Editorial Comment Thought for the day... Tips and Techniques


So you want to ditch established techniques? Feel free, just be prepared for poor results along the way...

So when I see modellers telling others not to use techniques that we all know work — every time they’re used — I always now think that that modeller simply wants to stay ahead of the game and is placing roadblocks on the path that the beginner is travelling, to ensure that they do.


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What an odd thing to talk about in a modelling Blog! You’d think so, wouldn’t you and yet this seems to be the new word that has arisen form some quarters as a way of describing established techniques and ideas that perhaps you dear modeller, should not always follow. Those that espouse such ideas are dogmatic; those ideas are by their very nature, dogma and those that choose not to follow them and plough their own furrow through the hobby and its techniques, are cutting edge, the punk rockers that stand, middle figure in the air, in the face of the prog-rock modellers of days gone by.

It’s nonsense.

Much in the same way that the ‘Punk Elite’ hated the establishment and loathed the stadium rockers, but secretly listened to Dark Side Of The Moon and the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, whilst sewing zips on their thrift-shop tie-dye jeans, these new modellers are doing nothing more than trying to shake up the establishment in the hope of being memorable and hip. But we can see through that. We can ALWAYS see through that.

You see, here’s the dirty little secret: by telling the world not to follow dogma, you are by your very nature being dogmatic. Odd, eh?

The idea that a well-established technique that works, is dogma, is preposterous nonsense of the highest order. Is the combination of flour, yeast and water to make bread, dogma? No, of course it’s not, that’s how you make bread. How about building a wall with bricks and mortar? Of course not – erm, that’s how you make a wall. How about learning rudiments when playing drums, or scales when playing a piano? Don’t. Make. Me. Laugh.

So when I read that certain techniques that we use are seen as dogmatic, I have to wonder why that person is offering those ideas up to the modelling public: lack of knowledge, a misunderstanding of basic ideas, or mischief. I’m thinking all three.

My favourite was the idea — and I use that term loosely — that you don’t have to use a gloss finish to apply decals successfully without evidence of silvering. Modellers, especially beginners should not be forced through dogma to apply a gloss coat, because you could easily get the same result without and by using setting solutions, you could still make decals sit down on a matt surface.

Do me a favour.

You can do that, but it would need repeated layers of solutions, slits over the decals, more solution and all manner of other crap to make those decals sit down and even then, the results would be less than perfect – of course they would. My eight year old nephew could see that – and he has never built a model in his life. You could polish the surface to smooth it out, you could put down a layer of Klear and then float the decal into place. You could. Even on a satin finish that looks perfect smooth, you may find areas of silvering – and I know that, because I applied some under my Sabre without a gloss coat over a satin finish and found that that was exactly the result. Thing is, I knew that that would happen, but up against a deadline I chose to cut a corner and was bitten on the arse for my troubles.  Had I applied even a single layer of gloss, I would have been able to apply the decals satisfactorily. Two minutes of work would have saved almost 30 additional minutes needed to rectify my mistake – and even now it doesn’t look great. Is that kicking against dogma – no, it’s a cock-up of my own making in the face of a technique that I knew would work, but couldn’t be bothered to implement. I was lazy and paid for it.


The problem with putting this guff out onto the Interwebz is that modellers with less experience will instinctively listen to those that they see regularly and think that what they write, is gospel. It’s not. What’s that about repeating a lie often enough, it becomes the truth? I would go so far as to suggest that if you are the sort of person who thinks it’s a good idea to tell a beginner that a technique that works perfectly — often through decades of use in many cases — shouldn’t be used, you are doing them a massive disservice and will not in any way be helping that modeller to improve. Far from it: you’ll make their models needlessly worse. Despite my mistake, I wouldn’t dream of telling a beginner not to apply a gloss coat or use gloss paints, because I would hate for them to ruin a model on my advice. Why would I? After twenty years of trying to get modellers to improve, the last thing I would do is tell them something that would make them worse!

But maybe, that’s the point.

I remember as a younger modeller, I would attend model shows and ask the older modellers how they created the models on display. More often than not, that would be greeted with “I’m not telling you”; “go away and practice”; “years of experience, son”. It was only later on, when my models were the equal and better than those guys, that I realised that they were doing this simply because they coveted their techniques so much, they simply didn’t want to help another modeller who may one day be better than them. What a dreadfully shallow approach to the hobby! So when I see modellers telling others not to use techniques that we all know work — every time they’re used — I always now think that that modeller simply wants to stay ahead of the game and is placing roadblocks on the path that the beginner is travelling, to ensure that they do. From those experiences on, I decided I would never be one of those guys – I would always try and help those that asked for my assistance.

Dogma in modelling can be annoying. I’ve met modellers who are dogmatic about the idea that all post-war aircraft were religiously kept clean and that weathering was simply not evident, which as we all know, is rubbish. But dogma cannot be used to describe a modelling technique such as glossing before decals, any more than it can be used to describe the construction of a wall with bricks and mortar. Dogma in religion, politics and sport – an unnecessary evil; in modelling? Please…

So the model punks continue to rage against the prog establishment, a rag-tag group of provocateurs, standing in the face of the well-versed intelligencia – a voice in their own personal echo-chamber of the avant garde, the innovative and the extreme. Their flame will burn brightly for a short time and then order, for most, will be restored. The basics will once again fall into place and the stadiums will be filled with the work of those that understand how to create the masterpieces that we’ll all know and love, long after the furore has died down. Just don’t be surprised though the next time you visit one of those hallowed halls to see a middle aged man with a dishevelled mohawk, repeating over and over “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus” as the band on stage completes its rendition of the Firth Of Fifth…

I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!


  1. Eric McLoughlin

    To be honest, I’ve always found modellers quite willing to explain the techniques they’ve used. Maybe they are more open than they used to be.


  2. Iain Smyth

    Well said Spence. In my eyes, helping others is part of the hobby.
    Iain Smyth


  3. Ian Crawford

    Spence, I read the blog entry that triggered your post, and although it is from a modeller with whom I often disagree, and whose utterances are themselves frequently dogmatic, I did not get the same vibe from it as you seem to have done.

    I was once told by a wise and witty Welsh lady that if someone tells you the best way to do something, you should listen, for that is the voice of experience. If, on the other hand they tell you the only way to do something, walk away and leave them to their dogma. Yes, flour water and yeast is a good way to bake a loaf, but naan and pumpernickel can also work. Yes, bricks and mortar make a good wall, but so does concrete, or wattle-and-daub.

    The danger in being dogmatic is that you close your mind to the possibilities of change, and that is seldom good.

    Incidentally, I rarely prime, never wash the sprues, always gloss-coat before decals, and weather occasionally.

    But that’s just me!



    • Jamie Haggo

      Gloss coat = vastly reduced chances of silvered decals. Fact. Dogma? Nope. Fact? Yes.


  4. Many years ago, when I was a member of a stodgy and strife-ridden modeling club in the USA, I brought an unfinished model to a meeting. I had pre-shaded it preparatory to applying the final base color. I was berated by an older member who flatly told me that pre-shading was juvenile, stupid and incorrect. I was later told that he had once won an award for the paint on one of his models.

    He was also one of the members who refused to help with an IPMS contest and complained loudest about all of the subsequent “problems”.

    I have invested a lot of time in learning the basics and it takes reason and evidence to move me toward abandoning what I know that works. There are dogmatists in our hobby, as well as in all other human endeavors. I try to avoid them.


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