The Fateful Day (circa 1989)
I can’t recall the exact date but She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were out shopping in Aldershot on a Saturday. Declining my kind offer to help her chose new underwear the wife was keen to be shot of me. As luck would have it for both of us she spotted a poster advertising a model show which was taking place that very day in the town hall. Not being the ideal shopping partner (why chose white dear when red or black are so much nicer and go with your eyes?) I was sent off to amuse myself.
I’d never been to a show before so had nothing to compare with. As best I can recall it was a mixed bag of traders, toy sellers and model makers. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, even spotting Swoppets along the way and thoroughly enjoying myself. I then reached a stand where the owner of Tiny Troopers was selling and displaying his wares. The figures which caught my eye were two 75mm white metal cowboys. One was an outstanding figure of Clint Eastwood as the man with no name, the other was an equally remarkable figure of John Wayne.
I was taken with these figures immediately and had to have them. The only trouble was I did not have a clue what to do with them. The guy was more than happy to chat and told me how to assemble them, undercoat them with white primer spray and then simply paint them. Easy! As easy as passing over the cash. Then I got home and didn’t have a clue where to start.
With no Internet and therefore no YouTube I was left to my own devices. A visit to the local toy shop enabled me to buy brushes and Humbro enamal paints and a can of white spray primer was purchased from the local garage shop. I was on my way.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe my first result. At the time I was pleased with it. I didn’t notice that the colours had run, that I had left finger prints in the enamal paint while it was tacky, that the face was just a flesh colour and that everything was painted in gloss. It was a master piece and I showed it to everyone whether they were interested or not. Today I would describe it as fucking shit.
Fortunately fate was on hand. While waiting to catch my train home from Waterloo station in London I would browse the books and magazines in WHSmiths. With so many people about it was difficult to concentrate on the top shelf offerings so I browsed instead through the hobby section where my eye caught sight of a publication called Military Modelling. With my train due to leave very shortly I grabbed a copy and quickly paid for it. That journey home was to further change my modelling life.
Military Modelling Magazine
The first thing to hit me were the photos. These weren’t models these were images of real people surely? How could anyone paint something that small that well and how if they could did they do it? The next thing that struck me were the adverts, loads of adverts. Now I knew where I could buy models, I just needed an envelope, a stamp and to write a cheque! The next thing I knew the train pulled into the station and it was time to get off.
I must have read that first magazine from cover to cover several times. I couldn’t wait of the next month’s copy to come out. I was in awe of what people could do but none the wiser as to how they did it. Then, a couple of months into buying Military Modelling they started a series of articles called “Oil Painting for Beginners”. Slowly I was on my way.
The monthly articles covered everything I needed to know. What paints to buy, what brushes I needeď and how to paint everything from faces to horses. It was just a case of getting some figures and practising, lots and lots of practising. I learnt about colour wheels, complementary colours, shading and highlighting and very, very slowly things began to come together.
I managed to get some new Tiny Trooper figures to replace the ones I’d poorly painted and produced paint jobs which were far better than my earlier attempts but still along way off of what I’d like to have achieved. I also practised on some plastic airfix multi-pose World War 2 figures and bit by bit I began to make progress. A toy shop in Aldershot also proved to be a great source for models and here I bought white metal Rorke’s Drift figures made by Hinchcliff Models. Another company sadly no longer going but whose figures would undoubtedly have stood the test of time.
My main concern at this point was painting faces. It might have just been me but no matter how well the body of a figure was painted if you didn’t get the face right then the whole thing didn’t look good. There was nothing for it but to practice face painting over and over. To this day some faces (to my eye admittedly) look great, others are still hit and miss. The quality of the miniature does make a big difference, as does the materials you use but technique is key.
By the time I discovered a series of Wild West figures produced by Hornet I was pretty happy with what I was producing. The finished models were never going to win shows but I felt I had come a very long way. These figures are the oldest in my collection. All previous examples having been either given to my brother who still has some or, regretably, simply thrown away.
Three early Hornet Wild West figures
I can’t recall exactly when I first discovered Andrea Miniatures but it would have been in Military Modelling that I first came across the company. By comparison to today the company and its range was much smaller and the prices were much cheaper too but the figures were fantastic (and still are). They produced mainly 54mm figures and had a superb range of Old West which was the only subject I was really interested in at the time.
One of my earlier Andrea 54mm models
I’m guessing that by now we are in the early 1990’s. I was painting well enough to satisfy myself but I had no production line going and only worked on one figure at a time. The time I had to spend on the hobby was diminishing slowly due to work promotions and job demands although kids were still away off.
Modelling was still important to me, I’d realised that a hobby which required total concentration was a great way to come down after a stress filled working day. I didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked but I always came back to it in the darker moments.
Figure painting was still very much where I was at and where I stayed for many more years. Base work was still largely very basic but I had begun to appreciate through others the significance of a great setting. I started to explore this area a little more and even produced my first 54mm diorama, Custers Last Stand.
It was to prove to be a one off, I just didn’t have the time. Time more than anything remained the key issue for many years to come. Modelling never left me but time spent doing any was very, very limited. Then in 1996 along came the first of my two wonderful children, Tom.
Unfortunately Tom was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) which turned our lives upside down and then nothing really got done on the modelling front after that. What time I had went into charity fund raising. Long distance walking covering the length and breadth of the country raised in excess of £80,000 and gave me a dodgy hip!
I wont dwell further on this period of my life, it’s not so much that it’s private, it’s a subject I’m happy to discuss but life threatening illnesses aren’t fun and besides this is a modelling blog! I will say that medical science is a wonderful thing and he is now 21 and in very good health and has a great looking girlfriend!
It was when I was in Australia in October 2002 on business with a couple of weeks holiday added on that I learnt my wife was expecting our second child. Suddenly it felt like a long way from home but I loved the place and hope to one day go back.
Official press photo of me just before going to Austarlia in 2002
My daughter Jennifer was born in 2003. If I had little time for modelling before she arrived I had even less afterwards! Modelling very much took a back seat. Occasionally I would pick up a brush but my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t have that much time either. My job was anything but 9 to 5 and the demands of the role had increased significantly over the years. To be fare I got paid well but I was time poor.
Things remained that way until 2007 when two things happened. As a consequence life turned upside down and everything changed.
… (to be continued in Part 3)