Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Getting started with airbrushing

One of the most common subjects of discussion and frustration in Facebook groups — after D-Day stripes — is airbrushing. Newcomers want to know which airbrush to buy, and once they have one in hand, they struggle with its use.

If you struggle, don’t feel bad. Airbrushing is one of the most challenging tasks in our hobby to master, in part because there are so many variables:

  • Your airbrush
  • The cleanliness of your airbrush
  • The paint you use
  • The thinner
  • The paint to thinner ratio
  • The air pressure you spray at
  • Your technique
  • The weather

If you’re new to airbrushing here are a few suggestions based on my experience over the years.

Purchase any double-action airbrush

There are many airbrushes on the market in every price range. And modelers are quick to offer suggestions for all of them. If you’re new, the best advice I can offer is to start with a double-action airbrush in the $30-$50 price range. I want to suggest the Iwata HP-CH that I use, but the $150 price tag is a bit much for a beginner. You can always upgrade as you build experience.

Select just two or three paints

When you’ve purchased an airbrush, your first decision will be which paint to use. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the choices. You’ll find modelers who are strong advocates for each paint on the market, as well as some who will tell you avoid this paint or that paint at all costs. 

My advice is to but one color from two or three manufacturers so you can use them yourself and choose the brand you like the best. I’d probably recommend:

  • Tamiya
  • MRP
  • Mr Hobby
  • AMMO by Mig

In addition, purchase each manufacturer’s own thinner for now. There are alternatives, but if you’re beginning, best to keep it simple.


Before you even think about using your new airbrush on a model you care about, spend a few weeks learning how to spray each of the paints you purchased. Your goal is to simply explore the characteristics of each paint given these two variables -- air pressure and paint-to-thinner ratio.

You’ve probably seen YouTube videos where modelers are pouring paint and thinner directly into the airbrush and mixing by eye. If you’re new, you’re better off building your experience by counting drops of paint and thinner and writing them down for future reference. When you find a combination that works for you, you’ll want to be able to use it over and over. You’re not mixing a lot of paint at this stage, just enough to see how well you can spray the paint. 10-20 drops of paint and thinner will be sufficient for you to apply overall coats of paint and fine lines.

Practice, practice, practice

When you’ve found a paint manufacturer and thinning ratio you like, the next step is to practice on old models. Your goal is to reach a point where you can apply paint to your model with consistent results. When you’re ready to commit paint to a model that’s important to you, the last thing you want is an unpleasant surprise, so taking time to continue to master your airbrush and paint is important.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. Airbrushing is hard, but if you’re diligent and persistent, there’s no reason why you can’t use your airbrush with good results.

P.S. On final thought.... For all that is holy in this world, please, please keep your airbrush clean! A little extra effort after each airbrushing session goes a long way to ensuring your most valuable tool can give you the results you seek.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Inspiration: Mark Bilas

I’ve known many excellent modelers in my 35 years in the hobby and seen the work of hundreds online and in print, but there are a handful that have truly inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or approach to the hobby shaped the modeler I am today. This is the next in a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions to my participation in this wonderful hobby.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the loss of my friend Joe Caputo, who was a source of inspiration to me for a very long time. Last week I learned of the loss of another friend, Mark Bilas, who was the proprietor of Wolfpak Decals. Ironically, I’d just received what would be my last order from him two days before I learned of his passing.

Although I didn't know Mark as long as I'd known Joe, he inspired me in a different way. With Joe is was his joy for the hobby; with Mark it was his stewardship of his business and the decals he produced.

I can’t remember exactly when I met him, but I found email to Mark as early as 2008, probably soon after he started Wolfpak. What I appreciated most about him was his willingness to ask his customers for ideas. When I realized he was open to suggestions, I quickly started sending him photos and subjects for his consideration.

He was always excited when I found an interesting subject, especially when I could offer walkarounds that would make for more accurate markings. I think the photos I sent him resulted in at least a dozen subjects over the years. We were emailing just two weeks ago. He was considering the theme for his 2020 special sheet, and I’d set aside a small number of slides that I'd intended to scan and send to him. 

I valued the confidence he placed in my opinions, as well as my discretion, when he’d give me a preview of an upcoming sheet. Mark found a niche in the hobby – multi-subject decals – when many manufacturers insist they don’t sell.

Mark ultimately released 145 sheets under the Wolfpak label. Collectively they contain markings for nearly 870 subjects. Fans of contemporary, 1/72 aircraft are blessed to have had such a variety of decals available to them, and I doubt we’ll see anyone else fill the niche that Wolfpak owned. When I need inspiration, I look at my stash of Wolfpak decals and quickly find something that ignites my interest and enthusiasm for my next model. And the one after that. And so on.

