Commission built or DIY
edited by Dinesh Ned

Question: Should I commission someone to build models for me or should I learn to do it myself?

First of all, it depends on what you want. If you just want a model but do not need it to be of high craftsmanship quality, then actually making it yourself would be much more fun. Anyone, even a young child, can make models. But few individuals can raise modeling into an art form. Its somewhat like playing soccer. Anyone can kick a ball. But that alone doesn’t make one a pro-player. So, that's the question... what do you really want out of model making?

I had a bad experience many years back. Someone came to me and asked me to sell him a 1/350scale Missouri displayed in my shop showcase. This model was built and finished by one of our local waterline model-masters. This guy quoted me just over a hundred dollars to buy that beautiful model. He claimed to be someone who knew how to build models but who simply didn’t have the time to do it.

Imagine... a mere hundred dollars to buy a model that required more than 360 man-hours of hard work!!! The implied insult, so casually delivered, angered me greatly and it was all I could do to not tell him off!

Recently I encountered another experience, which would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. A young customer asked me about commissioning a 1/700 ship. He claimed that he tried modeling ships but couldn’t get the display standard he wanted. He wanted to know the approximate cost for such a commission build. Instead of simply offering him a price, I thought it would help to ‘assist’ him to see the value of such work.

I asked him how much he believed he’d be paid per hour if he worked part-time at a fast food restaurant. He said about $5/hr. I then asked him what he felt his time would be worth per hour if he were a pro-modeler. He said $50/hr. I told him a basic pro-built 1/700 ship would require about 50-100 man-hours to complete. He did his math and a look of great unhappiness came over his face.

There are so many people who put a high premium on their own time, but who do not respect others enough to do the same for them. They keep a ‘WIN-LOSE’ mentality. They win, we lose... Its not just sad, its pathetic actually.

Perhaps in Singapore or developed countries in general, instant gratification is the order of the day. Craftsmanship and artisan skills are sadly forgotten and often disrespected. Frustration over this issue is so frequent that it has becomes part of my job... my ‘occupational hazard’, so to speak.

My sincere advice to any and all who enjoy what we do at The M Workshop and would like to consider this hobby seriously is to stop viewing what we do as playing with toys. Cultivate a respect for what we do as 3-D art. Be willing to observe, listen, learn, and perhaps most of all, understand what we do and why we do it. Don’t strive to merely copy. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is hardly the ultimate form of self-fulfillment.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that its better for a person to learn to fish than buy a fish. Thus, I started teaching model-making in 2001. If you’d like to know my motivations, they can be read in the following link: http://www.themworkshop.com/MACADEMY.htm

There are a lot of books and online articles on scale modeling. But don’t forget that professions like a chef, martial arts master, pro athlete or sportsman and many others like these are skills that usually cannot be successfully mastered just by reading a book. It almost always requires good mentor-ship as well.

It also helps when we try and understand that a good model can be as valuable as a good canvas painting. Why do people pay huge amounts for paintings when they could simply buy a canvas and paint it for themselves? Exactly. Same difference, really.

Mastering a skill is a life-long undertaking. But the problem is that most people do not have the endurance, mental discipline, time and patience to reach a decent level of craftsmanship. If you really can’t do it due to one or more of these reasons, that’s fine. Life goes on. But at least have a little respect for the time and effort of those who have embarked on a quest to push the limits of model-art.

So, for all those from the ‘cheap & good’ brigade, here’s a gentle reminder on how it works: ‘You get what you pay for’. Simple as that.

Bernard Cher