I don’t know why we started watching them. Maybe it was the fascination of Howl’s Moving Castle being scratch-built. Maybe it was the person who refurbished a thrift store dollhouse purchase. Zane, my nine-year-old, thinks maybe it was the scratch-built Spirited Away bathhouse. There are plenty of choices, honestly. But it’s one of two different videos, and since then, the kids and I have gotten very into watching people on YouTube build things out of clay, coffee stirring sticks, and aluminum foil.
Actually, there are four basic types we watch. We watch the person we think of as “the show-off,” who builds entire dioramas from scratch, including making inside pages for every individual book. This involves a lot of foam board, wood, molded plastic, and the occasional pre-purchased item. We watch Studson Studios, who makes models and dioramas from literal garbage. Plastic packaging, random thrift store and dollar store bits, and actual “I found this somewhere and don’t know what it is.” We watch North of the Border, who is actually mostly making sculptures out of various types of clay. Lately, he’s been on a “what if [x] but scary or realistic?” kick. And we watch Boylei Hobby Time, who mostly kit-bashes dioramas while adding scratch-built and 3D-printed pieces. He’s developed what he calls the Wild Imaginary West and is populating it with crytids and mechs.
We’ll add other people to the list, and we’ll watch random video of other people, but these are the four basic types of videos that pull us in most. In fact, Zane wants to start emulating Studson, who I think he feels the most kinship to. Hanabira (the full channel name appears to translate to “Flower Workshop,” if Google isn’t lying to me) is something he feels to be far beyond his abilities. I think Boylei Hobby Time and North of the Border are both aspirational in their own way. But he’s already started to collect interestingly textured plastic for his own future builds.
We’re supportive of this, inasmuch as we’ll buy him glue and paint and things and have told him that we’ll continue to do so as long as the crafting bits have an away and stay in them when he’s not working on things. Certainly it’s true that I enjoy watching the videos every bit as much as he does, which is a nice change for us. However, one of the things I point out on everyone but Hanabira is that our main channels routinely point out when they’ve made mistakes. They’ll even show us the mistakes, if the video isn’t already running longer than they’d planned.
In fact, Boylei Hobby Time has an entire video of “I screwed this up.” He measured the resin for an Old Man and the Sea diorama by weight, not volume. It didn’t set. It spent an entire year sitting around his studio, not setting. So he made a video with it as a sort of a “look, I screw things up, too.” This is an extremely valuable video to show a nine-year-old with perfection issues. He admires all these builds, and having Studson tell us in warm tones how much he loves his ugly, lumpy boy after making a misshapen Link is useful for him. These men are helping him accept his own mistakes in a way that all the “it’s okay to get things wrong” from his mom can’t do.
These ridiculous videos—what else do you call Cookie Monster eating the Gingerbread Man from Shrek or an alien-from-Toy Story Gundam?—are more than just bonding time for our family. (His father and sister love the videos, too.) They’re a spark for his creativity when he sees a plastic wagon kit become a mech rapidly striding away from a bison monster. When Studson adds literally thousands of tiny rhinestones to his moving castle model, it teaches patience. When Adam, the North of the Border guy, discovers the tedium of fake fur yet finishes his Sully anyway, it teaches perseverance.
And if he’s never going to be the Hanabira person—the one who doesn’t talk over the videos and the one whose gender we do not, in fact, know—well, that’s okay. Because he’s also learning that there are all sorts of ways to be impressive. Adam can’t paint. Studson can’t sculpt or paint. Boylei has sworn off resin after yet another screw-up. All three of them are using tricks and techniques he can himself learn, and maybe he’ll be better at painting or sculpting than any of them. Because you’re seldom the best or worst at anything.