Why I build models

(Replies - Part Two)



Found below are some in-depth answers I received when I originally posed my question.



Why I Model

by David A.


I started modeling because I am really into aircraft and was fascinated at looking at the models on display when we (my family) would go to the airshows at NAS Wilow Grove (we're talking in the late '60s, here). It was probably the original Del-Val club I was seeing back then on display.  They are to blame for my introduction to the hobby. They actually sold model kits at their airshow display back then. My first kits actually came from them, not any store.


My father started me in the hobby by first building the models for me, then encouraging me to build them myself (when he was tired of building them)...


Later, I discovered I did not need to wait for the next year's airshow to buy a model, as they were available at numerous stores in the area, (like Woolworth's and Grant's, remember those?).


It was years before I learned that some stores actually specialized in models. My first "discoveries" were a small hobby shop in what use to be the Montgomery Mart - (am I dating myself here?) - and Penn Valley Hobbies in Lansdale (PA) in the early '70s.


Unlike most modelers, I never left the hobby, ever. Getting new jobs, moving to new residences, getting married, having kids, and buying a new house - none was enough to make me give it up, even for a little while. I did have a period of low production, though, which was the result of AMS. I was constantly building. I just was not always finishing.


I continue to build models for a number of reasons:

1.    First and foremost, it's fun to me (duh?) and always challenging on some level.  I love the challenge.  Whether it's applying 6000 decals to a model or spending 80 hours completely scratch building a cockpit, I love the challenge.

2.    The previous point brings me to the next reason. I get extreme pleasure from accomplishing a new challenge in modeling.  An old girlfriend used to get really upset with me on nights when I had just finished a particularly challenging task.  She said my enthusiasm (pride?) was unbearable at these times and that "I was full of myself".  Imagine that?  I especially remember a night when I had just completed hand painting inspection stickers on the windshield of a Corvette (yes, a car).  She was ready to take that Corvette windshield and cram it where “the sun don’t shine.”

3.    I love looking at finished models, any finished models.  It does not matter whether they were built by me or someone else.  I have to keep building to create more to look at.  I often find myself out studying my own models on the living room shelves.  Renee (my wife) finds this amusing to see me study my own work.  "After all," she says, "you did build them and should know already what they look like."  Looking at my own work reminds me of the challenges I've conquered in the past and renews that pleasurable feeling I got when first completing the challenge (whatever it happens to be).  Looking at someone else's work gives me ideas and incentive to continue building my own models.

4.    I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the attention.  It is very gratifying to have one of my models create a stir at a club meeting.  The raised eyebrows, wrinkled noses, and scowls when people learn there are almost 550 decals on a single 1/144th scale project (for example), are quite enjoyable to watch.  To get these kinds of reactions is one thing that keeps me always pushing the envelope to conquer new challenges.  Then, the pleasure of conquest feeds back into my second point above.

5.    Fifth, I like to talk about the hobby, sharing how I conquer my challenges and listening to how others conquer theirs.  This includes holding classes and teaching my techniques to anyone that wants to hear them.  It is especially good to see improvement in other modeler’s work and know that it was some techniques I taught them that made the difference.

You'll notice that competition is not part of this list. While I like winning as much as anyone else, I do not build models just so I can compete them.  I actually do nothing different in my modeling with regard to potentially placing a model into competition.  I compete what I build; I don’t build to compete.  There is a difference.  If you put a detail into your model primarily because it betters your chances of placing in a competition, then you are building to compete.  If you would put that detail in whether you competed or not, then you are competing what you build.  Another test is your attitude about the competition. If you find a model less appealing because it did not get the placement in competition you desired, you are building to compete. If you could give a rip about the placement and still love the model anyway, you are competing what you build.

Several things really get the modeling juices flowing for me. Finally getting a model of a subject that I've wanted "forever" is a definite juice maker. But, the juices flow for other reasons, too.  I can look at a kit on a subject I really don't care about and get real excited if the kit is executed particularly well.  This includes any kits - cars, armor, ships, anything.  Finely engraved and delicately detailed parts are a juice maker for me every time.  I remember a Monogram Chevy Beretta (car) kit I looked at some years ago (while I was working at One Stop Hobbies) that came close to being purchased and built, just because the kit was executed really well.

