well be interesting, if not positive.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

So you’re visiting New York City

Unlike, say, Florida, it’s always tourist season in New York City. I’ve had the pleasure of working in Midtown Manhattan for almost 15 years now, and regardless of the time of year there are thousands of tourists enjoying the city every day. It’s not surprising that many of you plan to visit, and as we modelers usually do, ask about hobby shops in the city. I thought I’d offer my suggestions for your next visit, with some perspective on the shops and destinations beyond.


If you were to ask me, “Steve, are there any good hobby shops in the city?” I’d tell you there are, but, cripes! It’s New York City. Forget the hobby shops for a few days and enjoy everything the city has to offer! But if you pushed me, I’d tell you about the only two shops remaining.

The Red Caboose (23 W. 45th St.) resides in a basement space. It’s likely to be the most cramped, scruffy hobby shop you’ll ever visit, but I love it. It has a small selection of kits, including some new releases, but you’ll pay New York City prices, which is MSRP plus extra. Rent doesn't come cheap in these parts! What’s most intriguing about The Caboose is what you can’t see. There seem to be places the general public isn’t permitted to go, and I can’t help but wonder what’s behind that closed door or deep into that shadowed corner over there. Imagine the treasures to be discovered! Or not.

It's easy to walk right past the shop.

Some of the aircraft selection.

Be sure to say hello to Lionel.

Jan’s Hobby Shop (1435 Lexington Ave) is a more traditional store. Like the Caboose, the shop is very small, but the owners have packed it floor-to-ceiling with product. They has a surprisingly large variety of plastic models, new releases and old, including aircraft, armor, ships, and cars. Very few magazines or books. They have a nice collection of built models, displayed in a two cases in the middle of the store that are worth a closer look. Again you’ll find NYC prices, but stop by the shop if you’re in the neighborhood. Bring your wife, too; the shop next door specializes in cook books.

Jan's on the Upper East Side.

I have to recommend The Strand, a huge bookstore two blocks from Union Square. With both new, clearance, and pre-owned books, the selection is always changing, and you’re sure to find something interesting to read on the flight back home. The history and military sections are huge, so a visit should be on your to-do list.

Just two blocks south of busy Union Square.

The military selection at the Strand

With the hobby shops out of the way, let’s talk about the more interesting things you should do in New York.


Do you like to eat? Of course you do. Here are a few suggestions.

Resto (111 E 29th St) is a man’s restaurant and my favorite in New York City. Lots of meat, and you can even dine on a complete pig’s head if you give them a week’s notice. They have a good selection of German beer and a handful of rotating, creative cocktails, many of them bourbon-based.

My favorite restaurant in the city.

Speaking of beer, The Ginger Man (11 E 36th St) is a must-stop for anyone who considers himself a beer aficionado. As I write this, they have 70 beers on tap and over 160 bottled. The selection is unrivaled, and the only downside to a visit is deciding which beers to enjoy. The food is good (typical pub fare), but then after enjoying a Belgian quad or two on my last visit I have no recollection of anything that had happened the prior 24 hours.

With two locations (382 8th Ave. and 747 9th Ave.) in the city, Uncle Nick’s is another favorite of mine. Greek food at its best. Everything on the menu is good, but I’d strongly recommend something off the grill, particularly the fish. For your appetizer, go with the oktapodaki (octopus) or glykadakia (sweetbreads).

Mapo Tofu (338 Lexington Ave) offers exceptional Szechuan style Chinese. That means spicy. You won’t encounter anything exotic as you would in Chinatown, so if you like the Chinese joint back home you're sure to find something enticing on Mapo’s meu. Everything is good, but I’m particularly fond of the stir-fried pork belly with chili leeks.

If you’re visiting the city with that special woman in your life and want to thank her for tolerating your visits to New York's hobby shops and book stores, the food at Blue Hill (75 Washington Pl.) is exceptional. President and Mrs. Obama dined here a few years ago, in fact. Located in a former speakeasy in Greenwich Village, Blue Hill specializes in seasonal, locally sourced ingredients from the Hudson Valley.


