Are we builders or finishers?

I have to admit: this post has been one of the harder ones to write (and to find images for).  The content is not controversial but I am trying to make a comparison which is difficult to support with data.  That said, in no way is this post meant to be a declaration of a ‘correct’ way to enjoy this hobby or a criticism of how someone might want to pursue it.

This is purely an observation and it was instigated by something Model Buddy Ian said while we were Zoom building during lockdown.  Of course, when modelers get together there can be a lot of opinions flying around.  We were discussing that the focus these days seems to be in finishing and weathering models and there is less emphasis on the construction side of things.

The more I thought about it, the more it started making sense.

Back in the day….

Let’s step back for a second.  I picked up my first model in the early 80s.  Back then scale models, even the more expensive ones, were not as refined as what we see today.  The engineering was limited and modelers had to either accept or correct gaps, warped parts, steps and misaligned parts.

To get anything close to a decent result, these models required elastics, clamps, putty, bondo, acetone, rasps and various grades of sandpaper.  In some cases, prayers to higher beings were required and even then, well, there were a lot of model airplanes lost in action.

The focus in the hobby at the time was very much about construction techniques to overcome the challenges in actually getting these models together.  These techniques involved fixing the warps with boiling water, clamping the wing roots to the fuselage, filing down the trailing edges of the flying surfaces and wet sanding a pound of dry putty. All done with the modest goal of making a model without gaps and steps.

V1
Just needs a half day of elbow grease and she’ll be fine

But then, if you didn’t plan ahead or you were not careful during construction, you were likely looking at a model with alignment issues:  Were all wheels touching the ground?  Were the wings level? Was the rudder leaning to the side? Was the landing gear wonky?

Having a ‘keeper’ at the end of the build was all about completing a model without gaps, with level wings, with landing gear that was true and to somehow preserve or rebuild panel lines.

My friends, that was hard to do.

Back before the internet we modelers turned to magazines and books to seek out solutions to these build challenges.  I can recall articles on making construction jigs, tips on how to align the various parts of the model, how to fill gaps and not lose detail, and on and on.  I pulled out a few of my favourite Finescale Modeler issues from the 1980s just to look back to these fun times. The December 1989 issue includes the following articles devoted to construction:

  • IJN Shinano in the Showcase (Awesome model with scratch-built components)
  • A conversion of a Stuart into an anti-aircraft tank
  • Soldering metal parts
  • Modeling a B-17
  • Building a cast metal figure
  • Converting an Orion to an Electra

The closest thing to a ‘finishing’ piece was one about how to prepare (clean) the model for paint.  I think I can safely say that modelers who came up during these times had a focus on construction.  And it could be they still are of the view that model construction is an important element, if not the most important element of model building.

Kits Got Better & The “build part” is faster

As we all know, with a few exceptions, newer kits are better kits.  Not just in the surface detail or the rendering of almost prefect reproductions of every knob and switch in the cockpit.  I am talking about the quality, specifically the engineering of these model kits.  This aspect has drastically improved over the kits of 30+ years ago.

Improved kit engineering has changed everything.  Those wonderful new releases from Tamiya (Spitfire, 109, Lightning and the Tony) make it almost impossible to not have a perfectly aligned and level model without much fuss at all.

What was remarkable about the Fine Molds Babs was when I set up my square to see where the adjustments would be needed to get alignment of the wings to the rudder and to check the level of the wings and tail planes, everything was perfectly aligned and level.  Nothing more was needed except to simply follow the paint and decal directions.

As well, how often do we read in a review about how fast the model ‘fell together’ and that no filler was required?  Some builders are quick to point out when their build of a newer kit required “no putty or filler or anything!” and were surprised the build part was over so quickly.

With a few notable exceptions, these new kits are miles better and easier to build to a “well constructed” standard.  So, this ‘trend’ is away from a construction focus and towards a finishing focus makes complete sense.  I know there are a whole bunch of builders who believe the ‘fun’ starts as soon as the primer is dry and the painting can begin.  Actually, I often feel this way too.

I have even heard some builders mention that the model construction part is tedious and a real chore.  Some have gone so far as to say that if it was possible to buy kits that were already built, they would be interested because all they care about is painting and weathering.

If you wander over to Fine Scale website or page through any recent issue, you will see there are a lot of finishing articles and discussions about how to use finishing products.  As well, a few of my favorite Tamiya Model Airplane issues have pages of detail and step-by-step pictures on how to paint, weather and finish the model.

Another reason for a shift to finishing is because of the volume and availability of quality finishing products.  As well, and probably more importantly for most of us, the ease of finding free video demonstrations on how to use these products.

I think I can safely say there is a current focus on finishing techniques over build techniques and for the reasons discussed in this post, this shift makes sense.

Does this mean anything?

No, not really and there are no absolutes.  There are modelers who continue to accept the challenge of slaying a fifty-year-old dragon and are able to weather it to god like perfection.  Some “new mold” models are real dogs to build and yes, there will always be those who just race to paint.  Its all good.

