Thoughts on judging

Whenever we go to a modelling competition, one aspect that always gets a lot of attention is the judging. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on the judging, and rarely is it the case that those with the most vocal opinions think that the judging was fine.

Now, I’m not going to get into the controversy over whether Jimbo’s P-69 Thundercat should have beaten Cletus’ Blackburn Bastard for best in show at the East Westington IPMS show three years ago, but I do think it is worthwhile to explain the difference between different judging systems and the pros and cons of each, if only to help out new people. IPMS USA is currently discussing switching from 1-2-3 to open system at their nationals, and the style of judging (if you even plan to make it a competitive thing) is one important decision for anyone looking at starting up a local show.

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This guy gets it

There are a couple important caveats to this article that I would like to address up front. This article should not be taken as me being salty over any decision at a recent show, or upset that any show doesn’t use my favourite judging system. That is not the case, and I’ve intentionally saved this for publication at an appropriate time in between shows so it doesn’t read like sour grapes or criticizing any particular show organizers.

Second, I think at the end of the day, it is important to keep things in perspective. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off is a winner, and the true prizes are the friends you make along the way. While competitions can be fun, getting too competitive about your hobby is a surefire road to misery and frustration (see: why I don’t do competitive Warmachine anymore).

Judging systems

The first, and probably the most established, judging system is IPMS style 1-2-3 judging. Here, there are multiple categories and a team of judges simply chooses the best, 2nd best, and 3rd best model on the table. While this may sound subjective, judges are trained to judge models according to standards laid out in the judging document. In these standards, craftsmanship is king. They have wisely chosen to avoid judging historical accuracy to prevent fistfights over the proper shade of RLM 69 or the number of rivets on the glacis plate on the real thing. And since they’re focused mainly on craftsmanship, they tend to be fairly objective – a missed seam line is a missed seam line, regardless of a judge’s level of affinity for the subject.

We also have the open system which is common in figure shows. Instead of competing against each other, modellers are competing against a set of objective criteria. There are generally Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals, and each entrant simply gets what the judges think their work deserves. This means that there can be any number of people winning any colour of medal – and zero is still a valid number.

Next, we have systems that are based on rubrics. This is common for Gunpla builders, and I believe it is often used for AMPS shows and paint scores in 40K tournaments, but I’ve never been to either of those. Here, there are a number of categories representing various aspects of a build – construction, painting, modifications, etc. Points are deducted for mistakes and added for things that are particularly well done, and at the end of the day, points are added up across all the categories and all the judges, generating a total score. This score can be then used either to rank the models most points to least, or give out awards to anyone who scores a certain number of point.

Finally, we have a simple people’s choice award, where attendees vote on their favourites and he who gets the most votes wins. The voter base can either be fellow entrants or the general public.

Of course, the differences between these systems aren’t always set in stone. Figure contests regularly feature best in show awards in addition to the gold-silver-bronze system. IPMS shows may use the open system for junior categories, so as not to crush the dreams of any young modeller. An open system can judge every model individually, or a modeller’s work as a whole, only giving out one award per category for his best work. And any show may incorporate a “people’s choice” award in addition to the judged criteria. Further, there are variations in these – IPMS contests can have “no sweeps” rules to prevent one person from taking home all the prizes in the categories, GSB style contests can judge and award every single model or an artist’s work as a whole, and rubrics can be either extremely detailed or very basic and can weigh different aspects of a build.

My thoughts

All of these systems have their pros and cons, and they are all heavily ingrained in the culture of the communities that have adopted them.

The IPMS style is nice and simple, and you can get a lot of judging done quickly. A simple glance over the table can greatly narrow down the number of models that are in contention and that a judge really needs to examine closely. However as anyone who has tried to organize a model show can attest, when you have very diverse builds, the sheer number of categories required to ensure that you have like competing against like, that there are not too many or too few entries per category, and that every possible thing that can show up has a category, ends up becoming a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention when the number of entries in each category is invariably much different than what you planned, judges often have to split or merge categories for there to be any semblance of fair competition. And then how the judges tweaked the categories on the day of the contest can be a bone of contention for those who didn’t win.

Further, there will always be some categories that end up being more hotly contested than others, so in some ways it is less of an objective measure. You can win first place in your category either by doing an amazing model and beating the other couple dozen amazing 1:48 aircraft, or you could be the only entrant in an obscure category and take home first place with a mediocre entry. I know that personally, the amount of hardware that I bring home at an IPMS show within driving distance depends about as much on who else shows up as it does on my quality of work.

There is also a risk of disappointment for those who don’t place. Anyone from 4th to last has no idea how well they did. As one example, I judged a competition a few months ago where we narrowed it down to the final four, figured out the winner and runner-up fairly easily, and then spend a lot of time deliberating over who gets the bronze and who goes home with nothing. If I hadn’t talked to the guy who was in 4th place afterwards, he may have been discouraged simply because he would have no way of knowing how close he was to placing.

Finally, because the IPMS style is comparing the models to each other, there are some logistical challenges. You need to have all the models on the table before you start judging, whereas with points systems and open systems, if the judges know they are going to have their work cut out of them, they can simply judge models as they arrive or get a head start before the entry deadline.

Open System

The open system has a lot of advantages. The main one is that you aren’t competing against each other, you are competing against yourself. How you do on the day doesn’t depend on who else shows up. This gives you a more accurate representation of where your skills are at, and it can help you set realistic goals, such as if you won Bronze one year, to go for Silver the next.

The open system also doesn’t require as many categories as the 1-2-3 system, which makes things a lot simpler. However, the judges tend to have a bit more work cut out for them as under a 1-2-3 system, a quick glance can often knock out a majority of the entrants who are uncompetitive and cut down on the number of models that need a serious look. The open system requires the judges to look at every model on the table (or, at least, everyone’s best work in a category) and give it its appropriate award.

I also think the prevalence of the open system contributes to the friendliness and mostly drama-free nature of the miniature painting community. When you are very rarely directly competing against each other, you are more invested in helping each other build their skills. When your friend wins a gold medal, it’s not bittersweet because he beat you to get it.

Rubrics and points

As for rubrics, to be honest, I’m not a big fan for a few reasons. First, I feel like they are popular because they have the appearance of objectivity, however I’m not sure they are actually that much more objective than something like the IPMS style, where there are no rubrics and the judges just confer and make a call. The theory is that simply choosing the best is open to favouritism, and points systems make things more objective. However, there is nothing preventing a biased judge from simply giving their favourites more points than the rest, either consciously or unconsciously.

Second, rubrics encourage people to build to the rubric if they want to be successful in the competition. Instead of simply approaching the build how they want, people end up having to tick off a number of boxes to get the maximum score or at least a competitive score in the category. For example, competitions that award points for conversions and customization may encourage people to do unnecessary modifications just so they can say that they did a conversion and get the points for that category. If the rubric isn’t well-designed, then you could have situations where it discourages creativity by rewarding certain specific style choices – for example, punishing an automotive modeller who enters a showroom clean car by giving him a big fat zero in the weathering category.

Can the people be trusted?

People’s choice is an interesting one and it makes judging a lot easier by simply removing the need for judges altogether. That said, in model shows as in democracy, the people can’t always be trusted. People tend to be attracted to the biggest, shiniest model with the most blinking lights. However, said model may, on closer inspection, have a ton of seam lines, alignment issues, and problems with the finish which are not apparent to the layman at a quick glance. Good models can get passed over simply because they aren’t the biggest, most eye-catching thing on the table. However, just having a show with a ballot can make for a much more chilled out atmosphere than a judged contest.

Feedback?

While feedback is good, not everyone wants feedback and not all feedback is useful. If you missed a mold line, being told to clean up your mold lines doesn’t really help you as a modeller. You already know you’re supposed to deal with that; that’s not new information for you. However, feedback such as new weathering techniques, suggestions on diorama composition, colour theory and lighting, etc., can actually help bring you to the next level.

