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

FEAR NOT!

You’ve bought a complex new kit, but don’t feel that your skills are up to it. If you’ve chosen not to have a go at it right way, should you be asking yourself “if not now, when?”

The thought that a kit that was on sale was beyond me, never once crossed my mind, though looking back on it from this distant hill on which I may die, nor should it have.

Though I would like to say that many of the outrageously entertaining talking points within this Blog are from my own fevered imagination, I feel that I should perhaps come clean and admit that most if not all, are often the result of other modellers’ thoughts and opinions. Yes, my fellow travellers, cuckoo-like, I collect ideas, stash them in my head and then let them fly when the time is right. Today’s talking point is just such an example of this theft of intellectual property and proof, if proof were needed, that I don’t have an original thought in my head…

The other night, during one of those frustrating periods when sleep seemed to be alluding me, I took to my phone to check out kit sales on eBay, watch druming videoes and then read the latest nonsense on the Socials, all of which seemed like a good use of my time at 4am in the morning. Most of the social media discourse, as you might imagine, was there to generate anger, polemic, or both. But amidst the chaff of political in-fighting and conspiratorial BS for the hard of thinking, there was an interesting comment made almost off the cuff by one of my modelling friends on that book of faces, that we all spend way too much time reading. What made it suitable for further thought and then discusison on here, was that the idea was not unique to this particular fellow, being a somewhat universal viewpoint. It goes something like this:

“Yes, I’ve just bought *insert name of kit here* but my skills are nowhere near good enough to build it, so I’ll put away until they are.”

I am of course paraphrasing, but you get the picture. Modeller buys kit; modeller fears contents; modeller convinces themselves that said kit is beyond them; modeller stashes kit, in all likelihood never to return to it; modeller admits defeat before they even begin. It’s the age-old story of unrequited love, made plastic and decal. If Shakespeare had been alive today he’d no-doubt have written a sonnet about it.

So why dear folks has this particular scribe taken to his keyboard this fine Saturday morning and decided to write some pearls o’ wisdom about this topic? Well, because it’s one of the most debilitating ideas within the hobby, that’s why and I thought I would expand on I why I think that is so…

When I was a lot younger than I am today, as those mop-topped denizens of perfect pop may once have sung, I would build anything, everything, and all in-between. I began much like everyone else, with small, pocketmoney kits that could be bought from the local Post Office, Matchbox, Airfix, even the odd excursion into the realms of Revell, being enough to keep me entertained, if not for days, then at least for a few hours on a rainy saturday afternoon. It was these small, simple and cheap kits on which I honed my skills, learned that emulsion paints, though possibly the right colour, were hardly suitable for a plastic surfaces and that if timed right, tube glue could – to a degree – be used to rig a biplane, or complete a radio aerial. They formed the bedrock of my hobby and as my skills slowly grew, these miniature marvels soon pointed me in more complex directions. When schoolboy naivety was replaced by a feeling that yes, I could build models and reasonably well (yeah, I know, let’s see those early attempts and then you can get back to us, Pollard) simplicity was replaced by a desire to tackle kits that were more involved and demanding. 

I’m not sure when I first became aware of this need to develop my skills. Hell, back then, I didn’t even know that you had to! You bought a kit, you stuck it together with a tube of Britfix, glue that would create an odd layer of second skin around your fingers and a cloudy haze over anything remotely clear in finish, end rolled up to minimise wastage. You then painted the results with a single coat of Humbrol Emerald Green and Gloss Brown that you’d found in your granddad’s garage (paint mixing along edges that you simply had no time to dry off before applying the second colour) before dropping your one and only paintbrush into a marmalade jar of turps, until the hairs curved into an arc that was almost impossible to straighten with anything less than boiling water. It was a simple life, but at some point, that all changed and those first steps across the living room floor, furniture aiding progress, were replaced by a desire to run the 100m sprint.

The turning point for me I think, were two different, but interconnected events. In the village in which I lived there were two brothers (actually, there were lots of brothers, but let’s not muddy waters with over embellishment). Older than me, they, like many boys during the Seventies, built models. More developed in their skills and frankly, with more disposable income, they had kits that not only could I ill-afford, they built them with skills that I didn’t possess. But, they were generous of spirit, so would show me what they had done, offer advice (stop smearing glue over the canopies, buy some more paint, that sort of thing) and would the lend me catalogues that they had, so that I could dream about projects that were off into the distance. It was these brothers that first showed me the Tamiya range of F1 cars, Wolf, Ligier, Williams, McLaren; it was these brothers that showed me my first Airfix Catalogue and then more importantly, one emblazoned with a two-star logo and a name that I had not at that time heard before: Tamiya. 

