There is a world of difference between factory finish and the appearance of military kit on operations. The effects of hard use, mud, dust, rain, rust, fading, damage, temporary camouflage, field modifications etc all contribute to a different appearance, conditioned by the theatre of operations.
The purpose of weathering is to enhance a factory paint scheme to represent the equipment in operational use. It brings the model to life.
There’s a mystique about weathering and too many products and techniques which confuse and deter. This Topic aims to cut through the overcomplicated stuff and offer a simple, effective approach. This consists of both enhancing the base paint scheme and then applying operational effects. It's best thought of in two related stages:
Stage 1 - Rendering. Rendering is the application of colour and shading to make a scale model appear solid and three-dimensional, in order to draw the eye into the detail. Rendering is an artistic term and it's particularly appropriate for us as this part of the process is an art. It uses techniques such as shading, filters, washes and chipping. These can all be done with a small palette of oils or a range of commercial weathering materials. Oils are simpler and more effective. This Topic covers rendering. Stage 2 is covered in the next Topic.
Stage 2 - Operational Effects. Replicating the effects of use (including combat), environment (terrain and weather) and ageing in order to set the model in its operational context. It gives the model its history. This stage relies heavily on pigments, augmented with acrylic pastes to give volume and texture.
Here are some basic principles which will make weathering easier and more enjoyable:
- Keep it simple: understand three or four basic types of application and stick to two media, oils and pigments, to make life easy.
- Use layers: build up the effects in layers, which, being translucent using oils, will build into a realistic finish with depth and variety.
- Do small areas at a time: don’t apply one effect over the whole vehicle at a time, it’s boring to do and leads to repetitive finishes. Do one small area (a bin, roadwheel, turret side etc), build up the finish until you’re happy and move on. It’s more rewarding, allows you to do the weathering in sessions and is more likely to produce variation and complexity.
- Keep the effects to scale: it’s easy to destroy the overall effect by applying effects which are out of scale. Imagine each effect six times larger – would it still look realistic? It helps to use a magnifying optic such as Optivisor, to use very fine brushes and to do small areas at a time, to keep things in scale.
- Don’t overdo it: If all you can see is the weathering technique, it's over-done, the scale model has become an artwork. Amongst plastic modellers, there is a fashionable tendency to excessive weathering such as colour modulation, chipping, rust etc. The effects of operational use are restrained and subtle. Less is more in weathering. The joy of using oils is that you can always remove a layer if it looks overdone.
- Follow your references: you can freestyle generic weathering but it’s much easier to re-create what you see in a good selection of reference photos. The vehicles running today in museums can give a good guide but they can’t replicate operational conditions from a specific time and theatre, for example the distinctive colour soils of Kursk or Vietnam, the effects of intense cold or desert heat etc. Weathering should tell the story of where the equipment has been (and when), how it’s been used and modified by operations.
- Enjoy it! You’ve done the hard work to build it, now relish putting your own stamp on your model.
Materials and Tools
There are too many commercial weathering products, they’re expensive and mostly unnecessary. To keep it simple, you only need two types of medium, oil paints and pigments.
Oils: oils are the most versatile medium for weathering, you can control the opacity, hue, saturation and shade (terms explained below). One tube will last for years. A suggested starting palette:
o Basic colours for changing hue (colour tint) and shade (lighten/darken):
Note that Black and Faded White are included for use with Panzer Grey (RAL 6006 Feldgrau) only. Don't use with other colours.
o Complementary colours for changing saturation (vibrant/dull):
o Additional Colours for mud, dust and rust effects:
o Preparation. Create a palette of oils on card. This will absorb excess linseed oil, allowing the paint to dry matte and reducing drying time. The palette can be stored for days in an airtight food container.
o Solvents. Oils require the correct solvent, either refined turpentine (smelly), white spirit or best of all one of the low odour thinners:
o Application. The various weathering effects below use either a wet or dry application. For wet, place some colour in a mixing palette and add one or two drops of thinner. The resulting wash will flow into corners and joints. The opacity is varied by the amount of thinners. For a dry application, the oil is applied direct to the model. Then take a brush, moisten it in thinner, dab the brush on absorbent paper until virtually dry and blend the oils into the surface, dragging and spreading to achieve a translucent layer.
Pigments: use modelling pigments to represent dust and mud and earth effects.
o Mixes. There is no need for a huge selection, make up three colours, light, medium and dark in airtight containers. You can always add distinctive colours for specific theatres, such as the red laterite soils associated with parts of Vietnam or the Russian Steppe.
o Application. Application is simple, apply layers of pigment, starting with lighter colours and fix with a pigment fixer or an acrylic thinner such as Tamiya X-20A, using a pipette or eye dropper.
