Friday, October 30, 2015

It's just a hobby

Doog has just published yet another insightful view into our hobby, dismissing the “It’s just a hobby” mentality that infects many of the conversations we see online, and I suspect in person, too.

He’s right. When we talk about the accuracy of the latest Trumpeter kit, obsess over the tire tread pattern on a P-47D, or discuss judging at IPMS contests, it’s too easy to dismiss efforts to improve our models or the hobby by saying, “It’s just a hobby.” It is a hobby, but it’s very important to many of us. It’s our passion and it consumes our thoughts, much like wine consumes the thoughts of an oenophile or music consumes the thoughts of a pianist.

We should remember that the conversations we have online largely mirror those we have face-to-face. Some are constructive, and some are inane. The other day I remarked to a friend that a new release is “cool.” Not exactly evidence of a deep thinker, right, but I said it? Would I express that pithy comment online? Of course not. The difference between an online conversation and one that occurs in the real world is that online conversation allows us to consider and compose our thoughts before expressing them. Ideally the comments we post online are constructive and free of microaggressions.

I understand how some people can become annoyed at the minutia we discuss. It's comical at times. Recently someone asked about the correct color of a 1950s era tarmac. That’s a bit much in my opinion, and I was tempted to tell him not to obsess and just paint it a suitable gray color. But it’s important to him, so I simply moved on to the next topic.

Let’s embrace our hobby. Let’s embrace the passion others have for it. Let’s learn when to contribute and when to put the laptop down and build a model instead. In them meantime, remember that as your thinking about whether the access panels are correct for that Kitty Hawk 1/48 MiG-25PD you’re building, someone is carefully planning next year’s crop of hay for the state fair.

Award-winning hay at the 2015 New Jersey State Fair. Beautiful, ain't it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My modeling imperative

This month Jon, our esteemed shop steward at the Sprue Cutters Union, asked this question for October:

We all get lazy at times but let’s face it, there are areas of this hobby that modelers cannot get skimpy. Whether it’s a part of the assembly process, a finishing technique, or a particular tool, what do you think are the essential aspects you cannot afford to cut corners on during a build? What are your imperatives?

I have to agree with the thoughts of the commonplacemodeler, who said his first imperative is to finish every model. That should be the priority for each and every one of us. If we don’t finish models, we don’t improve our skills and we amass a collection of half-built models that never get built. Neither is a good thing.

Beyond that fundamental imperative, for me the painting and weathering of a model is the most important aspect of every model I build. And every model I look at.

My favorite aircraft from the 2013 IPMS Nats, Bob Windus’s expertly finished 1/48 Hs-129.
As I think about the models I’ve seen at contests and club meetings, those that remain in my memory are those that were, shall we say, stunning. They weren’t necessarily the best built; they may have had construction errors that took them out of contention for an award; they weren't necessarily the most detailed. But they were exceptionally well finished. Whether they had very little weathering or significant weathering, their overall impact was the factor that creates a place for them in my memory.

Here’s the thing. You can put all the detail you want into a model, but once it’s on a contest table or in your display case, it’s very hard for a viewer to see unless he makes an effort to get up close and look for it. Most models are enjoyed at a distance of two to five feet, so it’s crucial that they’re painted and weathered to the best of your abilities.

And yet, I have to wonder why detail is also important to me. The models I’ve most enjoyed building are those to which I’ve added a bit of detail. I should build a few models de-emphasizing detail and focusing on finish. That’s what I did with my Academy F4F Wildcat and a Hobby Boss 1/72 MiG-3 recently, both with good results. Maybe it’s time to try again.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Are hobby shops doing enough?

I recently wrote about the demise of hobby shops and wondered if that’s really a bad thing. We talk a lot about the challenges that hobby shops face in light of the availability of models on the internet, but I’ve always wondered if shop owners have done enough to drive sales. Many seem content to just sit and wait for people to come into their stores. They’re not encouraging customers, particularly existing customers.

A couple of months ago my fiancée and I had dinner at a nearby restaurant, and after the meal they gave us this envelope.

As you can see, it offers two rewards. At the very least it promises three dollars off your next order. It also entices you with the possibility of a bigger reward, but you won’t know what it is until you give the sealed envelope to you waiter upon your next visit. It could be an additional $5 or $10, or even $500. It’s an intriguing opportunity and it’s hard not to want to go back for another dinner.

I wonder why hobby shop owners don’t do something similar. Call me crazy, but if I were an owner I’d be doing everything I can to get my customers to buy my products, and a big part of that effort would be directed at my existing customers.

I’d periodically have flash sales and alert customers via email. Imagine, “25 percent off all plastic kits on Saturday from 10-noon."

I’d offer a rewards program for frequent buyers. For example, get a $10 coupon for every $200 you spend.

I’d offer a birthday discount, like 20 percent off order on your birthday.

I’d give a reward for volume purchases. For example, spend $250 and get $20 off your next purchase of $100 or more.