I also feel that when it comes to feedback, some people are genuinely interested in improving their skills and progressing as a modeller, and some people just want to be salty that they didn’t win. They don’t want honest critique, they want to know why they lost and use it as ammo to grumble.

Again, I feel like the GSB system lends itself more to honest feedback because judges can tell you what you can do to bring yourself to the next level, rather than comparing your entry to other models and saying “well, Jim over there made something nicer.” Knowing what you can do to go from Bronze to Silver is much more valuable information than knowing which mold line you missed or what tiny flaw in your model caused the other guy to beat you.

If you really want feedback, track down a judge and ask him or her for it. Or, just talk to your friends and fellow competitors and get their feedback. Detailed feedback on a score sheet sounds nice, but it is onerous for the judges and it may not be as useful as simply having a conversation about your work with friends, regardless of whether they have a fancy judge title or not.

Prize Support

This is a tricky subject. I mean, upon initial glance, prize support is good, right? Everyone loves free stuff, and the more expensive free stuff, the better. If we can get hundreds of dollars of stuff and give it to the winner, then that’s great and it will encourage more people to join in, right?

However, there are some issues with large prize pools that may outweigh the draw of free stuff. When you have prizes like free trips to Japan to compete in the GBWC world cup or the $10,000 Crystal Brush, the stakes get higher and competition starts to get more intense. You can see this in things like Magic and Warhammer tournaments with large prize pools; by raising the stakes, you encourage people to be more cutthroat about things and increase the risk of salt and unsportsmanlike behaviour. IPMS deals with this by insisting that the prizes don’t have much if any intrinsic value – instead of wads of cash or expensive uber-kits, you are rewarded with a small medal or trophy, bragging rights, and the warm fuzzy feelings you get from recognition by your peers.

Further, in a smaller community, if you have a small number of people who are winning all the time, it can start to feel a little discouraging for the rest of the modellers. If you have entry fees and the same people winning all the prizes all the time, it can start to feel like same guy is taking your lunch money every day and this can encourage people who don’t have a chance to not show up, not participate, and not learn and grow by competing.

I’m not saying that prize support isn’t appreciated or that free kits isn’t a nice thing to have, but if people want the prizes badly enough that it starts to negatively affect their sportsmanship and attitude towards the competition, it can be a double-edged sword. How much is too much, and if you do have a generous sponsor, what portion of the prize pool should go to reward performance in the competition versus participation prizes like raffles, silent auctions, and door prizes, is worth some careful consideration.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, given my background, I like the open system. However, I feel like at the end of the day, too much competition can be unhealthy and perhaps there is something to be said for doing exhibitions and pageants instead of competitions. Aside from the occasional outburst of drama due to disagreements with a judge’s decision, it is all too easy to fall into a trap of comparing oneself to others in a hobby that should be about relaxation and, if you want to push it, self-improvement. Regardless of the format of the competition, one would be well served to go into it caring more for the friends you make and the inspiration on the tables than the awards you win.

Reporting back from Torcan 2019

This past weekend was Torcan 2019, a large model show held in Brampton by Peel Scale Modelers. In terms of scale model shows, I would consider this to be one of the big three in the region. It’s not quite as big as HeritageCon or CapCon, and doesn’t have the same really cool venue as these other two, but it’s still a large show that is definitely worth the trip.

It was a long drive, and, after consuming more peameal bacon than I have ever seen in one place before in Oshawa, I made it to the show around 10:00. Parking was a challenge at the venue, but I managed to find a spot at a school next door. This proved to be problematic at the end of the day, when I had to run through torrential rain to retrieve my vehicle. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring one more change of clothes than I thought I would need and I was able to dry myself off a little, so it wasn’t too bad.

The vendor hall was well stocked; it was basically a hockey rink with four rows of tables running the length of the rink. There were plenty of dealers selling models, as well as a few selling tools, shirts, and other modelling accessories. Since it was mostly focused on the traditional stuff and I’m trying to be good, I didn’t buy any models, however I did stop by the vendor that had all the Green Stuff World and Flex-i-file products and picked up the third set of GSW colour shift paints and the Goodman Models super sanding blocks.

I also liked how they did the awards ceremonies. During the show, they snapped photos of the models and quickly put pictures of the winners and a listing of the top three into the powerpoint presentation. While reading the judges’ handwriting was clearly the weak link in this process, it made the awards ceremonies a lot more entertaining when you get that visual reminder of the cool models on the table and get to see the winners again.

One thing that I did really appreciate was the growth in the figures category from last year. Competition was much fiercer, both in terms of the number of models on the table and the quality. There were about 45 entries, with particularly tough competition in busts and sci-fi/fantasy. With somewhere around 430 entries, figures represented 10% of the models on the table, which is actually pretty good as these sorts of shows are traditionally dominated by the three A’s – aircraft, armour, and automotive. Quality was also up there this year, with some very accomplished painters entering and a large portion of the models on the table being what I would consider to be seriously competitive.

I think the simplest way to illustrate my point would be to note that my entries this year were a lot better than my entries last year, but I didn’t take home as many shiny gold medals. While I was debating for a while whether to make the drive or not this year, the increase in participation in the figures category has really pushed this show from a maybe into an annual thing for me.

Things that caught my eye

Of course, there were a number of models in the show that caught my eye and deserve special attention. Starting with the juniors, there was one kid who was clearly a natural at car modelling; according to the sheet, this Chevy Nova with the yellow to black fade was his first model.

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In figures, this Cap’n Sapo bust beat me out for gold in the busts category, and took home best figure. It was a neat mix of texture, with the frog skin, leather, eyeballs, and a little bit of armour plate on the shoulders creating some nice contrast across the model, and all of these textures were rendered masterfully. It also bore an unfortunate resemblance to a certain popular nazi meme, but I’m assuming that was just a coincidence.

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In sci-fi, there was a really neat looking dieselpunk spacecraft thing. It was cool, it was yellow, and according to the sheet, it was all scratchbuilt. Which was awesome.

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The Nuka Cola building was my vote for the people’s choice award. Though it had no figures and no vehicles, it was very detailed and evocative of the world of Fallout. Or what I imagine the world of Fallout to be; my only real experience with Fallout is watching The Final Pam on Monster Factory.

I wasn’t the only person who did a Bf.109B. Someone also did one, using an older kit from a different manufacturer and painting it up in the more traditional colour scheme of the fascist forces in Spain.

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It’s often hard for me to pick out what stands out in the world of armour because tanks tend to be not very colourful and often splattered with the same colours of mud and dirt. But for my money, the little SU-18 assault gun, which looks like a 76mm gun slapped on an FT-17 tank, was just a neat subject and was very well done.

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For the Gundams, I spent a lot of time staring at a fellow club member’s ball. This extensively modified MG ball kit was painted with inspiration from the Watchmen, and was a great illustration of how far you can take a gundam kit with realistic weathering, battle damage, etc.

Finally, in space and sci fi, I saw someone brought one of those Warhammer 40K walkers. I don’t remember how well it did, but I just thought it was nice to see some stuff from the Warhammer universe on the tables, even if 90% of the models from 40K aren’t really my jam.

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Results

I think before I get into this section, it is important to note that these contests aren’t just about who brings home the hardware, and that sort of overly competitive mentality is something that we all need to consciously avoid in order to keep our hobby fun and welcoming.

That said, even though the competition in figures was a lot more intense this year, I still did fairly well. I took Silver and Bronze in the busts category, with Amy Johnson and Nancy Steelpunch, respectively, losing out to the aforementioned Cap’n Sapo and pushing my Sorscha bust out of the top three. In the regular sci-fi/fantasy category, little Sorscha won me a gold, edging out some sort of space marine. Further, I took home the theme award for figures, with Nancy representing the best “Bent, Broken and Wounded” model with her steampunk mechano-hand.

