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Notes from the Asylum

As I’ve recently returned from a large regional model show, and as is my wont following such experiences, I’ve reflected on the nature of scale modelling, and modellers, notwithstanding the fact that I am now heavily sedated.

Viewing hundreds of display models can be an uplifting experience. (For ‘display,’ read individual models, vignettes, dioramas, ships and figures, whatever the genre, and whether or not the subject is plastic, resin, metal, or any combination thereof.) The process may resonate in one’s modelling Self where the long-cherished Pet Project is given new emphasis and energy when a similar project is found alive and well on a club table, but not too alike one’s own ideas that it kills the dream dead.

It also works obversely, that is, where the viewing of so many related subjects, e.g., Spitfires on a display base, Spitfires in airfield mock-up, Spitfires in simulated flight, deadens the experience. If I had a pound for every model tank I’ve seen parked under a tree or near a damaged building, I could buy you lunch every day until we were both very, very old.

I can recall that several years ago, Zvezda released a 1/48 BF109F, and it was considered the finest example ever produced. Such a claim has not, of course, deterred numerous manufacturers from releasing yet further examples of the type, the reason being that “it’s one for the Stash, for my 109 collection.” The manufacturers know that you will part with your cash, no matter how many similar types they produce, because, well, you will.

And the Stash, that euphemism for OCD hoarding, is another case in point. I have met a fairly large representation of modellers whose Modelling Life is indeed the Stash. They never seem to produce a model per se, but are ready with opinions about everyone else’s work, and when queried they confirm that the subject to hand is “in my Stash,” as though that counted as modelling, and that this fact is supporting evidence of their expertise on any subject.

The preponderance of Super Detailing in recent years, with resin, PE, alternative decals and wholesale unit replacement (think resin cockpits) has led to a subversive, self-deluding trend. As much money can now be spent cheerfully on aftermarket “upgrades” as on the original model kit. I recently saw a ‘detail-up’ set for the HK Models 1/32 B-17 that cost nearly £150 – not the kit, the upgrade. But the sometimes extraordinary level of internal detail is usually a fleeting shade. For all the beauty of internal cockpit and fuselage, when they’re buttoned-up you lose the detail altogether or are left with a few square millimetres on view.

There are modellers who appear to build the same model again and again, usually in the same scale and with only minor variations in decals or similar. The process continues for years, but with each “new” model appearing remarkably similar to every previous model, it falls to them to explain in teeth-grindingly dull detail the differences between this model and the last (“…and of course I had to fill the panel line here because everybody knows the Mk24 only had this in June 1945, and my model is immediately Post War….”).

Without Aircraft as a representative Class of models, there would be no modelling hobby, as we know it. In March here at iM, Aircraft or Aircraft-related Headlines constituted just over 60% of the posts, Armour about 12%, and Other just under 28%. The latter included reviews, show reports, ships and other related, including the daft No Comment series! Indeed, within this latter Other grouping the Ships’ element was probably skewed, where a new member may have posted several projects at once, and where no other ship project was posted. The Figures’ element was virtually nil. Dioramas are included by Subject and all percentages excluded WiP posts. Although March is sampled, it is certainly representative, not only of iM posts, but of all modelling forums unless specifically restricted by genre, e.g., German Battleships Only forum.

I have no Stash. I’m not a collector; I buy to build.

I have only a modest modelling talent, and too much time to reflect on all my modelling faults and general prejudices (See above.). As I get older- I am already quite old – I find enthusiasm for modelling projects has to be marshalled with the greatest care, as it is ephemeral, at times about as likely to be realised as a Jurassic jawbone in a pumpkin patch.

I’ve recently and objectively ‘recycled’ several older builds and dioramas – a periodic and somewhat therapeutic process. At present, my workroom is empty, and nothing is on order anywhere, and as is the case at the close of every project, I have to ask myself, “Was that the last?” Looking at enthusiastic modellers at the recent show, their large bags full of kits and with looks on their faces that convinced themselves at least that each kit was one-of-a-kind made for them alone, it’s easy to mine a sarcastic vein, perhaps as a way of masking one’s own modelling burn-out.

Maybe I should take a year off, but then maybe I wouldn’t come back. Repercussions? Few, if any.

In support of a sabbatical, I think if I see another blob of green and brown plastic on a table, hovered over conspiratorially by people who should know better, I won’t be responsible for my actions, but everyone seems happy, and it’s their Jurassic jawbone to pick over, after all.

Still, things might be looking up. My nurse, whom as you can see is quite attentive, tells me I’m still the highest bidder for that Albatros on Ebay, and the countdown has begun….


