Monday, September 21, 2015

Microaggression and the scale modeler

Have you heard the term microaggression? I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago until I ran across this article on Vox.

The term goes back to 1970 when a Harvard professor used it to describe the insults that white people made toward African Americans. A psychologist later expanded use of the term to include insults toward other marginalized groups and defined microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.”

For example, a white person might say to a wealthy African American, “You’re a credit to your race.” Or when you learn that the Asian high schooler who lives next to you won a math competition, you might respond with, “I’m not surprised." These comments aren't intended to be insulting, but to the group they're directed at, they are.

I write about this here because we see microaggressions in the scale modeling community as well. They’re the subtle jibes at other modelers and companies that often result in a discussion quickly going downhill. Here are a few that I noticed over the last few months:

"There is a correct way of doing things, then there is the Kitty Hawk way.”

“Prepare for the criticisms of this kit and your commentary from the usual suspects."

Anyone who refers to eBay as Evilbay.

And from your’s truly, my periodic contribution to the scourge of microaggression, “Very nice painting and weathering. It’s nice to see armor that’s not over-weathered for a change.”

These comments are not overtly aggressive, but they’re expressed with a tone that can trigger a more aggressive response from someone else. And that response can subsequently prompt another, and so on until a discussion thread is locked, deleted, or its participants banned. It’s all very silly given the context of what we modelers talk about, but it’s a reality in our community.

I can’t tell you not to be a jerk. Haters gonna hate, as they say, but for those of you who are reasonable, level-headed members of this community, I can only suggest that you look carefully at how you express your opinions, and when confronted with a microaggression (or an all-out aggressive remark) from someone else, that you choose the high road by simply not responding. Don't feed the trolls, as they also say.

If you're interested a deeper look into microaggressions and how to deal with them (particularly if you're a moderator on any of the forums), be sure to read this article.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Solving the problem that is yellow

I often see conversations on ARC and other forums about painting yellow. It seems to be one of the more challenging colors to work with. I've never had to paint a large area of yellow myself, but with a few models in the stash that will eventually call for yellow (T-6/SNJ, T-28, Blenheim), I've been anxious to see if it’s as hard a color to apply as people seem to imply. Of course I'd use my paint of choice, Tamiya.

Before accepting the challenge, it might be helpful to briefly review basic color theory.

Three attributes define all colors:
  • Hue – the simple name for a color, such as yellow, red, blue.
  • Lightness – a color’s value in terms of whether it can be described between two poles of light and dark (or black and white).
  • Saturation – a color’s colorfulness, that is, whether it’s intense or dull or somewhere in between.
Let’s talk about hue. I’ll share a simple thought: Yellow, even a specific pigment such as FS 33538, is basically…yellow! As I suggested in this post a year ago, don’t obsess over finding or using a “correct” yellow for your model. Be content with a color that any reasonable person would identify as yellow.

That leaves us with lightness and saturation. There are many factors that affect the specific yellow that you see on a 1:1 scale airframe. There’s the sun's illumination and its light being filtered through clouds, real-world weathering, variations in the manufacture of the color used on the actual aircraft, the correct mixing and application of the paint in the factory or field, etc. Likewise, there are many factors that affect the specific yellow that you see on a scale model. The light in the room, scale effect, the paint you used, your ability (and a viewer’s ability) to correctly see color, and the memory that you (and a viewer) have of what they think the correct color should be.

Those factors affect the lightness and saturation of the colors that we see. Accepting these variables and knowing that you cannot control all of them makes it easier to be comfortable applying a color to your model that looks like yellow.

The challenge with painting yellow is the opacity of most paints. They generally don’t cover well, so you have to use a thick application or many thin applications. The former is problematic because thick paints don’t flow efficiently through an airbrush, and the latter is problematic because many layers of paint tends to obscure detail.

With all this color theory in mind, I set out on an experiment by selecting a suitable model, Sword’s 1/72 Northrop N-9MA Flying Wing. Pretty crude kit, but the point of the project was learning how to paint yellow not superdetailing. Nevertheless, I added a few things here and there, particularly splitter plates inside the leading edge air intakes, and I had to scratchbuild a new front landing gear when the kit piece broke.

