Scratchbuilding notes

Post may be a bit long and rambling: kind of writing notes to myself here ...

So I finished my urban building-front model that I wrote about here earlier:

Photo of building:

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Scale drawing:
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Scan of partially-completed model:
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More pictures to come soon.

So, Craig, what have learned from the show today? Oops ...

This was an (almost) all-paper model. Paper is probably my favorite modeling material. It's so ... natural, and ubiquitous. Every house is full of it. It's cheap and can be gotten anywhere. Comes in an endless variety of thicknesses, finishes, colors, textures. Easily worked and glued.

Of course, paper also has its challenges and problems. Probably the worst, from the point of view of the modeler, especially one like me trying to make a flat object, is that it's not very dimensionally stable. Which is to say that it warps like a mother once you apply wet glue to it, or make significant cuts into or out of it.

So all my paper models have fairly massive bracing and reinforcement on, behind or around them. This one was no exception: in back are some huuuuge timbers (or at least they'd be huge to an HO scale observer: in reality they're about 3/8" thick) glued to the back to keep it flat. Which it does, pretty much. The very top of the building, not being reinforced, has some noticeable curving, but it's not too bad.

Styrene, on the other hand, does lie flat--but not always. Part of this model is styrene--the fire escape--and I found while gluing it up that even styrene is subject to warping due to shrinkage when solvent cement is applied. So basically *nothing* will lie absolutely flat when being glued up.

All in all, I'm very happy with the model, and can't wait to show pictures of the finished flat. It certainly captures the overall look and feel of the building, and it would look pretty damn good on an urban layout or diorama.

To me, the thing that really makes or breaks a building such as this is the windows and doors. Especially the windows. That's why I go to pains to cut both upper and lower sashes and glue them together into a

3-dimensional unit. They look really real. The doors, on the other hand, are pretty flat and "sketchy".

I went back today and looked at the building and took some more pictures. I saw right away that I missed a few things; I'm tempted to make this again, this time paying more attention to details. And somehow I completely left off the upper part of the fire escape, the ladder that goes up to the arched opening on top. I'll probably add this on later.

That damned fire escape took me about to the limits of my patience. I can hardly believe I was actually able to cut and glue all those teensy-tiny pieces of styrene together, but somehow I did it, and it looks great. But working on that damn thing: try to pick up a piece, say one of the railings, and it sticks to your finger. Or goes flicking off into the 5th dimension, never to be found again. And gluing them where they're supposed to go without big unsightly globs of melted plastic. Or trying not to breathe in the deadly fumes of the solvent cement, holding my breath while holding a piece in my right hand with tweezers, trying to see through my magnifiers just where the f*ck it's supposed to go ...

Building this model has also got me interested in the building itself. When I went there, finding the front door open I ventured inside. Turns out the building is presently occupied by a church (the Greater Saint Paul Baptist). They were having a staff meeting, but I did get a chance to talk very briefly with a guy there who told me that the building had previously been a bingo hall and a union building. Looking up the old address of the building (Martin Luther King Dr. used to be Grove St.), I found it was once the union hall of the IBEW, Local 595. I also found an online copy of Popular Mechanics from 1914 that has--I kid you not--an ad for the Pacific School for Stammerers at this address!

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Other problems with paper: the surface doesn't allow much manipulation. Can't really be sanded without raising lots of fuzz. You can sort of put stuff on top of it, say to simulate stucco. And while I was able to cut fairly fine features out of it, like the window muntins, there's a definite limit to this. If one were really serious about realistic doors and windows, either laser cutting or etched metal would be the way to go here.

Producing the working drawings was a hybrid analog/digital process. The original photo was taken with a film camera, natch. I then scanned the

4x6 print, and printed the building full-page on my laser printer (not a great rendering, but I only needed to see the features). From this I produced scale dimensions, as I described in my earlier post. I used these to make a mechanical drawing, using pen & ink, which I then also scanned. This was used to make several working prints.

In order to make these prints at the correct size (actual HO scale), I found I had to import the scanned image of the drawing into my drawing program (Corel) and resize it, then print it. This is the only application I have that allows fine enough control over object sizes to produce an accurately-sized printout. I suppose in the old days, I would have had to find a xerox machine with reducing capability, and use trial and error to make copies until I got the right size.

In some ways, this thing practically built itself once I made the working prints. To cut all the main building features, I glued the print to the substrate (illustration board for the thicker elements, chipboard for thinner ones, then simply cut along the lines. It was like creating a kit for myself; "cut building pilasters from Sheet 8, cutting along the indicated lines". I used Scotch spray photo mount, which is really messy, goopy stuff, but holds well. I did run into some problems with some of the window trim I used this goop to glue with, where my sticky fingers got all over the front of the trim, of course, leaving big goopy fingerprints which I had to try to remove with a Q-tip and lacquer thinner.

For doors and windows, I actually created templates in Corel Draw, using the scanned drawing as a guide, for all the various window pieces. All the double-hung windows have 3 pieces: upper sash, combined upper & lower sash, and outside trim. I printed these directly onto cover stock and cut them out along the lines. Again just like a kit.

So while most of the model is paper, I did plenty of what I call "cheating", which is using non-paper materials (and non-hand processes). Super glue certainly played a role here. Then there's the aforementioned styrene. And the finished fire escape parts were expoxied onto the finished front.

Finishing: I used spray primer all over the front after construction, which doesn't warp the paper like a water-based paint would. After that I sprayed the whole thing with Delta Ceramcoat acrylic paint, using my airbrush. Details were painted with other Delta colors and some white Polly-S I had left over from years ago. After a little bit of touch-up to cover boo-boos, I covered the entire front with Dullcote to protect it before "glazing". Glazing was with clear styrene, which was another mini-adventure. I first tried using the remainder of an almost-dried-up tube of "hobby cement" (= cheap-ass Duco clone). Bad idea. The stuff drives waaaay too fast, and forms really annoying long streamers and strings which you have to pull off everything. Turned out the way to affix "glass" to a model is to cut the glazing a little undersize to the back of the frame it's to be attached to, then use blobs of white glue in each corner. Kind of like attaching photos to an old-fashioned photo album. If a little glue gets outside of where you want it, it's clear and not likely to be visible.

Well, that's about it for now. Will post more pics ASAP.

Reply to
David Nebenzahl
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Nice piece of work and thanks for sharing the build out.

You going to add the downspouts, external wiring, and do some weathering? Is that a poster of a man's head in the arch window?

Reply to
Lobby Dosser

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