Deep Thoughts Modeling Tutorials

So You Want To Build More Models Faster?

Sometime in the late 1970’s, I got my first pair of Nike shoes. I don’t remember if they were the canvas or leather versions. But I do recall they were white, and the famous “swoosh” logo was in light blue. The back of the shoe was also blue, and had the words “Nike” boldly printed across in white.

Of course, I was quite excited to get them. While we weren’t exactly a poor family, we weren’t well off either. On top of that, my parents had grown up in the latter years of the Great Depression, and they had been poor. So even though  their financial means had vastly improved, their spending habits didn’t. They could pinch a penny to the point of making old Abe shed a tear in pain.

So it was quite the victory for me to have somehow convinced my dad to shell out the money for what in his mind was an extravagant purchase. I don’t recall how much he paid for them – for some reason $25 comes to mind – but they were far, far more expensive than the $5 Keds I had always worn.

But none of that registered in my pre-teen mind. All I knew was I had THE shoes. 

Hey Mom, Watch Me!

When we arrived home, I ran inside to show mom. She agreed they were very nice looking, and quite white. Too white, she noted. They would get quite dirty looking very quickly. She gave me a bit of a lecture of all the things I must do to preserve the look of these shoes – they were quite expensive, you know.

Still, she was happy for me, and got caught up in my excitement. I explained to her the value of having shoes that made me go faster. While I was already a fast runner – faster than all the other kids at school… except that one annoying kid – these shoes would make my feet move with the speed of winged Pegasus himself.

Taking off my old, beat up Keds, I placed my sparkly new Nikes on my feet. Assuring mom and dad that they felt gloriously cushioned and cloud-like, I announced I was headed off to the backyard for a test run or two. 

Mom of course came out to watch. Dad seemed to be a bit more reluctant, but mom prevailed on him. I moved off to the farthest corner of our backyard, planning my run so that I’d go blazing by our back patio briefly, just before disappearing around the garage. I was quite sure I’d leave a trail of dust behind me as I went. 

Getting into my best sprinters starting position, I looked over to my parents. “Give me a countdown, mom!” 

Cupping her hands to her mouth, she shouted it out for me to hear: “Ready…. Set…. GO!”

The Need For Speed

In order to get content up on this blog regularly, I have to build constantly, and quickly. I don’t know that I ever set out to build fast, really. It’s just that I love building models – a lot. So when I got back into it 2006, I built, and built, and built. When I started publishing what I built, things just sort of compounded. I built even more.

In past years, I averaged about 25 or so models per year. Last year I kicked it into overdrive and finished 36. As of this writing, I’ve completed 28 in 2019.  Now, I’ll admit that in the grander scheme of things this all means nothing, apart from the fact that I am probably a bit obsessed, and certainly very tired most of the time. While building models is a 40+ hour a week endeavor, I also have a day job that I work 40 hours a week also. So time is a commodity I do not have a lot of.

Building continually has helped me learn ways to be more efficient. And while not everyone desires to build several dozen models per year, I do have quite a few conversations with modelers about finding time to build, working faster, or both. All generally center around the basic notion of “how can I build more?”

So here are some things that help me keep focused on building quickly and efficiently.

Carve Out The Time

This is one of the most basic things I have to do. I must make time. I’m at a stage of life where the kids are grown up, and so all of the things that must be attended to with children are years behind me. When they were younger, I certainly had to shake hands with that. 

But I’ve always set aside time for building. The only way to build is to have time to build. Right now, my schedule has me getting up at 4:00 AM, 7 days a week (I know… I’m a bit nuts. 😉 ), and building before heading off to my day job. After dinner and a walk with the wife each weekday, I build more before going to bed. Weekends get even more time.

While you may not choose to put in as many hours a week, look for times that give you specific build time. Getting up half an hour earlier, or not watching TV during a certain time slot, can be a good start.

Make It A Regular Thing

We all schedule things in our day. Up at a certain time, take a shower, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat dinner, shout at that kid walking through the lawn, watch TV, go to bed. Whether we intentionally call it a schedule, we live by them. 

When you carve out time for working on a model, make it a regular part of your day. If you commit to getting up half an hour earlier – stick to it. Once building becomes a habit, you will be a more productive builder.

Look For Unique Times

While I have a set schedule of build times each day, I also look for what I mentally term “bonus time”. By that, I mean that each day, if a time opens up that I was not expecting, and circumstances allow, I sit down to build.

