Back then, I couldn’t wait to get into airbrushing. It was the Holy Grail; the promised land; the one aspect of the modelmaking that seemed to tell others that I was serious about my hobby…
Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a Monogram F-105G, the latest in a series of builds for Brett Green and Model Airplane International, and another that is forming my Century Series collection of jets, made possible thanks to this classic range of 1/48 kits, recent builds including the F-101 and F-106.
This week my attention has been focused on the painting of the model and in particular, the airbrushing of that distinctive South East Asia camouflage that is allowing the recreation of a sharkmouthed ‘Wild Weasel’. With nostalgia being a rather heavy burden around the neck of most of my projects these days (which goes some way to explaining my desire to build six Monogram jets in a row, with all of the frustrations and challenges that that entails…) I suddenly became aware as work progressed, that this process and this jet, offered rather more than a simple project. It offered a window into the past. This combination had been part of my modelling journey many years ago as I set out on a path that would lead me to my Monogram build, and this rather rambling diatribe.
The year was 1983 and I was 15. Airfix had just released their 1/72 F-105F, a kit that I wanted to build back then, but have seldom seen anywhere else since its initial release (Airfix reworked the basic kit into an F-105G and then dropped the kit from the range; if memory serves, it has never reappeared). I remember it as being rather pleasing, but subsequent conversations might have convinced me that that impression was coloured through the lenses of some rose-tinted spectacles and that it was, as much of the kits were back then, simplified and perhaps less-than-accurate (that being so, why do I now want to buy another one of these kits and build it all over again?! Answers to that particular question on a postcard to…). Anyhoo. All of that may well be so, but it still forms an important part of my story. You see, this was the first aircraft that I ever attempted to airbrush camouflage onto. Yep, numero uno. This was the model that pointed me away from using either spray cans or paintbrushes, and into the realms of airbrushed finishes and the possibilities that they offered. Not to mention, frustration, curse words and the odd project that seemed designed to test the laws of velocity and impact, rather than one destined to impress and inspire (if only myself, as no-one else in those early days would ever see my work…thank God).
Back then, I couldn’t wait to get into airbrushing. It was the Holy Grail; the promised land; the one aspect of the modelmaking that seemed to tell others that I was serious about my hobby, not just playing at it like those modellers who only used old fashioned tools like a paintbrush. Of course all of those preconceptions were nonsense, but I’ll leave them in here for comedic effect. What do you mean it’s not funny? Look bud, I don’t make the rules…
Back to the story.
Heady aspirations were shall we say, curtailed, back in 1983, by the fact that my personal funds limited what I could buy and what I could subsequently use, a paper round, a few cars washed here and there and the overwhelming joy of working in a petrol station for 90p an hour, were not going to open the door to a world of high-end tools, so I had to make do and mend. Through a series of rather serendipitous events, I managed initially to obtain a basic Humbrol spray gun, that little plastic paint-chucker that offered plenty of oomph, but very little in the way of control.
You can still buy them, a cursory glance online showing that Amazon still sell these starter packs. Indeed, I found one in the loft during my recent clear-out, so might see if I can use it to paint something later this year, a car or motorcycle seeming like good ideas as this is being written. Still, it was a start.
Man, I keep going off at tangents!
With my spray-gun to hand (or airbrush, as I rather fancifully called it ‘back in the day’) and then coupled up to a small can of propellant (the sort that needed to be dropped into a bowl of warm water to keep its temperature and thus pressure, up) I could at last have a go at painting a model. I could, finally, create not only a smooth finish, but one that offered a degree of sophistication that my ragged collection of paintbrushes and paint-encrusted tinlets of Humbrol enamels, could not. Or could I? Time to find out…
And so I began.
Enamels were mixed with thinners ( at least I think I used thinners, it could well have been cheap white spirit during that period of modelling poverty) and away I went, paint being almost literally blasted over the model, a cloudy haze filling my bedroom as my eagerness to complete the task in hand, overwhelmed any consideration for my safety or indeed the safety of my family, as it drifted throughout the house like some malevolent cloud, intent on enveloping all living things within easy reach. I’m sure that my mum was not pleased, with the dog perhaps even less so, olfactory senses being utterly overwhelmed by the concentrated levels of Humbrol paint and thinners that filled the air throughout the house. Even today I can still smell that combination if I think about it long enough. Come to think of it, I can even taste it, which might not be something that I should perhaps have experienced!
Grey came first of course, followed by brown, light green and then the dark green that wrapped up the finish. Even then, I was aware that light colours should proceed those of a darker hue, only later to discover that that hard and fast rule, was anything but. Let us though stick to what I thought I knew back then and not shift time lines in an eager run towards an all-knowing, future me. Yeah, I know, you really don’t have to say it…
Airbrushing for instance seemed to be so impenetrable at times, with so many mistakes along the way, I look back now and wonder why I carried on, when I was destroying more work that I was completing.
I distinctly remember that feeling of achievement as the four colours found their way onto the surface of my never-to-be-completed F-105 in quick succession, the careful application of paint that defines my work with double-action brushes and carefully mixed colours in 2022, being little more than a distant aspiration yet to be fully realised. I cared not that the overspray could be measured in inches, or that the pattern was not accurate (actually the pattern on my new build is not entirely accurate either, but hey ho) all I focussed on was that I had finally airbrushed a model in camouflage and that it was the greatest thing that not only had I completed, but probably anyone else had finished as well. To me, everything was perfect goddamit and nothing and no-one was ever going to tell me otherwise!
Looking back, it was no-doubt, rather ragged in appearance with non of the sophistication that years of subsequent practice would help to create. That though mattered not one jot. I had made a start and that was enough to be going on with. I even went so far as to apply some decals to the model, so I must have been happy enough with my work to carry on with the project, if only to a point. The model, I know for a fact, was never finished. I really wish I’d kept it a as a memorial to ambition and my desire to walk slowly from a childhood building models, into a later period when a hobby was replaced by a career. But in the bin it went, flying off into landfill as many of the models that I built back then so often did…
That model remains though, a major milestone within my story. Without those initial, tentative steps, I would obviously not have had the confidence to carry on and then learn all I needed to in order to do what I do today. A few days ago, a friend asked how I got into building models, and though I gave an answer that perhaps I will discuss another time, I can’t really answer why I stuck with it for so long. Airbrushing for instance seemed to be so impenetrable at times, with so many mistakes along the way, I look back now and wonder why I carried on, when I was destroying more work that I was completing. My dream of perfection, that oft-desired goal that we all have, but seldom achieve, pushed me on, of that there is no doubt. But even today, as I build models for work, I still make mistakes; still create finishes that don’t look the way I want them to; still have doubts that I can do what I need; still end up with models that I dislike to a point where they too will end up in landfill, rather than a glass-fronted display case.
So I’ll go back to my new F-105 with the memory of that ancient project burning bright. I guess like many things that we attribute to fate rather than simple coincidence, my build today might not have been possible without my tentative steps on the Airfix kit in 1983, but then again, I may simply have used something else and still reached the same point. I like it though that during the quieter moments of my day I can look back and join the dots like this, even it now means that I’m going to waste time trying to get another one of those ancient kits to see if memory really has dimmed its quality, as the years have passed inexorably by. Ebay you say? There’s one on there! Damn…
See you next time.
Before I Go!
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