Yes, but what about the beginners..?

As authors, are we running the risk of alienating those that aren’t as confident or technically proficient, when we let our own ego and drive, dictate our approach to each build?

“I might not win as many awards these days and that Gold medal may be nothing more than a distant memory cluttering a drawer of forgotten aspiration, but at least I know that somewhere, a modeller is going to get something from what they see from my hands”

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I would love to say that I find the building of model kits difficult, but I don’t. I’d like to say that the application of paint finishes fills me with trepidation, but it doesn’t. I’d like to say that that every project that I embark on leaves me grasping for the confidence and courage to even open the box, but I can’t. None of these things affect me day to day. I do what I do, create what I can and in the main, the models that I build look okay and do the job that they are designed to do: entertain our readers and hopefully give them the tools that they need to have a go at building something similar for themselves.

In this regard, I see myself as a bang average modeller, nothing more, nothing less. Day to day I do what virtually every other modeller sets out to do: build model kits and enjoy the ride to completion and display. It is simple and straightforward and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except in the past it has been. And for me, that was a terribly destructive period of my life that I don’t really want to return to.

Five or six years ago I decided after having one too many drinks in my local pub, that I would win a Gold Medal at Euro Militaire – not wanted to, would. It came out of the blue and was just something I desired, needed, had to do. Now for those that understand these things, that’s a big deal. Arguably, the most prestigious competition of its kind anywhere on the planet (or rather it was until it closed down last year), that show and its competition was the White Whale of competitive modelling, the place where all of the world’s best modellers congregated to reveal their last models and compete for the coveted Gold Medals that were so highly prized. So, I drunkenly announced to my wife that I wanted to have one of these and then watched as she glazed over and murmured something along the lines of “well stop talking about it, get on with something new, oh and mine is a gin and tonic, ice and lemon”. Well, that’s how I remember it. It may have been closer to “jeez, here we go again, how many more times do you need to put yourself through this?!” or words to that effect, but in my head, her response was rather more supportive.

So I got cracking, built the best thing I’d ever finished, entered the competition and gained a Commendation. The following year the same, but this time getting a Bronze medal before finally, much like the Prince from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, I built my castle, got the Gold and then watched as my hobby, my enthusiasm and my drive, crashed to the floor.

At the time, I was Editing Military In Scale magazine and so I was supposed to build models each month that inspired others to do the same. Except I wasn’t. I had fallen down a rabbit hole that simply became deeper and darker as I was no longer building for pleasure and the transmission of enthusiasm to our readers, I was building for competition and the affirmation of modellers that I held in high esteem. That Gold medal and the acceptance that I felt came with it, put the brakes on my passion so much, that I didn’t build another thing for the next six months. Every time that I tried to start something I was overwhelmed by the desire for it to be better than ‘The Workshop’ diorama that had achieved such success in Folkestone – and it never was (in fact, to this day I’ve not built anything that’s even come close, not once). And the more I tried, the worse my feelings of failure became. I was no longer doing my job, I was feeding my ego and my modelling came to a complete standstill as a result. I hated myself, building models and that bloody Gold medal.

Since that time I have become acutely aware of my own failings in this regard and so decided that I would never repeat the trick again and though I have competed during the intervening years, the months following each individual competition have always been consciously taken up with returning to the start line and building something easy and straightforward and not allowing my own personal goals to get in the way of my professional responsibility; in essence, remembering that I have a job to do. So last year after building the 1:24 Harrier T.2, I moved on to a couple of out of the box kits that could be built quickly and show the readers what was possible with easy to digest projects that were the polar opposite of the complexity and difficultly exhibited by that involved build.

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As an author,I feel a need to satisfy all of our readers and not simply feed a personal lust for greatness (whatever that might mean) by aiming for those that I admire at the expense of those that I simply don’t know. Several years ago I was chatting to a modeller who asked why my models suddenly looked so ordinary and why I no longer built anything worthy of recognition. At first I was a little taken aback by the comment, but then tried to explain that I had a job to do and if I simply worked for my own ends and always tried to up the quality of models that crossed my desk, I would not build enough to pay the bills. I also tried to explain that we as authors have to try and offer modellers of all skill levels something to hold on to and not just those that walked away with trophies week in, week out – it wasn’t all about the competition. Though it’s fabulous to see only the very greatest modellers appear in magazines and online (which I love to do, by the way), you also have to treat the beginners with respect. It’s no good assuming that everyone has 30 years of experience with an airbrush if the core of your audience has not moved on from paint brushes, tube glue and the kitchen table (I force the point for the sake of emphasis…). I see doing that in print or Online, just as unfair as not talking to a less experienced member of this wonderful hobby at a show, simply because one of your pals is standing behind them waiting to show off his latest masterpiece. Everyone deserves our time.

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The upshot of all of this is that now I spend more of my time aiming for simplicity, than I do for sophistication. Of course I like to indulge in a little complexity once in a while, if only for my own amusement, but always the question has to be asked “what can the less experienced get from this build”. If the answer to that is nothing or very little, then I have failed in my primary aim of being all-encompassing as both an author and modelmaker. I might not win as many awards these days and that Gold medal may be nothing more than a distant memory cluttering a drawer of forgotten aspiration, but at least I know that somewhere, a modeller is going to get something from what they see from my hands – even if for others, it’s no more than a wry smile and the idea that I’m not quite as good as I used to be…

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8 thoughts on “Yes, but what about the beginners..?