There are so many places to see in New York City it’s hard to recommend even three or four. Obviously the museums are excellent, and they're sure to inspire the artistic and creative parts of your brain, which should make you a better modeler. If you have kids, the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street) is a great place to spend an afternoon. If you don't have kids and you’re a little kinky, the Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Avenue) is, um...titillating.

The one place I know you’ll visit is the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (Pier 86 at 46th Street). The ship has been restored reasonably well, and there’s a – shall we say: interesting – selection of aircraft on the deck. I understand the the TBM, the F9F-8, and the A-4, but I don’t get the presence of the A-12 or Kfir in the collection. I suppose they were the equivalent of an impulse purchase for the curators!

And Times Square. At night. It’s an amazing spot.

Enjoy your visit!

Monday, September 1, 2014

My first hobby shop

Do you remember your first hobby shop? I do.

The year was 1982, a small Florida town about an hour north of Tampa. I was 14 years old. I had never filled seams, never used an airbrush, and had no idea that any other model-related companies existed beyond the Monogram and Revell kits I saw in TG&Y and K-Mart.

But then I found the now-defunct magazine Scale Modeler in a nearby bookstore, which opened my eyes to the lengths to which modelers were going to build museum-quality models. I also learned about IPMS and joined a club in nearby Ocala, a metropolis compared to tiny Inverness. Between the magazine and the club, I began to enjoy the hobby deeper than I had before, and Carl’s Hobbies was a haven for me in the middle of the vast tracts of forest and orange groves of Central Florida.

Location of the former Carl's Hobbies
The shop was small, I’d guess about 750 square feet. It had a typical layout: display case and cash register up front, long shelves lining each wall to the left and right, and a shelving unit down the center of the shop. As I recall Carl didn’t have much stock model-wise. He had maybe 50 kits. (I had 15 in my stash at the time, which I thought was a lot.) But the cool thing was he had kits I’d never seen before. Hasegawa, Tamiya, Airfix. Who knew there was so much variety? Prices were retail, which hurt this kid making only $3.60/hour bagging groceries at nearby Kash ‘n’ Karry. I remember eying the super-cool looking Tamiya 1/35 Merkava for over a year before finally breaking down and paying $24 for it. (Was it even that much?)

Guess what. That Merkava is still in my stash!
I got to know Carl fairly well. He periodically donated models to the model club of my AFJROTC squadron, and he kindly chatted with me and my friends even when we didn’t buy much. His business saw some success, because when a new strip mall was built on the other side of town he moved his shop into a larger space. I don’t think he survived there longer than three or four years though. I remember coming home on leave after I’d joined the Air Force to find his shop was gone.

Inverness is a small town today, but it was much, much smaller back then. That it even had a hobby shop was remarkable. At the very least the shop provided an environment that inspired a least a few of us young scale modelers. We didn’t know how good we had it. Such as it was.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The hubub over the Kinetic F-16XL

Earlier this week Kinetic announced its next release, a 1/48 F-16XL. Like most of my reactions to life these days, I had mixed emotions. First I said to myself, "Cool!" Then I was all like, "Whatever." It seems that the modeling community shares my feelings.

Some modelers are not impressed. On Britmodeller, many readers expressed their disappointment.

"Leaves me stone-cold."

"Why waste research and plastic on this when there are so many other classic and contemporary subjects begging for a decent kit?"

"Not really looking forward to this release."

Others in the discussion were more positive. One pointed out that Kinetic, Hobby Boss, and Kitty Hawk are making greater contributions to the hobby than the older, more established companies such as Hasegawa and Tamiya. I think he's right. Although quality has been hit-or-miss, these newer manufacturers are giving us some very interesting models.

As insightful as these conversations have been, to this announcement as well as other releases as they've been announced, one important point is often missed. In the case of the F-16XL, let's remember that this is not Kinetic's final release! Even if you, like me, think there could've been better choices, we're going to see many more releases from Kinetic and the other manufacturers before they go the way of the dodo. For example, I'd really like to see a new-tool Su-22, and if I were at the helm at Kinetic or Kitty Hawk you'd all have one on your bench (or more likely, in your stash) by now. But I have to believe that an Su-22 is on someone's radar and we'll see one sooner or later.

