The Little World – When You Cross the Line…

The line? The line between a toy and a model. And who says that you only have to cross it in one direction…?

I purchased a number of Schleich dinosaurs and animals to help with my studio composites. They are a wonderful toys – well-modelled and painted, and as real as anything you can purchase in the stores. For a person who does not do figurine painting or modelling, they are a godsend. I freely confess to admiring the horses and ponies as much as any 9-year-old girl would.

When I saw a Schleich tank-trailer in the shop I grabbed that, and had a glorious time dirtying it up as a oil tanker. The fact that it is 1:16th rather than my preferred scale of 1:18th is neither here not there – I can position it in studio shots to make it any scale I wish. Far better to be larger and more detailed than the other way around, I find.

Then I googled around to the toy stores in the eastern states and found a Schleich barn. It is a beauty, but up until now has taunted me with a plastic-play appearance, even though it is largely made of wood. One week I set out to remedy that. My only problem was that I had no idea what a barn looked like or what the various bits did.

Oh. I knew that the Scheich horses and cows fit in there – I tried them for size. And I get the idea of putting real beasts under shelter in the northern winters – but the ins and outs of doing it were a mystery. I started with airbrushing the plastic base inside with a varied mixture of dung-brown colour and left it at that. The only other interior bit I felt confident about was to scribe wooden floorboards into the loft. I painted the pulley of the barn lift a rusty iron colour.

The roof came as three pieces of 5-ply in blond wood. I printed out sheets of shingles with a wood-grain pattern onto matte inkjet paper and glued them in rows to the ply roof. And then weathered it with moss stain between the shingles. The theme for the barn is dirt and age.

The external walls remained in their wooden form – I didn’t incise them for boards for fear of spoiling the surface – either it had to be smooth toy or perfect model. The plastic masonry, on the other hand, got some pretty rough stonework painting in matte and then the mossy green as grouting flowed down the channels between stones. Then green moss spray from the bottom and dust from the top with the airbrush.

I also researched period barn stickers with advertisements for suitable rural specialties like Red Man cut plug tobacco and possibly a Dr. Pepper sign. I tried the experiment of making these sorts of signs as stickers rather than decals…. the idea was to make up sets that can be stuck on or removed depending upon the era that the barn depicted. I could not made up my mind whether to have a Pennsylvania hex sign on the end or not…

I can hear the farmers amongst my readership laughing at my amateur efforts but I assure you that when the farm ute and the tractor are posed there it will all look as rural as hell.






The Little World – The Teaching Toy

We are all used to seeing toys sold as educational devices. It is a standard ploy to try to make parents feel good about forking over a hundred dollars for a set of plastic bricks. The last thing the kids want to do is be educated…because that reeks of schooling. They just want to have fun.

We are also used to seeing toys sold in bright primary colours…to make them more ” child-friendly “. I suspect that this is also a load of commercial cobblers as kids will play with things that look real with greater gusto – they will cope when items are Fisher -Price coloured but it takes a bit of a stretch. Child-like is not what children like.

But we are not children anymore, and we can suit ourselves with the Little World when we are building and paying for it. The Japanese have the adult child’s eye down to a fine point with their anime and figurines, yet the finest work of the Ghibli studio is perfectly naturalistic. The comic collectors and cosplay enthusiasts operate to the script and palette of the illustrators and cartoonists. For the rest of us it is a balancing act between what we see as real and what we really see…with the occasional bit of artistic wishful thinking thrown in.

I think we are also sometimes misled by the makers of pigments, materials, and kits. Of course they in their turn may have gone off on a tangent with the research data they have, and may innocently be perpetuating frauds that have come to them through impeccable sources. I’ve seen this in a number of publications that just repeat an artist’s mistake until it stops being goober and starts being gospel.

Do toys and models ever teach? They certainly do – I got a good solid grounding in boiler and firebox construction by looking at a series of brilliant models in the Science Museum in London…in three dimensions with cutaways and colour-coding for parts, they finally made concrete what had only ben hazily grasped from encyclopedia drawings. Worth the price of the visit.

Do they ever teach the wrong thing? Well, if they are strange prototypes translated into pretty colours and shapes but touted as standard service models, some pretty odd impressions get put into young minds. The old Revell USS MISSOURI kit that was the standard of the 1950’s was boxed with a set of tiny foldable paper signal flags that were strung from stem to stern on the box art. And everybody tried to do the same with their kit…and they all looked like hell. But ever after I’ve always expected to see a battleship strung with signal flags and been disappointed if they weren’t there.

For my own Little Worlds I am adopting different standards. The dollhouse buildings are pretty well pristine – the diorama ones are not. I am learning how to dirty up the scene with spray paint and have just started to use dirty acrylic wash to low light things. Next will come rust and particulate matter. I also want realistic damage eventually. I shall draw the line at defective plumbing and nasty smells….

