How we got here: Man vs Kit 2009-2019 roundup

How we got here: Man vs Kit 2009-2019 roundup

While thinking of what I wanted to say for a 2019 roundup, I realised I got back into modelling in 2009.  That’s not quite ten years, because of how numbers work, but it still feels like a good point to pause and reflect on how I got here.  All I can say is that I hadn’t realised I’d improved that much.  The bar was set low…

Doog’s Models got here before me, with his “Decade of Doogs Models” post.  That’s kind of fitting, because while writing this I realised that I’ve been following him for most of that time.  Which makes me like Scrappy Doo to his Scooby.

In so many ways.

Heller 1/100 Soleil Royale: The build that stopped me.

I got back into modelling while spending a year studying in Australia, and remembered how much I used to love building models.  I hadn’t stopped for very long, having simply fizzled out mid-build in about 2003 due to a mix of school getting serious, trying to make national archery selection, and running out of string.  That last build had been Heller’s huge 1/100 Soleil Royale, and having procured more string thanks to the heroic efforts of my ever-wonderful partner, finally completed it just before getting on the plane to down under.  It’s so big that I couldn’t even fit it all in for one photo.  I’ll have to come back and talk more about it another time, because it is worth it.

2009 – 2011: Getting Started

Australia 2009: Academy 1/48 Spitfire Mk.XVIe (and talk about other, unrecorded, builds)

I build a few models in my room in Australia, and sadly this is the only one I have a record of.  Back then, I hadn’t thought of photographing my models so they are just gone.  I started of course where I had left off as a kid: 1/72 aircraft, with ICM’s MiG-31.  Fortunately, my next purchase was super ambitious and probably the most impactful: an Academy 1/48 F-15e.  1/48 had always been the “huge kits for adults” in the shop, where they were even available, and for a kid who thought Revell was upmarket, Academy was one of those semi-mythical expensive Asian companies.  I loved it, and never really looked back.  I also built Academy’s (then) new F-22, which I loved and thought was great, and a Hasegawa 1/48 Bf 109 which was fine, though I knew I hadn’t done it that well.

Finally, there was this one, which was perhaps the first model where I ever treated paint as something more than just to be slapped on.  I knew silver paint tended to show a lot of unevenness, so I very carefully went back over the edges, over and over until I created this wonderful (to my eyes) finish.  I liked it so much that I brought this one home with me.  At this point I had barely started looking at modelling on the internet, and what I had seen seemed to be a lot of gatekeepers and prima donnas, but now I wanted to build as well as those (utterly bland, quilted finish) models that I was seeing with their perfect paint jobs.

Man vs Kit started here, and for all I have learned, I’m still proud of this one.

Revell 1/48 Mosquito B Mk.IV

One step forward, two steps back.  The Mosquito was by far the most complex model I had ever attempted.  This was me seeing what I saw online and trying to do the same thing.  The interior actually came out quite nicely: the instrument panels were painted as well as I could and the details were drybrushed.  I really liked drybrushing at this point.  Of course I did: it was my first weathering technique and even something so crude was making a huge difference to my builds.  This one was ultimately let down by the awful Revell enamels.  These were incredibly thick and dried so fast that I couldn’t get a smooth finish at all.  The rough surface caused the decals to silver like anything, and that paint let down what might otherwise have been a nice build.  Oh yes, it also has my first ever effort at a wire aerial…

You know that terrible rough finish Revell kits have?  Well, this is how their target demographic paints.  Lets face it, I had “never had a problem”.

Airfix 1/72 Bulldog

I think this old Airfix kit had become lost when we moved house.  I can’t think of any other reason it would have survived the whirlwind of kit destruction that I was between the ages of about six and twelve.  Unless even ten year old me recognised that this was utter pants.  Anyway, I built this, and was able to use my growing modelling vocabulary to describe it, in particular the word, “flash”.  I think the sprues contained more volume of flash than parts.  It was diabolical, but an afternoon well spent and it helped convince me that 1/48 was the way to go.

