Constructive Criticism: More Sparring Required

In the spirit of Rutherford’s recent essay on snowflakes and getting off his lawn, it’s time for another  edition of Constructive Criticism.  For those of you not familiar with the series, it focuses on builders that usually reside just outside the spotlight of the big blogs or right on the border.  There is no escaping the inherent arrogance of the notion, but these are builders who I think need to be pushed and encouraged to take the next step with their models.  Many of these people already have a nice Flickr following, but their work tends to get lost in the shuffle from time to time. I’m also going to offer my usual disclaimer that I’m a fan of Josiah’s and in no way is this article meant to be mean-spirited, especially to a teenage builder.  With that boilerplate out-of-the-way, today’s victim on the rotisserie spit is Josiah N,You may remember him from such popular builds as Science is Fun!, Gates of Bodus Minor and Anne the Toucan.  I’ve been watching Josiah’s recent W.I.P. shots with great anticipation, I dig the subject matter and the bare bones of the model, but I have to say that the final product was disappointing.


As of the writing of this post, the photo has racked up an impressive 44 favorites on Flickr so if you’re going just by the numbers my negative feedback doesn’t hold much water.  Since Josiah openly embraces criticism on his Flickr profile, I’ll have a go at it anyway.

“I try to improve as much as I can, so if you’ve got any criticism or advice, feel free to tell me, I can take a hit. ;)”

That’s the spirit! It’s also worth noting that Josiah received some great suggestions on his W.I.P. photos, some of which I touch on in my evaluation.  It’s too bad he wasn’t able to incorporate more of them into the final product.  It’s not very common these days to elicit so much feedback and it’s probably a testament to Josiah’s popularity.

I’ll start with what I liked, because I like the core of nearly everything Joshua does with the brick.  The octagonal shape of the build is a great choice and the black roof along with the black base frame it nicely.  I do wish the builder had used collect-a-fig bases throughout because the roof of the interior structure looks better than the roof of the walls.  The main doors are well done and so is the facade of the dojo building in back.  The diorama is dressed nicely with minifigs and accessories, and the statues look pretty cool on the cracked surface.  Again, the concept is great but it the final product looks like a rough draft, like it could have used a little more sanding to take the jagged edges off.

The tree is probably my biggest complaint.  The roots should visibly penetrate the stone floor and reappear somewhere else instead of just laying there on the surface.  The trunk of the tree seems too large in proportion to its height and it could probably use more variations in the height of the leaves.  I’m not down with the studded trunk either, how many trees do you see with uniform studs all over them?  The floor was a near miss for me as well, the dark-tan pseudo peace symbol is fine, but it would probably look better if it was centered and not obscured by the building.   I’ve never seen the cracked floor technique done better than Thorsten Bonsch, so the bar is pretty high and this seems like a missed opportunity to do more with the ground.  Although I appreciate the fact that Josiah decided to include an interior for the small dojo building and I know medieval Japanese buildings were spartan in style, but it’s a little too bland for my taste.  Maybe the inclusion of minifigs or a sword rack or some kind of framework in the walls would have improved the situation.

I had a similar reaction to Josiah’s The Abandoned Train Station from February of this year: great concept, great moments, but ultimately underwhelming.  The roof looks pretty good at first, but not so much when you look at the way it interfaces with the concrete.  It looks too insubstantial and tacked on, even taking into account the apocalypse.  It also seemed like a strange choice to have masonry bricks peeking out through gaps in the concrete walls, like the concrete was plastered over brick.  Then there is the big heavy train car hanging from a single chain.  Why is it hanging?  Is it hanging at all?

As usual I think the train has too many exposed studs, a smattering of studs would be great but it seems like overkill here.  I also wish there was a transition area between the car and the rails, as it is here, the car just lays there with no suggestion of how it moves at all.  I’m all for the greenery, a color sorely lacking in most ‘post-apoc’ themed models, but some earth tones under all that green might have been more convincing, or a change in plants.  I’m guessing Josiah was going for the whole “weeds through cracked concrete” thing but these plants don’t look like weeds.  Even with all its flaws, the diorama has a great mood about it, something that you can’t easily define or explain how to accomplish.

We’ll end things on a positive note with one of my favorite models by Josiah, 2015’s Mountain Monastery.  I think part of the reason my hopes were so high for the dojo is the promise shown here, from the rocky base to the roof the entire diorama is well thought out and inspiring.  23297159560_9895c4f89e_o

Constant reader, if you know a builder who you think might benefit or be entertained by this regular feature on the Manifesto, let me know in the comments.




31 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: More Sparring Required

    1. I’m confused Deus, if he doesn’t “need” any constructive criticism then he’s not right for the Constructive Criticism series. I’m guessing you mean he is deserving of attention in general. I follow him on Flickr, so there is always the possibility that I’ll feature his work here eventually. I find it interesting that your first choice is your #1 crony in the hobby. Surely a well traveled cat like you can think of other options.


      1. It has been lonely on the internet lately, I had more victims years ago. I was more concentrated on the part that said “Builders who are almost there”, so yeah. Also more people shredding your work is better, right?


