The Little World – It’s Only A Hobby – Part One

I remember a comedy record that Lou Jacobi made in which he said that he had a hobby of catching honey bees in a jar. Another character asked him if he put air holes and honey in the jar, and he said ” No “. When they remonstrated with him that this would cause the bees to die he said ” So what? It’s only a hobby…”.

SO WRONG on so many levels – both in humanity and in hobby-manity. But you still laughed at the deadpan delivery…

Leaving aside the comedy and the poor bees, the idea that something is ONLY a hobby is one of the most corrosive ones that you can hold. If you approach anything upon that basis, you are doing yourself and whatever you attempt a vast disservice.

I am not generally an advocate for passion. People who profess it generally do so to press their opinions upon you – opinions that might not pass the scrutiny of logic, practicality, or morality. Passion becomes at once an engine and a vehicle for anything. I like engines and vehicles, sure, but not when they are made to bear down upon me.

I cannot do the cold logic of the Vulcans, nor even the measured stuff of classical philosophy. I refuse to go into the marginal footlings of Talmudic logic…it seems to be something of a hairy fraud. But I can see some things clearly, and one of them is the need for a good reason for nearly everything.

I say a good reason – not a bad one. The bad ones come close to that passion thing, or to Lou’s callous hobby. A good reason in the Little World can be many-fold:

a. Because it is beautiful. Lots of dollhouse and teddy bear and doll hobbyists draw strongly on this. The things they do are intrinsically beautiful and everyone who sees them is rewarded. Lucky hobbyists – to make something that does this much good.

b. Because it is unusual. And if you did not do it, no-one would ever know about it. Who knows what stimulation your model of a Hungarian tractor might give to someone’s memory or curiosity.

c. Because we need to remember it. If there was a historical occurence, item, idea, or person, you can frequently record them in miniature in such a way that people do not forget it.

d. Because we need to understand it. A prime example of this for me was to see a set of models made in the Museum Of Science in London in the 1990’s. They were cut-aways of steam engines and boilers done with colour highlighting for water, steam, and air passages. It was the first time in 48 years that I had ever really grasped the idea of water tube and firetube boilers or of automatic fireboxes. Never forgot it and I’ve been grateful to whoever  made those models.

In all of these instances there may be some passion…and a great deal of dedication. They might be hobbies, but the best of them are never ” Only a hobby”.

 

Advertisements

The Little World – Knowing When To Stop

Knowing when to stop is a concept that all Little Worlders should firmly grasp. It is most useful for the designers as well as the builders.

a. I built two kits of the same vehicle recently – One by Hobby Master, and one by Airfix – both long-established firms. Both designed in England and manufactured in China. Both made with good-quality materials – in the case of the Hobby Master this included plastic castings, a zamac casting, and rubber tyres. The Airfix kit was all plastic. Price for the HM was higher, but not excessive.

Well, they both made up to good models, and I was pleased, but the Airfix kit had been made with more pieces of plastic on the sprues and consequently there were a lot more joins to be made. Some of them were joins that required the parts to be 90º accurate – difficult to do in 3 planes.

I’m a reasonably careful worker, but even so I got more things out of line with the Airfix than with the HM – and the extra-fine detail does not show enough in 1:76 scale to merit those inaccuracies. I’ve noted this problem with my next Airfix kit as well, and will look to other makes for my needs in the future.

The designers should have stopped dividing the master model into parts earlier – sacrificed some of the tiny parts for integral moulding. The end result would have been more certainty for the modellers – particularly if they were juniors.

b. I noted that there is yet another re-issue of a die-cast car model by a well-known firm in yet another fanciful livery. I think they have put it out in about 10 varieties…only 2 of which have any basis whatsoever in reality. By all means put out something that returns money to the company, but try not to flood the shelves with examples that have no further value. Stop at 2 authentic models and one fantasy.

c. Other die-cast makers and resin casters are putting out what may be accurate models of especial vehicles by the score – luxury vehicles, racing cars, one-off show cars. Lovely work, but far in excess of the more mundane cars and trucks we see on our roads or remember from the past. Some makes are ignored completely – others have perhaps one example of a line that actually went for decades. The collector is hard pressed to make a representative collection – it is all dessert and no potatoes. Time to stop and to start making more average sedans.

d. Some collectors pursue balanced collections. Some concentrate on one make. Some concentrate on one model from one maker, and break their hearts and our ears with their search for the fabled lost variant that was only available on Wednesday March 18th, 1959 on a radius of 2.7 miles from a newsagent in Pinner.

I am willing to believe that they care about this, but they should stop before they try to make the rest of us care.

e. That final touch of paint on the model often is the final touch plus one. And that extra spritz or brush then spoils the whole paint job by running or skinning. Oh, if only we had stopped earlier…

f. The extra model on the shelf is just a little more weight. And then another. And eventually the shelf – like the camel’s back – has just one straw or model too many. You can see where  this is going.

g. Some model lines – some model collections – are finite things. There were only so many of something that were ever made and only so many models are possible. What do you do if you come to the end of that line and there are no more things to collect? A sad stop.

