In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess

This snippet of potted wisdom adorned a small desk plaque in Bruce Lee’s office. For this master of martial arts it represented a principle he recognised at an early stage, one that shaped his philosophy of fighting and the approach he took to teaching his students.

Its meaning was simple – the orthodox approach to martial arts was for each style and methodology to bend its practitioners to fit the requirements of the system. In addition, there were aspects of each which Lee saw as superfluous and so he developed ‘Jeet Kune Do’ (JKD) and the mantra of ‘I am no styles but I am all styles’. Put simply, JKD comprised numerous components lifted from martial arts around the world, employed in a fluid and unforced way according to the personality, physical attributes and mental state of Lee and those he taught. It was fighting ‘in the moment’, free from conventions and rigid  rules that allowed western boxing techniques one second and Judo the next, one flowing seamlessly into the other and the next and so on.

So what has this to do with modelling? Step back and take a global view of the hobby today and it is dominated by styles and personalities that seek to gather followers to their banner. These methodologies are identical to classical martial arts – you pick a style, read the rules and bend yourself to fit the system. As such, they engender rigidity, conformity and a lack of fluidity. The adopted style is a finger that points inwards on itself. As Lee said, ‘The finger points to the stars. Concentrate on the finger and you will miss all the wonders of the heavens’.

There’s nothing wrong with studying styles and techniques and to do so across the whole panoply of modelling, taking in dioramas, aviation, armour, figures, ships and sci-fi, will yield approaches and finishes that suit you as an individual, leaving the remainder to be cast off. Cumulatively, the object will be to create your own modelling ‘Jeet Kune Do’ and while that translates into ‘The way of the intercepting fist’, your modelling version might be said to mean ‘The way of avoiding the cult of modelling celebrity’.

Bruce Lee, as charismatic and masterful as he was, told his students ‘Never try to follow me, look up to me or bow down to me’. The cult of modelling celebrity demands all three. Enjoy the whole world of modelling, take what suits your personality and how you feel ‘in the moment’ and be free of the classical mess.

Dr Strangeview or how I learned to love the ‘hairy stick’…

 

SLJ MEME

Funny what bugs some people.

‘It’s a paint brush…not a ‘hairy stick’! The author wasn’t kidding. It was serious; a directive, tied to an expectation of compliance. What fascinated me about all this was the tacit belief that it was a matter worthy of being ‘a thing’, rather than an expressional cul-de-sac.

One end of the populace in modelling forums is like this, focussed on minutiae that the rest simply pass on by. The trick is in not allowing the ‘moan-ellers’ to deposit their bumps in your road but to just laugh as they pass. Like SUV pilots, their importance in the overall scheme of things isn’t what they imagine it to be.

It’s only plastic…

 

Bad Wolf

Wild times…

Having a dedicated modelling space away from the house, that has power and room to accommodate an overweight bench jockey like me, is a privilege I never tire of and given that it was some ten years or more since the bunker first went ‘live’, I guess moi had become a little blasé about just flicking a switch and bringing the place to life.

That confidence in the reliability of the set up edged down a notch when the circuit breaker started to trip off unexpectedly. Initially, it was so infrequent I just hit the reset and all would be fine but gradually and later with increasing regularity, the breaker cut in until finally the shed became a ghost ship at the end of a green sea, becalmed, dark and silent.

A cursory inspection of the little wiring I could access, that wasn’t in conduit underground looked intact and suspicion fell on the circuit breaker, that was duly changed as a precaution but still the modelling house remained stubbornly ‘off-line’. For most kit ticklers, this turn of events would be an irritating inconvenience but I was (am) finishing off a project build for AMW, that was in addition to my agreed schedule, so the clock was (is) ticking and this injected an increasing need to sort things quickly.

