One of the reasons I still find plastic model kits interesting, long after I have grown up, matured, settled down, gotten old and lapsed into complete dissipation is that the plastic model kit, like it’s doppelganger, model railroading, calls upon both sides of the brain, both genders of the subconscious and both scores on the SAT. It’s engineering AND it’s decoration. It’s stuff that “works” and stuff that “looks nice.” It drags everyone who goes anywhere near it into the uncomfortable zone of ambidexterity.
A lot of us don’t like that. I say I’m a painter, not a builder, but mostly that’s just to get the obsessive forum builders off my back. “You going to do something about that tail wheel?” I find the shape, the design, the physical characteristics of the actual aircraft to be interesting. I am aware, however, that the intricacies of the “real thing” are not going to translate well into 1/72 scale because I don’t care enough to do them well.
I don’t care about rivets or screws, about copper or aluminum pipes and I don’t care about this vent or that scoop. I find it interesting when they show up in a kit, but I don’t study the plans and try to find jobs to assign to myself. It’s boring to me.
Building is a left brain deal. You plan your work and work your plan. Painting is more a matter of mental and emotional discipline. You have to put yourself in your happy place, then just paint naturally.
People who can do both of these things–hell, people who even know what both of these things mean–are rare. A lot of model builders like to measure, plan, construct and secure the parts. Often, an individual who builds incredibly well will turn out to be a bad painter–because painting requires more than making lists, doing tasks, and following notes.
I’m not just talking about brushpainting. Airbrushing requires just as much technique and artistry as brushing. But I do believe that one of the reasons the airbrush is so popular is that it appears to be a way to skip the artistry and apply paint using pure reason. The builder who gets the right mask, learns the right technique, and has the right equipment can paint without art. That is the goal of a lot of modelers who just can’t stand the whole “arty” part of it. They’ll mask everything and paint everything with an airbrush, mostly in order to avoid having to focus on the task at hand.
Building takes your mind off your problems through a process of distraction. The thoughts and ideas required to build something push out other thoughts, and this promotes relaxation.
Painting does not generate enough of this “pushing out” process. It won’t obliterate the cares and concerns of the day by burying them in the minutiae of building. It does not pull the mind away from worry by smothering it with new concerns. Instead, it requires that the mind be wrestled into the HERE and NOW. This is more difficult than simply being distracted by the work. You have to bring your mind under control deliberately, and place it in a state of focus, and this is something that probably can’t be taught.
All I can do is provide a general guide. To improve your painting skills, get ready to paint. Fill the brush or airbrush or whatever, and then, for a moment, deliberately stop and observe. Look at what you are doing. Bring your attention 100% into what is in front of you right now. Take an inventory of the things you are seeing and what you are going to do. Think about it. Mentally digest it. Say to yourself, “I am going to see things I haven’t noticed in the past.”
Then, see them.