Realism in Expression
OR what the hell am I trying to do here?
Reality is Interpretation
"Modeling is interpretation of the reality." - Mig Jimenez
Did you know that eyewitness testimony is probably the most unreliable evidence in trials? Over half of wrongful convictions are a result of eyewitness testimony. Not only do we remember things incorrectly, but our minds make-up false information to fit what we expect. It's like that little DNA thing from Jurassic Park talking about filling in dinosaur code with frog DNA.
So what do frog DNA and eyewitness testimony have to do with mud? OK, it doesn't have to be mud, but our experiences affect how we work. I would imagine your experiences with maybe red Georgia clay might alter how you think mud splatters. Or maybe your memory of being around construction equipment makes you want to add a lot of grease stains to your models.
Look, I'm not saying interpretation is bad at all, but it is unavoidable. We form our interpretation based on our experiences and what we count as knowledge. Then our mind fills in the gaps like Mr. DNA. We form mental webs of how something should look, and that's how we model it.
Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We just have to realize that our interpretations may not match someone else's. Just look at something as uncontroversial as Panzer Grey. Not very uncontroversial is it? We have black/white photos and even surviving examples of panzer grey, but people still paint it differently. If someone claims they are trying to paint it realistically, but it looks unrealistic to you, who's right? A better question might be, does either person need to be right?
Now I'm not trying to knock the folks that count bolts or rivets like grandma counting out pills every Sunday. If that is your enjoyment, go for it. Just remember that even the same exact tanks might have differences. And bolts fall out.
Does this mean we shouldn't try to achieve realism? Absolutely not. It's good to have a driving force behind our creativity. The point is to remember that our idea of real is just that, an idea. And not all ideas are the same.
A story to tell
Duende - the mysterious power of art to deeply move a person
Each model I build is a chance to try something new: a new canvas, a new paint job, a new weathering system, a new cut from an Xacto knife. But more than that, it's a chance to make it my own (the model, not the cut). Even with a straight out of the box build, we add our own touches in one way or another. Have you ever seen a model and immediately knew who the modeler was?
When I start a model, I like to ask myself the following:
- How can I do this differently from my last build?
- How can I make this model stand out from others like it?
This isn't to say that I build to impress others. But rather, I build to impress myself. It's not so much about making it better than another person's model, just different. Do we really need another Red 5 X-wing? And even if you want to, shouldn't you try something new with the finish or weathering?
Personally, I think the best models I have ever seen are the ones that are unique and tell a story. These are the ones you can look at and follow the details and rust marks as you would footprints in the woods. This may be why I love dioramas so much. It gives you so much setting for whatever story you want to tell.
And I believe this is where artistic expression meets realism. Even the most chimerical models tend to look better if they have aspects grounded in reality. Think about the sci-fi models you have seen. They often have paint chips, rust streaks, mud, dust, etc. None of this makes a lot of sense for something that only flies in space, but it does add a touch of something familiar. And often that familiarity tells a story on its own.
So, I would say that in making a model, make it your own. Try a few new techniques and a few old techniques. Draw inspiration from the real world, but also yourself. For every panel line or paint chip, think about what caused it or what its use is. What story does your model tell about the battles it has seen, its crew, or even its artist? And keep a healthy supply of band-aids.
Here is a a model of a German tank in a fictitious scheme. Now it is true that the Soviets captured German tanks, repainted them green, and would often add on track armor and guns. So there are real elements that combine to make an unreal model.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a hovertank I designed myself. Everything about it is completely original. However, just like real vehicles, there are paint chips, rust, and dust streaks. There's also the rotten tires on the ground that depict a wasteland of sorts. You mind fills in what the story might be.