By Sylvain Falquet || Contributing Writer
A relatively small occurrence in an eventful year gave me a bit of “normalcy.” Despite the challenges of online learning, I was able to reduce stress by working on the hobbies I had developed during quarantine at home. While others began hobbies during quarantine for the first time (like my dad trying to bake bread), I actually had the opportunity to dive deeper into a hobby I had already been doing for the past four years: scale modeling. You’ve probably seen scale models before, like the model train set your dad brings out for the holidays.
But the hobby is so much more than trains; the number of categories is virtually endless. Aircraft, ships, cars, tanks and figures are a few of the most popular subjects. In particular, I focus on vehicles from World War II because of my interest in that time period. The project I finished was a 1/48 scale P-40 Warhawk, from the famous “Flying Tigers,” the nickname for the American Volunteer Group based in China during World War II. Their planes are easily recognizable due to the shark teeth painted on the aircrafts’ fronts. This project was also special for me because I had purchased the exact same kit four years ago when I first started scale modeling. By using the skills I had learned since then on this exact plane, I was able to truly see my growth.
I started my project in November, splitting the process into 5 stages:
The stages can vary for each project, but in general this is the typical life cycle of a scale modeling project. I believe that scale modeling is unique in that many different skills are developed at the same time. Even if you are not the best painter, do not worry! Not only can you practice painting, but you can improve a skill you prefer more, like constructing the model. Ultimately, you are making a scale model for yourself, so having fun is the priority.
For the research stage, I focused on getting the exact same P-40 Warhawk kit as before, ordering the kit off Amazon. The easy part was that I already had the paints and materials needed. The hard part was finding the exact markings for the plane of Flight Leader David “Tex” Hill, an accomplished Flying Tiger who served in World War II and Korea. I decided to recreate his plane because I was intrigued by his story. In his first battle, he shot down 3 Japanese planes, one of which was chasing his commander, and in doing so suffered extensive damage to his own plane. I decided to recreate how Hill’s plane would have looked immediately after he came back from this mission. In order to do this, I had to find his plane’s markings, which included his serial number “48,” his squadron’s mascot, and a panda bear with a cowboy outfit on (just in case you couldn’t tell he was a Texan). Eventually I discovered a decal sheet of his markings on an obscure scale modeling website and waited for everything to arrive. It is very satisfying to see the results of the historical research after the model is completed. For me, the historical accuracy imbues the scale model with the experience of those who lived through such world-changing events; plus, I just think it is fun.
Next was the crucial part of constructing the plane. For me, this part is always a bit tedious, but it is very important to follow every instruction. Despite overall being a well-made kit, there were certain parts that had problems fitting. In my previous model, I had unfortunately left these glaring errors unaddressed. Thankfully, my experience since then paid off, and I was able to correct these errors. I made sure there were no obvious gaps or cutting marks before I got ready to paint. I felt a sense of accomplishment at how well fitted the unpainted model looked.
Painting is probably my favorite part of a scale model project. Instead of a paint brush, I use an airbrush, which gives a consistently smooth finish. This is helpful when scale modeling because regular brushes leave thin lines, causing an unrealistic texture. An airbrush also saves time, as large areas can be covered with a single coat of paint. After consulting reference pictures, I decided to paint the jungle camouflage on the P-40 Warhawk by starting with a brown basecoat. After this coat was applied, I used putty to create outlines for the green camouflage splotches. Peeling off the masking tape and putty to reveal the result is extremely satisfying!
Detailing, or “weathering” as it is called in the hobby, is a process in which you make the model look aged or dirty. Until recently, I had never tried weathering. For planes, weathering often involves creating oil streaks and chipped paint, and on top of that I would add even more details. However, in this project I decided to utilize specific weathering techniques I’d researched in order to replicate battle damage. Referencing a page from one of my history books, I began to drill holes in my perfectly good model like a madman. Watching Youtube tutorials helped me a lot through the process, and the end result looked realistic enough for my first ever attempt.
Just like any other artist, I wanted to display my work. Unfortunately, placing the P-40 Warhawk on my bedroom shelf wouldn’t attract a lot of attention. After frequenting online forums, I found that many people were sharing high quality photos of their models. By learning some basic elements of photography (such as composition and framing), I was able to literally put my scale model in the best light possible. Furthermore, if you happen to be writing an article for a scale modeling magazine (or lets say, your college’s newspaper), it can be very handy to have nice pictures.
Sophomore Sylvain Falquet is a Contributing Writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.