Too many runners, not enough walkers

When you first start out in the hobby, you are likely consistently impressed by the work you discover, and quickly realise that many of artworks you see are customised. It makes sense that in order to get to that level, you need to start customising your models. But if you ask any experienced modeller where you should start as a beginner, the most common advice you are likely to receive is ‘learn the basics first’. Why is this? and what are ‘the basics?’

The ‘basics’ for me anyway are being able to remove nub marks, make seam lines that are not a part of a models original design invisible, and have a basic understanding of paint types and priming. It’s not much at all when you think about it. Especially when there is a whole plethora of online tutorials to cover all of these aspects from a lot of scale modelling perspectives. Whatever is available to you material wise, in whichever country you reside in, you can find a way. No excuses! It does not even take all that long too to master these skills. I would estimate anyone getting it down within 20-ish hours of activity. It’s also worth mentioning too that, if you want to be good at this hobby, spend some money on tools, paints and materials. The model kit that has just come out and you must have, can damn well wait if you are serious about this.

From a combination of social media, forums, websites competitions I see an awful lot of model artworks. Whereas my modelling experience pales in comparison to many outstanding and not so outstanding modelers out there, I still like to think I have a good eye for a well executed model. I can say when something is objectively good, based on more than my own tastes, and continue to be blown away by groundbreaking ideas. What becomes tiresome for me though is seeing attempted customization of models that have not been thought through and more so demonstrate the modelers laziness to learn the basics. Not only are these kinds of models disturbing and sometimes comical, it also frustrates me because I feel as though it’s a tremendous waste of time for the modeler, and it tends not encourage any useful feedback. It can also attract a lot of trolling and nastiness, such is the nature of social media. You can tell in some instances, that hundreds of hours have been ploughed into a project but the end result is a mess of clutter, clashing colour and sloppy workmanship. The time could have been better spent simply making a nice paint job, and ensuring seams are dealt with. I would rather look at a basic, but clean paint job than a mess of jutting plastic. Right out of the box, no mods, no additions, just the basics. Some of the most incredible works I have seen have had no modification, or subtle well thought out and complimentary modification that works with the models original design, along with a knockout paint job. Rarely do I rate one which has 6 out of scale weapons strapped to ugly arms protruding out from a nubby spray can painted HG freedom. Creating an original concept that’s interesting and exciting, can never be fully realised or appreciated without the skill to create it.

To conclude, and I think I have probably written about this very same subject before but it’s worth a revision, don’t run before you can walk. People will not be impressed with your first few models, regardless of how complex a customisation you have in mind. Just knock out some nicely painted, tidy kits. Once you can do that without struggle, get some advice, start a little scribing here and there. Further down the line, try chopping up some plaplate. Become adept at all the skills first, before combining them all. It takes, on average, 10,000 hours to master a skill. If you work on your hobby for example, 10 hours a week – you’ve got 20-ish years to go until you’ve mastered it. Just to put it into perspective!


Modding Guns

I have found on a vast majority of kits, especially HG kits that weapons are often understated, usually made by slapping together just two bits and a barrel with very little colour separation. There are a few exceptions to the rule of course, but if you do find your death cannon is more like a pea shooter, here’s a couple of ways to beef it up without having to invest in additional weapon sets.

Get masking! Yes, it’s pain staking, and especially fiddly on weapons but masking off and creating colour separation, picking out details and adding tiny variations of colour will really make it pop, especially on any exposed ‘inner mechanisms’. If you are finding some areas are just too tricky to mask, I highly recommend experimenting with liquid mask, which allows you to ‘flood’ recessed areas with a rubberising fluid. Here’s what I did with a little bit of common masking, liquid masking and hand painting details on my Duel Gundam Assault shroud rifle:

MG Duel – Colour-separated gun

Modify it! Combining the weapon with scratch building and kit bashing is great fun and can make your weapon more unique – it does however take a little thought. Be sure the model can hold your newly modified weapon. When I saw how pitifully under-powered the MG Nemo’s pistol looked, I had to overcompensate and turn it into a total overkill blaster. I chopped the barrel off, made a box-section in pla-plate and added on some after-market detailing to.  Yes, it looks a little insane.. but I liked it.  I also modified the standard weapon on the Sinanju Stein, adding a huge scope to the front section to add to it’s ‘medium range’ theme. A little more subtle, but adds a lot.

