EA-6B Prowler 1/48We are halfway into 2020 and it certainly has been thus far, annus horribilis by any yardstick you care to measure with.

It is enough to drive mentally healthy people into despair, and those who are already at risk must be struggling. We have adapted to kids attending remote learning, working from home with the sound of kids as background noise on conference calls, their meerkat ways of popping their heads into video meetings. Some people are learning an entirely different side to their partner now that they are exposed to their work habits. Being stuck with the same people 24/7 can get challenging rapidly.

Over here in metropolitan Melbourne, we are in Stage 3 isolation until 19 August 2020.

So what have I been doing to keep mentally (reasonably) healthy? About two years ago I picked up my childhood hobby of building scaled model kits again, after a break of some two decades. It was a low impact, creative distraction from the turmoil in my life, something I can pick up and do in small discrete blocks of time. Think of it as Lego, but more advanced in the sense you need to work with tools and paint, and can result in a far more realistic outcome.

Haro / Sergeant FrogThere are scaled models of many different subjects – cars, racing cars, ships, submarines, planes, sci-fi, trains, robots. If you can think of it, there is probably a kit out there. They also come in varying scales, denoted by for example: 1/32, 1/48, 1/60 … 1/350, 1/720 etc. When reading the scale, the number on the left of the colon represents the model (usually 1); the number on the right is the multiplier as to how many times larger is the original object by comparison.

Does the scale matter? Absolutely, in so many ways. Just like architectural drawings of your dream home, or custom luxury yacht, scales keeps things proportional in relation to each other. Larger scales results in larger parts which are easier to handle, but it also gives scope to more details and more presence on display. Naturally larger scales tend to take up more time and effort to build, and they take up more real estate when completed.

What scale you choose is ultimately a personal choice. My genre is predominantly modern jet aircraft in the “quarter” or 1/48 scale. I pick it for size when on display, detail and cost. I do dabble in the 1/72 scale for practice and faster builds. My buddy Terry, who never really took a break from the hobby covers mostly 1/72 and 1/144 in modern aircraft, and for “cross-training” purposes, 1/700 submarines.

My boys have been curious about the kits I build, and loves it when I finish one and put it on their shelf to look at and play with. Then a little over a year ago I had the opportunity to take them to the scaled model show here in Melbourne. They got their first taste of Gunpla (“Gundam plastic model”) with a free Gundam Haro kit each, and the Pandora’s box was opened. In fact it was the ideal way to introduce them to my childhood hobby.

Gundam is a Japanese military science fiction media franchise that debut 41 years ago. Gunpla itself celebrates 40 years this year, and right now there is a 40th anniversary celebration going on with some pretty epic limited edition merchandises.

Iron-blood orphan / MomokapoolGunpla is a bit unique in the modelling world.
1. It caters for all ages and skill levels – from the Super Deformed (no scale), High Grade (1/100 or 1/144), Real Grade (1/144), Master Grade (1/100), Perfect Grade (1/60).
2. The sprues (the polystyrene runners) come coloured already so you can build it without requiring any paint work.
3. Typically no cement required, particularly at the lower end. Occasionally a drop or two somewhere does not hurt.
4. Generally only one tool required – sprue cutters (also can be called side cutters). If you want you can get a file to smooth down the trim nubs.
5. Playable / poseable with some care.

That is not to say it is limited to OOB (“Out of Box”) builds. Scale modelling can be as basic and simple as you want or hyper-realistic to the real deal, and that is the challenge. In many ways I think of this hobby like I do with swimming – it’s me against my mind and occasionally against the clock.

You can paint the parts, then you can paint and weather the parts to make it look real world. Some talented people do dioramas to represent a scene, others lay in fiber optics to light up their creations. There is no end to creativity and like any skill you acquire, you can grow and improve with time and practice. I love seeing my boys upskill and improve (and improvise) on their kits as I introduce more techniques and knowledge as they gain confidence. Right now we are in the stage of primer, hand brushing and rattle can painting. Somewhere down the track I would like to get an airbrush setup going for better control of the painting process.

In the time BC (Before Coronavirus), my boys look forward to their school holiday trips to visit Daryl Williams at Gundams Plus here in Melbourne. Daryl runs an old school hobby shop that is all about customer service. You won’t find a webstore, and his modus operandi is a commitment to his customers – if he says something is in stock then he is physically holding it in his hand and willing to put it on hold. Before BC, he would have a revolving door of experienced modellers who gives advice and tips freely, people are welcomed to chill out and build their kits in the shop, not to mention the occasional homemade dumpling and pizza parties!

Master L and Master E have picked up on so much knowledge from their interactions there, it is always an exciting occasion for them when we go. For me, it is an excellent departure from them wanting to have screen time, great for their gross and fine motor skills, spatial orientation and imagination. Best of all is how proud they are of themselves to be able to hold something that they have built themselves.

Hope everyone is staying safe. Perhaps this is a good time to try out something that you have been meaning to for a while, challenge yourself differently and hopefully we will all see the light at the end of the tunnel with decent mental health. If you are interested in building some scaled model kits, have a chat to Daryl. For the out of towners, he is happy to organise shipping.

1/72 shelf