Not Dead Yet

This month’s Sprue Cutters’ Union question pokes the perennial hornets’ nest:

“Is scale modeling a dying hobby?”

Groan. It’s one of the most common – and most tiresome – rants one encounters in this hobby. It seems true, therefore is is true, right?

Wrong.

“Modeling is dying” is a fallacy borne out of a tangle of self-reinforcing cognitive biases. It seems true, so therefore it must be true. But it’s just as off-base as “kids these days…” rants. Scale modeling is alive and well, and I would argue, doing better than it ever has before.

I’m not going to muster a full defense of the hobby here – Jon has already done a brilliant job of that and I’m lazy. Instead, I’m going to aim at a few of the main misconceptions…

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My local hobby shop closed. Clearly modeling is dying.

WRONG. The collapse of brick-and-mortar retail is not unique to modeling. The number of small retailers laid waste by Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and other big boxes over the last two decades has to stretch into the tens of thousands. The rise of the internet and ecommerce has only made the situation more dire. It’s not just the mom-and-pops, either. National chains are getting taken out left and right. Borders. Circuit City. Linens-n-Things.

Hobby shops are just in a crummy position. Think about it. Modeling (even if you roll in RC stuff and trains and rockets) has always been and will always be a niche hobby. For a given geographic area, there just aren’t going to be that many modelers. Most cities I’m aware of – if they have any left – have one or maybe two decent hobby shops. The market literally cannot bear any more.

Hobby shops also suffer from high inventory demands. There is so much stuff in this hobby. Glues, brushes, so many paints. Kits, decals, masks, PE sets, resin sets. Books. All of that stuff costs money, but may not move for months (if ever). I’m pretty sure there are still kits on the shelves at my LHS that have been there since I first walked in the door nearly five years ago. That’s a crushing burden for a brick-and-mortar retailer. Meanwhile, the online operations can house everything in a warehouse, and negate the market density problem by drawing on a national or even global customer base.

Modeling isn’t dying. It has moved online.

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Modelers are old. And we’re all going to die. Clearly modeling is dying, too.

As Genghis Khan once said, “bullshit”.

The way some people grouse, you’d think everyone who put glue to plastic was doing so with one foot in the grave. But that’s simply not the case. Jon at The Combat Workshop conducted an informal poll, and the average age of those who responded was 40. Hardly at death’s door.

What does exist, as evidenced by countless introduction posts on forums, is a modeling gap. A lot of us wander off in our teenage or early adult years and only come back to modeling once we’re well and settled. Which makes total sense. Modeling is a hobby for the settled. It takes a certain amount of space, and a certain amount of routine. Those two things often vanish as we discover girls (or boys), cars, go to college, get careers up and running, get married and start families. I know they did for me.

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Kids these days don’t build models because (insert old man gripe).

One common refrain I hear is that kids don’t build models because they’re too busy playing video games. Well, what if I told you it’s possible to do both? I grew up just as video games really hit the mainstream. I had a Nintendo and a Sega Genesis and played Doom on my parents’ PC. And I built models. Hell, I’d say that video games actually got me more interested in models. The best flight sim of all time, Aces of the Pacific, is literally what got me into building World War II aircraft. Today I imagine the same is probably true for kids playing World of Tanks or War Thunder or the countless Battlefield games.

Kids these days do build models…it’s just that modeling is a solitary, secluded and niche hobby.

not-sure-if-kids-cereal-box-game-is-too-hard-or-kids-these-daysToday’s model kits are too complicated for kids.

The hell you say. Look at video games from 1990 and from today. Modern games are exponentially more complicated, and kids take to them like water. Lego sets are infinitely more complicated, and kids figure them out. If you think today’s models are too complicated for kids, you’re seriously underestimating said kids.

Today’s model kits are too expensive for kids. When I was a kid I could buy (insert some old shitty kit) for fifty cents!

Today’s kits are more expensive, but a lot of them aren’t. Revell’s 1/32 Bf 109G-6 can be had for like $25. Plenty of 1/48 and 1/72 kits fall well under that.

Work No. 203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT 1999 by Martin Creed born 1968The Hobby is Alright

I honestly don’t get where the doomsaying comes from. It feels like a combination of cognitive biases that screw with our rational thinking.

So, in addition to the refutations above, here are some thoughts on why the hobby is doing better than ever.

