Modeling thoughts

/Modeling thoughts

My local hobby shop (King’s Hobby) here in Austin recently had a sidewalk sale. I picked up a box of Tamiya M36 parts, including three top hulls. I’m actually pretty excited about these…. they’re going to make great paint hulks to test and practice airbrushing on before they hit the real models.

And the best part? They fit perfectly over a can of primer. So using empty primer cans as a holder, I can paint all to live long day. Yeah, it’s the little things…

By | 2016-10-03T22:54:35-05:00 October 3rd, 2016|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

Scratchbuilding makes you feel like a god

In my modeling career, I’ve not done a ton of scratchbuilding. The occasional fix or replacement part here and there, but not full blow scratchbuilding of full units. But this week, I’ve spent several evenings playing around with replacing the poorly molded bench seats for my Sd. Kfz 9 FAMO mit Flak build. It’s not perfect, and I may rebuild this one to get the spacing of the slats better, but I’m feeling pretty great. It’s surprising how creating something out of nothing makes you feel like a modeling god!

img_5982 img_5983

My only disappointment is that try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to get the “wave” in the bench seat, so I just made it flat instead. (By “wave”, I mean that if you look at it from the side, it’s an S shape)

And so I can remember in the future, I used Evergreen strip and rod in these sizes:

  • Rod #221 – 3/64” diameter
  • Strip #132 – .030 x .040” (wood planks on top)
  • Strip #143 – .040 x .060” (bench supports)
By | 2016-10-29T19:09:30-05:00 September 17th, 2016|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

My portable build studio

In the last few months, I’ve been spending more and more time at my finance’s house. I don’t have a dedicated workspace there, so I’ve created a portable build kit that I’m pretty damn proud of. I thought I’d share!

I started with what I believed was the bare minimum footprint of tools and materials to be able to build a kit out of the box… not paint, weather, convert, etc. I’ve added items that were missing or that I found myself really needing for regular usage. It’s surprised me how much I can also remove (or re-org, as you’ll see) as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve discovered that whether in this portable build studio, or in my portable paint studio, the works starts in finding the right single transportation device for your necessary materials. Portability goes out the window if you’ve collected up a series of small containers. It’s just too hard to remember, or even physically move multiple items.

As a happy accident, I found the absolutely perfect portable “container” for my build materials when a makeup artist came to a photoshoot location with her makeup case. (My other hobby is fashion photography) I immediately noticed that her kit would be the perfect basis for my portable build studio. This case is actually two cases that can lash together. The top one is much smaller than the bottom one and can be carried over the shoulder with a carrying strap. The bottom one is larger and wheeled with an extension handle, and based around a set of drawers.

IMG_4931I bought the combo set on Amazon and then started choosing what went into the studio. I started solely with the top unit. I can grab a new kit, the top unit, and head out to literally anywhere and build 95% of the kit without concern.




Inside the top unit, I have individual containers (from Really Useful Box) for types of gear:

  • Pliers (I use quite a few on every project!)
  • Sanding gear
  • Glues/putties
  • Misc stuff (blades, lead wire, tape, etc.)

I’ve also included in the top unit things like:

  • Jeweler’s apron
  • 9×11 cutting mat
  • Foam disc knife “holder”
  • Breathing mask
  • Reading glasses



Once I built a few model kits with this top unit, I had it pretty well dialed in. At that point, I had to stage my house for a (hopefully) pending sale, so I largely dismantled my modeling room at home. As I was packing, I did a second level assessment of tools and materials I felt like I needed in the portable kit, and that’s what has made it into the bottom unit. I continue to refine this one and probably will for a while. But overall, this case is fantastic and has been surprisingly easy to unpack, setup, model, then break down and pack up again.

I’m open to other ideas! What are your tips for portable modeling?

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:31-05:00 August 20th, 2016|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

Gorilla Glue Gel is Great

Gorilla Super Glue Gel

Holy mother of pearl, have I found something amazing. Gorilla Glue Gel. Have you tried it? No? Stop reading this and go order/buy/steal some of this stuff. It’s OK, I’ll wait. 

