“This whole episode could have been avoided if I’d stuck to my rule of not experimenting. I broke it, I paid the price and then the dominoes fell as I tried to catch up with the deadline”
I have been a professional modelmaker and journalist for over 25 years and during that time, I’ve had to hit very tight deadlines, end points set either by customers for whom I’m building models, or the release dates set by the two publishers that I’ve written and edited magazines for. That being so, I’ve spent what seems like a lifetime setting the following rule in stone:
“Never experiment with a new product or technique whilst the clock is ticking. Ever.”
It’s a simple rule that has served me well…Until this weekend when I forgot all about it and then paid the price. Twice.
It was all going so well. I was almost at the end of a review build of the new Airfix 1:48 P-51D Mustang, a kit that I was not only building for a feature in Model Airplane International from the parts supplied in the box, but also incorporating plenty of Eduard’s goodies, aftermarket gems that would elevate the otherwise neat levels of detail in the kit to far greater heights. The model was built, painted and decalled and then it all went south in a spectacular and frankly, quite public manner…
Many of you reading this will know how I paint my natural metal finishes and will have seen videos explaining how I use Tamiya AS-12 Natural Metal as a basecoat, overspraying panels with Gunze Sangyo Super Metallics to add definition and the impression of tonal and patinal shifts, across the surface of the model. Well, this model was no different. You’ll also know that I like to keep those patinas in place, so tend to add flatter areas of colour last, carefully masking over the surface of the model to then block-in what’s needed. It’s a system that has served me well over the years with nothing in the way of mishaps or missteps, befalling my journeys through this tricky aspect of our hobby.
And so I began with the completion of my Mustang. This time though there was a change: I incorporated Frog masking tape into the process to protect the larger areas of colour, rather than Tamiya’s tape. And that’s where the problems began. You remember that my rule is never to use unknown products when working towards a deadline? You remember that, right? Frog tape was unknown, never used before, a product that had no history on my workbench. Essentially, it was leap into the modelling unknown. It was never going to end well.
After masking off the anti-glare panel it was airbrushed with Olive Drab and left to dry whilst I made a coffee before the masking could be removed…along with all of the decals on the upper, left-hand wing, left-hand nose and the rear of the right-hand fuselage. I’m not talking small chunks, I mean almost everything. The whole lot. All of the markings, gone, no longer there, stripped back to the underlying paint. It was as though they’d never been there in the first place! The Frog tape that seemed low-tack, had despite repeated visits to my arm to further remove its adhesive qualities, stuck to the model like mud to a wet dog and now it was doing its best to stay put. I’m just grateful that it was only the decals that came away!
At this point, fighting back tears of rage, I had to decide what to do. Head spinning, my deadline for completing the model night was now flying out of the window (accompanied by my patience and enthusiasm for a build that up to that point had pretty much run on rails) and so I had to decide what to do next. Strip it? Repaint it? Smash it with a hammer..?
Having calmed down following a ten-minute power nap, I decided that the best thing I could do was to visit my Amazon account and order a new kit so that I could replace the decals that were now intimately entwined with the orange masking tape that was haphazardly decorating the floor of my studio. Checking the paintwork, it appeared that the underlying surface of the model where the decals had been so lovingly applied was still smooth and thanks to an overlying layer of satin varnish, their locations could be seen as subtle ghosts on the surface of the paint. All I had to do was order the kit, then reapply the decals, blend them back in and then complete the model. Job done. Easy eh?
So I ordered the kit and then waited for it to arrive (this was Friday afternoon and I had next-day delivery), an arrival that included me telling the courier that he needed to drop it into our recycling bin because we had arranged to meet friends for coffee and might not be in when he arrived (the idea of the recycling bin not being lost on me as I had considered recycling it into its constituent parts, not 18 hours earlier…). The following day the kit turned up as advertised and I set to work…once I’d made another coffee.
The process was actually very easy and the joints between the new decals and those that had been initially applied, very difficult to see. Happy that everything had settled down, the weathering was reinstated, sub-assemblies joined and then the model completed and photographed ready for its debut on the various Internet sites that I use to reveal such things. It was duly posted. And then the message came in, “Spence, is the upper wing marking the wrong way around?”. “What?!”. Oh no, it is – or words to that effect, after all, this is a family show.
In my haste to get the model finished and despite looking at it for the thick end of 12 hours, I had not noticed that the star and bar marking was pointing in the wrong direction (even now as I type this, I find it hard to believe that something that obvious passed me by, but it did) and so once again, the marking had to be removed, reapplied and then blended in. To say that I was unhappy was an understatement. So, using the same Frog tape as before (live and learn, eh?!) I remove the decal and used another spare from the Airfix kit to correct the error so that once again I could photograph it and then edit all of my posts that showed the model with its now somewhat obvious and less-than-intentional, mistake.
This whole episode could have been avoided if I’d stuck to my rule of not experimenting. I broke it, I paid the price and then the dominoes fell as I tried to catch up with the deadline that was still not too far out of reach. In the process, I gave up on a game of football and then found myself working over a weekend when I wanted to do other things and all because I tempted the modelling gods with my rash decision. It was a rookie mistake and one that I hope I will not make again. But — and it is a big ‘but’ — if anything good can come from this, it is that no matter what, mistakes can be rectified and models that seem to be lost, are not always so. In years gone by I would have put my foot on it (after all, I bought the kit(s), so there was no-one to explain my cock-up to…), but in this case I chose not to and despite my initial flash of anger and the cost of a new kit, nothing was really lost.
I’m posting this up on here to illustrate that even those of us who do this for a living, can still make stupid mistakes and when that happens, there is nothing that you can do but take a deep breath, walk away and then come back and sort it out. Oh who am I kidding: next time I’ll smash it with a hammer and then walk away!
See you next time.