In the non-figure categories, my Spanish Republican captured Bf.109 took home a silver in the Out Of Box category, losing out to a fellow IPMS Ottawa member’s MiG-31. This was actually the entry that I was most interested in because I was curious as to what the reaction would be. It is very much an illustration of what happens when a figure painter tries out aircraft and very much outside of the predominant style for model aircraft.

My two Gundam entries, my Ball and my SD, also won golds in their categories. Again, these aren’t in the traditional style of gunpla builders, being simple, out of the box kits that were competently assembled, but with a lot of effort focused on the interaction of light and shadow and freehand painting, whereas most gunpla competitons heavily weigh modifications, kitbashing, and flashy LED lighting. However, the painting must have impressed the judges, because they both won their categories.

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For those of you keeping score, Ottawa balls actually did pretty well in the Gundam section, with two balls made by Gunpla Ottawa members winning their categories, and the other one winning best overall in the Gundam division.

Finally, I had some extra room in my case, and remembered someone brought an entire 15mm Roman army last year, so I decided to drag some pieces from my Khador and Cygnar warmachine armies to enter into the collections, and came away with a silver and a bronze, respectively.

I also did fairly well in the raffle department, coming home with a Tamiya motorcycle kit and a couple small ships. Neither of these are the sort of things that I would have actually bought given the option, however I think they will both make for interesting challenges in the future.

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Just so long as I don’t have to buy any 1:700 scale photoetch.

(for another review of the show, check out ModelAirplaneMaker’s report here)

Bonus: random photodump of cool models!

 

“In Enemy Hands” – the Spanish Republican 109

When I last reported on this model, I had gotten it all more or less together, aside from the landing gear, propeller, and a few other small bits that I didn’t want to risk breaking off as I painted. After hours of work sanding, filling, and re-scribing, I only had a few more little things to get done before I can launch into the fun part.

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About where I was last time…

For those of you who didn’t bother reading the previous article, this is the AMG 1/48 scale Bf.109B model, being done up in the colours of one that served in Spain and was captured by the Republicans.

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The finished product

Painting the Canopy

The 109 in all its variants has some rather extensive canopy framing. Fortunately, this kit provided pre-cut masks, however it only provided them for the outside. If you wanted to paint the framing on the inside of your canopy, which I did because I wanted to do an open canopy so the cockpit detail was visible, you would have to mask it yourself. Fortunately, I got a little trick from a friend for doing extensively framed glass like the canopy of the 109 – mask all the framing going one way first, paint it, let it dry, then mask off the framing going the other way. While this did take a little longer because there were a lot of “wait for the paint/primer to cure” steps, it made for good results and spared me the frustration of trying to cut little squares out of masking tape precisely to fit.

With the inside of the canopy framing done, it was time to mask the outside. The pre-cut canopy masks were a little easier to work with, as expected, however there were a couple sharp corners where they wanted to constantly pull up, so I had to be careful of that when I was spraying. Once masked, I glued in the front and back piece using a very small amount of gel super glue (sure to keep it open to avoid fogging). For the center section, I used blue tack to temporarily hold the center section in place and closed, preventing overspray from getting into the cockpit, while I painted the rest of the plane. I then primed the entire thing in black Stynylrez, fixed up any seam line issues or surface imperfections that became visible after priming, then hit it with a second coat of primer.

The Fun Part

When it came to painting, I chose to paint it in two halves; do the bottom first and let it dry before tackling the top half. This way, there are fewer worries about how to hold the model as I paint it – and given that I haven’t installed the landing gear yet, that is a bit of an issue.

Now, my approach to this is based partly on a background in painting figures and wargaming pieces. Here, you often emphasize shadows and highlights with your paints to make it pop from a couple feet away. There is little concern for matching the exact colour, because aside from the fact that there is no generally accepted FS colour for magical robits, you’re going to be painting in so many highlights and shadows anyways, that the ultimate colour on your model might go 20% lighter in the highlights and 20% darker in the shadows – meaning that there is little point in fretting over the right shade.

This is in some ways a more artistic approach than one that is based in trying to achieve an exact replica of the real thing. Not that it is any better or worse, mind you, but different, and it helps make the model pop, especially from a distance.

The bulk of the plane was base coated in Vallejo Metal Color Dark Aluminum out of the airbrush. With that down, I switched to their regular Aluminum colour for highlights on areas such as the upper curves of the fuselage, the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces, and the center of some of the panels for a little modulation. I took a similar strategy with the red; after masking off everything that I wanted to stay silver, I laid down a couple coats of a deep crimson to cover up the metallic paint underneath, then then, on the upper surfaces, leading edges, and the center of the panels, worked my way up to a bright red. The brightest tone was a mixture of Citadel Evil Sunz Scarlet, some Flame Red artist inks to kick the intensity and saturation up a notch, and perhaps a little P3 Khador Red Highlight, which despite its name, is actually a not very saturated orange.

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The colours I used to achieve the red — a crimson, a bright red, a red ink, a highlight orange, and a little blue shade to reinforce some shadows

With that dry, I placed a piece of masking tape over the landing gear bays and ran my exacto knife around the inside of the landing gear bays, removing all the tape covering the bays but leaving the tape over the skin of the aircraft. From there, I sprayed the landing gear bays in Vallejo Green-Grey, which was my “close enough” approximation for RLM 02.

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My yellow process…

One other thing – as I was priming, I accidentally broke off the rudder, however this actually turned out to be fortuitous as it made masking and painting the markings on the rudder a lot easier. I simply sprayed the entire thing white, masked off the middle third, and painted the top red and the bottom purple, using a similar approach as on the stripes. After removing the masking, I sprayed the lightest touch of Citadel’s Druchii Violet shade over the white in a couple areas to preshade it, then sprayed it all with a Process Yellow acrylic artist ink, not being overly concerned with overspray onto the red and purple areas because yellow is such a weak colour that, while the pigment-dense ink will turn the white areas yellow, it won’t make a difference over red or purple.

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Oops…

 

There are a couple panels on the 109 near the nose section that are much darker than the rest of the plane, however they were small enough that I was able to brush paint them with a mixture of Vallejo Model Colour gunmetal gray and black and didn’t bother with masking.

Throughout this process, I did make a few mistakes; either missing a surface imperfection or messing up a mold line. To deal with these, I isolated the panel where the mistake was with Tamiya masking tape around the panel lines, sanded it back down to bare plastic, and then reprimed and repainted. I had to do this on a few panels, but fortunately none that were either too big or too difficult to sand.

Weathering, Panel Lines, and Reinforcing Shadows

For the panel lines, I decided to do it the hard way, applying some sort of combination of washes, acrylic artist inks, and plenty of flow improver with my 10/0 brush. The result was perhaps a little more stark than I wanted, but once you weather it and take a step back and look at it from “on the tables” distance, rather than three inches away, I think it looks pretty good.

When it came to weathering, I wanted to keep the chipping subtle, as is appropriate for aircraft models. I did some light sponge chipping on the leading edges, around access panels, etc. with some silver and some Khador Red Highlight on the red parts. I then took my 10/0 liner brush and laid in some streaks in the direction of the airflow with very thin paint, lots of flow improver and the lightest touch.

Next up, I took out some Citadel shades and got out my detail aibrush. I’ve been playing with spraying these through the airbrush a fair bit lately, and I think there are a lot of interesting effects you can get from them. The trick is, you have to just barely pull the trigger back, as pulling it back too far will cause huge problems. If you have this feature on your airbrush and you aren’t comfortable freehanding it, there is no shame in using the needle stop. While these shades are effective at sinking into recesses, if you airbrush them on just a tiny amount at a time, you can tint the underlying paint in interesting ways.

So, there are three things I want to do with these shades:

  1. Reinforce the shadows

While I did have some nice highlights and shadows and modulation going, I wanted to reinforce it a little more. By spraying some Drakenhof Nightshade, which is a blue-black, I can tint certain areas like the underside, the wing roots, and the panel line areas. Fortunately, this is a good shade for both the metallics and the red – blue, as a cooler colour, will push the shadows in the red more towards a shaded crimson and let the highlights really pop, while it also works reasonably well over metallics. Also, it dulls down the finish a little, which isn’t bad for shadows.