"The challenge" is still my biggest juice maker.  To mentally see what a given challenge could turn into and know the thrill I'll get by accomplishing it gets me (and usually keeps me) going.



Tim L. sent the following emailed response: 

Dear Dr. Wootson,

Thank you for your kind invitation to share my thoughts....as always, you are most generous :-)


As for why I build models and what motivates me to build.....here is my list:


#1.  I think the biggest reason I build is because it provides me with a chance to explore worlds I don't necessarily have access to .... such as WWII.  It makes me feel like I am entering a realm previously inaccessible.


#2.  The second reason I build is one that is very hard to put into words. It is really an intangible feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment I get from the world of  "miniatures."  There is just something about miniatures (not just plastic models) that I've always found intriguing. 


#3.   Thirdly, model building allows me to exercise my creative juices.  This is a source of psychological rejuvenation ..... my regular work (for pay) doesn't often give me this chance. Thus, model building is a compensatory factor.


#4.  Fourthly, model building allows me to "explore" hypothetical realties.....such as the current diorama I'm starting. (It involves an M51 Isherman tank and a knocked out German Tiger I.....the premise being that the Israeli nation managed to fight Hitler with there own weapons during WWII).


As far as motivation factors go, I'd have to say there are three elements that I know of: (actually these are the source of my inspiration for building)


#1.  Books, TV, or Movies.

#2.  The works of other modelers.

#3.  My own imagination.


The thing that really gets my juices flowing is when I see one of my "visions" begin to really "come alive."  The thing that most often saps my enthusiasm is when I try to set aside a time to build and other more urgent matters press through.


Okay...I think that's enough for now.  Talk with you later!






Frank W. sent in the following reply:

I don’t know Tony, you’re asking for an awful lot!


Near as I can remember, my first model was Renwal’s (?) 1/72 Rickenbacker SPAD XIII with fabric to cover the plastic.  It was Christmas of 4th or 5th grade and I have been modeling ever since – non-stop.  I went through all the early Monogram armor and 1/32 and 1/72 airplanes.  I built ships and spacecraft.  I even built a few cars. The challenge was to build them the same day I got them – no seams, no paint, nothing. Just plastic, glue and decals (sometimes).  I even built a 1/350 USS Enterprise (not Tamiya’s) in one day.  I did the air arm the second day.  It was build, play with, break, throw away, and build  again - (my parents had a lot of patience).  I can still remember most of the models I ever built!  In fact, many of them are being reissued and I am still building many of the same kits I built when I was 10 or 11. (Hopefully, I am doing a little better job on them!)  I have even taken several early efforts apart and completely rebuilt them.


At the Academy I discovered aircraft that could be modified to Coast Guard variants.  I also discovered paint (mostly white).  I was still into armor, aircraft, ships and space. But, cars dropped by the wayside.


In the early ‘80’s I went to my first “show” while I was stationed in Newport News, VA and I decided I should start trying to do things “right”.  In the late ‘80’s I got my first airbrush (single action).


In 1986 I got out of the Coast Guard, settled down here and joined my first club – Bux-Mont.  I have never stopped modeling and have never stopped liking it – as long as I can do it my way.  I tried building for competition themes, even if I had no interest in the topic.  I tried too hard to please the “judge.”  At first I was happy to learn new techniques and ideas.  But as I tried harder and harder to get better and better I was enjoying building less and less.  Now I am back to just building to have fun.  The only reason I enter a contest is to help have a full table.  I do not expect to win.  I have admitted I am not that “good”.  But I have fun.


What gets me fired up?  Seeing a good movie that highlights a specific ship/space ship/tank/etc.  Reading a particularly good description of a scene from a book.  Seeing a flashy pattern on a plane.


