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Modeling Background

June 30, 2010

Since I’m planning to blog about my return to the world of scale modeling, I thought it might be interesting to share how I got into this hobby in the first place, and how I drifted away from it.

The Beginning

My experience with models began when I was eight or so. My dad, no doubt completely unaware what he was setting in motion, bought me a 1/72 scale P-51D Mustang.

The Mustang was likely this Revell Snap-tite kit

I can’t remember how the model turned out. It can’t have been pretty. But it led to another model, and another after that, and…

Now,  I wasn’t the only eight-year-old boy who’s tried his hand at building a model airplane, but I don’t know all that many who stuck with it after figuring out what a pain in the ass it can be. So why did I stick with it?

I’m not really sure. Today, I can look back and point to all sorts of lessons learned and benefits derived from modeling, but back then I had yet to realize them. My fascination with military aircraft probably had a lot to do with it, but not all. Maybe it was my complete inability to draw (an inability that also led me into photography, and probably writing). Whatever the case, something clicked, and I was off the races.

Poor Execution

I had pretty much no clue what I was doing those first few years. I had plastic, I had glue, and I had paint. For me, that was good enough. I’d never heard of filling or sanding or priming or masking. I didn’t know what an airbrush was. My solution for dealing with brush strokes was to slop on more paint until it pooled along wing roots and ran down the landing gear. I think the most sophisticated tool in my repertoire was probably spray paint.

And it showed. The models from these early years were more about enthusiasm than about getting the details (even the really big obvious details) right. They were poorly built, poorly painted abominations.

Enter the Airbrush

Somewhere right around the beginning of the 90’s, things started to change. I started reading modeling magazines and picking up on techniques. Around the same time, a model shop opened up in the local mall. I was in there often enough that I got to know the owner, and he was great about encouraging me and giving out pointers.

I’m pretty sure he also introduced me to the airbrush. This humble tool, the creator of wolf-emblazoned denim jackets the world over, changed the way I build models. Hell, it changed my entire approach to modeling.

My trusty Paasche H single-action airbrush

Imagine for a moment that the only cameras you’ve ever used are those crappy cardboard disposable cameras you can buy at Walgreens. Every now and then you snag a pretty good shot, but then one day someone hands you a DSLR. It’s like night and day. The optics are so superior that just pressing the shutter button pretty much ensures a better shot. Then there’s the fine degree of control over focus, speed, color, none of which you ever had with your crappy drugstore disposable camera.

That difference, moving from a disposable film camera to a DSLR, is the best analogy I can come up with for what it felt like to move from rattle cans and hand-painting to an airbrush. All of the sudden paint went on smooth and controlled. No brush strokes, no runs. I could paint soft edges or reproduce that dappled camoflage the Germans seem to love so much. I could blend, and actually make things look vaguely realistic.

Airbrush in hand, the quality of my models improved dramatically. I took on more ambitious paint schemes, from the aforementioned dappled German camoflage to the bare metal finish favored by U.S. fighters toward the end of World War II. I branched out from aircraft. I built a few tanks and, at the height of my modeling, I even built a 1/350 scale U.S.S. Enterprise (the aircraft carrier, not the starship) that was something like three feet long.

German Panzer Mk. IV. Probably built in 1993.

The Drift

Sometime around 1995 I started to drift away from modeling. By the time 1996 rolled around, I’d pretty much dropped it completely.

Why? High school. Cars. Girls. Offroading. Taco Bueno.

The Retreat

By the time I went to college, my parents were already checking out of Dallas, and so I found myself spending a good portion of Christmas break and the like out in Arizona, far away from friends or anything to do.

It was during these stays in Arizona that I reconnected with modeling, and now that I’d become somewhat more patient and more mature (the latter is debatable), I found myself surpassing the relatively decent results I’d been achieving when I was 13 and 14. I also discovered – or may recognized is the better term – how relaxing modeling can be. There’s this balance, when you’re working on something so intricate, of intense focus and calm detachment. I guess it’s maybe the closest I’ve come to whatever it is that people get out of meditation, and I’m really hoping I can reconnect with it this time around.

The Wind Down

In early 2001, I met Jamie, and as I started bringing her with me out to Arizona, my modeling officially came to an end. The paints were left to dry in their bottles. The airbrush and x-acto knives and putty spreaders and paintbrushes got packed away.

It’s now been ten years since I’ve built any kind of model, and more like fifteen years since I was modeling regularly.

And now here I am, basically starting over from scratch…


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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 3, 2010 11:18 am

    Awesome Matt – I’m glad you are taking it up again!

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