If you go too aggressive at this stage and don’t like it, you can always build it back up again by respraying some highlight colour.

  1. Add surface variation.

The surface of an aircraft isn’t perfect, so I like to represent that on my model. I like to do this in two stages. First, start with Drakenhof Nightshade, their blue shade. Then follow up with something brown, like Nuln Oil or Agrax Earthshade. This creates a very interesting surface because not only do you have some variation in lightness and darkness, but you also have some cool/warm contrast, which provides another layer of visual interest.

For bonus points, you can get some interesting effects by masking along a panel line, either with tape or just by holding a business card along the panel line as you spray. This will make it so that the marbling and variation isn’t continuous across the surface, but rather there are breaks in the pattern as we go from panel to panel.

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Metallic colours, and some shades

  1. Add stains

These washes can also be used to add things like stains. I did some stains and streaks by simply starting from a point of origin like the oil cooler under the wings or the radiator area and spraying a little bit of the colour I wanted going back from there in the direction of the airflow.

For the soot from the exhaust and the guns, I simply sprayed on some Nuln Oil, again, spraying it wherever made sense to me based on the airflow around the plane. I was considering adding some dry pigments, but the Nuln Oil itself actually gave me such a good effect that I didn’t consider them necessary.

Final Bits

With the bulk of the plane done, there were a few little bits that I had painted separately to attach at the end. Landing gear, propeller, center section of the canopy, and a few little protuberances like antennae and pitot tubes. I simply scraped away a tiny bit of paint, installed the part with either plastic cement or CA glue, and then touched up the paint in that area with a brush. The dorsal antenna was pinned into the surface with some thin brass rod, and a piece of EZ-Line was added and painted silver to add the wire – just before I found out that the particular aircraft which was captured by the Republicans didn’t actually have that antenna and wire. Oh well, I don’t build for accuracy anyways.

The Base

I couldn’t just leave it on the shelf as is, so I decided to make a simple base. I got myself a picture frame from the dollar store and sanded and painted it up. For the center of the display base, I chose to use national colours for a few reasons. Mainly, I wanted to emphasize that this aircraft was in Spanish Republican service, and the clearest way to do that is with the red-yellow-purple tricolour of the Second Spanish Republic, which is very distinctive as this short-lived flag is one of the only national flags in history to include purple. Unfortunately, presumably in part because it was likely hastily painted in the field, there are no actual roundels on this aircraft. So the only place where that tricolour shows up is on the rudder way at the back, partly obscured by the horizontal stabilizer. So, by doing the base in national colours, it would bring in the purple and yellow that is really only seen in one small area at the extreme back of the model, and emphasize the Spanish Republican provenance.

It took me a few tries to create the tricolour, but I eventually hit on the best way to do it. First, I took a piece of printer paper and traced out the shape of the inside of the frame, then divided it up into thirds for the tricolor pattern. Using masking tape, I masked off the middle third and then taped the whole thing to a piece of cardboard that I stood up in my airbrush booth. I loaded my airbrush up with acrylic artist inks and used it to colour up the two sides – one purple and one red. Once that was done, I removed the masking and sprayed the center part yellow. Similar to when I was painting the rudder on the plane, I didn’t bother remasking because I actually wasn’t worried about overspray at all – the yellow is a weak enough colour compared to the red and the purple that, while it will turn the white paper yellow quite nicely, it won’t make any perceptible difference to the underlying colour over the red or purple.  From there, I let it dry, cut it to size, and placed it into the frame.

Conclusions

This was an interesting experience. My previous experience with model aircraft fell into two categories. First, there were the aircraft I built in my childhood, which were done with all the enthusiasm and craftsmanship that the twelve year old version of myself was capable of. Second, there were the two archaic Polish kits from behind the iron curtain that were not exactly the sort of raw material that I’m going to use to create a masterpiece.

This was a departure from those; I don’t think it’s unfair to say that I put a lot more effort into these than I did those archaic kits that ended up being little more than testbeds for this project. There were some frustrations on the way (see: everything about the front cowling on this kit) and a lot of figuring things out as I go (ugh, photoetch). However, it was an enjoyable experience, even if the kit itself didn’t exactly feature Bandai-level engineering.

My goal was to finish this up for the local IPMS chapter’s annual theme contest. I ended up picking this kit up about a year ago, and ended up putting it off, then shelving it a couple times, meaning I finished it with a little under a month to spare. And, as a bonus, I managed to squeak out a win with a split decision over a really interesting customized Bren Gun Carrier, captured by the Germans and turned into an improvised tank hunter. While I’m going to get back to my usual figures, busts and magic robits, this was a good experience.

Except for the photoetch.

Build Update – AMG Bf.109B (1/48)

This is a project that has been on and off my table for a while since I picked up the kit almost a year ago. For a few months, I would take it out, look at the sprues, then put it back, close the box, and back away slowly. Eventually, I got it started, but then I kept getting distracted with gaming pieces that I wanted to either clear off my shelf of shame, or get painted up for demos or tournaments. Because I suppose is theoretically possible that I could go to another tournament.

The theme of the contest I’m building for is “In Enemy Hands.” So, as a tip of the hat to the Spanish Republicans and because I love their red-yellow-purple scheme, I’m doing the one Bf.109 that they managed to capture. The challenges of this project started early; I thought it would be fairly easy to find a Bf.109, but the only kit that I could find of a 109B (or any early 109 with the Jumo engine) was the AMG kit in 1/48 scale.

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Now, I’m not sure that I’ve built enough model kits that I can offer a fair assessment of the fit and finish of the kit, and I definitely haven’t done enough research to determine if it has the correct number of rivets along the upper lower left panel line second from the front on the cowling or if the johnson rod is a hair out of scale. However, my impression is that this is not a kit for the faint of heart. There are a lot of photoetch details, particularly in the cockpit, and it comes with resin and rubber parts as well, not to mention a commensurately large pricetag. There are also a lot of small parts, and the sprues aren’t exactly Bandai or Games Workshop quality, though they are a step up from the 1960s kits from behind the iron curtain that I’m used to. Notably, there are a lot of places where the engineering is such that you don’t have much in the way of locating pins and tabs to help you align the parts.

But, if you’re too much of a hipster to build a popular subject like I am, sometimes you have to take what you can get.

My Progress

So far, I managed to muddle my way through the infuriating photoetch on the cockpit, painted it up, and got the two halves of the fuselage together. I did depart from the official instructions, gluing the side panels into the fuselage first rather than gluing them onto the floor of the cockpit and hoping that they somehow fit flush against the inside of the fuselage. The two halves of the fuselage went together fairly well, though there was some filling, sanding, and re-scribing necessary.

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Cockpit detail

Departing from the instructions again, I installed the tail wheel before putting the fuselage halves together. While I did end up accidentally snapping it off later, I was able to drill out a hole for a brass rod on both ends of the break so it should be a simple repair that will probably end up with something that, with the brass rod at its core, is stronger than the original.

From there, I taped over the cockpit so I don’t mess it up and started getting the big pieces together – wings, control surfaces, etc., so it would look like a plane. I did paint up and weather the engine, only to nearly completely cover it up. At least I know it’s there.

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All this work… for nothing

The nose in particular was a challenging affair. On this kit, the nose consists of eight pieces. With so many pieces, most of which are connected by simple butt joints, one has to be very careful to get the fit just right. Otherwise, the slightest error will carry over and be magnified with each subsequent piece and you will need to use a lot of putty to get everything looking okay in the end. Further, the seam along the top of the cowling is difficult to fill and sand without accidentally obliterating the detail around the guns.

