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Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes

Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes

Welcome. If you have not visited Minature Buildings before can I suggest you begin with my Aims and Scope article or at the Home Page. If you have visited before - welcome back. I hope this article is of interest to you.

The Modelling of Buildings

For me to even think about writing an article on how to model buildings is, frankly, a bit presumptious. I have tried my hand at modelling but with only limited success. As reviewed in my MBdbModels article. But within a site such as this we do need to say something about the process. I very much hope that someone reading this will feel they wish to contribute an article, or just a few thoughts. My aim here is not try and teach anyone how to do it. Simply to ofer a few personal musings on the topic.

There are of course many existing books and web features on the subject. Including some very serious works aimed at professional modelmakers and architectural students. It is a mystery to me why the world of hobby modellers and the professional world overlaps so little. In other areas - say furniture making - I don't think the same applies.

My own longtime favourite, which feels like 'modelling porn', is Chris Pilton's Pendon book.

Every year there are features in the railway modelling and dollshouse magazines and there are daily hints, tips and examples in the multiple online forums - for plastic modellers, woodworkers and those working with foam or card.

From all this, and from the models I see, I can draw only one conclusion. There are myriad ways of making a miniature building, there is no right way, there is no substitute for practice and experience, for attempts and errors and lessons learnt at the workbench. Reading a book on how to do it will no more make you a modeller than reading a book on gymnastics will enable you to do back-flips. But once you have chosen your scale and material(s) there are plenty of sources to give you ideas and avoid you wasting your time learning lessons that others have learned the hard way.

My own very limited experience has led me down what I suspect is the most common route.  Building models that are multi-material. A mix of wood, various plastics, card, paper, foamboard, filler, paint and ink.  Plus a few tiny bits of metal. I might use a coffee stirrer or a matchstick if it happens to be the right size but I'm afraid the desire to use them for everything eludes me.  As does an understanding of why some people bother. Just using metal, or ceramic, makes sense to me, though both are way beyond my capabilities.

Building card models is perhaps the most common single-medium enthusiasm but, as discussed in my MBcard, MBwallisManor and MBvougeot articles I find there to be some things that are best done with other materials.   Even if they could be done with card.  I am in the "why bother" camp rather than a purist.  One of the Facebook groups I follow is called Model Rail Buildings - Mostly Card & Paper.  I approve of the 'mostly' loophole.

One of the current highlights for me on Mostly Card & Paper.
An ambitious project by Paul Davis of Catterick Garrison.
There are lots of windows in barrack blocks!

What else can I usefully say about the modelling process.   First that it takes time and application.  I am constantly amazed at the productivity and output of the modellers I admire and am despondant at my own lack of application. As modellers we know that there are many in the world who regard us as sad.   By which I think they mainly mean that we hide away and don't do the other things in life that they value - like mixing with other people and 'going out'.   Obviously we don't accept the sad label but it is surely the case that we do need to spend significant time by ourselves to achieve anything significant.   Trying to focus on tiny details and looking up to conduct a conversation ( or to dance!) is a a hard mix.   The good news is that we have an output for our labours and they have a hangover.

The other key charectaristic is attention to detail, and precision in what we do. There is a legitimate debate about how important it is to be true to scale, which I discuss in my 'Scale or Effect' article.

But, in my eyes, that is different from precision.  Lines which are meant to be straight need to be straight, not jagged.   Windows, except those in deliberatly tumbledown structures, need to be oblong rather than skewed.  Cuts need to be clean.  My own particular hobbyhorse is the corner of buildings. Whether the corner is meant to be brick or stone or wood or a fancy quoin, it is a three dimensional structure. If I were to be a judge in a modelling competition (for buildings, not young women in swimsuits) the corner illustrated below left would attract one of my harshest deductions.

On the left, a poorly modelled corner. The use of two pieces of card, and the vertical line it leaves, spoils the whole effect of what is otherwise a nice model. In the centre, the effect I am looking for. The two faces of the blocks of stone at the corner, and on the window reveals, appear to be part of a single component. Simply bending standard brick paper does not achieve this, as the right hand image illustrates.

Although I am quite pleased with the model illusted above centre, the picture does rather show up the rounding on the corners where I have folded printed paper around the card base. I will try to make the edge a little sharper next time. A 1mm radius on the model equates to a 7.6 cm radius on the real thing. Hmmm!

Where surfaces have to be painted, precison is equally important.  It is very easy to spoil an otherwise excellent model with sloppy paintwork. At some point people are going to look at my models from up close. Brush marks, dust and poorly prepared surfaces will all distract the viewer from their main task af admiring your model. This is of course a counsel of perfection. Perfect paintwork can be very hard to achieve. As I have mentioned elsewhere one of my personal preferences ( at least for dark colours) is to use the red undercoat usually associated with car bodywork repairs. It shows every bump underneath and can be sanded to a lovely smooth finish ready for the top coat. Remember, if the undercoat is not smooth the top coat will not be either.

Another of my pet dislikes is seeing the thin (albeit very thin) line of white along the edge of a printed paper covering.   This is especially noteable when paper strips are used for roofing tiles or slates.   It may be a fiddle to rub a dark felt-tip along each edge befoe fixing but if you don't - it WILL be visible.

There is a school of thought - more common in the world of dolls houses than in other disciplines I think - that seeks to use real wood for reproducing wooden prototypes.  Much as I like real wood we are generally seeking to create an image of a real thing.  Even using finely grained woods and even in the traditional 1/12 scale I'm not convinced this works.  And in the smaller scales, 1/24 and 1/48, I really don't like it.  But take a look at the this example:

An interior , featuring a 1/12th desk, made by Clive John. I found it in the Facebook Dolls House Grand Design group. Normally furniture and interiors do not feature in Miniature Buildings but the standard of Clive's work just blows me away. High quality and such productivity. How does he do it? Describing how he made the desk he says "I’ve used oak for the base with rosewood veneer, dark stain to try and make it look old, with plenty of good quality beeswax polish." Faced with work like this, who am I to criticise his choice of material.

Petite's St Thomas's

Talking of 1/48 and the like I have been seeing a lot recently about Petite Properties. They describe themselves as "the home of authentic architecture and realistic miniature models..., designers of dolls houses, miniature accessories & railway model building kits, specialists in 1:24, 1:48, 1:144, 1:43.5, 1:76 & 1:148. That's a lot to be specialist in, but they do offer product in all those scales. And they seem to have a big fan-base in their facebook group. Once our house move is done and winter draws in I'm planning to have a try out. Maybe their 1/48 St Thomas's church model.

As always, please e-mail Miniature Buildings if you have something to add. Comments, criticisms, extra thoughts, pictures, or even complete articles for inclusion in the Miniature Buildings site are all welcome. Or if you would like to be added to my mailing list to hear when a new article is published.

David, August 2021