Those competitions have moved from the blue-sheeted trestle tables of dusty village halls and sodium-lit sports centres, into the workshops and living rooms of modellers who can now see everything in microscopic detail, on 4K backlit screens…
Yesterday, I posted a few thoughts onto my usual Social Media portals, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, thoughts that kinda hit me whilst having a piece of toast and a mug of coffee. They were nothing spectacular, an open window into my soul at this time of year, but such was the reaction to them, I thought it might be worth fleshing-out this inner dialogue in a longer essay. But first, here is what I wrote, cleaned-up slightly for the family audience that I hope this page attracts…
“Note to self. Repeat as necessary.
Go grab a kit and stick it together. Paint it. Stop giving two hoots what others think about it. Stop worrying that what you do next has to be the best thing ever to impress those that chances are, couldn’t care less anyway. Stop falling into the trap of thinking that this hobby and your place in it, is some giant competition, a piddling contest where you have to be seen as great for clicks and likes. Get back to doing what you used to do: build models because you love it, not for a misguided sense of BS fame, acceptance or success. No. One. Cares. And you know what? Every time you fall into this trap, you become worse, not better. Stop competing – it’s the most debilitating thing you consider. Stop caring about reactions. Start once again doing what you love – trust me, you’ll feel better about yourself. Stop. Competing.
See you again next year.”
I think that that is pretty much self-explanatory. A few points though are worth expanding upon. Including that word: competition.
In the replies to my posts, a number of modellers discussed competitions, gatherings where modellers come together to compete against each other. Over recent years, Damascene-like, I’ve become rather antagonistic to such things, feeling that – for me – they are a negative intrusion into my world that has caused me not only recently, but over many years, a great deal of personal angst. Though I will expand on that at some point in the future, that really was not what I was talking about in this particular stream of consciousness. My point of discussion here was about how we as individuals subconsciously compete not only with ourselves, but with our peers online. In so doing, we are looking for constant affirmation, those clicks, likes and shares, where the response to our work becomes more important than the work itself. In my case that manifestly means that I am no longer building for me, I am performing for others, that distant audience who may like what I do in an instant, but soon move on as the refresh button is pressed. Work that should stand the test of time, becomes nothing more than than a popularity contest where ephemera is the order of the day.
My job is to build models, write about them and hope that that inspires others to tackle similar projects. In the main, that means that almost all of my models are chosen for me, kits that hit Editor’s desks, vying for attention, ready to be shared out to those most suited to the task in paint-stained hand. Such is this Pavlovian routine, where the bell of expectation begins the route-march once more, I am now seemingly incapable of making my own decisions. My work, my kits, my desires, are secondary to the needs of work, so when I do get a moment to grab a personal project I simply cannot decide what to do. The ringing of the bell starts the ball rolling, but when that sound fades into the distance, I am seemingly incapable of doing anything for myself, because I am now placed in a position where my need to impress, overwhelms my need to be creative for the sake of it. If I’m not being paid, what’s the point..?
When models are built for commissions, there is an unspoken assumption that you will do a good job for those that desire your work, be it for personal collections, or in my case, the pages of the magazines that I work to fill. Decisions are taken out of your hands, so that you almost know before opening the box how the model will look once finished; how you will take the photographs; what finish you will apply, how you will display the completed model. It’s a dance that I have done hundreds of times over the years, so now it’s second nature. Don’t get me wrong, my Editors are more than happy to allow me a degree of artistic freedom, but that is almost always reined in by the constraints of the kit, the manufacturer and what the magazine needs. When it comes to my own work though, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
When I build something for myself, I instinctively take a different path, one that allows wings to be stretched, thoughts and dreams to take flight, where ideas that may not be suitable for a review, can suddenly come to fruition in the hope of creating something altogether more memorable. And this is when the problems start. As this journey begins, I start to have conversations with myself, asking questions that start off with “which kit shall I build?”. I then spend time looking at the kit Online, seeing what is available for it, perhaps checking out other builds, the work of the aftermarket, odd features here and there, the real thing (always my jump-off point) before then starting to ask: what would my friends think of this? Will this catch the world’s eye? Will this be more impressive than what I’ve done before, and if so, will it generate more interest than last time? Can I do better than what I’ve seen elsewhere? And so the room reverberates to the sound of the starting gun as the competition begins..
So I stop as voices in my head that verbalise the need to compete ensure that I hit the first hurdle…
The kit goes back in its box.
I do nothing.
