No matter what your intentions are, no matter how much you promise you will never become one of “those guys”; At some point you end up with a shelf queen. For those who are lucky enough (or deluded enough) to not know what a shelf queen is, the term is a derivative of “Hangar Queen” in real world aviation circles. This is a model that was once loved – enough to get started – but somewhere along the line the love was lost and the model was put aside for something new.
Whether you shelf the kit with a sad sigh or place it carefully on the shelf of doom with plenty of good intentions, this kit is not going to be finished anytime soon. The shelf queen is not a write off. Its not a useless kit with missing parts. Its not going in the garbage. But just, for whatever reason, that model is in a state of semi-permanent build limbo.
Sometimes “those guys” have more than one shelf queen languishing on a sagging shelf. Staring at down at the builder as he or she happily working on a new kit. The love can be lost early in the build: like when things just are not fitting right or when a corner was cut or when a step was missed. Maybe some point after the construction was done the builder got a hankerin’ for something new to build… just to “switch things up” and then get back to the old model.
Yeah… that was 4 builds ago.
Or, like a few I’ve known, the kit is humming along perfectly until the few steps and the finish is ruined because the decals didn’t go down right or some paint peeled. The model is still good but you just can’t be bothered to strip it and start all over again.
So it sits…
And it never just stops at one does it? Once the seal is broken – it can be hard to stop.
Sometimes a model buddy asks about a shelf queen. Oh man, doesn’t that hit hard? “Hey, weren’t you building that awesome expensive large scale kit that was all the rave in 2013? You done that one yet?”:
For whatever reason, my shelf queens bug me. I don’t know why. They are just plastic and my number of completed vs started kits will never be a published stat; My completion rate won’t be used to judge me. Certainly not by my fellow builders.
I guess its an inner need to complete what I have started coupled with never giving up or giving in. These things are very important professionally. But in a hobby? Maybe its just better to let things go and focus on builds that make me happy. This is supposed to be fun, right?
So here is what I did.
Looking at the shelf queens I accumulated made me rethink keeping a few of the models in my stash. Some might relish an excruciatingly difficult build with tedious re-scribing, a tube or two of putty and wetsanding for days; I don’t think those builds are for me. That has led me to sell off a few kits from the stash as I will never get to them.
As well, I made an effort to improve my productivity (which I believe is directly related to how cluttered my model workshop can become). I decided to rearrange things, throw things out, give things away and generally de-clutter. This included the shelf queens because, not only are they an eyesore, they take up a lot of room! Some of the shelf queens were sent off to the great display case in the sky. Some got completed.
To rekindle my interest in these builds, I decided to practice some new techniques and/or products on them. So not only did they get done – I was enthusiastic to try new things without the worry of trashing a more loved build.
1/48 Tamiya FAA Corsair Mk2
While I was initially very happy with the cockpit, clipped wings and base paint on this Corsair, the aftermarket decals REALLY let me down. I removed the roundels and this build got stuck as I looked for alternatives. I then attempted to paint on the markings. I was still unhappy with the result but I learned from using masks for complex markings and it got finished.
1/48 Meng P-51D Mustang
I really looked forward to building this model and trying out Tamiya’s Spray silver as a base coat. The decals were so-so – some really conformed while others did not. So it got shelved. Kit decals are such a crap shoot and I hate being so close to the finish only to be so disappointed in the result. I did not have the stomach to strip and redo so to complete this one I decided to try some new ammo washes for the panel lines and some new (for me anyway) satin varnish for the finish. I am glad I did.
1/48 Tamiya N1K1 Rex
This sad old thing has spent the better part of its life languishing on multiple shelves. I bought it already started from a modeler. He quickly shelved it after buying it off the shelf of a modeler who had first started it! I initially had this one painted but I messed up the paint and tried to cover it with decals that wouldn’t set. Never attempt to make a good landing after a crappy approach.
To complete this one I got inspired by a model I saw at the 2018 Nationals. I stripped mine and practiced my black base/marbling painting technique and painted on the markings. I did more ammo washes and I love how this one turned out.
At the time of my writing this I am almost done my 4th Shelf Queen in a row. And that one got the same paint treatment as the Rex (although a bit more refined) as well as ammo wash.
So that leaves me with one. One large looming one. One large looming one that needs a ton of tedious work to get right. But yes, I will get back to it….. someday….
You know how it goes: if I can do it, so can you. So get going – try something new in finishing an old build and get that shelf queen finished and in the display case. If you have any other kit completion strategies let me know in the comments. I’d also like to hear about any shelf queens you are going to finish soon.
My shelf queens generally fall into two categories:
1) Models I lose interest in through no fault of the kit. Assembly has gone well. I simply got lured away by a newer, sexier kit.
2) Models that annoy me because they don’t go together well and I get fed up with the total lack of progress.
The ones I lose interest in through no fault of the kit go back in the box without any guilt because I know that at some point in the future (generally 6 mths to two years) I will:
1) Rediscover the box in my stash, realize how much of the work is done and thus rekindle my interest.
2) See the same kit really well done at a show or in a magazine which leads me to dig out my languishing kit and finish it in a similar manner.
On numerous occasions when I’ve rediscovered kits that were returned to their box because they annoyed me, I find that what I once considered an unfix-able blemish or insurmountable problem isn’t as bad as I had initially thought and I proceed to finish the kit.
Ones that don’t fall into the above categories get:
1) Given away to someone who wants it ( a younger modeller if possible)
2) Scavenged for parts
3) Tossed into the garbage unceremoniously. (Sometimes after being Mexican Hat danced,)
I generally don’t get too worried about my shelf queens. I usually get back to them at some point. And if I don’t, I don’t really care. I’m gonna die with a lot of unbuilt models anyway!
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Good points! Definitely agree about contest or magazine article inspiration leading back to an unfinished build. And to your point about the hat dance – I’ve seen it happen!
I pondered your sage words long and longer. While you make many insightful points, it just doesn’t explain the vast expanse of partly or nearly fully completed kits on my shelf, now my version of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.
Then it hit me … the problem, of course, isn’t the models, it is me. I AM THE SHELF QUEEN!
It is liberating to realize this, and I’d say it out loud, but … well, it just would not sound right to almost anyone who would hear it. I don’t need anymore misunderstanding!
Perhaps a better way of putting it is: I am a shelf dilettante, or more simply and truthfully, I’m a modeling sloth. Or piker? Slacker? Shirker? Laggard? Loafer? You get it.
My greatest fear is my voluminous pile of models will morph, unseen, from kits I want to build (every last one of them, if I live into the 22nd century) into a “collection.” It only follows that I’d then become a “collector.”
Perish the thought. I’d rather be a cat lady.
Great blog, keep up the great writing and, it goes without saying, sublime model building.
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I’m having some disturbing imagery involving you sitting atop your shelf in a little pixie costume with a wand. You’ve got too many on the go! Haha..
Three months back in the hobby my stats are; four models started, two complete, one in progress and one shelf queen. 25% failure rate… The shelf queen is an example of a balls-up kit that I can’t find a way to undo my own ineptness. One day I’ll figure something to do with it!
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I have returned to a shelf queen when I got the skills needed to finish it. It was a combination of skills/tools actually. Sometimes just thinking about a problem for a while will help you come up with a creative way of solving it.