Earlier this week I arrived at the painting stage. First I applied a suitable blue to the underside of the aircraft, custom mixed by eye. Simple.

Then I thought through an approach to yellow that would address the challenges I described earlier. Most modelers suggesting a white undercoat prior to the yellow. I’m not one to apply bright, true colors to my models, so I decided to try something different. I wanted to try a tan color with a marked yellow hue. I decided on Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow mixed 50:50 with XF-3 Yellow, the paint I would use for the main color. I theorized that tan would provide a deep primer color that would not subsequently require copious amounts of yellow. And I was right; the color was perfect for a reasonable application of yellow.

In thinking about the final yellow, I’d read that opacity was problematic, so I decided to follow this “tan theme” and mix a bit of the same Desert Yellow into the main yellow color, which I theorized would increase its opacity. I used Tamiya XF-3 Yellow, XF-59 Desert Yellow, and XF-2 White in a 4:1:1 ratio respectively, the white used to bring down the color a bit for scale effect. Again, the result was a satisfactory color that, I think, is slightly lower in saturation than it would’ve been had had I used the pure yellow out of the bottle.

I’m very happy with the result, especially after some subtle post-shading, though to be self-critical I don't think I used the right color to tint the yellow. A pin wash and weathering will ultimately follow, which I expect will alter the finish a bit.

As you approach painting challenges, I encourage you to think outside of conventional wisdom. Follow your intuition. Try something new. Make your own path. You might be surprised what you learn along the way.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Maybe hobby shops are obsolete

Every couple of months there’s a post to one of the big forums about another hobby shop closing. We lament the closure, talk about how great hobby shops are, and then open a new browser window and place an order from a favorite online retailer.

It finally happened to me, two weeks prior to the IPMS Nats, when I saw that Avenel Hobbies in Colonia, New Jersey would close at the end of July. It was one of the best shops I’ve been to, and it’s a shame to know I can’t go there for paint, supplies, or a kit. Whenever I made the drive to the shop I always tried to buy a model, paying retail, if only to make my small contribution to the shop’s success. (Alas, it didn't help.)

We all know why hobby shops are failing, so I won’t beat that dead horse. Prices, selection, aftermarket, blah, blah, blah. Suffice to say, this is our reality, and we have to face the implications.

I haven’t been to a hobby shop in three or four months, and I have to be honest that I don’t miss the experience. So I have to wonder…are hobby shops obsolete?

I hear your arguments.

“The LHS is a great place to meet up with friends.”

Really? Whenever I was at Avenel or any local shop I almost never saw modelers shopping much less talking. Meetups are a rare event, though in fairness I do know of at least one shop in Ohio where 10-15 guys regularly gather every Friday to talk plastic.

“The LHS is a good place to introduce new modelers to the hobby.”

Maybe, but I have a feeling that new modelers — at least adult modelers — will gather information about the hobby from online resources before setting foot in a hobby shop. For example, I’ve been considering learning how to brew beer at home. There’s a small shop near my home that sells supplies, but I’d probably do my research and make my subsequent purchases online. I don't think someone new to scale modeling to be much different.

“If I need a bottle of Model Master paint I can buy it at my LHS instead of waiting a week to mail order it.”

Yes, if you're lucky to have a shop close to you. Avenel Hobbies was a 60 minute drive for me, so swinging by after work was not an option. The two remaining shops, mediocre by comparison to Avenel, are at least a 30 minute drive. It’s easier for me to mail order paint and nearly anything else I need. Granted, that presumes that I monitor my supplies and plan ahead, but I don’t find that task terribly difficult, and ordering online ultimately saves me time driving to/from a shop on the weekend, time that could be spent at the workbench.

I'm afraid to say that hobby shops may no longer be a viable business opportunity. That so many have closed tells us either there’s no market for them or the owners are mismanaging them. Or a combination of both. Either way, like it or not, we’re adapting to a new reality that may not be as bad as we suspect.