Thursday, June 30, 2016

The magic of model making

Today I offer the second contribution in a series here on Scale Model Soup that I call "Other Voices." Lee Carnihan offers a look into what makes scale modeling so engaging to us, looking back to the days when toy soldiers and model railroads held a special intrigue in our young minds. As we mature in the hobby and increasingly take our subjects more seriously, I think it's important to not lose sight of the excitement we felt as children,and to indulge in a bit of nostalgia from time to time to reclaim it.

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From childhood to older age, most men never lose their fascination with models – whether it’s constructing, painting, assembling, or even just looking at them. From showpiece Spitfires to ships in bottles to military battle scenes to miniature cars, we can all connect to the enjoyment, relaxation, and craftsmanship of “playing” with models.

Model miniatures have a way of taking us back to early childhood memories, sparking our interest in history and encouraging us to admire the craft of modelmaking. Take a few minutes to look over the paintwork on a miniature vintage car model and it’s likely to evoke some kind of memory – maybe unwrapping your first toy car or playing with it for hours?

Ok, so we’re not all into cars. Maybe you remember the thrill of opening a new Airfix kit, taking out the grey sheets fitted with intricate parts, and carefully examining (or discarding!) the instructions before starting to build. It’s a pastime that has been passed down from generation to generation, regardless of the many digital distractions these days.

Battle it out with military figurines

Military miniatures still have a huge following, and they are just as popular today as they were before the rise of war-based computer games. From classic handcrafted models to brands like Warhammer, military figurines provide endless fun, not just from the design and painting but also from setting them up into battle scenes and bringing the action to life. Don’t tell me you’ve never walked past a Warhammer store without looking twice!

So how come real models are so popular when there are loads of exciting live-action options (World of Warcraft and the like) to distract us fantasy enthusiasts, history buffs, and geeks? The answer is simple. It’s an affordable hobby that can be enjoyed for life and passed down through the generations and never fails to create a welcome sense of nostalgia. 

For the older generation, some who fought in a war or heard family stories of war, painting military models is a way of keeping those memories alive. For others, it’s about remembering the models they played with when they were younger, or enjoying a collection that once belonged to their father or grandfather. As cool as they are, computer games just can’t compete when it comes to delivering a good old dose of nostalgia. 

Building and painting models also offers a sense of accomplishment and gives the painter the freedom to create any scene with his finished models. Computer games are great for immersing yourself in world of adrenaline and explosions, but painting military miniatures is a relaxing exercise in discipline, concentration, and interpretation, allowing the painter to explore the scene in detail and express his creativity – arguably a more rewarding venture.

Design your own model railway

Some people assume that model train sets are only for children under the age of 10. But the detail and artistry that goes into researching the scenes, painting the backdrops, creating the scenery, and building the sets means that model railways are still a hit with people of all ages. And now with Digital Command Controls to operate the set, they’re becoming more impressive than ever. 

One of the largest model railways in existence is at Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, spanning more than four square kilometres. Building it required more than a few pairs of hands and some serious elbow grease. It took 500,000 hours to create! Running through model villages and rolling hills, it’s like the Holy Grail for train enthusiasts, inspiring many men to rush out and upgrade their own kits with realistic details and add-ons.

For most of us, playing with model railways is a way to relieve stress, indulge our interest in trains, and flex some creative and problem-solving skills. 

“You can begin by researching the different railways and trains, and then of course a great deal of skill goes into the planning,” says Mike Hughes, marketing director of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA). “Woodworking skills are required to lay the track and then electrical skills to successfully install all the wiring. You improve your artistic and modelling skills as you build as well.”

Good for the Mind

Working with models is a real craft, whether you’re putting them together or painting them. It requires concentration and creativity, which in turn helps you relax. The stress-relieving benefits of creativity has been widely acknowledged by scientists and mental health therapists – most recently with the sustained popularity of adult colouring books, which dominated Amazon’s bestseller book list last year. 

If you like the idea of building your own model but don’t think your creative skills are quite up to scratch or can’t seem to find quiet time alone, then perhaps an out-the-box model is a better option. You can find all sorts of valuable models, gadgets and toys, like remote-controlled drones, helicopters, planes or boats, by rummaging around jumble sales or specialist shops. 
You never know, you might discover your new hobby!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The dilemma of D-Day stripes

This month we commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, so I thought it would be suitable to briefly write about one of the more popular topics of interest to modelers of World War Two era aircraft, D-Day stripes. Conversations about these markings on the forums are often contentious, but they shouldn't be. We can all pretty much agree on two points.

Some D-Day stripes were painted with great care.

And some D-Day stripes were painted seemingly with a mop from the mess hall.

And if you look hard enough, you'll find examples of D-Day stripes between these two extremes of neat and careless. That's good new for us modelers, because we can’t get D-Day stripes wrong, right? Well, sort of.

Here’s the rub. If you choose to paint perfectly applied D-Day stripes, your model may look like…a toy. Accurate, perhaps, but still toylike. If you choose to represent carelessly applied D-Day stripes and you paint them as poorly as they appear on that Boston above, people will think you’re a crappy modeler. Yes, a knowledgable modeler will realize what you’ve attempted to do, but your finishing skills will still appear to be subpar.

I did a quick image search in Google to look for models of P-47s, B-17s, etc. that feature D-Day stripes, and I discovered that the majority of modelers play it safe, applying fairly neat stripes. The results are generally effective. To be sure, I found some really nice models in the process and saved a more than a few for inspiration on future projects. But in general, it would seem we're reluctant to show sloppy D-Day stripes.

What makes a D-Day stripe “sloppy?” Well, it was poorly masked (or not masked at all), the paint was applied haphazardly, resulting in inconsistent coverage over the area, and the paint might have been applied with one very thick coat.