Tamiya 1/48 F-16c

I should probably have put a “graphic content” warning on that photo.  You know how people say it’s impossible to build a Tamiya kit badly?  This is why I disagree.  The real tragedy is that the dark grey actually looked a lot nicer, but I had to do a second coat, and that came out thick and horrible.

You see, I had heard about “wash”.  Can you see where this one’s going yet?  I was constantly seeing advice to slosh a load of thinned black paint all over your finished model, where it would run into panel lines and create that nice, lined effect I kept seeing.  This was the first, and worst, casualty of that advice.  The wash didn’t flow into the panel lines: it sat thick and heavy on the surface where it had to be wiped off before drying like black varnish.  It came off the lighter grey reasonably well, but the darker colour had to be repainted.

Humbrol 125, 127, and 196.  How do I still remember that ten years later?

Oh yeah, this was my first encounter with a Tamiya kit.  Oh, it was nice.  I knew I had to find more of these.

Trumpeter 1/35 M1A1 Abrams

I picked this kit up on a visit to the Musee des Blindes at Saumur.  Well worth a visit, but I can’t say the same for the kit.  For how little I knew at the time, I do like how this came out.  It was probably the start of my belief in “therapeutic tanks” and that it’s harder to mess up a tank kit than an aircraft one.  Just look at this.  Inexpertly built, painted by a guy who knew “dry brush” and “wash”, but it actually doesn’t look that bad.

Just… impressionist.

So I painted the camo on, did the thick black wash, and then had the brilliant idea of dry-brushing the base colour on top of the wash-affected paint, so the low bits stay dark and the light bits get colour.  The yellow is also wash, and it’s supposed to be dust that has got stuck on the tank.  For what I knew, with no real support or guidance, I actually think this was ingenious.  I quickly recognised that it wasn’t great or ideal, but that’s fine.  This kit shows my evolution from getting the desire to improve, to developing an approach which I based on examination of reference photos and the techniques I had.  Who knows where this approach may have gone had I built more tanks than aircraft?

It was also my first bit of modelling internet fame, at Cybermodeler.  I’m proud of this one, too.

Academy 1/48 F-15c

Of all the models I have ever built, I think this one is my favourite.

There is a theory that the best of anything arrives right as it becomes obsolete.  That was certainly the case for my brush painting.

I researched the scheme, loved it, built it.  The Academy kit wasn’t as good as I remembered from that first 1/48 kit, and here I realised that I had come to the end of the road for brush painting.  This was the first time I ever tried masking, to get the sharp edges on the Ferris scheme.  The first time I used photoetch (some grilles) and aftermarket resin (because I lost the nose wheel).  The first time I modified a kit, realistically dropping the ailerons.  It was the last time I used Humbrol polishable metal paints, because they were terrible.  Weathering here was subtle, and I loved it: just a little bit of dark grey, drybrushed to make airflow streaks.  Macabre detail: I hung the “remove before flight” tags with actual human hair, because it was the thinnest material I could find.

The F-15 is probably my all-time favourite plane anyway, and this scheme is lovely.  I have to build another in this scheme (he says, with four F-15s already lined up).

From this point on, I knew I had to step up.  I had taken what I was doing as far as I could, and my next builds would introduce new techniques and new chemicals to my desk.

2012 – 2016: The Time of Frustration

Tamiya 1/32 P-51D

At this point we enter a phase of experimental and over-ambitious builds.  I had more of an idea of what I wanted to achieve, but in casting around for the right tools and techniques just caused myself more problems.  It was clear that airbrushing was the way forward to achieve a smooth paint finish, and that opened up new possibilities in paints.  In particular, I had heard of this stuff called “Alclad” which promised really nice metallic finishes.  That was very successful.

Unfortunately, at this time I also heard about “Vallejo” which was apparently better than the Humbrol I had been using for brush painting, and had “matching” airbrush specific colours too.  You’ll notice that for some time I thought that all the problems I had with this rubbish were because I lacked skill (not an unreasonable assumption), not that the paint was terrible.

What problems, you ask?

VMC does not, in my experience, actually brush that nicely.  Both kinds take hours to dry when airbrushed, and barely leave any colour.  They also tended to pool nastily on curved surfaces, giving the opposite of a nice, even paint finish.  The same colour in the VMC and Model Air ranges tended to look different, which meant I couldn’t airbrush big areas and brush paint small ones.

This build was also the first in a series of “looked better before weathering”, where the too-heavy drybrushed exhaust stain really harmed the overall look.

Wingnut Wings 1/32 Fokker D.vii

My first Wingnut kit.  I really enjoyed it, though being me, I was a bit silly and actually ran the control cables all the way through the fuselage and wings to the control surfaces.  That was a lot of fiddly, unnecessary effort, but I didn’t realise that at the time because this has so few wires.

My biggest achievements on this one were the rolled-PE MG jackets and the thin blue paint over the fuselage lozenge camo.  Unfortunately, the heavy, dry-brushed weathering is too much on most of the surfaces, and I was again left ruing my weathering attempts.

Wingnut Wings 1/32 Bristol F.2B

So this one was a far more ambitious Wingnut plane.  Lots of rigging, delicate join of the fuselage to the wings (it’s actually suspended between them), and more rigging.  I’ve never been able to attempt another Wingnut kit since this, even though I own three.  The rigging was just too painful and boring.  The worst part was the method I had been shown for making the eyes for the attachment points and turnbuckles by twisting thin wire.  I hated doing this and I think that without that detail it may have been less bad.  I believe you can now get some lovely 3D printed turnbuckles and they might be the way forward.

I mixed up my own PC-10 colour for this.  As I recall it was three different Humbrol colours: a dark green, black, and probably a dark grey.  It’s probably the best part of the build.  Again, my weathering was unpleasant, though I must say that the drybrushing on the PC-10 actually looks quite nice.  You can see what I was thinking: it’s what we’re doing with oils, but at this time I hadn’t heard of using oil paints on models.  I find it fascinating to look back at these failed attempts and realise that I was working towards the right ideas, but lacked the tools, skills, and knowledge to achieve my visions.

Of all the kits in this frustrating period, this is my favourite.

Eduard / Academy 1/48 MiG-29

This was the nadir of the frustrating times.  Eduard’s boxing of the Academy MiG-29 was a perfect storm of elements that would prove over-ambitious.  A poorly-fitting base kit, with shape issues requiring correction that I lacked the skills to do, stuffed full of PE and resin corrected parts that I didn’t know how to integrate.  Add to that mess a really over-exuberant attempt at dry-brushed airflow streaking and the whole model was a poorly-fitting, badly painted mess.  The only positive to come out of this one was realising that I needed to mask and spray camo.  Here I sprayed the base grey over the whole kit, then brush painted the green.  The sprayed areas were significantly nicer.

Meng 1/35 T-90A (with Zvezda Little Green Men / “Polite People” deniable Russian troops)

After the disaster that was the MiG-29 I wanted to try something different.  A therapeutic tank was just the thing.  This was also my first attempt at doing a base.  This was a lot of work, but at least I used some better approaches.  Amusingly, while I was a bit frustrated that the tank was too dirty to see the really nice green / black / tan camo, I got a lot of praise from actual tank crewers who loved seeing one in the condition they were used to.

This was the first time I tried using black primer under normal paint, and I’ve never looked back.

Eye Robot (no manufacturer known, no scale)

In the summer of 2016, I was working in a company that made customisation software for 3D printing.  This little test piece was hanging around the office, looking forlorn after getting broken in transit to CES.  So I took it home, painted it up, stuck some old decals on and gave it an atmospheric little base.  The robot is about 7cm tall.

2017 – 2018: Slow, painful improvements

Eduard / Hobby Boss 1/48 F-14a “Danger Zone” boxing: cursed cat

Although it didn’t feel it at the time, this build started a trend of slow improvement in my modelling.  The big change was that I had joined the Scale Modellers’ Critique Group on Facebook, and started posting my work in progress photos.  This led to me receiving useful, actionable advice on my techniques, problems, and tools.  I say it didn’t feel like it because this was the cursed F-14: everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, sometimes in new and interesting ways.  Never before have I seen paint turn PVA glue into a slimy mess.

As so often before, this one was just over-ambitious.  Again, too much resin and photoetch that I couldn’t integrate, on a base kit that probably would have fitted reasonably well had I built it out of the box.  The paintwork on this actually wound up being quite good, as a hotchpotch of techniques led to a rather interesting dirty finish, albeit one that might look more in place on a later lo-vis aircraft than the really early hi-vis one that I wanted.  This was the first time I tried salt weathering, which I have never liked, and while I had an issue with my AK panel wash and streaking grime, they combine to give a nice effect.  The level of ambition here is shown by the attempt to highlight metal rivet heads and add spot-painted anti-corrosion fixes.  The level of detail and effort I put into the cockpit is quite extreme, with the fabric IP covers reproduced in Ferrero Rocher wrappers (which have a texture that looks rather nice under paint).  I think this was the first time I used loose pigment in a cockpit, a technique which I love for its authentic look.

I had always thought this was a disaster, but looking at it again, it’s really not that bad.  It’s poorly built and the paintwork bounced from mistake to mistake, but the effect is really nice.  It’s also worth mentioning that this is the effect of joining SMCG: your idea of what is good changes very quickly.  When I began the build, I would have been very happy with this outcome, but by the end, I could only see the gaps.

Meng 1/35 T-10M and Amusing Hobby 1/35 Conqueror

After the cursed F-14, I needed a therapeutic tank.  I got Meng’s T-10M, thinking that some huge Soviet armour would look good, then wanted something to give it scale.  The Conqueror is actually significantly more imposing than the T-10 though… The Meng kit was great, but the Amusing Hobby anything but.  Lots of ejection pin marks, and the hull arrived so greasy that this is the one time I have washed plastic model parts.  Plus the kit workable track links were so brittle that they were breaking on the sprue, so this was my first encounter with Friul tracks.

Trumpeter 1/350 HMS Hood

Probably the first model where I really, really tried.  Almost every construction step required learning some new technique.  The kit wasn’t just detailed but made as accurate as possible to a specific day, following some expert information.  Also the only model I’ve ever entered into a competition, at Scale Model World 2017.

Hasegawa 1/48 F-4g

After the disaster of the F-14, I finally realised that my builds during the period of frustration had simply been too ambitious.  With the knowledge and information I was gaining in SMCG, I set out to build up to the level I wanted by reducing variables.  I made a comprehensive list of techniques I wanted to include, and resolved to introduce one new thing per model after paring my repertoire back to just what I knew how to do reliably.  With this one, that was just “airbrushing paint over black”, introducing AK panel line wash as a new technique.  It also had a lot of resin aftermarket which I wanted to integrate well.  I didn’t really succeed with that, finding that the Aires cockpit just would not fit, and that their intakes were a mess.  This was the first time I tried Mr Paint, and really loved it.

At the time, I was pleased with this.  For the first time, I had built a jet to a basic level of competence.  The overall effect was not really interesting, but at least it wasn’t another messy disaster.

DML 1/35 Tiger I

This was a test for chipping techniques and simulating damage from shell impacts.  The chipping was pretty nice, but the damage didn’t get great feedback.  The Tiger is basically a round box on a square box, so I don’t know how Dragon managed to make it so hard.  Also, this was my last attempt at a base: I was finding bases were difficult, messy, and weren’t adding much to my models, and I wasn’t getting a lot of enjoyment from making them.

Hasegawa 1/350 Mikasa

A nice and fun little ship.  Quite extensive photoetch replacements didn’t really add to the finished piece.  However, the fact that I now had four solid, if not ground-breaking, models from my last four builds gave me the confidence to start my own blog.  I felt that while most model blogs were on the professional side, there might be a bit of space for someone “entertainingly amateurish.”

Kitty Hawk 1/48 Su-35

Front left view

I had been hearing horror stories about KH kits for some time, so seeing this one cheap, I decided to get it and build it for your amusement.  Of course, I picked one of their better kits.  I stuck with my programme of adding one new technique to each build, but as this was my first internet publication, I didn’t want to go too far and look truly silly.  In the end, I re-ran the approach from my F-4g, of doing a basic, clean scheme and a bit of panel wash.  That seemed fitting as my references were very clean demonstrators from airshows.  It’s also quite funny to look back at these first posts and see my struggles at finding my voice.  They are both a lot sillier than my later writings, while simultaneously taking myself more seriously.

ICM 1/48 Spitfires: ye have chosen… poorly

I had picked up this pair of ICM Spitfires very cheap, and decided to build them together.  I had heard that this kit was the one to get for a mid-life Spitfire in 1/48.  Maybe it’s the only kit, because these were beyond my ability to complete.  The wings didn’t line up with the fuselages, the wingtips were about half the thickness of the wings… maybe someone could turn a good model out of these, but they were light-years beyond my ability.

On the bright side, these were turned into paint mules, where they have given sterling service.  Many complex, weird, and “hey I wonder whether” ideas have been tested out on their wings and this freedom to experiment really saved me from the kind of over-ambitious failures I used to get.

Do yourself a favour, buy a cheap, ancient, or terrible kit to use as a paint mule.

Eduard 1/48 MiG-21MF

Eduard’s 1/48 MiG-21s are really nice kits.  This was completed as an Egyptian example for a group build, taking details from one of the handful of photos available.  With my confidence growing, I used this one to explore paint chipping and salt weathering.  You can tell how much I liked these techniques, because I’ve used chipping on almost every build since, and never touched salt weathering again.  But looking back, I think I can see what I was doing wrong.  The effect is too stark because I was trying to show grime and foot traffic, rather than dirtied, faded, and touched up paint.  This effect would have been better with oils.

Also, the first time I tried using sprue goo as a filler.  I have never looked back.

Italeri 1/48 RAH-66 Comanche

Remember: just because you love a subject doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy building the old, bad, kit of it.  This was awful, uninspiring, and only noteworthy for being my first attempt at using oils.  I wondered why I couldn’t find a single review of this kit.  Now I know.

Trumpeter 1/350 HMS Kent

Front right

Someone suggested a “small scale group build”, and like any good rules lawyer I saw the loophole.  In fairness, I pointed out the loophole, but once told that was the rule, don’t moan about it, I built a fairly large scale ship.  This was fun and looks nice.

2018-2019: Consolidation

Tamiya 1/32 Corsair

This kit marked the start of my having confidence in my ability to take a kit and make it look good.  Not world-beating, but I no longer worried that anything would become a total disaster.  This Corsair is really nice.  A lovely Tamiya kit and the first time I looked at a finished model and thought, “yes, that’s what I wanted.”  Of course I’ve learned a lot since doing this, and would do several things differently, especially in the paintwork.  I leaned too heavily on oils, didn’t weather the bomb enough, and there’s probably room for more staining and especially dust.  Oh well, next time!

Tarangus 1/48 Viggen SF-37

Viggen front left view

The Viggen was more fun to paint than it was to build.  An awful lot of masking but really worthwhile.

Hasegawa 1/32 Bf 109K

One of the things about consolidation is that it’s a period of figuring out how to apply methods to requirements.  Sometimes that leads to great success, other times it’s less impressive.  Popular consensus was that this was less impressive, though I’ve never been quite sure why.  I think the bullet holes weren’t seen as being especially realistic, and perhaps the weathering just didn’t work for people.

Perhaps this was the first sign of a malaise that I think affected some of my builds in this period, where I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of how I was going to get the look, and just did all the techniques on it in the assumption that would work.  Here, with a subject that I’m just not that into, it’s a bit obvious that I didn’t have the same strong vision of what I wanted like I had on the Viggen in particular.