What pit-falls do I run into?  I get distracted.  Halfway through a project I will win a model in a raffle or get a good buy in the flea market or find something I have been looking for forever or see a movie that pulls me away and I start another model.  Or I can’t find the final element of a good diorama.  I have a Sherman tank that has been built for about 10 years and I am planning a diorama around it.  Same with a couple other armor pieces.  I am looking for just the right figure or backdrop for a diorama.  I will build all of those dioramas eventually.  It is not unusual for me to have 4 or 5 models in various stages of completion.  But so far, I have always finished them.  Some projects have taken me 2 or 3 months. But I did finish them.  I don’t seem to be bound by the “1 month rule”.  I find that if I lose interest in a particular project and put it away for 3 or 4 months, I suddenly see it and start working on it again.  I have been building Revell’s 3’ long Constitution for years.  I will finish it also.


My main pitfall is not lack of enthusiasm but lack of time.  I now spend almost 4 hours a day driving to and from work.  I have been on travel almost more than I have been home.  We are remodeling our house.  I am married.  I have 4 kids.  I am helping them build their models.  I have lots of excuses for not being able to “do nothing for extended periods of time except eat, sleep, work and put tons of time into modeling."  That is why it often takes me several months to finish a piece that most serious, avid modelers could knock off in a weekend.  But I do find the time somehow to keep the fire kindled, if not raging.


I am also not a collector.  Any model I acquire I have intentions of building.  I have ONLY 35 unbuilt models in my collection and all of them have been opened and pieces cut from sprues and dry fit.  I am a collector’s nightmare. 


Hope I didn’t talk too long for you Tony, but you asked.  Hope I answered your questions this time.




Fellow Sci-fi and IPMS modeler Mark Fergel responded with the following:


I feel like I don't have much choice.  I got back into modeling when I found out about the local IPMS chapter after moving to Richmond, VA.


Before I started building again - (hadn't done any serious modeling since I was 15) - I was spending all of my time doing computer graphics or playing a guitar.  Now I mostly spend my time building.  Our monthly IPMS show-n-tell keeps me turning out the kits.  Building mainly helps me to relax.  It makes me focus on something so that I'm able to ignore thedistractions in my life like traffic.


As for neglected models, I tend to not touch them if I spend too much time on them.  I've been working on a Star Trek Reliant for about 1 year off and on.  I started the kit before IPMS and part of the reason I don't touch it too much is that I've learned so many more things and am no longer happy with where the model is going.  It has become an experiment for the unbuilt one in the attic.


I don't really have anything that gives me a sudden burst of modeling energy, because I think I am constantly building. I guess if I do feel a sudden lapse in energy I will build something other than Sci-Fi, like a tank.  With tanks, there usually aren't a lot of seams and things to fill.  They tend to be quick build and paints for me.


- Mark Fergel

("Do or do not, there is no try." - Yoda from "The Empire Strikes Back.")



Jamie M. responded with the following:



1. What got you into or back into building models?

Throughout my life, I have gone through 3 major phases of model building. Phase 1 began when I was about 7 years old.  My first cars were scratch built from cardboard.  I would design them as fold up pieces, and add details like wheels, seats, spoilers, etc.  I would "paint" them with markers and model paint.  My father - (an avid train modeler) - saw these crude things and was impressed enough by them to buy me my first real car kit, a 1979 Mustang Pace Car.  I built many more cars over the next few years, but none really were really great.  Most were totally unpainted, and those that were were poorly done. (Of course, to a young kid, they were masterpieces.)  I stuck with it because I enjoyed being able to brag that I had built my "toy" cars myself.  Eventually, I put models down to do more typical teenage things like idolize rock bands and TV stars.


The second time I got into modeling, was around 10th grade.  At the time I was into the show "Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future", and wanted to build a model of the Network 23 news helicopter they used.  I went out and bought a "Huey" to use for it.  When I opened it up, I was dismayed to find it molded in dark green.  At the time, I brush painted everything, and couldn't figure out how I would brush red over this dark green.  Also, upon closer inspection, I realized the Huey wasn't even close to Gazelle that the show used.  But, I decided to build it "out of the box", and this time took care to detail paint everything the way they did on the box.  I was so happy with the result that I decided to revive my interest in model cars to see how the same techniques could be used with them.  This got me totally immersed in the hobby again, and over the next 6 years or so, I really honed my skills, with each car coming out better than the previous one.  I even found a Gazelle model and did my Network 23 chopper.  While I was really enjoying modeling as a full time hobby, I was forced to put it down when I moved out of my parent's house and into my own apartment.  My workspace and most of the tools I used (which belonged to Dad), were left behind, and I did not have the money or space to make a great setup in my apartment.


