Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Practice of Perfection

I've been thinking a lot about practice, specifically the type of practice.  The old saying is, "Practice makes perfect."  What if you are practicing wrong?  Let's say you want to learn a new skill like applying bare metal foil, so you go out and you buy some foil to do the trim on one of your cars.  Well, if you don't know how to use it, it can be very frustrating.  How do you get it to stick?  How do you trim it? Do I need a new blade in my knife?  Do I use a Q-tip, my finger, or a toothpick to burnish it down?  These are questions you either have or had about foiling a car ( the answer to the last two is yes). If you don't know the basics, a new skill can be hard to master and can lead to you giving up.  To have authentic practice you must practice proper techniques.
How much practice do you need to master a skill?  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book, "Outliers" about that very subject.  He states that you need at least 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill, that's about 10 years give or take.  That's a looong time.  Of course, talent will determine how good you get at that skill, because let's face it some guys are just better modelers than others.  A pinstriper called "The Wizard", Steve Chaszeka, tells his students they need to do each of the 10 basic strokes needed to pinstripe 1,000 times to master them, that's 10,000 strokes. Coincidence? I think not.  So in order to master a skill it takes a lot of time and patience.  Think about that next time you try a new skill or technique out on one of your models.
When is practice not really like practice?  I never had to learn to play piano, but from what I've seen on TV and in movies, it must be pretty grueling to practice because some kid's mom is always forcing them to practice.  Building  models should not be that kind of practice, it should be the kind of practice you enjoy.  I recently read an article about "the Zone", and not the Twilight Zone.  "The Zone" is when you are so engrossed in something that you don't notice the passage of time, hours have passed before you know it.  We have all had that experience when you sit down at the old workbench to "do a few things" and next thing you know several hours have passed, the wife has turned out all the lights and is already in bed, the cat is wondering why you're stumbling around in the dark, and your leg is numb from sitting in the same position for so long.  "The Zone" is that special time when all you are concerned about is the kit in front of you, that is also my idea of perfect practice.
What is all of this practice for? Is there some test for modelers to pass?  Is there some intergalactic contest that you must win before you can be admitted to paradise? No test, no super contest, just the personal satisfaction of learning a new skill and doing your best at something you really enjoy.  If you truly enjoy building models, then it would stand to reason that you would enjoy learning to do it better.  One of the best ways to improve your skills is to build your models out of the box, no added details.  You will learn to build cleanly, remove kit imperfections, and how to improve your painting skills.  Out of the box does not mean boring, you can use paint to bring out details and draw attention to your builds.  I've always wanted to see a well built out of the box kit win best of show at a contest, to me, that would say that contests are really about building skills and not just about how much custom made stuff you can hang on a model.  Another good habit is to avoid the "good enough" syndrome. We've all done it, looked at a model we're working on and saying, "aw, who cares, it's just a shelf model."  Yeah, a shelf model, on YOUR shelf where you display the kits that you built for others to see (even if it's just you and the wife; and maybe the cat).  The point I'm making is build for you and make sure that it is up to your standards.  Your shelf models should be the best ones, because you built them for you.  Until next time, perfect practice makes perfect.
"Rat Fink" Ron

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