With all the filling and sanding done on the main structure, it is starting to look like a plane. I’m thinking of hitting it with some Stynylrez black before I start putting all the small, fiddly bits on and covering up some areas around the radiatior that I should paint before I assemble. I find it difficult to really see how well you did with fixing the seams until you actually prime it, and if it turns out after the primer that I didn’t do a good job, I want to have a chance to fix it without snapping off the pitot tube and other small pieces.

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My goal is to finish this thing for a contest in early March. I feel like this isn’t an unreasonable goal, so long as I don’t run into any major hiccups. And, while things are starting to come together, there are a number of places in this project where things can go wrong. First, I think landing gear is going to be a challenge. With the narrow track of the landing gear on the 109, the slightest misalignment could result in one wing being much lower than the other, and this kit doesn’t exactly have the most builder-friendly engineering to start with.

Next, the canopy could potentially be an issue. You have to be very careful when working with clear parts because you can’t just paint over mistakes, and there is potential for issues like glue fogging the canopy. I’d like to display it with the canopy open, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. And, there is also some of the aforementioned photoetch on the canopy as well.

Finally, my scheme involves a natural metal finish. While I’m not stranger to painting some shiny metal bits on models, I haven’t done an entire model in a natural metal finish. Obviously, I’m going to use Vallejo Metal Color, but I will probably need to head to the hobby store and pick up one of the 16 shades of grey metal that I don’t already have in order to get it historically accurate. Further, while the scheme itself isn’t too complex and can mostly be achieved through masking and spraying, I am a little concerned with decal application as that is new to me and I’ve seen enough silvered decals to worry about my chances.

That said, I’m really excited to get the thing together and primed and get started on the fun part. I can’t wait to start painting in the red-yellow-purple of the tail. And, none of these challenges are insurmountable. I believe in painting bravely, which is why I do stupid things like trying a resin pour for the first time on a display piece.

No man is an island

The other interesting thing is that this project really shows how the internet has helped connect modellers. First, when I googled pictures of finished scale models of the 109B, I found one made by fellow local figure painter. His is from an older kit, and is painted up in the colours of the bad guys, but I did get a chance to chat with him a bit about things like the proper colour for a Jumo-engined 109 and which seam lines are supposed to be panel lines and which need to be filled.

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Fun fact: Jean is better than me at both aircraft AND painting figures

Second, I’m part of a facebook group for Spanish Civil War modelling, and recently, someone posted their rendition of this plane. Not this type of plane, but this specific aircraft. While my initial reaction was to be disappointed that my idea is clearly not as original as I thought it was, seeing his rendition was a great help in figuring out things like what colours should go where. Also, he linked to a veritable treasure trove of reference material. Couple that with some other pictures of people’s takes on not just the 109B, but any of the early Jumo-engined 109s, and I’ve got some reference material which, if not authoritative, is a big help to me as someone working on a more obscure aircraft.

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Hey look, someone took my idea… only to do it first and probably better than I can

Conclusion

This kit is… well, it’s somewhere between a Bandai Gundam kit and a communist bloc 1960s kit in terms of engineering, details, and ease of assembly. I think I can finish this thing in time for the contest. The sprues are starting to get pretty bare, and the plane actually kind of looks like a plane. So long as I don’t get distracted, I should be able to… hey look, something shiny!

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Polishing a turd: The PZL.23 Karas

So, I’ve been dipping my toe a little bit into other forms of hobbying as of late. Aside from a couple gundam kits that I’ve bashed out, I decided to try my hand at model airplane building, partly to try something new and partly because it’s what all the cool kids at the IPMS were doing. So, with the idea of doing a quick weekend project to practice before I start on an $80 kit, I pulled out a box off the shelf and…

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Oh, dear.

The kit

The PZL.23 Karas is one of the more esoteric aircraft of World War II. A Polish single-engined ground attack plane, it was roughly equivalent to the Fairey Battle or the Breda Ba.65 in that it was a very advanced aircraft for its day, but it was a little outdated by the time the war rolled around and had been outpaced by more modern aircraft. Still, in the hands of the Polish, it put up what resistance it could against the German war machine. Notably, it was a PZL.23B which made the first bombing raid of the war within German territory, and captured examples would go on to be used in small numbers by the Romanians as well as in second-line duties with the Bulgarians.

As the title alludes to, this kit is kind of a turd by modern standards. Looking at Scalemates, I can see that this was a 1980s rebox of a kit originally produced in 1964. There are only about twenty parts and they are made from a cheap, crappy plastic. It has raised panel lines, and there are a lot of areas where details are extremely lacking. The interior detail is nonexistent, with only three seats (and no locating tabs to know where to put them), and no dashboards, controls, etc. Rivet counters could probably find dozens of inaccuracies from the profile of the plane to the number of panel lines; I know I inadvertently found some when I was looking up paint schemes. Fortunately, I’m not a rivet counter, so I don’t care.

And, just to add insult to injury, the instructions were in Polish. Because of course they were.

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Okay, got it

My approach

I’ve picked up a lot of techniques for model aircraft by hanging around the local IPMS crew. However, while I knew I could do research and suss out the internet arguments of pre-shading versus black-basing and which one is the superior, more realistic technique that serious modellers use, part of me wanted to remain willfully ignorant of this for a couple reasons. First, this was just a practice piece for another project and the kit was so crappy that I knew this wasn’t going to be a masterpiece regardless. Second, I wanted to see what I could apply with my figure painting techniques to the art of scale aircraft building. I felt like instead of just copying what everyone else was doing and doing a bit worse of a job on it, I could go into it without any preconceived notions and see how it turns out.

So, this is in some ways an experimental piece – give a figure guy a model plane and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’re only out the two bucks that this turd of a kit cost.

Assembly

While the kit may have not been the greatest, there were a couple things which were working in my favour. The main wing was moulded in two pieces – an upper and a lower piece which both ran the entire span of both wings. The upper mated to the fuselage, which had a cutout on the bottom for these parts to go together. This meant that alignment wouldn’t be too much of an issue; it would be hard for me to mess up the dihedral with how the kit was engineered. Additionally, this plane has no visible struts and the landing gear is fixed with a big, thick fairing, so there isn’t going to be any futzing around with spindly little landing gear legs and worrying about getting them at the correct angle, not to mention painting all the details inside the landing gear bays.

I managed to get it all together in one evening while consuming a copious amount of beer (though not so much that I would mess up the kit even worse than it was messed up coming out of the factoty or stab myself with an x-acto knife), though I left the propeller able to spin for now to make painting the cowling easier. It took a couple layers of apply and sanding milliput to fill seams and sculpt something a fairing between the horizontal stabilizer and the fuselage. Even after the second layer, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for government work and I was getting antsy to start painting.

Priming

As mentioned, I’m a figure guy. So, that means I’m relatively ignorant of the eternal internet struggle between pre-shaders and black-basers, and firmly on the side of a good zenithal prime. So, I loaded up my Patriot 105 with some Stynylrez black and sprayed the entire model down, getting a nice coat on both the top and the bottom. From there, I cleaned out my airbrush and pulled out the Stynylrez white and fired from above and from the front. I focused on parts that are in direct sunlight and the leading edge of the wings, letting the primer fade into black on the underside and near the trailing edges of the wings and control surfaces.

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Primed with Stynylrez black…

This technique does two things. First, it helps me understand where the highlights and shadows should be on a model, which is critical in figure painting. An airbrush loaded with white primer coming in from above actually does a decent job of representing the sun’s rays landing on the model and illuminating the highlights while avoiding the shadows. Second, it preshades it for you, which can be useful in later steps. This can be done roughly with a black and a white rattle can as well, though I prefer the airbrush for the control and ease of use in my small apartment. Personally, I tend to push things a little more towards the white side than most people when I do a zenithal because I figure it’s easier to darken something later than lighten it.

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…and followed up with white from above

 

Paint time!

