This article is mainly aimed at those people who are not at all familiar with the hobby of scale modelling and may be wondering why anyone should want to do it. It might also be a useful read for the many spouses across the globe who are mystified why their partner disappears for long periods in order to glue together tiny plastic parts.
If you are wondering exactly what scale modelling is then read the article ‘Defining Scale Modelling’ If you understand what scale modelling is and would like to know why anyone would want to do it, then read on.
Why Do Scale Modelling?
This is a difficult question to answer with any authority because the hobby is generally hidden (see the last section) . However, we can speculate on the many possible motives:
Mastering a wide variety of skills
Making miniatures involves a vast array of skills. For many it begins with the research stage and a great deal of time and pleasure is taken by some to assemble photographs, drawings, visit museums and read up about a subject before any modelling actually begins.
The construction process is a mixture of craft and engineering. It involves building a highly detailed three dimensional object out of a box full of uninspiring plastic bits. To do this requires cutting, drilling, sculpting, scribing, sawing and many of the other skills used by traditional craftsmen, but in miniature.
Once the model is made, the attention is turned to painting and that involves a whole new set of skills and artistic input. Painting is normally by a mixture of airbrush and paintbrush and involves a range of painting mediums. Painting a model is often not the final stage and most modellers then turn to weathering – the application of a number of different effects to make the model look used and realistic.
Most modellers will admit to having a preference to one of these stages more than the others. Some modellers may even work in pairs with one concentrating on building and another on painting. However, the vast majority of modellers prefer to complete entire models on their own and thus must master each of these very different stages. This brings great variety to the hobby. At the end of the construction phase the typical modeller will be looking forward to having a go at painting and when painting the model is complete they are ready to start contructing another. Making a model is like eating a meal with many varied courses.
A good result quickly with the potential for continuous improvement
With many leisure activities, a great deal of time and effort is required before anything tangible is produced. For example, when an artist or musician starts out they are well aware that they need to practice for many months before they will produce anything that they would be willing to show in public.
Scale modelling offers the opportunity to make something reasonably presentable with the first go. If you pick your first kit wisely and take a bit of time and trouble over it, you stand a good chance of producing something to be proud of.
But this is only the start. Your second kit will be better, you will learn new techniques and practice those you already know.
After ten kits, you will look back on your first kit with embarrassment. After 100 kits, you will look back on your tenth and chuckle at how basic it looks. Get the picture? Scale modelling is sufficiently complex and skilled to allow a modeller many, many years of continuous improvement and there will always be other modellers whose skills you will envy and who you can aspire to.
Learning more about what interests you
Some modellers build kits that cover a wide variety of subjects – aircraft, cars etc. These are probably the minority. Most modellers stick to one particular genre such as tanks, helicopters or figures. This can be very specific with a modeller perhaps making only Sherman tanks or Napoleonic figures.
The choice of genre is usually guided by a particular interest of the modeller. A modeller who makes WWII aircraft will normally have a love of these and the modelling will be an extension of that interest. If you have a fascination for say, WWII German tanks it is perhaps natural that you might want to build a model of one. It certainly seems to help to get a ‘feel’ for the real thing, especially if you build a detailed interior. There is nothing like building a vehicle from hundreds of parts to get to know all about it.
The collecting instinct
For some modellers, the building of the models is what counts and they are happy to consign the finished articles to the attic. Others see the hobby as building up a collection. Models will be chosen to fill the gaps in that collection and there will be great pride in having examples of say every version of the Mustang fighter aircraft ever made.
Satisifying the inner artist
Most of us have an artistic bent in one form or another. It may appear in the form of doing oil paintings, pottery, or decorating one’s home. For some, building models gives an outlet for that artistic drive. Modelling can be much more than assembling plastic parts. Some modellers will spend months creating a realistic AND artistic model or diorarma that is guaranteed to illicit an emotional response from the viewer – even if that is simply a “Wow”.
The great escape
Many of us lead stressful lives and need to escape in some form or other. For some that means a social event such as a game of football, or a drink at the local bar. For others escape needs to be solitary which might mean reading a book soaking in the tub, or a long walk in the country.
For some people, modelling is the perfect outlet. Every model can push the modeller’s skills to the limit and demand complete concentration. When every part of your attention is devoted to painting tiny details on the side of an aircraft the worries of the day will seem a million miles away. Modellers will often comment on how a couple of hours seem to have passed in just a few moments.
No doubt there are many other reasons why particular people choose this particular hobby, but most modellers will recognise one or more from the above categories. So just how many modellers are there? Perhaps more than you think – read on…….
The Hidden Hobby
Unlike the supporters of many other hobbies, we would not claim that scale modelling is one of the world’s most popular pastimes, or one of the fastest growing. However, we believe that it does have a surprisingly large following. This may not be apparent because unlike many other hobbies and sports, it is not carried on in public.
Scale modelling is by nature a solitary activity carried out alone in a hobby room or shed. Those who do scale modelling tend to have a quiet nature and are not likely to go about boasting the fact that they make miniature tanks or aircraft. When a model is completed – perhaps the culmination of months of work – it may be put on display in the modeller’s home. However, it is just as likely to be consigned to a box in the attic. Therefore, it is quite possible that people that you know spend their spare time making models without you knowing about it.
It is very difficult to assess how many people take part in this hobby. Nevertheless, there indications that it is far more popular than most people would imagine. One of the clues is the number of model shows and exhibitions that are held regularly. These sometimes attract tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of vendors.
Another clue is the number of shops and products on sale specifically for the modeller. For example, Hannants – one of the UKs largest stores catering for modellers – lists over 33,000 products for sale including over 4,000 aircraft model kits and over 2,200 military vehicle model kits.
Producing an injection molded kit is an expensive business and a manufacturer will only do it if they are fairly sure they will sell many thousands of them. Thus there must be a lot of kits being constructed by somebody.
A further hint to the extent of scale modelling is the number of magazines that cater for the hobby.
Go into any major newsagents and you will find dozens of them – some specialising in just aircraft, cars, ships or military vehicles. There is also a wide range of books and DVDs aimed at the modeller – Osprey produce a whole series of books which each concentrate on building a model of just one subject.
Somebody must be buying all these products, or they would not be printed and stocked.
There are many logical reasons for building scale models, but who needs a logical reason. For many tens of thousands of people worldwide it is just great fun. Although it is by nature a solitary activity there are plenty of model shows and clubs around, so you don’t have to go it alone. If there is one thing better than making models, it is talking about them with other modellers.