So I had now seen more complex kits than I was building, both in the flesh so to speak, and then in print. I was hooked. I knew from that point on that I had to build some of these amazing kits and that’s what I set out to do. It’s at this point that I should return to the core premise of this stream of consciousness and reiterate that at this stage in my young life, I simply had no fear of more involved projects – let’s face it, who does, at 10 years old?! The thought that a kit that was on sale might be beyond me, never once crossed my mind, though looking back on it from this distant hill on which I may now die, nor should it have. How else was I going to learn new skills if all I ever did was stay within a zone of comfort that was only ever visited by kits that had 25 parts, and not ones that suddenly featured 100, crammed into their flimsy, cardboard boxes. No, progress had to be made by pushing myself and tackling ever more arduous projects, even if that meant that my success rate was lowered as a result – and boy, did that success rate drop!

I needed the pressure of more difficult offerings to get the juices flowing and then improve what I needed to learn to build better models. As soon as I could – which in all honesty was some years later – I bought a Tamiya F1 car (or may have been gifted it, time has dulled that partiucular memory) so that I too could experrience what the two brothers had enjoyed some years earlier. This, the Williams FW07, was promptly stuffed up in some style when a handpainted, green and white finish and Alan Jones’ distinctively decorated red and white helmet, was found to be way beyond me at the time (I still have kittens over that pinstriped helmet!). Still, I’d had a go, so when the next kit, the Walter Wolf, passed across the gloss blue kitchen table that had become my ‘workbench’ (don’t ask…) things turned out a little more successfully. So much so, that that model actually went on display. And so the desire to build more than just simple plastic kits grew…

Eventually, scratchbuilding followed, super-detailing, conversions, the use of an airbrush (which is an essay of utter failures in itself. Trust me, it’s not a pretty picture!) aftermarket resin and etch, figures, dioramas, planes, trains and the odd automobile, anything that I could tackle that would help me to learn new skills. I tried everything, failed initially at most and then kept going, belligerence replacing common sense. At no point that I can remember, would I avoid a kit because it was deemed too difficult (which is  a shame actually, because some were patently too difficult and if I had had my head screwed on and not thought I was God’s gift to the hobby, I might have avoided them and then saved myself money, time and angst along the way). Anyway, lets ignore my failings and focus on your needs for the time being and the basis off this essay: that you never learn anything by taking the easiest path.

When the comment came up at 4am the other morning, my instinctive response was to say “oh for goodness sake, just build it! You’ve bought the kit now, so your money is gone, what possible value is that kit to you, sat in the loft?” And this is the core tenet of my argument: model kits are simply worthless unless you build them. Yeah, yeah, I get the idea that there are collectors out there, for whom there is some intrinsic value in unmade kits, but to me – and I stress that it is to me, before brickbats fly my way – a kit is only of value if it is open and you are working on it, gluing the parts together and painting the results. That kit then serves as tool from which you can learn a skill. Sat in the box, it may look beguiling, but you will get absolutely nothing from it whilst it sits on a shelf gathering dust. You bought it because you presumably wanted to build it, so what on earth is stopping you? I will tell you what: fear of failure. That’s all.

Fear of failing to live up to our own expectations is the most debilitating emotion that I see in this hobby. Modellers and I very much include myself in this, see fantastic work online and then fear that they cannot emulate those models using their own skills. In essence to many, it seems as though the destination has become more important than the journey, where the only thing that matters is the completed model and how impressive it appears to our peers, and in some cases, complete strangers that probably, inevitably, couldn’t care less anyway.

So my advice is this: build those kits! So what if they don’t create models that you imagine seeing once they are finished? I guarantee that you will still have learnt plenty along the way and the next time you build something similar, the results will be better and you will have enjoyed the ride a little more. I cannot tell anyone how to approach this hobby and nor would I wish to do so, but I can proffer the idea that stepping out of your comfort zone will reap benefits and that you will have fun along the way. Trust me, no one improves any skill by repeating what they can already do. Well, what are you waiting for? Grab that kit and get building!