Okay, here’s where I can really polish this turd. I sprayed the underside with a more or less uniform layer of Vallejo Light Sea Grey then masked it off. To be honest, there isn’t that much interesting on the underside, just that light sea grey and some mottling, so I’ll focus the rest of this article on the upper surfaces. Anyways, according to my sources, the closest colour to what these things were actually painted in in Polish service is Vallejo Green Brown. So, I loaded my airbrush up with… a mixture of P3 Coal Black and Reaper MSP Pure Black?

Sure.

Fear not, there is a method to my madness. With an airbrush, it’s easiest to work from your darkest shadow to the highest highlight, as we did with our zenithal prime. And when it comes to painting green, you don’t want to shade it with just black and white. You want cool shadows and warm highlights, so you want to have it move towards the blue end of the spectrum in addition to getting darker in the shadows, and towards the yellow end of the spectrum in addition to getting lighter in the highlights. And Coal Black is this wonderful blue-green black colour that is darker and cooler than most greens and makes an excellent shadow colour, among many other uses.

So, I mixed up a mixture of mostly Coal Black with a bit of Pure Black to darken it up a little (because I’m all about exact mixtures), making sure to get it on the underside and in all the shadowed areas where there was more black than white primer.

Next, I washed out the airbrush and loaded it up with the Vallejo Green Brown which would be my base colour. Similar to when I did the white on the zenithal prime, I sprayed mainly from above and in the areas that wouldn’t be shadowed, painting most of the plane in this colour but leaving some shadowed areas. Finally, I added some yellow to the base colour and added some highlights. The highlights were focused in a few places — near the leading edges of the wings and stabilizers, along the top of the fuselage, and in an area on the side to emphasize the transition from the convex surface of the round fuselage to the concave transition into the upper cockpit area. I also sprayed some into the middle of the panels, particularly on the wings, in order to create a bit of modulation.

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Airbrushed the top; note the colours used in the background.

That was all well and good, but I kind of wanted to shade the panel lines as well. And, since I’m a figure guy, what do I immediately reach for when it’s time to shade something?

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Good old liquid talent…

That’s right, GW’s washes, or shades as they call them. But we aren’t going to brush them on because that would leave so much nasty coffee staining. We’re going to airbrush it.

I made myself a mixture of Athonian Camoshade, which is their olive drab sort of wash, and a bit of Nuln Oil to darken it (again, very scientific and exact proportions) in the cup of my Badger Krome and got to spraying. When spraying these washes, a very light touch on the trigger is very important – you want just enough that it will build up in the recesses and tint the surrounding area, but not spray enough over the model that it will start beading and coffee staining. If you aren’t confident in your trigger control, this may be a very good time to try out a trigger stop. I sprayed some of this in a random, mottled pattern to add a little bit of visual interest to the model. Then, I followed up by tracing some of the panel lines, which reinforced the modulation and shaded the panel lines, giving me what I thought was a nice effect.

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Addition of the shade

At some point, I decided that I should do something creative with the cockpit. Between the missing clear piece and the complete lack of any interior detail, this is where an elite scale modeller would either scratchbuild a bunch of tiny parts or spend a lot of money on aftermarket pieces to bling it out. I am not an elite scale modeller. I was missing a clear piece, and given the amount of detail on the average 1960s era Polish model kits, I knew if I painted over the cockpit, you wouldn’t be missing much.

So, my idea was to adapt a technique I used on figures for painting gemstones to do an opaque cockpit. I started by spraying the entire thing in a blue-black. From there, I used the edge of a business card as a mask and sprayed some lighter, more saturated blues into one of the lower corners of each pane of glass. I followed that up with an even lighter blue, so I had a transition from a dark blue at the top into a light blue at the bottom where the light would filter out of the cockpit.

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Cockpit airbrushed, will follow up with a brush

Details and Weathering

There were some details remaining to be picked out with the brush. First was adding some glints of light to the top area of the windows, opposite the lighter area, just to kick up the artistic glass effect. This was done with some sky blue and some P3 frostbite, and as the windows were flat, I made the glints corner-shaped.

From there, the engine, exhaust pipes, propellors, canopy framing, etc., were all done with a brush. And when it got time to apply markings, because I can’t do things the easy way, I decided that instead of using the decals in the kit, I would bust out my trusty Raphael 8404 and brush paint those on, doing such detailed consultation of reference material as funding the first result on google image search that looked cool and easy to paint and running with it. I used panel lines for reference where I could to make sure that my markings somewhat approximated the proper scale and made sure to keep a steady hand. Most importantly, I double checked before putting down the red on the checkerboard roundels, because there is nothing worse than finishing a Polish roundel only to find that you’ve accidentally rotated it 90 degrees and now it’s all wrong. Also, I didn’t go all the way to white in the checkerboard patterns — a light grey is more than sufficient to make things read as white in this context, and it’s not as chalky and hard to apply as a pure white.

For weathering, it was important to keep it subtle. I did a little bit of sponge chipping in two layers; the first layer being some of the base colour mixed with white, and the second layer being some sort of midtone metallic silver. In this case, when you’re doing chipping, you need to think where to place your chips. And this is more than just where to cover your mistakes. Chipping on a plane is going to be concentrated in a few areas. It’s going to be on leading edges, on the front and underside of the cowling, and on the areas where the pilots are likely to step on as they climb into the plane. Weathering should tell a story, and these are the areas that are going to get beaten up the most.

Finally, I threw on a little Typhus Corrosion to represent dirt on the wheels and the spats, some light dry pigments to represent dust on the tires and landing gear, and some black dry pigment around and leading back from the exhaust pipe to represent soot. And with that, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour because I had turned this old kit into something that didn’t look half bad, at least not from a distance.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a detailed representation of a PZL 23A Karas, don’t buy this kit. In fact, I think at $2, I probably overpaid. There is a Heller version of this plane in 1/72nd scale that has been reboxed a few times which is less than 50 years old and not made behind the Iron Curtain, so I would assume it would have to be better than this thing.

However, while the detail is lacking in some areas and there are some obvious inaccuracies that I was too lazy to fix, overall, I’m not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a cheap, simple kit, painted up to look nice from about three feet away – which is the distance from which it will be looked at that 99% of the time when it’s not being torn apart by a nitpicky IPMS judge. So, I would say that my efforts to apply figure painting techniques to scale model aircraft were mostly successful. I’m now feeling more confident in tackling the 109B I have in my stash… that is, I was until I saw the photoetch.

Bonus Content: Owlbear!

As I wrapped this thing up at a build day, I also worked on a quick speedpaint on a project a little closer to my roots: a Reaper Bones Owlbear in 30mm scale, with plenty of inks, washes and dry brushing to get it to a decent tabletop standard quickly. An Owlbear is exactly what it sounds like, and for the benefit of your sanity, try not to think of show that may have came to be. I’m using it for my Necromunda gang to represent a Khimerix, becuase when someone says “horrific gene-spliced abomination with sharp claws and a nasty bite,” I think Owlbear.

I call him Owl Dirty Bastard, leader of the Hoot Tang Clan.

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The importance of hobby cross-pollination

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.

Hobby groups

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.

My story

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.

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Pictured: not a T-34

Conclusion

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.

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Pictured: A well-balanced hobby diet. Don’t hate me for the Cygnar model in the top right; I swear I only bought it for parts for a conversion.

 

** 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.

May 2018 – Model Show Update

One of the advantages Ottawa has over Winnipeg is the fact that there are other major cities within less than an eight hour drive. As you’re not completely surrounded by hundreds of miles of wheat and canola, you can actually do day trips to other cities and attend events put on by other clubs. The month of May was a busy one with a number of clubs within not too long of a drive putting on model shows. In addition to the first local Gunpla group’s first contest (which I won first place in with my Zaku), I managed to make it to two model shows, the IPMS Montreal’s gala and Torcan, put on by Peel Scale Modellers.