Thank you, Mark. You will be missed. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

7 suggestions for beginners

 I can’t imagine what it must be like coming to the hobby today. Even if your interests are restricted to just aircraft, armor, ships, cars, there are hundreds of kits, aftermarket, and finishing products available that could be overwhelming to the newcomer.

That wasn’t my experience in the 1980s. There were only a handful of kit manufacturers, just two or three aftermarket companies, and no one was producing any weathering products at all.

There's a lot to explore these days, and I see a lot of new modelers asking questions in Facebook groups looking for recommendations on kits, paints, airbrushes, etc. Here are my high-level suggestions if you’re new to scale modeling. Clearly, you’re free to take whatever path you choose, but I think these ideas will put you on a solid path as you learn about scale modeling.

Select good kits

I think it’s important that your first few kits are well-engineered and relatively easy to build. You don’t want to spend time fiddling with assemblies that are over-engineered or trying to fix problems that are the result of poor kit design. Most modelers will recommend Tamiya as the standard of quality no matter your interests — aircraft, armor, ships, automotive — and I agree completely.

Ignore inaccuracies

If you spend more than 10 minutes in any Facebook group or discussion forum you’re sure to see guys pointing out inaccuracies in the kits you have or would like to build. These criticisms are justified, but as you build your first 10 to 20 kits, focus on mastering assembly and painting. You can learn how to fix kit inaccuracies later in your career. You may even learn to love the so-called rivet counters!

Skip the photoetch and resin

There are dozens of manufacturers that offer photoetch and resin to improve your kits, but they often present challenges that will challenge the skills of a beginner. Start introducing aftermarket products as you master the basics.

Buy an airbrush

I hate to recommend that you spend a lot of money from the start, but most modelers will say that an airbrush is a necessity. Yes, you’ll see really good looking models that are brush painted, but those modelers are wizards blessed with skills from the heavens. Most of us rely on airbrushes, even for small subassemblies. With practice you’ll find that an airbrush can produce results beyond a paintbrush. 

Don’t obsess with weathering

Like aftermarket products, there are dozens of weathering products on the market these days. Making sense of them all, much less mastering their use, is challenging. Focus on applying a clean paint job to your model with your airbrush, and then introduce weathering products and techniques later.

Don’t strive for perfection

I really don’t think this is a problem with most beginning modelers, but don't be too disappointed if your first efforts don't look as good as you'd like. Look at each model as a learning experience. Make mental notes (or better yet, written notes) of what didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, and look to improve with your next model.

Ask for help

Finally, ask for help. Scale modelers are a friendly bunch, and we’re eager to answer your questions. That can be a double-edged sword at times, as you’re likely to get conflicting advice. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment; each of us has products and techniques that work for us, but you’ll need to find what works for you.

There you go. None of us got where we are overnight, so pace yourself, look at others’ models for inspiration, and enjoy the experience.

Welcome to the hobby!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Inspiration: Joe Caputo

I’ve known many excellent modelers in my 35 years in the hobby and seen the work of hundreds online and in print, but there are a handful that have truly inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or approach to the hobby shaped the modeler I am today. This is the next in a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions to my participation in this wonderful hobby.

It’s been a long time since I last shared a story about the modelers who’ve inspired me, and I’m sad to say that this one is being share posthumously. 

The older gentleman enjoying the company of this bodacious, WW2 re-enactor is Joe Caputo. He passed away two weeks ago. You probably don’t know him. He didn't write magazine articles, wasn’t a best of show contest winner, and didn’t create a cool line of aftermarket products. He was a simple model builder like most of us. But meeting him 35 years ago set the tone for my enjoyment of our hobby since.

I was about 15 when I met Joe. I was beginning to learn more about scale modeling and discovered IPMS through a magazine ad. Soon after I learned there was an IPMS club about 30 miles from where I lived. My mother kindly drove me to a monthly meetings, held in a bowling alley. It was intimidating but exciting to meet a bunch of guys who shared my interests, and Joe couldn’t have been more welcoming. And as I’d see in the years after, to other newcomers as well.

Joe had been in the hobby for 20 years when I met him. I drew on his experience to learn how to build models the right way (buying good brushes, filling seams, using an airbrush), and he was always encouraging. He always shared a positive word to club members. When I brought a younger, less-experienced friend to a meeting with a poorly built A-10, Joe told him how smart it was that he’d attached the model to a base so he didn’t have to handle it. That was Joe!