For example, if I plan to mow the yard on a Saturday morning, and it rains, bonus time. If nothing else requires attention, I build. Also, I often do some basic work at my office during lunch breaks. We have a quiet conference room, and I’m able to do many initial assembly tasks during those times.

Find ways to convert non-modeling time into modeling time as they appear.

Do Something Every Time

This is one that gets me if I’m not careful. Even when you carve out time, it’s really easy to waste it. So each time I sit down, I set a goal for that time period. It may be betting a base coat on one thing, or adding some shade to another. I’ve had mornings where my goal was to add decals to a model for 30 minutes, and wherever I ended up was simply the place I’d start in the next session.

Just don’t allow the time you’ve set aside to be wasted. Even small steps get you towards the goal.

Work On Multiple Projects

Initially I tended to work on one project at a time. I’d finish it, and move on to the next. Somewhere along the line, I realized I had a lot of time in each build where I was waiting… waiting for a wash to dry, or paint to cure, or decals to set. One time I pulled out another kit, and simply began to glue together everything that could be assembled before any painting was completed. I “discovered” that I could get even more modeling done that way. Before long, I had multiple projects going concurrently as a normal routine.

Certainly each person has their own preferences and tolerances here. But when answering the question “do you really want to build more?”, keeping more than one project going can boost productivity without really taxing the schedule.

He Chose Poorly

Probably the biggest heartburn I’ve had over the years of building has been making poor kit choices. A steady diet of one scale or type of kit may be fine on a particular schedule. However, introducing something outside of that norm may require adjustment. As you consider whether you want to build a kit, think about the impact on what you’re already doing. It’s OK to set projects aside to make room for a more involved model. The key is to recognize it ahead of time, and account for it.

I’ve also found that poor kits drag productivity down, every single time. Even if you’re just building one at a time, certain kits can cause you to walk away from the hobby for a while. In my own case, I will not build Special Hobby kits. Not ever again, for any reason. I found them to be so poorly engineered that it’s just not worth the time – even if they are the only source for a particular model. (It took me about a dozen kits to figure this out, so I am persistent…)

Walking The Quality Tightrope

If you are working quickly, there is always a balancing act with regards to quality. Learning to differentiate between speed and haste is critical. 

The beauty of a steady, focused diet of regular building will be that you’ll get better as a modeler. Nothing improves skill quite like repetition. As you build more, you’ll grow in ability. Things that might take 2 hours will start taking 1 hour. Then half an hour. Eventually you’ll get to a point that your speed will be faster than it was, but the quality can actually be higher.

The trick, though, is finding that balance, pushing the edge a little bit, and then growing into it.

Pre-assembly

Aside from actually making time to build, I think this one discipline has helped me more than any other. For any kit I get, I go through the instructions, making notes about how I plan to build it, and things I need to pay attention to. If options are involved, I highlight those steps. Painting and color notes are added. I essentially go through a build mentally, rehearsing it fully before ever touching plastic.

Once I’ve done that, I start building and assembling as far as I can without it affecting my ability to paint things easily. Everything is test fitted. Problems are identified and resolved. 

This has become such a critical part of my process that I almost consider it a standalone segment of a build. And I do this most often on my lunch breaks at work. I can literally get weeks ahead on kits just by taking care of these “plastic basics”, thus saving time at home for a focus on painting and weathering.

Super Glue For Gaps

I use various products for dealing with gaps, such as Mr. Surfacer, Tamiya Basic Putty, and others. But when I want to get a seam filled NOW, I pull out my super glue. A few drops on a piece of aluminum foil, add a sprinkle of talcum powder, and the mix is then applied with a toothpick. I may let it dry for a bit, or hit it with super glue accelerator. 

This simple step often saves me hours of time on projects.

Rattle Cans

This one is fairly new to me. I used to see rattle cans as something new builders used. Proper modelers used an airbrush, I thought.

Then I ran into Lincoln Wright of Paint On Plastic. He primed with rattle cans. He painted with rattle cans. His models look great – and it was done quickly.

It dawned on me that I was being an elitist jerk, essentially. If speed and efficiency are a goal, rattle cans make a load of sense. They’re fast, efficient, and require no additional equipment. The techniques are easily learned, and cleanup time is easy. Put the lid on. Done.

They may not work in every situation, but I’ve found them to be great time savers on just about any project for at least part of the work.

(Check out Linc’s video about his use of rattle cans!)