As with oils, the drying process can be speeded up with a hot air gun/hair dryer. Wet mud can be represented by darker colours and if desired, some the thinned oil colours above, flicked onto the pigments from a loaded brush.
This section describes the effects which can be achieved with oils and pigments using different application techniques. They can be applied in any order and can be repeated to build up layers of colour, representing operational conditions. First a (very) little theory.
Colour Theory. (Forget what you learnt at school, this is how it really works. If you’re interested, read this: https://blog.asmartbear.com/color-wheels.html). You only need to know two things: how colours relate to each other and how to change them.
- Colour relationships. Assume there are four primary colours, yellow, red, blue and green. If we represent them in a wheel, the colour opposite each primary is its secondary or complementary colour (yellow – blue etc). The colours (hues) in between are tertiary colours. (They’re not actually separate hues but a continuous spectrum).
- Colour Attributes. (This is just a bit of useful terminology to help describe how to change colours.) We perceive colours by three attributes:
o Lightness or shade (light v dark)
o Saturation (intense v dull) (unsaturated colour is dull, muted)
o Hue (“tint” – red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple or any hue in between)
- How to change colours:
o To lighten/darken. Don’t use white or black! This will reduce the saturation and make the colour dull and muted. Use a tertiary colour ie a hue close in the spectrum. Referring to the wheel above, if you want to darken green, use a bluish hue. To lighten it, use a yellowish hue. This is how fading works.
o To unify different colours and integrate them(particularly camouflage colours), use filters of complementary hue, which will reduce the colour saturation and dull the contrast between colours. For Dunkelgelb for example use a bluish hue filter. For a green, use a reddish hue filter. If you mix complementary colours, you’ll eventually end up with grey. Refer to the Complementary Colour Palette above for the most useful colours for our models.
Muting colurs by adding a complementary colour
The Weathering Applications
- Filter. A filter is a translucent layer of complementary colour(s) which changes the saturation of base colour(s). Filters are most useful in unifying and dulling down bright camouflage colours. Apply the oil wet and well thinned, brushing evenly. Concentrate on larger surfaces. Don't flood the surface and don't scrub - apply in an even light layer.
Filter applied on the left, unweathered camouflage colours to the right (German Tropen Scheme 1943, RAL 8020 Braun and RAL 7027 Grau)
- Fading. Fading is a more opaque layer of colour, applied dry and blended with a moist brush. It is used to create contrasts and highlights by lightening some areas and darkening others, adding depth and relief to surfaces. This adds volume, particularly on flat, homogenous surfaces by darkening shadows and recesses. It’s one of the most useful techniques for the large surface areas on one sixth scale models. Fading can also be used to make subtle changes of hue to create variety, especially on single colour bases eg Panzer Grey or Olive Drab. Choose tertiary colours ie variations of the base colour close on the colour spectrum. Apply dry paint, in dots of mixed colours or small patches of a single colour. You can mix hues or stock a range of related oils. Then moisten a brush in thinners, wipe on absorbent paper until nearly dry and drag, blend and mix until you’re satisfied with the effect. Keep cleaning the brush. The secret is to keep the blending brush nearly dry and clean.
- Wash. A wash is a very thin, wet application to give depth and contrast and to highlight details. Choose one of the darker colours of a similar hue from the Washes, Rust and Earth palette above. Don’t flood the area, it will take ages to remove the excess. Use a fine No 2 round brush and apply precisely. The brush should be moist not wet. Hold the brush with the tip is pointing to the darker area and work the wash into the details.
- Chipping. Chipping is a technique to reproduce the scratches, dings and marks associated with heavy use. **Caution – can be overdone warning.** It’s very easy to get carried away with this technique. Operational vehicles really don’t suffer that much from chipping and scratches and any which do occur are usually superficial and obscured with dust or mud. Military paint is designed to be robust, except for temporary covers such as winter whitewashes. Some modellers apply a coat of hairspray under the basecoat which can then be selectively removed by scrubbing with water. This does produce fine detail but is probably best restricted to reproducing temporary schemes. Chips can be hand-painted with a fine No 2 round brush, using two colours, a dark base and lighter surround. You can also produce finer wear by using an almost dry piece of sponge to dab a thicker wash of oil. Try to achieve irregular shapes with sharp edges not rounded blobs - like a map. Size must also vary, uniform sizes kill the effect. Don’t distribute chips all over but concentrate in areas which would be subject to wear. No two areas should be the same. Try to create differences.
That covers the use of oils to make the model detail stand out, to give the model depth by differentiating surfaces and to reproduce wear and tear.
Part 2 of this Topic will cover environmental effects: Mud, Dust and Stains.
As ever, comments and additions welcome. Stephen
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