I remember Joe inviting me to his home where I saw how he’d converted his entire garage to accommodate his hobby. The back part of the garage was walled off for his workbench and unbuilt stash; the better portion of the remaining space was lined with DIY shelving that displayed — I’m guessing — at least 300 built models, aircraft, cars, armor, and everything in between. Joe built practically anything and always found the fun in the hobby. In fact, "It’s All About the Fun" is the motto of the club he founded and I joined, IPMS Ocala (Florida). 

Joe rarely competed in contests, but his super-detailed build of the Testors 1/48 OV-10A Bronco won third place in its category at the 1984 IPMS National Convention in Atlanta. He was thrilled! He was a huge Bronco enthusiast, and subsequent builds of other Bronco kits and variants were equally impressive. You can see photos of Joe’s OV-10 Bronco on iModeler

I’ll miss Joe. We didn’t talk as frequently as I would’ve liked, but when we did he made me laugh with his quick wit and sarcastic sense of humor, and I always came away from those conversations with a renewed excitement about scale modeling. As I reflect on my friendship with him, I hope we can all find ways to encourage each other and especially newcomers. Our hobby truly is a wonderful place to make new friends.

Joe's obituary is available on the website of Downing Funeral Home.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Weak subject lines are weak

Marketers are creative. Their job is to entice you to read their ads. You’ve probably seen their appeals:

3 simple steps to lose 25 pounds!
Make money using this little trick!
You're grilling steaks all wrong
The biggest myth you've been taught

Okay, that last one was from right here on Scale Model Soup. Guilty.

Several years ago I vented — in good humor — about the plethora of vague subject lines I’d seen within the online forums. I’m amused to see they’ve continued over these subsequent six years.

I appreciate the intent of modelers to entice us to click into their posts, but if I may…I’d suggest using subject lines that are specific to your topic or question. I think they’re more likely to elicit helpful responses.

Here are a handful that made me smirk.

More info
Something I found on Facebook
Help wanted
Asked before…answer forgotten
While surfing the web I found this
Just to be on the safe side
Anyone seen this yet?
What’s the BEST?
Apologies if its already been posted
Just wondering
Need a part
Tell me WHY?
What color would...
Your assistance please
Is this the right move?
Oh, Wow!
How It’s Done!
A big difference
Info on this one
Anyone have one of

So what was that big myth you've been taught? The answer is here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Bombs, missiles, and pods oh my!

There’s something about the size of a man’s stash, right? We like to talk about our model collections, whether they’re enormous or modest. I remember a modeler 30 years ago who bought one of every new 1/72 aircraft model as they were released, not unreasonable at the time when there were just six or seven major manufacturers rather than the 25 or more that we have today. If I recall correctly, he had several thousand kits in this stash.

Despite all our talk about kits, what about the other items that take up room in our closets? I’ve seen talk about photoetch and books, but over the last few years I’ve found myself building another stash — resin bombs, missiles, and pods.

There was a time when I didn’t add ordnance to my models. When I got to the final stages of completing a model the thought of spending even a few more hours on the the kit was not appealing; I found the task tedious and time-consuming.

Not anymore! These days I’m intrigued by the wide variety of armament you can hang under an airplane. Ordnance has become compelling. It gives an airplane its character.

The scale modeling aftermarket industry has caught on. Although Hasegawa’s weapons were first released 30 years ago, newcomers have capitalized on the desire of modelers to add weapons to their models. Here are a few manufacturers that are producing some really cool products.


Eduard is at the top of the game with their expansive line of Brassin weapons. Like everything that Eduard produces, these bombs and missiles are perfectly manufactured and feature outstanding detail. I think they’ve released pretty much every significant piece of ordnance by now in all three major scales.

Master Model


Master Model has released a huge variety of gun barrels for all of the most popular aircraft. (And pitot tubes, too.) They’re beautifully turned in brass and are much more realistic than the plastic parts found in model kits.

Advanced Modeling

Russian company Advanced Modeling has given us a huge variety of Russian bombs and pods. And dang, some of these weapons are pretty gruesome looking, like the KAB-1500Kr laser-guided bomb. AM’s quality is excellent, and you should consider them when you’re building Soviet or Russian aircraft.


ResKit ordnance is on par with Advanced Modeling. Their line isn’t as extensive, but the quality is excellent. They produce quite a few other resin accessories that you should seek out as well.

