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Charles Davenport's “Ask Chuck” Paper Modeling Tips & How To's Coming to Crèchemania

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Creativity and fun mark Charles Davenport's paper modeling hobby. His step-by-step how to's, techniques, and instructions? They're modeled to encourage beginners and guide the hand of more experienced paper modelers…

In this amazing Charles Davenport diorama, Paris' famed Notre Dame Cathedral isn't just lit by a full moon, but also glows from within — with stained glass window printed on transparency film. (Photo courtesy Charles Davenport.)
Charles' creation of the Straw Hat Nativity, surrounded by a golden halo. (Photo courtesy Charles Davenport.) 
"How many American's do you know that can pronounce Kourambiéthes?"

Charles Danveport's hearty laugh fills the room, and then he continues reciting his Greek lexicon: " Dolmáthes! Mousaká! My wife and I love Greek food. We can't wait for the Greek festival in Athens [Georgia] every year."

Besides kourambiéthes (powdered sugar-sprinkled cookies), dolmáthes (stuffed cabbage leaves), and mousaká (eggplant-and-ground-meat layers topped with bechamel sauce), Charles loves paper models.

"About two years ago," he says, "I was on a German paper modeling site,, headed by Thomas Pleiner, a renowned graphic artist. Someone had posted a picture of a nativity and gave your site,, as the location.

"I was blown away by your Free Downloads: you've got just about the most generous free downloads than any paper modeling site.

"And when it comes to sheer creativity and and ingenious design, your Byzantine Nativity is just amazing. It took me three or four hours to build it, and then saw how the light played through the top. It made the colors pop, just blew me way. It's just beautiful, seems to glow from the inside.

"I'm actually working on crèches right now, and I'm sending them to close relatives I love. I tell them, 'Put it on your tree, and think of me.' And these new offerings that you have, the Premium Downloads, that fit inside the palm of your hand? I want them all! It's takes me about half-an-hour to do one, and, after a while, twenty minutes — and boom! You've got yourself a little crèche!

"And so you don't have a fancy printer? No probllem! Put your files on a thumb drive and take them right over to Kinko's. No, not Kinko's, they're called FedEx Express now. Plug your thumb drive into their copier — you can get just about any texture that you want on card stock — and for about 75 cents you've got a printed page.

Charles shows the scale of his Byzantine Nativity. (Photo courtesy Charles Davenport.). 
"When you start considering the cost of the paper — if you were to buy photo paper — and then the color ink for your own printer, you just might spend more money than if you go to FedEx Express.

"Their machines are always maintained, and it's just so dirt cheap. And FedEx Express is just one of the places I know. The UPS stores now have the same color-copying service. Paper modeling is such a wonderful little hobby; your biggest challenge will be finding more nativities to build!"

"I'm a retired Air Force Major, and I traveled all over the world as an Air Force Navigator. When I came back from Korea, I attended a modeling convention in nearby Atlanta. There I found this paper model booth: have you ever heard of Paper Models International?"

Lou Dausse is my friend. I bought my first nativity from him.

"Get away! What a small world! I met Lou 20 years ago, and this Atlanta mini-convention trade show."

Lou used to do a lot of trade shows (see, Saying “Goodbye” — Louis Dausse of Paper Models International.)'For years,' he says, 'we needed assembled models to go to shows, and I was always building the latest thing and taking it along. My wife Barbara and I have spent twenty years going to hobby shows all over the country. We'd rent a booth, and hang our airplanes, set up our castles, display our dragons and our other models. That's how we promoted our business — when people saw all these models assembled, they went wild about them.'

"I sure did!" Charles says. "It's so simple to create a beautiful 3-dimensional representation without having to spend weeks and weeks doing it. With all my modeling supplies in boxes in transit from Korea, I bought some of Lou's paper models, some Elmer's glue, and I sat down building paper models while waiting for my plastic ones to show up from Korea.

Charles had the Byzantine Nativity Download printed at FedEx and is delighted by the quality and the 75-cents-a-page cost. (Photo courtesy Charles Davenport.) 
"Eventually my modeling supplies arrived, but by then I had gotten bored with painting plastic models. That was about ten years ago, when I started building paper models — because you didn't have to paint them!"

Do you remember what paper model you bought from Lou?

"As a matter of fact I do: a London bus, and a 1/4 scale of a Boing 747 that I still have — I'm mostly an airplane guy. I'd have fun building them, then let the kids would play with them. Now, with the crèches, I build them, then put them in a box to save them for Christmas!

"I also like to build cathedrals and other buildings. I just built Nagoya Castle. Have you seen the Canon Creative Zone website? It's fantastic, with hundreds of easy-to-assemble, free paper models of different genres: airplanes, automobiles, castles… After the Nagoya Castle I build Notre Dame Cathedral, the fully-lit version: I went on the Net and copied as many stained glass windows as I possibly could, scanned them, printed them on clear acetate, cut them out — there were hundreds of these little sets, it took me forever to put them in place — but the result is a Notre Dame Cathedral that's beautifully lit [see photo, top of page].

"I can't believe you know Louis Dausse. In the modeling world he's a god! He really helped build the hobby. Paper modeling is popular in Europe, but almost unknown here in the United States. Lou resurrected — because I used to build these paper models when I was a kid; I remember the stuff on the back of the Cheerio's boxes — Lou re-build the hobby.

"I belong to an international plastic modelers society, and I bring my paper models to show to the guys. I know they'll build a paper model hobby little by little, because I've been showing them my nativities. 'This is paper?" they'll ask. 'You've got to be kidding.' I have actually got a few of them building paper models. We'll meet in a week, and I'l bring my crèches to show them. I'll say, 'They're just a couple of bucks. You'll also have a ball, and something beautiful to put on your Christmas Tree. You already have the skill and the tools.'"