So it is all a matter of timing – and balance. Success may be reached but should not be over-reached. Every meal has a satiety point  – up until then it is all delight…but after it, everything is nauseating. We must learn our saturation points and stop in a timely fashion before we reach them.

The Little World – The Measure Of A Diorama

You all know what a diorama is – a miniature set with scale plastic models. But did you know it was a historical thing too? Apparently one of the original definitions was of a scene  that was meant to be viewed through one peephole and that had lighting effects that changed as you looked.

Well, you could do that today with the plastic models, of course, but it would require a good deal more design skill than most people possess. I include myself in the most people. I can manage pictures of a scale set when I make it for one purpose, but I never restrict the viewer to just one angle . People are free to see the thing from all sides.

This may be a mistake – the older artists may have had the right idea about it all. I believe Vermeer made dioramas to help him with some of his most famous paintings…or maybe the paintings helped with the dioramas.

Most of the works that I see at the model exhibitions are model-centric. The builders do a splendid job of a central figure or a plane, ship or vehicle, and the surrounds are merely to shore up or show up that model. They may be very well done, with superb weathering and accessories, but they are a stage set or enlarged plinth for the model.

The other approach is one that is seen sometimes in museums. If they need to depict a famous scene or battle , there may be anywhere from dozens to thousands of models employed, but they are subservient to the overall impression or story that the diorama tells. It’s rare that you see it from all sides – the only one I remember was a Waterloo set depicted in one of the castles somewhere in England that was on such a scale and in such a large room that you could walk all around the thing. I’d been a re-enactor in one of the Waterloo years and was able to make more sense of it than a casual visitor.

I often recall this, and other Imperial War Museum dioramas, and think that it forms a good basis for judging our own efforts. LIke the railway layouts that are very well done, a good diorama can stand on its own with no models visible – or at least none that dominate the viewer’s attention. Then it really becomes a Little World.

The Little World – You Never Know What You Never Knew

Earlier in the year I joined a Facebook group that deals with my favourite hobby – die-cast toy cars and photography. The fact that finding it was completely by accident ( and a Facebook algorithm ) shows me just how much we miss in life. Even if we are alert, we are rarely alert enough.

Of course this would all have been par for the course in the pre-internet days. We functioned with hobby magazines from the newsagent or drug store, the occasional book  found buried in the public library, and the personal contact of the hobby club or the hobby shop.

If you lived in an out-of-the-way portion of the world ( we’re so isolated that the Black Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century is just now starting here. You’ll need a note from your doctor…) you got to see the latest hobby supplies about four years after everyone else and if it was a short-lived craze you probably only saw reports of it in overseas magazines. The magazines had a greater impact than the internet now as they were frequently the only source of information. You’d be surprised how many people built marvellous models from the flimsiest plans.

And also what primitive materials were utilised. Wood, metal, early plastics, paper…they were all good stuff and they still are, but back in the 60’s people didn’t realise that they were crude and just went ahead and built masterpieces with leftovers. And they fastened them together with a wide variety of glues and adhesives that worked only fitfully. Epoxies were here, but they were very slow curing. Acetate cements were the go, and no sign of cyanoacrylates. Lots of model boats were made with powder and resin glues in an effort to make them waterproof. And lots of them came apart in the water.

Were we less happy with our early scratchbuilds? No – and we were perfectly delighted with plastic kits that would seem laughable now. The eye of the Little World builder is an adjustable one and can see past surface flaws to find the inner beauty of a model.

It would be nice to think that we can still muster up this sort of vision now.

The Little World – Flat, Flatter, Flattest

No, I’m not referring to paint finish. Flat should mean flat in any case there. Of course it is also mixed in with matt, matte, eggshell, lustre, and a number of other descriptive words. When in doubt, paint a sample.

I really mean the basic necessity for all scratch or kit builders…a flat surface. Some portion of the big world upon which to erect some portion of the little one. It is closely aligned to the other necessity – a right angle. These sound easy enough to do but practice shows how hard it is to get them.

Model airplane builders need a flat base to act as a measurement basis for the curves of the fuselage and the angle of the wings. They need a flat base for the undercarriage, and a level flat base to set up the aircraft. The vertical stations that might be measured on a plan need to rise from this base at 90 degrees.

The model ship builder needs that level ground to also establish rib positions. Unlike the  full-size counterpart, there’s no need to use gravity to slide the model into the water. so you don’t need to build on a slope.

The model architect absolutely needs a level flat base to raise walls and structures. Even if there isn’t a straight line in the building, the thing has to be vertical. Pisa was a mistake…and Gaudi a greater one…

My solution for my workshop has been to use a commercial whiteboard in a frame laid on top of a standard trestle table. It is a smooth Laminex surface bigger than any of the model foundations I use, supported with a 25mm-thick MDF board captured in a metal frame. Glue does not stick to it and when it is truly horizontal everything erected upon it is true as well.

