Viewpoint – September 2019

A question was asked on our Facebook page recently that perhaps goes to one of the fundamental aspects of the hobby – ‘where can I learn to improve my modelling skills?’

At first glance it seems such a simple question to answer but that isn’t the case. There are so many different sources of knowledge, so many different starting points and so many different types of ‘learning’ that it becomes difficult to make a general observation about what is the best route for any individual modeller to take.

As modellers, we expect manufacturers to provide us with a set of printed instructions to allow us to construct their product. I appreciate that the quality of those instruction sheets can vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer but in principle, if the instructions are clear, then we should be able to build the model without further assistance. Yes? The difficulty with that assumption is that some people find it more difficult than others to follow a set of written or pictorial instructions. We all learn in different ways and depending on your preferred method of learning, you might find it a lot easier to watch somebody else assemble the model or perhaps to have the instructions presented in a spoken form rather than on paper.

Even assuming that we have used the best method of learning for our own needs, that doesn’t mean that we all get the same results. The instructions might say ‘attach part 4 to part 5’ but the real skill is in understanding the appropriate way to achieve that. The situation is not helped by the fact that there are often contrasting ways of achieving the same result. There is no single ‘right’ way of doing something, just as there is no single ‘wrong’ way of doing it.

When I take a model to a show to work on behind the display stand, I’m often surprised that the questions I get are less often about ‘what are you building’ and more frequently ‘what are you doing?’ I’m sat there removing parts from sprues, cleaning them up and then gluing them together, sometimes filling gaps and occasionally modifying or scratchbuilding parts. These are things that I have been doing for the past 40 years and they have become so automatic that it doesn’t occur to me that I might be doing something that is new or different to another modeller.

I too went through that learning process all those years ago. Thinking back, I started my modelling journey as a kid, initially overseen by my dad but rapidly moving on and seeking out books in the local library and modelling magazines (this in the days long before the Internet existed). As I got older I became more and more interested in refining my techniques and my knowledge, rather than just churning out model after model. That led to a broader selection of modelling magazines and an early exposure to the work of Shep Paine, Francois Verlinden and others. Their ability to explain, both in writing and visually through stage-by-stage photographs gave me a whole new set of techniques to try.

From there I joined a local club in my early 20s and suddenly I could watch other modellers at work, talk to them about how they achieved their finished models and combine all those new ideas into a personal approach to modelling. The last 30 years has seen a continual refinement of that technique and style. It is not a case of slavishly following one method or a current fashion, it is about taking the elements that work for me and combining them into a process that I am comfortable and confident with. The most recent change to my approach has been a heavier concentration on my painting and finishing. My passion has always been the construction stage of the project, with the painting stage a necessary chore that I have to get through. Something changed in late 2018 and I suddenly realised that my finishing process had improved significantly. I can’t put my finger on any single reason but assume it was a combination of influences and styles that distilled itself into a technique I could connect with.

These days there are great online tutorials to be found on the likes of YouTube and commercial operators offering subscription-based tutorials. You can purchase DVDs and a myriad of specialist books and journals that cover almost every aspect of modelling. Nonetheless, I still find myself going back to first principles and engaging with my fellow modellers. For all the ‘names’ that exist within our hobby; for all the respect those stars get (and deserve), the best modellers I know are grassroots club members who will never get that level of recognition. Sadly, some of them are no longer with us, but their influence lives on in the skills and knowledge they passed on to me and to the many others who knew them. So next time someone asks you how you are doing something, take the time to share your knowledge and experience and allow the next generation of modellers to continue the journey.