Modified Sinanju Stein Weapon
MG Nemo – Modified weapon

Modifying weapons – some tips!

  • If you want to entirely rebuild the gun, and want to make sure the kit can hold it – separate the handle from the gun, and start working from the handle.
  • Use parts from other guns you have in spare stock.
  • When gluing, always ensure surfaces are flat. Uneven surfaces may need putty work, and sanding surfaces that will be bonded by putty will help keep it together.
  • Take a look at other people’s work – think of form and functionality, and how it will look in context with the model.
  • If there is going to be additional weight and you are unsure the model will grip it ok, consider adding a peg to the handle to slot into the hand.

Do you have any tips or tricks to help with modifying weapons? Anything I missed, or you would like more detail on? Let me know in the comments!

Are you a modelling realist, or a stylist?

Are you a rivet-counter, or a boy-racer? A very interesting suggestion for something for me to thump my keyboard keys about from Zach, I thought I would tackle the question and ask the community at large – which is more pleasing to do, and to look at?

Let’s start with a couple of definitions if I may,

A stylised model is one of conformity to a paradigm, or commonly showcased style. They’re generally ‘clean’and free to weathering, pretty realistically impractical, with oversized elements to give it that element of action or expression. Details are multi-coloured, tiny and metallic. Paint works come in a blinding array and combination of palettes, hues and finishes, but are commonly pre-shaded from the outside in to provide depth, and visual interest.

A realistic model involves more aspects of weathering, damage and physics. It has a more logical approach, with more theoretical elements. Creativity is found in method and execution. The kit looks more real, and requires arguably a great deal more practical skill to fool the eye into believing that what you are looking at is much closer to it’s proposed existence, and/or situation. It also invites more defined criticism, would it really look like that if it was hit with a .50 calibre rifle at 300m? Are their enough rivets, to hold that panel in place as it’s being smashed to the floor on a planet at 6g’s? I have seen some spectacular disagreements in this style descend into brass infantile insult I might add. Grab some popcorn when you see it!

So which is more popular? A quick gander around the social sphere and on blogging platforms reveals high contrast, bold colour palettes and fine detail win popularity contests. Realistic models however appear to garner a lot more interest from practising modellers, and model fans as opposed to anime fans and kit collectors. Either way, popularity does not indicate which is objectively the best.

Which method, is more enjoyable? Making a realistic kit from concept to execution is like riding a unicycle on a telephone wire. It’s either going to be very impressive, or people will think you are very stupid for attempting it in the first place. You could also topple off, making an awful mess on the pavement.  Both methods have their painful moments, but realism will at the most basic level for each method, have more steps and take longer to produce. Stylistic models are perhaps a little more expressive in execution, so perhaps modelling without being tied to Earth’s gravity is more liberating? (had to get a Gundam reference in somewhere, I hope you get the point). Perhaps too, realistic models have a very high degree of satisfaction in completion due to the sheer amount of work and research invested in it. I see equal merits and pitfalls to both.

If you are new to mecha modelling, which path should you take? Of course, start at your own tastes, with one caveat – get the basics down first. If you are considering adding battle damage, make sure you can first for example remove a seam line. If you want to make an intricately masked motif in an absurdly erotic pink on a shield or piece of armour – make sure you know how to paint first. Whichever method you choose in the long run, try out both, or even mix it up. Either way, develop your own style!

So what’s your preferred style? Where you one, then switched to the other? mix it up now and again? A complete purist? Did I get something wrong? Let me know, I love to get the conversation going as always, and thank you for your contribution 🙂

Has Bandai made us lazy modellers?

In a recent discussion with my fellow countryman Bearded Builds, I was given the proposition that, Bandai kits make people lazy modellers. It’s always been an elephant in the room, in that we were talking about working on resin kits, and having just received an adorable GMGouf resin kit from e2046 I was complaining about the masking aspect of the project is somewhat daunting. Then, looking behind me on the shelf I realised I had been building up a collection of resin kits and conversion kits that had not been worked on, at all.