Not being an electrician, I was pretty much out of ideas and resigned to chopping the cabling and pulling it through, so as to renew the whole run when yesterday, quite by chance, I was stood by the rose arch that opens to the rest of the garden. It was dusk and my mind continued to wander over the baffling loss of juice to the shed when I became aware of a gentle rustle in the foliage to my left, by the boundary fence, some six feet up. The climbing rose is mature and has been joined by a potato vine that together give fine cover for the birds we routinely feed. Remaining stock still, I waited for the bird to reveal itself, at least momentarily, before it inevitably broke cover and flew next door. But no bird did. Instead, I caught a glimpse of a svelte Wood Mouse, as it slipped between a gap in the fencing.

A light clicked on in my head. The first one since the bunker had lapsed into a sulk and I opened the outhouse door and started emptying out the accumulated bric-a-brac that obscured the cabling that fed into the underground trunking. The three foot run had been sunk beneath spare block paving left over when the patio had been laid. Carefully I retrieved it and sure enough, a six inch section had been chewed comprehensively, leaving the earth wire and neutral exposed. Thankfully, it was the only damage and enough slack remained in the cable to allow the vandalised section to be chopped out and reconnected with an inline junction box. A re-route of the power line now sits in suitable trunking and it was a welcome sight indeed, to see the bunker’s lights come on this morning at the first time of asking, returning the scene of my plastic crimes to normal service.

It’s not often that the natural world and the hobby collide in such a way and I bear no grudge against the tiny creatures that temporarily halted my modelling juggernaut with focussed use of their nippy little incisors. Modelling with the bunker door open, to the sound of birds contesting the various feeders we keep stocked throughout the year is pure pleasure, as is the sound of foxes on the shed roof at night, just a couple of feet away, as they make their way into and out of the garden. Then there are the critters that live in the modelling house with me – spiders mostly and of these, the False Widow is the largest and it was an interesting moment a couple of weeks ago, when the biggest female I’d ever seen walked purposefully across my chest, as I was committed to a painting task. Her babies also have a habit of abseiling down from the main light units on threads and crawling over my head. I just brush them off and get back to it but I imagine some folks would prefer a hat…

Until next time.

Wood Mouse

 

 

Bad Wolf

 

Whether to weather…whatever the weather…

When it comes to the life blood of modelling, there are a number of components that keep the body of the hobby afloat and flourishing and being a lifelong Ninja black belt master of the inscrutable art of ‘The Absolutely Bleedin’ Obvious’, one can confidently name kits, paints, tools and references as the ‘four pillars of modelling chi’. These are, if you will, the essential hardware segments of the equation but there’s also a ‘software’ element that travels with it and its influence and scope is such that it surrounds, envelops and permeates throughout that hardware, very much like the atmosphere around our Earth. You and I know it as ‘opinion’.

 
We all have them. Some of us voice them, some of us choose not to, sometimes they’re expressed well, concisely and eloquently; sometimes not. Either way however, is really nothing more to my mind than the shop window and while I enjoy opinions, whether they comprise a conversational hearty meal or a light snack, it’s not just in terms of what was said but rather by the revealing sub-text indicators, that point to the individual’s own unspoken character and personal agenda.

 
A great example of all this occurred on Facebook recently. A prominent ‘name’ in the hobby overtly criticised the use of weathering on a particular (and popular) subject. The style and extent of others output was deemed incorrect, out of place, poorly conceived and to the detriment of the subject. The ‘name’ then did as predicted and proclaimed in the next breath that they recognised that the modellers behind the offending builds were ‘free to do as they please’.

 
The purpose of this apparently disarming foot note to the preceding critique reminded me of the habit the national news has, in ending half an hour of reported crime, murder and economic gloom with a short VT piece recounting some act or other of goodness or story designed to restore faith that one way or another ‘all will be well’. I’ve had it described to me as ‘the little bit of cotton wool that wipes the bottom end of the news’. That sums up the unwritten intent behind the foot note perfectly which, far from genuinely conveying ‘freedom’ to enjoy your modelling as you choose, tacitly stipulates that the ‘name’ has autonomy in deciding standards and what is and what isn’t acceptable. This was then borne out by the obedient admirers of said ‘name’ who duly fell into line and badged their support with suitably expressed condemnation for the errant modellers, while polishing the ‘name’s’ ego to a bright shine. The relief among them that the ‘name’ was there to tell them how to think, what to think and when to think it, was palpable.