Then again, it could be this new focus on finishing that has led some modelers to believe the “contest rules” at model shows are out of date.  Some point to specific examples where the participating models in an IPMS show lack the creativity, “realism” or “character” of the models that that seem to be par for the course in shows and contests in other parts of the world.  In other words, judging is all about measuring “build quality” and not necessarily the finish of the model and that encourages modelers to play it safe and enter bland models.

I can see this argument to a point.  The problem with that argument is that a good model should always be in the running to place and, if you take a look at the rules, finish is very much an aspect of judging.  You could say it is right behind construction:

Judging. Models will be judged for skill in construction, finish, realism and scope of effort; accuracy may be used as criteria for determining final ranking for similar model subjects.”

– IPMS 2019 National Contest Rules

For what its worth, 99% of kits built will never be entered into any competition and are built for enjoyment. I firmly believe the only standard anyone should pursue is their own standard.  People enjoy this hobby for different reasons.

However, when a model is entered in a contest, no matter how much character or perfection is demonstrated in the finish or weathering, this is a hobby where we must first build something.  It still makes sense that solid construction is a factor.  The great news is that modern kits make that standard easier than ever.

Final Thoughts

Many have shifted their focus from building to finishing.  Do I think this is wrong?  Not at all.  In many ways it can open up a whole new dimension in model building and maybe even attract new builders to the hobby.

Turning back to those articles and videos on applying various finishing products for a minute; do they sometimes strike you as less about teaching technique and more about selling product?   I understand the point of promotion so I’m not going to call out any manufacturer, but a recurring theme has been that modelers should to only use certain products in certain ways or risk the model being hopelessly mediocre.  There is no way that is true.

What do you think?  Am I right or am I missing something?  Do you focus on painting and other finishing steps?  How about weathering product producers hawking product?  Do you miss your putty monster days? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

 

13 thoughts on “Are we builders or finishers?

  1. I am now at the point of considering my model kits more as part of a collection like my Scale Modeler magazines.

    Like

  2. Blazing hot take: we could eliminate about 90% of the drama and arguments in this hobby if IPMS were to simply adopt the open system (Chicago/MMSI style, not AMPS).

    More serious: I think the fact that kits have gotten better is a great thing. I don’t think many people like wrestling with things like seams, alignment issues, etc, because there isn’t much creativity involved. Eliminating seams feels more like painting the walls in your house than making an oil painting — while some people can lose themselves in it and get into a zen state trying to get the perfect seams, a lot of people see it as busywork that they need to do to get to the fun part.

    For a lot of people, that creativity comes in in the painting stage. Even for people who are more into building, I think you can also find that creativity in things like scratchbuilding, conversions, adding aftermarket accessories, or adding greeblies to sci-fi models — processes which are probably more fun and rewarding for a lot of people than taking the same amount of time just trying to build an ill-fitting kit OOB.

    Also, nice new kits makes it a lot easier for kids to get into the hobby and have something they are proud of — Bandai is great for this because even the youngest kids can put it together and not need to get dad to help them paint it.

    I think it’s a great time to be in this hobby, with all the different techniques out there to try, the ease of access to information, and good kits. The only issue is the “that guy” types out there on the internet who like to poo-poo more artistic techniques as “unrealistic” or “cartoonish” or “over-weathered” and then we have facebook threads with hundreds of responses of people arguing over whether “it wouldn’t get THAT dirty”…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll read up on the MMSI style – I’ve never heard of it before you mentioned it.

      I am fascinated when the kit just falls together perfectly – no blemishes to fix, just perfection leading to paint. But there is that other sense of “build victory” that I get when I tackle a tough challenge with some evergreen, some good tools and I get a flawless result. Of course, the only one who will ever know about it is me!

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  3. For myself, the construction part was never my favorite. I like paint, markings, weathering.
    Don’t get me wrong, if I “hated” building I wouldn’t still be a modeler! But I’m completely pleased with modern kits that just fit like they’re supposed to, and let me get on to the parts I like best.
    Now I get that there are those who enjoy very different things. I see scratch built or heavily modified subjects that leave me in awe. Some are true works of art. Its obvious to me there are plenty of modelers who enjoy the build more than the finish. I used to know a modeler who bragged he had dozens of “finished” models he never got around to painting. Never quite made sense to me, clearly he was getting something completely different from the whole experience than I was.
    But I guess that’s all good. Its a hobby that can be enjoyed by a number of different people with somewhat different interests. To me its all about the history. My model building is very much an aid to my passion for history. You can see from the range of scale modeling blogs how each of us sees our hobby a little differently. And everyone else knows we’re all nuts…