Other noteworthy manufacturers are Armory, Air Graphics, Black Dog, L’Arsenal, and RV Aircraft. When you’re browsing the vendors room at contests, look for older manufacturers such as Belcher Bits, Paragon, PP Aeroparts, Dr. Pepper Resin, and Spectre Resins. If I forgot any of your favorites, be sure to add them in the comments below.

A few ideas

Before signing off, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that might help you better manager your stash of ordnance.

Kudos to Eduard for their excellent packaging of their Brassin range of ordnance. The thermoformed package prevents any damage to the delicate resin parts. Unfortunately, they take up a ton of space if you store them as-is. After I buy mine, I remove the resin parts, photoetch, decals, and decals and put them into a small zip bag for storage with other items in a plastic storage container. Yes, you’ll have to be careful when handling the bags, but we modelers know a thing or two about handling delicate items.

Here are photos of the Brassin 1/72 GBU-11 as packaged and after transfer to a plastic bag.

You don’t always have to buy resin ordnance. Many of today’s kits come with ordnance that’s really nice on its own. (Of course some don’t — I’m looking at you, Hasegawa.) Be sure to save these bombs and such for future use, packaging them just as you would any aftermarket alternatives.

Finally, be sure to keep a list of the ordnance you buy. Buying duplicates, because you forgot what you already have, isn't the worse thing with ordnance, but like any stash, knowing what you have is (in my experience) very important to not wasting your money.

And don't forget, it’s ordnance, not ordinance.

Monday, March 16, 2020

COVID-19 traced to moldy plastic model

Yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its conclusions to the origins of COVID-19. The source wasn’t a wet market in Wuhan, China as previously reported. Rather, it was this moldy plastic model sold at a model contest in New Jersey last year.

“This totally took us by surprise,” said Jacob Schumacher, senior epidemiologist at the WHO. “We were alerted to the possibility of an alternate origin of the virus when a scale modeler told us that he and nearly all of the members of his model club came down with Coronavirus symptoms.”

“That club member was very helpful after he realized the mistake he'd made in purchasing the model,” Schumacher said. “He's an international hero, even if he admits to pre-shading and using Future, which I'm told are crimes in his weird community of enthusiasts.”

That modeler, who asked to be identified only as Carl N., told investigators that he thought the model might be problematic when the mold on it got worse over time. “The model was pretty funky when I bought it, but after six months the green mold had turned black and spread to other kits in my stash.”

When asked why he would be stupid enough to buy a model in such condition, Carl said, “I really wanted the model. The vendor hadn't put a price tag on it, so I had to ask -- which I really hate. He offered it to me for $35, which he said was 5 percent off the regular price. How could I say no?”

WHO researchers spoke with the vendor who sold the model to Carl and asked why he would sell anyone such crap. “Look, a lot of these old models come from damp basements and garages,” the vendor said, who asked not to be identified. “There’s bound to be a little bit of weird shit on some of them. Modelers are real men. Carl and his buddies will be fine.”

The vendor told Scale Model Soup, “Please let everyone know that I just picked up a new collection of kits that have been stored in a pig barn in Pennsylvania that I’ll be selling at contests later this year.”

WHO researchers confiscated Carl's model for analysis at a Berlin laboratory.

“I hope to get the model back eventually,” Carl said. “Yes, I have 475 other models in my stash, but I might want to build it one day? Or I'll save it as a collector's item.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

Even more eBay insanity

Gosh, it’s been well over a year since I shared an eBay insanity post, but the laughs have not stopped. Here’s another round of auction items that made me wonder aloud, “WTF?”

With all due respect to Admiral David Nichols and his service to the United States (he retired as Deputy Commander of US Central Command in 2007), I find it hilarious that the seller of this photo was asking $899 about a year ago. You can find autographed photos of Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama at the same price point. (Autographs of the Kardashians will set you back much less.) I see that the price is now down to $180.

Okay, it’s pretty cool that someone saw that this Frito-Lay Sun Chip looks like a jet and is willing to sell it to the right aviation enthusiast. But $999? I don’t think so.

If you enjoy sloppy seconds, $19.99 will get you this model. I hope the seller included what was left of his tube of Squadron Green Putty. Oh, and if you’re in the US you’ll need to tack on an additional $17 for postage from the Italian seller.

For just $14.99 you can buy this model of the Space Shuttle…less the Space Shuttle itself. Really? On the upside, the seller claims it was owned by a former NASA engineer.

I’ll never understand why people believe that old, yellowed decals are worth anything more than one dollar. Hell, anything at all! Here’s another example of a demented eBay seller offering decals that would look like shit on your model, assuming you could get them off the paper. The price? $15.

