The Little World – It All Ends Up As Grey Or Brown

Little World builders – as opposed to Little World collectors – generally end up with a more muted palette for their art.

By that I mean, as they are painting and weathering things, initial toy-like colours that can be put on models in a factory are dulled down and authentic colours get painted on plastic assembly kits from the start. Of course this generalisation goes to the winds when it comes to plastic model car kits and hot rod customisers but otherwise it holds.

I weather some of my die-cast models to fit my own Little World, and I use thinned versions of matte paints and varnishes to do so. It is amazing what a thin coat of acrylic dust can do to bring a shelf model to life. The structures that are built in various scales also benefit from sprayed dirt and dripped ( acrylic wash ) corrosion.

But it need not be so. You really have to look into your own soul and discover what rings your bell. You might be the person who dearly loves Disney colours on your models and would be sad and dispirited if they all had to look used. If that is the case, paint them as well as you can, but keep to the bright colours that please you. It is your Little World after all, and you may be a cheery as you want to be.

For the grubby brigade, we soon discover that whatever we do, the world gets dirtier. It does so with brown dust or grey dust – and there are very few other colours of weathering. Oh, the wet portions of the Little World may get mouldy, which can be somewhat green, but you’ll rarely see blue, red, or yellow as a predominant wash. Of course small plumes of industrial contamination can run to vile colours for specific highlights…but you are always still better off with a dark wash of grunge.

I have even seen instances of people using real dirt and degradation to weather their models, and there is certainly something to be said for the uneven nature of nature as it erodes and fouls things. If you can point it in the right direction you need not buy bottles of Tamiya acrylics for $ 5 each. Just don’t wipe your eyes after handling the model…


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 – Scale Down

rafIn the world of the Little World you can scale down nearly anything…except earth, air, fire, and water. These elements stubbornly insist upon being 1:1 all the time. We do our best to miniaturise them but in the end have to resolve the problem by adjusting our minds.

In the case of the earth, we can sometimes come as close to the thing as possible. You can grind up rocks to make sand and grind the sand further to make dust…and then spread it over your models. In some cases you make the model sticky with glue or paint before you do this an end up with a reasonable texture. In some cases you just dust over the lot and let nature take its course – if you need to re-dust the model you just go out and get more dust. In the most fortunate cases you do not need to purchase it in small bottles for $15.95 a  time.

But sometimes the scale dirt just doesn’t look right, and you find yourself at the hobby shop with your credit card in hand…

Air is invisible, but when you try to fly your R/C aircraft into it you discover that the gusts and eddies make the models react in anything but a scale fashion. It is only when the models get bigger – much bigger – that realistic action starts to take over. And you are in a world of work to get big models approved, built, operating, and paid for.

Water is never going to make a scale model shop look like a real one under way. The physics of the medium is such that everything bobs. Hollywood gets over the problem by filming models in slow motion, but generally the size of the splashes give the game away. Very few scale models can make a realistic bow wave, though non-scale underwater pegs and vanes can be used to almost get the thing right. Surprisingly, the wake at the stern can look very realistic if the propellers are deep enough.

Fire? Well, if you are really making fire – as in steam engines – you are going to have insulation troubles. if you are just trying to make smoke, be aware that most scale smoke is too light and wispy to be useful. Chemical smoke is costly and smelly but does come closest to the real thing. Most people just avoid the question.

Scale light is successful, however, and is going to be even more so in the future as LED ‘s get smaller and more sophisticated. As they do not generate heat, they can be incorporated into all sorts of models.

Scale smell? I must get you to view my 1:18 Chicago stockyards on a hot day. Breathtaking model…

The Little World – You Dirty Thing…

dscf2406Dirt is one of the nicest things you can give someone as a gift.

If you are a gardener, a big bag of dark steaming nutritious dirt to spread around the parched plants is wonderful. If it stinks, so much the better.

If you are a gossip columnist and someone rings you up with the latest dirt on a celebrity or political figure, you dive for the pencil and paper. Not to be missed!

If you are a scratch builder you have to go out and dig up the dirt yourself, but you are very selective; it must be the correct colour and very finely ground. organic fragments must be of the sort not to give the game away. You might resort to expensive weathering materials from the hobby shop, but I’ll bet you occasionally do a scrape round inside the pot plants to see if anything useful is growing. Inveterate weatherers have been knownto bring rust flakes home in their pockets. They all have some sort of an improvised mortar and pestle to grind the dirt finer.

The search for a binding agent is also never-ending. Matte varnish, acrylic liquids, paint, thinned glue, and hairspray have all been tried  – sometimes in multi-layer combos. The goal of reliable sticking with no shedding and no colour change to the dirt is eagerly sought-for. Sometimes it works – sometimes it all flakes off and you have to start over again.

