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 – What Scale Is That?

Why, it’s a different scale from the one you need, of course. That’s how modelling is done. You go to the shop, see a wonderful model product, and then find that it is the wrong size for what you do.

So you change scales. And the next time you go to the hobby shop the best new product is in yet another scale. If you are in luck the shop will be nearby to a liquor store and you can drown your sorrows.

But don’t get too fond of any one particular drink. Because the next time you go to the booze shop they will be out of it and you’ll have to change again…

You have no chance of telling the manufacturers what to do unless they are back-yard resin casters who make limited-run plastic kits for the specialist market. Even then, your influence will be tempered by their market experience and the practicality of the thing. No good asking someone to invest a considerable amount of time and money in master-modelling something that no-one but you will ever want. You stand a far better chance of getting a one-off model by doing scratch-building yourself. The skills involved will do you good, no matter how successful you are in the finished product…and you can at least take heart that whatever you make has real value if it is unique in the world. Others may reel back in horror, but they cannot deny that you are the owner of the only one.

Smart money plays the odds:

a. If you have any particular idea in mind, do some serious thinking beforehand as to the scope of the project. If it is truly a one-off for yourself, and no-one else will ever want or get one, you can make parts by laborious means. If it is the start of a series of models, you’ll want to have more easily repeatable parts to make it up. If it is a commercial venture, the parts that make it up have to be as good as possible for as cheap as they can be made.

b. The fact that it is one-off in itself does not mean that it will always be alone…ie, if you make a 1:29th scale Roto-Rooter truck you can also use it as part of a large-scale railway layout with Bachman trains and bad drainage. An encouragement not to stray too far mathematically from current commercial scales. And be careful what you plant.

c. Smart money also knows its own limitations – particularly in terms of technical skill. If you know you can make buildings but not cars, you choose a scale where someone else makes the cars and you make the buildings. That’s not really as fatuous a statement as you might think…many’s the time when someone has started out with great ability only to foul up the works when they undertake something with which they have no resonance. I cannot make model figures that look good, but I can make buildings to house commercial figures and buy vehicles to display with them. I choose my scale based upon both of those other factors and my dioramas work.

d. Smart money knows other smart money. Using my example, I know that there are figure modellers who can make superb maquettes to people my dioramas – figures with posing, musculature, shading, and painting. Once I conceive of a scene I can measure, sketch, design, and specify in such a way that one of the custom modellers can make exactly what I need. This might also apply to other enthusiasts who are adept at vehicles, landscaping, painting, or weathering. I hope to raise my skill levels, but if they will never be high enough I can employ those who already have them.

e. Smart money knows that it only needs to make so much – a great deal of the realism of a scene is in the mind of the beholder. Michael Paul Smith said as much in his book about Elgin Park – he gets the realism right enough to start the suggestion juices flowing for his audience. They do the rest.

All this having been said, I would be grateful if the die casters and plastic extruders would set to and give us more stock of ordinary goods in the 1:18th scale. Park benches, lamp posts. fire plugs, pillar boxes, wheelie bins and rubbish tins, ordinary motor-car tyres, Belisha beacons, road signs, witches hats, and such. I would love a set of plastic or concrete temporary barriers and a portable light bank. And a complete set of traffic lights and crossing beacons for an intersection would sell like hot cakes!

The Little World – Finding The Missing Links

Every modeller – whether dollhouse builder, plastic scale worker, or die-cast specialist – has found the dark places. The parts of their chosen scale where the lights do not shine. In short – the bits that no-one has ever made. The model that they know is crucial…but no-one else wants.

This can be a very galling experience. If you are a person who thinks that 1:12th scale Victorian drawing rooms and kitchens are the be-all and end-all of existence, you are fine. There are no end of dollhouse suppliers that can fulfill your needs. If you love the British Spitfire airplane you can rest assured that you never need be out of reach of a model. If you are a person who wants to collect 1:29th scale South African flying saucers, you are on your own.

That’s an extreme example, but you only have to move a very small way off the commercial pathway to be lost – try googling 1:18th scale furniture and see what happens. Yet there are tens of thousands of model collectors into 1:18th scale cars who might want to make a 1:18th scale house to go with them. In most cases they have been told to go and scratch.

Well, at least I scratch better than I did before. I was frightened that I could not reproduce the complex details of the world, and as a child I hesitated to try. But radio controlled modelling in the 1970’s showed me that the concept of stand-off scale was valid. Simplified detail could still validate a project. I use the concept all the time these days and reserve my heroic efforts for things I can do. And every now and then extend the working hands to a new spot…

Currently I am making the facade of an Art-Deco cinema as part of a 1:18th street scene. The thing resonates with me as a memory of similar things seen in my childhood. And it has speed lines, which make everything good. If you don’t believe me try adding them ot a baroque palace like Potsdam or Versailles and see how much better you feel. You need not put them on with bolts or nails – a can of spray glue will do. Or even a can of spray paint. Freddie Rex III Rules OK.