See you next time.

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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!

12 comments on “FEAR NOT!

  1. Reblogged this on Warhammer Adjacent and commented:
    Another great blog from Spencer. I think he is right, although I’ll admit that when I first got back into the hobby I picked up a couple of kits and then decided I couldn’t do them justice, so I picked up some cheaper models to practice on before giving them a bash.

  2. David Mummery

    I’m at the moderately early stage of my second modelling career. The one where instead of trying to build as fast as you can and fill the bedroom shelves, you want to build as best as you can. To that aim I try on each kit I’m doing to be learning at least one new technique or challenge that I can learn from. So that a good proportion of the work is solid, secure and enjoyable, but there are new things I have tried and started to know about. My last build was a first foray into resin, some rigging etc. In the bench now is the cheap old Tamiya Jeep, being used as a first learning exercise in photoetch. Is it going 100% perfect? No chance. Am I learning new skills? Definitely. Will it end up looking like an epic fail? Nope. (Probably). Next lined up is a tasty little model with various aftermarket and for a change I will be painting it with a brand of laquer paint you love, but that I have never tried. Maybe I’ll throw some other learning curves in too. Happy days!

    • B@kunin

      Happy days indeed, couldn’t agree more, I just keep trying to move forwards and enjoy the journey, the eventual destination is never my reason for doing it, its merely an aspiration or maybe dome kind of mission statement. That’s good enough for me.

  3. Ian Nicholls

    Wise words Spencer. Like you I was seduced by Tamiya F1 kits. I saved my money from my paper round and 1/12 scale Lotus 78, why not? Ferrari 312T, of course! The results weren’t prize winning but I had a whole lot of fun and learned some techniques along the way. I never for one instance imagined that they might be beyond my skill. When I came back to the hobby a few years ago one of the first kits I bought was the re-issue of the Ferrari 312B (one that I had missed out on first time around). I got started building and then thought “Oops, I don’t know enough to do this properly. I’ll put it away, refine my skills and then come back to it”. Of course it’s still in the to do pile in the loft! What a fool, I should have just ploughed on and enjoyed myself and learnt as I went along. The same applies to that pile of Wingnut Wings kits that I’ve stockpiled until I’ve “practiced on some cheaper kits”. I should either build them or flip them on eBay and make my fortune. It’s great to learn and good to improve but why not do it with the kits you love?

  4. tcinla

    Fear of failing to live up to our own expectations is the most debilitating emotion that I see in this hobby.

    Not just this hobby, Spencer. Everywhere. Most people end up with their “lives of quiet desperation” due to their fear of failure of trying to go for the job they want, the life they want. I know more people with good writing skills who have never been published, because they never pushed themselves, because they worried about being rejected.

    There’s a movie scene I am sure had as strong an effect on you, and everyone else who saw it, as it did on me. I refer to the second Star Wars movie, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Luke has crashed his spaceship in the swamp and met Yoda and studied with him, and it’s now time for him to demonstrate what he’s learned. Use the Force and bring your ship back, Yoda tells him. “Well, I’ll try,” he responds. To which Yoda says “No! Do or do not, there is no try!” So he does it, and it works, and there’s the ship hanging in the air over the swamp in front of him. And he says “I don’t believe it!” SPLOOSH! The spaceship gurgles back to the bottom of the swamp. Yoda shakes his head: “And that is why you fail.”

    The problem is so many people fail to understand that Failure Is Good. Nobody ever learned anything from Success other than they liked it. Failure is the teacher, when one sits back and analyzes what they did wrong, spots it, figures out how not to do it again, and then does whatever it was that way, and succeeds.

    I’m sure you’ll agree with me that you – and anyone else who does something creative, whatever it is – would not be doing it as well as they are at this point in the game, had they not had all those failures. The failures they learned from.

    Fail away! When you fail, the worst thing that happens is, you’re where you were before you made the attempt.

    I don’t know why it is we all get raised to not understand the simple lessons of life that are the important ones. And there isn’t one more important.

