Experimentation In Scale Modeling: Come On In, The Water Is Fine

Like many adult scale modelers, I had a long “break” in the hobby. While I was an avid modeler as a young teen, learning to drive, getting a job, and the discovery that girls were not that icky transitioned my attention elsewhere.

For 24 years.

Around the time I turned 40, my wife noticed I was reading modeling magazines when we visited our local bookstore. She suggested I get back in the hobby, and with her support, I did.

11 years and nearly 275 models later, here I am.

Early on, I joined a well known modeling forum maintained by a modeling magazine. I found the discussions very helpful. I could ask questions, get answers, learn techniques, you name it.

And I picked up some “rules”, or so they seemed to me initially. Things like no cockpit was complete without photoetch, no kit canopy was superior to a vacform canopy. Other things like paint, glue, and gloss coat had to dry for long periods, and only white glue could be used to affix clear parts.

Of course, a lot of this was my own perception- but the point is I came away with a notion of “you can’t do it any other way. You just can’t.”

At some point, a wise modeler, upon seeing my concern over all of this, privately sent me a simple message: “It’s your hobby, Do what you want. If it doesn’t work, sand it off, file it down, replace the part- and learn from it.”

So I began a process that I have been surprised how many modelers in general seem loathe to attempt: experimentation.

Of course, I get that many times it’s often easier to ask other modelers “does alcohol work as a thinner for Tamiya paint?”, or some other question like that. The immediacy of the web often cuts the learning curve way down. 

Yet quite often, in my own experience, I would either get conflicting information, or advice that didn’t seem logical. And in some cases, that advice simply did not bear up to the experimental process.

A perfect example was the use of Future floor polish as gloss coat.

Most modelers I knew extolled it virtues. Cheap, easy to apply with brush or airbrush, durable, self-leveling, etc., etc.

But nearly everyone I respected argued it must cure for 24 hours. Some said 48. One person told me a week! So I’d airbrush some Future on, and wait. And wait. And wait.

One Saturday morning, my wife stole my bottle of Future, and had the crazy notion of using it on our floors. After discovering my now almost empty bottle, I explained to her that Future, or at least my bottle, was for MODELING use, not something as mundane as a floor. After listening to me and rolling her eyes, she walked to another part of the house to do something useful.

She walked across the freshly polished floor.

She didn’t let it cure for 24 hours. Or 48. Or a week.

It had been about an hour.

And she walked on it.

I started to warn her of the accepted time limits prescribed by the modeling community for the drying and curing of Future and the dangers that could befall her…

She walked on it again, as if mocking me.

But… how… this defied everyone I knew, especially those with low IPMS numbers, and that guy in the nacho line at the most recent model show.

It struck me that the product had been made to be durable enough that a grown adult could walk on it in about an hour. Yet as a modeler I treated it like it was a fragile flower, ready to wilt at the first hint of decal application or oil wash, before anything less than several sunrises.

So I defied conventional wisdom, applied it to my next model, waited 30 minutes, applied decals and an oil wash, and…..

The world did not end.

In fact, it worked.

This lead to further experimentation. How quickly could I work on a recently gloss coated surface? I kept pushing the times, and pushing the times, and coming up with simple ways to dry it faster, and suddenly I found that I could give a model a Future coat, dry it with my airbrush, and begin the decaling process in as little time as 10 minutes.

Of course, many people told me of the horrors I would face. Gloss coats that fogged. Paint bubbling up through the Future. Decals tearing loose. Women and children stampeded, cattle raped… (I’m working for Mel Brooks!)

Yet not once- not ONCE, in well over 200 models, have any of the disasters predicted to occur actually come about.

Yes, your mileage may vary based on humidity, paint, etc., etc. 

But the point is not to advocate for how to use Future. The point is (and yes, I am driving at one, thank you for continuing to read) experimentation pays off.

So don’t be afraid to experiment. It will stretch your techniques as a modeler further than you can imagine.

And you get the bonus of confounding the guy in the nacho line.

Photo is a work of an Environmental Protection Agency employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As works of the U.S. federal government, all EPA images are in the public domain.

3 responses to “Experimentation In Scale Modeling: Come On In, The Water Is Fine”

  1. Sound advice Jon!


  2. I read this post with growing excitement because you articulate a theme that I find fascinating: herd behavior in modeling. Follow the leader. Do as I do, toe the line. Do not try to be… different. What I believe, and you suggest quite eloquently, is we must be different. We should let our personality come through in what we do.

    We should be creative and try new approaches. We should not be hampered by 1-2-3 solutions to our modeling, nor should we be locked into one approach vector. “There is no spoon, ” Neo says to himself at the end of “The Matrix,” and whether you think quoting Keanu Reeves and not Chris Wauchop in your comments is appropriate or not, you stated an essential truth: guidelines are not rules, internet articles are not rules, and there is not one way to make a model.

    There are as many ways to make a model as there are modelers.


    1. Jonathan Bius Avatar

      Actually I think that’s the elevator shaft scene just before he and Trinity head up to rescue Morpheus. 😉

      But yeah I get your point. Take the red pill! 🙂

      10,000 Ninja Bonus Points awarded for quoting one of my favorite movies!


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