29 Dec 2016

Crash Landing, Pt. 2

So, like a phoenix from the ashes, etc. - My S.E.5a doesn't look too bad, does it? A few pieces had flown off, and were easily reattached. Amazingly, neither the undercarriage nor the tail assembly with all its finickety cabling were damaged; I guess those sections simply hadn't hit any stone step on the plane's descent into the cellar. But the struts with IIRC one exception had snapped at one end, and most of the rigging had broken too. I decided not to remove any intact lengths of rigging, even though as you may see if you look closely, they sag a little now. They were so beautifully taut before, which is why I like to use that material, as much as for the structural strength it confers.

I've used the afore-mentioned ceramic wire for all the repaired sections. It's called Wonder Wire and I love it but it's really hard to get hold of; and now I've made unwanted inroads into my limited supply. Almost any length of wire you can see in the pics which is straight is Wonder Wire. But the whole thing is now a lot more fragile.

Here's the thing with most creative projects, not just model kits: even without the damage and repairs, I still wouldn't be 100% happy with it. Because I built it, and I know what's wrong with it. I know where all the little bodges are, I know where I cut a corner or two, I know what I could have done if I'd spent a little more time on it; and so on and so on. Also, because I frequent a WWI modelling forum, I know the high standards of the top modellers, and what could be done with a little raising of skills. Hint for any fairy godmother who might be reading - a major step up would result from the acquisition of an airbrush and compressor :)

But please don't think I'm all negative at this point. I delivered it to a friend today, and she was very pleased with it. She wanted something Australian, and what better than an example with a kangaroo on the side? The display case turns a piece like this into something you might like to have on view, and more importantly protects it from dust and interference. And the vignette work makes it very pretty in my view. There are some really well sculpted 1:32 pilot and crew figures you can get these days, and I always like to stick in an animal somewhere, usually a dog. But knowing what we do, you could look at this scene and reckon, that the dog is staring at the pilot and wondering why he's so reluctant to get back into this particular aircraft!

23 Dec 2016

Crash Landing

Where are all the models, then? More particularly, why the empty space in this scene? This is definitely a pilot in want of a plane to fly.

I'm afraid this is a tale of woe. Most modellers, of all and any skills and competencies, can tell you a similar story. Crossed fingers, it's not over yet, and I may come out of this with flags flying, but I have to assess the damage first...

I have been building a plane as a present for a friend. She has family in Australia, and on seeing another plane I built for friends, wanted an Aussie aircraft. I'm not so blinkered that I imagine that anyone must be delighted to receive a model plane, but these biplanes held together with complicated rigging are a little different, and can be attractive placed in a simple scene. A cover is crucial, because biplanes are dust magnets, and I have one drilled and ready to screw on to the slice of meadow above. So: I have Roden's kit of the Hispano-Suiza powered S.E.5a, the principal British fighter of WWI, and one of the marking schemes offered is not only from an Australian squadron, but anyone can see it is, because it's emblazoned with a kangaroo. And it became my modelling project for the lead up to this Christmas.

The S.E. is quite a challenge to build. It's a dynamic looking plane, a favourite of aces, and very strongly constructed. And one of the ways it was made so tough was an astonishing profusion of rigging wires. The British already had a penchant for double rigging, and emulating this is quite a test even in 1:32 scale. But the S.E went a step further by rigging another complete set of flying wires to a point on the upper wing half way between the struts.

A second area of difficulty involves the inspection windows. Again very characteristic of British types, these are found embedded into wing surfaces directly over the pulleys which lead the control wires to ailerons etc. Other model producers have moulded a simple recess and supplied a clear window to stick over it. Roden, notwithstanding the decent quality of the rest of the kit, decided it would be okay to offer a highly simplistic black and white decal which draws the eye to its unsatisfactoriness.
Okay, if I didn't like it, what was I going to do about it? The answer was to carve out recesses - six of them - and fashion bits inside which looked like what was supposed to be going on, and then to stick a thin piece of cellophane on top. In close up it can seem very crude, but when you take in the whole construction I think the effect is an improvement. Yes, a lot of time was spent just on this.

