(Note: This article is intended to follow the Down The Rabbit Hole: Modeling With Others that appeared on the Scratching Post on April 7, 2013.)
“You will always benefit from putting yourself in a state of distress.”-Branford Marsalis, saxophonist
As a scale modeler, I have been extremely fortunate. Over the past few months, my work has won numerous awards at shows, both local and national. More experienced modelers have shown admiration for my work, and have even started to ask my opinions and advice. But I am not fortunate for these reasons. I am fortunate because I have had regular opportunities over the past two years to work with and observe many great modelers within our community and have made a lot of great friends in the process.
As a kid, I watched my older brother build a few kits, and when I was about 12, my sister’s boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) and I used to build car models together. None of these builds used any paint or any real finishing techniques, but we had a good time spending a couple of hours slapping a kit together. Although the models were poorly done, many great memories came from working on them.
When I got to college, I picked up a few Star Trek kits and progressed to using some rattle cans and a few Testor’s enamels for a little detail work. I was more serious about it, but while I was living in the Jonesboro area, I never ran across anyone that knew much about building models. So, I’d work on a kit for an afternoon or so, and enjoyed building it, although I never had any great results.
By the beginning of 2011, my wife Heather and I were settled into Central Arkansas. All of our friends and families were now 100 miles away, and we did not know many people in the area. We had a lot of time on our hands, and had just bought a house with extra space, so it seemed a good time to track down some hobby stores and pick up some kits.
While browsing the science fiction kits at HobbyTown USA in Little Rock, I met Ron Leker. He told me about CASM and The Fellowship, and invited me to take part in these two groups. I was very excited about the possibility of learning modeling techniques that would get me much better results, so I decided to take Ron up on his offer.
Attending my first CASM meeting was quite an experience. I recall seeing many great models, including Noel Lawson’s Pulaski Hustler, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much I had to learn. Aside from the models, what really struck me was how there were so many people of different ages, professions, and backgrounds that had come together to discuss this hobby. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, and I became a paid member that day.
My first real experience with modeling with others was with the Fellowship. Initially, I was uncomfortable working on a kit in front of experienced modelers, so I observed and asked a lot of questions. Eventually, as I became more comfortable, I began bringing some kits of my own to work on. Along the way, we talked about movies, books, work, and our families, and I learned a lot about these folks. In particular, I realized what a close knit group of people the modeling community really was. Heather came along with me to these meetings, and soon, our excuse to get out of the house became hanging out with good friends.
Shortly after joining these groups, I made a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the Wonderfest Hobby Expo with Rusty Nail and Chance Swift. Rusty gave me some advice on buying my first airbrush, and when I later had trouble with it, Ron came to my house to help me get started. During all of this, Rusty and I discovered our mutual love for classic rock music, and Ron enjoyed checking out my Star Trek collection.
In addition to observing demos at CASM meetings, I began going to the model classes at Pulaski Tech organized by Ken Leslie. I met a lot of other great modelers, particularly great car builders like Ken, Dave Branson, and Jon Williams. While I had an interest in car building, these guys really inspired me. Just like in CASM, everyone was very supportive and willing to help, but I still had a long way to go.
From March of 2011 to March of 2012, I experienced a lot of frustration. Though I worked on a few projects, I had difficulty getting my work to a level with which I was satisfied. My results with an airbrush were marginal, and I was still struggling with basic construction techniques. When I discussed my frustration with many of my friends, including Ken Childres and Tom Brown, they all expressed that they had been there, and understood exactly what I was experiencing. They encouraged me to work through it, and keep striving to get the results I wanted. While I have no finished work to show for that year, what I did gain was some much needed practicing of techniques and a lot of friends that I met as a result of building models.
I finished my first actual pieces in April of 2012. At that point, I sought out constructive criticism from my friends, including Tom, Rusty, Ron, Ken Childres, and Josh Swift. I asked for brutal honesty and I got it. I had completely overlooked some basic construction issues. While this is not always fun to hear, it was probably the single most important learning experience I had. I entered two shows in April and May of that year with these pieces, and came home empty handed. But, I still had a lot of fun visiting with so many fantastic modelers, and felt inspired to do more.
My first breakthrough came in October of 2012, with a bust of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Rusty had encouraged me to get a larger scale bust on which to practice, and to consult the David Fisher Modelmania DVDs. I had never done a figure like this before, but by this time, I felt more comfortable with an airbrush and with use of transparent paints. I had gotten plenty of advice from Rusty and Tom, and prior to this, Tom had brought a bust he uses for practice, and he and I each painted a side of the face. So, after these experiences, I went to work. This piece was a competitive success, winning awards at the CASM Spoo-Doo and the Atlanta Figure show.
Next, I finished up a project I had worked on sporadically for a while, the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty. I had painted and repainted this car many times trying to get a good gloss black coat on the body with a flat black coat for the vinyl top. Again, it was frustrating, but a great learning experience. At the Pulaski Tech Classes, Ken Leslie had provided several opportunities to practice car painting techniques, and when I reached a point that I was ready to apply the clear coat in February of 2013, he was kind enough to come to my house to offer some advice. This piece has won awards at the Atlanta Figure Show, the Arkansas Modeler Championship, and the Wonderfest Hobby Expo. Shortly after the Wonderfest awards ceremony, Ken called me to see how the car did, and it was clear that he was happy with my success.
When I was first presented with opportunities to work on a model with other people, I was intimidated to let more experienced modelers see me work. What I learned from the experience was that most of the members of our modeling community want to help each other and see each other succeed. Is that enough of a basis to build solid friendships? In my experience, yes. I have recently worked on car while setting with Ken Leslie at the PTC classes, and had Rusty Nail come by to help me get realistic flesh tones on a figure. These were not only opportunities for learning, but a lot of fun, as well!
As we all strive to create better models, we should consider the best resource we have: each other. The next time the opportunity to work with other modelers arises, consider what can be gained. It has taken me two years and a lot of help to get to this point as a modeler. Winning awards is fun, and I am enjoying the competitive success, but being part of a community of people that you enjoy spending time with is much more important. After making such close friends, Heather and I now feel like central Arkansas is our home.