Tamiya 1/48 Spitfire Mk.I (x2)

These just didn’t come out how I hoped.  Not really sure why.  I think I tried to do a bit too much for the space available.  While both of these were painted to match photos, I think they had that same problem of not really knowing how I would use the techniques I have and why.  This may become a familiar refrain…

Trumpeter 1/32 MiG-17

I wanted a MiG-15, but a -17 was what I could find.  I also wanted a kit that fitted together nicely, but I really couldn’t get that.  Even the aftermarket seat didn’t fit in the cockpit.  While there’s not a lot you can do with a lacquered silver finish on a new, well-maintained, in-service airframe, what little there was worked nicely.  Biggest lesson learned here was not to hand-cut your masks.  Oh, and how to smooth and rescribe a model where absolutely nothing fits.  A skill that I would need repeatedly in 2019.

Fine Molds 1/72 Millennium Falcon

Millennium falcon, top view

I built this one in 2018, then messed up the paint and put it aside.  In 2019 I stripped it back and repainted.  The overall effect is nice, but the tooling is really showing its age.  This one is particularly noticeable for the airbrushed weathering, which gave a better effect than brushed for this subject.

Kinetic 1/32 F-86 Sabre

Front left view zoom in

Having wanted to build one of these since about 2010 it was sadly a case of “never meet your heroes” as the kit failed to live up to expectations.  Like the MiG, this benefited from Kcolors metallics and also lacked vision in the painting.

Tamiya 1/32 Mosquito FB Mk.VI

Possibly the best model kit ever tooled, Tamiya’s Mosquito is a gem and absolutely worth building.  The top half is lovely, but despite my best efforts I didn’t really get an interesting look on the black.  Not for the last time this year, sadly.

Trumpeter 1/32 MiG-3

Simple, iconic, and a really fun build.  I loved this one and the white paint scheme was surprisingly enjoyable.

Eduard 1/48 Mirage III

Somehow this little plane was more frustrating to build than the MiG that had multiple-millimetre gaps or steps at every join.  Poor fit caused silly mistakes which left it as the build I’m least proud of in 2019, and it ended up as a paint testbed.  In that regard it was extremely successful, and it gave me some extremely interesting insights into where I want to take my paint skills – especially when more dirt is not the answer.

Eduard 1/48 P-51D

One of the year’s most interesting and talked-about releases.  It’s a nice little kit with a fair few issues.  On the painting side, I shouldn’t have lightened the yellow so much, and I lost my way when trying something clever on the wings.  This was one of the builds which benefited from my having a couple of good references which gave a very clear idea of how I wanted to approach some areas, especially around the nose and the underside staining.

Meng 1/35 Kingtiger

I have this theory that different genres of modelling require different approaches.  It certainly feels like my focus on aircraft has caused me a little confusion on how to paint a tank.  However, this one was very interesting, giving opportunity to do some starker effects with oils than you often get on aircraft.

Aoshima 1/350 Kongo

In trying to do more, I feel this build ended up less impressive than my other ship efforts.  Disappointing.

Italeri / Testors 1/48 SR-71

How did I manage to pick so many poorly fitting builds this year?  This was possibly the worst of the lot, and by the end I was just glad to get it off the desk.  Unfortunately that shows.  I put a lot into making this one interesting, but despite a finish comprised of three blacks, and streaking using three different effects, none of that manages to shine through and it just looks like boring, flat, dark grey.

Hobby Boss 1/48 Su-27

Another case where a clean subject led to a bland finish.  This time the lack of vision was a real problem: the photos all showed a clean plane, so I discarded them rather than looking for the subtleties that were surely present.

Tamiya 1/48 He 219

Didn’t really know what I was doing, didn’t get the finish right, couldn’t do anything interesting with the black underside.  Lovely cockpit, but the rest of the plane was just a case of throwing techniques at it with no plan.

AMK 1/48 MiG-31

Finally, one that I’m actually really happy with.  The difference here is that I had a couple of photos which showed interesting effects from different angles.  I took those, worked out what they were showing, how to build it up, and reproduced them layer by layer.

Next time, I’m going to look at what I can learn from this fun look back, and see if we can’t generalise what I’ve learned into some useful tips for all of us.

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