My go to CA (super) glue has always been the Zap-a-Gap line. Whether the green thin, yellow thick, or even the purple foam, I’ve used them all. But as I’ve been working on the building the Alliance Modelworks FAMO mit Flak 88 conversion, the Zap products just weren’t working on the resin they’d used. (NOTE: Check back here shortly, I’m going to post some thoughts on that conversion kit)

A while back, I’d grabbed several various brands of super glues at Lowe’s and they’d been sitting on the shelf. Out of frustration with the Zap, I grabbed the Gorilla Glue gel and BAM! Magic. Here’s why: 

  • It worked. Whether resin to plastic, resin to resin, or resin to PE brass, it stuck every time without any fiddling. 
  • It works FAST. When you touch this stuff on the parts, it’s adhering that moment. No holding and hoping it’s bonded (or at least not as much as with Zap). But….
  • It’s fairly repositionable. While it bonds two parts together quickly, it doesn’t seem to truly *bond* the parts together for a while. There’s a solid amount of working time once you get the two parts together, but they’re not sliding around while you wait for the bond to form. 
  • The gel consistency is part of what makes the last part possible, but it also ensures that the glue isn’t running everywhere. Even with the yellow thick Zap, it’s still fairly viscous. 

I’ve not had a chance to do much testing with this, but so far, so good. I’ll be using this stuff a LOT more in the future. 

What about you? Have you tried Gorilla Glue Gel? What did you think?

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:31-05:00 August 19th, 2016|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

It’s time to pay attention to Pinterest

When was the last time you found yourself on

I’ve followed the rise of Pinterest for the last several years as it related to my job and personal interests around online social connection and networking. And my wife has been an avid user for some time now. But I never really thought much of the site for my personal interests, and certainly not as it related to scale modeling.

Pinterest has held a reputation from the beginning as a “female oriented social network”, and until recently, this was a reputation with some amount of merit. After all, if you want to find cooking instruction, fingernail art, or scrapbooking content, for instance, there is no better place to look. Scale modeling content? Not much there for much of Pinterest’s life… until now. If you aren’t paying attention to Pinterest, you’re missing out.

The next time you have a few extra minutes… or let’s be honest… a few extra hours, start pulling the thread on Pinterest. Once you go down the rabbit hole, you’ll be amazed how deep it goes. Pinterest has suddenly turned into a massive and amazing resource of wonderful scale modeling content. To get you started, here’s a few boards:

That should be enough to get you started. Once you click on one of those links, you’ll find a path to many, many more!

Despite the rumors, Pinterest is for all of us, scale modelers included. Head over and check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed. But if you miss work tomorrow because you’ve been up all night looking at the wealth of new content, don’t blame me!

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 4.31.09 PM

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:31-05:00 August 18th, 2014|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

Interview: Jose Rodriguez of MiG Productions

Nearly a year ago, I connected with Jose Rodriguez of MiG Productions via email. I asked him to answer a few questions for the blog, and he kindly agreed. Interesting stuff, and I’m sure you’ll agree. 

Thanks, Jose! Sorry it took me so long to get this published!

Jake: Tell me about yourself…how did you come to start MIG Productions. 

Jose: I was born in Havana, Cuba in 1962 and immigrated first to Madrid Spain, moved to Barcelona a year latter and then came to the USA in the Summer of 1974.  I have been a modeler since I came to this country, and started building the big Monogram 1/32 scale bombers.  I started my Tiger Productions Diorama Products cottage industry company back in 1993 to try and fill voids in the scenery market.  I started first with only plaster based products such as buildings, cobble stone streets, rubble and bricks.  Turned to resin back in 2000 after re-inventing myself for the 10th time.  The small manufacturer resin business is ever changing, you have to keep up with not only casting advances but creative ideas and what the modelers and market in general is looking for.  The biggest thing I would love to do is being able to sculpt figures.

The process of joining the MIG Productions team as their North American Distributor took a lot of work and over 1 year in planning and implementation.  It’s all about trust as a “family”, mutual understanding, benefits and doing everything possible to help grow a well known and established brand name.  It is a very innovative company to work with, full of great individuals who love the hobby and enjoy what they do.  We have many surprises coming this year and beyond.