IMG_0314.JPGMontreal was a fairly small show, with probably somewhere a little under entries. I did well with my figures and Gundam; they didn’t allow sweeps but I won first and second in fantasy figures, and was the only entry in busts so I won by default. There were only two Gundam entries; mine won first, but the second-place was a nicely assembled Real Grade Zaku of some sort reaching out to pick someone up from a busted up concrete shell of the corner of a building.

The really nice thing about the Montreal show, however, were the two presentations they put on by local modellers. Laurie Norman did a presentation on figure painting, including fantasy creatures like dragons. I think a lot of people managed to get a lot out of it, because painting figures is one thing that a lot of scale modellers feel intimidated by, and a lot of armour builders struggle with. Her session also reminded me that I’ve never actually done a dragon, and maybe I should try something like that sometime (hello, Reaper Bones…). Xiao Yang, who is an excellent naval modeller and won best in show at CapCon last year, did one on rigging ships which was very informative. I know I took away an important lesson from it, which is “don’t build anything that requires rigging.”

Highlights

At Montreal, there was the usual smattering and some interesting subjects, including a Saturn V that had me clenching my buttocks as it swayed back and forth on the table as people walked by. The highlights for me, however, were the dioramas. That, and a big CN semi tractor-trailer. Automotive isn’t usually my thing, and less so big industrial vehicles, but this was impressive in the finish, the scale, and the detail that went into the sleeper cab underneath a removable roof.

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Note the roof on the base next to the truck; it is removable

As mentioned, there were a number of dioramas with a number of focuses, including aircraft, armour, and civilian vehicles. They were all great, but here’s a couple standouts.

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Torcan

Torcan was a larger show, with almost 500 models on the tables. Again, these were spread out over all categories and had a nice mix of aircraft, armour, ships, etc., with a strong space and sci-fi section. I had a really good day at the awards ceremony, probably my best to date, sweeping the Fantasy Figures category, winning first place in Busts, Humour, and one of the Gundam categories, snagging third with my old Victor in the other mecha, and winning the Best Overall Figure with my Dana Murphy. So, overall, one sweep, as well as three other firsts and a third, and a Best Of award – quite the haul. The rest of the Ottawa crew also did well at the awards table, snagging about thirty awards across all the categories including one other sweep.

For some video coverage, check out this link.

Again, there were a lot of great models and dioramas on display. I didn’t get a lot of photos, but I managed to get pictures of a few that caught my eye, including the following.

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This egg tank was one of my favourites in the show because of the weathering. I just loved the use of that purple; it adds so much dynamism to the colour and really makes this piece stand out. The one criticism I have of it, though, is that it’s a shame that the builder didn’t carry some of the weathering over onto the decals. Seeing beautifully weathered pieces with pristine markings is one of my little pet peeves, but apart from that, this was a great example of taking an egg kit and running with it, and using interesting colours to create fascinating colour variation.

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This Lanchester armoured car was a unique subject, and in my opinion, it was a great use of colour modulation to highlight it. I know there is a debate over how much colour modulation to use, particularly among historical modellers, but as someone who started out in tabletop gaming, I’m a fan of it and I think this is an example of an appropriate application of the technique for a historical subject that really helps make it pop.

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Without getting too political, this diorama, titled “Happiness” was not only well done, but I felt that the portrayal of the triumph over Nazism and the end of the war is a refreshing alternative to a lot of what we see on the tables, and sadly poignant in 2018. But I like the hope that this diorama shows, as the nightmare of Nazism and war is finally over for this town and for the people in this scene.

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The Throne of Sprues was a humourous touch, as were the wedding cake columns on this base, but the weathering on these gundams were top-notch.

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Finally, someone brought a collection of Roman miniatures in what looked like 15 or 20mm scale. They were nicely done, and represent a scale that is just a little too small for me, so I have to give a shout out to my fellow wargamer for bringing these in.

I didn’t get a picture of everything that caught my eye, such as the 1/2 scale BB8 from Star Wars complete with lights and sound, or the historical crusader figure that I would assume really gave me a run for my money in the best figure award, but there are some photos and videos kicking around on facebook and the broader interent that one can probably find with a little looking.

Conclusion

If you have the opportunity to go to one of these model shows, do it. You will see a lot of fascinating models, and learn a lot just by looking at how people did their stuff. Better yet, bring some of your stuff. Even if it doesn’t win, you can get some valuable feedback and meet some new and interesting people, which is more important than any piece of hardware you might bring home.

Not that bringing home some hardware isn’t nice…

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Hobby update — PZL P.11 (1:72)

Since childhood, when I would spend hours upon hours studying the aircraft of World War I, I’ve had a keen fascination with airplanes.  As a young child, I built model airplanes with all the skill and enthusiasm of my eleven year old self.  Fortunately, my workmanship at this sort of thing improved before my stint working at the largest aerospace company in the world, however that was a hobby that I sort of trailed off from by the time I hit high school.

IMG_2179.JPGAnyways, a couple years ago, I picked up a couple model airplanes on a whim, for about $5 at a comic con. Of course, because I’m kind of a hipster, instead of picking up the usual P-51 or Spitfire, I went for a PZL P.11. And then promptly forgot about it. A while later, as I was getting into airbrushing, I decided to quickly slap it together and use it as a target for my airbrush practice. I sprayed some green and sky blue on it, matching the historical colours with the closest Vallejo equivalent, and then… forgot about it again.

So, after moving across the country, I was left with this half-finished plane sitting on a shelf, staring at me. After attending CapCon, and hanging around with the local IPMS chapter, I was motivated to finally finish it off.

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I have more of these kicking around than I care to admit.

First off, apparently one of the rules of building model airplanes is that sometimes, you get what you pay for when it comes to kits. This kit had some issues, some of which went beyond my somewhat haphazard assembly. First, being a Polish plane, the instructions were naturally in Polish. Fortunately, there were enough pictures that I eventually figured out how to get it together, and used google images to figure out the paint scheme rather than trying to guess what colour “czerwony” is.

Next, the clear windscreen part was missing. To solve that, I figured I would try to scratchbuild something. Fortunately, the windscreen was all flat panels, and you can buy clear plastic from Privateer Press, which comes free with a miniature inside! I cut out a bit of plastic from an old blister pack I had lying around, scored it, and folded it into a shape approximating that of a windshield.

So, with the windscreen replaced, it came time to get my paint on. The base colour, which I had done a not so great job of airbrushing on a year prior, was Vallejo Model Colour Green Brown, with some Light Sea Grey on the underside.  There were some black bits, like the radiator, tires, and machine guns, and some brownish red, which I mixed up, around the cowling. Overall, nothing too challenging; no interior detail or anything like that on this kit, and I had no intention of browsing aftermarket bits suppliers to spruce that up. Anyways, once I finished that little bit of painting, it came time to do the decals. Easy peasy, right?

Unfortunately, that posed some problems as well. When a model kit has been sitting around for as long as this one has, there is bound to be some deterioration of the decal paper. So, when I placed the first decal in water and went to slide it off, it simply disintegrated.

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Decals? Those are for cheaters…

So, in a stroke of either genius or stupidity, I decided to go with Plan B. I’m pretty good at freehand, so I’ll just hand paint all the markings on!

While it was a little time consuming, this actually wasn’t that terrible. I started with the white squares, for what is perhaps obvious reasons, then did the red, careful not to do the Polish air force symbol backwards (red goes on top left!). Finally, I added in all the other markings like the number, stripe, and squadron insignia. For the squadron insignia, I did a whole bunch of historical research (by which I mean I google image searched it) and eventually chose to represent the squadron that I thought had the easiest insignia to draw.

Anyways, there are a few tricks to this sort of freehand.