  1. I disagree with your assessment of the roof in the train station. It catches the eye early on… and upon closer look, I remain delighted. I don’t see the disconnect. As for the chain over the train, I don’t think it is actually hanging. To me, the chain looks like incidental debris hanging down from above (like vines). A prop to re-enforce the notion of decay and neglect that is one of the pillars of the post apoc orthodoxy. I don’t think it is even attached to the train. Again, I kind of dig it.

    I do think the texturing of the aged concrete wall is a little generic. It makes the wall look like it was originally made of odd bits and pieces… and then plastered over. The way the plaster might come off of a Spanish Mission in patches, revealing the bricks beneath. My problem comes from the notion that the structure is decidedly modern, and probably made of cast concrete. It sort of jars the “modernity in decay” esthetic.

    Also, in one shot (upper right thumb nail) it is apparent that one of the minifigs is two faced. I don’t mean to judge his character! He has two faces, and in this shot, you can see the other face. It’s unintentional, but again, it disturbs the intent of the pic. The figures are not moved from pic to pic, they are static… so that guy literally has TWO faces! It’s a small detail… and having to point out such a small thing is a testament to the MOCs overall strength. BUT… details do matter.

    I dig the train station. As for the pseudo peace symbol in the floor of his latest build? Keith you are a buffoon! It’s obviously a Mercedes symbol! Why do you even blog at all?

    The monastery is the tightest build. The little pagoda, the bell, and the entry arch are all delightful details that set a gentle and decidedly zen tone.

    Excellent work! Almost good enough to elevate this blog!



    1. I stand corrected, it is not hanging from the chain, but that sure is the impression it gives when you first look at the photo. You’re a dangling-chain apologist though, surely you will admit that? I don’t think I’ve ever created a diorama that you didn’t suggest dangling a chain or two or a dozen from. Everything’s gotta be Brett’s death scene from Alien:

      Sound’s like we’re in agreement about the wall treatment, the mix of masonry bricks and cast concrete is odd. Pick one or the other.

      As for the two-face minifig…You know the mirror has two faces

      I tried to make it clear that Josiah is a great young builder, I dig all of his models but I think there is some clear room or improvement and attention to detail.


      1. Brett’s death. Yes! Rainy hangy, chainy and ultimately stabby, bitey death!

        The Mirror Has… What the hell is WRONG with you!

        Josiha… look away man! Look away!


  2. Like I said on Flickr, thanks for the writeup Keith!
    I’ll be honest when I say that I winced quite a bit when I read this post due to the fact just about all the stuff you said about the models was pretty darn true.

    The fact that you wrote a whole post though is a really big help to me personally, though. I always appreciate people leaving critiques (even if it is sometimes painful to read the comments) because I believe that criticism helps make people better builders.

    I wasn’t aware of your blog’s existence until yesterday, and I’ve absolutely enjoyed reading some of your posts!
    You’ve got yourself a new faithful reader.:)



      1. No worries Josiah, I have to click to approve every first-time commenter’s reply. Once I approve that initial post, you’re good to go and you won’t get hung up in moderation. I deleted your duplicate post, in case you were wondering.


    1. Critique is always and forever shall be a bitter pill to swallow. Not because it is in any way insulting or demeaning (at least it shouldn’t be if rendered/taken properly), but rather because it is challenging in every single way possible. Challenging your aesthetic, challenging your choices, challenging your concepts, challenging your skills, and challenging your baby.

      When you work so diligently on a project and have a single vision for it, it seems almost impossible that there can be anything off with it. Perfection is an illusion, an idealized carrot dangled in front of you. Even Thor’s floor is not perfect, and I’ll guarantee you that he would be the first to say so. Even though it is challenging, the only thing that should concern you now is what is next. How do you pick up the gauntlet thrown and make it better? The real trick is to always build for YOURSELF and not simply to gain the most likes or the highest compliments or least amount of wincing critiques. Critiques and all of us are merely resources to either utilize or shove back into the toolbox, you control the action.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right Matt, I didn’t mean to suggest that Thorsten’s flooring is perfect, but I do consider it the state of the art right now and something to be inspired by or aspire too. Just because Josiah didn’t hit that incredibly high mark, doesn’t mean his own floor wasn’t effective, I just couldn’t help the comparison.


    2. Josiah! Good to see you at the Manifesto, I sincerely hope you stick around and comment on things as you see fit. I guess if you’re wincing a little I’ve done my job. As I said in the post, I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m trying to offer an honest critique while providing an alternative to the way models are typically blogged. Thanks for taking the post in the spirit it was written and I’m sure you’ll see your stuff on the Manifesto again. You’re a talented young builder and I think we all expect great things from you in the future.


      1. Its my pleasure to be here!
        And no worries either, I can tell that you’re not being a jerk (cause I’ve seen people who are genuine jerks, you’re not one).
        I appreciate the fact that you took time to critique my work and point things out to me.
        All too often I’ll look at my work a week from when I post it, and that’s when I start to see its flaws, and stuff that I could’ve done differently.
        Basically, once the elation of having finished the project is over, that’s unfortunately when I take my rose tinted glasses off and see red flags on the creation. Haha.
        I love what you’re doing with this blog though! Its led to so many awesome discussions.
        Its something special, really.


