Using systems to learn the hobby is nothing new and frankly, if it gets people to sit at their desks and stick bits of plastic together and paint the results, it matters not one jot why they do it, just that they are.
Several weeks ago – or so it seems! – I wrote an essay for this website entitled “Stop Competing With Yourself” which can read once more, here. In that piece I discussed how sometimes we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to the assessment of our own work, especially when a completed project is then put up for attention online, where affirmation can often take the place of personal fulfilment.
Over the last week or so, I’ve had plenty of feedback on those words, the basic tenet of the argument seemingly striking a chord with most modellers. Last night during the New Year’s Eve celebrations – that in our house were curtailed by my positive COVID test and subsequent isolation – I came across a Facebook post written by a good friend of mine that perhaps added to the conversation, in a way that I’d not considered when the original article was written. In his post, the gentleman concerned opined the idea that he was somehow missing out by being unlikely to reach the heights of a particularly well-known modeller, no matter how many of that chap’s videos he spent his time watching. What made the comment hit home was the simple fact that the modeller in question is not only talented, but had already hit heights that others can only aspire to. So why does he feel this way and do others have similar reservations about their own work?
Modelling in the 21st Century is certainly far-removed from that that I remember when I was an aspiring builder learning the ropes at the end of the 70s and on into the 80s and beyond. There is now so much information out there, websites, forums, blogs (who reads those?!) and videos, that you are literally overwhelmed by the information that is now at your fingertips. Though I would argue that that is a good thing (after all no-one has ever said that too much information is a bad thing) sometimes it is easy to conflate aspiration, with the need to actually become the modeller or modellers that you instinctively admire. And when you spend your time trying to do that and in your own head you fail, that can become a millstone around your neck that’s very difficult to untangle oneself from.
Over the years I’ve been inspired by dozens of modellers, talented individuals that have guided my work and made me who I am today – and no, that doesn’t mean a cantankerous, ill-tempered, impatient, adult! My first and most abiding influence is obviously François Verlinden, a modeller whose work I aped for some time. Indeed, last year that influence manifested itself in the ‘Legacy Collection’ when I not only built models that were inspired by his, but in a number of cases, were almost direct copies. But, and here’s the important point: though that formed the bedrock of my modelling, my own work over the years allowed me to develop other ideas, other techniques and other systems. These have combined to allow me to build models that I think – perhaps hope – are now very much my own in terms of appearance and style.
Copying other people’s models is easy these days, but I would argue that it is ultimately self-defeating and in many ways, shows a lack of understanding of those being mirrored. I can say with some conviction that the best modellers in the world (whatever that means in a subjective medium such as ours…) have spent years developing their own style and though, cuckoo-like, they will have been inspired by others, those ideas will only be an ingredient to use in meals that they come up with, try, and then file way for another day when need arises. What they haven’t done is sat down and actively decided to copy another’s work. Why? Because these people see their work as an extension of their own artistic desires and their models are a way of expressing what they want to reveal about themselves and the way they view the world.
I can only speak from personal experience, but my models tend to be on the subtle side in the main, where weathering effects are only visible from short distances rather than far away. I’ve tried to paint with a broader brush, using heightening accents, highlights and shadows, but no matter what I do, my mind doesn’t work that way. I return to the start with ‘effects’ that capture in miniature what I feel I see in reality. At no point do I think that mine is the only approach to follow because I really love other modellers that do things differently. It’s just the way that my brain and hands connect when models are in front on me and painting begins in earnest. What I hope this means is that my models can be recognised – much like others – within collections, without my name being near them and that reduces the chances of hearing the comment that one of my models looks like that ‘built by someone else’ to an absolute minimum. It’s not about ego, not about that nonsense ‘who’s best’ argument, it’s simply about being able to plough my own furrow and being distinctive as a result. I simply want my models to look they have been built by me and not by someone else…
The other aspect of 21st Century modelling that impacts on this, is the rise of modelling companies that offer complete systems of paints and finishing products and then use modellers to show how those products are used. Now, before I begin, I should say that I have absolutely nothing against such things and indeed, use many throughout my own projects! This is a discussion in the round rather than pointed finger in the direction of something that might be unintentionally seen as a negative aspect of the hobby. Anyway, shall I move on!
These products are wonderful and have certainly revolutionised what is possible on the surfaces of the model kits that we build. Where I feel that modellers can sometimes be held back in their path to creating their own style, is that it is easy to slavishly follow the systems that they see demonstrated, either online, in magazines, or in person at shows. That can often create a ‘painting by numbers’ culture that infuses the workrooms of those keen to learn, but then doesn’t allow flexibility to deviate from this prescribed processes when need arises, or products are no longer available. Parroting steps within a system might help you initially, but where are you going to go when you want to build something that’s not offered as a guided path, A to Z? Young children might be able to recite 1 – 10, but they will not necessarily understand what those individual numbers mean. What this does in modelling terms, is create a whole host of modellers who are building models that look virtually identical in colour, finish and style and when you add into the mix the inspiration that is driven from seeing well-built kits in front of you that you might want to have a go at, there is the very real risk that modellers are no longer building miniatures of real subjects, but models of other people’s models.
Using systems to learn the hobby is nothing new and frankly, if it gets people to sit at their desks and stick bits of plastic together and paint the results, it matters not one jot why they do it, just that they are. The modern world is a busy place with pressures that seem to grow and grow, so if there is a way to help individuals gain more satisfaction from what they do, in the limited time that they have to do it, I am not going to stand in their way. That said, I do feel that it is important once in a while to consider that one of the great things about any art form, is that it is driven by the uniqueness of the individual that is taking part. Great art (art being a term used loosely in this case, for fear of overblowing what I do!) is not created by slavishly copying others, but by finding something that will set your work apart from others, even if that step is but a little one. There is no doubt that my love of François Verlinden’s work 40 years after I first saw it, still percolates through many of my builds but his early systems ‘The Verlinden Way’, have developed over the years into the style that you see today. I love what he did and how he did it, but I don’t want to be him.
We all find our way through this hobby and all learn from others. It’s now such a broad church that it’s difficult to even define genres within the hobby. Hopefully, this little stream of consciousness will go some way to helping you walk your own personal path and along the way, allow you to see it’s possible be your own person, with your own style and find a place in the world of modelmaking, without feeling you need to stand in the shadows of others.
See you again, soon.
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