Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lessons learned from Modeling

No, not that kind of modeling.  I am talking about the kind of modeling that uses plastics, metals, glues, and paints.

I have done modeling in some form or another for a long time.  The only other artsy/craftsy activity I have done for more time is drawing.  My first kit was built in 3rd grade.

I've built a number of radio controlled models.

More recently I have built and painted a lot of gaming miniatures.  Somehow I was under the delusion that I might actually play the games, but that didn't really come to fruition.  But, the modeling was interesting.

I decided  to try another "traditional" model kit.  I'm working on a Tamiya 1/12 scale motorcycle.

While building up some of the sections together, I started thinking about what modeling has taught me that I apply to photography and other areas.

First, modeling reminds me that I'm never going to have everything figured out, and much of the time I am going to be completely wrong.  When I built my first model I thought the point was to assemble the bits.  When that was done I was happy it was complete.  But the model never saw any paint.  At the time the notion of painting the kit seemed rather silly and dull to me.  Now, I realize the way a model is painted is key to creating the illusion of reality that good models give us.  The preparation and assembly now feels like drudge-work prior to giving the piece life with the brush.

Modeling showed me that you can learn things in unexpected places.  In college I took an art class that was suppose to teach the foundations of a various artistic media.  Instead the professor blathered on about perspective for one lecture, and then left us mostly on our own with the materials.  Thanks.  I learned how to use acrylic paint with my modeling instead of the class I expected to teach it to me.  Because of that I can now thin, layer, wet blend, and dry blend acrylics properly.  Modeling also taught me the importance of an underpainting, and a ton of other painting techniques.  With photography I believe I've learned more from paintings, drawings, comics, movies, etc than I have from photography books.  The photography books show me techniques-- the other stuff shows me interesting ways to apply those techniques.

I learned that  flaws disappear the further in the process you go.  Many of the small gaps and imperfections that a model has disappear when primer is applied.  Bigger flaws can be addressed prior to primer with gap filling glues, putty, and other material.  But, trying to fix these things when the parts are first put together is futile.  This is true in photography too.  Somethings you need to get right in the camera i.e. lighting, composition, expressions-- but some things are better handled in post.  Why spend 20 or 30 minutes getting something "right" in camera, when 20 seconds in photoshop will get you what you intend?   Why waste the time?  I think the trick here is knowing what absolutely needs to be accomplished in camera, and what doesn't.

Modeling taught me there are times when the proper tool for the job is really the only way to go.  Once I decided to spend the small amount of money on proper files, clippers, brushes, and so-on my modeling vocabulary went from R-rated to PG.  Its that way in photography, too, except the tools carry much heftier price tags.
I learned when to sense when my mind has drifted off task through modeling.  If I try to hurry through something to get "done" I tend to make mistakes.  Whenever I start thinking about just being "done" I learned to stop messing with the model.  With personal work, I will do that with photography too.  If its not personal work or I have others' efforts invested in the outcome, I take a few minutes to refocus, more if necessary.

Modeling also taught me to enjoy the process as well as the final outcome.  How many times do we read that life isn't the destination its the journey?  Heh, if it was about the destination we'd all be in a hurry to die right?  Again, this is the same with photography-- I like the process and final outcome.  I also try to really pay attention to and enjoy what I am doing when I am making a picture.

If you got this far, my hats off to you.  Thanks for reading.

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