The Internet Community – Modeling is a solitary hobby. When I was a kid, I only knew one other kid who build models with any kind of effort. I knew no adults who did. My only regular connection to the larger modeling world was the occasional issue of Fine Scale Modeler. When I came back to modeling in 2010, holy crap. The internet community around this hobby is amazing. The knowledge gained and shared has brought me further, faster, than I’d have ever thought possible. And not just in terms of building techniques, but overall subject knowledge and even purchasing knowledge. This is huge. The modeling community is more connected and engaged now than it ever has been before.

Ecommerce – Hand in hand with community is the ability to buy modeling things online. I love my local hobby shop and they do their damndest, but you can only stock so much product, so the vast bulk of my purchases come from the internet. And the selection is amazing…I can order kits and paints and decals and microtextile seatbelts and god-knows-what from all over the world. I’m no longer constrained by what a few distributors happen to stock, or what my local retail options have room for.

The Knowledge Worker Conundrum - More and more of us do more and more of our work behind desks, at computers. With that comes a well-documented desire for physical, creative hobbies. The desire to do something with our hands. That could be gardening or playing music or woodworking. I have colleagues who restore old guitars or run laser-engraving businesses on the side, or who count wrenching on their motorcycles as a relaxing weekend. Modeling is as much a beneficiary of this innate desire as anything else.

LIDAR and 3D Design – The manufacturers are getting better at designing kits as well. In the past, kits might be designed from photos and best guesses, or maybe from measurements taken of an actual, physical specimen. But nowadays they’re straight-up scanning the things. Airfix recently showed off how their using LIDAR to scan whole aircraft and using those scans to design kits. This is a big deal as it ensures far better accuracy with less room for error. 3D CAD design and improvements in the precision of injection molding also make it possible to design kits with massively improved tolerances, resulting in the near-magical detail and fit of kits from Wingnut Wings, Tamiya and others.

3D Printing – Last but certainly not least is 3D printing. Personally, I don’t think we’ll really ever get to the point where we’re just downloading kit plans and printing them at home. There will probably be a few manufacturers who pursue a “print on demand” type of strategy, but 3D printing remains significantly more expensive than injection molding. Where 3D printing is revolutionizing things, however, is in the design phase. Nowadays, test shots can come off the 3D printer to correct errors before molds are cut. And small aftermarket operators can work off CAD files to create staggeringly accurate masters that can then be reproduced in resin versus having to be carved and sculpted.

3D printing also may well have a niche in providing items that can’t be produced any other way. A great example is this amazing set of 3D-printed, workable Hotchkiss tank tracks. I’m still getting my head around how such a thing is even possible, but one could easily imagine this kind of tech replacing cumbersome indy links on future tank kits.

Eight Dream Kits

It’s a great time to be a modeler. It seems like every other week, some amazing new kit is announced. But there’s still plenty of ground to cover…so here’s a list of eight dream kits that, if produced, I would buy immediately, no questions asked.

1/32 Eduard MiG-21MF

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Eduard’s 1/48 MiG-21 lineup is not only the best treatment of the Fishbed in any scale, but quite possibly the finest series of 1/48 jet kits ever produced. And while I’ve settled on 1/48 as my scale of choice for jets, I’d gladly make an exception in this case.

1/32 HK Models PBY Catalina

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The PBY is one of my favorite aircraft of World War II, and yes, I know that HPH makes a stellar resin kit of everyone’s beloved seaplane, but 1) I’m not a fan of resin kits and 2) as much as I love the Cat, I’m not paying $800 for one. HK could do a real bang-up job here, and it’d be interesting to see what their imaginative engineering could bring to the table.

1/35 Meng British Challenger 1

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Yes, there’s the old Tamiya kit, which I’m quite fond of for what it is, but this old girl is due for a revisit. Meng already has a proven track record with other late Cold War tanks – see the Leopard 1A3/4 and the AMX-30 – and I’d love to see what they could do with the Chally.

1/35 Meng M270 MLRS

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Meng has already produced what has to be the definitive M2 Bradley, and they’ve already shown the capacity to produce derivative vehicles from their tank kits – including the Panzerhaubitze 2000 (from the Leopard) and AUF-1 (from the AMX-30). Seeing as the MLRS is based on the Bradley chassis, at least a few bits could be reused. Besides, there’s an MLRS-shaped hole out there, with the existing attempts out of production and rather poorly-regarded.