The Little World – Hindsight Is Perfect

They say hindsight is 20/20 vision. They never say where the eyes that do it are meant to be placed…

For the Little World worker it hardly matters, as they generally do not bother looking closely at their own work. At other people’s, yes. That needs critical laser vision and acid comparison. But a model that we have made five years ago never really gets the going over that one might expect – even after all the effort we put into it.

However, the exception can occur. Five years ago I made a model of a Hollywood – style set and produced a little book of it for the actors and actresses who posed for me. The model went under a heavy drape and was duly forgotten…forgotten until I met a lady from the miniaturist’s society at a model train exhibition*. On a whim I asked whether her society would be interested in having it on display at their fair in August.

She leapt at the chance, and so did her club secretary. I’ve been in touch with them, arranged to deliver it for their day, and they’ll display it prominently. And that has triggered off an entirely new phase for the model.

It was a project that could be photographed for still pictures as if it was a motion picture set. Now it is being completed as a film set in the process of filming…I’m adding the equipment and structures that the film makers…the legendary Goldfisch brothers…are using. Camera, lights, dressing room ( well it’s actually a sheet–iron toilet in use as a dressing room ), makeup benches, sound desk, recorder, boom microphone…etc.

Even the wooden structure of the set is being enhanced with scale 2 x 4 framing. Signs are sprouting everywhere.

In short, the model has come alive again. And this time I know what each part should be doing, so the components can be placed and fastened rather than being swept away into a cardboard box and eventually lost.

I cannot afford to have custom-made figurines for the set, though they are done by artists in the US, but I have a sort of sneaky plan to populate the model nevertheless. I hope the miniaturist ladies have a sense of humour. After all it is a fancy house…

The Mini-Motor Trade Monthly Report

Well, the last of the boxes have arrived from New South Wales – this year’s quota of new die-cast models for my collection are ready for unboxing and display.

Or, I should say, they are ready for further work. They have already figured in complex plans for photo shoots and now it is time to prepare them for their roles. They will be unboxed and the worst of the anomalies ground off them…by this I mean any mounting posts that the makers have left visible on the bottom of the chassis. They do this even on some quite pricey models and the result can spoil low-level shots if you are not observant.

Then it will be time to consider whether there should be any weathering. While I am quite enamoured of the normal wear and tear look of normal daily drivers, some of these cars are always going to be showpieces or central players in advertising scenarios. That means clean tyres and no road grime on the sides of the body. The license plates might need to be changed and little anomalies polished out, but essentially the models are ready to go.

There is one model scheduled for a big repaint straight away, and I have no idea exactly how to do it yet. It will be a complex pattern with advertising signage and extra accessories glued on. It goes to the back of the queue…

I am starting to collect more trailers and caravans as well, and have started to notice more of them in the smaller scales ass well. They certainly appear to have been a popular subject for the classic die-cast makers of England and France in the 50’s and 60’s. I would add some of them to the collection except that the market seems to regard them as far more valuable than new models. I am not a great fan of being driven to overspend by someone else’s urging.

And then we’ll start on the structure building and the set making for the new shoots. A new building was completed this week, and will show up in the studio shortly. I am getting better at assessing what degree of detailing is necessary for a good appearance on the photographic table and the new foamcore construction methods are speeding the construction no end.

And finally, the new series of Hot Rod Honeys and Hunks shoots started last weekend with a Hollywood starlet and a pesky news reporter at The Goldfisch Studios. The prep shots were all ready to go beforehand and I am happy to say that the talent were perfect in their roles. The only technical hitch occurred  when the studio cameraman inadvertently turned off the RAW recording on the camera and only saved medium fine JPEGs. Fortunately Fujifilm JPEGs are superb and the images are excellent. A dumb mistake…he’d get fired if it wasn’t for nepotism.



The Little World – Internet Lists

There is nothing more boring than reading an internet list of lumber sizes…or advertisments from roofing firms in the state of Washington. Unless you are trying to find out something that everyone takes for granted and no-one bothers to record.

I will say that today has had a happy ending – I did find out the measurements for siding on houses in Washington in 1959…and I did find out the forms of cheap mastic roofing sheets that were in use at the time. No-one else in the world cares a damn but at least I can use some of the innumerable facts in storage to do something useful. It is going into the construction of my new model building – a house I lived in as a child.

There must be a whole universe of practical facts that we have come to live with and depend upon…but take no notice whatsoever of. The capacity of concrete trucks…which determines how much concrete they can carry…which determines largely how big a concrete structure is.

This does not apply when you are building flak towers in Vienna and have the slaves of the Todt organisation to make the concrete – then you can make the walls metres thick and impossible to remove, even now. But when you are making a cost-limited structure like a basement for a tract house I would be willing to be a fair amount of the planning and design is predicated on concrete loads per se. Fewer is better, and even numbers of loads are desireable to cut down on wastage.