The real trick would seem to be to have the dirt as light-coloured as possible and yo layer it up. Also to go out and observe where it swirls to and collects in the real world. Don’t be ashamed to live in a slightly grubby world – it is the real one.

Now go wash your hands…

Civilisation, Captain, But Not As We Know It.


The recent foray to the Plastic Model Exhibition was enough fun to draw money out of my pocket…I bought a vial of tiny nuts and bolts and two diamond files…and it provided a pretty good view into the minds of some of the modellers. The ones that really intrigued me were the ones who had gone past the kits and the hobby shop and who had looked at real life.


The images illustrate this. The second part of the exhibition was given over to models in competition with each other – displayed for prizes. I cannot pretend that I understood the grading system or the categories they were placed in, but I was attracted to the civilian entries more than the military ones. These two vehicles in particular.


There weren’t the sheer numbers that you see at the Super Model Car Sunday  ( Though the SMCS chaps had brought their beach scene along as well to entertain the crowds in the commercial section ) but these chaps have really observed what cars on the street look like. The fact that they are rather dirty streets full of old cars is part of the charm. That’s exactly the sorts of streets we live in.


Unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to the modellers who had completed these cars so I wasn’t able to find out how the detailed graffiti was put on the VW van. It looks too complex to be decals but too fine to be airbrush…unless the person doing it is absolute master of the instrument.


In the case of the plumbing van, the airbrushing is a little more obvious, but I like the motley effect of the replacement doors. I also applaud the modeller for making a choice to do a working vehicle – few of the models seen on the plastic shelf and darn few of the die-casts are actual working vehicles. I know I am always looking for 1:18 trucks and they are so far pretty scarce. I’ve located a 4WD that is useful and there’s a Chinese commercial van on the eBay but that is about it. I want a tray-top!

Rust Never Sleeps


I also suspect that Bill never sleeps. If he isn’t doing some fabulous weathering work on a scale model he is probably thinking up new techniques.


The Rolls Royce that you saw in black and white is really too good to keep hidden – here it is in gloriously horrible colour. Like Mae West, it started life as pure as snow but eventually drifted…


The kit that it was to begin with must have been very expensive. By the time he saw it, enough bits had been purloined to cancel out completing it as a pristine showroom car. So Bill weathered it a little…


Of course the daunting thing about seeing a model done this way is the perfection of the effect. You just cannot stop looking at the detail of it. In a way it’s a little frightening to those of us with less skill and artistry. The thought of trying the same is like a painter lobbing up in front of ” The Laughing Cavalier ” with a watercolour set and a sheet of typing paper…


Still, Bill is the best kind of scale modeller – he was prepared to tell me some of the secrets to that rust finish, and he was so clear and sensible in the explanation that I am going to try it on a small scale on one of my die-cast cars. I’m hoping for warmer spring weather to get to the paint shed. I can hardly wait.

Rust = Lust.


A Matter Of Standards



I normally do not criticise my fellow modellers or photographers. I feel everyone should have an opportunity to express themselves in the best way that they can, and I am as pleased by real effort on inexpensive things as upon more costly devices. I also appreciate the levels of skill that one develops over the years – maturity in craftsmanship is evident.

But I must say that I can still be distressed to see neglect. Gross neglect.


The cars that you see in these photographs were not inexpensive things – the Bugatti and the Mercedes were amongst the cream of European vehicles in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In times of poverty and oppression they were the prized transportation modes of the oppressors, and deserve to be recognised as such. What a sad and worrisome thing to see them neglected!


The owner of these vehicles should be ashamed of the way that he has ignored them. There is rust and decay wherever you look – in one case it seems to have eaten entirely through the fenders of the Mercedes. The poor thing is fit for a scrap heap.

_DSC0015And look at the window of the Bugatti. I mean, how much effort would it take to put a new pane of glass in there. The upholstery looks dreadful, and there is no excuse for it. Half an hour with a Hoover would’ve prevented this.


Of course, once you have let leather upholstery go to this extent you might as well throw it out and get new – except the owner of these cars obviously does not realise that these are classics and you can’t just go down to Supacheap Autos and get spares. A little bit of foresight could have saved much of the cars.


And I am horrified to think of those tyres going out on the road. I don’t suppose that the owner cares about the road regulations if he expects to get on the highway with those – I certainly hope the police red sticker him at least. Gaol time would be appropriate…


Still, nothing is as bad as it might be made out. He seems to have made a start on cleaning up and preserving an engine. Whether this more responsible attitude will extend to making the chassis safe and starting on the bodywork remains to be seen. I am not too sanguine about it. Some people just have no standards.