Why choice and distractions are bad…For me.

The more I have the less I do – it’s just a fact of life and I hate it…

“Cluttering my workshop with kits that are not going to be built, or paints that I’m not going to use is akin to my wife wandering in and asking if I fancy going to the pictures or for a pint – just too much to ignore”

I’m currently in the process of designing a new workshop. The Shed, as mine has now become known, is falling to pieces and is in desperate need of a rebuild. That being so, I’ve spent the last few months trying to design a new structure that I can use for work, with all of the necessary fixtures and fittings that I can both use for building models and creating the films that some of you — hopefully — enjoy from my YouTube channel. What that means at the moment is that I’m cramming work in to my schedule so that when it’s demolished, I still have builds banked that can then be used in Model Airplane International. As a result of this enforced upturn in completions, my workshop looks like a bomb site and it’s driving me insaneContinue reading

Not everything can be suitable for beginners…

If you want to build a new kit but your skills aren’t up to it, perhaps that kit is not for you…

“It’s as though I and modellers like me, belong to the modelling equivalent of the Illuminati, where classified ideas and secret handshakes are as much a part of taking a look at a kit, as you know, sticking together the pieces and painting the results”

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Restoring A Verlinden Classic

Like an ‘Old Master’ languishing in a store room, this M1 Abrams deserved a second lease of life…

“I know that to many this is only an old plastic model kit, but I really feel that I have a sense of duty to bring it back to life, this model being part of the history and fabric of what we all enjoy, today.”

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Why Less Really Can be More…

So in arguing for simpler kits, you must also be arguing for reduced levels of detail? No, not really…

“What I wasn’t prepared for, mainly because at no point did I espouse such ideas, is the notion that by arguing for fewer parts, I am in some way arguing for less detail. Nothing could be further from the truth”

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Several days ago I wrote an essay for this blog that suggested that kits are becoming needlessly more complex and with the upswing in parts count, there is the inevitable upswing in price and often downturn in sales. Was I on target with my assumptions – who knows? The response to my thoughts seemed suggest that I may well have been correct to question such things, but that there were — rightly — modellers who still liked the challenge of a lengthy build and the detail that those involved projects often provided. I wasn’t surprised by that, after all we are a broad church and we all have different needs and aspirations and what’s good for me, will more often than not, be dismissed by others.

What I wasn’t prepared for, mainly because at no point did I espouse such ideas, is the notion that by arguing for fewer parts, I am in some way arguing for less detail. Nothing could be further from the truth. My argument, short though it may have been, was for a more sensible approach to the creation and breakdown of a subject and where single parts can be used to create perfectly detailed sections in favour of several that can create an identical result, then that would be a preferable route to take.

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I cited a case where sprockets featured separate bolt heads, the original Dragon 1:35 Panzer IVD being in my mind as my fingers tapped away on the keyboard. You may well remember the release of that kit and the 1200+ parts that it contained; you may also remember the vast number of parts that made up the running gear and how when those parts were assembled, many looked like they had been moulded in one piece in the first place! It was madness. Fast forward to 2017 and Dragon have now released a new Panzer IVD that has been designed and produced in collaboration with Platz, a kit that contains around 170 parts. Is it yes complex? Yes. Is the detail less than that found in the earlier kit? Not from the looks of it. Will it look just as accurate, detailed and pleasing once complete? Most probably. Dragon realised, as have others, that complexity and massive parts count is not necessarily the way forward.

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There are other examples of how manufacturers have elected to create kits that are far from complex to build, but are virtually perfect in terms of detail and accuracy. Eduard for instance have released over the last few years two aircraft families: the Spitfire and the Me109G. In both cases the parts count needed to build each one is less than 100, assembly taking little more than a few hours to complete. Have they compromised on detail? Absolutely not. Does each package offer a kit and resulting model that falls behind other, more complicated offerings? No. Would a modeller be disappointed by the low parts count and could the kits have been more impressive had they been more complex and time-consuming to assemble? Of course not.