Lou Dausse says, "You don't need fancy tools — an X-acto knife, a pair of scissors, a pair of twizzers, a felt pen for coloring edges — that's the joy of this hobby. I will probably go on and on, until I finally fall over putting paper models together."

Adorned with golden dolphins on its roof, Japan's 17th century Nagoya Castle is nestled under cherry blossoms in this Charles Davenport montage. (Photo courtesy Charles Davenport.) 
"I couldn't agree more! I'm an addict about my hobby! I've machined special tools so that I can put compound curvatures in paper. So, I can roll the paper and get, instead of a flat segmented surface, a curved segmented surface. That's really important on aircraft. I can really work the paper as though it were metal. I'm crazy about this stuff!"

Loud said that, "The paper model market is shifting. It's all about the Internet, now. There are companies that only sell downloads, or models on CD's or DVD's. That is probably the future of this business."

"He's so right. I can tell you who's pushing the limits of the technology: the Czech and Polish modeling houses. They are doing some absolutely spectacular work in the paper modeling field. There's a company called Renova, and they make a model of the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in action during the American Civil War. Ronova's model is without parallel. I've seen the original Hunley, and they've captured every one of the relative details in this scale model. It's absolutely fantastic."

I'm in touch with Renova's Marcin Kudelski, and hope to add his profile to Crèchemania, soon.

"He's doing some spectacular work. And there's another company out of Poland, Halinski, and with their work, an experienced paper modeler can make an incredible reproduction. And the French are also doing really good work on buildings, churches cathedrals…"

Are you thinking of L' Instant Durable?

"Yes! They do beautiful stuff! I have the Eiffel Tower, but haven't had the gumption to build it yet, it's such a complicated model.

"Paper modeling is such a nice diversion when you're sitting there watching television. To be able to have a nativity, a little bit of glue, and then have something to put on your Christmas tree for Christmas? What's not to love?

A historical photo of the CSS Fredricksburg, active on the James River during the Civil War? No, it's Charles Davenport's 12-inch-long model of the Confederacy Ironclad. (Photo montage courtesy Charles Davenport.) 
"My father was a modeler. As a child, my father used to build flying models, and I always wanted to play with them. I started building my own models when I was seven-years-old. I had my own little jobs mowing lawns, and I'd take some money and buy my own model kits. I've been a modeler ever since I can remember.

"I'm a builder of things, a retired science teacher, and I've also taught precision machining. Cars, houses, industrial machinery — If there's something to be built, I build it.

"And the fun with models is that may not be able to own a P-51 Mustang World War II fighter, but I can build it; I can't own Notre Dame, or the Eiffel Tower, but I can build them.

"And I'm having so much fun with photography and my models. I got into photography when I was in college, with the express purpose of photographing my models, making them look real. What I love to do is put people in my models, by making scale images of people, and photographing them with infinite depth of field.

"I have an image of me and my friends in planes, trucks. My friends love seeing themselves in their models. And the models are in real scenes. I have a friend in my model club who loves fire engines. Well, I photographed his fire engine, then him, and, with Photoshop, placed him in the fire engine. Then put the fire engine in front of a fire department — and then changed all the lettering in the image so it would be his county. That's my fun.

I have a picture of a P38 crashed in a farmer's field. Friends ask, 'Where did you get that picture?' And I love to tell them, 'I made it.' That's really how I express my hobby.

"I love spending time in my modeling room, but it's a cluttered mess right now because we're redoing the downstairs. I have a precision machining center with a lathe and a mill. A photo table, so I can shoot in-process photos, a modeling table, tables that I can shoot my models in neutral backgrounds. That way, I can eliminate the backgrounds in Photoshop and pop the model into any scene that I want.

The DeHavilland Moth biplane, a plastic model 'piloted" by one of Charles' friends from his local modeling club. (Photo montage courtesy Charles Davenport.) 
"I actually storyboard a model and the photo I want before I actually build it. I treat it like a movie production. I have a finished image in my mind. I'm not an artist, but sometimes I'll sketch out how I want it to look, and where I'm going to be in the photograph. So sometimes I'll build a model to achieve a specific goal. And I'm always trawling the Internet for ideas.

"For me, putting the model into a photograph and making seem real it's a creative exercise. For example, with Nagoya Castle, I couldn't leave it as it was, high on its keep. So, I found a picture of cherry blossoms and popped the castle into it. I may all be out of scale — that tree is way too large! — but the colors are pretty and it's Japan, after all. And that means cherry blossoms.

"Paper models are great for people of all ages. I tell people that video games are a lot a fun, but when you turn off the game, all you're left with is a blank screen. With a model you've got a real, beautiful, object to enjoy.

"I would also like to write about paper models, materials, and techniques, with an eye on making it simple for the non-crafts person.

"Most people, for example, do not know how to use a hobby knife. When you're talking about a No. 11 blade, they give you a puzzled look.

"What I would offer is detailed instructions of model assembly, and also information about the tools and techniques, so in the end people would be encouraged to pursue the hobby we love — because they will realize how simple it is to cut out and put paper models together.

"And have them be proud to feature something beautiful they created, or send it — as I often do — to someone they love."

We're very much look forward to Charles' Ask Chuck blog with paper model how-tos, techniques, and information on the pages of

Charles Davenport "flying" the Caudron Luciole, a biplane paper model by DGA (Design Group Alpha) and built as a photo review for "The model features a number of improvements," Charles says, "not the least of which is an aluminum cowling, and a detailed interior, the latter of which you cannot see! But, that's the story with us modeling fools!" (Photo montage courtesy Charles Davenport.) 

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Updated 03-18-2011 at 02:13 PM by Moderator

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