Having been a modeler for over sixty years, with fits and starts and various periods of absence, I now am more aware of the philosophies and practices of this hobby. Now, I would venture to guess that these are not unlike those found in many other hobbies that span decades, but I know little of them. I do know modeling though. Herewith, then, are a few remarks and musings on this strange and somehow compelling hobby.
Scale modeling is, I have come to believe, at bottom a social activity. While it is true that most model building is done by an individual plying his or her skills alone at the modeling bench, he is always immersed in the social fabric of modeling. Not too many years ago most modelers were members of various clubs or groups that gathered regularly to talk models, show their work and engage in discussions and arguments on various aspects of the hobby. This tendency to gather in more formal groups was likely the genesis of the International Plastic Scale Modelers Society and similar organizations that sprung from different modeling hobbies like model railroading. With clubs come organizations that have to be managed by rules. Let’s face it, few of us like rules and while rules are bad enough when employed as power instruments by a few individuals a hierarchical structure, this leads too often to the end of a fun and interesting group of modelers.
I have personally seen refugees from those kinds of clubs come together on an very informal basis and grow into an agreeable and interesting group of modelers who actually enjoy getting together on a regular basis.
Now, I’m not knocking all formal clubs and organizations because many of them run just fine and the modelers who support and attend these groups like it that way. And, as a big plus, these well-running groups often set up and run modeling shows and contests, which I think are the epitome of the social aspects of scale modeling. I recall my favorite modeling show when I lived in California was held by a couple of IPMS clubs in Petaluma in Northern California. It was held in a big community center and was responsible for many a fun Saturday each year. Lots of contest tables where models of all sizes, kinds and scales could be seen up close. Modelers got the chance to talk about them and their own stuff. You’d see people you liked there and could spend some pleasant modeling talking time with them even though you would never have the chance to encounter them anywhere else. Vendor tables where sometimes the deals were just too good to pass up. Chili dogs served up by a local Scout chapter. Amazing works in progress right before your eyes, like the three-quarters finished large scale wooden HMS Victory, a model I would someday like to build, but probably won’t due to lack of time money and patience.
That isn’t to say that clubs and contests were not without their issues and moments of drama. I will never forget a show in Sacramento that the club I was a member of at the time put on. We had finished judging and were announcing the winners when two polar opposite events transpired right after the winners in an armor category were announced. I heard someone who had been a tanker in the Army comment on the appropriateness of one of the winning models, saying in effect that is was an excellent example of tanks as he knew them from his experience. Right on the heels of his comment a modeler announced to everyone in earshot that he had been robbed, his third place award was worse than stale dog shit and he would never compete in this show again. He slammed his award, but not his model, into a trash barrel and stalked from the room.
We forever called him the “armor Nazi.”
When we aren’t at shows or club meetings we now have the internet to connect us with the modeling world. Which, in my view, it both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because for most of us, and especially for the loners out here, it is practically the only way we can socialize and participate in the scale modeling society at large. Some clubs have website or facebook pages through which we can keep up on what’s happening in the modeling world, see photos and breakdowns of new kits and accessories, discuss techniques and show off our work to our fellow modelers. This last is a key item. Although we work essentially alone at the modeling bench, we certainly like others to see and comment on our work, offer suggestions and perhaps answer questions. Putting one’s work out there for others to see and respond to is an essential part of the modeling social experience and when we can’t get that, it puts modeling in a new light.
You hear or read modelers saying things like, “I just build for myself.” “I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” “It’s your model do it the way you want to.” All well and good, but generally false. I have never heard of or encountered a modeler who just builds models alone, puts them on a shelf and goes off and does another without ever showing them or discussing them with other modelers. That person could be out there somewhere, but I seriously doubt it. We all want recognition and some feedback on our work. I think we need a certain minimal amount of that or we would probably stop modeling and take up some other activity that put us more in contact with our world.
I work primarily alone, except for the internet. This blog is one venue I’ve created to share my modeling with others and to sometimes get comment, recognition and criticism in return. I have, like most of you, spent time on various modeling forums. Too much time now and then. Modeling forums are strange beasts as you know if you’ve been any kind of a regular participant. People who are anonymous habitués of the forums can turn into some mighty unusual social creatures, acting and responding in ways that no sane club, populated by actual face-to-face interactions could tolerate. I recall my conversation with Brett Green over ten years ago at an IPMS USA Nationals about his Hyperscale forum and how threads sometimes circled the drain before being flushed away or finally withering and drying up. His take was that in the main one has to look at forums as entertainment.
Forums can also be a place where everyone is a great modeler, where everything and every build is just great, awesome, inspiring, cool and any model submitted for viewing on that site is just amazing work. Criticism, even well balanced and informative (constructive, I think it is called) is just not tolerated. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to walk a reasoned and well balanced critique of someone else’s work, but it can be done. Especially face to face. And, for a modeler to improve, if that is a goal, criticism is necessary as long as it is well meant, reasoned and based on fact and evidence, not feelings. There is a modeling forum which one might assume from its title would be a place of constructive criticism, but it is, or has become, a place where I could post photos of a terrible piece of modeling and garner praise from everyone who posts. In fact, one forum I have enjoyed in the past seems to be tilting rapidly in this direction. Too bad.
So, modeling forums are seldom places of reasoned and productive discussion. But, outside of hanging out in a private club forum to interact with members of your group, which is fraught with similar dangers at times, how else would a person like me, miles and hours from the nearest scale modeling club, participate in and feel a part of the modeling community?
I am sure there are some websites out there that I don’t know about that are great and real places to go for real modeling community interaction, but a large number of them are not. Some are like modeling Walmarts catering to everyone and not sufficiently detailed or interesting enough to hold my interest. So, I’ll close with my list of my favorite internet modeling places. If you have any to add, please leave a comment. I’d like to expand my social modeling horizons.
- Hyperscale’s Scale Modeling Workshop videos
- The Kitbox by Spencer Pollard
- Perth Military Modeling Site
- IPMS Vagabonds
- Wingnut Wings