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Just how good is your eyesight and how is it impacting on your modelmaking? Maybe your techniques are fine, it's your vision that's letting you down...

No longer was I struggling to see detail, no longer was I painting a face on a figure that was no more that 54 mm tall no matter how close I held it, this was a large-scale image that I could see, feel and then paint accurately.

There’s nothing much to recommend getting old. You creak in the morning, your tolerance for idiots is often overwhelming and those tasks that seemed easy when you were younger, are all the more difficult as your gums recede and your bath chair awaits.

One of the most annoying reveals that you are getting on in years, if not maturity, is the degradation of your sight, 20/20 vision replaced with glasses, objects held closer as diminishing vision contorts faces into squints that reveal failings we all suffer to a greater, or lesser degree. My vision is no different and although my distance vision borders on perfect, my ability to see anything within two feet of my face, is nothing less than shocking.

Of course as a modelmaker, this can be a disaster. I’ve been a glasses wearer for decades now, but post-50, I found that my eyesight fell of a cliff and whereas I used to be able to see objects I was working on without always wearing my specs, these days that is but a distant and frankly fading, memory. Glasses are worn all the time and even with them on, I still can’t see what I need to see in order to assemble neatly and paint cleanly.

This has had a really negative impact on my work. Although the general standard of my models has in the main improved, my painting, especially the finishing of smaller details and figures, has become progressively worse. When it comes to the areas that I need to capture close-in, I have noticed a distinct degradation in the finesse that I was able to capture 10 years ago, with the advent of hi-res digital cameras making that decline become all the more apparent. My techniques aren’t off: my eyesight is. You can be the most skilled practitioner on the planet, but if you cannot see what you are working on, it won’t matter, your work will always be second-best and the areas that you want – maybe even need – to be perfect, won’t even be close.

As you might imagine, my desire to improve is ever-present. Being in the public eye as I am – albeit in a very small way, I not flippin’ Ed Sheehan! – I need to ensure that anyone who chooses to look at what I do, is seeing something that they have not seen before. It won’t always be like that. I will after all complete a final model at some point, but whilst I can build and paint to a reasonable standard, I want the models to reflect my desire for improvement, no matter how small. When that is shown to not be the case and results are going backwards rather than moving on through incremental steps in quality, something has to change.

Over the years I’ve resisted the idea of additional help, headband magnifiers being the domain of older modellers, a group in which I steadfastly refuse to belong to, despite being absolutely, no spring chicken. So, this week, when things came to a rather humiliating, poorly-painted, head, I bit the bullet and asked the question over on my book of faces: what do you guys use to magnify your work and what would you recommend I buy to help things along? I was looking for personal experience and specific items to look at and that’s what I got.

As I am writing this, I’m waiting in for a parcel to arrive, one that will contain an Optivisor. This seemed to be the most popular choice, which many modellers telling me how it helped with their work. One of my friends, Gordon Ferguson, contacted me to offer to send over a spare one that he had, which arrived yesterday. It was the first time that I had worn one of these and though it felt comfortable, the 3.5x magnification was a little too much and I found that I had to hold the models really close to see what I was doing. The results that were possible from this additional magnification were though, nothing short of amazing! Last night, with a few hours to spare, I painted the face of an old figure and was immediately struck by how much more I could see and thus how much more I could paint. No longer was I struggling to see detail, no longer was I painting a face on a figure that was no more that 54 mm tall no matter how close I held it, this was a large-scale image that I could see, feel and then paint accurately. It felt like a game-changer, one that will perhaps work away the frustrations that I have with figures where it’s not my techniques that are letting me down, but my ability to actually see the model that I’m working on!

So my parcel is on its way, this time an Optivisor with a 2x magnification that was recommended by most of my friends on Facebook. When it arrives and I try it out, I’ll bring you the results on here, with hopefully something that I’ve painted along the way. I still hope to carry on working with the one that Gordon sent me (to whom I’m very grateful for the loan!) as that will give me another layer of detail to see. It will all be about getting used to a new tool and how that can be used to improve what I am currently building and painting. Time will tell if that is a successful path to take!

See you next time.

Before I Go!

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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!

9 comments on “LET’S SEE, SHALL WE..?

  1. Andy King

    I tried a similar device a few years ago but although the magnification was good, it of course magnified the paint brush. Although my eyesight is degrading slowly I am short-sighted so don’t need an Optivisor (yet).
    I’m glad it works for you though!


  2. Wayne Starick

    Oh dear, but as a 70+ modeller I need all the help I can get so I sympathise with you!


  3. phill prisk

    I am approaching 60 in a year and to be fair my eyes sight isn’t too bad. Yes I have glasses but don’t rent to wear them except for driving . I can read books no problem but threading a needle is more of a challenge. I had craft lights with built in m magnifiers but for me these were useless as I struggled to keep things in focus. Then I remembered I had won a set of magnifiers in a raffle at a model show. I dug them out and they have been a revelation. My modelling has improved so much and it has prompted me to use photo etch and to try scratch building. Suddenly new areas of the hobby have opened up. I am taking cheaper kits like the Revell F-4U which I have scratch built a cockpit and wing folds for and my riveting tools are no longer gathering dust. At the moment am wiring the engine bay of a 1/24 Harrier but don’t worry your famous two seat conversion isn’t under threat from my meagre offering. The magnifiers have increased my enjoyment of the hobby a million times over 👍🙂


  4. Welcome to my world – I typed out a reply and the bleepin’ site deleted it, so I’ll leave it at that…..


    • On the other hand, growing older is not so bad when you consider the alternative:-). In my case, natural eye damage and the resulting treatment left me with double vision, so I never know where or when the paint brush will touch the model part I’m trying to paint…..so my model painting has become rather impressionistic. I still build – wouldn’t you know the hands are rock-steady at 81, and my mother died at 99 – but I really can’t see a bloody thing. I even got glasses to allow my eyes to focus at the same point (they do not normally), The Optivisor is a godsend for sure, but you have a LOT of company, so don’t sweat it – just enjoy being able to see the smaller details; it’s a lot more fun…..


  5. I’ve worn glasses since the age of 6, and I’ve used an Optivisor for over 15 years. I turn 63 in 5 days. You’re right: aging doesn’t have much to recommend it. But at least I can afford any kit I want these days…🤡

    Hang in there!


  6. Look at it this way, Spence – you are only as old as you feel….. I used to say that middle age begins at 86 – now that I am 81, I’ve moved that back to 92, and may move it again should circumstances warrant…..:-)


  7. Scott Huber

    I own Tamiya magnifiers and opti visors, however I am very near sited with no line bifocals, sometimes the best answer I am finding is to just take my glasses off and get in close with my naked eyes.


    • Andrew Tomlinson

      Despite excellent varifocals, I now remove them for close-up work. Annoying but at least I can see !


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