Whether I’m painting my miniatures or slaving away at the numbers factory, I like to have a podcast on in the background to keep me focused and prevent myself from being left alone with my thoughts. One of the newer ones in my feed is a scale model podcast aptly, if not particularly creatively, named the Scale Model Podcast. In the most recent episodes, he had Jon Bius as a guest. During their conversation, Jon discussed his experiences with starting out building almost exclusively aircraft and then moving into non-traditional subjects such as Gundam and Warhammer models. That got me thinking a little more about what I like to call hobby cross-pollination; that is, looking for the common ground between similar but disparate hobby communities.
When I step back, look around, and ask myself “who makes little versions of things out of plastic,” I generally see a few disparate hobby groups. First, there are what I like to call the traditional scale modellers – the often-greying folks who make up groups like the IPMS and who build mainly historical subjects such as cars, tanks and military aircraft. There are the gundam guys, who are younger and into anime and build mecha models from their favourite Japanese cartoons. You have wargamers who build and (hopefully) paint their armies, and figure painters who are often ex-wargamers that at some point discovered they were bad at wargames. There are also model railroaders, toy soldier collectors, whoever keeps buying those Space:1999 kits, and likely some others that I don’t even know about.
The catch is that all too often, these people have their own groups and rarely talk to each other. The gunpla guys have their own clubs, as do the traditional scale modellers and miniature painters. They also all tend to do things just a little differently; for example, armour modellers do great weathering and add lots of little photoetch bits, while figure painters tend to focus more on rendering light and shadow in their pieces. Traditionalists may turn their noses up at models that look too “cartoony” for their tastes, while the gundam guys literally make giant robots from a cartoon. Figure painters use almost exclusively acrylics, while people who work in other genres use a lot smellier and worse tasting paints.
There is just so much that these groups can learn from each other that it’s a shame that they tend to self-segregate and these unique skills don’t get spread around. There are plenty of techniques that I picked up from IPMS members that I use to weather my big stompy robots. Also, there is just a certain cool factor in seeing what each other is doing; when all you see is space marines, a finely detailed Spitfire is a breath of fresh air.
Additionally, some of these groups can use either a bit of fresh blood or some old hands to teach some tricks. One of the perhaps slightly morbid things that Jon and Stuart discussed on the podcast was that given the remaining life expectancy of the average IPMS member, the industry that supports their hobby may struggle in coming decades as their customers literally start dying off. Some people get a little melodramatic about it and start wondering if their hobby and industry is dying. However, if you step back from your Tamiyas and Hasegawas for a moment, you will see that Bandai sells millions of Gundam kits a year and Games Workshop is the best-performing company on the London Stock Exchange. Maybe modelling isn’t dying; rather, younger modellers are just not as interested in cars made 30 years before they were born and military vehicles from a war that ended 75 years ago. But those younger modellers are still interested in the techniques they can learn from the old guys and their decades of experience in the hobby.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are organizations that cater to all of these groups as they all have their own specialized interests. A lecture on the changes in the rivet patterns on the glacis plate of the Panzer IV between the early-war and late-war variants is something that is going to be very interesting and valuable for only one of those groups, and perhaps the gunpla guys can skip that meeting. And, if you’re only interested in Swedish military aircraft of the WW2 era and are having a blast building them, then maybe you shouldn’t feel pressured to make one of those newfangled gumdan things unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous one day. But sometimes it seems like a shame that the hobby of “making little plastic versions of big things” is so compartmentalized and that people tend not to venture outside their little boxes a whole lot.
When I joined my local IPMS chapter, I have to admit I was a little anxious at first. In part, that was due the background social anxiety that I deal with on a daily basis and the awkward feelings surrounding being the one new guy in the room, but there was a little more to it. I had a couple model airplanes in the stash, but I hadn’t actually built anything that falls into traditional scale modelling since I was about 13. Further, there was a definite demographic difference, which is a polite way of saying that the average age in the room was about twice my own. Finally, there were some other little differences as well that were palpable.
To better explain by way of an analogy, it felt a little like showing up with a tuned-up Honda Civic to a meeting of a classic car group. While it’s fundamentally the same thing – making cars look cool and go fast – there is a bit of a cultural and language difference that can make things awkward. Traditional scale modellers focus more on references and accuracy, while people with a fantasy wargaming background don’t usually worry about getting the exact shade of German panzer grey and instead try for bright contrasting colours that look good from across a 4’x6’ table. One group talks about brands like Tamiya, Airfix, and Mr. Hobby, the other group refers to Games Workshop, Reaper, and Privateer Press. 1/48 or 30mm scale. Unbuilt kits versus unpainted miniatures. Glue-sniffers versus brush-lickers. And so on.
However, instead of being a bunch of crotchety old guys and self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby, the local group was very friendly and welcoming. They didn’t turn their noses up at my weird pink and purple Khador models, and were genuinely interested in some of the techniques I used. And on my end, despite not actually building model airplanes in a long time, I still had a genuine interest in the subject that goes back to my childhood and my couple years working on 1:1 scale airliners. I like to think that we both learned a lot from each other; I learned a lot about weathering, scratchbuilding, and decals** and actually picked up a couple aircraft kits for my stash. On the flip side, I gave a presentation on painting figures to the group and sold someone a Reaper C’thulhu that he enjoyed and did some nice work on.
One of the strange things about the hobby of “making small versions of things out of plastic and painting them” is that there is often this segregation between traditional scale modellers, wargamers, and gunpla guys even though they are all doing basically the same thing. A little cross-pollination is good for everyone as people can learn new techniques from each other and inject a little fresh blood into each other’s groups. And that can start with you – if you’re a wargamer, go to an IPMS meeting and ask someone how they did the weathering on their tank. If you’re a traditional scale modeller, try a gundam kit or a space marine. And if you’re a Gundam guy, check out how the Warhammer crowd paints their big titans.
Look into other aspects of the hobby, and you’ll probably have fun, meet new people, and you might even learn a thing or two.
** A little post-script that illustrates the point of this article. There generally aren’t a lot of decals in figure painting or fantasy wargaming; while there are some included in Games Workshop kits, there is a lot more freehand painting in wargaming. So, when I decided to finish painting my first airplane in 15 years, I thought it would be an appropriate subject for an IPMS build day. Since I spent about three dollars on a kit from Communist-era Poland mainly just for something to spray when I started out airbrushing, the decals had long since yellowed and gone completely useless. So, I did what made sense to me — threw them out, googled the plane on my phone, found a nice three-view, and freehand painted all the markings. Which turned out to be quite the shock to some of the other modellers present; I’m still not sure whether they were more shocked that I was mad enough to say something like “these decals are no good; I’ll just hand-paint all the markings” or that it actually turned out not half bad.