Tutorial by John Selvia:


Whenever I work on a spaceship model, I view the hull as sort of a blank canvas – it’s the foundation for all the detail I’m going to put on it. The way I develop details for that ship is to look at the hull and break it down into sections and sub-sections. This simplifies the task by letting me work on small sections at a time. Allows time to set achievable goals. Even though concentrating on different sections, I’m ALWAYS conscious of the fact that the entire model must look like one unit, not a collection of detailed pieces – must be tied together somehow.

You unify or connect sections together with additional detail that overlaps each section. This could be a ship’s intercoolers, pipes, or whatever. In some cases, I just use a long pieces of styrene strip with a few additional smaller pieces of strip on top of it. Some times I create a detail that rises above all other surface detail. like some kind of access boom or fuel conduit or something.

Visually this is similar to a chain with individual links. If they don’t interconnect, you just have separate links – no strength.

By linking them together – everything feels right!

Ancient Secret

One way you can create detail that doesn’t look a mess is to base your detail (loosely) on the Yin-Yang symbol.

Say What? I’m serious! Look at each part of the symbol – each part has a head which is larger; and a tail, which is smaller. Note how the head of the  white part, fits nicely into the tail of the black part and vise versa. This symbol is so compositionally perfect, so beautifully balanced, it’s scary. The artist didn’t just make 2 shapes side by side to represent balance – that would be too ordinary. No, the artist achieved a visual balance that moves, flows, comes alive.

We need to simplify the above symbol for our needs. Here is a squared off, simplified version.
Imagine them as Styrene pieces.

If we split them a bit further, stretch them we end up with something like this.

Add a bit more detail, then a little more. 


We begin to see potential starship surface detail. Below is an illustration utilizing the above technique. A re-arranging of the head/tail concept.


Illustration of 2 square pieces of styrene. It is balanced (symmetrical), but boring. No movement – it’s static – it’s safe.

Split one of the pieces into 2, still have balance, but more interesting. Repetition = rhythm, which causes the object to be more dynamic.

Add a few small rectangles, and we get more interesting surface detail.

Note how I balanced out the 3 medium size squares with multiple smaller rectangles on the opposite end.

Add a few more rectangles and a cylinder, and we have a fairly respectable piece of surface detail.

Again, I balanced out the cylinder and its connecting rectangle by placing 2 rectangular tabs on the opposite end. Remember – when you add even a small piece of styrene to a model, you’ve thrown the visible balance off a bit. You then have to balance that somehow.

Symmetry & Repetition

Okay, so it sounds like perfect symmetry is evil and should be avoided. Well, it’s okay to have some symmetrical surface detail mixed in with your asymmetrical surface detail – it provides a breather, breaks the monotony, etc.

Two examples of mirrored surface detail, which, using repetition helps to create movement, actually works pretty well as is.


A Gallery of Surface Detail
Here are some examples of surface detail that can be made with styrene strip, cylinders, and cut-out circles.


Please see the next blog which contains “Scratchbuilding and Kitbashing” Tutorial Part VII by John Selvia.

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