As I’ve got older, I’ve found this happening more and more, where I struggle to find projects to complete, because I’m terrified that I’m wasting time on something that will not generate the levels of interest that I seemingly crave to make it worthwhile. Modelling has become secondary within this age of global connectivity to the reactions that Social Media platforms can generate – but then, it’s not just Social Media that causes my self-imposed problems. The other trap that I’ve fallen into is one that’s harder to deal with, because somehow it feels more personal, closer to home, more real. Here, choices are made because I’m wary of other modellers not liking the the kits I’ve elected to build, so in order to pacify them, I build things that though more impressive, are on the whole, ones I don’t really care about one way or another. Going back to the competitions for a second, that’s one of the reasons why I am so antagonistic towards them, because I found myself building models to catch the eye of a judge, building a kit that was current, in a finish du jour so that I could grab one of those shiny medals that would all-but be forgotten before I’d even left the building. My work was being guided by my desire to follow the pack…To be part of something…To fit in. Now, I consider the reaction of others before even starting a build! Where in any other walk of life would you do this? Where would you ask friends what clothes to wear; what food to eat; what beer to drink? And yet, here we are.
In both of these cases, I was/am no longer doing what I want to because I want to, I’m doing it to ensure that I stay in the public eye. And you know what: that’s no reason to do anything artistic and it’s going to stop. Hell, it’s no reason to do anything at all. The rabbit hole in which I have found myself over the last few months is sufficiently deep that I can no longer see what is needed for my work to be what it should be, an enjoyable career, but away from that, a relaxing diversion from the stresses and strains of daily life.
Modelling, post 21K has become more competitive, of that there is no doubt. The Internet has given voice to millions that would not normally speak, showing off work that would otherwise be hidden. That being so, it is now incredibly difficult to be heard and be seen. You just have to look at the thousands of daily Facebook posts on modelling sites to see how many modellers want their chance to step into the glare of the spotlight. Those competitions have now moved from the blue-sheeted trestle tables of dusty village halls and sodium-lit sports centres, into the workshops and living rooms of modellers who can now see everything in microscopic detail, on 4K backlit screens. Now though, you have to be really good to keep the cursor from moving on. Reality gives time to pause for thought; screens simply offer a taste before refreshment, fleeting views of something that generates a like, without the need for further inspection. Catch the eye: job done. Miss the target: better luck next time.
I still want to carry on with what I do and indeed, will be expanding on this year’s ideas a little more in 2022. What I won’t be doing though I trying to please everyone all of the time and I’m going to stop competing both with myself and others. Fact of the matter is that there are 1000s of modellers out there that are head and shoulders better than me and that’s fine – it’s a big wide world. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t do my best, perhaps inspire others and enjoy the ride. But this need for affirmation and the pats on the back that follow a build has to become something that’s simply part of the journey rather than the destination. It’s either that, or I make the decision that modelmaking to me, for however long I can do it, is nothing more than a way of generating income, rather than something to love and appreciate in its purest sense.
Until next time take care, have a wonderful Christmas and I’ll see you again, soon.
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I quite agree, if its not fun then its not a relaxing pursuit. I build with the enthusiasm of my 14 year old self, the experience of all the years in between and the limitations of my ability.
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You are right in that the C word competition just takes the fun out enjoying the hobby for what it is and what it should be Spencer, other wise you just end up doing your head in. In saying that its not all bad to compete at shows only if its on your terms to compete, not everyone else’s.
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I agree with you completely, but then I have never been a good enough modeler technically to have to worry about competing, so I have the advantage….. As I’ve said here before, my modeling now is strictly for relaxation, trying to meet my own standards but not worrying about what others may think. As my eyes get worse, my standards have “adjusted” – my main task now is to devise ways to paint smaller details that I have trouble seeing due to retinal damage and the resulting distorted vision I have. I am enjoying the planning for a series of old models based on 1/32 Monogram, Tamiya and Airfix kits from the 1970s, because no one else will be building these things to the standards I want, and I have to learn and push myself to do 3D printing to make the 1/32 tracks that are not to be found anywhere. My hope is to do a decent job that I am happy with, turning these old warhorses into more modern looking models, correcting shape or detail issues and adding such detail as I can do. I’d better get a move on – I turn 81 today and tempus fugit…..
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Reblogged this on Warhammer Adjacent and commented:
This is a really thought provoking read. I think it’s true that looking around on social media can make us feel under pressure to be ‘as good’ as others, whatever that means. My solution to this recently has been to acknowledge what I want to get from a build before I start, to maintain a focus on a personal goal and on fun even if that means accepting flaws to keep it enjoyable.
I appreciate your straight forward approach to a build. You take basic and semi-advance techniques and create what I call “solid” builds that inspire me to try and build to the same level. Not super detailed, massive labor intensive builds. I have a massive box of aftermarket, but I find myself preferring OOB building with careful painting and slight/appropriate weathering….and your builds over time have inspired and kept me enjoying the hobby. Although I am a sucker for aftermarket decals, my kryptonite.
“Where in any other walk in life would you do this?”
The answer to that question, Spencer, is fairly simple. Anyone who is pursuing a career in any creative enterprise, in which their continued economic well-being is directly related to the choices they make about what to create, will do that. Every. Time.