 

 

The Little World – Applying For A Fun Licence

” This is a free country, isn’t it? ”

Fine words, and perfectly appropriate at the polling booth or in the public bar, but hesitate before uttering them in your local hobby shop. Because the answer may turn out to be ” No “.

I’m driven to this conclusion by looking at the goods on offer in the shop. Fine models, glorious kits, magnificent engines, and more trouble than you can pack into a Gladstone bag. In many cases you may be free to purchase the fun, but you will be forbidden to have it…or at least you will need to go a’begging to someone for permission to play somewhere.

If that sounds over the top, consider that here in Perth – the most isolated capital city in the world with hundreds or thousands of kilometres between us and other cities – we need to go to one special secluded spot on the outskirts of town to fly a toy airplane. We need to go 20 kilometres to sail a toy boat, and we can go to Bunbury or buggery if we want to run a toy car.

Noise, pollution, disturbance, wildlife, public nuisance,etc. etc. Councils jealously guard their parks and schools jealously guard their ovals, and woe betide the trespasser. The drone flyers have it even worse as they are the bete noir of everybody. Doesn’t stop the hobby shops from trying to sell lots of different drones, but when it comes to clubs flying them…?

So far the toy train people can escape most of the contumely and control as their layouts are inside, and on their own property. If they take them outside they can be harassed for creating an attractive nuisance or for spoiling the council’s view of what the garden should look like.

The toy soldier, car, and doll collectors also escape most of this problem…but this is probably only because the police and council haven’t figured out an angle that can either fee or fine the collector. Have no fear…they are probably working on it. They already have a stranglehold on the militaria collectors who just want to trade old muskets.

I am not going to worry too much. I’m sure I contravene a number of regulations by collecting toy cars and taking pictures of them and a zealous enemy could put in so many council complaints as to make the hobby miserable, but collecting enemies could also be a lot of fun.

Particularly if you pin them to a board or press them between the pages of a thick book.

The Little World – Mark II

One of the interesting characteristics of an older person is their capacity to do it again. It? Something that they did before, but have become dissatisfied with.

This is not a project that they have abandoned, nor the one that they have become disinterested in. It is not something that they have run out of money on…though that is always a possibility these days. It is something that they have decided to do better.

I had one of these occasions this week, when I unceremoniously tore apart a model that had been done a few months ago. It was a simple utilitarian box that housed a battery for model lighting. Made of foamcore board and then clad with painted matte board, it was dull and surprisingly unsatisfying to see. When it started to separate at a seam, I realised that my previous effort had been simultaneously complex and shoddy.

I need a battery box to power the 1:12th scale studio lights on my model film set. These have turned out splendidly, as anything that you make from yoghurt containers does. It is also needed for the  1:18th scale garage – leading to a possible scale disparity.

The answer was to make it as a nondescript but detailed mobile starter cart like they have at airports. A coffin body with four rubber-tyred wheels at each corner and a low-slung profile. Perhaps a tow hitch at one end – certainly the switch and plug connectors at the other. And the top need not be hinged – it can just be removable.

Scrap 3mm mdf board and some oak strip reinforcement went together easily and this time no fussy cladding was needed. I primed and painted the chassis a good light grey and then put bright warning signs about voltage on it to jazz it up. It can park near any model and provide 3 x 12 volt DC for as long as an exhibition lasts.

Best of all is the cost. Under the $ 5 mark all up – and I am much more satisfied with myself for having done it.

The Little World – What’s the Point…?

Every Little Worlder has had it – whether they are miniature builders, doll house enthusiasts, toy collectors, model collectors, collector collectors, scale modellers, airplane flyers, train hobbyists, or r/c boaters – they have all had that sneering question…

” What’s the point ? ”

It is not actually a question – it is a statement. It says two things about the person who utters it:

a. I don’t enjoy little things – because I don’t or can’t have, make, see, or imagine them.

b. I want to make you feel less than me – and the best way is to belittle what you obviously enjoy.

Answering a question is one thing – but none of us is required to answer a statement. We don’t have to become incensed or feel bad about it, or to notice it in any way. But if we do want to reply, may I suggest one of the following…

a. ” There is no point. There never has been nor will there ever be. Only fools seek a point. ”

b. ” I do it as therapy. Let me tell you about my illness. Have you an hour? Come close and I will stimulate you. ”

c. ” You can’t see a point? Oh, dear. Not had much to do with art, then, eh? ”

d. ” You’d like to buy my  models/toys/figurines/diorama? Well why didn’t you say so? Don’t be shy. For you –  a special price –  $ 1500. Now don’t be a piker…no-one likes a cheap-arse. Let’s see the colour of your money…”

Most bullies never expect the victim fight back. If you are ready with a faster, funnier, firmer response than they can deal with, you have them on the run. When you see them sheer off and try to run for it, pursue them. You have the entire support of the Little World behind you.

 

 

 

 

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….