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.
I am eternally grateful to a writer in the 1970’s who introduced a phrase to me – probably writing for the english MODEL BOATS magazine. Somewhere about 1972 I first saw the words ” stand-off scale “. It opened a door for me – I could continue scale modelling, and into a new era.
As a child I built plastic models of all sorts. And ran toy rains and flew model airplanes. All of the models were to a great extent products of others put into my hands. I did very little scale modelling from scratch – because I was frightened of the complexity of it. Even complex wooden kits like the Guillows aircraft daunted me. I had an SE5A kit that never got built – opened, fondled, but ultimately abandoned…
Fear of lack of skill was one thing, but fear of the amount of work needed to put in enough detail was another. It had come to me in the 1970’s when I took an interest in model boats and saw the marvellous display models in Greenwich Maritime Museum and realised just how far down the detail scale people were prepared to go to. I drew back – until the MODEL BOATS writer made a “stand-off scale” steam yacht and included plans for it in their Christmas issue. It was simple enough to build and allowed you to see the basic shapes and colours in action.
Yes. I bought balsa wood and tissue and paint and an electric motor and made myself that steam yacht. It was a beauty and welted around our swimming pool for years. It gave me courage enough to tackle a radio-controlled TBD, then a fishing boat, then a trawler, then a tugboat and finally a train ferry. Each one got a little more detailed but none ever approached museum status and the wonderful thing about it was…it was okay. Stand-off scale modelling existed in r/c airplanes and boats, and could by a simple mechanism be extended to model villages, trains, and dioramas. I could now feel confident that viewers will not judge me as incompetent if a few rivets are never seen.
The wonderful thing was when they saw the overall shape of the model and then their minds filled in the detail for me. All the credit, none of the filing and sanding…Win.
The other thing about stand-off scale was that it allowed you to model in somewhat of an impressionistic manner. Wide swaths of shape and colour and suggestions of contour could be made with the paintbrush and the viewers accepted it well. Indeed, nowadays the computer with image-editing programs can be called in to suggest the details that would otherwise be stopping production. My current coffee bar project looks into an interior but I do not want to intrude into the commercial premises – so I just select the element I need – the cheerful coffee lady – and blur and smudge the rest of the view to neutralise it. Everyone is happy.