      2. I’m glad you too the article in the right spirit. Thanks for the feedback on the blog, you’re just the kind of builder I was hoping to appeal to and please stick around to leave your thoughts as you’re inspired. I’m looking forward to your next build, or WIP shots for that matter, I know that whatever you choose it will be interesting.


  3. I agree about Josiah, he’s got so much potential and he’s a very versatile builder among the castle crowd. What his models lack mostly is that touch of extra polish. And some of his builds (Mountain Monastery, Science is Fun to name some) prove that he can do that

    Here’s some builders that deserve some attention (and some criticism as well): > you’re going to have to do a lot of scrolling to get to the good stuff… in fact I can start complaining right away saying he really needs to organize that bloody stream. :)) > with a little more polish and better photography he could go a looong way. > the fact that this has 1 favorite in more than 10 days is a crime.


    1. That last selection just needs some damn exposure, they’re frickin’ pros! That drum, good god! Dave had a great turnout in the MOCathalon this year, his Zeppelin 4 album cover was beyond words (I hated that I could only grant five damn points for something that outstanding.)


      1. Right? The Zep cover was amazing, I’m not sure how much help Dave needs either but I’m sure he’ll be showing up here eventually in one way or another.


    2. Thanks for the suggestions, I think all three are great choices. Well, maybe not the 3rd link, that model is beyond my ability to suggest improvements, it just needs exposure (as Matt suggests). I’ll give it a spotlight.


      1. I chose the last one because they need and deserve the attention, not for improvement suggestion. That be difficult to do. 🙂


    1. All good suggestions Christopher, I’ve actually looked at a few of their models but rejected them because they were not quite there yet. Your choices are perfect for this series, I’ll add them to the list.


  4. I don’t think there is any other topic more discussed, argued or feared than constructive criticism over the years. It’s been the meringue grenade pin of several fora over the years – most claiming they encourage it, yet end up being poisoned by it to greater or lesser degrees. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that text carries very little connotative context, often sharpening the effect of criticism to the receiver. That, and criticism from a friend or respected builder is taken a lot more easily then a 5 word shot from the hip from some young buck just off the stagecoach. All this aside, I think it is an important part of our hobby for those that wish to grow. For me personally, I normally don’t offer criticism unless it’s specifically asked for, and usually if only an an element of the build – ‘How can I make the cockpit more flush to the lines of the fuselage’ etc. I tend to focus on what I like about the build, omitting what I don’t like. The hope is that the builder takes the techniques of the successful parts and carries them forward. Not sure if this approach is a reflection Canuckism, living in the home of the random drive-by apology, or that subjective criticism in a constant (and necessary) part of my job. Nobody working at the hot dog factory likes to come home and immediately shove a wiener in their mouth.

    Um…that didn’t come out right.

    Blog is going great, man. It’s the daily intellectual fertilizer I furrow into my locust-gnawed soul.


    1. Gil…
      Last week it was poultice. Now it’s double barreled delight with MERINGUE and FORA. I would love to respond to your post at the substantive level… but I CAN’T. Not until I FIRST… and once again… doff my hat and hold it over my heart. You sir do not speak English… you radiate it. You speak in, as our Puerto Rican friends would say: “in words of light”. Meringue… I weep sir.

      Now that I have regained my composure… I think there is a lot of value in your approach. Like Nic said about critique, don’t just say you dig it… but say specifically what you dig about the MOC. Your approach, emphasizing the positive… may be a safer (safer here meaning better) approach to critique in this on-line environment where trust is scares, trolls are plentiful, and you WANT to do good.

      If we take critique OUT OF CONTEXT… as a stand alone topic, then it is easy to say: Balance, Objectivity, Good with the Bad…

      But (I’m sort of clenching my teeth hear…) we don’t EXECUTE critique OUT OF CONTEXT. We do it in this real, chaotic, threatening on-line environment.

      You and Nic both seem to understand the ramifications of this. And you adapt your critique accordingly.

      The importance of Sensitivity to ones audience can not be overstated in ANY communicative effort. And critique is nothing if not communicative.

      “shove a wiener in their mouth…Um…that didn’t come out right”

      I would counter that it might not have been the coming out part that wrong… but the shoving in part!



  5. Too kind! Thanks Michael. Yes I agree…it’s a hard balance to strike and there is much truth in the idea that by the act of posting, you acknowledge and consent to criticism. In the early days, I would have blurted out the ‘right’ response, saying that I encourage and wallow in all criticism, good and bad. With years and the onset of greying hairs in places both distinguished and nether-ly, I have to be honest with myself and admit that of course I love kudos like anyone – and feel the pain of criticism, despite knowing its value. If I do feel that small flare of resentment, I tamp it down with the idea by publishing, I ask for it. This is community. Revel in the stuff you like, learn from what you don’t and roll the rest into a small wicker ball that will fester and slowly exhaust the heavy water of your soul.


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