Monday, July 28, 2014

In the mood for: Seaplanes

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. There is magic in it."

Herman Melville understood the allure of the sea and explained it beautifully within the first paragraphs of Moby Dick. Ishmael, our hero and Real Man by anyone's standards, chooses to go to sea not as a passenger, he tells us, but as a sailor. Men for hundreds of years have followed Ishmael's lead and joined the great (and not-so-great) navies of the world either for the pure air and exercise that Ishmael sought or for the money, which he didn't fail to mention either.

Aviators, though their eyes are usually turned skyward, are not immune to this longing for the sea, and many have chosen to fly aircraft off aircraft carriers -- and even from cruisers and battleships when naval aviation was new back in the 1930s and 40s -- rather than concrete runways. Those  pioneers saw the practical and tactical value of flying aircraft directly off the sea, and they modified aircraft with pontoons and other technologies to exploit those capabilities. I'm fascinated by function over form, so it shouldn't be strange that I've been enticed to build models of seaplanes recently.

Over the last year or so I've purchased quite a few seaplanes, which are far from my usual interest in modern jet aircraft. How did this happen? Is the same longing for the sea that Melville wrote about applicable to scale modeling? Is it just a matter of time before I start buying ships?

My fascination with sea planes might have been sparked watching Kermit Weeks's in-cockpit "Kermie Cam" videos of his Sikorsky S-39, flying it off the lake on his Fantasy of Flight property in Central Florida.

Or maybe it was photographs of exceptional scale models of seaplanes, such as this scratchbuilt 1/72 Loening C-2H Air Yacht 1928 by Flikr user Franclab.

I know for sure why I bought an Eastern Express 1/144 Be-200. It was just after stumbling upon this video of a Be-200 performing at the Gelendzhik Hydro Air Show in Russia and being smitten by its unique, head-on profile.

To be fair, I've had a few seaplanes in my stash going back to my high school days. A couple of years ago, writing about the challenges of rigging, I mentioned my Williams Brothers 1/72 Douglas World Cruiser, which as some of you know can be built with either wheels or pontoons. I've also had an LS 1/144 Emily for nearly the same 30 years, which has called its siren song to me now and then.

More recently I've picked up an Airfix 1/144 Boeing 314 Clipper at Mosquitocon back in April, a fugly Amodel 1/144 Be-12NH, and a Sword 1/72 SO3C Seamew during my last visit to my LHS just last week. There are a few more on my informal wish list, so don't be surprised if you see one or two under my arm at the IPMS Nats next week.

I suppose it doesn't matter why we like what we like. What can we do but embrace these whims and see where they take us? I think they offer a pleasant distraction from building, in my case, yet another Hasegawa F-4 or Trumpeter F-105. An opportunity to stretch our skills, use different colors, and try new weathering techniques. In the meantime, if anyone has a Sword 1/72 JRF Goose they'd like to sell, give me a shout. I'll provide the water.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The best painting tip ever

Do you remember how as a child you used to draw pictures of landscapes? You probably represented the sky as a strip of blue at the top of the paper, because you knew the sky was over your head, like this.

A few years later, your brain matured and you began to see the sky as it actually exists in your world. It's not simply over your head, it extends down to the horizon as well, and your pictures started to look like this.

What happened? You began to draw what you see, not what you know is there.

I'm always amused when I hear people ask questions like these:
  • What color grey is the interior of the F-16?
  • What is the FS color used for inert AIM-9 Sidewinders?
  • What paint should I use for tires?
  • How do you paint a black aircraft?
My answer is almost always the same: Paint what you see, not what you know is there.

Too often we look for documented standards and out-of-the-bottle solutions for questions like these. In our search for accuracy we want a paint specifically called "tire black" or the FS number for those missiles.

Instead we should be using our observational skills to look -- really look -- at the tires of aircraft and ask ourselves, "What color do I see? I know it's rubber, but what color is it?" When you do that, you'll find yourself seeing tones of grey, possibly with bluish or reddish tones. You'll probably notice that the color isn't consistent across the entire tire. The part that makes contact with the ground may be lighter than the sidewalls. It may be dirty. The tire may even be stained from fluids dripping from the underside of the aircraft.

If you're looking at photos of an inert Sidewinder, what shade of blue is it? Dark, light, medium? It is a pure blue or faded? Look at the blue in that jar of Tamiya XF-8 on your workbench. Is it a close match? Oh, you say it's not? Would it be closer with a drop of two of white? Would the result be so far off from FS 35109 that your friends, rivet counters, and IPMS judges will laugh at you? Probably not.

Years ago I built this model, an Italeri 1/72 MiG-29. I knew I wanted it in West German markings and had the appropriate color references, but because I use Tamiya almost exclusively I couldn't simply buy the colors I needed. I had to mix them from scratch, using colors that were close but requiring some adjustment to get right. The result, I think, looks pretty good. One of the grey might not stand up to a paint chip of FS 36320, but when viewed in my display case or on a table at a contest, it looks convincing.

My suggestion is to become a student of color. Familiarize yourself with color theory and the color wheel associated with it. Study photographs closely. Look beyond what you intuitively know is there and study what actually exists in front of you. This will make you a better modeler, particularly when you don't have easy, off-the-shelf solutions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The passing of Andrei Koribanics

I know most of you don't do figures, but that community lost one of the greats overnight, Andrei Koribanics.

Andrei was best known for his outstanding miniature creations in 54mm and larger. When I first started painting figures back in the mid-1990s his "Eye Deep In Hell" was for me one of the best examples of modeling and painting I'd ever seen. He wrote an article about it for Internet Modeler back in 2001.

You can see more of his figures on his personal web site.

Andrei was also an accomplished aircraft modeler and was particularly adept with bi-wing aircraft, which as we all know are extremely challenging and require an almost engineer-like prowess to master. It's incredibly rare to find a modeler who excels -- and I mean truly excels -- at more than one area of our craft, but Andrei did. For that reason alone he will hold a special place in scale modeling history.

You can see more of Andrei's aircraft at:

World War One French aircraft
World War One Central Powers aircraft
Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero