I don’t know about your experience but I’ve not found any place I can go to learn how to model; maybe these schools exist, maybe not. Dunno. But since I dunno, that means I’m going to have to teach myself how to build these things.
I’ve met those who are scared to borderline incontinence about learning things…and that’s if there is a school of whatever they’re trying to learn. I would imagine that if they had to teach this new thing to themselves that “borderline” could be removed from the equation. Well, as it turns out, most of what I know is self-taught. (I have other methods for keeping up on my regularity.)
So how does a person teach themselves something they don’t know?
Step one is deciding that they want to learn Something. Maybe that seems simplistic but it really is the first step because without it nothing else is going to happen.
Step two is to find out everything they can about Something…and that turns out to be an ongoing process. Important word that… Process. It appears to me that the culture in America focuses more on product than it does on process. I see that as a foundational error. Without process there is no product. I define and think about “process” as, what it is that I am doing and how I intend to do it. As was stated to me once (actually, it was stated to me A LOT…I’m not a quick starter) back in my white belt days, “Pay attention to what you are doing and how you are doing will take care of itself.”
And then the rest of it is much like swimming. Just jump into the water. Keep in mind that you’re going to jump into the water of your ignorance often. A lot. Frequently. CONTINUOUSLY. (Get the hint?)
My baseline is, “Other people can do [INSERT ACTIVITY HERE], and since we’re all born naked and hairless, why can’t I do it, too?” We aren’t born with any sort of abilities, y’know…
And a sidebar about ignorance, here. You, Dear Reader, are ignorant. I, Demented Author, am ignorant. We is ALL ignorant. We have our field of knowledge, self-taught generalists or long-lines-of-letters-after-our-name specialists. “Ignorant” means we don’t know something and I don’t care how much you know, generally or specifically, there’s a limit to what you know. There has to be. It’s a DAMNED big Universe (and it’s here, too…not just Out There) and we have DAMNED small skulls so there’s NO WAY any significant amount of what’s Out There will ever, ever, fit into our small noggins. On this side of the marker of our knowledge, we’re not ignorant. On the other side of that marker we are. So no matter how much you know about how many things, at some point you’ll encounter your ignorance. End of sidebar.
So if you take ignorance and divide it by process, the possibility for learning something new can occur. You have to multiply the result of that division with effort. Doing so increases the possibility for learning something and by so doing raises the likelihood of getting something useful out of it all.
And now we’re back to learning how to model.
Process is individual and any process that works is a good process…and it all starts with an Idea.
“Idea” is what you want to do. As in, “I really like the F-5 Tiger II and I want to build one.” There’s your idea. The next step is to figure out how and come up with a method. “How can I turn this box of parts into a completed model of the F-5?” How is the operant word and the place where ignorance/process/effort combine to produce a result. So your experiments to come up with a workable “how” are where your experience comes from. The more experience you have, the more you know, and ignorance diminishes.
Now that I’ve gotten all left-brain with this, it simply (can I do anything simply?!) means you’re going to make mistakes. You’re always going to make mistakes. Mistakes are the process in action. When I draw, my eraser is used at least as much as my pencil is.
So. Y’wanna start modeling? Keep in mind that even ladders have rungs on the bottom and they’re on the bottom for a reason. One has to start at a level that is attainable (just because you bought your first guitar and guitar lesson, doesn’t mean you’re going to play like Steve Vai tomorrow). So buy a kit that interests you. That interest will help you continue the process. Follow the directions and build the best kit you can build. Accept that you will make mistakes. How you deal with those mistakes will start creating the foundation for your modeling skills down the road. No matter how many years you model, no matter what lofty heights your skills attain, mistakes will always be made.
Trust me…perfection eludes us all. Sure…it’s okay to aim for perfection, but don’t let that drive the bus. Do you deal well with disappointment(s)? (I don’t, which is why my goal is to achieve a 90-95% accuracy in my builds. Not quite perfect but close enough that I’m usually the only observer of the finished item that notices it, they, ain’t perfect.) If you don’t, set your sights below perfection.
The best (and most important) part of being “good” is knowing when to quit.
With all that said, how do you, Dear Reader, learn how to teach yourself?
Start simple and easy. Build a kit, I don’t care of what, that by the time you’re finished with it doesn’t have any glue smears, no visible seams, a decent paint job devoid of runs and other errors, and decals that look like paint instead of something stuck onto the surface. If you haven’t done this before, those are all lofty enough goals for now. Once you can produce a clean model at will and every time you try, your next question is this:
Do I want more?
If the answer is “no,” then congratulations! This is A HOBBY and if that level of building pleases you, who else are you trying to please? You bought the thing, the tools, the materials, made a space to build in, and spent the time. Pleases you? EXCELLENT. Welcome to a very enjoyable hobby!
If the answer is “yes,” then how much more do you want? Did you happen to notice that the grab handles on the engine covers of an M-4 aren’t little molded on fins but are actually grab handles? Does that bother you and you want to change it? Excellent! Uhm…how do you do that?
“How do I do that?” is my FAVORITE question in modeling! It means that I don’t accept what I already have and want to change it, but I don’t know how to change it. “How do I do that?” is the mantra of the self-taught because, in order to answer it, the self-taught have to learn something new.
Learn something new. LOVE that phrase! I’m not an expert builder; I don’t get paid for it and it’s not my livelihood. I’m a hobbyist. But I have managed to decrease my ignorance on the matter (a process I’m not done with, FYI). There are things I really like to build. If I’m going to build it, I want it to fall within that 90-95% accuracy window. That means I gotta do research (and count yourself lucky, as I count myself, that the Interweb exists because in The Old Days research meant living in libraries and/or buying lots of books on the subject being researched) and that always teaches me something new. Do I want to correct what the kit got wrong? Do I want to put in what the kit left out? Do I want to build a specific variant of something that there’s no specific kit of? Do I want to build a kit of a new thing, a worn thing, a worn out thing, a destroyed thing? Answering these questions starts to narrow my focus to a specific result. (And it helps me fill up LOTS of disk space on my computer(s).) Answering these questions teaches me many, MANY, new things just in the process of answering the questions.
Once I have a picture in my mind of what my goal is, I have to figure out how to get there from here…and that’s usually not possible. Before I can, say, add dust to the top surfaces of a worn M-4, I have to add wear and stains. Before I can add wear and stains, I have to have a coat of matte clear to work on. Before I can lay down a coat of matte clear, I have to add decals. Before I can add decals, I have to have a coat of gloss clear (or its equivalent) to lay them onto. Before I can do that, I have to have the color coat laid down. Before I can do that…
You get the picture.
I keep building the model backward until I get to the point where I realize, “I can do that now.” What I’ve done in addition to setting a more accurate goal than merely, “I want to model an M-4 of the North African campaign that’s seen some use and action.” is to lay out the overall progress of the build, the steps I have to take, to get from this pile of parts to a finished and worn M-4 of the North African campaign.
Keep in mind that each step, regardless of what you’re building, has little surprises along the way. You’re going to have to figure out a solution to each of these surprises (and some of them ain’t gonna be “little”) if you want that picture in your head to be something sitting on your shelf (that you hope the cat doesn’t knock off).
It’s a rare problem that doesn’t have multiple solutions. The “right” solution is the one you can get to work the way you want it to (within whatever parameters of accuracy that you build to).
So the tagline I use when people ask me how I’ve learned to do this stuff is short and accurate. “I rarely start a build I know how to finish.”
Before I close this overlong tome I want to talk about AMS. “AMS” can stand for “Advanced Modeler Syndrome” and/or “After-Market Syndrome.” I’ve talked to people who liked my build until I told them I used an after-market set here, there, or wherever the intercourse I wanted to. The nose goes up slightly, the expression disdainful of varying degrees, and generally I hear, “Oh,” before they walk away in search of something more…I dunno…pure, I guess?
“Pure” my ass. Y’want “pure?” Then don’t start with a kit. Start with a pile of plastic (or whatever) and scratch-build the whole sodding thing; every damned part. There are those who do that and I admire (and am often in awe of) their skills and abilities. Sincerely. But that’s their hobby, it’s not mine. I bought a box of parts. I left out the parts that I decided won’t work for my goal. I fixed the parts that I decided are inaccurate for my goal. I bought parts that I decided I needed to so that what I have when I’m done (and at risk later on of being modified by the cat) matches to within 90-95% of what is in my head…which is my goal.
Stated a bit more directly, this is your hobby. Have at it to whatever level pleases you and get there by whatever means and methods please you. Nobody’s buying the damned thing for you, nobody’s building the damned thing for you, so do what you want in the manner you want and anyone who doesn’t like it is welcome to attempt an aerial intercourse through a rolling confection.
When someone looks at one of my finished models (and frequently during the build process) the phrase I hear most often is, “I don’t have the patience for that.” My standard reply is, “It only requires patience if you don’t like what you’re doing.”
Dear Reader, this is supposed to be fun. Go have fun. Send me a photo of what you’ve finished so I can appreciate it, too.