I’m fascinated by the process of formulation of the paints/washes/oils. Can you share a bit of insight about how the process works to go from idea (“I need to a wash for rust”) to having a final product in hand ready to sell? 

It is not a simple process, but in a way it is.  I cannot give you specifics on the formulation because that’s company property and I am bound by honesty, integrity, and non-disclosure agreements.

Once an idea is created we discuss among the group and a decision is reached wether to proceed with that particular product or not. After that is done we start working and testing several mixtures to see which one is the best and closest to what have been thought off.  When this is finished it is sent to the manufacturer for them to send us samples of the finished product to test.  Once the testing is done and all agree it is what we wanted the manufacturer is given the go ahead for full production.

What do you think sets your (liquid) products apart from the competition? 

Time in the market since 2002, proven overall reliability and modelers experience and use with them.  Diversity of products, items, and a team that is never satisfied in putting a new product out on the market until it is proven to be the best one of it’s kind available.

I’m also fascinated by the process of developing resin products. Can you tell me a bit of the same process – idea to ready to sell?

Well, this is one section where I am well versed being a manufacturer as well with my lines from of an idea and if we or I believe it will sell in the market.  Need to look if it has been done before by any other manufacturer.  B-Once the idea is set, product is created using various forms and materials.C-For my company I use styrene in making the masters of most buildings and bases.  It’s a personal choice because I find it simple to work with and allows for a lot of detail.D-Once the master is ready comes time to make a mould and pour the rubberE-Once the rubber is fully cured in a small oven it is time for casting the first piece and painting for box art and then production.

What do you find the hardest part of running a scale model business these days? 

Time, Time, Time, Time.  Never enough time during the day, and never any extra money to push and create more products.  Part of the profits from sales always goes to financing future products and items.  Hard world economy and not a lot of extra cash for modelers to buy with.

If you could change one thing about the modeling industry, what would it be? Let’s start there! I really want to know and share with readers how these manufacturing process works. We don’t often hear much about that on this side of the hobby! 

Several things actually:

1. The costs of rubber and resin are out of this world compared to other industries.  Modelers are not aware how much time and effort  goes into creating and producing a resin item in return for very little profit.

2. Plastic model manufacturers are shooting themselves in the foot with the pricing and the hobby in general.  The price of new kits is really hurting the future of the hobby, kids, teens and young adults can not afford $80.00 + models.  I remember how only 10 years ago plastic kits were under $35 USD.  This great cost increase is not only hurting the future of the hobby but putting a lot of small resin after market companies out of business.  If a modeler spends $80.00+ on a kit, he/she does not have much money left for figures or a diorama base or resin add on’s.  If younger modelers do not have the money or loose interest in the hobby, the plastic kit manufacturers will not have a business without future customers.

3. I wish some modelers would not be so protective of their so called “tricks” and share them more with the general public.  This is a hobby and not splitting atoms.  Also, the mean spirited rivalry that seems to go on with some individuals in this small hobby.  We should all treat each other as equals and we would enjoy and make our hobby a more pleasant and enjoyable experience.

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 July 28th, 2014|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

What I’ve learned about painting figures

I’ve had the luck (and the pleasure) of having met Bob Bethea, a local and amazing figure painter, at my local club meeting. Bob has been incredibly kind and generous with his time as he teaches me the fine art of figuring painting. I recently republished an article Bob had written for our local club newsletter sharing some of his tips on getting start with figuring painting, and if you haven’t read it, it’s well worth the time.

I thought I’d also share the newbie viewpoint on what I’ve learned. Often, the things that screw up the newbies don’t even registered on the minds of the experienced folks. So in no particular order, here’s a few of my tips. And remember, this only applies to acrylic paints!