 
Not every high profile modelling ‘name’ engages in this kind of behaviour or projects such a visible need for self-aggrandisement and it’s these gentle souls I happily pay attention to, as their involvement in the hobby is benign, positive and genuinely all encompassing. It’s those (thankfully) few who worship fervently at the alter of modelling celebrity that make me smile, especially when I read Pinocchio-esque asides in their own writings of being ‘one of the crowd’ or ‘just an ordinary modeller like you’.

 
Have fun. Do it your way. Be happy and when it comes to those modelling egos, remember the scene in ‘Enter The Dragon’ when Bruce Lee points to the sky, before slapping his student across the back of the head, as he says (paraphrased) ‘Concentrate on the finger and you will miss all the wonders of the firmament’…and that’s all you need to know…

Until next time.

 

 

Bad Wolf

The golden age of modelling – 1968

When Chris Ellis first published ‘How to go plastic modelling’ in 1968, I was ten years old and utterly captivated through youthful innocence, by a world of unbridled imagination and creation. Kits were relatively crude in comparison to today, specialist tools were similarly few and the handful of finishing techniques only needed a page or two to fully recount.

Communication between modellers was provincial, confined mainly to club meetings and landline telephone calls. It was a time of comparative simplicity but unbeknown to the modelling populace, there was one facet of the period that is now only apparent looking back – a blissful absence of the insidious unhappiness, introspection, complaint and dissatisfaction that has entrenched itself in today’s hobby culture.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that with stratospheric quality and quantity prevalent in kits, materials, techniques and tools, that pleasure, satisfaction and contentment in the hobby would be at commensurate levels. On an individual basis that may certainly be so but collectively the prevalence of blog posts and forum commentary spin a different tale. Like any coin, there are two sides to this. On the one hand, the procession of self perpetuating complaints about product releases, accuracy, complexity, simplicity, application of techniques, et al carry on ad nauseam, while on the flip, modellers themselves obsess over a raft of introspective psychological insecurities – shelves of doom, ocd, ams, lack of confidence, habitually starting but never finishing, huge stashes, it goes on and on.

The causes of this paradigm shift don’t interest me – because it’s tedious. There’s nothing inevitable about being caught in this tar pit though. You can still model like it’s 1968 but first you have to accept that ‘it’s only plastic’, that it’s only a hobby and that the world is already full of issues, enough to satisfy the most prodigious appetite for angst. For some bloggers, recurrent introspective and mock self deprecating confessionals are a staple and also tedious. Thankfully, returning to innocence is a choice, so climb down from the critical carousel, disconnect from the ‘dis’ brigade and plough a furrow back to 1968.

HTGPM

 

 

Bad Wolf

 

 

 

Are you for real…?

Realism in modelling. It crops up periodically here and there, engenders a usually prompt response that (if a recent discussion on Facebook’s anything to go by), boils down to the popular view that the hobby only really winds up pointing in one of two directions – ‘realism’ and the pursuit thereof, focussed on perceived replication of detail, colour and the other facets of the full size object or ‘art’ in rendering said object in a stylised manner, principally also through the use of colour but in a perhaps more dramatised and extended way. Like so much in modelling philosophy (and the most prominent key speakers), the conclusions demand adherents divide into camps; it has that tedious ‘billy goat’ intellectualism that pre-supposes that both sides are right, while catering for the expressed need to regard the other side as ‘wrong’.

The Facebook thread I mentioned too’d and fro’d and was all very good natured as it happened but didn’t mention (at least overtly) that in order for a model to be mistaken for the real thing there has to be a filter between the model and the observer – photography. Put a 1/35 M4 Sherman on the museum exhibit you based the model on and no-one will mistake the former for the latter. Place the model on a meticulously crafted base, with the tank equally skilfully finished – photograph the combination sympathetically in natural daylight and Photoshop the whole lot seamlessly into a photographed background and you have the right cocktail for fooling the eye into believing the ensemble is the full size object.