Most resin kits, in case you don’t know are not snap-fit. They’re not colour separated (most of the time) and they require a degree of cleaning up, sanding, gluing and pinning into a fixed position, all before you actually start painting and masking. They have an advantage though – they’re crisp in detail, and you’ll find much more unusual, obscure and cool designs outside the realm of conventional licensing.

So, that reeling feeling that I get when thinking about the work involved in constructing a resin kit – I blame entirely on the ingenious and ease-of-assembly you get with standard Bandai gunpla, where I started my modelling journey. Has this standard, now become the baseline expectation for the majority of mecha modellers? Is the majority of the mech modelling hobby, entitled, even spoiled? or is this just how the hobby has evolved with new technology and innovation, and it’s exposure to newer generations of aspiring modellers?

I thought I was one of the ‘old farts’ of the mech modelling world, shaking my stick at newbies saying ‘you don’t know what real modelling is!’ but I’ve come to the realisation that in comparison to those who have been doing it for decades, I’m a spring lamb naively pouncing in a field of flowers without a care in the world.

Take a look at a 1980’s re-issued 1/144 kit and you’ll soon realise how quirky, unarticulated and lacking in detail these kits are, that required a certain level of skill to actually make look good, and compare it to the most recently released Real Grade kit. You can assemble an RG now and do virtually nothing to it but assemble, and it’ll look as good as a skilled modellers kit from the 1980’s – or better. This is how far we have come, and seeing modellers complain about how a modern kit looks, or problems during assembly put into this perspective will perhaps make you realise just how entitled some modellers are. You can also understand a little better perhaps, why some more experienced modellers are somewhat critical of ‘snap fitters’ and their apparently fickle complaints.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I mean entitled not in a negative, naive sense. It’s acceptable to be critical of innovation, as it’s a vital part of progression, but I also think it’s useful for your own enjoyment of the hobby to recognise just now advanced, and how actually amazing Bandai Gunpla really is. Perhaps you’ll think about this, next time you complain about the ‘proportions not being right’. Get your skill game on, and fix it! Push yourself to try out something more challenging, like a fully resin kit and perhaps knowing this you’ll appreciate just how easy Bandai have made it for you, and you’ll no longer be a lazy modeller.

What do you think? Are we spoiled? Lucky? Or are our attitudes and intentions not so clear cut?


Common mecha modelling mistakes

We all mess up from time to time, but I think a lot of mecha modellers make the same common mistakes, often resulting in some colourful self-cursing and in some extreme circumstances, putting us off the hobby entirely. Here’s a handful off the top of my head that I’ve experienced.

Wrong thinner!
Working with enamels, lacquers and acrylics all in one project is pretty common, and having different thinners for each of them can cause the occasional mix-up resulting in a quantity of paint being lost – or in the worst cases a model being wrecked. The good thing is, it’s a mistake you’ll very quickly discover and produces some weird chemical gloopy mixes.

Paint on a ball-joint.
I keep on falling for this and I don’t know why. When you apply paint to a ball joint, it’ll become stiff when you assemble it, and put a ton of extra stress on the plastic holding the ball. This can result in snaps and time-costing fixes with brass rods. Always, mask your ball joints.

Mis-assembly after painting.
This one for me is the worst. Your paint job is done, it looks great, but when you reassemble the kit you forgot to put another part in first – or assembled the wrong parts together. If you’ve been attentive you would have already either drilled out the holes or trimmed any connecting pegs, making disassembly a less stressful action – if not, be prepared for frustration trying to find a discreet spot to prise apart the pieces doing  minimal damage to your paint job as possible. Trim those pegs, loose-fitting can always be fixed with a small dab of glue later on!

Bad colour choices.
Sometimes what is in your head just does not work. Either the combination of colours, or the choice of base coat or pre-shade was just incorrect. The only thing that can fix this is a chemical bath and a toothbrush (unless you used lacquers in which case you’ll need to look up another method).

Missed a bit.
You’re all assembled and top coated, but you’ve just noticed that one detail part is not painted the same as the other, resulting in annoyance. Unless you can remove that specific part and strip it, or paint over it, you’re going to have to live with it.