  1. Use a wet palette. Trying to do something like this on a traditional palette would be close to impossible; the paint would dry out on you and you would just have a bad time.
  2. Use the right brush. People think that to do fine detail, you need a tiny, tiny, brush like a 10/0. Unfortunately, tiny, tiny brushes don’t hold a lot of paint. What you really need is a brush with a fine tip, but a bit of belly to it as well so it can hold paint. For this reason, I usually stick to size 0 and 1, and don’t go any smaller than an 00, though I do have a 10/0 rigger brush which, due to its longer bristles, can hold a lot more paint than a regular 10/0, and occasionally comes in handy.
  3. Thin your paints. Freehand requires thin paints in order to get the paints to flow off the brush nicely. Again, the wet palette comes in handy here. You don’t need too many fancy additives, however one trick I have found for painting colours like white is to use an artist acrylic ink instead of water for your thinning. The artist acrylic ink has the consistency of water, but a very high pigment density, so for colours that don’t have very good coverage, using it as a thinning medium allows you to get the consistency you want without sacrificing pigment density

I got a few comments on the decals at the build day at which I was working on this project, which I thought was kind of cute, before I brought it home and proceeded onto the final step: weathering.

Here, I decided to do it in three stages. First, I used the sponge technique with some dark metallic colours to simulate paint chipping, focusing on areas such as the leading edge of the wings and propellers, which would likely take the most beating. Then, I followed up with some washes, both to give the model some depth and visual interest, and with the goal of darkening it. I also added some GW Typhus Corrosion on and around the wheels to simulate mud and the like. Finally, to finish it off, I added some very dark grey dry pigment, focusing on areas such as around the exhaust and guns, which would be stained with soot and gunpowder residue and the like.

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A spritz of dullcote, and I had finished my first model airplane in 15 years. To be honest, I have some mixed feelings about this model. On the one hand, I think it has some problems with the paint. The washes, in particular, didn’t quite give the effect that I wanted to, pooling in a couple of places and showing off some imperfections. I really should have mixed up a glaze, or tried out an oil-based wash, rather than trying to use a GW shade for a purpose it wasn’t really suited for. The assembly wasn’t great, but again, I did it kind of haphazardly and didn’t do a great job on filling gaps and that sort of thing, and I also didn’t have all that much to work with, as shown by the missing windscreen. Finally, there were a couple of places where I think I may have overdid the weathering.

On the other hand, I think the freehand turned out pretty nice, and overall it looks pretty good as long as you don’t get too close. And it’s a unique subject; not many people spend a lot of time building Polish warbirds. I think my final assessment is that while I am happy to have it done, and while I think I didn’t do too bad considering it was my first model airplane in 15 years, this was more of a learning experience than a true exhibition of what I am capable of as a hobbyist.

And maybe sometime I will tackle that P.23 sitting on the shelf…

CapCon 2017 — Craftsmanship on display

This past weekend I went to CapCon 2017, hosted by IPMS Ottawa, and held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  CapCon 2017 was a great collection of scale modellers, figure painters, and diorama builders.  There were categories and subcategories for pretty much everything, including cars, planes, tanks, ships and figures, and each entry was examined and judged by experts.

Since my PZL P.11 remains half-finished on the shelf, and I haven’t actually finished a scale model kit since I used to build model airplanes with all the enthusiasm and skill of my twelve year old self, I figured there might be some categories that my gaming pieces might be appropriate for.  Fantasy Figures (under 54mm) would be good for my infantry, and there was a category for Mecha & Robots, which I figured that a steam-powered warjack would fit quite nicely under.

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Uhlan Kovnik Markov

So, I decided to pack my figure case with five entries: three in fantasy figures (my headswapped version of the Greylord Forge Seer, Uhlan Kovnik Markov, and Olga Strakhov & her Kommandos), and two in Mecha & Robots (my Black Dragon Spriggan, as well as my Victor).  I went more with the intention of seeing what I could learn than trying to compete with others, as while it is nice to win, miniature painting and scale modelling are the sort of hobbies where the primary rewards are intrinsic — that little rush of endorphins you get when you finish up a model and place it on your shelf, the joy you get from levelling up your skills, and the pride you take in your own craftsmanship when you show them off are all more important than any plaque or trophy that you may receive for the final result.

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That’s MR. Some Space Marine Guy to you!

That said, I did pretty well for myself when it came to awards — In the Mecha & Robots category, Victor got 1st place and the Black Dragon Spriggan came in 3rd, despite being physically dwarfed by some of the much larger mechs on the table.  The fantasy figures category had some very stiff competition, including a very nice… some Space Marine guy, I don’t know, I don’t play Warhammer… on a plinth with a stained glass window behind him, and I was pleasantly surprised to bring home 3rd place with my Lady Forge Seer.

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Lady Forge Seer — my take on the Greylord Forge Seer

The venue was perfect.  Being held in the War Museum, it was possible to look at a model tank on the table, and literally turn around to see the 1:1 scale version.  Also, it provided attendees with an opportunity to take a break from the showroom floor and take a look at the museum, which was full of inspiration.  Things like pictures of trenchwork, nose art, and all the military vehicles on display really made the day complete.

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Seriously, dude, you should learn to use an airbrush to apply camo… that brushwork just looks sloppy.

There was also a great silent auction with something like 180 prizes.  Though I put in some bids on a Blohm + Voss BV141 and a Hanriot HD.1 (because I’m too much of a hipster to assemble and paint something normal like a P-51) as well as a couple of books, I didn’t come away with anything.  Which was probably for the best, given my current backlog.

Some of the other highlights for me were:

The craftsmanship in general.  The level of competition in some of these categories was pretty fierce, and there were many highly detailed models that just blew my mind.  Particularly in the naval section; all the little details and the rigging on those ships was very impressive.

IMG_2023.JPGThe Diorama section was great, and I found myself staring at them a lot, trying to see how they did certain things and what I can pick up from them for my basing or my future diorama projects.  In particular, there was one titled “Last Stand in Berlin” that showed a lot of figures engaged in very dynamic poses, shooting each other, whacking each other with shovels, that sort of thing.  As well, a Marder II in front of a half-collapsed Belgian building was incredibly detailed and gave me some ideas for rubble bases.  As well, some of the scale trenchwork was pretty nice, and since messing up Cygnaran trenchers is a theme of my army, some of the stuff on display gave me a lot of ideas.

IMG_2038.JPGThere was a very well-done P-51 with all the access panels open and plenty of weathering.  All the dirt and smoke and grime tarnishing the silver and covering the markings on this model made for a very realistic piece with a lot of visual interest.  It was my candidate for the people’s choice award, as I felt the visual interest generated by the all the soot and grime really went a long way in making it look less like a model and more like the real thing.

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The Irish Hurricane IIC

A couple of aircraft with unusual markings also stood out for me.  Because we’ve all seen the American Mustangs and the German -109s, I like seeing aircraft of that era either produced by relatively minor powers such as Poland or Romania, or marked in roundels that make you go “hmmmm, now what country is that?” (because again, I’m kind of a hipster).  There was an Irish Hawker Hurricane that was very well done, as well as a Latvian fighter (I think it was a Junkers D.I) from the immediate post-WWI era.

The weathering on the armour was also something that I can take some inspiration from.  I’m starting to do more and more weathering on my pieces, and one of the goals for me was to learn to get better at it, and I do think I got some ideas from staring at all the Panzers and Shermans on display.

And of course, figures.  As someone who is primarily a figure painter, and who is looking at getting into busts and larger scales, there were some pretty fine figures to take inspiration from.

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Did someone say “busts”?  Or “fine figures”?

But seriously, there were some amazing pieces on display, both fantasy and historical, and at some points, I had to remind myself that my stuff, while maybe not up to their level, is good enough to be on the table beside theirs.

All in all, CapCon 2017 was a blast.  I am going to try to get out to some more IPMS events locally, even if they require waking up early on weekends and heading to places with not-so-great bus access, something I’m typically loath to do.  I think there are things that miniature painters, gamers, and scale modellers can learn from each other, and it’s a pity that there isn’t that much crossover between these groups.  And maybe by the time CapCon 2019 rolls around, I will have finally finished that P.11… or maybe not, considering the kit is decades-old, was missing parts when I bought it, and I already bungled a few things on the assembly…