    Thanks for making me think about this. Please keep spouting off all those “unoriginal thoughts” you stole from someone else. 🙂

  5. baker24earthlinknet

    Like you, I had a formative experience longer ago than I want to admit (like almost 60 years ago). I was in Polk’s Hobbies, the legendary New York hobby store, when I saw it. Up in the plastic model kit floor in a display case, was THE model….. I still do not know who built it, but it would likely hold its own today, some 55-60 years later. It was the ancient Nichimo 1/35 A6M5 Zero-sen fighter, a semi-toy with movable landing gear and motorized propeller. Except whoever had built this had not built it OOB. This Zero had a scratch-built engine and a cockpit that would hold its own today, in the light grey-green we are familiar with now. The paint work was impeccable, as were the markings, and the finishing note was a radio aerial made of fine copper wire with tiny white insulator beads at both ends. That model showed me what was possible in building a plastic model, and in turn the quest to get better started my love of research, which led to books and even a TV stint on A&E for awhile, and now magazine articles – it has all served to keep me out of the pool halls and enjoy myself. So you never know…..

  6. Jacob Russell

    Hi Spencer,

    This is a fine editorial. I sent snippets to my best friend. It describes my current dilemma to a T, namely the conviction that a box of plastic parts is “better” than I am. Food for thought!

    Jacob

  7. Howard Kilburn

    Hi Spencer, that is quite an inspiring read…. I have been terrified of starting Tamiya’s sublime 32scale Mossie… and convinced myself it was way beyond my skills…. but yr missive has changed my mind…. back in the day, I would build every model I bought…. certainly not all perfect but skill sets we’re being honed to the point I managed to sell some, some years later to collectors…. So bring it on Tamiya after the HK models B17
    Great post Spencer
    👍Howard

    • baker24earthlinknet

      And this can work both ways as well – I am currently planning a project to improve and accurize several really old kits because they are 1/32 armor and I prefer it to the box scale of 1/35…..:-) It will take a lot of cutting, filling and fabrication to do this decently, most likely far more work than merely assembling one of the newer super-kits – but then there have been extremely few new 1/32 armor kits released in the past 20 years (a Bronco T-34/85 and a Kettenkrad). Nonetheless, if I can pull it off, I will have done what I wanted to do and also have models in my collection that no one else has…..Not a bad payoff, says I…..

  8. I have to admit I do suffer from this strange fear of building. Kits that are designed to be built and that are actually mine, I own them the investment has been made. In many cases the manufacturer has gone to enormous effort & expense to make them progressively easier to build through great fit and details but in – the shake and bake variety. I have noticed however that my fear does not seem to apply to all kits equally. There are some kits that just seem to shout “go on build me”, “who cares if you cock things up”, “what’s the worst that can happen?”. I’ve decided its the main reason I love building Airfix kits – old and new. Not because they are particularly cheap these days – I can usually get the latest Japanese wonder kit delivered from overseas cheaper.

    On reflection I do wonder if its got something to do with how some kits are presented? These super kits with their glossy boxes, instruction booklets, beautifully packaged parts each in their own cellophane packing; beautiful decal sheet; often with photo etch, masks or other detail products. They become collectors items, saying to me “look, but don’t touch” and if you as much as take a sprue out I’m devalued, I’m no longer mint in the box. Whereas with, say Airfix or Revell, everything stuffed in the one polythene bag its sort of saying “I’ve been made for building, go on rip open this cheap bag, get the cutters out and start dry-fitting parts. Get stuck in! You know you want to”. Just my thoughts.

  9. baker24earthlinknet

    Richard, this is an excellent observation – the kit that is all-singing, all-dancing in the box with every added detail and a ‘short story’ of an instruction manual (and extensive historical notes) presents as a museum piece suitable mainly for collecting….. There is also the feeling that the modern advanced kit is so expensive that one must not dare touch the bits until you KNOW you can do justice to the considerable investment. I have never considered any kit beyond my assembly skills, and have scratch-built stuff using ‘found objects’ – bits of kits and styrene shapes and sheets – but even the most expensive and complex kit is still made up of parts, and each part can be stuck to only one or a few other parts, so building a kit in sub-assemblies is a good way to reduce the beast to its components and make the building process less intimidating. I have recently bought some 1/35 armor kits to use for detail reference for the ancient 1/32 kits I am “improving” (or at least trying to improve), and while they have far more parts than the old kits, each sub-assembly is not that many bits, and that is how I’ll get through them.

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