Monday, October 7, 2013

Masking – A Dying Art?

That may sound like a strange title at first glance: every modeller masks at some point in a project if paint is going to be applied, so how can the art die? The thought crossed my mind that the hobby is so well supplied these days, with every possible labour saving device, substance, gadget and fitting, that many of the arts our forebears took for granted have gone the way of the dodo.

Fifty years ago serious modellers rescribed their kits to get recessed panel lines, because they knew perfectly well that raised lines were an artefact of the tooling process and real aircraft had recesses between their skin panels… Kit makers took another twenty years to catch up with that reality and figure out how to produce kits with engraved detail – some companies have still not quite got the hang of it. Similarly, the flood of etched parts means that fabricating tank engine grilles from wire or vinyl mesh, and making frames from plastic strip, with rod slivers for bolt heads, has been consigned to the realm of scratch building. The craze for aftermarket seat harnesses has eclipsed any attempt to make them for oneself.

It is in this light that it struck me that masking, an integral part of painting, is also a declining art. There are literally thousands of die-cut adhesive mask sets out there, from Eduard and other manufacturers, and I have become very used to using them – where would we be without them for those complex World War II “glass house” canopies? And yet… I applied Eduard’s set for Fujimi’s Stuka and I was not terribly impressed by the fit. It was far better than trying to cut tape and mask all those panes individually, but it was not as accurate as the old way would have been. Eventually I called the job done after fiddling with tape fragments to even up the lines created by the ill-fitting commercial masks, but I’m aware once again that 1:72nd scale is pushing the boundaries of what is both possible, and acceptable to both today’s sharpened sensibilities and heightened expectations.

Is there a place for old fashioned masking in today’s do-it-now mentality? Sometimes there’s no choice, either there’s no set available for your subject matter in the scale you need, or you can’t afford it, or you haven’t got time for it to arrive… That sounds like a self-evident thing and I’m sure we’ve all been in the same situation. I remember doing Hobbycraft’s Avia S-199 and checking to see if I could make Eduard’s set for the Bf 109 K fit – it didn’t really, so I masked the old way, grumbling a bit as I did so. But just today I found myself masking the canopy for a Fujimi Phantom, for which there seems to be no commercial set, and it struck me that far from resenting the necessity, I actually enjoyed the process.

I outlined the areas with fine strips, filled in the large ones with tape and the small or fiddly ones with Humbrol Maskol solution. It was not particularly difficult, if time-consuming, and nothing I’ve not done before. The result was at least as accurate as a commercial set, and probably more so. I do feel it would become tedious to mask every model this way, and I have no plans to stop using die-cut sets, but I guess my point is that the old way is a useful skill that still has a strong role to play.

And, in the end, there is also a certain satisfaction that comes from saying you licked the problem without need of a third party (except the guys who make tape, knives, scissors and so on…), and it encourages the thought that it may be desirable to be less reliant on the aftermarket industry to satisfy our every whim. Just now and then, we should at least try to make the odd detail from scratch: it’s what craftsmen do.

Or used to…