34 responses to Notes from the Asylum

  1. Rob, thanks for sharing your observations. The more things change, the more they remain the same. And it is entertaining! I remember the comment I heard in the old Squadron Shop in my area. The guy behind the counter saw a new cluster of customers enter, and remarked that his prior job helped in his current one. I asked him what that was? Psychiatric case nurse! Ah, perspective! Hope you get the Albatros, so the beat can go on!

  2. My outlook on this subject is very similar to your own (only not quite so eloquently put as your reflections). I’m presently attempting to dissolve ALL of my materials which have anything to do with modeling… my meager stash, deals, paints, tools…..ALL of it. So if anyone is listening and has an interest in acquiring “extra” STUFF, drop me a line at [email protected] and perhaps we can work out a deal beneficial to us both.

    • Well, Craig, there’s still the pumpkin patch to tend to….

      Seriously, if you’re doing a re-boot you might consider donating items to a local school for a model club project or the like. We did that through one of our members who led workshops after school for a month at a high school.

  3. Dear Rob.

    May I direct you to the doctor’s office…

    I too, have suffered ‘plastic fatigue’.

    Having just returned from the same event, I can share in many of your observations. As I noted in my post of said event, I have now vowed to have a ‘one out, one in’ policy with my plastic. And I have just started giving items in my ‘stash’ away. Anyone want a 1/32 Arado, because I am NEVER going to build that baby. Cover the postage and it’s yours. Seriously.

    I agree entirely with the over familiarity that modeling can bring and I’m pleased you have opened up this issue for some discussion. I went through a very similar type of ennui last year and gave up everything for a while. Louis Gardner talked me down and back into my mojo.

    My reinvigoration has been through now thinking of builds very much as projects. I can’t see myself ever just making a plane, or a tank, not now. This is a deeply personal thing; I can still look at a spitfire and see beauty, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t make one, not unless it had something to say back to me (I know, I’m as nuts as you lot).

    In the same way that some may not ‘get’ the No Comment articles, I think there are some that look at my posts (especially the WiPs) and think “what the hell is this to do with modeling?” And you know what? They are right in many respects. A lot of my builds go off to areas that have nothing to do with the hobby (at least on the surface) but it’s the only way I can feel connected to the building aspect aspect of modeling.

    I think, Rob, that the answer to your stagnancy is not a sabbatical, but rather a perspective/mindset shift. I’ve seen your work and you have too much talent to lay it aside. Take the ‘London Gunbus’, for example; creative, humorous, full of skill and (like some of your other work) a tongue very much in your cheek. AND for once the judges got it right. I’m a fan, and think you are a great example of how one’s modeling can evolve. Sick of Spitfires? Stick one in the midst of the Apocalypse…or Acapulco, if you want.

    I’d say 30% of my interest comes from the plastic, 70% is having some banter and stimulating a little discussion with people I really like. There’s still fun to be had, Rob. And I’ll tell you this for nothing, iModeler would be a poorer place if you took a break.

    Incidentally…great post.

    • Long ago I stopped ‘kit modelling’ in favour of project modelling, and found the change rewarding. It takes longer to develop an idea at times, the projects may take months rather than days or weeks, and if you look at the National and International shows you can see these sorts of projects a mile off. They’re unusual in subject and scope, unique in execution and exude quality. My problem now is getting to the project inside the project mode itself, not identifying the fact that the project mode is in itself a rich vein to explore (In my heart I know it is.). I have an idea, only to realise I did something similar three years ago, and so forth. If I have a modelling mantra, it’s Never the Same Project Twice – no matter how slyly it may try to camouflage itself as New.

      Thanks for Gunbus comment. It came ‘out of the blue’ fully realised as a project, at least in my mind, when I came across a ‘steampunk tendencies’ site and the pure happenstance of the Revell kit being advertised in a link. I’d rather sit for six months doing nothing until the right moment occurs, than just ‘blind build’ to keep busy.

      I’ve been here before. No panic, just a little sardonic reflection.

  4. I have developed a very similar view, Rob, but I’m at the beginning of that Journey and now that I think of it, your Friday Briefings and No Comment posts make more sense in terms of an eye looking for inspiration.

