Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Down To The Heart Of The Matter

I was hoping that a new post would have been up by now. For a few weeks now, I have been busy studying European forms, and how the stern rudder in the north possibly created unusual adaptations in the south.
There was an interruption in my plans.
You see, I had a heart attack.
So, clearly there will be a delay.
But not much longer.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Models From Paper, The Other Wood Product

It was spring of 1973.
I was ten years old, in the fourth grade, and we had just finished reading about the voyage of the "Dove", a 24' sloop that a teenaged Robin Lee Graham nearly sailed around the world over a five year period, from 1965 to 1970 (he sold her and purchased a larger sloop for the final leg). It had captivated me. One of our in-class newsletters, I think "Scholastic News, Grade 4", had a little cut-and-assemble (and as it turned out, waterline) model of the "Dove" on the back cover.
This was not my first attempt at a card or paper model ship. I had checked out many books on paper projects, and there were almost always one or two paper ships in them. But this was the first one that looked like a real boat (I remember being surprised how beamy the little sloop was).
In the end, I misread the instructions; you were supposed to glue the hull section to heavier cardboard and then cut it out, so my flimsy model lasted all of a few hours. I learned enough, though, to get an idea of how paper model ships might work.
A bit over three years later, early fall 1976, my best friend Craig and I were in the midst of a miniature arms race. Be it ship or plane, we were cobbling together any kit we could find. There were models we wanted, however, that nobody seemed to make. Craig's mother, Vivian, was an artist, and had lots of supplies lying around. One weekend, she let us use some of those to try a few projects. Craig and I decided to make a couple of ships, as well as to improve upon a couple of models already in our possession.
I brought a lot of my own supplies with me. In my little box was an olive green tube of Testors' Wood Cement that I had purchased for a model rocket some time back, and I felt that this was the best choice. After all, it was, I thought, "real glue", not like that amateurish Elmer's. I decided to make a model of a torpedo gunboat, something I had seen in a book. This was a German design from the First World War, and rather resembled a small destroyer. Craig decided on something else, though I don't recall what. Since I didn't have the book with me (whereas Craig had a book), I worked from memory. Needless to say, my first attempt was a disaster. The Testors glue wasn't working, and in fact was making a sticky, gooey mess out of the first bits of my model. Craig, on the other hand, seemed to be handily working away with the Elmers', and was much further along.
In the end, we shared the white glue.
By the end of that weekend, we had managed not only to add a matte board deck to a damaged Lindberg "Arizona", making it into an erstwhile "HMS Furious" (we had to use plastic cement to attach it), but also to build two small paper/matte board ships. I had my gunboat, which I named "Melissa Sue" (I had a tremendous crush on "Little House On The Prairie" actress Melissa Sue Anderson at the time). Craig had his project, and he was pretty proud. A few weeks later, we would use some scrap matte to build a small, and rough, "Titanic". A few months later, Craig and I built a rather detailed aircraft carrier "HMS Courageous".
Not long after that, after a tragedy, Craig moved away. That was my last completed paper model, but not Craig's. He would hone his craft into adulthood and turn out some amazing model ships.
I would use the techniques I learnt on wooden models, but would not touch another paper model for some time.
In 1991, I was given, as something of a gag gift, a Dover Cut & Assemble "Mayflower", designed by graphic artist A.G. Smith. While it was a meant to be a joke, I saw in the model's construction plenty of potential. In fact, in the years since Craig's and my forays into paper modeling, I had seen plenty of examples, including large model sailing ships that were waterproofed and operational, and Eastern European model warship "kits" that had been super detailed. The Dover kit copied the W.A. Baker "Mayflower II" rather well, though a bit simplified. A short time later, I would purchase their "Santa Maria", also designed by Smith.
Aside from copying the Mayflower's principle parts in plastic and to a smaller scale, I built neither. They would simply sit in the collection, and eventually be lost. Some time later, I did attempt a card model of a 1/700 scale British destroyer escort, around 2005, but didn't get beyond the hull.
A few months back, I purchased copies of the Dover "Mayflower" and "Santa Maria" again, as reference material for my library. As I studied the "Santa Maria" in particular, I found myself thinking that, perhaps, just perhaps, it was time to try my hand at this model. There are some issues with the design (the flat stern, namely), but it does look very much like a ship from the late 15th, early 16th centuries.
To that end, I purchased another copy of the model.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been working away at it. Paper/cardstock/karton modeling is an art. While there are some techniques that aren't that uncommon from traditional model building, it is different in many ways. All of the "kits" (usually sold in book form) are printed in full color, so one must work carefully so as not to mar the finish. While you might think the material lacks strength, once the hulls are underway, they become fairly rigid. And of course, you can add more traditional materials, such as wooden masts, to detail the model if you so desire.

The hull's beginning, day two, 12th January, 2016. The rudder has been separated from the model's "spine". Amazingly, there are almost eighty pieces here. 
The almost completed hull, 3rd February, 2016. Better than I was expecting. Do note the little 1/96 scale "Very Mini Me" on the forecastle deck. I made him for purposes of reference. And because it seemed like a good idea.
My "Santa Maria" has had a few fit problems, but I've managed to work around them. The problem lies most likely with both the kit and myself. This model has long been out of print (I believe it was made that one year only), but the "Mayflower" was available up until a few years ago. Both can be found in used bookstores. Right now, I am at the point where I am about satisfied with the hull. I've added some detail, replaced a few parts with wood, and made touch up using a Prismacolor marker. It has been a learning experience, though. While it was initially frustrating, I am now enjoying the work. I like that I am using materials that are not particularly harmful. Like wooden model ship building, it has a very organic feel to it. I have started to enjoy it so much that I have found archived models of other "Santa Marias", and Columbus' other vessels, from Eastern European publishers that are decades old. This new aspect of model building is one that I am really starting to embrace.
As to why it isn't more popular is a mystery to me.
When the model is finished, I will of course share it here.