I’ve shared a few eBay auctions of slides that have sold for over $200, but this one takes the cake. The seller was asking $405 for this slide of a C-124, which would be insulting enough if it hadn’t been marked down from the original price of $899.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

My 24-hour build experience

The 24-hour group build on Facebook is over, and I’m sorry to report that I didn’t finish my Monogram 1/72 A-1E Skyraider.Time got away from me, despite working on it until 2 am Saturday night. I spent about 14 hours in total, which was almost sufficient to build the model in its entirety. If I had allocated another two hours, I think the model would be complete.

Here’s my after-action report.

What worked in my favor

Despite not finishing the Skyraider, I still think it was a good choice. As I wrote earlier this week, it has very few colors, making painting relatively quick and easy. And luckily I didn’t have to do any touchups.

Pre-planning was very helpful, and I should do this more often. For example, I made sure that when I painted black, I painted the interior, wheels, and prop.

I followed some of my own advice for building models faster, which I’ve written about over the last few years. I painted the interior black, didn’t spend much time on the underside, and didn’t obsess over minor seams.

Finally, I didn’t add much detail. The cockpit is a massive black void of nothingness, but detailing it would’ve sent me down a wormhole of lost time. I thought about replacing the exhaust stubs with brass tubing, but that, too, would’ve cost precious time. I did, however, replace the pitot tube (?) on the vertical stabilizer with telescoping tubing.

What worked against me

The Monogram A-1E features raised panel lines, which I knew I wanted to rescribe. Even though there are minimal panel lines, the task was more time-consuming than I’d expected. And I skipped rescribing the lines on the underside!

Even though there weren’t many colors on the model, I’m fastidious when it comes to cleaning my airbrush. Each airbrushing session is followed by a cleaning, and that was a time suck. I probably spent the equivalent of an hour doing just that.

I underestimated the time required to mask the Skyraider’s canopy. Tedious to be sure! That said, I was very happy with the outcome, a reminder that canopy masking need not be as frightening as always anticipate.

I didn’t  finish the Skyraider, but I’m okay with that. As I told a friend on Saturday, despite the goal of finishing a model in 24 hours, I didn’t want to sacrifice quality. I’d rather stop where I did, take a breather, and wrap up the final tasks over the next week. As I said earlier today, the best part of the experience was simply spending an extended amount of time at the workbench doing what I enjoy most.

The same group of guys has already schedule next year’s 24-hour build, though it appears to be intended only for car modelers. If you’re interested, you can join their Facebook group.

Here are links to my earlier articles about building models more quickly.

5 ways to increase your output
Paint it black and close it up

Friday, January 10, 2020

A 24-hour build

I recently shared a Facebook post from a group of modelers who organize an annual 24-hour model build, this year planned for the weekend of January 25. Their objective is "to get together with friends or by oneself and completely build a model of your choice wholly within a 24 hour period. It is a challenging endeavor but highly satisfying to complete successfully.”

So — Gary, John, Chip, Jeff, Carver, and George — I’m in! I’ve joined the Facebook group to participate.

I’m nervous. I’m a notoriously slow modeler, usually completing only four or five models per year. I’ve often looked to the Christmas and New Years holiday as an opportunity to crank out a single model, but I’ve never been successful. Doing that in 24 hours seems incredibly daunting, but the enthusiasm of this group has inspired me.

Having joined the group, I had to select a model for the build. I really do want to finish the model in the required timeframe, so my choice is crucial to setting myself up for success. After thinking it through, I came up with a few criteria.

  • The model has to be relatively small; the fewer the parts, the better.
  • I like using pin washes, so to avoid having to spend too much time rescribing any raised panel lines, the model would ideally have engraved panel lines.
  • The paint scheme should be relatively simple. Masking, painting, and touching up three or more colors would be very time consuming.
  • The aircraft cannot feature much, if any, ordnance, which would be a big time suck.
  • Most importantly, the model had to excite me. The prospects of spending this time on something less won’t keep me engaged.

I’ve selected the very old Monogram 1/72 A-1E. Yes, it has raised panel lines, but rescribing them shouldn’t be terribly time-consuming, particularly given that the remainder of the kit is very basic. I’ll use Caracal decals for an all-blue AD5, so painting and masking time will be minimized. I built the model back in high school, so there's a strong nostalgia factor for me as well.

I’m excited about this challenge! Anyone care to join the group? Click here to join the Facebook group.