That’s concrete – I was researching siding and found that there were really only three lengths supplied – all of which are shorter than modern practice. Why? Because the delivery trucks were shorter. There was no sheet siding used as it was just before the era of the vinyl cladding. I would also be willing to bet that it might have been James Hardy asbestos siding as well – sourced from the Canadian plants rather than the Australian ones. Good thing the paint finish was unblemished and I didn’t breathe heavily.

I was terrifically impressed with the roofing sites – mastic is a large sheet of heavily filled tarpaper with patterns impressed upon it but the use of it rather than shingles, tiles, or metal sheets argues that the house we lived in was a cheap-built kit job. As a kid I never had that impression – it was big and complex. I had little to compare it to – all the rented houses we lived in were of the same construction, and none of them home for long enough to form a distinct impression. Perhaps the entire world lived in simpler houses then…

All the same, I wish they had used longer pieces of siding for the thing – this gluing 150mm strips in is getting tedious.

The Little World Meets The Little Studio


Here’s a cross-over post that is in tune with my other blog. In this case it is about model car photography but Little World citizens can adapt the ideas to model aircraft, doll houses, and gaming tableaux as well.

I am often asked which is the best camera for scale model photography. Leaving aside the  old saw about the best camera being the one that is with you. I will make some concrete recommendations.

  1. Digital. Do not be persuaded that analog photography will serve your purposes these days. Once it would have, now it won’t.
  2. If you have little money and little inclination to pursue the complexities of photography, get one of the compact cameras from Olympus, Nikon, Canon, or Fujifilm. They will be cheaper than the equivalent products from Sony, Leica, or other makers. They will have a simple automatic setting that will allow you to succeed most of the time. If you can take your models out into the sunshine or into a bright open space they will function well. Keep moving back and forth until the camera focuses and then press the shutter button home. Share the results with your Facebook friends.
  3. If you have a great deal of money get an APS-C DSLR from Nikon or Canon and a 40mm or 80mm macro lens. Purchase a speedlight from your preferred maker and a flexible TTL connecting cord to attach it to the camera. Also purchase a Mag Mod Dome or Scoop flash diffuser. You can use all of this gear to take magnificent pictures of whatever model setup you have, but you will need to learn how to use it – and you will need to learn how to do post-processing with one of the image editing software programs like Photoshop Elements or Adobe Lightroom.

4. If you have a middling amount purchase a micro 4/3 camera from Olympus or an X-series camera from Fujifilm. You can also get a speedlight and TTL cord or you can opt for a set of reading lights from IKEA to illuminate the scenes. The lenses you need to look for are the 12-50 macro for the Olympus or the 18-55 for the Fujifilm – they will return superb results.

The road to success is not that long with cameras of this nature as they are generally more competent at shooting than you are at seeing. As you get better you will understand light better and be able to start applying it to your models – in any case you may be able to default to having natural light on your models outside, which means the cameras can perform at their best. Look upon it as a learning opportunity, just as your first models were training for your later ones.

The Little World – Raw Materials

I used to look at model engineers and marvel at their patience. Patience and hard work. Patience, hard work, and dedication. Basically, I thought they were nuts.

Not because of the models they made – the traction engines and steam locomotives and V-8 engines – and not because of their appearance ( though the English ones did have a tendency to look like a cartoon of themselves ). It was because of the problem they set themselves in trying to make one model that would occupy them for fifteen years. I could not conceive of someone sustaining an interest in one piece of modelling for that period of time. I thought it was some sort of fraud.

I still did not get a clue to the real state of affairs when I read the model engineering magazines and saw how many of the articles were dedicated to making things for the workshop in preparation for making the model. I thought it was still preliminary stuff. I’ve since learned the lesson of the scratch building shop…and I am delighted.

I’m also a little taken aback. I am currently engaged in making model structures for dioramas and a good great deal of the time involved is not in the actual fabrication or decoration – it is in sourcing and then preparing the raw materials. And sometimes in solving engineering puzzles of how to treat large objects so as to make them appear small.

Part of it is the challenge of frugal modeling. Even when I can afford to go to a hobby shop and buy a Plastruct part I begrudge the money spent on it. I’m time-rich now and can afford to put in the hours to make a complex part from smaller components of it can be done cheaply.

Part of it is the discovery that there are modelling materials everywhere. I used to view some of the models my friend Don Smith made with a jaundiced eye because they were made with popsicle sticks and Tarzan’s Grip glue. No more – I recognise the skill he demonstrated in finding the raw stuff of modelling in such humble places. I spent the better part of a very good day with a Shachihata Fineliner pen and a ruler making a very large mastic sheet roof and then cutting up a sheet of newsagency construction card for lengths of 1:18 siding. The fact that I had the pen, matt board, and card lying about the workshop doing nothing only serves to make it more delicious. Free modelling.

Part of it is the pleasure of component modelling…or subassembly work. Getting things right in small chunks and then eventually seeing it all come together on the main frame. Any modelling project involves some stages that are a drag, and I can certainly view drawing roof tiles in that light, but if you get them right once you do not have to get them nearly right twice.