Coffee, thinking and work - a workflow as described by Piotr Słomiński
About his own tricks for photoetched parts, tried tools, specifics that are worth having in your workshop and about model building in general we talked to Piotr "Słoma" Słomiński, an experienced and award-winning modeller, author of reviews and step by step articles on model building, member of the Cracow’s modelling Group B.
What are your modelling specialisations?
Generally I don't have a single choice, because it depends on how I wake up. If I wake up and I fancy a helicopter, I build a helicopter. If I recall there was a great ship, I make a ship. I used to try to specialise, but it's limiting.... there are situations where I like some models, but I won’t build them, "because they're not the models I assumed I'd be making" and I've given up on that. I glue what I like. I try to stick to a given scale, i.e. planes in 1/48, vehicles in 1/35, and my ships are mainly in 1/700. In total, I have only built one ship in 1/350 scale. They are definitely my favourite in this thread, but I have devoted terribly little time to them in the last 2 years and I need to make up for it....
Why these scales?
This choice goes back to my modelling roots, which start back in the deep socialism times in Poland. There was no access to certain models. Back then, it was mainly 1/72 scale models that were glued together and, as a boy, I dreamt of being able to afford a 1/48 scale model. At the time, it seemed to me that, compared to 1/72, it was simply high-tech in terms of quality. Hence I probably decided later to do aviation in 1/48 scale.
As for armoured vehicles, I remember getting my first model in 1/35. It was an M113 APC from Tamiya that had an electric motor. It was poor by today's standards, but at the time it knocked me off my feet and I thought it was so perfectly done that it should be built... and then it stucked.
On the other hand, as far as ships in 1/700 were concerned, at the time I was reaching for these models there was very little choice of them in 1/350, in fact I can think of only 6 Tamiya kits, and the 1/700 scale had a wider range. Also, what was very important at the time, and for some still is, is the financial aspect. Seven-hundreds were much cheaper to buy, and at that time photo-etched parts, without which for me this scale doesn’t exist, were not recognized at all. People didn't even know they existed. Maybe some basic railings, but the kind of complete and extensive detail sets that are now available to buy were virtually non-existent back then.
What is your greatest personal modelling success? Although it doesn't necessarily have to be a medal. Something that you consider to be your greatest achievement.
My modelling success in a way is that I finally started to like some of my models, because you are your own biggest critic.
The other achievement is that I have met a lot of fantastic people around this hobby, even friends at this point. It gives me a lot of satisfaction that we get together, that we don't just talk about models. Building model kits have brought me closer to a group of people that I respect and I greatly enjoy being in their company.
What has been your most challenging modelling project?
Every time I sit down and open the box I get this slight tingle in the back of my head and basically every model I start is a great challenge subconsciously, both to finish it and to make it look good.
Perhaps my best model is the one not yet made... I have always tried to do the best I could with every model I build. Of course, this has progressed linearly with the skills I've acquired: those models that I thought were reasonably good or even great 10 years ago are simply poor models in my opinion now, so I sit down to each model as if it were a modelling challenge.
And what are your favourite model brands, model supplies companies, the ones that have somehow appealed to you and you use most often?
I'm not one of the overly picky modellers because, as I said, my roots go back to a time where there wasn't much choice of models and mostly I already have a high regard for a model kit that someone decided to make at all, for the manufacturer. Of course there are better or worse kits, while I think our modelling skills, not just mine, which we develop over time, are capable of making something nice out of any kit.
I certainly have a lot of fondness for Tamiya models, with which I started in 1/35 scale. As far as models in 1/700 are concerned, I am very fond of resin models - here I would like to mention our Polish company Niko Model, which has evolved from kind of basic models - not to say poor, because this is a bad word - to high-tech models, and I like putting together their models in 1/700. I even prefer them to the injected plastic ones.
On the other hand, if I look through the range of models I build the most frequent: in aircrafts it is definitely Eduard - which I consider a very good company and I have a lot of their kits - and also there are a lot of both AFVs, ship and aircraft models from Trumpeter and Hobby Boss.
I always try to take an optimistic approach, I believe that nobody does anything perfectly and sometimes even the best models have something screwed up. On the other hand, I don't think such things are worth criticising a manufacturer who has put a lot of work to make the kit anyway. Sometimes you have to replace something with some resin - perhaps it is a marketing ploy to simply make the aftermarket sets sell too. I really like adding photo-etched details to the model, I have no problems working with such parts.