I revived my interest for the third time just a year ago.  I had moved into a townhouse that had a spare bedroom for my hobbies.  I quickly got back into the hobby, simply because my love for it had never died.  I invested in an airbrush and spray booth, and through joining several clubs, have continued learning new techniques.  I now own a house with the entire third floor devoted to model building. So, hopefully now this hobby is with me to stay.


2. What keeps you modeling?

Apart from the obvious fact that I enjoy it, I am always looking to try new and better things.  It is a hobby that you never really run out of things to do.  It is a pleasant escape from the rigors of daily life and something to relax me at the end of a hard day.  I own close to 100 car kits now, and have a burning desire to do every single one of them.  I look at a new kit, and think of all the cool things I could try out on it.  And when I do finish the latest masterpiece, I enjoy admiring it, but yet I am still thinking of yet another new thing to try on the next one.


3. What type of things causes you to want to do nothing but build models?

I must say, a new project takes a while to get into.  It is exciting to take the new kit out of the box and imagine all the neat things to do with it. But once the real work begins, it is tough for a while.  It takes a lot of effort to prep the parts, sand the mold lines off, prime it, etc. But for this effort, there is little result.  For me, this stage of a model can drag on for a while.  But once I do get somewhere with it, such as a body painted, a nearly finished interior or engine, I find it hard to stop building.  My thoughts throughout the day are filled with ideas, of what color to do the interior, how to best paint the dials, how to detail the suspension and on and on it goes.  I get so many ideas, that I just have to hurry to the model room and try them out as soon as I get home. And seeing these efforts come to life, keeps me going on the rest of the car until it's done.



4. What causes your modeling activity to come to a halt?

Real life is usually to blame for putting a kit down.  Laundry needs doing, grass needs cutting, people want to visit, shopping needs to get done and these things don't magically get done by themselves.  Even if there is an hour to spend after work and daily chores, I'm often too exhausted to get anything done on my models. The other thing that slows down progress is the lack of visible progress in the early stages of the model. These two things combined often result in my procrastinating and putting a project on hold for months at a time. Sometimes, the only way out of this rut is to actually "schedule" time for model building.






Finally, "Johnny" (John E.) sent in the following reply:


Why I build Models

by John E.


As much as I found I didn’t want to admit it, I feel this goes back to my childhood.  I grew up by myself watching war movies and TV shows.  My imagination was, and is, a big part of my life.  It seems only natural that models became a part also.  As I see it, the models were and are an extension of my imagination, a canvas to project the images onto and bring them into the realm of reality.  I still have a few of the models I had built as a child.  They are no more then parts globbed on with glue and hardly any paint.  But my imagination saw beyond this and they afforded me with many hours of enjoyment.

Today my models are light-years better than before, even if I do say so myself, and my imagination is still my motivation for building.  People ask why I don’t build RC models or take up flying.  That wouldn’t do it for me.


Recently I had the unique experience of visiting the real aircraft that I was building a model of at the time.  As I stood by the plane I felt an intimacy with this real one that was gained by working with the model and researching the aircraft data and story.  I felt I had been miniaturized and was standing on my worktable next to my model.


To make more of the TV/Movie connection, I have built one model as William Holden’s Panther jet in “Bridges at Took Ri.” Also, I’ve restored two real helmets, one as Holden’s Navy helmet in the same movie and the other as Jimmy Stewart’s in “Strategic Air Command.”


My display cabinet is set up as a sort of diorama. I have landing fields and there’s even one shelf that has a carrier deck. Figures are all over the place as well as ground equipment. When I look inside it all comes to life for me. I thank God and the Universe for my imagination and the ability to build these models that I love so.


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