Monday, September 28, 2015

Order of Priority

You’ve seen those photos, brilliantly finished tank models with L&L treads that are assembled before painting, clad perfectly around the wheels at the structural stage. When queried, the builder casually remarks that he “always” completes the model structurally before starting the painting process, and those perfect rubber rims on the roadwheels of said tank he “just paints where they are.” I’m not saying there aren’t masters who can do just that, but for myself I find it impossible, and the very idea reawakens long-subsided memories of childhood disasters with large paintbrushes and small parts.

So, how do you prefer to do it?

When I was a young styrene cadet, I had a strict order of priority in my mind, that building came before painting, and I took poorly to the suggestion in model instructions that small parts should be painted before assembly. It just would not compute at that age, and it took until I was a little older to start to see the sense of it. And older again before I realised that leaving the parts on their trees created the perfect handling system for items that were way too small to manipulate reliably. This means that today, I can have many parts for a model, say aircraft interior parts, landing gear, prop blades and so forth (that’s an Airfix Spitfire XIX happening in the header pic), airbrushed before they ever come off the tree. A little cleanup with file and knife as necessary, use masking solution to protect mating surfaces, and on with the paint – it works like a charm.

It’s probably all too easy to think that the method that works for us is the “only” one, and an eye-opener when we realise how differently other people do the same things. Approaches to L&L tracks is a case in point, with the shaping to the running gear being part of assembly, and the completed track being so fragile that it takes poorly to being removed and painted separately from the rest of the model. This inherent difficulty is one of the factors that has kept me from giving them a genuine go so far; I can get my head around fully articulated tracks (if not afford them) and vinyls I do not find repugnant, but plastic L&Ls do not, as yet, “compute” for me. If I can’t paint the tracks, wheels and hull in separate condition, my technique fails and I visualise paint splattered everywhere as my sausage-fingers, iffy dexterity and failing eyesight try to obtain decent coverage from paints applied with tiny brushes to difficult-to-reach crannies. The very idea of it is enough to make me say no … just no.

But those L&Ls do assemble so well on many models. I’m currently looking at Alan’s Flampanzer II and trying to imagine doing the L&Ls. Can I get them to assemble solidly enough in top and bottom runs to be separated off vertically so that everything can be painted individually, then bring it all together again and close up the tracks seamlessly? The great Tony Greenland would say no, plastic shrinks subtly on contact with cement and if removed they will never fit exactly the same way a second time. So … how?

I always paint and assemble aircraft landing gear off the model and getting a plane up on her feet is one of the last jobs I do during final assembly. I know others who like to get the gear on during painting so she’ll stand up for herself. There is no right or wrong, it’s all about what works for the individual, but surely there are limits to that – elements that are dictated by practicality in miniature engineering as surely as in the full size original?

At the other end of the scale there are also modellers who have found a way to paint the exterior finish before assembly. This I find fully as difficult to get my head around as painting roadwheels after assembly… Surely the penalty of dressing joint lines and then repairing the paintjob over the seams doubles the work? It doubles the number of paint load-ups, at least? Again, techniques are infinite and whatever “computes” for us is the right one.

Maybe it comes down to how creative we are with our engineering – how fiddly we can be, our mental tolerance for whatver the manufacturer thought was a good idea, and our dexterity and ability to think ahead, all very personal attributes that conspire to give us rather different ways of tackling the same problems. To paraphrase Taoism, “there are many different paths to the top of the mountain – but they all lead to a finished model.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Taking a New Technique for a Spin

It’s been a busy year of work and home commitments and this blog has been sadly neglected since February, but better late than never, so here’s something fresh from the workbench.

Okay, it’s not a new technique as such, but the first time I’ve given it a go. I’ve built about thirty armour kits to date and the art of weathering is one that offers endless variation and endless possibility, but I have always belonged to the “less is more” school, in which subtlety is the charm. One day I’ll have the skills to stipple mud onto my tanks and make it look good, but not just yet, so an intermediary stage was to try for a patina of dirt on the underside and running gear that suggested either heavy road grime or worn and dried mud in a fairly even finish over, well, everything.

The trick was to spray the dirt, of course. I have seen many photos of excellent models in which the running gear is the colour of the environment rather than of its materials or paintjob, and I was eager to give it a go, so when cranking out a Tamiya Pz. IIIL recently I decided the time had come. The markings are for a unit in Russia in ’43, end of the good weather, so summer camo with rust, dirt and wear.

The logic of the thing was simple enough – complete a normal paintjob as it would have been laid down by factory and field workshops, and then paint the dirt over it. Working in my usual Tamiya Acrylics, I started with dunkelgelb (XF-60) and lightened it with 25% XF-2 White for a scale-modified base overall. Next I added the green (XF-61) lightened to the same degree with XF-60, and performed the “squiggle” pattern. I did not bother changing down to the fine tip and need this time, I simply pushed the thinning ratio out a bit and cranked the pressure up some, and it flowed quite happily at this resolution.

The next step was to fade the camo, for which I thinned XF-57 Buff  at 20:1, creating a mist-coat which I built up gradually on the top surfaces until I felt it looked right, just enough to suggest faded paint. In the same timeframe I got the running gear ready, with the tyres prepped with XF069 NATO Black, then both sides of the wheels stencil-panted with dunkelgelb and the outer faces of the outer wheels treated with green to continue the effect. Microscale Flat was used to enliven the finish at this point with its low lustre. After that point, the fun really began, because it was time for the dirt.

I mixed equal parts XF-10 Brown, XF-60 Dark Yellow and XF-64 Red Brown and took it out to a 20:1 ratio once again, then slowly built up the mist effect on the belly plates, swing arms and behind the roadwheels, under the bow and stern (overlapping the camo), and then misted over the roadwheels, drives and idlers (the latter two less so as they are higher up). It took considerable courage to hose dirt onto the finished camo, but I quickly saw that it was following the general logic of the shade-and-fade philosophy, just taking it a step further, so I ran with it and in the end was happy. Maybe the red component should not have been there, there was too much warmth in the colour for Russian earth, and in future I’ll keep it strictly to the brown range, but the principle seems to have proven out.

After that it was a standard oil wash, drybrush and pigment process, with decals sandwiched between layers of flat. I got silvering all the same and even though the decals otherwise behaved very well, I might restrict myself to rubdown decals in future.

The end result is a good one, I think, I’m certainly pleased with the visual effect, and eager to try the technique again. I have Zvezda’s (ex-Dragon) Pz. IIIF on order, which should be an excellent subject to give a panzer grey finish a whirl, and I’ll come back to the “sprayed grime” technique for that one too.

I’ll hopefully evolve the full suite of skills over time. I now have ten models finished toward my “History of the Panzercorps” display, with easily over a hundred to go, so I have every opportunity to experiment ahead of me.