Weathering Techniques and Realism for Scale Models
by Lars E. Liljeblad
If you have never tried weathering on a scale model, it may be that needless misgivings are holding you back. Truth is, weathering is not really that difficult and can add great realism and “life” to a static model, as well as telling a story. Another little known aspect is that it can actually hide some mistakes, but at the same time it could emphasize them as well. A lot of care should be taken during assembly and all the seams and fit issues taken care of early on. Take the time to give your model a thorough inspection with a good primer and make sure everything is flawless.
The foundation or surface of the model is very important, whether it’s a ship, aircraft, spacecraft, tank or train, most flaws will show up later when it’s too late! The paint on the surface of your model will be getting a lot of wear and tear during the weathering process and needs the same treatment as if it were going to be displayed as “factory fresh”. Some of the materials you will find very useful for weathering include the following:
Some of the commonly used techniques in weathering scale models are washes; dry-bushing, using pastel chalks, airbrush hazing and fading, and paint chipping with Prisma color silver pencils. Start by giving your model a smooth coat of primer, I would recommend Tamiya Fine Surface Primer, or Touch ‘n’ Tone automotive primer, and inspect the surfaces for flaws.
The paint used on your model is a matter of preference, but I would highly recommend acrylics. Tamiya and Vallejo are excellent choices for vehicles. They are resistant to most harsh chemicals found in various thinners, will eliminate the risk of lifting the paint, and are very permanent as well. The weathering process on your model is subject to a lot of abuse; acrylics are tough and dry to a perfect matte finish. There really is no need for a clear varnish when using acrylics (another bonus!) however, it doesn’t hurt to add a clear coat if desired, especially since it will help to correct unintentional gloss areas and give you a uniform surface on your model prior to weathering. If you use an oil-based paint such as lacquer or enamel, it will be necessary to overcoat your model with an acrylic matte varnish to protect the paint underneath.
An airbrush is the tool of choice for the base coat and can be used for much of the weathering procedure. And finally, be sure to let the paint dry thoroughly before weathering. The nice thing about acrylics is you can begin the next day, whereas with an oil-based paint, it can take up to three days to fully cure.
There are basically five steps to weathering a model. Pastel chalks, washes, (careful) dry brushing, fading, and paint chipping (scratches fall into this category as well) but that is a matter of preference. Let’s start with a wash of artist’s oil paints. The following would work great on a military vehicle, tank, jeep, truck etc.
Brush mineral spirits over the entire model to break up surface tension, and then mix up some oil paint to the consistency of dirty thinner. Burnt Umber, Van Dyke Brown, and a pinch of black with mineral spirits, brush over the entire surface, and let the wash flow into all the crevices and corners. By the way, mineral spirits is a good choice for thinner, as it dries a bit more flat than artists turpentine (besides turpentine has an intense smell!). Excess wash can be wiped off with a soft rag, preferably a lint free one. You will be amazed at how all the detail ‘pops’ out with this first step! Areas that you would like to see accentuated need a more concentrated heavier wash. Keep this up until you get the look you’re after. Another good product for washes is “Weathering Wash” by Pro Modeller, this is water based and works great! And as a bonus it is non toxic.
Now that we have the detail on the model more defined, let’s move on to highlighting. The best approach for this is to start by giving the model a light over-spray of the base color slightly lightened using an airbrush. Concentrate on the upper surfaces where sunlight would be most prevalent and try to keep the airbrush pointed at the model in the direction the light would hit the surface. You will get a very smooth, somewhat transparent coat of paint allowing the base color to subtly show through. Now it’s time to define raised detail with a careful, light whisking using an almost dry brush. Mix up some artists oils a little lighter than your base acrylic color. Pick some up on your brush, a (#2 or #4 red sables are very appropriate sizes for general use) and remove most of the paint on a rag or towel. Too much paint will leave undesired patches and heavy residue. The idea is to gradually build up the high lights; subtlety is the key for this step.
The use of pastel chalks provides a delicate weathering effect similar to the effect of an airbrush. Pastels are available at art supply shops and some craft stores, look for soft pastels, not the hard kind. Colors you need for weathering are burnt umber, burnt sienna, black, raw umber, yellow ochre, and white. Start by grinding some pastels on a piece of sandpaper, they can easily be mixed with other colors and then applied with a soft brush. The use of pastels for corners and crevices is ideal, and nothing really simulates dust better than pastels, since it is essentially dust! Simply apply and blow off the excess. The only drawback of pastels is they are not very permanent. The solution after all applications are done is a good clear matte varnish such as Dullcote by Testors, or Vallejo matte varnish.
And lastly paint chipping. This step is of a matter of choice by the modeler, but most military vehicles are made out of metal and are subject to wear and chipping. There are a couple of methods you can use for this step such as mixing a toned down silver paint like silver mixed with gunmetal, or mixing in some burnt umber or raw umber oil paint. Then gently stipple an almost dry brush on edges, and corners etc. A very fine brush can also be used to apply various scrapes and wear. Another way is the use of a Prismacolor, or similar silver pencil. These are available in craft or art supply stores. Next gently apply scrapes and chips to edges and various raised areas. To finish airbrush or spray with an aerosol can some Testors or Model Master flat clear lacquer to even everything out. Vallejo matte varnish is also excellent. A word on aircraft or spaceship models, the wear and tear would not be as excessive as on a tank or truck, and needs more restraint during the above mentioned process.
Another tip when weathering metallic finishes is to always clear coat your model with an acrylic varnish, acrylic is important in that it will not react to the chemicals in the thinner. Metallic paint is very delicate and the mineral spirits in the wash will most likely lift the paint.
> Practice on an old discarded model before trying these methods on your latest creation. You will find weathering is a fun step and your models will come to life!
About the Author
Lars Liljeblad is a full time modeler who works exclusively for private collectors. His work can be seen on a variety of websites including his own http://larslil.com/ as well as www.scahms.org. His writing credits include work for Fine Scale Modeler and Sci-Fi & Fantasy Modeler.
Lars is currently president of the Southern California area Historical Miniature Society. Striving for excellence in modeling, the club holds a yearly international model competition exhibition which attracts modelers and collectors from around the world.
Lars is a former automotive metal fabricator and his other interests include collecting movie and television memorabilia, as well as history, science fiction, movies and music.