As modelers we know the value of patience when building a model. Let's remember to apply it to the release of new models as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What will stick with me from the 2014 IPMS Nats

Think about all the contests you've been to. Think about all the models you've seen online. How many of them are memorable? I mean, you see a lot of extraordinary models over the course of your time in the hobby, but there's only a handful that you think about when you reflect on the best of the best.

The 2014 IPMS Nats are a week behind me now, and I'm already thinking about which of the 2,700 models in the contest will likely stay in the front of my mind six months, a year, maybe five years from now.

Two models in one of the Spacecraft categories by Texan David Carlton struck me last week, and I think they'll stay with me over time.

The first is a scratchbuilt 1/48 Vanguard Test Vehicle 3 as it was seen in 1957. It was displayed in a relatively intact configuration, with a satellite displayed at the top of the rocket.

The second model from David was a similar rocket, a scratchbuilt 1/48 Vanguard Satellite Launch Vehcile 4 as it was seen in 1959, which I can only presume was the production version of Vehicle 3. (I haven't taken the time to research either rocket.) This one was built and displayed to show the rocket's innards, as well as David's fine modeling skills.

Both models were beautifully built and detailed, and with their carefully considered display it's easy to picture them in a museum. Truly modeling at its finest!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The best of the 2014 IPMS Nats

Another IPMS National Convention is behind us, and it was a good one. There were more than 700 registrants who entered more than 2,700 models. Any contest is an opportunity to be inspired, but the Nats offers the chance to see literally thousands of models at one time.

It wasn't until I was on my way home, when the Sirius/XM 80s channel played the Top 40 from 1984, that I realized this year marks the 30th year since I attended my first convention, the 1984 Nats in Atlanta. The show never fails to deepen my enthusiasm for the hobby.

The models were impressive this year, and if I have any regret it's that I didn't spend nearly enough time in the contest room. Next year I need to commit to spending at least 3-4 solid hours really studying the models to learn what I can.

I photographed quite a few models across all the categories, but here are a few that I thought were particularly impressive, interesting, or memorable. Go to my Google Picasa gallery to see 180 photos from the contest.

One of my favorite 1/48 scale entries, a perfectly painted and weathered SB2U.

My favorite 1/72 entry, an F6F Hellcat. It was one of the best weathered 1/72 scale aircraft I've ever seen.

A beautifully executed 1/48 Ju-88 A-4 by Ricard Rivas of Venezuela.

My favorite 1/32 scale aircraft in the competition, an F-84G with a flawless natural metal finish.

Another favorite 1/72 entry, a AH-1W Cobra. It's rare to see a helicopter built and weathered so well.

A gorgeous vacuform PD-1 Flying Boat.

I'm a sucker for the obscure and unusual, so this scratchbuilt 1/72 Italian Obicie 305/17 DS artillery piece caught my eye.

An amazing scratchbuilt 1/9 scale Ariel W/NG 350cc Italian motorcycle by Alex deLeon, which took Best Military Subject. His trike (pictured on the IPMSs web site) won George Lee Judges' Grand Award.

A stunning 1/350 SMS Vulcan, a U-boat salvage tug.

Who doesn't like a red Ferrari. Here's a gorgeous 1/24 Fujimi 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spider.

Classic car lovers appreciated this 1/25 Moebius 1952 Hudson Hornet.

An excellent 1/20 Masterpiece Miniatures Apollo Saturn V engine by Ronnie Rutherford.

Best Space/Science Fiction Vehicle went to this amazing scratchbuilt 1/48 Curiosity rover by Mike Mackowski.

This Imperial II Class Star Destroyer had lights and everything!

If I were to give an award for most unusual model, it would be for this paper model of a Teddy Bear, seen in the pre-teen categroy. Seriously, that has to warm your heart, right?

See you in Columbus, Ohio next year!