The Little World – The Layout Vs The Play Set

Dedicated readers to The Little World segments of this column are generally pretty sympathetic people. They are model builders, painters, or collectors themselves and are tolerant of the interests of others. But tolerance, like the little tubs of tartare sauce they give out at the fish and chip shop, only goes so far. You usually run out of sauce before you run out of snapper.

I am not suggesting that Little World citizens are going to throw other people’s hobbies out the window entirely – at least not if they are wise – but there may be a certain amount of sniffing and pooh-poohing. And a tendency to see the cracks in the paint jobs rather than celebrating glorious workmanship.

Some of it can be rivalry – some jealousy. Some of it can be meanness, and some of it can be ignorance. None of it is necessary – The Little World is large enough to hold everybody.

A prime example of this is the play set. The Marx Toys tinplate Fort Apache with the moulded plastic cavalry and indians, plus a few cardboard pine trees and a corral fence. Or Cape Canaveral with the horrible out-of-scale rockets and the plastic buildings. Plus the spring-loaded launcher that was surprisingly powerful. I have the scars to prove that.

These play sets were the meat and drink for kids in the 50’s – the big item under a Christmas tree and the main focus of a play session when your friends came over. You were lucky if you knew kids with these sets and a basement to play in when winter snowed you all in. A rec room and a tabletop were all you needed to enter the Little World, and you only had to come back out of it when supper was called.

But there were detractors – and most of them were kids who had the next step up in the toy structure – an electric train. If the train set had a siding, and some structures, it trumped the play set. And it was very rare that the kids realised that you could combine both aspects to make an even bigger Little World. We wouldn’t have worried about scale or appearance, and the perennial problem of figuring out which pieces belonged to whom at the end of the day would have been easier to solve.

Fortunately, in the grown-up Little World, all this can be rectified. We can own the basement or studio, the tabletop ( and it can be a good big one too ) and the trains, planes, cars, figurines, and buildings and we don’t even have to pick up all the toys when supper-time comes. We can leave them out to play with another day. Adult Little Worlders are generally more attuned to scale equivalencies and actual distances than their childhood counterparts, but even so, when a good compromise presents itself, they can invent an excuse for it.

Let’s play…

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The Little World – Follow Me

One idea leads to another. Saturday experiments with a Pacific island set lead to a Sunday shopping trip to the hobby shops…and the delightful discovery of new model vehicles to add to the theme. All aircraft related.

I also discovered a hobbyist in England who makes plans and patterns for OO scale structures – including Nissen huts and airfield buildings. These are downloadable files in PDF format that allow me to print up as many buildings as I like. It looks as if I will be making raids on the cereal packet cardboard and recipe cards for building materials.

Today I concentrated on the USN and USMC aircraft. But the Japanese Army Air Force is coming along – I have 2 A6M models in different liveries – one has the engine exposed for maintenance. Now I have to research what their barracks and control towers looked like.

Looks like it will be a good summer spent building in the air conditioning!

 

The Little World – Be It Ever So Humble

We are often told that we must be proud of our humble homes. This is generally written in magazines that then tell us we must renovate said humble homes and the quotes will start at $10,000. ┬áThe pictures that we are shown in the ads are generally bare and minimalist. A Shaker would look at them and feel deprived. Corbusier would draw doodles and curlicues on the sideboard. In short – they are selling you the chance to live in nothing at all for a tidy round sum of money.

Hot damn.

I have concluded that this is a load of, and have decided to make my decorating statement upon the Rooseveltian principle; I shall do what I can with what I have, where I am. To that end I have designed my modelling workshop – it is in the heading picture.

You see a combination of fortune and stinginess.

A cabinet that once housed dental instruments – bought at great expense in 1969 and never sold off.

A cheap hanging motor from the local DIY shop

An X-Acto jigsaw that has survived all my married life.

Discarded bookshelves rescued from the verge.

A cardboard office organiser.

Birthday, Christmas, and Father’s Day presents. That’s the good stuff.

A picture of my late father as inspiration.

His bench vice. Probably his only vice.