You get the idea. I realize there’s be a cost to programs like this, but I have to believe that $25,000 in revenue, for example, with a rewards program is better than $15,000 without one.

P.S. If you’re wondering what we ultimately got in that pretty red envelope, well, it’s a funny story. I didn’t realize there was an expiration date, so we didn’t get to use it. Turns out it was good for $50!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to critique someone's model

Our good friend Doog recently wrote about the attaboy culture in our hobby, the tendency to offer only compliments on others' models. I found myself agreeing with him, particularly having spent a number of years painting figures, where the community of painters eagerly seek feedback on their painting skills from respected, more experienced painters.

How would you critique this piece of crap?

Look at that landing gear! What do you say to that?

So what if you're the person who's asked to provide that feedback? How do you deliver a helpful critique without coming off as a jerk? Here are some ideas.

When someone asks you for feedback, I know what you're thinking. "He only wants to hear something positive. He doesn't really want an honest critique." I'd suggest you begin by asking the guy what he likes the most and the least about his model. That should open an interesting conversation. You may agree with what he says, which makes your critique a bit easier if you're not willing to put yourself out there with a critical assessment. For example, if he says he doesn't like the paint, you might say, "I think you're right. It looks like the consistency of the paint was too thick for the pressure you used."

Without an opening like that, I like to begin with a compliment. Open the conversation by telling the modeler what you like about his model. Find something, anything. I remember being a high school student, new to the hobby, and bringing a younger, even less-experienced friend to an IPMS meeting. He brought a really shabby looking A-10. He was maybe 14, really didn't know how to build a model beyond simply assembling it and painting it with a cheap brush. Nonetheless, the club president complimented him on his decision to display it on a base. It was a simple gesture that made my friend feel good about his efforts.

If you're asked to provide a deeper critique, it's important to realize that most feedback falls into one of two categories. The first are "mistakes," items that would typically be noted in a formal contest environment. For example, you might point out a visible seam on the fuselage spine. Or you might point out poorly aligned bombs under the wings.

The other category consists of more subjective feedback. These are the items that one modeler may like and another dislike, such as panel line shading, weathering, and paint choice. When I address these items, I always add a disclaimer. For example, "I think your weathering is a little too heavy, but that's just a reflection of my preferences."

No matter what feedback you provide, ask a question or offer a solution. "I see a seam on your wing tanks. What kind of putty are you using?" Or, "The paint looks a little dark. Next time you might try adding a little yellow to the mix and see if you like it." Ultimately this process is about helping, not judging.

I can't stress enough, always comment on some positive aspect of the model. Find something, even if it's nothing more than the modeler's choice of subject matter. "I really like your P-51. I could look at that plane all day long." Or, "It's really great to see a P-80 in the contest. You rarely see them built up." Remember, we all have an ego, even if it's a small one, and we like to be complimented from time to time even as we endure the discomfort of growth through critique.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The little contest that should

As my long-time readers know by now, I’m a huge proponent of model contests, especially entering them. I try to attend as many as I can, looking at models, seeking out bargains in the vendors room, and meeting up with friends. For a hobby of introverts who spend more time in our basement workshops than we do socializing, contests are those periodic opportunities we have to come up for air and spend time with each other.

That’s why it pains me to see poorly attended contests. One such contest is Armorcon, held annually in Danbury, Connecticut. I’ve been attending the show for five or six years now but have been disappointed with the relatively small number of entries I see from year to year, typically between 200-300. Last weekend's show was no exception.

It’s unfortunate, because theoretically the contest has everything it needs to be bigger than it is. The sponsor, the Northeast Military Modelers Association, is a chapter of both IPMS and AMPS, so they should have a strong network into the members of both organizations. And they have location. Connecticut is a great spot for the large number of modelers in the Northeast, with more than a few states and a dozen or so IPMS chapters within driving distance.

The vendors room is strong, with vendors selling practically every armor kit currently on the market (including new releases). Red Frog Hobbies brings a huge line of paints and supplies, Farina Enterprises has their line of diorama supplies, and Boomer’s Books had an outstanding assortment of new and out-of-print books this year.

Armorcon has seminars, which are rare in IPMS contests. This year they were anchored by a discussion of Soviet post-war heavy tanks from Neil Stokes, who you probably know from his definitive books on the T-34 and KV series and his web site, 4BO Green. He talked about the IS-3, IS-4, IS-7, and T-10, a timely subject given the recent releases from Trumpeter and Meng.

The contest entries are quite good from year to year. I’ve pictured some of my favorites from last weekend. The contest follows the typical AMPS style of judging, with entries carefully scrutinized and scored by four judges with the best awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

I really believe this contest can be bigger. It should have larger attendance and stronger contest entries. I don’t quite understand what’s happening, but I hope we can get the word out and make this contest the “must-see” event of the fall contest season. I'll do everything I can.

Note: I have no affiliation with the NMMA. I'm just a loyal customer.