Simplicity of approach is not an argument for less detail and accuracy, which is why I wasn’t idiotic enough to offer that as a point of fact. There are plenty of examples of kits that are simple to build but offer stunning levels of detail, works of art that supply large pieces bedecked in glorious surface details and fittings (just take a look at the one-piece wings in HK Models Mosquito for instance). So I will repeat myself: fewer parts does not mean less detail. And if you need any more proof that less is often more, just grab a MENG 1:48 P-51D and see what else is possible…

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In order to put my thoughts to the test and see if I could actually build something a little different, I decided to take some much needed annual leave and rather than sit around drinking beer and eating cheese and onion sandwiches (which still sounds like a wonderfully productive use of my time…), I grabbed a very old Tamiya M1 Abrams kit and set to work. Now, anyone who has built this kit (as I have, six times…) will tell you that not only is it very simple to assemble, it’s rather lacking in detail in places and a bit of a hybrid when it comes to accuracy. Still, I Iove it and like the way that within a few hours I can have it built from the box. In this case I decided to improved its appearance slightly with some addition/replacement detail and just have a bit of fun with the paintwork when the time comes. I tend to refer to these as “legacy builds”, no real effort being made to create cutting-edge replicas, just do something quickly of the hell of it.

I digress.

Having written my earlier essay, part of the exercise was to think about what I had written and how the kit I was building could have been improved had it been designed in 2017. What would most likely feature today that was omitted back in 1982, when the kit was first released? How many more parts would be needed to make the kit more accurate and detail more complete? Well, the upper edges of the side-skirts could have featured the sealing strips that I had added; the headlight guards would have been in two parts rather than one; separate mesh guards could have been included to create a more three dimensional looking exhaust; the skirts could have been in more than one part and rather than being in once single run, the tracks could have been link and length; the cupola and hatches would be more detailed, the MGs being several pieces rather than just one. Add a few additional details here and there and with current technology that is widely used, the parts count for this kit could still be easily less than 300 and it would still look great. Of course, when adding an interior, that would go up, but as a ‘curbside’ model, simply approached, there would be no need for to be any more complex. And that’s my point: if it’s not needed, why do it? Well… Because…

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And it seems as though companies are cottoning on to this idea. I already mentioned Dragon’s Panzer IV and Eduard’s family of Spitfires and ‘109s, well, the Czech concern also seem to be addressing the issues that many faced with their 1:48 Fw190 family of kits as well, kits that offered extraordinary levels of detail, but were — to put it mildly — a challenge to build. A new family of kits is being created that will clone their other recent products, offering high-quality models that are well-detailed, accurate and above all, easy to build. Gone will be the overly complex and sometimes confusing breakdown seen in the initial kit, replaced instead with straightforward sub-assemblies that anyone can build and not just those with higher levels of skill and three pairs of hands. It is, in my opinion, the way forward – especially at the price that companies such as Eduard, ICM and Airfix are offering their products.

Debates such as this will always split opinion — which is why I tend to start them! — with modellers on both sides of the argument offering their thoughts on why their approach is the correct one. But one thing links us all together and that’s the need to continue creating models that are highly detailed, accurate and pleasing once finished. Anything else is just a conversational point of view. But I will repeat this: fewer parts doesn’t mean less detail – it really doesn’t.

See you next time.

The Confidence Trick

Even professionals can suffer from periods of self-doubt, it’s how you handle those periods that matter and not letting each one combine, to cause real harm…

“I had let my own foolish determination to push the limits of my skills, get in the way of what I really wanted to do: build models. I was no longer building for me, I was building for others – and no-one was paying me for the privilege”

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When enthusiasm is in short supply…

If you’re finding it hard to start that next big project, you are not alone!