Wet palette

Don’t use the paint trays with small recesses, buy or make a wet palette. Google it for more info, but basically, a wet palette creates a wet surface to put your acrylics on top of. This means that you don’t have to worry about constantly putting water into your paint before it dries out, and you can store the paints overnight. Here’s what you need:

  • The palette/container. I bought a fancy wet palette from an art supply house, thinking it would be a great tool. Turns out, Bob’s solution is vastly better: an airtight sandwich sized tupperware-style container. This kind. These are small enough to manage, seal airtight and without leaks, and are super cheap. (The fancy version wasn’t actually air tight, which largely defeats the purpose!)
  • A sponge. You can use any kind, I suppose, but I strongly suggest the wet palette sponge that you can find at an art supply store. Buy a big sheet and cut it into a small enough piece to fit your container. This sponge is super thin, but holds water nicely. That means you don’t have a ton of water sloshing around. Plus, if you take it out, wring it dry, in a few hours, the sponge is dry as a Saharan desert.
  • Paper. Again, use the official wet palette paper from an art supply store. This paper is very thick, washable, and reusable. Bob uses the unwaxed parchment paper, but personally I like the real stuff. It’s more expensive, but worth it. Whatever you use, make sure it’s not going to leave paper fuzz. Also make sure that it’s permeable… if water can’t get through from the sponge to your paints, the wet palette is worthless.
  • Distilled water. Don’t use the tap water. Too much gunk in it that can leave residue on your figure.

Use this. You’ll love it.

Choosing figures

Like most other activities in modeling, when I started the learning process, I got out the junk to test on. I found a few old Tamiya figures and started trying to apply the lessons I’d be reading about. Before our first lesson, Bob told me to bring over a good figure. A good figure?? But they’re more expensive than the free junk from the spares box!

Turns out, it’s a lot easier to paint a good figure with nicely molded details than a bad one with little detail at all. Go ahead. Invest the money in the good stuff.

Research and dramatization

  • One thing that I’m still trying to get used to: the dramatic whites and blacks that are actually present in clothing. As I’ve been learning, it’s surprising to me how dark the shadows of clothing are, and how near-white the tops of folds are. For scale effect, it’s really important to go vastly stronger on both shadows and highlights than you would think is “right”.
  • Which brings me to viewing distance. Don’t consider the paint job you’re doing right up close. Arm’s length is about the right distance to be considering how things look.
  • Take pictures of real people wearing real garments. Start a collection of various types of fabrics and materials and lighting conditions. You’ll be surprised how handy they can come in as you paint. And you’ll start to see how, yes, real life has really dark shadows and really bright highlights!


  • The good brushes are pricey, but the difference is obviously. Buy the good ones and take care of them.
  • Don’t go to small. It seems strange when you’re painting a tiny, tiny eyeball, but you want a decent sized brush that can actually *hold* paint. The super tiny 0000 brushes don’t do that, so they are hard to work with.

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 July 24th, 2014|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

Entering contests: my own journey

I’ve been back in the hobby for a couple years now, but am only recently starting to turn out enough final model product to be able to enter in contests. I’d gotten stuck in an unhealthy mindset about whether I’d participate. Largely, I suffered from two issues:

  1. “I’m not good enough” – My work, while improving, is still not award winning. I was really worried that people would wonder “Why is he bringing this crap?”
  2. “Why bother?” – I’ve too focused on the end prize of 1st place. If I don’t have a real chance of winning, what’s the point of entering?

When I was a kid in high school building models, I took them to shows at least 3 or 4 times a year. I was blessed living in Southern California – a few hours drive in any particular direction would get you to a new contest. You didn’t have to wait long, you just had to convince your parents to drive you… then hang out and wait all day. (Thanks, Dad and Mom!) I won a number of contests in the various junior categories. I always knew that I won often because of a lack of other entries, but damn it felt good. I think I was stuck in a mindset the last few years that I didn’t want to “lose”. And that’s just the wrong way to think about it.

It dawned on me shortly after I attended ModelFiesta (without entering anything), down the road in San Antonio a few months back… quantity of models in the show is as important as the quality of any particular model. I found myself flipping through the photos I took of (nearly) all the models there that day and wishing there was more. Not because it was a small show, but because each model held a particular fascination and I just wanted more. MORE!