    “No panic, just a little sardonic reflection”. I used the same line with my wife a few weeks ago – not sure she bought it either…

  5. Lucid and sarcastic, these are the adjectives that came to my mind when finished reading your column. And I wrote column on purpose, because Rob, what you present us is serious (but sill awkwardly funny) introspective perspective of a certain point in life where I guess all of us modellers end up.
    There are a few moments I can relate to, like building the same subject repeatedly, even scalewise, which is obviously a compulsion of some sort, and as such it needs to be fulfilled over and over again. And to be honest, when the mojo starts to fade it’s this obsession that gets it going again. Please don’t ask me to explain just why, I really can’t explain it

    • Nothing personal is meant as such, just a general observation of modelling trends and idiosyncratic tendencies. Everyone has their own way of getting to the next project.

      For example, I’d like to build one of the WnW Felixstowe models. Though I’ve built a few WWI aircraft, including WnW, I’d still like to test myself further before embarking on such a demanding model:

      – by replicating modelling types, “building to build,” am I fouling my own credentials in submitting to the process;

      – or, by replicating the types am I closer to achieving a superior Felixstowe in the end;

      – the Felixstowe is a standard kit in any case, built by hundreds of people around the world, including specialist WWI modellers – is it therefore simply a vanity project, a distraction from the Unique?

      As mentioned, I’ve been here before, a few times, and have reconciled myself to the fact that the more demanding and unusual the project “vision,” the harder the trail is to follow, at least for a time.

  6. One man’s vice is another man’s freedom. I get a kick out of reading other folks thoughts on the hobby and experiences in modeling or going to shows or the LHS to talk with other people… who may go to airshows,museums or do road trips to forgotten airfields. The hobby isn’t always focused on the individual but, with the company he keeps. The idea is to entertain the mind and keep ones sanity from the prevailing winds of a job or the daily grind. Some folks refer to the hobby as therapy. If the hobby has become a grind there are other venues for keeping ones sanity.

  7. Another escapee, from the asylum?? Hallelujah, I was thinking I was the only one out there who had managed to es…..ummm….well, having just come into possession of a ZM Skyraider might qualify me for reinstatement.

    Excellent article Rob, very well put. My modeling lately has tended toward relics from late last century, though I was dragged kicking and screaming into this one by a lovely, yet fictional (which made it all the better) Italian seaplane. I tend to be a cheapskate as far as modeling goes, remembering the days when I had to scrimp and save to get the latest plastic offering. And I sure as hell am not going to pay more for aftermarket than I paid for the kit. Especially as the majority of the ones I have now were free….

    My stash was completely accidental, mainly having come from one friend who injured a hand in a work accident, now only builds in 1/32 and sent me everything else that wasn’t; and another who, while attending a radio control estate sale (models, not the estate) saw a pile of plastic kits in a corner, got them for next to nothing, then gave them all to me because he doesn’t subscribe to that particular illness. The ones I have bought can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Skyraider was a birthday gift.

    Scale modeling is not the art of building an exact replica of something, it’s making the other guy think you did. And, as I have always said, there is a fine line between hobby and insanity.

    • I think ZM Skyraider a beautiful project and worthy of entry to ‘the zone.’ Ironically the more one speaks of the lack of modelling energy, broadly, the greater the drive to re-establish the connection to core interests.

    • Dear Jaime,
      We miss you at the ‘Big House’, why don’t you be a good lad and come back. It’s a nasty old world out there and no place for people such as yourself who won’t even buy a little aftermarket.
      Please come back, we still have your unfinished 1-1 scale Spitfire you were making from earwax.

      Dr. Leigh-smith.

    • Is plastic modeling a form of art then?
      One of my favorite artists is the Swiss A. Giacometti. His view on art corresponds to what jaimie just said…
      Can any doctor comment on this? As you know, many good artists (like Van Gogh) got mad in the end so if the link with them is demonstrated, we can all feel better somehow!

      1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

  8. Rob, thanks for your considerations. I understand that visiting an event like that can work both as a curse and a blessing depending how you look at it.

    When I returned to this hobby seriously almost four years ago, I was astounded by the level of detail available today which – of course – comes at a great cost. I trade power for a living and I know that there are people around who couldn’t care less what they trade, as long as it be traded. Believe me there are people who would order a container of trousers from China with just one leg, just for the sake of trading the box. And so it is with our hobby. The model shop around the corner is long gone and everything seems to have gone digital, i.e. impersonal somehow. Then you visit a trade show and get OD-d quickly for it seriously breaks the routine of – what is in fact – an otherwise solitary hobby, apart from the social media such as iM.

    One thing is however priceless to me: The joy of the hobby itself. I like it for many reasons, to name just historical aspects, technical challenges and the creativity it brings, be it in scratch-building or picking the dio setting. I never was in an association, never visited shows but learned most things from books, by doing or more recently over the www, including the time I spend here at iM. I simply enjoy spending time modelling and it’s a personal thing to me.