As for modelling supplies, it's a difficult matter because the market provides us with such overwhelming abundance of new products that I simply can't keep up with trying them all out anymore. Besides, my roots are coming back to haunt me again: those days you used what was available and not exactly what you wanted. Now that I can make choices, the main manufacturer of paints etc. I use is the Japanese Mr.Hobby, mainly when it comes to paints. I use the C series, which I think is much more durable in terms of the coating, not as susceptible to scratches or any chipping. Similarly when applying masking tape. I also find that these paints adhere to the plastic much better than their water-based counterpart from the H-series or other brands, which can also easily chip. The other thing is that I started with them and I just have a large palette of these colours already, that I don't want to switch entirely into another manufacturer, I just restock the paints as needed. Sometimes I use colours from the AK Real Color line. They have good colour tones and in my opinion the paint itself is not bad either, and it works on the same solvents and cleansers as Mr Hobby products.
Do you have any other hobbies besides modelling, something you are particularly keen to devote time to?
Apart from my hobbies, I value contact with my two daughters very much, who I know will soon grow up and start a life on their own, so to the best of both their and my ability I try to spend a lot of time with them.
As I’m also getting older, I try to keep in shape as much as possible so that my belly doesn't get even bigger: a bike, a swimming pool, some hiking in the mountains. As far as hobbies go, my second one used to be aquaristics, and now I have a garden where I do some gardening too. Then there are books and comics. I'm very fond of the Alien vs Predator universe, including the films, as well as Kajko i Kokosz, Thorgal and Asterix....
How many years of your active modelling has it been since you started taking this hobby a bit more seriously?
If I recall the various fascinations in my life - because I was diving for quite a long time and that was also a fascination, and there were other things along the way, as I said, for example, the adventure with aquaristics - then modelling never ceased to interest me, I just focused periodically on something else. But model making is absolutely THE hobby that has stayed with me since I can remember, when I was gluing my first Plasticard models together with my dad.
Then came the PZL Czapla (Heron) model, and further on, when as a child I started assembling models on my own, I stopped being satisfied with miniatures only glued together, with decals applied and unpainted. I didn't have access to paints at the time, and poster paints didn’t stay on plastic, so I also started building paper models from Mały Modelarz (Little Modeller) magazine and then the finished model somehow finally resembled the original - that is, it was camouflaged - which the Maly Modelarz, or paper models in general, had printed on.
Then, having some access to money, I started to assemble plastic workshop for myself. This progressed over time and I think it's been about 15-20 years since I had my own modelling workshop. Certainly greater activity has been the last 10 years.
So what did and does modelling offer that made you stay in the hobby for so many years?
Surely it's not something where I de-stress or it calms me down... It’s a matter of making and seeing a shape of that machine that I like. Mostly it's that before I start building a kit I do a bit of reading, something intrigues me about a particular piece of equipment, varying from ships through aircraft, helicopters and tanks.
I'm sure it's also simply a desire to have a collection. I have never made a model strictly for a competition. It's not like me to look at what categories are there and enter one, building something specifically for it. Apart from the models that my clients commission me to make, it is always a model that fascinated me in some way, I liked its history, shape or I just wanted to have it.
So this hobby just kind of stayed with you...
Yes, it just stayed.
And of the whole process of making a model, which can sometimes be long and complicated, which stage do you enjoy the most?
I definitely like building the model, I like that moment when its final shape is being created. When I get to painting, there is always a bit of stress, which probably also have roots experiences, when good quality paints were not available and a built model could be easily messed up with a bad paintjob. Certainly painting is a stage that I approach with more focus than when I am just working on parts and gluing.
What would you say, then, to the fact that very often in the modelling magazines or in various articles on the Internet you can find a substantial part of model-makers saying that the construction is the least pleasant stage, while the most interesting is the painting and shading?
I would say like the old saying goes that one likes to smell feet and the other likes to eat chocolate... Everyone is different and everyone enjoys something different.
Building, painting is a process that takes time. How much of it you spend modelling each week?
It largely depends on how my schedule is set at work. There are weeks when I don't come here at all, and there are weeks when I can be here three days in a row, especially in autumn and winter. It's fair to say that every spare moment I have is dedicated to modelling. I generally try to do something on a regular basis and whenever I sit down at the workshop I'm happy to model and the moment I get the urge, it doesn't matter if it's an hour or 16 hours non-stop.