Quite some years ago, I saw this done with a 1/32 Hawker Hunter. The paint was realistically given a sheen that tallied with what I was used to seeing in the flesh. The finish had been applied over an extremely smooth surface – no give away texture in the paint. The low angle of the photo was commensurate with an image taken from a standing position and the bright overcast nature of the daylight matched the photographed background that the model was immaculately stitched into. It was quite startling to realise it was all a representation of reality and not reality itself. It was also a fine achievement by the author (who’s name escapes me now), as success in this doesn’t come easy…or often.

There. I’ve done it. I’ve mentioned a word you’ll likely never find crop up in this debate. Representation…and when it comes to modelling, it’s what it’s actually all about. Even the astonishing 1/5 Spitfire by David Glen, that resides in the RAF Museum Hendon, is a representation. The attention to detail in that momentous model is rarely matched elsewhere, down to his re-creating the same number of knurled ridges in a hand wheel for instance…but it’s still representation not replication. That realisation in no sense diminishes David’s legacy achievements but instead enhances it in tandem with the conspicuous care he took in creating his masterpiece.

When you accept modelling as representations of reality, suddenly there is no longer any need for divisions between ‘realist’ modellers or ‘art’ modellers. Both represent the full size object and both have much to teach the other – when ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are removed from the dialogue.

Until next time.

 

Bad Wolf

 

 

Serial killer…

Do you find yourself starting more kits than you finish? Do you ever complete anything? Do you eye up the plastic in the box, as you stand in the hobby store and picture the model on your display shelf with spotless construction and a flawless finish? If so, you are likely already firmly in the grip of ‘the serial killer’, that murderer of motivation, the annihilator of ambition and crusher of confidence. It is ‘The Babadook’ of modelling…

The Babadook enters your life through the boxes of kits you bring hopefully into your home (ie ‘hoping’ your significant other hasn’t 1. Noticed; 2. Already compiled a detailed inventory of existing guilt; 3. Kept up to date with the joint account…or all three…). It lurks just out of direct sight, in the shadows of your mind. The Babadook thrives and flourishes on a diet of high ambition and lofty ideals and greedily strips its victims of these notional concepts, leaving the modeller bereft, as the latest project loses its shine and appeal and is relegated to the burgeoning pile of false starts.

But The Babadook has a weakness. A chink in its armour. It preys on fear of failure; of somehow not living up to the standards victims set for themselves, standards that are often nothing more than simply those of other modellers, rather than truly of ourselves. That’s nonetheless understandable – we’re all bombarded daily, across the gamut of our lives, with intense and highly focussed advertising, promising perfect skin, teeth and appearance, health, wealth and fairy tale relationships and these unrealistic and misleading messages also extend their groping tentacles into our hobby and beyond. ‘Buy this book’, ‘read this magazine’, ‘watch this DVD or online video’ and become an all-conquoring ‘champion of plastic’. Some can. Some do. For most though, the chase leads rapidly into the welcoming arms of The Babadook and thence, into the dingy basement of the mind that serial starters are doomed to call ‘home’.

And there’s the rub; The Babadook isn’t ‘real’. The high ambition and lofty ideals exist only as abstract concepts of the mind. None of it is ‘real’ unless you think it so. The solution, as well as the problem, begins and ends with you. Step one is to let go of expectation, just enjoy the ride and finish the project. Step two is to use your knowledge and experience to best advantage while again, relinquishing expectation and finishing the project. Step three is to understand that the root of happiness and contentment is ‘acceptance’.

I read once that ‘nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so’ but the author of this piece of quasi-psycology clearly hadn’t considered the prospect of being thrown into a live volcano for instance. We can be sure that if he or she were dropped into a lake of molten rock they’d think that that was ‘bad’ all the way down…and no-one with a working majority of their marbles still intact would argue with the veracity of that judgement.

So, stop the rot, be happy in everything you build and look forward with keen excitement to what comes next. I’ve always expressed the intent (as a one time, long, long, long time serial starter) that my modelling would thereafter be a journey in which I’d be always travelling but never arriving and there’s no room on that train for ‘The Babadook’…

Until next time.

Bad Wolf