Posing scratch.
You’re all done and top coated. I always add a couple of top coats o make the paint job as strong as I can make it – however when you’re trying to pose a kit to take some nice pictures there is always that one time that you’re not paying attention, and one part horrifically scratches against another creating a clearly visible scratch. Take your time posting, small movements, careful balancing!

Un-explainable missing parts (ok, not really a mistake, more of an annoyance).
I don’t have a very big studio, it’s barely 2x2m, so how is is physically possible for a part to completely vanish out of reality when it hit’s the floor? There is no solution for this. This is black magic and should not be explored unless you have a clean soul.

Missed masking.
Masking can be a chore, especially if you have multiple parts of the same thing. Every so often I’ll have a momentary lapse in concentration, resulting in missing an edge or a section, that I only notice while I’m painting. Luckily, this one is easily fixed by just letting it dry and masking again to fix any issues.

Got any to add? As much as these annoyances can be terribly frustrating it’s an inevitable part of the hobby. Do share your horror stories!

Why should I prime my kits?

I recently saw a YouTuber comment in a video on the question “Why don’t you prime your models?” with the response “because I don’t have the time […] and the parts are too small”. Now, how we all work is down to the individual, but even if this is not intended advice, there may be some who follow suit and take it as gospel. You should, and most modellers will agree, prime your models.

If you want to have great results, you need to give your models time and attention. Not priming because of a lack of time is your decision, but expect sub-par results if you’re still learning the ropes, or are just plain lazy and impatient. It take’s some serious know-how to do it without, and get good results.

So what’s the problem? It looks great without priming, right? It’s likely that if you have not been mecha modeling for a while this will be your conclusion, and in some instances, you may very well be correct. The more you get into the hobby however the more you’ll probably strive to improve, and the more you’ll realise just how important this process is. On a personal note, when I see other modellers who have greater experience than my own not priming – and telling others it’s not necessary, it’s outright irresponsible and subjective.

Priming is a key binding process your model needs to add strength and a consistent finish to your models. Priming is the process of adding a porous layer to the surface, to enable paint to have better ‘grip’ as opposed to a less porous surface where there is much less friction. Without a priming layer your paint is at a significantly increased risk of sagging, running, bubbling and graining. It’ll also be very weak, be very prone to scratching and have a higher risk of stripping off if you want to do some masking.

The way you prime your model can also be dependent on your style or comfort. For instance, some people will use a rattlecan primer such as Tamiya grey primer, some will use an air brushing brand, and different colours will yield different results according to how vibrant they want certain colours to be. With this in mind, I urge anyone starting out to try out many different types and application methods, and find out what works best for you.

There will also be some cases where priming is actually not necessary. In my case, I don’t prime metallics in order to keep the shine as high as possible. In these cases I’ll use a good levelling enamel to form a good, hard coat. I’ll spray it in 2 layers – one for a ‘sticky’ light covering left to dry for 10-20 mins to aid cohesion, and a second to completely cover the piece. This is not however an argument against priming altogether.

For me, I started out using no primer at all and rattlecan paints. As you can imagine, after doing my very first painted model I noticed paint dripping and sagging all over the place, so on the next I used Tamiya primer – worked a treat. From there I have evolved into airbrushing, trying out all kinds of brand primers with varying results (over 3 years now). Now, I use alcad II black, white and grey primers & microfillers depending on the intended colour. I also double prime, meaning the first primer layer is wet-sanded, and a second is added and wet sanded again to make perfectly smooth surfaces that still remain porous. It’s a fair amount of work, but the results I am getting now are far better than I used to get, and have taught me the value of a good canvas to work on.

I guess I am not only saying it’s a fine idea to prime your model kits, I’m also saying don’t take any advice out of context from a popular source. You should also cross reference any advice with an alternative source, and check that the person giving the advice is qualified to do so (just take a look at their work in comparison to known pros, for starters).  See here, here and here to help you understand a little deeper from other people’s experiences, and professional advice as to why priming is a good idea.

Get yourself in a build-off!

So what’s a build-off, and why should you take part in them?

