Beginners sometimes look at the sophisticated armour finishes of the masters – say the so-called “Spanish school” of weathering – and wonder how they will ever get there. I certainly did. I think my first exposure to the technicalities of armour finishing was a “Showcase” spread in FineScale Modeler, an issue from 1989, featuring Francois Verlinden’s build of Tamiya’s original short-turret M1 Abrams from 1982. He built it with a simple diorama base, of course, and threw in some figures and a map table, the vehicle was depicted on a firing range as I recall. But what struck me the most was his discussion of finishing techniques – concepts such as capillary effect drawing washes around 3D detail, and drybrushing to profile edges in complimentary colours suggesting light catching the vertexes, or bare metal.
That was a long time ago, and a suite of skills develops naturally, but those were the fundamental techniques that have formed the core of my skill base to this day. In working up a Tamiya Sherman (their original tooling from the early 80s, 35-122, the old classic) I was struck by, not just what a simple and satisfying build it was, but what a “canvas” it presented for the artistic side of the hobby.
The kit went together without arguments, as you expect from Tamiya of pretty much any vintage, but when it came time to hit the paint shop, it became clear there were two complete paintjobs to be done. The first was entirely by airbrush, starting with a basecoat of Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab, lightened for scale effect with the addition of 20% XF-60 Dark Yellow. This was then treated with fade and shade coats, the latter being XF-62 darkened with a little black to create the shadows on the underside and under the sponsons, and the former being the base mix plus white and thinned to a greater degree than normal so as to be clouded on in areas where the sun would likely have faded the paint.
With this phase complete the model was set aside for several months while other projects were underway, the reason being that I did not fancy the old Tamiya decal sheet. I invested in Archer rubdown decals for the national insignia and the irony is that when I came to use them I could not get the hang of applying rubdowns to a three dimensional surface, and ended up using the kit decals anyway, which, as it happened, worked perfectly. But that’s another story…
The second entire paintjob was applied in oils. This constitutes oil wash in brown, black, ochre, white and orange to create streaking where the rain has caused rust to mark the surface in vertical lines, dirt has liquified and run downward, and pale streaks have appeared due to who-knows-what. This was extensive, over almost the whole surface – areas were pre-wetted with Testors airbrush thinner, a technique recommended by “Panzer” Mroshko, one of the greats of the field. Whenever streaking work dried with tidemarks, the panel concerned, even if it was the entire flank of the vehicle, was rewetted with thinner to eliminate the “edges.” The markings selected were for a tank involved in the Battle of Berlin in April 1945, so it was likely to have battled through a lot of wet weather after the terrible winter of ’44-’45. Photographs of the vehicle in question show an advanced case of filth, and the idea was to reproduce the feel, if not the exact detail, of that.
After the streaking operation came the drybrushing – a mixed pale green was used to profile all edges, making them stand out to the eye. Then came the chipping, dark brown for old rust at the head of those streaks, plus brown and black for spots of dirt all over the vehicle. The final round of drybrushing was bare metal silver, the only enamel paint on the model.
It may have been the separation in time that created the feel, but it seemed like two distinct painting tasks, two different suites of skills brought to bare; when one was over it was set aside in favour of the other. Oil was drybrushed over the decals to match the rust streaks, making it seem the markings were painted on and the rusting process applied equally to all painted areas of the hull. Very little was done with powder pigments, just some carbon black and rust under the tail end.
When the model was well along in this process it seemed, in comparison to the relatively bland basic paintjob, to have come alive, taken on character, and it was no exaggeration to say that the model, once the basic scheme is down, becomes a three-dimensional canvas upon which the artist replaces the engineer, and the skills one learned with brushes long ago return to the fore.
This was a very satisfying project, and I can say with certainty that I will build a couple more of these kits, despite their age. There are a great many Sherman kits these days, engineered to far higher standard (and a far greater cost), but this certainly looks like a Sherman, and the overall pleasure of the process was exemplary.
With the exception of the tracks, that is… The old vinyls had plenty of details but were simply too long. When test-fitted, they flopped badly, so the only option was to shorten them. Many will be throwing up their hands and saying “aftermarket is better!” and they’d be right, but this is a T54E1 track and the only company that makes this one I believe is Bronco, and reviewers point out that their track does not fit the Tamiya sprockets unless the latter are widened with shims at the assembly stage. I was not about to buy AM sprockets as well, unless I absolutely had to (assuming they are also made), so first I tried slicing out two links carefully with a fresh blade and rejoining the tracks with superglue and thread. The thread probably handled most of the tension, being introduced through drill holes and the knots themselves glued hard. The finished tension it’s sure evocative of American “live track” and with the flaky, damaged paint touched up, the eye did not pick the intervention.