The drafting table that only gets used for serious projects. Most plans are drawn on a clipboard in builder’s crayon.

The shop teachers of my youth would reel in horror, but then they were the sort of men who hung tools on pegboards. I have tried to follow their example but eventually everything comes tumbling off the wall. Perhaps that happened to their careers as well.

The only thing I am sure of in my modelling shop is that I can do it. I may not do it well, and it may not last, but for a brief period of time there is always something succeeding. It is all I can ask for.

 

The Little World -The New Wonder Ingredient

Every time you pick up a Readers Digest there is another new drug on the market with a wonder ingredient. It used to be that these were found in petrol and bread…until we found out that the stuff we buy all comes out of the same vat. One tap dispenses petrol, one dispenses bread. You want to make sure you’re on the right end of the vat when you’re making a sandwich.

It is the same with the Little World – every now and then we get a special ingredient to work with. Once it was balsa wood. Then it became styrene. Then we saw ABS, cyanoacrylate glue, and acrylic paint come on the market. Each time the magazines went all out to use the new stuff in any way they could…and it took a few years before the bad uses were weeded out.

My new secret ingredient is foamcore board. Paper or cardboard sandwiching a dense plastic foam. I’ve found sheets of it in my local craft and art stores that run to 3mm, 5mm, and 10mm thickness. There are probably more types available if you know where to look. For my purposes the three noted are fine.

It is easy to cut, yet retains a surprising amount of rigidity. I use a sharp Exacto knife for the 3mm stuff, but a small table jigsaw for the two other thicknesses. As you can draw plans on the white outer coating with great precision using an ordinary propelling pencil, and the sheets present little resistance to the sawblade, you get very accurate parts. It is light to handle, as well, and you can steer the sheets through the throat of the saw easily.

Glueing is mostly a matter of using a white PVA glue – you can’t present the foam core with any sort of solvent cement. It just dissolves the foam and puckers in the paper wrapping. You can use balsa cement on the paper surface safely. The part that pleases me most is that you can force regular dressmaker’s pins through the sheets to hold them together while the glue sets. I leave some in for extra support as well.

Any cutting that you do on the sheet leaves a fine ragged edge to the paper, but you can smooth this very quickly with the emery sticks found in manicure sets.

Like any secret ingredient, you can have too much of it in a recipe. Every structure needs some re-enforcement where the foamcore gets thin…wooden strips work very well. MDF board makes a good base.

And one trick I have learned from the German model firm of Graupner – I make full-sized plans on sturdy paper and then transfer them to the foamcore with a pricker wheel or carbon paper. Done well, the transfer can stack a great deal more usable structure on the uncut sheet than just hacking off a part as you need it. The jigsaw cutting is accurate enough to get two good sides from one cut.

 

Taking Back Life – Part Four – From Whom?

The catch line about taking back life begs a question – where did it go and who has it now? I’ve only just started to find out that answer for myself.

It’s one that all the readers can ask themselves – because the answers that they find will all be as different as their own lives.

In my case a great deal of time went out to learning – all the years from 1953 to 1972 were spent in formal education. It was not unpleasant, and paid me handsomely by giving me a profession that I could trade upon. Subsequent years also educated me in a subsidiary art that I could turn to employment after the initial profession petered out. So I was set for earning power.

A great deal of time was spent in travel – this means re-location, socializing, and the discipline that comes from experiencing the solitude of the newcomer.

And a certain amount of time was spent in pure amusement – in my case I found most of it from the construction of scale models. All through my life I have had a chance to try my hand at a number of types of modelling. Most were successful – the only exception being model flying. But even here the act of constructing the failed airplanes was rewarding – training hand and eye to small tasks. Teaching visual proportion. And also teaching patience – very few models were ever dashed to the ground in the workshop. Most of them suffered that fate at the flying field.

So what am I now going to take back in my retirement? Why the pure amusement. I now collect scale models and make scenes and dioramas with them. I then use these in my studio for art and commercial illustration. I have discovered the joys of scratch-building as well as kit assembly. I look daily to solve new problems at the workbench – I haunt hobby shops and toy stores looking for parts. I have even started to exhibit some of the models at fairs and shows.