1/48 Kitty Hawk AH-1W Supercobra

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I’m currently enjoying Kitty Hawk’s AH-1Z Viper kit, and the design has a modularity to it that could easily allow for an AH-1W tooling. I know, I know, my “grew up during Desert Storm” is showing.

1/48 Academy F-4G Wild Weasel

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Another Desert Storm-era want. The Hasegawa kit is somewhat lacking, and markings even moreso. If you want to do a Desert Storm F-4G, your only options are to track down a long out-of-print AirDocs decal sheet, or to cobble things together on your own. Whereas a new-tool Wild Weasel would almost certainly result in a new decal sheet or two.

1/32 [Anybody] OS2U Kingfisher

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I have fond memories of the old Monogram kit I built when I was growing up. It was one of the first kits where I actually gave a shit about the finish. Nowadays I find that kit sorely lacking in just about every respect…but I still love the Kingfisher. I’m sure someone will do it justice in 1/32 one day, I just wish that day was known!

1/32 Tamiya P-47 Thunderbolt

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The Jug is my favorite aircraft, and Tamiya’s 1/48 P-47 lineup is far and away the best treatment the big lummox of a fighter has ever received. The Trumpeter and Hasegawa 1/32 kits wish they could be half as good as the Tamiya quarter scales. And given how good Tamiya’s Spitfire, Mustang and Corsair have been in 1/32, I can only imagine what they’d do with the Jug. Another bonus – some of the best scheme options of any aircraft that’s ever flown.

Sprue Cutters’ Union – Old Dog, New Tricks

OldDogNewTricks

2015 is already off to a rocking start – The Combat Workshop’s Sprue Cutters’ Union is back!

Unfamiliar? Here’s the gist, straight from Jon:

Listen up noobs, all it takes is a passion for this hobby and a blog to go along with it! All you have to do is write a post in response to this topic by the end of the month and you can be a member of the Sprue Cutters Union. Take a look at the Sprue Cutters Union page for more detail. Once you’ve written your post, drop the link in the comment section below.

Me? I like to think of it as a blogging version of a group build. One topic, multiple blogs, multiple takes.

To kick off the new year, the topic is…

What new products/techniques will you purchase/attempt this year?

I’m a big fan of pushing outside of my comfort zone, playing with new subjects, attacking new challenges, trying new products and techniques. I’ve found that being a little bit scared of a build really has a way of focusing attention, and it’s usually those scary ones that turn out best.

2014 was full of experimentation – with new masking techniques, a serious stab at jets and modern armor, and new weathering techniques.

What am I looking at for 2015?

Combining “Black Basing” with Chromatic Variation

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I’ve had good success with the black-basing technique over the past year or so, but I think there’s room to refine it further. Right now it goes black, marble coat, blending coat. I want to experiment with different marble coats – perhaps variations of greens and browns under olive drab or similar – to see what impact that has on further tonal variation. Perhaps it’s a great way to get away from using oil dot filtering. Which is great, but introduces all kinds of annoyances including extra clear coats, more lint, and so on.

Experimenting with Texture Decals

I’m pretty happy with using oils to replicate woodgrain, but I’m eager to try transparent woodgrain decals like those offered by Uschi van der Rosten and HGW. My first new build of the year, Wingnut’s epic Felixstowe F.2a flying boat, has plywood siding outside the cockpit that would be perfect for these woodgrain decals. I’m also eager to play with HGW’s fabric texture decals. Something that’s always fascinated me about clear doped linen (CDL, as the cool kids say) is it’s translucent nature. In the right light, you can see the shadows of markings applied to the topside. Oil and grease stains seem to seep into the surface in a way that I have struggled to sort out how to represent – until now. I need to play around, but fabric texture decals may be just the thing to simulate that sort of “embedded” weathering.

Building Some Great War Armor

Up until, what, late 2012, the only choices in town for 1/35 Great War armor were old, crappy Emhar kits and other old, crappy Emhar kits. Then Meng dropped the Renault FT, Takom rolled out a St. Chamond, and now we’ve got British Mark IVs, a Scheider from Hobby Boss, and more goodness on the way. This year I am bound and determined to build one.

