Friday, September 29, 2017

Reconsidering cheating

My recent article about the use of aftermarket really struck a nerve among a large number of you. Based on the comments I received here on the blog, on my Facebook page, and in a closed Facebook group you vehemently disagreed, and you didn’t mince words in letting me know. It's even resulted in a new hashtag, #cheating. To you I say…message heard loud and clear!

Demonstrations outside the Scale Model Soup editorial offices last week.

I love the passion you have for our hobby, and I appreciate your feedback, no matter how you expressed it. I always listen to criticism with an open mind and re-evaluate my opinions when presented with new information and viewpoints, and I see now that I fell short when it came to my views on "cheating."

Where was I off base? Two things come to mind.

In hindsight I think the word "cheating" was unnecessarily pejorative and accusatory. Cheating implies you’re doing something wrong. As many of you pointed out, this is a hobby where each of us is building models for ourselves, so how can you "cheat?" A better term would've been "taking shortcuts." For example, if I drive from Atlanta to Dallas and take a shortcut to save an hour off the drive, no one will accuse me of cheating, right? Let’s go with "shortcut" going forward.

My second gaffe was my overestimating the importance of craftsmanship in the hobby — that is, the process of building a model. Many of you commented that the ends (the model in your display case) is more important than the means (the products you use to create it). You’re willing to take shortcuts to create a satisfying representation of a favorite aircraft, tank, ship, or vehicle; you have no interest in detailing cockpits, reshaping inaccurate noses, or adding plumbing to landing gear bays. I get that now.

So here I am a week later with a better understanding of how others enjoy the hobby. I knew that writing a blog would be a learning process and might be difficult at times. Here’s a sample of some of the feedback I received.

"Scale modeling is a fantastic example of one arena wherein you're forced to become proficient in a series of skills in order to produce something truly beautiful."


"There is some skill and craftsmanship needed with some of the aftermarket stuff. I'd like to know how bending and or rolling photoetch does not require skill."


"I absolutely agree. I mean, craftsmanship is what we do, right?" But, he continues, "Does the proliferation of aftermarket really diminish the skill sets of craftsmen, or does it inspire and draw in modelers, encouraging them to try things they might have feared to try?"

These are good points that I hadn’t considered deeply enough. Ironically, as I wrote that original article I was selling a particularly complex photoetch set because I don’t have the skill required to assemble it. My hat’s off to those of you who can work magic with photoetch or are willing to take the time to grind and sand a resin cockpit or engine to fit it into a model. That’s craftsmanship. Frankly, anything that motivates you to build model after model is good for the hobby.

"The older we get...I'm 56, the less and less time I will be able to build what I have. So I buy the stuff that corrects what I would have to do but now don’t."

I can relate. I’m fast approaching 50 myself with more models in the stash than I have time to build. I've written about how to speed up your builds and increase your output. If aftermarket lets you do that, that’s a good thing.

"Results are what count, not the process." 


"Are you trying to show off your personal skills, or are you trying to build the best possible scale representation of the prototype? Personally, all I care about is the finished model."

Several of you told me that the end model is the important part of the hobby to you. That’s as valid an approach to the hobby as any other. One person implied that he’d like to scratchbuild but knows he doesn’t have the requisite skills. He said, "So what happens when you scratchbuild your own parts and they suck?" In response I’d say that you learn from the experience and try again...if you want to. My own use of pigments ended horribly, as did my first attempt at rigging a 1/72 biplane, but I press on with the hope that every model I build gets a little bit better.

"The arrogance of everyone has to enjoy the hobby in only the way I see fit."


"Everyone needs someone else to look down on I guess."


"I just checked my workshop rule book and it reads this guy's an ass."

I’m sorry you interpreted the article that way. Some of my statements were a bit harsh, even though I admitted that I cheat, too. No one has the right to tell us how to build our models, but everyone has the right to talk about the choices we make.

And since I opened the article with an analogy to cooking, one reader took me to task in the kitchen.

"Chances this guy has ever made his own gravy? I'm guessing about 10% so he cheats at breakfast."

Actually, I do make my own sausage gravy. And my own BBQ sauce, my own tomato sauce, my own coleslaw, and my own ice cream. Cooking is my other passion, and I most enjoy preparing meals when I can do so from scratch. I do admit that I keep a jar of Progresso tomato sauce in the cupboard for weeknight meals. A shortcut? Yes.

"Make sure to ask him if it's cheating if he doesn't approve comments that disagree with him."

No cheating here. I don’t delete comments, not from my blog nor from my Facebook page. In fact, the harshest comments I received were in a Facebook group where I have no ability to edit them, and I’m sharing a few here.

