Editorial Comment Thought for the day...


As your hobby develops, how do you practise new skills..?

Maybe the conclusion that I can draw from this stream of consciousness, written as my lunch goes down, is that all of these years I have been practicing, but as with Ian Paice, that practice has been done on the job.

Every day, like many around the world I like to split work up so that I can stop for a lunch break. During that short period of downtime, I tend to sit at the dining room table, turn on my laptop and watch YouTube videos, mostly ones that concern themselves with video games, aircraft and drumming. Today, whilst eating a heady combination of tinned chicken noodle soup accompanied by some Jacobs Crackers and cheese (yeah, I know…) I settled down to watch another drumming video, this time created by the great, Ian Paice. Entitled “My Practice Routine” the video takes us through just that and how these days he really doesn’t practice at all, all of his chops being learned and honed from time on the road. And that got me thinking: when was the last time I practiced my art of building models? The answer? Decades ago, if ever…

Here’s the thing: I never practise building models. In fact, I never do anything that is not specifically for a reason and that reason is always a completed miniature. 

And then I started to ponder the idea of moments taken to learn new things, short periods of time working on tiny projects that can be drawn together to create a much bigger picture on more important, actual projects. I came to the conclusion that I’ve never really done any of those things. You see, from day one, 45 years ago, all of my models have really been something that I’ve wanted to complete and time and money, was always precious to me, so the idea that I would spend chunks of both rehearsing techniques that would not result in a finished model, was, if not entirely a conscious decision, certainly a sub-conscious consideration on the path to miniature glory. 

Now, having pondered this rather illuminating conclusion for the last few minutes, it occurred to me this may not have been the correct approach and that if I had taken the time to learn new skills and techniques away from actual builds, those that went catastrophically wrong when an idea went sideways, might have been cut down somewhat! Over the years, there have been hundreds of models that have fallen by the wayside, ending up in the rubbish bin of my own personal history, not because they were difficult, not because they were in any way different from the norm, but because I had attempted an idea on one of them that simply didn’t work because my desire to try something new – perhaps beyond me at the time – outweighed my desire to use something else to test ideas on. Oh it will be fine: just plough on regardless! Sometimes I hit paydirt; oftentimes, I simply hit a brick wall, closely followed by the model in question…

These days, I really don’t feel the need to practise per se, but there are areas that I need to improve upon (my constant battle with figure painting being just one) so maybe I really should. With a bedrock of techniques at my finger tips, incremental improvements can be made as actual projects, either commissioned, or for work in print, are completed. Ideas can easily work their way in without a need to spend time that I don’t have on builds that serve no useful purpose, other than as assembly or painting mules. But that hasn’t always been the case. As an aspiring builder, I’m sure that I could have done with time to practise and that would certainly have helped me to develop more quickly. The issue there though was one of ego: I simply couldn’t accept that I wasn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, even though that was patently not the case and my models, that extension of my soul, were anything more than bang average. When time could have usefully been spent in the practice room, I was far too keen to show off my chops, even if they were lacking and it took some time before I parked that nonsense, slowed down and learned to walk before I could run. Mostly.

Maybe the conclusion that I can draw from this stream of consciousness, written as my lunch goes down, is that during all of these years I have been practicing, but as with Ian Paice, that has been done on the job. My skills have been honed, much like anyone else that does a job and then doesn’t take it home to further improve what they do, as the workday has progressed. It may well not have been the most sensible approach to learning the skills needed, but in the main, it has served me well, even if I have tripped over my laces more often than I would have liked on the path to glory. I think I’m too old to change direction now, so I’ll continue to build models to completion and see where each journey takes me. Who knows, I may still learn new tricks along the way!  

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!


  1. baker24earthlinknet

    An excellent post. I have never really practiced much either, and I have the antediluvian modeling procedures to prove it – I have always said that I am an Amish Luddite, and am shocked that I own two 3D printers (perhaps I will even learn how to use them…..). I have started many projects, and have trashed only a small handful. I tend to persevere until I finish, though my finishing techniques pre-date Francois Verlinden…. My eyes have been bad for years due to retinal damage so I have generally put off painting, as detail painting is a real chore. But now in my early 80s I’ve decided to work on this and hope to use some of the shelf queens. I will “practice”, yes, but I will probably complete all the models I start. Since I mostly write historical articles for MMI these days and play with the dogs, modeling has become a pastime, and sometimes time passes without much modeling, so I have much to learn and use, including those 3D printers…..


  2. maykingminiatures

    Interesting and insightful read. As you and I’m sure most I have really never practiced on a kit either. I usually just go for it and see what happens. This has led to some great things and some really bad things. But, learning is learning for me. I guess it’s more on the job training then practice.


  3. peter marsh

    Risky to contradict an internationally-known journalist like yourself, however the verb is ‘practise’, and the noun is ‘practice’.


    • Hah – that’ll teach me to write anything over lunch! I will of course correct the text – now, if anyone can confirm if it is Practice Makes Perfect, or Practise Makes Perfect, that’d be great. As for internationally known journalist, do you mean, internationally known hack?


    • kfutter

      That’s not quite the complete story, Peter: “In Australian and British English, ‘practise’ is the verb and ‘practice’ is the noun. In American English, ‘practice’ is both the verb and the noun.”


  4. I do use a paint mule to practice painting techniques, using new paints, and ensuring the airbrush will wok properly before committing to the model. Otherwise I agree, I learn as I build.


  5. tcinla

    As usual, good thoughtful insights Spencer. Surprise surprise – speaking from experience – the ability to see and notice all this comes with age (as my father once put it, “Too soon we get old and too late we get smart”).

    I have found with most of my creative projects, be they models, books or photographs, that I don’t practice per se, but I often find at the end that it was practice. But one thing I know is, when I finish something and don’t have either one (or both) of the following feelings about it, I missed something along the way. Those are “Well, that one worked” or (during the project) “that solved it.” With your insight, it’s clear to me that those are what one says after practice on something.

    As a guy I considered was a “master” (in writing) once said: “If you didn’t learn something each time you do something, you’re not really working.”


  6. Pascal

    I have great respect for people who actually finish their kits 🙂
    We can say that, in the long term, practicing finish, is the way to go. Especially knowing the price of figurines !
    Happy new year


  7. I do not practice in the sense that I do training/exercises for modelling. But I do build skills by choosing a path from easy/smaller projects to difficult/larger projects. For instance I did a few vignettes before making me first diorama. And I did simple resin casting (a gunpod) before doing more complicated shapes.
    Or I do experimental builds, sci do or what ifs, with a more relaxed approach to accuracy. I recently did a Star Wars build to try out a few weathering and chipping techniques. Some worked, some failed but afterwards I did have a nice Star Wars model.


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