Using EZ-Line for Cable Bundles

Cockpit and gear bay cabling has always been a challenge for me. Regular wire is so springy that it’s hard to get it to behave right. Lead wire is certainly pliable enough, but rather fragile. Thread? Forget it.

So I was over the moon when I saw how Brian over at Large Scale Planes was approaching the prominent cabling bundles in the OV-10 Bronco – with EZ-Line! It looks phenomenal and pliable enough to be routed easily. I’ll be giving it a go in a few builds this year for sure.


Check out the rest of the Sprue Cutters’ Union

The Combat Workshop

The Museum Modeler

Yet Another Plastic Modeler

Weathering Tamiya’s 1/32 F4U-1 Corsair, Pt 1

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After the painting (LINK) comes the fun part – the weathering!

No Clean Bird

Marine Corsairs weren’t exactly known for their cleanliness, and “Tojo Eats Shit” has to be one of the filthiest examples I’ve yet come across.

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There are so many factors at play here. Fading. Chipping. Gun and exhaust stains. Coral dust. Oil stains. All in all, it adds up to one thing:

Tons of weathering.

Let’s get started.

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Coming out of paint, the Corsair is already pretty weathered up through a combination of multi-layer chipping (LINK) and using a black base to manage tonal variation (LINK). But there’s so much more that can be done.
Continue reading

2015 Modeling Resolutions

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2015 is nearly upon us (how did that happen?!?), and looking ahead, I thought I’d throw out a few modeling resolutions for the new year. Hopefully these have more staying power than my personal resolutions, which usually fall apart around the time Girl Scout cookies make their annual appearance!

Buy only new kits (and be more judicious with those)

I’m not going to kid myself and say I’m going to stop buying kits. But I do want to knock down the stash and slow the pace at which I add to it. A quick way to do that? Stop buying existing kits and save it for the new tools. And be more picky with the new releases I spring for. Case in point – earlier this year I snagged Trumpeter’s new 1/48 A-37A Dragonfly. WHY?!? I don’t care about the -A. I want a Dragonfly, but I want the -B. Which as it happens is coming out early next year.

Of course, at the way manufacturers keep dropping amazing new kits…

Write more technique posts

I started this blog for two reasons. First, to chronicle my adventures in scale modeling…initially as a return to the hobby and now, well, I guess just as part of the ongoing journey. Second, to give back. The internet has had an enormous impact on my building and painting. So as I have tips and techniques to share, I like to do so. And those of you who stumble across this blog seem to like the technique posts, too – the Black Basing and Multi-Layer Chipping pieces are the two most-viewed posts I wrote in 2014.

So in 2015, more of that. If you have any techniques you’d like me to cover, please speak up in the comments or over on Facebook.

Make fewer false starts

Some years, it feels like I start and then abandon as many builds as I finish. I need to do better, and part of that is being more disciplined in how many kits I have on the go at a given time. In 2015 I’m planning to be a lot more strict on my “Rule of Three” – no more than three builds on the go at once, ideally with them spread out among 1/32 props, 1/48 jets and 1/35 armor to keep things varied.

Lighten up

Over the past year, I’ve been really focused – at least on my aircraft builds – with achieving good tonal variation in my paint jobs. I feel I’m at a point now where I’m getting pretty adept at overcoming tonal crush. But I can take it further still by being more aggressive with how I mix paints up front, adding in more lightness early on rather than trying to enforce it through oils. This would also free me up on the weathering front to play more with filters to further dirty things up. Stay tuned!

That’s it for me. What are your modeling resolutions for the new year?

2014 – The Year in Review

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2014 is just about in the books, and so it’s time for that annual tradition – the “Year in Review” post. Looking back at 2013, it’s striking how far I’ve come in a year. Life remains hectic, but in a far more settled manner. No layoff. No shattering of routines to make way for a new kid. No major shocks, just the unrelenting pressures of a challenging-but-rewarding career and raising three young children. On whole, I have very little to complain about (though I still find ways).

In terms of modeling, I feel like 2014 was a year of both growth and frustration. Overall, I completed eight builds, just one more than last year. I’d hoped to put in a slightly better showing in that regard, but a few false starts and one build abandoned only when the decals proved to be trash definitely hampered my summer months. I feel like I rallied in the fall, however, with two builds that definitely feel like big steps forward in the quality of my building.

A few thoughts, in no particular order, and then on to the builds. Continue reading