Searching Your Research

Credit: elenaleonova /Getty Images

About to start that new (or old) model you been meaning to get to? You’ve got everything together: kit, glue, sharp hobby knife, filling putty, sandpaper and time. But wait! You don’t want to start it without finding out something about your subject. Everyone can learn something new about their modeling subjects.

Before you start your next masterpiece, think about looking up books, magazines and the Internet for information about it, especially if you want to include a lot of historical details. Period photos can be a wealth of information about how your subject looked back in the day. That can be important is you have a model that needs a bit of correcting to make it look good.

Reference material can be found in many libraries, bookstores (real and on the Internet), web pages and forums online. Along with photos and diagrams, there will be a wealth of information about how the vehicle was designed and built, how and where it was used, what campaigns it fought in and how it was painted. Experienced modelers might know all that, but for new modelers it can contribute to the satisfaction doing a model the right way. And you can talk tanks or planes wherever you are.

See, this is what I’m talking about

That’s just for the new Tiger barrel. Photo by Stuart Dee

While looking through my Facebook feed the other day, I came across a post from a fellow member of a group I belong to called the Grumpy Old Scale Modeler’s Group. He raised some good points about the hobby. For privacy I have quoted his text only. Here it is below:

WHY BOTHER BUILDING ANYMORE!!!!!! I swear to GOD this is starting to bother me more and more each week. Maybe it’s just age getting to me, but still……. The price of kits are skyrocketing. Cost of supplies to build them are also rising. Then there are the modelers that bitch, moan and groan about how this or that is wrong with a kit. Monogram. Revell. Testors. Early Airfix. They’re all shit they claim. They can’t be worked with they claim. These plus many others were the kits we all grew up with. We changed things as best as we knew how to improve them. Some of us even mixed and matched kits to make that version we wanted. That’s how we all wound up with boxes of junkyards. Or why don’t they issue this version or that version. THEN BUILD THE DAMN THING!!!!! MODIFY IT!!!!!!! MAKE IT ONE OF A KIND IN YOUR COLLECTION OUT OF ALL OF THE OTHER GUYS COLLECTIONS!!!! MAKE IT UNIQUE!!!!! But I feel that it has gotten to the point that some of you would rather your kits to be almost like those prepainted, put four screws in the bottom kits that we buy for our kids. I heard a few guys in the hobby shop the other day complaining how they couldn’t just walk in and buy anything they wanted without having to be creative and spending hours on it. I’m done ranting for now. It’s just been an itch I had to scratch.

Bro, others feel your pain. There are models I’d like to build, but they’re just too expensive for me. I like the challenge of modifying models or bringing old ones back to life. Instead of going broke when I started modelling again, I hit up EBay and got some older but affordable models.

And certainly the price of supplies has gone up, especially for specialist supplies like paint kits, weathering powders, washes and other items. Of course, there are tutorials all over the web that tell you how to make these yourself. That’s the approach I take, carefully decided what I need and learn about it. 

Something else which shoots the price up is the aftermarket parts and decals. You’d have to factor that in when deciding what to buy, especially if you’ve already bought a brand new kit. Some people can afford this stuff, but modelling shouldn’t be a competition (unless you’re at a model show.) 

Scale modeling isn’t just a hobby anymore. It’s a business that pulls in a lot of money and businesses respond to demand. Have you see the plastic tank models with the die cast hull bottoms? I wouldn’t build one, but that’s just me.

Everyone has their own idea of what they want to do, so do your own thing. There’s more satisfaction in correcting an old, out of date kit than buying one which is already accurate, I say.

Photographing those models

My technique needs work. Photo by author
There are thousands of photos of scale models on the Internet and in magazines. Not only are the models stunning, the photography is also. Good photography brings out the best in models, figures and dioramas. Many of these photos are taken by professionals, but you can take great photos of your models at home. 

The essential factor in good scale model is proper lighting. Good equipment is also important, but it’s not necessary to have an expensive camera. There are tutorials about how to take better model photos, how to make your own light tent and reflectors, how to use your camera and more. 

Some of these tutorials delve into the specifics of overall photography techniques, but if you’re really interested in taking good model photos, they are well worth the read. Here’s a few to get started. 

Model photography links Armorama


Digital Model Photography: Tips and Techniques

Photographing Your Minis

How to utterly lose your mind

Photography 101

Photographing Minis and Figures by Giovanni Azzara

Scale car photography explained in detail

I need to revisit some of these sites and polish up on my skills. Practice as much as you can and have fun!

Whether or not to weather

Rusty abandoned tank in Lebanon. Credit Getty Images

You’ve got your new model built and have the basic paint job done. It looks okay, but something is missing. What could it be? So you take a break and look at modeling sites on the internet.

You look at a few examples of models that blow your mind. You realize that you need to weather that bad boy! You read every article on weathering you can find.

Soon you learn the basics of weathering: rust, dust, mud, chipping, wear and tear, rain steaks, fuel and oil spills. But wait a second. How should you apply each effect and when? It can get confusing.

I recommend this article over on Armorama . It gives you a definite plan to tackle each step and a guideline for when to use an effect. Lots of factors go into what happens to a tank or vehicle during service and that affects what techniques to use.

As far as the techniques themselves, they are many and varied. Here are a few to look over.

Rusting, Chipping and Weathering

Chipping Paint with Rubber Cement

Basic weathering techniques (aircraft)

Weathering Military Models

Craftsman Boomer Trail – August 2010 (trains)

How to build a diorama

imageA diorama, in scale modeling terms, is a miniature scene made by a modeler, usually depicting a vehicle and or figures doing something. In military modeling, it is usually historic, showing  a particular time and place, a certain vehicle and its crew or people involved with them somehow. Popular time periods are WW2, the Gulf War, the Vietnam War and the recent and ongoing conflicts around the world. 

Subjects can vary widely, some focusing on the hardship and tragedy of war, or a light or humorous moment during military life. Dioramas serve also as a showcase for the modeler’s skills because not only does the assembly and painting of a vehicle demand certain techniques, the creation of a whole scene needs different skill sets. Terrain, trees, grass, rocks, buildings and the whole environment all have their own challenges to making the scene realistic. 

Just as the modeler wants the vehicle to be accurate, so should the setting be. What time of year is it? What is happening? Has it been raining? Is it a scene of rest or action? Is there fighting going on? All these factors play into the final scene.

You can find many tutorials on building dioramas on the internet and in modeling magazines. As an example, here’s a link to an article I wrote about making my WW1 Tadpole tank diorama.

As you can see, building a diorama can be a complicated and long process. The above diorama took me a straight month to finish. Some take months or years to complete, but it’s satisfying to finally finish it and show it off to everyone.

If you want to build your own diorama, here is a link to a great tutorial showing how to get started.
Dive in and have fun!

Figure painting for dummies

Along with trucks, cars, tanks, planes and boats there is something that is often overlooked when presenting a model that can enhance its looks: figures. They come in all types and sizes and can really set off a simple model display or turn a diorama into a masterpiece. They can also have as much detail as a regular model. But not everyone is good at painting figures. Some people are good at painting boats, cars, tanks or planes  but have trouble getting figures right. I am one of those people. So here’s a few video tutorials to help you get started.

These are pretty helpful and cover all the steps like basic figure painting, washing, shading, camo uniforms and the most difficult, faces and eyes. So give them a try and tell me if they helped you.