Right: This is the port side of the horizontal stabiliser, which required two control wires to be embedded, one leading out through the window on top, the other to be threaded through a hole to the underneath.

By yesterday, I had one thing left to do, which was to spray varnish over it to give a measure of protection in particular to the slightly fragile decals. I couldn't do this in the garage because it's now too cold in there to spray. I didn't want to spray inside my living space, which left a small warm space inside the passage down to the cellar. Almost done. Then with one slight clumsy action, turning the model around, it tumbled all the way down the hard stone steps to the bottom.

If you'd seen me at this point, you'd have thought I was being incredibly cool about what had just happened. But I was beyond reaction, if that makes sense. I went down the steps, looking around for any small pieces which had flown away as the model disassembled itself on its descent. But I only found three (in fact, there must be a few near invisible sections of wire and other minuscule items). The model itself looked remarkably intact. However, the struts are detached in places, and worse, the rigging is now a mess. I can't repeat the original procedure, because that had to be done from scratch. Now, I will have to use ceramic wire, which looks great, but is incredibly fiddly to cut to length, and won't offer structural strength ie. it will be merely cosmetic.

I was expected to deliver the plane next week, so I have a few days to see if I can salvage it. I'm optimistic that something can be done - I've thought several times that this is partly thanks to the actual strength of the design of the real machine. But if I never add to this post, if you hear no more about the S.E.; please don't ask!

14 Nov 2016

Dusting off the crib

This Nativity scene of mine will soon be brought out from its cupboard and placed in my living room. It's the most recent crib I've built, and the biggest (the figures are 8 inch). Unlike the rest I didn't sell it or give it away; though it's my most ambitious so far, it does feature a glaring (ironically, very much not glaring) problem which will take major surgery to fix. You will see there are two lamps; one in the corner behind the donkey, which lights up reasonably well, and the other top centre, which is uselessly weak.
I was so proud of it! The design worked out near perfectly, unless you consider that the central column is a little too much in the way. The 'big idea' I had is neat in the execution, to my eyes at least. It's to do with the angel. It just seems better to have the angel looking down on the scene, rather than on a level with the other figures, and that's how the angel is usually sculpted. But then: where do you place the angel? The problem is that most cribs are constructed with a relatively short distance front-to-back, but lots of width, and the figures are arranged accordingly. If it's still to be the sort of Nativity scene which most people recognise, there's not a lot of room for manoeuvre. So the angel, usually a standing or kneeling figure, and in both cases gazing downwards, ends up on a higher flat surface, ie. a roof. And then you realise the angel requires x-ray vision in order to view the scene, because the roof is between the angel and the Holy Family (have you noticed how I've been avoiding committing to the gender of the angel so far?). Here's my solution. The roof is broken; after all, the stables are supposed to be ramshackle in the first place. This allows my angel to be above the scene at roof level (though in this case, on an up-ladder platform), and still clearly seeing the action.

That overhead lamp is crucial to the scene, especially since one would like it to look atmospheric with the room lights turned low, so the lack of illumination is disappointing. After all the creative effort put in to connect it up. The wires run through a channel up the middle of that column, up from another channel cut in the baseboard, from the battery compartment which is under the straw storage in the right hand corner. There's a discrete switch on the outside. It's been fun getting into these LED circuits, learning about soldering etc. But I guess I still have a lot to learn about resistance. Whatever you read, informing you how many resistors to place in the circuit, you still need some judgment according to the length of wire you use, because that offers resistance itself, and it makes a difference when your current is so low in the first place, as in these battery circuits. I've used button batteries sometimes - the current is minuscule. I will probably take the battery compartment apart to fix the problem, just not now. It's going to be stressful!