It’s pretty simple, someone or a group of modelers will suggest something to build, be it a type of kit, a specific kit or even a diorama over an agreed time, or no time limit at all – anything goes. Some groups will choose to do it just for fun, or even with a prize for the most well done. Whatever the rules, you should always take part whenever, and wherever you can. Generally, build-off’s are not competitive and more educational designed to help people improve. They also tend to not have any fixed rule about entering or even finishing a kit. Our Jesta build off from last year is still ongoing! It can be for just 2 people, or many more. Anything goes.

Why? Aside from the obvious test of your skills there is so much more to it. Building in a group enables you to get feedback from other participants in similar situations. Also, the more you interact with others, the more you’ll find friendship and opportunities to help each other out. Build-off’s can offer tests of interaction with other cultures from around the world helping you to better understand your mecha modelling brothers and sisters. It’ll also reveal those who you don’t want to interact with. Starting a closed group and a group chat on facebook is a really handy way to keep track of build-off’s, and for immediate interaction if you’re in a tight spot. It can also be a tremendous laugh, especially if the theme is particularly amusing. It need not be serious at all.

There’s tons of build-off’s going all over the social sphere right now, we’re even talking about doing one in the old gunpla forums facebook page. There’s also one (although the end date is fast approaching) over in the UK Gunpla Modellers group.

There are of course some modelers who only ever do huge, complex projects, commissions or competition standard kits so of course build-off’s won’t be for everyone.

So what are you waiting for? Build-off’s are great for a little relaxed build between bigger more complex projects. Give them a go when you can, and if you’re starting one, let me know!

My Way: Smooth and Subtle Armour Parts

I thought I would share with you my process of painting armour parts. This is subject to change of course, but is currently how it works for me with the mediums i’m used to.

The paints I use for armour parts in order are Alclad grey or black primer, glossy tamiya acrylics, hombrol enamel, alclad aquaclear and finally, Tamiya flat clear. You can replace the Tamiya paints here for Vallejo model air – something I am currently experimenting with.

The process is simple, but can be time consuming.

  1. Once all your armour parts are prepared and ready to paint, give it a normal coat of primer according to the brightness of your final colour on a low psi of around 15 right out of the bottle. Make sure everything is covered, not too thick and grainy but with a little texture to touch.
  2. Wet sand, using a very fine 1500 grit until all parts are silky smooth. Make sure you get right in the curves and details. Don’t worry if the edges start to show through. Give the parts a rinse in clean water after. You don’t need it to be glass-smooth so no need for any buffing.
  3. Repeat! Prime, wet sand again. You should have very nice, smooth surfaces at this point.
  4. Base coat in your chosen thinned Tamiya glossy acrylic at a normal 25psi.
  5. Pre-shade according to your chosen colour scheme, thinned at a low 10psi up close. get right into those details and recesses.
  6. Medium coat in your chosen ‘final’ colour at normal psi.
  7. Highlight in either a lighter tone, or the same tone as your final colour, light coats until you have a good looking depth, that’s not too overpoweringly contrasted.
  8. Do 1-3 light coats of aquaclear, check that nothing is gathering in detail.
  9. Panel line in enamel, thinned with enamel thinner. I find lighter fluid a little too destructive for the aquaclear to take, if it breaks through to the acrylic underneath it’ll come right off in clean-up.
  10. Do another light coat of aquaclear to seal in the panel lining.
  11. Apply decals.
  12. Another 1-3 coats of aquaclear to seal in the decals and close off any edges.
  13. Top coat in Tamiya flat, according to how matted you want it. (best to do this part when the entire model is assembled as a final step, for consistency).

And that’s it. The process of double-priming for me is key here – it get’s rid of any sinkage in the plastic parts, and any tiny flaws, while providing a good, strong and smooth base for the acrylic to grab onto. Aquaclear provides that extra protection when panel lining, and adds that extra touch of glossy smoothness. It seems a little contrary to be doing al this if you are going to ultimately flat-coat the kit in your final stages – but float-coating over a really nice and smooth paint surface looks gorgeous, and flawless. It’ll also give you a choice as to weather you ultimately flat or gloss coat in your topcoat – and not be forced to flat-coat to cover up any nasty, grainy work.