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Book Review
The Greatest Guide
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by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

Originally published on:

I first became aware of the work of Juan Manuel Villalba some years ago when I received "Aircraft Modelling Step By Step: Vol.1" as a Christmas present. While I'd seen the work of many great modellers, Juan's was something different; here was a unique combination of extremely talented building skills with a painting and weathering style that verged on the artistic. Since then his work has featured widely in many publications, always maintaining his distinctive style that I find a constant source of inspiration that I only wish I could match in some measure.

The Greatest Guide is Juan's latest book - a comprehensive aircraft modelling guide that covers both the basics and very advanced advanced techniques in a readily accessible format. The 200-page hardbound book is centred around 7 projects covering all the popular genres, so there really is something for everyone:

1. Introduction - tools and materials.
2. Me 262A1-A - Tamiya 1:48
3. Fokker D.VII - Roden 1:48
4. Nieuport Ni II - Eduard 1:48
5. Yak 3 - Eduard 1:48
6. F4D-1 Skyray - Tamiya 1:72
7. Hughes MH-6 - Hasegawa 1:48
8. Ki-43-I - Hasegawa 1:48
9. A portfolio of other master modellers' work.

Each of the main chapters serves as a vehicle to introduce and explain a variety of techniques. So, the Me 262 deals with many of the everyday basics common to most kits; filling, replacing lost detail, and the concepts of shading and weathering. The biplanes introduce how to scratchbuild details, tackle wood and fabric finishes and lozenge decals, the MH-6 how to largely scratch-build an interior and update an old raised panel-line kit, and the Ki-43 shows how to create a stressed-metal appearance. This is to over-simplify matters drastically, because each chapter does cover far more than just these topics, but it gives an idea of the scope of the volume.

The text is very readable and manages to convey sometimes quite complicated techniques in an easy to follow way. The one criticism I would make is that is that the English translation from Juan's original Spanish manuscript isn't always very good (it's quirky and often too literal, as though an auto-translator has been used by someone who doesn't know the colloquial terms), but I was always able to follow the meaning. The book is illustrated throughout with superb quality step-by-step captioned colour photographs, backing up the descriptions in the main text. Rounding everything off is a very useful index.

The two things that shine through all the builds described here are planning and patience. This applies equally to the building and the finishing. Juan is exceptionally talented with his scratch-built details, but it's his attention to detail at the painting and weathering stages that always leaves me spellbound - masking, reverse-masking, re-masking and so on... the final effect is fantastic and very distinctive. The extraordinary thing is that Juan achieves all this with a 20 year-old airbrush fitted with a medium tip - but coupled with some of the finest hand-brush painting that you're ever likely to see!

Not everyone will find every aspect of Juan's techniques applicable to their own style. People who like their models factory-fresh will probably not be turned on by the weathering, for instance, but what you can't deny is his talent. The beauty of this book, with it's broad scope, is that there's so much to learn from and to cherry-pick - take what you like and develop it to fit your own style, and leave what's not appropriate to you. That's as it should be; the modelling world would be a very dull place if we were a bunch of clones slavishly churning out identically built and finished models.

I would recommend the book to any aircraft modeller. Beginners will find it a huge help mastering the basics and a great source of inspiration for future work, while even the most experienced modellers can always benefit from seeing a new twist on something they thought they had mastered. There are techniques here that I've never come across before - some so blindingly obvious (but, of course, only once you've read them(!)) I wonder why I'd never thought of them, and others that represent real leaps of lateral thinking. To be honest, I'd defy any modeller not to find the book useful. I will keep it handy by the workbench as a constant ready reference. Highly recommended.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: A comprehensive and lavishly illustrated guide to aircraft modelling techniques, from the basic to the highly advanced.
Lows: The English translation could be better.
Verdict: Juan Manuel Villalba is one of today's most talented and distinctive modellers. I find his work a continuing source of inspiration.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 978-84-95464-73-6
  Suggested Retail: 39.50 EUR
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jan 02, 2010

Our Thanks to Acción Press!
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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright ©2020 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Armorama. All rights reserved.


Nice review. I am a big fan of this style and picked this up immediately it came out and already it is a well thumbed tome. A couple of minor niggles is that they could have spent a bit more on the translation from Spanish to English because sometimes understanding what is being said gets lost and secondly some steps to an end result appear to be ommitted and I don't have the intelligence to work out how he got there. Overall an excellent book and a good companion to his last work FAQ.
JAN 13, 2010 - 10:32 PM

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