Currently I use a small modeller’s set square for much of the setups, but will purchase a larger metal square in the future. You cannot have enough precision.

Note: the whiteboard is far larger than most building models but the extra room can be used to set up clamps and jigs to hold building components as they set. As long as I do not need to nail to it, I can build anything.

The Little World – How To Survive A Hobby Shop

We are all in danger at some time in the day. We drive a car, fly in an airplane, eat servo sandwiches, tell our spouse that they are wrong…and for the most part we get away with it. No-one hits us on the road or in the kitchen, we do not get food poisoning, we do not crash. We have learned that the dangers are manageable.

Such is not the case for the hobbyist who goes to the hobby shop. There the dangers are multiplied a thousand-fold…few escape. Wallets and credit cards are seen crashed and burning everywhere you look. Survivors are staggering out of the wrecks with armloads of kits. Painters lie in the aisles overcome by fumes – their partners beside them, overcome by the prices of the paint. It is not a pretty sight.

Shoppers in Bunnings, Home Depot, and Spotlight will also know these distressing sights…with the additional horror in the gardening section of bodies sticking up out of the loam. Whatever can be done to arrest the carnage?

Here is a list of precautions:

a. Do not take more than you can afford to lose. Like the casino, the hobby hell will consume every bit of funding that you can find. Leave your credit and debit cards at home. And don’t go to the counter with a child’s piggy bank and a hammer – it just looks pathetic.

b. Wear dark sunglasses in the shop. Hobby goods are marketed on bright colours – particularly the toy cars and R/C aircraft. If you can’t see them very well you won’t be tempted. You might pick up some dodgy paint choices in the finishing aisle if you’re wearing sunnies but use it up anyway and tell people that it is a special camo scheme.

c. Do not sniff the glues. They are addictive. Likewise, do not sniff the kits. If you have to sniff anything, sniff the owner of the shop. They get little enough love as it is.

d. Learn to make a specific list of what you need and go directly to the place it is stored. Select only as much as you need, pay for it at the counter, and run. Do not browse the cabinets. That way madness lies.

Once you are outside you have proved to yourself that you are strong, moral, and not self-indulgent. Celebrate the fact with a double martini and a glazed doughnut.

e. Never give in to the temptation to stock up on anything. If you add just that extra kit or bag of parts you are starting down the slippery pathway that will lead eventually to an intervention. No-one wants to be the person on television with the garage full of Airfix Spitfires and a sneering relative.

f. Know the signs of addiction before you get there. Is the grocery store refusing to exchange balsa wood strips for bread? Has your bank cut up your credit card, ATM card, cheque book, statement, and half the teatowels in the house? Is the bathtub full of glue? You are in need of treatment. You can get a 1:35th scale treatment kit by Trumpeter for a little under $ 40. Where’s the piggy bank and the hammer?

g. Do not sneak kits into the house. Do not sneak empty boxes up into the attic space. One day the plasterwork on the ceiling will give way and your secret will be out.

h. Do not lie to your spouse. Don’t say that you will be going off to have a night of squalid sex with your lover and then sneak around to the workshop and glue things. The plastic smell and the dried glue on your fingers will give you away, no matter how much you douse yourself in perfume.

The Little World – The Thin Coat Revisited

I have bemoaned the price of good-quality modelling paints before here in this column, and extolled the virtue of using 1:1 scale paints from the hardware store as a substitute. This is valid and viable to a certain extent, but the range of spray cans in the local DIY or Bunnings is surprisingly limited. Oh, not if you want to paint wooden decks or bicycles or lawn furnture…perfect for that…but dismal if you want authenticity.

So we turn to the Humbrol, Tamiya, Pactra, Testors, or Mr Color racks at the hobby shop and more little glass jars. One day I am going to have my own weight in empty little glass jars…as opposed to having my weight in money. But after yesterday I think I am going to stop complaining – you see I finally looked at what I was actually doing with the airbrush.

Up until now I loaded up the medium cup of the brush with whatever thinned paint I was spraying and then did the classic sweep-and-trigger like I did in the Pactra spray can days. I got a good coverage eventually but a great deal of that medium cup went on either side of the work and out through the exhaust fan.

Today I screwed on the small cup – the one with the open top – and shot green for some truck wheels. No big deal, but the small size of the reservoir made me concentrate the spray more over what I was doing and there was minimal overspray. Consistency must have been good because the coats went on with no pooling or streaks. And the amount of paint used was very much less – so economical that the higher per ml cost of the hobby product was no burden.

The joy of being able to go back to the big paint racks is wonderful. I can apportion the cheap greys, whites, and greens for building sides and these can be Bunnings supplies, but I can feel better about spending a bit more on the tiny bits.

Note: Full marks to the people in Hobbytech for their advice re. thinners and paint brands. There is a confusion of systems out there and I made a few bad choices off the rack – the counter staff realised that I was headed for trouble and gently steered me back to get the right combination. This sort of help is always appreciated.