  1. David Robbins Sr March 14, 2017 / 2:48 pm

    “I see myself as a bang average modeller, nothing more, nothing less.” Yeah right and l am the Emperor of Canada! You are one of the best of many l have seen, though like me not in the category of some out there but still you are not slough! I feel the job of some of us old school modellers is to treat the new or younger up and comings like apprentices and teach them what we know. People like Francois Verlinden, or Shep Paine who books taught us how to model. Even l still refer to these guy’s works to inspirations and problem solving. l hope their and our teachings will be passed on by the next generation of modellers. Have l been to contests? Not recently but l have like some done so in the early 90s. Somewhere in my mother’s house is a box with 25 or 30 1st and second place rewards. l love this hobby as it has given me many years of enjoyment

  2. Phiko Leoputra March 14, 2017 / 2:52 pm

    A very good read!!

  3. Chandler Cody March 14, 2017 / 3:49 pm

    I am the first to admit I am not the best model builder. In the same way you lost your way after building such an amazing award winning setup, I lost my way when trying to go for a best in show at a local IPMS show. When I didn’t win, it crushed me and I went several years before I finished a kit (there are dozens of unfinished kits in my collection) and that kit was an OOB Tamiya Skyline. I don’t build for shows and contests now because it ruins the hobby for me. I am on active duty in the USAF and this hobby is my escape. When I went to contests, I felt alienated by those who were there to win awards and criticize everyone’s work who wasn’t up to their standards. I used to build kits for friends who wanted a small representation of the F-16 they worked on, but I stopped that too because that was ruining my enjoyment.
    I feel as though building models should be for fun, but those who do it strictly for the recognition and admiration from others irritate me. The lest contest I entered, I entered what I thought was a beautifully built 1/32 F-15E, but the individual who won in that category was a professional model builder with an Oscar winning Hollywood company who drove down to Las Vegas to enter a small time contest. He ended up taking first in every category, so I saw first time builders losing to someone who did it as a profession. I watched one guy, only 16 years old, say he wasn’t going to build anymore because of that man.
    I love seeing the beautiful builds in the magazines and online as they give me something to try for, and to see where I can improve a kit. I build for myself and only myself. If I post pictures online of something I built, I am proud of it and want people to see.

  4. jamessperrin March 14, 2017 / 4:59 pm

    I build for myself but have in the past built for SIG displays, reviews newsletters and Christmas presents. Anything other than building for yourself can lead to stress and unnecessary anguish as deadlines approach; I would not choose to turn my hobby into my job.

    It was only earlier this year that for the first time I put a model into a competition at the local show. I beat the other guy (ie there were only two models in the class), it was nice my daughter was proud of her daddy but I’m under no delusions and will always treat it as a bit of fun.

  5. Konrad Schreier March 15, 2017 / 3:22 am

    I think you are onto something Spencer, but not about modeling, about ambition, expectations and the fundamental disappointment that is the space between imagining winning and actually winning. This does not detract from the tremendous skill it takes to win a model competition at the ininternational level, but it says something interesting about what the real price might be when the celebrations are over. If winning a model contest will threaten your love of the hobby, maybe it is the reasons we enter contest we should question.

    Konrad

  6. John Morrey March 15, 2017 / 12:21 pm

    Hi Spence. Great piece, struck a note with me. My modelling just became a merry-go-round of self-perpetuating one-upmanship, always trying to build something on the next level to what I built before, got to the point where it became obsessive and destructive (and selfish) and I wound up with unfinished project after unfinished project , a marriage on the rocks and the hobby just wasn’t fun anymore. That was 5 years ago.

    It was fun for a while, but I lost track of why I picked up the hobby in the first place, the nearest I get to a model these days is my die-cast motorsport collection, but I collect them because they look great and its a little corner of my life that can’t spiral out of control in the quest to build the ultimate masterpiece.

    I do like to take a peek at the odd forum still to see the builds in progress, new modellers are lucky, they get to embark on a great hobby and get the most satisfaction and development in those early days, something I envy

    take care and keep up the great work

    Skii

  7. Janned March 16, 2017 / 1:50 pm

    thanks for the article i got motivated and proud to say im a newbie in scale modeling as i just discovered this hobby to get away from the stress in my studies in college 🙂 im not afraid to make mistakes as i learn from them – my motto is “simulate not perfection”

    also when i try to ask pros on forums or in my FB group they usually ignore my posts hehehe but they also forgot they’re already old and got a few years of life ahead of them

    who’s laughing now oldies 🙂

  8. Worso March 25, 2017 / 10:49 pm

    Really a good reading. I appreciate your mind changing. I don’t see myself like a winner in a scale modeling championship, I only want my kits not to have a toy and plastic painted aspect. That’s my only goal… Try to be better every time but only against me. Learning, watching and listening to everyone who want to teach something.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

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