An Essay by John (wirewolf), July, 2003
This is not a criticism of what any modeler chooses to do with his or her time and effort. Nor is it an endorsement of any product or manufacturer. This is just my two cents worth on an often discussed topic. One thing to keep in mind. For most of us, this is a hobby. Having a hobby means doing some thing (pastime) you like to do. Don't take it too seriously. Relax and enjoy your self.
In the following article, any reference to a masculine pronoun (he/his) also means to include the feminine counter part. Kudos to the lady modelers out there.
‘What to build’, in my opinion, falls into one of two categories,
Beginner (Novice) or Pro (Old Hand).
For the beginning ship modeler I strongly suggest starting with a "Beginners" kit. Now, this may seem obvious to most readers. But, I have seen many Novice’s (Thinking, "Gee", "That would look great on my mantle piece!") start out with some thing along the lines of; Corel’s, the WAPPEN VON HAMBURG!
There are many fine kits available on the market for the novice modeler. For a novice to start out with an advanced kit, or worse a
scratch built model, could prove to be disastrous. This is not meant to be a criticism of a novices’ skill in woodworking. But if you start out with some thing that is over your head, you may quickly get discouraged and give up. Why spend the money and invest the time on a complicated project. Test the waters first. Get a beginners kit and set up a small work area. Join a local modeling club, if available. Look for an internet group or forum. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. There are many books on this subject; at book stores, libraries and on the internet.
Which model to select? ‘Midwest’ makes a line of "Entry Level" kits which are geared towards the beginning modeler. They may not be as glamorous looking as the "WAPPEN VON HAMBURG", but the novice can learn the basic steps in model making.
If a beginning ship modeler has prior modeling experience with, let’s say, model planes (You know - those cigar shaped looking things, with what I think are called, ‘Wings’). Then, perhaps, he may step up to a more advanced kit. The beginner must let his own skill level be his guide.
I’ll give a word of caution to the beginners about kits. Kit manufacturers are out to make a profit. Their choice of included parts and fittings can be dubious at best. Quite often you will open a brand new, nicely packaged kit and find that the fittings don’t match the era of the vessel, instructions/plans are not accurate and hard to understand, and warped twisted stock. No prejudice intended, but European Kit Manufacturers are infamous for this. Most American Manufacturers tend to be more accurate. Bottom line: do your homework.
Now, it gets a little more complicated. Well, maybe not that complicated. After all, what a modeler chooses to build, is his decision. Who am I, or anybody else, to dictate? What I wish to point out is, once you decide, at what level do you wish the finished model to be.
By level I mean, quality and standards. Is it going to sit on your mantle piece, for you and your family's' enjoyment? Are you giving it as a gift? Then the level is what you set for your self.
If you are looking to sell your masterpiece to a collector, then the level should be high. If you are selling it to a savvy collector for a lot of money, then the level should be very high.
If you are entering the model into competition, then the level is set by the Official "Rules for Competition", wherever the venue. Too often a modeler has gone into an event, only to find out that his "Masterpiece" is full of flaws.
If it’s going to a museum, either by commission or donation, the level should be extremely high. After all, it's in your name.
Quality and Standards:
Webster’s Dictionary Definitions:
A: degree of excellence
B: superiority in kind *merchandise of quality*
C: a distinguishing attribute: CHARACTERISTIC *possesses many fine qualities*
A: something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example: CRITERIA
B: something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality
Much like beauty, the quality and standard of a ship model is in the eye of the beholder. It must fit into the context of where the finished model is going to wind up. In the above definitions, there are two key phrases. "Degree of excellence" and "something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example: CRITERIA"
The quality for any given model is, of course, in the hands of the model shipwright. It is defined by his ability and his "degree of excellence". Not only is it his ability to work with wood and tools, but also his "artistic" ability. Artist, you say? Yes. A model shipwright is both an artisan and a skilled craftsman. He is an artist in the sense of his eye for color/proportion/scale and a skilled craftsman in how he applies that artistic sense to the finished model. You build a historically accurate, perfectly scaled, museum quality ship (skilled craftsmanship). You then build the same ship, in a reduced size, set in a Diorama (skilled artistic craftsmanship). We all have our own interpretations of form.
Now we come to the more complex matter, standards. Do I paint the hull? Should I hand carve the Figurehead or use a cast fitting? Should I start with a kit, and throw out all the nice looking, but era incorrect/out of proportion, fittings and make my own? Do a "Scratch" from dubious, unreliable plans? Why don’t I do something different this time, like a replica of the raft from "Tom Sawyer". Maybe I’ll do an "Admiralty" this time. Follow a "Practicum"? Make a diorama of the entire Spanish Armada? Do I want to show sails? And so on.
In my opinion, the standard for a finished model is dictated by your own "degree of excellence". If you are a serious model shipwright, then you must do every thing in your power to fully research any proposed project and to then follow the proper criteria for that project. You must apply the best and finest detail, as to the scale/proportion and finish, as you can. The bottom line is this: No matter what the form, you must ask yourself, "Have I done the best that I can do?" For in the end, you must be your own worst critic. It's not so much as "What to Build". It is "What I Build" has to be worthy of the time invested. You owe it to yourself and to the craft.
Mariners’ Museum Criteria:
No manufactured items except cordage, chain, and such fastenings as pins and nails.
Such materials as dimensioned lumber, sheet metal, tubing, wire, and milled shapes are allowed as raw material.
Photo-etched, laser-cut, cast, or similar parts mechanically or chemically duplicated by others from the entrant's original master or pattern, shall be considered as scratch built.
Back up to Novice
Merchandise of quality:
Many years ago, while strolling through Mystic Seaport, I came across a rather nice looking wooden model ship sitting in a shop window. The ship had no name. It was marked as being an 1850s' Frigate. I did not recognize it as being any particular frigate I had ever seen, or knew of. No scale given. It was about 24 inches long, with Plank on Bulkhead construction, and seemed to be a compilation of parts from different kits and scratch built. The shop owner explained that it was on sale by consignment from a local modeler for $5,000. The rigging was well done. The scale seemed to be accurate. Many other parts and sections were very nicely done. Some of the fittings were die cast, some looked hand made. All in all, the model was fairly well crafted.
However, there were two outstanding problems; 1. The hull finish was done in High gloss Polyurethane, in two tone, Canary Yellow/Sky Blue, and 2. The sails were plastic. It looked more like a toy than a ship model. $5,000? What was this modeler thinking?
I asked the shop owner how long it had been up for sale. She replied, "About three years". I thought to myself, "No wonder!" Even the shop owner, who admitted to having no expertise in model ships, knew that this model would probably never sell. "Well", she said, "maybe for fifty or one hundred dollars, but certainly not for five thousand". "I tried to tell him", she went on. "But that's what he wants".
He had the ability, but had a poorly placed sense of excellence. If he had just applied the proper criteria, even for a unnamed vessel without documentation, it just might of sold for $5,000. Certainly for more than $100.