These figures were a little pricey; I just had to strike a balance between quality of finish and economy. It's certainly possible to pay a lot more. This set could have been very much more with a full complement of animals and shepherds. And prices rise exponentially with every extra inch in figure height. Anyway, when you build a scene like this, you start with the figures, because their size and number governs everything else. It's fun working everything out, doing the detailing and yes, the lighting. I'll be happy to do more work like this, it's just a matter of having a customer :) And the first question I will ask is, do you already have some figures you want to place in the stable scene?

7 Nov 2016

Artists Working in Miniature

I did say I wanted to look at other interesting miniature work apart from my own.
I've become aware of quite a number of actual artists who have taken to working with miniature figures. I don't know whether you'd call it 'trendy', exactly, but the idea has come to be taken seriously in recent times, more or less. Here's a piece by someone who calls himself Slinkachu.

I urge you to have a look at this and other works on show at https://little-people.blogspot.co.uk , from which there are links to other sites and pages. A lot of his pieces make a Banksy-style point; there's another picture showing this in a wider shot, with the Bank of England in the background. Other works are simply whimsical, his thing is typically to make use of street furniture and it's often clever. Also, he says he often leaves his installations in place, and it interests him sometimes to go and have a look at them later on, curious to see how much is left of them. Even pieces left in prominent positions aren't as depredated as you'd think. I could be wrong, but the figures seem to me to be from Preiser, who are famed for their huge range for model railways, in many scales, though mostly 1:87 which equates to HO, standard for European layouts. Slinkachu's figures certainly appear to be 1:87.

It's sort of amusing to me to see this happening. I can't be the only modeller who thought of this use of miniature figures pretty quickly after taking up scale modelling as a boy. And now you can call it art! Really, you're doing it albeit in an unthinking way, as soon as you organise a war with little soldiers across the terrain of the living room floor and its furniture. I think I first noticed it in the art world in the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman, who use military figures liberally in such pieces as Hell, and most of their work features the use of figure sculptures, sometimes miniature, sometimes mannequins. You'd think I'd be a fan, but after a while I came to the conclusion that occasionally tasteless is just tasteless. Like most of the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists) they have indulged in a lot of manipulative provocation in the media. Well, I'm very glad for them and their bank balances. They've been nominated for the Turner Prize, you know. You can Google them if you want. I'd much rather you checked out the work of Banksy who has himself made some use of miniatures.

Anyway, here's another piece, which I saw in Kiasma art gallery in Helsinki last year. This is only one part of a work which made use of various bottles and containers of cosmetics. Sorry, I can't recall the name of the artist but it was unsurprisingly a she. This was the only element which included a figure, very effectively in my view, particularly because the figure was so small that you were compelled to look closely to realise what you were seeing. It's very small. The figure may be crafted, or converted from a Preiser N scale (1:160) or even Z scale (1:220) figure. I can't tell, I don't have a powder compact to do comparisons with!

18 Sep 2016

This blog

looks at miniature scale modelling, my own, and also anything that has caught my interest elsewhere.

I'll be featuring examples of my own work, past and current, and maybe talk about techniques I'm experimenting with, and all sorts of aspects of craft work. And I'll probably talk about inspiring work I've seen elsewhere. I'm pleased with much of the work I've done, but I'm very aware of some fantastic work in all sorts of genres which I can only dream of emulating.

This piece dates from last year. It's an oast house to 1:72, roughly OO scale, and I made it for my brother's model railway layout. You'll be hearing a lot more about that. The thing is, the layout is intended to represent 1950s Kent, and if you've ever travelled through Kent you'll know that the oast house is a highly distinctive feature of the landscape, even though these days they've all been converted into homes. Frustratingly, there just doesn't seem to be any such available for model railways; so I made one, from scratch. I browsed around and found reference pictures, and crafted this from cardboard, sheets of modelling paper, and various bits and pieces, including tiny crows and pigeons. I certainly had some gruelling work to do on the 'cone', since the tiles still had to be in horizontal lines. I don't know if my solution was the best, but it's decent enough :)

Apart from model layout construction, I dabble off and on in aircraft modelling, almost entirely biplanes, in various scales and in plastic but also resin; Nativity scenes; and miniature mazes and other vignettes. So, here we go...