When you say "here" you mean your model workshop. How do you have it designed and set up?
I had the option of having the model room set up for myself in a separate building altogether and it was renovated with this sole purpose in mind. I provided myself with a place to store my stash, which like every modeller I have, small admittedly, but always. From the start I had a dedicated space for display cabinets in which to display my collection in some way, and a comfortable workshop to work in.
I'm not keen on having too much stuff lying around the workshop, because with our hobby, where we sand, paint, there is always some dust and overspray. I tried to design everything in such a way that all the tools and accessories are in convenient drawers, as little exposed to dust as possible.
I created a desk where I have these drawers on the left and right of the main workspace, where I have some modelling tools arranged according to my own habits and I reach for them as needed. The second important element, right next to the desk, is a separate workstation with a powerful fume hood for painting, additionally illuminated.
This creates comfort when painting - everything is drawn through the ventilation and I'm not so exposed to the of all those compounds in the modelling chemicals. Occasionally I have the pleasure of writing for a magazine or website, so there is a permanent photography station here, where I photograph some models step by step to document their creation. I also have access to a handy library here, where I can always reach out for help whether it's factual problem or hints on how someone else made something: modelling guides, plans, history and so on.
In a nutshell - the comfort of your own workshop....
The absolute comfort of my own workshop! I can lock myself in here and it’s just me, myself and I, although that sounds ambiguous to say the least.... (laughs)
Well, you come to model and what? Because people are constructed in such a way that they like to develop some habits, rituals before or during their work. What kind of those you have before or during modelling?
If I'm lucky enough to set up my work in such a way that I can start modelling in the morning, because that's when it’s best time for me, then of course there has to be a decent size mug of unsweetened black coffee, I don't smoke cigarettes, but that would be a good time to say after Nosowska's song "I love this state: cigarettes, coffee, me". I am not a person who always needs company and attention; I feel good when I am alone. Here, no one bothers me, I feel mentally comfortable and then I wonder where to start, because, you know, the previous day or the previous modelling session ended at some point, so you have to think a bit about what you want to do next.
Coffee, thoughts and work.
I like to have some TV series or films playing in the background when I'm working, I just like them to accompany me, but only the ones I've heard before as not to distract me too much. All in all, I listen to them more than I watch them
Earlier in the conversation the subject of photo-etched parts, came up. There is no denying, looking at your works, that when it comes to these details, there are not many people who can boast of such a high level of their application in models. Hence the question: how do you work with such fine elements for 1/ 700 scale ships, for example?
I have to say that I didn't like brass details from the beginning. Looking at my first ships in 1/700, which I started to detail using them - because the very first ones were without at all - I had more than half left over. I mainly used parts that I thought I could handle, and didn't approach the rest. Over time, with each successive ship there was enough courage, experience, skill to do more. And I managed to become skilled enough that now I can glue even the tiniest metal plates to the ship. Undoubtedly, it is a matter of a lot of patience and you have to do it without hurry. We mainly glue such details with cyanoacrylate glue, so when one piece has been attached, you have to let it dry properly. If it is not glued well, it will usually fall off at the next stage. It's hard for me to share any direct experience here, because it's something you learn as you go along and it depends very much on the model in question. For example, when I make a light artillery piece out of brass, I don’t glue it to the model first and then paint it on the ship. I first glue it lightly e.g. on a toothpick and paint it outside the kit, and then I glue it to the model when it is ready.
I make a solid base for working on such parts, so that they don’t fly away while I am working. It is a good idea, for example, to blunt a toothpick for this purpose, stick it to one side of the part and hold it like that and then slowly build the whole detail.
You definitely need very good tweezers. One that doesn't spring back, doesn't twist and grips small parts well.
And you need good cyanoacrylate glue. A good glue means that you are familiar with its properties and know that its density or layer after dipping the part in it is sufficient for the task. All this all comes from experience, so apart from patience and diligence, which I can recommend, with gluing photoetched details it's like: 'if you don't fail, you won't learn'. Practice, practice and even more practice!
Everything is possible, but don't get discouraged! You are bound to fail the first time, even if you have read all the best manuals and guides on the subject. You just have to get used to it and practice with every subsequent model kit you make.
If someone has made minimal or no use of this type of detail so far, what set of tools would you recommend for working with photo-etched parts?
