In any community, there are certain phrases elicit groans and eyerolls. Maybe they’re bad takes. Or maybe they started out well-intentioned enough, but have just become hackneyed and tired.
“In the unprecedented times” started as an earnest way for businesses to acknowledge COVID without saying “shit’s all fucked”. Which a lot of businesses are loathe to do. But it got picked up by everybody, used ad nauseum, and nowadays is seen as a poster child for bland, say-nothing corporate-speak. Suggest it to a copywriter at your peril.
The modeling community is full of such phrases. It’s your model. But you’ll know it’s there. I build for myself. There are no bad kits. Modeler vs assembler. No crew chief would ever.
But the one I want to talk about in this post isn’t just annoying. It isn’t just tiresome. I think it might actually be pernicious. An idiomatic virus that leads to a kind of same-same blandness.
Less is more.
As a platitude, “less is more” can trace its modern origins to the post-WWII minimalist movement. Indeed, it was the whole point of minimalism. And for that movement, from postwar apartment buildings to flat design in mobile UIs, it’s highly appropriate.
But it’s not a general truism. Sometimes you want flourish. Sometimes you want to go heavy, or go contrasty, or whatever.
Not that any of that matters anyway. Because…
In modeling, “less is more” only seems to apply to weathering or shading.
Where is “less is more” when people build entire engines that can’t be seen in the finished kit? Nowhere. It cedes all ground to “but you know it’s there”. Where is it with hyperdetailing? Or parts counts?
It’s not. It’s not there at all.
There’s something about weathering
Modeling is by its very nature a quite reference-based hobby. We’re generally building and painting scaled down representations of real things – aircraft, ships, tanks, people. Even sci-fi and fantasy subjects, creations of pure imagination, refer back to things like studio models, or someone’s illustrations or paintings. Kit designers measure the real things and work from detailed plans. Modelers obsess over reference photos to make sure the smallest details are correct. There’s a whole subindustry of reference books that cater directly to this behavior.
Nobody argues with a photo that shows…here’s what a P-47 throttle quadrant looks like. Here’s a Sherman tank with concrete for additional armor. Here’s an Apache with upturned ASPI exhausts. Here’s a rare F-105 in Euro I camo.
Likewise, you can find photos of all kinds of weathering conditions. Direct photo evidence that shit gets dirty!
This is just a small sampling of photos that provide irrefutable evidence of the way a variety of vehicles chipped, stained, faded, got dirty, got touched up, and so on. It’s right there.
And yet, if you were to recreate any of these subjects as faithfully in terms of weathering as you would detail, you’d probably be accused of overweathering. If you give a shit about contests, this level of weathering would probably cost you at an IPMS contest.
Quick detour here.
In any form of human expression – call it art if you want – there are different styles, tastes, and preferences. You can see it in different schools of painting, different genres of fiction or music. And yeah, absolutely in different finishing styles in modeling. The showroom look that’s so popular among car builders isn’t my thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid. Super-contrasty, almost cartoonish looking figures don’t really do it for me either, but I’m just one person with my own preferences.
Weathering is no different. If you like cleaner finishes, cool. If you like more stylistic stuff like what gets lumped together as the Spanish school, right on. Like things dirty and beat to hell? Go for it.
What frustrates me is when a preference gets confused for a rule. And that’s exactly what “less is more” does.
Unless you’re building and painting a model around minimalist principles, “less is more” is pretty much bullshit anyway. But people don’t let that stop them.
“Less is more” and its partner, “overweathered” lay a subtle groundwork that weathering is bad. Which feeds a vicious circle where people absorb that lesson, come to believe weathering is bad, and repeat the lines to others, and so on.
When in reality, weathering just is. It’s as much a part of the subjects we strive to recreate as the paint schemes or the mechanical details. It just happens to be more variable, so there is more freedom on how far you choose to take it.
It’s also just another tool in our arsenal. And a lot of what gets dismissed as “overweathered” is probably, if you go back to the reference materials, actually underweathered. This is another area where this shit is really pernicious. I struggle with it myself, and a great number of my builds, I’ve actually pulled my weathering punches. It would seem, at least from where I stand, that “less is less” is by far the more accurate statement.
Beyond the percentage of people who are just biased against weathering, it’s worth noting there’s another contingent for whom “overweathered” seems to be some kind of polite way of saying “poorly weathered”. And models can absolutely be poorly weathered, just as they can be poorly constructed and poorly painted. These things are skills. And skills take knowledge, practice, failure, and experience. Poor mud placement, chipping in areas that wouldn’t chip (because they’re fabric or rubber or…), chips that are too large, too orderly, paint that fades in the center of panels only, these are all examples of poor weathering, not overweathering.
Why we’re in this
Listening to the most recent episode of the Plastic Posse Podcast (I think episode 44), there was an extended discussion of the judging at AMPS, and how it’s different from IPMS, and one thing that struck me is how much impression seems to matter. There seemed to be a decided lack of interest in getting all anal about alignment, and much more interest in the overall package, or in a good story.
All of that fits very nicely with how I think about modeling – which is – I want to do cool shit.
I very much doubt that I’m alone in that. I’d venture we’re all in this to do cool shit.
It’s just that we all have our own view of what cool shit looks like. And it’s important to respect that our preferences are exactly that, preferences. Not the one and only way of doing things.
Rather than perpetuate the tired “less is more”, let me offer a different idiom. This one is from Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and I think it speaks quite well to my love of weird paint schemes, asymmetric loadouts, off-color pieces, and weathering.
Inconsistency itself breeds vitality.