Knowing that, how do we show sloppy D-Day stripes on a model? I think the answer is, we don't. The key is striking a balance between what I refer to as accurate sloppy and representational sloppy. On an actual aircraft it would look something like this Spitfire, a photo that I'm sure you've all seen before. This is the general effect you should probably strive to represent on a model. Although the white paint seems to quite thick, these two artists have made a good attempt to keep the lines straight and the width of the lines consistent.

To mask representational sloppy stripes, you can toss aside the idea that you can paint them without masking. Maybe your grandfather did so on his P-51 in 1944, but in scale (even 1/32 scale) masking goes a long way to your achieving a good foundation for the stripes, even sloppy ones. The tape you cut for the masking doesn't need to be cut perfectly sharp and straight. You can score your tape partially through and then carefully pull the tape to create a mask with a slightly ragged edge. The degree of raggedness depends on the scale — the larger the scale, the more ragged it can be.

And then there’s coverage. When you apply each of the white and black stripes, you don’t have to apply a complete coat of paint. A thin to medium application of paint provides sufficient basis for a subsequent application of very thin paint applied with a brush, which is an attempt to represent the application of paint by brush on the actual aircraft. If you apply a thin coat of paint, leaving just the impression of brushstrokes, the in-scale effect should be ideal.

Here's my Hasegawa 1/72 B-26. Look closely and you'll see that the edges of the stripes aren't perfect; I left some imperfections to suggest that they weren't too carefully applied. I also did some chipping, assuming that the paint probably wasn't as durable as that which was applied in the factory. These stripes don't capture the effect quite like I had in mind, so you can be sure the next time around I'll vary my technique a bit and see what comes of it. (And you can bet that if I do another B-26 I'll spend more time fitting the landing lights properly.)

Finally, despite my joking about there being too many discussions about D-Day stripes, this recent WIP of a Typhoon on Britmodeller provides good advice for sizing your stripes.

Friday, June 10, 2016

How to buy models with pennies

What do you do with the loose change in your pocket at the end of the day? You probably put it into a jar where it accumulates month after month after month. Did you know there’s an extremely easy way to use that loose change to buy models, that is, without dumping five pounds of coins onto the counter of your LHS?

Enter the Coinstar Exchange Kiosk. Located in grocery stores across the United States, they provide an easy way for you to convert your loose change into viable currency. They let you convert the value of your coins to cash but will assess a hefty 10 percent fee. The better option is to convert to Amazon credit, which does not incur the fee. Simply dump in your change into the machine and out comes a small receipt with a code you can use with your next Amazon purchase. Other retailers and restaurants are available, but I trust you'd rather have a new model than take your family to dinner.

Some of you already know the value of Amazon as a source for plastic models. For those of you who don’t, you’d be surprised at what you can find there, often at prices competitive to those you see at your favorite online retailer. (And at least one prominent online retailer has a presence on Amazon.) For example, you can buy the Academy 1/48 F-4B for $49 with free shipping, the Airfix 1/48 Defiant for $34.99, or the new Takom AMX-13s for around $43.

It’s not unusual for me to amass $25 in change every month, which can easily be applied toward a new kit. Unfortunately you can use only one credit code per purchase, so if you want to buy that new 1/350 aircraft carrier you’re gonna have to save your pennies for a long time.

You can find a Coinstar location near you on their web site. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Another visit to the MFCA figure show

The Miniature Figure Collectors of America MFCA Show and Mart has always been one of my favorite model contests to attend, so I was surprised to see that it's been three years since my last visit! The show has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the years, but if this year is any indication, interest in the show remains strong with many of the big names in the hobby in attendance. Here is a selection of my favorite entries in the show. Enjoy!

Jason Whitman's sculpting and painting improves with every passing year. The pinstripes on this 54mm baseball player are testament to his progress.

Greg DiFranco isn't the most prolific painter in the hobby, but every figure that he produces is absolutely outstanding. Look at the pattern of this Trompette du Regiment Turenne.

It's not uncommon to see two modelers team up to create a stunning figure or vignette in the figure community. (Why is this not common in plastic modeling circles?) These Prussians by Michele Scelsci (sculptor) and Marco Bariselli (painter) were a favorite among the show's attendees.

I love Victorian era uniforms, so this vignette from Anders Heihtz was among my personal favorites.

One of the best busts in the show was this German WW1 stormtrooper from Young Miniatures, painted by Dave Youngquist. It featured a variety of color and texture.

Barry Biediger displayed several boxed dioramas that were stunning. Each was a peek (literally) into the apartments of everyday people. He adeptly captured a sense of composition and mood with every one of them.

Another example of Barry's work.

So-called "flats" are as close as we'll get to being true "artists." This example, titled "Femme a l'Evantail" was beautifully painted by Retuerto Analia.

Another exceptional flat, this one from Catherine Cesario Poisson.

Fantasy subject matter has become incredibly popular over the last five years. I haven't always been a fan of this trend, but work like this is slowly convincing me that there's an important place for these figures in our hobby. This guy was the best entry among several from France's Michael Volquarts.

Another example of Michael's exceptional painting, a bust of Bruce Willis. (Is it a "bust" if there's no torso?) I could sit and study those flesh tones for hours!

Gary Beetley's vignette remind us that small, compact compositions are almost always more effective than large, expansive ones.

On of the best modelers I've every met is Pete Dawson. I include his Takom Skoda Turtle here because of the way he chose to paint it...and you're not going to believe it. He hand-painted it using Tamiya acrylic paints! That's not a typo. Seriously. The guy knows how to manage and handle paint like no one else. He weathered each color with artist oils (he's a figure modeler at heart) and hand-painted the brown surrounds with oils as well.