First of all, good tweezers of various shapes and a good PE parts bender.
This is very useful for bending some parts, as there are some details where you press certain embossments outwards. Some people do this with a pen on something soft, but with these we can match the diameter of the ball to the width of the embossing, which is useful.
Next a good - as I said before - cyanoacrylate glue. Then a decent debonder. You can also have a cyanoacrylate glue accelerator at hand.
but you have to use it carefully, because it causes an immediate bond on the one hand and on the other hand it kind of boils the cyanoacrylate glue. When cyanoacrylate glue dries and evaporates slowly, it makes the bond less visible. On the other hand, if you use an accelerator, the surface becomes agitated, foamed maybe? And then you need a good debonder to remove excess glue. With suitable cotton sticks - Tamiya, for example, has one in its range - it is enough to dip them slightly in a debonder to remove excess CA glue, so that it is not visible after painting, because remember: that even if you can’t see it with the naked eye, when you paint and apply washes, this cyanoacrylate glue will be visible as an ugly stain if you apply too much of it.
I also use two techniques. Sometimes I work on a bare detail, i.e. unpainted, while other times I paint some of the elements beforehand because I won't be able to do it on the model. Here comes Mr.Metal Primer from Mr.Hobby - a very good primer for such parts.
I apply it first on the brass fret, let it dry and then apply the paint on the whole sheet on all the elements I know that are - especially in ships - in one colour, and on this primer the paint does not flake or scratch. Great product.
If someone chooses to get a PE parts bender and is thinking of modelling in 1/700 scale, for example, such tool should have various small profiles and shapes to adapt it to the piece. In this scale, they are small and sometimes have a very complex shapes, so the more such different profiles and shapes this bender has the better it is, in my opinion.
Staying on the subject of applying PE parts, a question about an detail that keeps many modellers awake at night: what is your method for gluing the railings to the ship?
Ah! For example, these are the elements I always try to paint before gluing them to the model!
I glue the rails already painted, even if something scratches and then "shines", it is easier to touch up such a spot than to paint the whole railing on the ship. I used to make such attempts and it was quite a nuisance and the effect wasn’t spectacular, so I paint them with an airbrush before gluing them on. Now there are two ways: when you are gluing a so-called post rails, you can lightly mark the attachment points of the posts with a caliper or ruler, drill with a mini drill, put a drop of cyanoacrylate and then glue post by post waiting patiently for it to dry.
When gluing rails without posts, i.e. on this lower surface, and in 1/700 scale majority are these type railings, I simply apply glue to the first 3-4 links - let's call it the span of the railing - glue and wait. Once it's caught to the model for me, I then use a thin cyanoacrylate to glue it down centimetre by centimetre. On the other hand, if the shape I have to glue with them is highly irregular, I try to profile the part beforehand and then glue it on using the same principle, but at least pre-shaped. What is most important is patience and time. Working with photoetched parts can’t be rushed.
Time for a one last question. For someone who would like to start improving their models using photoetched parts, be it an aircraft, vehicle or a ship, what is the absolute minimum of details to apply so it doesn’t pose a terrible challenge but at the same time improves the appearance of the model?
If we are talking about ships, especially in 1/700 scale, then definitely all the openwork parts. In plastic they are usually cast as a whole elements, i.e. cranes, catapults, rails too, as they are basically not found in plastic at all in 1/700 scale - that's the bare minimum. If you want to go further, one can mention the perforated radars, which are also mostly cast as a single piece of plastic.
In aircraft, cockpits are such a minimum. The newer kits, especially Eduard's, are very good models and I generally only replace, unless these parts are included in the ProfiPack, the cockpit. I am mainly referring to the instrument panel and seatbelts. That is the bare minimum where I would improve something.
I build tanks and AFVs as a form of pure pleasure and am a bit influenced by the game World of Tanks. And in general it seems to me that tanks have the least need for these upgrades. Yes I know that the fenders are too thick for everyone, but nowadays "out of the box" fenders are not as thick as they used to be, and replacing them often requires a lot of surgery with the model. The most important thing would be the grilles on the engine and the intakes, if any are present. Of course, hinges and similar small details can also be replaced, but this is an option for more demanding and experienced modellers.
You said it's hard in the subject of sheet metal to suggest something, and yet somehow this interview has become a mini tutorial. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences!
Also thanks and best regards to all modellers!