“As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that if I have any kind of break from building models or writing articles, I have to restart my brain to get back into the rhythm of the job”

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I remember reading somewhere that Keith Moon, erstwhile drummer with rock band The Who, had to be retaught how to play the band’s songs each and every time that they reconvened for a tour. I remember thinking that that was an odd thing for a professional to do and though I factored into the equation some of the extracurricular activities that Mr Moon no doubt indulged in as contributory factors, I couldn’t quite understand how this forgetfulness could occur with such regularity.

Recently, I’ve started to understand.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that if I have any kind of break from building models or writing articles, I have to restart my brain to get back into the rhythm of the job. As I type this, it has been well over two weeks since anything meaningful has been penned by my hand and though I wanted to completed some new Blog entries last week, that became more and more difficult as I pushed to find something interesting to write. Even as I’m typing this I’m not sure if this is interesting, but I’ll persevere and hopefully that will break the cycle of self-doubt and the word block that I’m suffering from at the moment.

But it’s not just the written part of my job that becomes difficult following an enforced break from work; building models can be equally demanding of my attention and jobs that would normally be easy to complete, projects simple to start and enthusiasm high enough to get the juices flowing, are anything but. Sometimes, building a model is the last thing I want to do and I have to really push myself to even open a box, let alone begin construction. Not good when your job is building  models and writing about them!

I have no idea why this is, though I suspect that it is the result of the sheer volume of models that I have built and the words that I have written during the 40 years that I have been involved in model making, both as a hobby and profession. When I metaphorically signed on the dotted line in 1996 to begin my path as a full-time professional, I remember guys from the industry telling me that I would be losing my hobby and that every model that I would build from now on, whether I liked it or not, would be work. Of course I didn’t believe them, but they were right. Over the last twenty years the number of models I have built for myself can be counted in single figures; those that haven’t been seen Online or in public: zero. So when I get the chance to have a break, I take it and don’t really think too much about work or model making. I spend time with my wife, we watch football, I play darts, listen to music, spend time on my Playstation. I do anything but build models. But following time way, it really is like everyone else that returns to work: a real slog, where enthusiasm has to be regained and the energy levels upped to a point where I can complete my work to a standard that I am happy with. Often, that means finding a project that is perhaps more interesting than normal to kickstart that part of my brain and then coming up with a first line of a new Blog or article to remove the writer’s block that almost always walks alongside the inertia that faces me inside the workshop.

I know that I’m not unusual in suffering from this breakdown in enthusiasm, so I have often spoken to friends in the hobby and those peers in the industry that I know will help break the cycle and often the answers are the same: read a modelling magazine, or build something that you might not normally do. Both of these are great ideas, but when you have had a break and the deadlines are looming, you often find that time to do anything that’s not beneficial to the magazine is both a waste of time and effort and so I tend to be forced to chose models that can be used within the pages of MAI, rather than egg-planes, motorcycles, or cool spaceships.

Though this state of apathy can be debilitating, it doesn’t actually last that long, despite feeling like it does. More often than not a project presents itself that is both interesting and exciting and once that barrier has been breached, I tend to be up and running. It can take a few false starts to do that mind you as I find myself starting a couple of kits before the right one presents itself. Much like a movie that doesn’t grab you within the first five minutes, or a book within the first page, a kit can sometimes take a while to offer up potential and be worthy of my time. If that doesn’t happen, I simply pass it by and chances are I will not build that kit at all, never returning to the subject or the kit in question. That’s how fickle my enthusiasm can be and no amount of exposure to shiny new boxes or brilliantly built models, will change my mind; if I’m not totally into a real-life machine, it won’t be built in miniature by me.

Writing this has certainly made me feel like I can pen a few words once more and with luck I’ll be able to create something a little more interesting tomorrow. Suggestions have already been made regarding the content of my next entry, so words should not be hard to come by. I just hope that after a night’s sleep I can remember what those ideas are and as a result, be able to come up with a suitable first line…

See you tomorrow.