Amusingly, as I was collecting my thoughts to write this post, I ran across another blog post about this very topic. Here’s my favorite bits:

If you need only one reason, it’s this one. People want to see your models. Really, we do. Have you ever traveled two or three hours to go to a contest only to find 50 models on the tables? I have. It sucks. Although these events are centered on the contest, the main reason for entering your models is to share your work with other modelers. The next best thing to building models is looking at them, so the more models the better, right?

Exactly. And further …

Look, most of us who enter contests know our models won’t be competitive; we know there are visible seams, misaligned parts, glue marks that the judges will find within 10 seconds of their inspections. That was exactly the case with the Hasegawa F-117 I took to Mosquitocon. Major issues. As I’d expected, it didn’t place, but a couple of guys complimented me on it, and that meant as much to me as an award.

So I’ve rejiggered my thinking, and I’m going to start taking something… even if just a figure or a single, unbased model to contests whenever I can. Traveling with models is always tough, but I’ll figure out a way. I believe there’s a duty to give back to the communities you participate in, and part of the way I need to start giving back is to enter models.

And all this has the side benefit of pushing my modeling to yield more final product. I’m a little embarrassed about the ratio of half built models to finalized ones. With a contest entry goal in mind, it’s easier to draw focus to completing more models before starting the next one.

And yeah, a prize wouldn’t be so bad either…

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:34-05:00 May 14th, 2014|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

Surprisingly good primer

My buddy Bob is an amazingly good figure painter. His house is full of amazing creations, the likes of which I can only hope to achieve. He told me once a while back that the only primer he uses is Touch ’n Tone Primer, available at auto parts stores.

For some reason, that recommendation went in one ear and out the other. I was probably thinking “Hey, the small, expensive spray can of Tamiya primer just has to be the best…right??”

During a figure painting lesson recently, he repeated this recommendation. By now, I’ve learned to listen to Bob, so I ordered a can off Amazon (link). It showed up a few days ago, and I headed out to the garage tonight to test it out.


For half the cost and three times the quantity, this stuff is great! Lays down very smooth, no problems with spray control or pebbling, and looks great on both highly detailed resin figs and my old painting test hulk. Heck, it even smoothed out some cleanup I’d done on one of the previously primed figures!

My models and my wallet thank you, Bob!

By | 2014-03-31T03:34:17-05:00 March 31st, 2014|Modeling thoughts|0 Comments

DIY project: Brush holder

I’ve been less than impressed with my cheap paint brush carousel lately. Plus, it creates a ton of visual clutter and moves the brushes out of (easy) reach. Add to that the fact that I’m spending more time switching between various brush types (oils, acrylics, enamels, putty, drybrush, pigments, etc.), and I needed a better way to organize.

So I headed to Lowes and spent some time on the PVC pipe aisle. I’ve been surprised how many times I think “I need to do something” and the solution reveals itself in the combination of various shapes and configurations of PVC pipe fittings. After a few minutes, the solution revealed itself. This holder is made up of the following parts:

  • 1.5″ Y fittings (x2) – these are the main “holders”
  • 1″ pipe caps (x2) – these are stuck in the bottom to close up the Y fittings
  • L-bracket (x2) – these are used to attach the whole thing to the desk
  • 8-32 bolts, lock washers, nuts (4 sets)

Construction was easy:

Place the Y fittings next to each other on a flat surface. Take note of where the fittings touch, and use PVC adhesive on those points to bond the two pieces. Once it dries, float a bit more adhesive (but don’t go crazy) into the joints. Glue the end caps inside the Y fittings making the “bottom”. Because I was using caps they are small and not truly meant to fit, I used a bit of extra adhesive to create some gap filling too. The caps go in with the “cavity” pointing down and out, not up and inside. Otherwise, it creates too deep of a “well” and the brush bristles would be banging against the side of the holder.

I gave the whole thing an hour to fully cure and then flipped it over and drilled holes for the bolts. After bolting the L-brackets in place on the holder (with the other side of the “L” sticking out the back of the holder, I was then able to quickly mount it by screwing the L-bracket into the underside of the table. (This is the same technique used for other workbench fixtures)

Nice and easy! Took longer to write this blog post than to create and mount it!

By | 2016-10-29T19:09:35-05:00 December 24th, 2013|Modeling thoughts|1 Comment