Plastic Posse Podcast #18 featured an extended and engaging conversation with prolific UK modeler and author Spencer Pollard. Spencer, like previous Posse guest Mike Rinaldi, makes a living through his modeling, having worked in and around the hobby publishing industry for decades and with kit manufacturers.
As a full-time modeler with who builds on assignment and deadline–which is to say, not in a leisurely way, or on projects that he does not choose–Spencer nonetheless offered useful insights for us leisure-modeling normies, particularly those of us who like to get models done. He discussed his approach for building efficiently and predictably: he focuses on serial building of one model at a time and derives efficiency from keeping his modeling space neat and streamlined. He also eschews experimentation and is judicious of new finishing products and techniques. Using his experience and straightforward approach, Spencer is able to complete most models within a week.
Spencer noted that his favorite part of making models is getting them done, which profoundly resonated with me. Finishing a build is my favorite part of build. Not surprisingly, he seemed ambivalent about the current fashion of complicated, time-consuming, and–for those of you playing the Sprue Pie With Frets drinking game–baroque finishing techniques. He likened building a model to making a risotto for his family: nobody at the table will know the difference how he stirred, or at what stage he added an ingredient, but they will enjoy the risotto when its done.
One of Spencer’s more intriguing observations was about how social media and quality photography have transformed the scale modeling hobby. Global sharing of technique and emerging new modeling communities are the most immediate consequences of social media and smart phones with decent cameras. Spencer notes, however, that one possibly unwelcome outcome is less attention on whole models, and more microscopic attention on specific parts of models or specific techniques. He called this ‘modeling in the round’, a reference to a tricky way to stage a live play or musical.
A significant segment of the conversation centered on the evolution of style and technique over the years, and how he has purposefully gone back to older-tool kits and used only the techniques and finishing products available from the time they were produced for ‘legacy build’ projects. He has also sought to reproduce specific modeling techniques and effects used by 70s and 80s modeling masters like Francois Verlinden and Shep Paine.
Two key points emerged from this part of the conversation with Spencer: First, that old kits, like Tamiya’s venerable Sd. Kfz. 251 half-track, are great values that still can be built into great models. Spencer pointed out that the continuing availability of old kits at low prices provides some democratization to scale modeling, by giving kids and other beginners cheap opportunities to build skill and experience.
Second, old techniques and approaches are fundamentally sound and still yield excellent models–a point especially resonant to me. I still would argue that the early edition of Shep Paine’s Armor Modeling book holds up extremely well, and any beginner looking for a useful modeling textbook would do well to go find it used for a couple of bucks. (Nothing wrong with the newer edition edited by Shep’s collaborator Jim DeRogatis, just won’t be as cheap as to old edition.)
The through-line of the Posse’s conversation with Spencer was the joy of modeling and sharing that joy as far and wide as possible. Democratization of the hobby, if you will. To his points about cheap old kits and back-to-basics technique, he added thoughts on kindness as a way to share modeling joy. Helping others, encouragement rathet than sniping and hauteur, and pointing out which cheap old kits are good are all good ways to grow more modelers, which will only help our hobby.