I do that in my writing. I’m fortunate to have what amounts to an “open contract” with my publisher, to write what I want to write about, the way I want to write it – which comes from all the books having 4.5 stars at Amazon and places like Kirkus Reviews saying of one, “A Must Read.” But there’s an unspoken addition to that, so that in reality it’s like this: “Write what I want to write about, the way I want to write it – that the guys in the marketing department can see being a successful release.” Fortunately, aviation history is a wide-ranging field, and all of it interests me enough to be able to write something interesting about it. And it helps that now I have reviewers giving the Pacific War Quadrilogy compliments comparing me to Samuel Eliot Morrison, Herman Wouk, Shelby Foote, and J.R.R. Tolkien for maintaining an interesting tale over multiple volumes, and according to what a friend on Twitter (a place I will never go), showed me, there are a significant number of people who will now pick up a book because it has my name on it. A Very Nice Place To Be for anyone living by their creativity (and things like that are a strong mixed drink that should only be sipped by the thimbleful, infrequently).
However, when thinking of what to write, various bits of advice float through my head, number one being from my first agent, a guy who knew what was what, who told me “There will never be too many books on World War II during your lifetime.” Which means that, right now, there is a story I would like to tell that the marketing team all say interests them, but it’s “iffy,” soo….. (Yes, it’s not about World War II, Korea or Vietnam)
Fortunately, I also have in my mind a piece of advice from A Genuine Legend I was fortunate to meet and be able to learn from. “If you don’t give a shit about what you’re doing, why should anyone else?” That keeps me as close to my Original Reason for doing this as I can stay, while still being able to pay the bills.
I’ll repeat: Everybody. Living. By. Their. Creativity. Has. This. Problem.
As to solutions, here’s one from a guy in our hobby no longer with us, who everyone who was lucky enough to know him thought was a Very Cool Guy. It comes from what he once posted back on rec.models.scale, and is named in his honor The Al Superczynski Rule: “Make YOUR model the way YOU want it, and above all HAVE FUN.”
You’re good enough now, a master of the genre, that anything you do will be excellent because you can’t do less. And I am certain I speak for others when I say that any model you do is something I want to check out. I’ll bet any of those Monograms will look great once you’ve touched it.
And yes, competitions suck, and it’s always easy to spot the model made by the Pot Hunter on any model show table. The guys I know who do that all have dead-end lives outside the hobby, and they bring that dead-endedness to what they do in the hobby. I feel sorry for them. And I don’t go to shows and put anything in competition any more.
The fact you’re having this conversation with yourself is proof you’re as good as you are. A lesser talent wouldn’t think of it.
I want to see what you can do with that sad old Monogram T-28!
I have to agree too Spencer. Of course there’s nowt wrong with giving it your all, aiming higher every time and pushing yourself with new things but not for anyone other than you and your enjoyment of your hobbying.
I have three daughters and if they regularly spent forever worrying about what people think of them online I’d be concerned. I don’t think any differently in this situation.
I was fortunate enough to chance upon your builds as the first issue of MAI that I purchased was the one that you became editor on. In that 7 years, (through MAI, The Shed!, your books and latterly on “The Interesting Modelling Co”) your voice in the modelling world has been one which I have valued for its consistency.
In my opinion you have enough respect from the modelling community that you really don’t need to be chasing validation in relation to what you build. My interest is in what your take on a given subject is. Not what you think I might be looking to see. And with that I look forward to seeing your work and reading your articles through 2022.
P.S. As a subscriber to MAI, I do miss your hand at the helm. I understand that it has been a difficult period for the industry but for me, you had the ability to hit the spot with the variety of builds in every issue.
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I think the very words you have said are said by me at least once a week. Now, if I could ever get myself to live by them, things would be great and I would get more done. At age 76 I don’t have a lot of time to procrastinate, so I need to convince myself soon! Thank you for your thoughts.
I compete against myself. And I try to do something different with every build.
I got the impression the Verlinden Tribute side project probably you took some place away from the churning out articles and into a fun place. I enjoyed reading it side by side with The Verlinden Way books I have.
It’s a thought-provoking post. But I’m not sure I really understand it. And it comes across as quite gatekeeper-y, which I’m certain isn’t the intent.
When I stick a kit together and paint it, it’s certainly not for others’ reactions; rather, it’s for my own personal satisfaction. I only build a kit because I want that subject on my shelf. But I do want each one to be better in overall quality of finish than the last one.
I build for myself, and while I post in a couple of FB groups, the sheer number of (better) quality builds and (more) talented modellers means my stuff won’t get noticed anyway. I’m posting (on my own FB modelling page) to log each build and have a central aggregator for photos and such.
It’s for convenience and ease of use for me – I can transfer smartphone photos directly to my FB page without having to import them or do anything on my desktop computer.
But I certainly compete with myself. And I enjoy that. For each new model I’m either trying a new technique, or I’m trying to improve the cleanliness of my building, or improve my airbrushing, or get my decals down seamlessly, or do better weathering, or…
The list is endless. And it’s all fun for me! We all enjoy this wonderful hobby differently.
Is competing with oneself really that counterproductive?
Good points – very good incitful points. Give thanks to another author who provided the link to your article.