    There is a number of principles I try to uphold in that I keep my stash very limited and every purchase has a purpose in the foreseeable future; I don’t consider myself non-practicing kit collector. I only have one project on the bench most of the time although in recent years Louis’ and Davids GB seduced me to set aside, I admit and apologize at the same time… 😛

    To me this hobby is in a way some kind of ‘escape’, my hobbyroom (also my home office with my three screens) is my men cave, I’m sure you know what I mean. When I returned to the hobby and – almost at the same time – opened an iModeler account four years ago, I needed this escape more than ever for personal reasons and at least for me, this hobby is a positive aspect of my everyday life. And last but not least, since we have some doctors in our midst, there is indeed an very good excuse to swap the couch at the asylum for some time at iM…

    I could not describe better what this hobby in all its aspects means to me than Hildegard Knef can in less than 3 minutes:

    In any event, based on the finesse of the last models you revealed here, I can only hope you continue building Rob!

    Take care!

    • A couple of years ago at the same venue as mentioned previously, a new member of our club attended, and it was his first show, I found him at one point sitting outside on the steps. I asked him if he was OK, and he just shook his head and said “I had no idea…,” clearly overwhelmed by the volume of modelling choice on view; he couldn’t take it all in. I responded, “Yeah, it’s OK, I guess,” the difference between us being the number of similar shows I’d seen both locally, regionally and nationally. Rather than simply experiencing the event as new and exciting, I spend my time wandering around looking for Something Different, and tend to disregard all else.

      I accept that my view is singular and, hopefully, a passing rancour against no one in particular, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all reaction to these events. But it has to be said there is a sameness to the events – same clubs, same traders, same models – there’s no solution to this as far as I can see. People attend and take what they need from the experiences, knowing today’s Newest Release is tomorrow’s Discount Special.

      I can still muster enthusiasm for the hobby, for reasons that may or may not be similar to other modellers – the escape, the quiet room, the headspace, coupled with the social aspect of club modelling and forum exchanges, but I shall still prefer the one oddball project to assembly line modelling routines.

  9. Hey! it’s therapy for my shaky hands. iM in a way is the couch.

  10. Rob, I think we’re cut from the same cloth. I wandered around the MK Show looking for ‘something different’ – the only thing (apart from a brief thought about that 1/72 Sub) was a very old ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ – not the one on the stand, but a creature in a swimming pose. Thought I could suspend it in resin water; would have been cool. But the stall keeper wouldn’t dicker. Shame.

    • I saw that stand. Unusual for them not to haggle. I think sometimes they nose around the other stalls to compare prices on similar items from other traders and then adjust their bottom line accordingly. Interesting idea for the underwater setting though.

  11. Heresy! Honestly, I feel this warrants a letter to Paul Dacre !
    Where would the hobby be without people :
    Buying kits they are never going to make ; or
    Buying expensive aftermarket parts for kits they are never going to make ; or
    Buying expensive tools for expensive parts for expensive kits that they are never going to make ;
    Buying..well… all that other stuff you need !!!
    The hobby positively thrives on OCD hoarding, and subversive self delusion – it runs through it like a mother lode.
    So ride that wave of inner self delusion – you surfers of chaos – build the Albatross, the Mondrian Hurricane, the ZM – whatever existential prop you want – don’t be afraid – just build it – its not too late.
    Just don’t look at my stash. 😉
    Nicely expressed Rob, as always – Best wishes to all.

  12. All I can say – and this will be my last word on this subject – is that the Daily Mail today had 35 damned pages about the earth shattering news that some bloody woman in the royal family gave birth to another child that us taxpayers will be paying for for the rest of our lives. What has this to do with modelling you ask? Well, for my money recreating a little fantasy is still 100% better, more enjoyable, and more ‘real’ than facing ‘reality’.

    That does feel better.

  13. David LS, gotta have our upmarket soap operaish stuff to divert the masses! The Royals are a business, “The Firm”. Mind, I’m a Yank, And old and cynical, Uptick in the tea cosy business, what! Rising tide! Dolls! Tattoos! I’ll look for the special issue of Tattler!

  14. David M, nicely put!

  15. Bernard, when it comes to royalty, I’m with the French. Off with their heads.

    Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

  16. .. .hmm.. .I think the patients have taken over the ward…

  17. Rob, I once read a science fiction story. In the future, the sane folks were locked up to protect them from them others. I’m beginning to see the merit, unfortunately.

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