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  4. CRIMSYN1919 makes an interesting analogy; “Eliminating seams feels more like painting the walls in your house than making an oil painting — while some people can lose themselves in it and get into a zen state trying to get the perfect seams, a lot of people see it as busywork that they need to do to get to the fun part”. Agreed, but with a different angle of the lens; the models are our canvas and we literally build that canvas to include the wood frames and staples behind the scenes – i.e. seem lines, alignment, fit, etc. Imagine if the Mona Lisa or Van Goughs Starry Night were painted on a canvas that was warped, irregular, or otherwise maligned…the image would be forever tarnished by the poor canvas. That’s how I view construction aspect of model building and dealing with the mundane alignment, fit, seam lines, etc. – if the foundation is broken, ain’t no amount of paint or finishing techniques are gonna hide it. And that’s where I wholly empathize with ATCDAVE “For myself, the construction part was never my favorite. I like paint, markings, weathering. Don’t get me wrong, if I “hated” building I wouldn’t still be a modeler! But I’m completely pleased with modern kits that just fit like they’re supposed to, and let me get on to the parts I like best”. So, it’s all about balance, right? Taking the time to create a solid canvas/foundation is requisite (and why I totally support any rules which advocate solid construction before finish as the main qualifiers of a build) prior to a magnificent finish. That being said, it’s so exciting when it gets close to airbrush time and then the filters and washes, etc! The anticipation; it’s what keeps me slogging through the construction.
    Cheers and happy modeling (all aspects of it),
    gangplank73

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like all aspects of the hobby, building, finishing, displaying. And my interests and enthusiasm vary. Sometimes I want a fast build and sometimes I want to get right down to the bottom and eliminate all the flaws and make it as perfect as possible. I get a kick out of building old crude car kits and trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But on my next armour build I can get defeated when there are just too many damn parts! Every model is different and every build is different. I think creativity is the key here. Whether you get your creativity in building, finishing or a combination of both, it’s the creativity that keeps us coming back.

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  6. If the model isn’t constructed properly, it can have the greatest, most amazingly beautiful painted/weathered finish, but it’ll still look like a hack job.
    Are the details of the finish important, very much yes to that as well. If it wasn’t the case, people would enter unpainted models to be judged – and we know that won’t happen either.

    I have several models were I went over my skill to build but screwed up the final piece as I went over board in weathering.

    It has to be a mixture of the two basics.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting to see the references to older magazine articles. My own collection includes several dog-eared copies of the old Challenge Publications “Scale Modeler” magazines and looking back at what I considered “show quality” builds by “expert modelers” is a real study in contrasts when compared to today’s models!
    “Back to the basics” should be tattooed on many modelers’ foreheads. My interests in model building are varied, I got started with airplanes, they will always be my first love when it comes to models, but I branched out into cars, tractor-trailer trucks and eventually armor. Something that I see on forums, Facebook groups and occasionally in magazines, is a tendency towards adding aftermarket parts for the sake of adding them, as though their mere presence on a model will somehow elevate the kit to show quality standards. Countless times I’ve seen a small fortune in resin and turned aluminum parts and aftermarket decals, on a semi-truck kit where the hood isn’t aligned to the cab, the tandem wheels aren’t touching the ground and the body was obviously (poorly) handpainted. I can’t understand the mindset that throws good money and parts at a half hearted attempt at building.
    Don’t get me wrong, I understand when an inexperienced or very young builder gets in over their head, but often these are adults with plenty of kits under their belts! Now, anyone who builds big truck models knows that there are limited kits available, mostly the AMT/MPC/Ertl lines that originated in the late 60s and early 70s, a couple of Monogram (now Revell) Snap kits from the early 80s and a few Revell and Italeri kits from the late 80s and early 90s. The exception are a pair of trucks and trailers from Moebius that are less than ten years old and are really state of the art. For the most part these are really old and tired molds that require actual model building skills to get a nice finished product, but for every builder that creates a fine replica, there are a dozen who build the aforementioned disasters and complain about the poor quality of the reissued kits.
    Just before the world shutdown for Covid-19, I recall hearing that someone had pronounced the ancient Monogram F4F Wildcat to be “unbuildable”, to which a mutual acquaintance responded “who has one of these? “. The completed project emerged less a month later and would stand strong against the latest kit releases on any show table, due to excellent basic model construction skills!

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  8. I’m a builder, not a finisher. I like models to look as though they’ve just come out of the factory or are standing in a museum display, nice and clean. This means that the model before painting has to be a perfect as possible because I can’t hide any blemishes with all the artifice of finishing. I understand the art that goes into finishing but I am not an artist, I consider myself a craftsman instead. That way I get a lot more models built, and if your stash is as big as mine that is an important consideration.

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  9. I have enjoyed your artical, agreeing with it all. I have found a more recent trend along your lines of thought in the multitude and bounty of busts and single figures. Are we modelers who build or are we mearly painters of precast objects? True enough there is some assembly of figures prior to paint but more often I see posts and boasting of great paint jobs of pre cast things, requiring a minimal scraping and actual construction only seams to come under consideration in a contest… the way I see it

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  10. I got so sick and tired of filling seams, trying to fix panel lines with scribing, etc that I basically turned from a modeler into a kit collector for over a decade. Just now getting back into building with new kits that are actually enjoyable instead of an exercise in frustration. Been selling off my old kits like monogram and replacing them with good modern kits. Why beat your head against a wall and end up with a mediocre model when you can buy an awesome modern tool kit and have such a superior result? Just chucked a old fujimi Fw-190-D-9 shelf of doom kit in the trash because why waste my time? it will always be a mediocre example next to a Tamiya. Life’s too short!!

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