Does Box Art really sell kits?
This seems to be one of those logical things we all believe. In my personal experience, I have only bought one kit because of the box art and that was a long time ago. I am much more likely to buy a kit based on the contents of the box (the subject matter) or the reputation of the manufacturer (the quality of the kit). I’m not sure whether box art sells the model kit itself or whether the box art sells the whole hobby ‘build experience’ that starts with a historical depiction of the prototype and ends with the satisfaction of a completed model.
In any case I believe box art is an expected component of scale model kit buying. Thinking about it logically, placing an image on a product would be done to boost consumer interest, to make the product stand out against its competition and possibly to help with the manufacturers ‘brand’. In the case of box art it serves a practical packaging purpose as well.
What I find interesting is that the ‘Art’ in Box Art has changed over time and has generally reflected the era in which the model kit was designed and released. With a few exceptions, a novice modeler can pick up a model and know, just from the box art, whether the model kit is old or new. A modeler with a few years of experience will be able to tell what ‘era’ the kit is from just by looking at the box art.
I think it is an enjoyable part of the hobby for many of us: To see how box art has evolved to meet the desires of the target audience. Just look at some of the old Airfix, Monogram and Tamiya boxes through the years.
Of course there are exceptions. Some model companies recycle box art with updated graphics. Some companies re-box decades old models within a modern package complete with wonderful digital box art.
Other makers simply took photographs of a completed model – although I believe there was an era where this might have been done to avoid consumer protection complaints and/or misleading advertising claims. If it were up to me, I’d have the art on the box top with some nice clean close up photographs of the completed model on the sides of the box.
There have been books written on Box Art and there have been museum and gallery exhibits featuring model kit box art. Relevant to what I am doing on ModelAirplaneMaker, there are several great blogs and blog posts dedicated or related to Box Art:
Some of my favorite box art
As we all know, art is subjective and what makes an impact on or inspires one person may be a solid ‘meh’ to someone else. So it is pretty much impossible to assemble a definitive ‘best box art’ gallery. Instead, I’ll provide some examples of box art that stood out to me and attempt to explain why.
Monogram 1/48 F-4J ‘Showtime 100’
I can still remember the first box art that made an impression on me and the only time it got me to buy a kit. It was the Monogram F-4J in 48th scale featuring the Showtime 100 marking of VF-96. I thought that art work on the box was incredible. From this angle we see the Phantom at its most menacing:
Yes, I bought that kit way back in Grade 7 with my saved up allowance money and some snow shovel earnings I made along the way. It did not turn out half as good as the box art but I have no regrets and I still think of this as my favorite Phantom.
Hasegawa 1/48 Macchi C.202
There is a lot going on in this picture. We have a scene in North Africa featuring some RAF Bostons and what looks to be an injured P-40. This Shigeo Koike over-the-shoulder view is not very common on box art but it is effective:
It works on a number of levels: It might be from that Italian pilot’s perspective and diving in on those Bostons or maybe one can look at it as the RAF wing man’s perspective and coming in to save that P-40. Otherwise it is an excellent painting with wonderful color, shading and the detail on the Folgore itself. At least, it works on me. I say this because the model is of a subject/era/theater that I have little interest in building. I’ve never bought this kit but I think this is probably my favorite box art picture.
Hasegawa 1/48 Ki-44-II Tojo
This is one of a pile of different box tops of the Tojo by Hasegawa, but in my mind it is the best. It was also done by Shigeo Koike:
Whether the Tojo was the ultimate high level interceptor or not is beside the point. It looks like a silver rocket with its huge engine and stubby wings. In this pose we have the Tojo on an intercept mission, wonderful orangy-purpleish-pink dusk colors, unusual ‘lighting’ coming from underneath the aircraft, and deadly B-29s droning in the background. The detail on the Tojo is fantastic. I think it stands out to me because of the colors. It is a striking and unique piece of box art.
Let’s Hear From a Box Art Artist: Jerry Boucher
Of course, these examples are just opinions and they are hardly educated. I just build kits and occasionally keep the odd lid once I am done. However, though the comments section of one of my Instagram posts, I met Jerry Boucher. After exchanging some messages, he wrote that he did the box art on the Zoukei-Mura Nick I was just finished building. Not only that, Jerry’s work has been featured on many other kit boxes including Pacific Coast Models, Sword, Hobby Boss, Classic Airframes and Hobbycraft as well as on aviation related reference books. You can see his work at his website: The Virtual Aircraft Website.
I was very fortunate to meet this successful box art artist and after we exchanged a few emails about his work, Jerry was kind enough to assist me in making this blog entry and provide some insight into the making of box art from the artist’s perspective.
MAM: I’d love to get a sense about what it is all about to be on the production side. How you got into this business. Were you a modeler who had a talent for drawing or were you a drawer who found a calling for box art? And if either of those are the case, does one submit art to various manufacturers or are you discovered?
MAM: Do you have any inspirations? Were there other cover artists or box art that got you into this line of work or that have influenced your art?
MAM: What tools do you use; do you have hard deadlines? Are you given ‘suggestions’ or do you have complete freedom? Do you pick and choose which models to do? What is the acceptance process like at a model company?
MAM: What box art examples do you like? Why do you like them? What do you try to do when you do box art?
MAM: Is there anything I’d be surprised to know about the whole production side of models or working with model companies?
I definitely learned a lot doing this article and I had a great time looking at box art. I know what I like but I am sure others have their preferences as well. So I’d like to hear about them. What do you like on the box top? Do you have some favorites you’d like to talk about? Is there a style or era that you prefer? Have you ever bought a kit based only on the Box Art – and why?
A special thanks to Jerry Boucher to help make this article happen. I recommend going to his website and looking at the art. I especially like the Dewoitine D520, the FW190 that is flying low over a field, and of course the Hellcat and the rest of the Pacific Theatre subjects!