Seek Unique Solutions 

Sometimes an obstacle has to be tackled head on, and there’s no way around it. However, looking for ways of going around an obstacle often results in time savings, and it keeps a project on track.

An example is something I’ve started doing frequently with Gunpla kits. Quite often there will be seam lines that must be dealt with. If it’s a stand along part that can be assembled, filled, sanded, and then painted, it’s no problem. However, there are times when inner frame parts must be painted first, exterior parts then are added, and the seam line has to be dealt with. This can require odd masking quite often, and generally slows down my process.

When I’m doing my pre-assembly evaluation, I’ll identify those areas. In more than a few cases, I’ll turn the seam line into a panel line. That takes less than a minute. Problem solved, move along. 

Of course, other genres and kits will be different. But the point is that when you start looking for unique ways to approach obstacles, those solutions become “mental tools” to apply to later builds.

Use Acrylic And Lacquer Products

I really like using oils and enamels for weathering and other effects. And I do apply them with some frequency in my projects. They are quite flexible, easy to use, and not expensive to procure. But in their use, there is always a drying and curing time to account for.

Now, if you’re not so focused on speed, it may not be a problem. You can set that model aside, and pick up another to carry on with while the first one dries. However, if speed is a need, drying and curing times are a critical factor.

That’s where acrylics and lacquers come into play. While a detailed assessment of their use could take up another article or two, learning to make use of the fast drying times, both for painting and weathering, can greatly speed up your work. The trick is understanding how they differ from oils and enamels, and working with the strengths and peculiarities they bring to the table.

Clean Work Space

This was another one that surprised me how much benefit it provided with little more than some initial effort. Like most modelers, I worked for many years with essentially a 1 foot by 1 foot workspace. Yes, my work table was much bigger… but piles of boxes, paints, brushes, instructions, sprues, and who knows what else created a space the often was a hazard to life and limb to sit in front of.

Having gotten fed up with it, I gave my workbench a major cleaning, and noticed an immediate boost in productivity. Not only could I find things faster, I was working happier, odd as that sounds. The difference was immediate and obvious. 

To keep that up, I started making sure that each session at the desk ended up with a cleanup. Tools put back in their place, paints put away, paper cleared away, and I even put the kit on a shelf. The workbench is completely clean the next morning when I come in to sit down and work. 

Don’t Overthink

This is the “silent killer” in modeling. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. If you’ve built models, at some point you’ve fallen victim to “overthink”. 

Overthink is not spending time planning, or doing historical research. Rather, it’s what happens when the model no longer is the focus, but rather the planning and research is. Certainly if the process of research or planning is enjoyable, do it. However, if you’re wanting to build, overthink eats into “build” time by becoming “other stuff” time.

An acquaintance of mine often uses the term “paralysis by analysis”. At some point, toss aside the things that aren’t contributing to progress, and focus on simply getting something done.

Enjoy It

With all the focus in the previous points being schedules, processes, and adherence to methods, this one may seem a bit odd. But I really believe that this one is the capstone and cornerstone to them all.

The way I work is different from the way you work. I’d feel like I was falling short if I built 10 models a year. Someone else may feel like that is an unattainable dream. The key is to make sure that any adjustments you make to your schedule and workflow results in a net gain of enjoying the hobby more. 

I’ve had to look for this in my own work on a regular basis. Quite often I’ll realize I’m just not happy with how things are going. Sometimes it’s just part of the learning process – growth can be a little painful. Yet many times I can step back, look at what I’m doing, and identify an aspect that is creating a “burr in my shoe”. It may be a kit that is not really fun, or trying to force a product or technique that I’m not really into.

Ultimately, enjoyment of the hobby is the guide that provides the beacon for everything else. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it just right.

Out There Flapping

When mom shouted “GO!”, I took off. Legs pumping, arms swinging, head low to reduce wind resistance… everything I had was focused on squeezing the maximum speed that I just knew my $25 shoes could impart.

Trouble was, my shoes didn’t get the memo. After only a few steps, I came to the realization that I wasn’t going any faster than I normally did. In fact, truth be told, I think I was  bit slower. The shoes weren’t “broken in”, and didn’t feel quite right yet.

Not to be deterred, I simply put more into it. I swung my arms harder, stretched my legs out further, and figured I could just force myself into more speed.