The real benefit this gives is internal – it brings me back to my roots – the little kid at the kitchen table making models – and stimulates my memory. I’m starting to get back some of the scenes and scents of my youth. Daily life took them away for 50 years and now daily routine can bring them back.

The Little World – You Can Lay New Bricks On Old Walls

My recent project of building a 1:18 scale model of a house I once lived in went very well – better than I had expected. It is now sitting in my studio ready for the next phase of my art – tabletop photography.

But once I had completed the actual build i realised that the miniatureist has a wonderful facility that other people may miss out on – we can go back in time and rebuild memories.

Some people never want to do that – they have had experiences that they wish would go away. They actively bury them by various means. You can’t re-write history – unless you are a Soviet Ministry of Propaganda – but sometimes you can add extra pages to what is there to modify it – or at least to understand it.

Thus my researches into the model house I built. From a vague image on Google that sparked my memory, through to more images, and then the discovery of an advertising page from the 1950’s that named the house and showed plans of it. I experienced a re-awakening of mental images of the colours, surface textures, and relationships of the place. I’ve almost recalled the furniture positioning – and can certainly remember the downstairs playroom where I had my toys and games.

It is a bit creepy, as well, to look a Google Earth images of the house standing and flourishing 58 years later, and to realise that I could probably open the front door, walk past the startled present owner, and go to the kitchen, bathroom, and any other part of the place unbidden. A stalker on the other side of the planet…Out of consideration for them, I will not do it…

As I built the miniature I started to undersand more of the layout and dimensions of the place – things I would have had not knowledge of in the 50’s; the size of lumber, the types of roofing, the plumbing layout adopted to give the shortest and cheapest run of pipes. Because, make no mistake about it…the theme of this sort of house was economy and quick build and any corner that might have been available to be cut…was. And I would be willing to bet that there are houses built today that are just a few computer strokes away from this design – and probably assembled from cheaper materials.

Still, it has lasted 58 years and still has someone in there…and here…

The Little World – Nowt Boot A Trick – Part One

I always remember a lifestyle exhibition I worked at in the 80’s for two things; Dire Straits’ song about money for nothing playing ALL WEEKEND in loop and one old Pom who circled around our camera stand. The stand had a television set playing the vision from a closed-circuit camera that the firm sold. It pointed out at the crowd and they could see themselves as they passed by.

The chap, from Yorkshire, kept bobbing his head in front of the camera and then in front of the screen, trying to catch a glimpse of whoever it was on the set…possibly wtiout realising that it was himself. Finally he gave up in disgust and turned to a companion and said ” Ee, it’s nowt boot a trick “. From that day forward it has become a catchphrase for all who worked there.

Same thing in the Little World. I am engaged in making a series of buildings that are going to be nowt boot a trick…albeit a clever one at that. I am about to do my first low-relief street scene.

Low-relief, bas-relief, flat face modelling – call it what you will – is a very good way of creating an image when you need two chief points; viewing from one angle only, and more scenery crammed into a small space. In my case it will be big cars – 1:18th scale models – with shop fronts behind them. The idea is not new – I’ve seen it done fabulously well by 1:24th plastic car modellers and OO railway builders.

My efforts are going to be regulated by the need to fit the display onto a standard trestle table as supplied at exhibition halls. My first expo this year showed me that there is only a limited amount of space available when there are a lot of exhibitors, and you must make the most of what you can get. Full buildings in 1:18th are generally too big to go on an 1800mm x 600mm trestle table and leave any parking space for the model cars. I hope that the strip concept will work better.

The other thing that it will do is allow me to transport the displays more effectively. My little car – a Suzuki Swift – has a limited capacity in the hatchback cargo area. I barely squeaked it in with the May display and I don’t think that some of the stuff I have made for my studio would actually fit in to travel across town. So I am going to make my street strips modular – 900mm x 600mm with removable structures – and take as many as i am allowed to display – at least I can get two on a table.

More news as the idea develops.