"Make sure you have an adblocker of some sort enabled so he doesn't get any revenue from the traffic generated."


"Its all clickbait. Some of the modellers that have pages/websites/youtube channels have started to follow the mainstream media style of posting inflammatory articles, causing a plethora of emotion and plenty of web clicks/page hits. They then go to manufacturers saying 'I have xx amount of hits today, give me free stuff, and you'll get xx amount of people seeing your product…'"

Fake news. Clearly, this person has never visited Scale Model Soup otherwise he’d know there are absolutely no ads on the blog. I average only 75 page views per day, which might generate two or three dollars a month at best, and certainly not enough to entice anyone to give me free products. I have just over 1,000 Likes on Facebook, which pales in comparison to other bloggers who have 10-20 times more. No one is thinking about me when they want to promote a product.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this exchange, where M. asked, "Who gives a shit what he says? Its his opinion...doesn't affect or change anything,” to which B. responded, "I need something to get mad about or my time is being wasted on the web.” I think that pretty much explains this whole kerfuffle.

Back to the workbench, with or without aftermarket.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sausage gravy and the slow demise of craftsmanship

Editor's Note: After you read this article, be sure to read my follow-up, Reconsidering cheating.

Having grown up in the South one of my favorite breakfasts is sausage gravy over biscuits. After I graduated and left home I enjoyed frequenting a little mom & pop restaurant when I was home on vacation, always ordering the gravy and biscuits. It wasn’t the best I’d ever had, but I liked the idea of getting home cooked food over the mass produced stuff served in chain restaurants. You can imagine my dismay when I peeked into the kitchen during one visit and saw the crew opening a can of pre-made sausage gravy. I never went back to the restaurant again. They were cheating, taking short cuts to satisfy their customers. (On hindsight that probably explains why I could eat breakfast there for around five dollars.)

Two weeks ago there was a brief but lively debate on the WingNut Wings Fans Facebook group when one of its members posted a link to LF Models’ new prefabricated wooden propellers. Several of us expressed our view that using these prop constituted something akin to cheating. One member said, "This is modeling equivalent of turning in homework that you didn't do yourself." He's right.

LF Model's propeller for the Albatros D.I-V, Fokker Dr.I and D.VII, Pfalz D.III, and Roland D.V and C.II.
To be sure, the propellers looks amazing, and why shouldn’t they? They appear to have been manufactured exactly like the real thing, with laminated layers of multi-color woods, shaped, and polished, complete with an aluminum hub. The “modeler” will spend more time removing the prop from the packaging than he will attaching it to the model.

As you might imagine more than a few modelers in the Facebook group will buy LF’s props, and predictably they defended their right to do so. I don’t begrudge them the desire to create a better representation of an Albatros D.III or Fokker D.VII, but I do believe that using these props removes a good bit of craftsmanship that forms the basis of scale modeling. Using these props is cheating. Period.

“Cheating?” said another member. "If this is cheating then so is using Eduard photoetch, Yahu instrument panels, and resin replacement parts.” And he’s absolutely right. When you use those products, you introduce elements into the model that aren’t the product of your mind and hands, and the your model then only partially reflects your skill as a modeler. You’re another one, two, three steps further removed from being an "artist" (not that modeling is art). Yes, there is a degree of skill required to properly clean up, assemble, attach, and paint photoetch or resin, but not nearly as much as creating those components yourself using plastic, metal, and other media. One of the modelers that inspired me early on, Bob Steinbrunn, used very little, if any, aftermarket and produced amazing representations of aircraft in scale. He, my friends, is a true craftsman.

Some of you reading this will take my argument to an extreme, setting up a straw man by suggesting that modelers should create their own paint and glue. Or scratchbuilding models completely, eschewing kits entirely. That might be true, but I’d make a distinction between products used to construct and paint a model and products used to replace or add components of a model.

Here’s the deal. If you use wooden props, photoetch, resin cockpits, and so on, it's okay. There are valid reasons for doing so, but admit that you’re cheating. It’s okay to take shortcuts to create the models that you want to display in your display case, but realize that a bit of your craftsmanship is lost in the process.

I’m a cheater myself. Look at the photo below, which shows a small selection of the canopy masks, resin, and gun barrels in my stash. I could mask canopies on my own (as I am for an ESCI 1/72 AV-8A Harrier), but Eduard’s and Peewit’s products make the painting process faster and the results more predictable, and that is important to me. And maybe those wooden props are important to you.

We're cheaters.

You can learn more about the LF Models wooden propellers here.