When I got back into the hobby my initial goal was to incorporate some new technique, or tool, or anything “new” into each one of my builds. At first it was photoetch, then resin bits, then some basic scratch building. After I got the hang of pre and post shading, I turned my mind towards a bare metal finish. After all, it’s just silver paint, right? More on that down below.
I watched some YouTube videos which mentioned the National Model Railroad Association Master Model Railroader award. This is an award given by a national association to those modelers who have succeeded at obtaining a number of varied and challenging achievements. To date there are only 650+ modelers who have achieved the award. I am not sure whether IPMS has ever debated having a similar ‘award’ or recognition. It would not surprise me if this has been proposed in the past. If it has, I wonder if there was any discussion about what the ‘achievements’ would be in order to qualify for the award.
Regardless of an official award, I believe there are certain skills or achievements that we modelers generally acknowledge as achievements in this hobby. I’m not talking about the mastery of basic building (no seams, no decal silvering) as these are things that are generally expected and within the easy reach of anyone who wants to do them. I am thinking of achieving certain projects or techniques that are difficult to master. Things that once achieved would get the nods of your fellow modelers because we know how difficult these things are to pull off.
Here is my list of key model making achievements:
The Perfect bare metal finish
A natural metal or bare metal finish seems like such an easy task when we modelers first start out in this hobby. But after that first attempt, which is usually just a coat of silver paint, we quickly discover that it is actually very difficult to make paint look like metal.
One quickly learns that no matter which method is chosen to replicate a bare metal finish, (and there are a lot of different ways to approach it) the key to pulling it off starts with the smoothest of surfaces and ends with a the careful application of paint or foil.
Anyone who has tried it will acknowledge the difficulty and will admire the result of a well done bare metal finish.
Perfect Mottling (Airbrush or otherwise)
The first (and only) live airbrush lesson I ever had was from an old model railroader. He had an external mix airbrush and used some weird and very stinky model railroad paints. The crux of the lesson was how to apply a perfectly flat coat of paint: Start the spray off the model, spray across the model at a uniform distance and speed and then stop the paint off the model on the other side. This is an excellent technique if you want perfectly painted brown boxcars. Otherwise it is rather limited.
The airbrush is an extremely versatile tool that allows us to go far beyond perfect monotone finishes. There are some true artists who can use the airbrush to apply very subtle paint in order to mimic the spray ‘mottling’ that was used on several real aircraft. That is very easy to ‘over do’ so you sure need to practice to get that technique down.
Adding resin or photoetch to a model is one thing. Do that a few times and you understand that aftermarket alone does not elevate the model. Actually, it is very easy to mess up aftermarket parts and make the model much worse! One step beyond that is a multi-media conversion. That involves some real plastic surgery and, at times, some real engineering to get the tougher conversions to work.
However, I think stripes are earned when one researches the prototype, grabs the slide rule, makes plans and starts chopping styrene sheet and strip. There are various levels of difficulty but creating an entire cockpit where there were only blobs of kit plastic, completely plumbing a gear bay or creating a completely new model from balsa wood all count. It is not easy but when it is done right, it turns a lot of heads.
Completing a Vacuform Kit
At one time, vacufom kits were much more common than today. But, they are still out there. The benefit of these kits is they are generally cheaper than an equivalent injected molded kit and even though we are in a golden age of models, there are some planes that are available only as vacuform kits.
The downsides? There are a few. Assembly is very different than snipping parts off of sprues. Actually, there is a lot of skill involved in just getting the parts off the sheets. There are no locator holes and experienced vacuform builders spend a lot of time “engineering” the kit for strength and correct alignment. Interior structures like cockpits, gear bays and engines are usually bare so scratch building will be needed. Lastly, panel lines are usually ill defined if they are there at all so a good scriber, airplane plans and a steady hand will also be needed. However, once this is all done and painted to perfection, you will have a model that very few others will have. The fact it is a vac model will definitely earn you some appreciative nods.
I’ve only attempted one vac model and that ended rather badly. But that was a long time ago. When I see something like Bondo Phill Brandt’s Mercador over on Hyperscale, I start to think I should give it a try….
Creating A Diorama that “Works”
I can only define this by saying that the vast majority of ‘dioramas’ (and not vignettes) that I have seen may have had a lot of work go into them but do not look impressive. Most look like something done for a junior high school project. Some are hastily completed ‘scenes’ to showcase an ensemble of well done models. Sometimes you just see something that takes up a lot of space, involves a lot of quickly built models and figures that don’t quite stand properly.
I have also seen dioramas that work very well. Everything is perfect and it really draws in viewers. So what is the difference? The general consensus is that the diorama must “tell a story” which is a great starting place. But there has got to be a lot more.
Take the example of artistic oil painting. That requires a lot of skills: the painter has to have imagination and imagine a creative scene as well as the skill to mix and manipulate the paint. This is the same with dioramas. The builder has to have a lot of talent: model building, scenery, imagination to create a scene and the ability to pull it off. These individual items need to ALL be done at a high level or the diorama just doesn’t work.
A Flawless Model
Can a model have absolutely no mistakes? Perfectly sprayed paint with not a single dust molecule hitting the surface? No single slight wrinkle on any decal and all the decals in perfect placement and alignment? Every drop tank and weapon mounted with precision?
I have come close on a couple of occasions but perfection has eluded me. On most occasions I see the issue well beyond the time where it could have been easily fixed and it is usually in a location where only a very discerning eye could pick it up. Given the the myriad of things that can go wrong with a model and our relative strengths in building them, perfection (whatever that term means relative to model making) is a difficult-to-impossible thing to achieve.
Whether or not an official scale modeling award is called for and what it would entail is probably the subject of some other post down the road. When it comes to earning our stripes, I think there are a lot of impressive achievements we can work towards in this hobby. The best thing is that no one is keeping score and sometimes there is just as much fun in the journey as there is in getting to the destination. I’ve named a few of these “hard to get to” achievements off the top but I am sure there are others and I’d love to read your thoughts on them.