To know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been, because your first experiences with anything can cast a long shadow over those that come later. You can neither learn without looking back, nor can you learn in a vacuum. I still remember the first model I built, and it’s probably tucked in a box in a forgotten corner of my mother’s house to this very day. I was ten years old, and my parents took me to the Fort Smith Toys R Us to browse the models section. I went home that early ‘90s Sunday with a Testors model of the chimerical F-19 stealth fighter. I could follow directions just fine, but had no idea of the finer points of modeling technique. I didn’t know how to sand seams shut, or that I needed to, for that matter. I didn’t know that model cement or superglue doesn’t play nice with clear parts. I didn’t know that decals need trimming or a glossy surface to look realistic.
After the F-19, I dabbled in aircraft, cars, and Star Trek starships for the next two or three years, rarely finishing anything, and I’ve since incorporated a couple of those surviving projects into my current backlog. Except for a poor eighth-grade attempt at building an Apache attack helicopter with a friend, modeling was a solitary pursuit. Later that year, another friend introduced me to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 tabletop wargame, and everything changed.
I learned a few things by then, and at 14, I had a bit more cash to spend on hobbies, and I quickly immersed myself in a Blood Angels Space Marine army equipped with the Emperor of Mankind’s finest shooty and stabby things. I invested heavily in quality brushes and Games Workshop’s easy-to-use line of acrylic paints, and my modeling skills leapt forward. I only managed to paint about half of my army before moving on to other things, including GW’s gang warfare game Necromunda, but I held on to most of it, and I am currently working on the most attractive pieces of it, including a “Chaplain” that I finished earlier this year (which can be found here and here). At this stage, I built and painted models with a few close friends, swapped techniques, and studied their how-to books religiously before deploying them onto the imaginary battlefields of the grim, dark future.
After a lull in high school, I got back into modeling after gaining my own transportation and income prior to my senior year. I built my first decent car, a 1990 Nissan 300ZX twin turbo that wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but was a great learning experience, then moved on with a couple friends to Japanese giant robots, or mecha, known as Gundams. Modeling went by the wayside during my second half of college, and much of my post-grad life, but a college friend got into Mobile Suit Gundam about four years ago, and that instantly jumpstarted my interest in modeling once more.
I lent him my paints, my tools, and I taught him basic techniques as we built our newly acquired mecha in the comfort of his North Little Rock home. It also helped that modern Gundam kits are highly detailed as well as easy to build, and he’d done a fairly good job with them despite a minimal effort. I returned to cars three years ago, but my endeavors there were solely solo pursuits, not counting stuff I learned off the internet. All that changed when I bought a Battlestar Galactica Viper Mk II fighter and some supplies at the Little Rock HobbyTown in mid-2011. The cashier pointed me towards a modeling club that met there every first Saturday of each month, and I was excited to see what it was like.
I was surprised with what I saw at my first CASM meeting that June. A little bit of everything was represented—sci-fi/fantasy, figures, armor, aircraft, cars—and people discussed tricks and techniques, and best of all, it had an online presence to which I felt at home. That first meeting, I brought a finished Gundam model, a finished Audi sports car, and at the next meeting I brought my then in-progress Viper space fighter. I was amazed with other people’s work, but also felt intimidated and vulnerable showing my own work, as well as possibly being the youngest modeler in the room. After that weekend, I became a member of CASM and the SF/fantasy interest group, the Fellowship. At my first Sproo-Doo, I won a gold medal and a best in sci-fi plaque for that Viper. I owe my victories entirely to my experience with CASM.
So what was the point of this history lesson? That social interaction matters. I cannot emphasize this enough! In the modeling hobby, we need other people with whom to share techniques, to sound off on for ideas and new perspectives, and ultimately, to broaden our (and each other’s) horizons. Our Friday evening Fellowship meetings at HobbyTown, and group work after CASM meetings perfectly reflect this reactor of ideas and skill. It also helps to find new places to get a bite to eat and geek out about our work and the motivations that inspire it as well. Going out to eat and hanging out at Barnes and Noble with new friends will be one of the best things I will remember about bringing other people into my corner of the scale modeling world, so without CASM, I would not have had as nearly much guidance to improve my skills, or to develop a broad network of friends to challenge my horizons, which now include a budding interest in figures and armor.
Additionally, I’ve received plenty of advice and encouragement. For example, I owe CASM members with helping me pick a custom color for a 1970 Mustang I finished last year, I discussed vehicle mechanics and taking a civilian-style route with Kenneth Childres for one of his custom-designed zombie apocalypse vehicles this year, who in exchange also advised me on how to make brick ruins from plastic rod, and Steve Wilson influenced me and Kenneth into exploring zombie apocalypse vehicles in the first place, among many, many other things. I can only hope to have been a positive influence on others in our groups as well.
Ultimately, social interaction in modeling is about preservation. We need to share our work for it to matter even more, and we need social interaction to maintain the hobby in the face of threats to its survival, including the ongoing economic troubles, on-demand digital television and film, and video games. Don’t get me wrong, I like film and games as much as the next guy, but they simply cannot compare to the imagination and effort needed in the creative pursuit that is scale modeling. Each and every one of us is the guardian of this fine tradition, and the only way we can keep it alive in the face of every threat aligned against it is not just to stand together, but to encourage future generations to continue it. The Pulaski Tech crew has done a phenomenal job bringing scale modeling to kids, and recent talk of networking with other regional chapters encourages our hobby a better chance for survival.
Sure, we can live our World War II, modern war, or apocalyptic fantasies through movies, TV shows, and games, but it is the scale model that truly brings them to life in ways that the former never can, and never will, and we owe sharing our collected skills and input to make them the best that they can be. Broadening our own horizons for the sake of this hobby, embracing other categories and techniques not yet familiar with us with little reservation and judgment, and even stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new things every once in a while can only help our efforts, not hurt them. There is nothing wrong with having preferences, but nothing builds our own skills, characters, and the growth of this hobby by exploring new things and concepts. We are all guilty of living in our own boxes, but this is something we can all fix. The future of scale modeling will depend on this.