The Rob Dyrdek Audition

I’m not quite sure the physics of it, nor the anatomical realities, but I suddenly reached a point where I was moving in a manner than my body could not support. In one of the most awkward moments in the history of goofy pre-teen boys, my attempt at speed suddenly changed to an out of control fall. Arms flailing wildly, legs bobbling about like a newborn fawn, gravity took over and I plunged forward into the ground.

Now, I’m not saying I invented “the scorpion“, but I did greatly contribute to the perfection of the science. My face planted into the ground, and my body decided to keep going. As my nose dug into the dirt, my too large head rapidly decelerated, while my new Nike shoes accelerated, with my  feet unfortunately still in them. My back arched in a way that was never intended, and my feet came across the top, doing their best to make contact with the back of my head. 

Eventually all momentum was spent. I was folded up like a pretzel. My brother laughed hysterically, closely followed by my sisters. Dad shook his head and went back inside. Mom, always concerned for my safety, cupped her hands again to her mouth and shouted. “Did your new shoes get dirty?”

I replied back. “No. And I’m fine. Thanks.”

Avoiding “The Scorpion”

Happily, adding speed and efficiency to your modeling rarely results in physical contortions of life threatening proportions. You may have a few fails along the way as you try new things, but that will happen anyway. The benefit of it all is you will build more. It may not be faster at first, but all the while you’ll grow, and at a faster rate than is possible by not building.

So if you’re not happy with your output, consider some of the suggestions above, and add a few of your own. Regardless of what part of a build is your favorite, most modelers I’ve talked to agree there is nothing quite like the enjoyment of completion. And the only way to get there is to build more.

To quote my too-soon-departed friend Tom Meyers, “Now go build something.”

Photo credit: Alvesgaspar [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

One comment

  1. I have luckily been able to invest in both furniture (Ikea Alex drawers + table) and tools, making things more interesting when working with models. Ikea are selling also this other Alex drawer on wheels, which I also got, with wide low shelves for having multiple WIP builds going.

    And so, like with regular cleaning, it really helps being able to put things away, so that everything isn’t out in the open and just collecting dust, making cleaning difficult. I am very happy now that I have ended up with lots of drawers to put my stuff away, and I would like to try keep the working space mostly clean to better keep the toxic dust created from sanding away to avoid having the fine dust settling here and there.

    I like having multiple WIP going on, because sometimes “overthinking things” and arranging elaborate solutions (like using aftermarket stuff) is required and I want to put some things on hold, and just working on simpler projects in the meantime. I have a fun wooden frigate WIP in 1:200 scale, that I know is going to be good, as long as I can just do things right, and not rush it. So, no rush there.

    My biggest slow down is the current lack of an airbrush spray booth. I will buy one from Benchvent (UK) with six spare filters, but it is expensive and so far I haven’t been able to buy it just yet. And with no spray booth, no airbrushing, and with no airbrushing, no finished models.

    I foresee that I one day will work consistently with models, especially after I get a spray booth, but until then, it is more periodical. I also like going camping so in summer time, I did a lot of that.

    My many WIP’s, just listing it for the fun of it: (In my defence, I just haven’t fully re-started this hobby after years of absence.)
    F-16A (1:72) (too many resin parts, I got a little burned out not being used to working with elaborate resin parts)
    Wooden frigate (1:200) (too many corrections needed, fun, but slow)(I already 3D printed home made parts for this kit)
    Dora railway cannon (1:72) (working with a good correction drawing, to properly plan ahead)
    Pilatus Turbo Porter seaplane (1:48) (bad nose weight solution, masking tape still on after painting it, stalled)
    WW2 Motor torpedo boat (1:72) (Fun project, but no rush)
    Typhoon submarine (1:350) (rather large, lots of sanding and hmm and hmms, hull was split in four pieces)
    Challenger 2 tank (1:35) (doing ok, requires painting and finishing it up)
    Mi-24 Hind attack heli (1:48) (doing ok, good start)
    WW2 US destroyer Sullivans (1:350)
    Sd.kfz 7/1 anti air (1:35) (Eduard photo etch was bad here and there, surprisingly and obviously flawed)
    USS Eagle, ship (1:350)
    Viggen (1:48) (A rescribe project, orig. has raised p.lines, will do what Paul Budzik did, scribing into the primer paint)
    Star Destroyer (1:2700)
    BTR (1:35)
    + some I probably forgot about (oops)
    + Various kits that I looked at, and did minor things with, like gluing together and sanding a cannon barrel and such.

    I take some pride in having finished some models, lol. A couple of them I gave away and is on display at this local hobby shop I once lived close to.

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