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A step-by-step look at my method for building and painting figures


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A few forum members have asked me to show how I build and paint model figures so I put together this step-by-step explanation. I have been building and painting models for about the last 50 years and strictly by trial and error I have figured out a few things that have helped me to get good results. There is no right or wrong way to build and paint models whatever works for you and gets you the results you want is the right way. This is just my method and maybe there will be something in here that you might find useful.

 

When building figures you generally have to take your time and work in steps. I allow a lot of time between steps. Rushing or trying to do something too quickly will usually lead to disaster. To avoid the impulse to get on with it and the temptation to rush I usually have 3 or 4 projects going on at the same time. While one project is drying I move on to working on another project. Working on multiple projects at once really helps keep me from screwing up things. It also keeps me involved in model making because there is always something to work on. Sometimes, with just one project you build a model, set it aside to dry and then never get back to it......

 

Anyway as I said this is my method so maybe you will see something useful. If you have any questions please feel free to PM me.

 

This project is the 1/35 scale US Machine Gun Team made by DML/Dragon. These are pretty nice figures and easy to work with.

This is how I work through a project you can see the process in the photos below.

 

Here is a link to this project with a lot more photos of the finished model.

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/242555-dmldragon-135-scale-us-machine-gun-team-figures/

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  1. I start off with just the basic assembly of the figure, cutting the parts from the sprue cleaning up flash and mold lines and test fitting the pieces. Once I have test fit the pieces I tack them together with super glue and spray of kicker. Kicker is an aerosol accelerator for cyanoacrylate one small spritz makes the super glue set instantly. When working with CA and Kicker you only need small amounts, too much kicker seems to have the opposite effect on the glue, just give it a light spritz. The idea here is to just tack the figures in place, you don’t want to really cement them in place at this point in case you need to adjust or reposition a head or arm. This works for both hard plastic and resin figures.

Super Glue, Kicker, Green Putty and Liquid Plastic Cement are extremely flammable. Be careful with this stuff, no smoking, candles or other open flames.

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  1. Once I have the figures positioned the way I want them I use Squadron Green Putty and Testors liquid plastic cement to really cement the figures in place. I use the liquid cement to thin out the green putty and then use an old paintbrush to flow the putty in to the gaps of the figure. If there is a large gap you may have to use some dryer putty and push it into the gap and then smooth it down with a brush wet with liquid cement. I then set them aside and let them dry for at least 24 hours the longer the better. Green putty tends to shrink up a bit as it dries so you may have to go back and apply another coat to fill the gaps. No matter how good the casting and molding of these figures, and these modern figures are very nice and well done but there are always some problems with the fit and things that need to be filled.

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  1. After the putty has dried on the basic figure and you are satisfied with the look of the figure I then add on all the other equipment, helmet, ammo belts, weapons, slings, packs etc. For the helmet chinstraps and weapon slings I just use cut strip of paper and to stiffen then I give them a swipe of thinned out green putty to make them strong. Using a brush wet with liquid cement you can really smooth out the green putty with no need for sanding very delicate parts.

 

  1. Once the completed figure with all his gear and weapons has dried and the putty and cement has hardened I glue the completed figure to wooden or bamboo skewers using super glue and kicker. You only need a tiny bit, just enough to hold the figure to the stick. Make sure you glue the skewer to some place that won’t show on the finished figure. After you have primed and completely painted the figure you can just snap them off of the skewer. If you glue the skewer to the foot of a standing figure make sure that when you break off the skewer hold the foot so that you don’t break it off at the ankle.

 

  1. With the figures securely attached to the skewers you can then wash the figures in warm dish detergent. I use warm water and a good grease cutting soap. Swish the figure around in the soapy water and if you have a very soft toothbrush or a short bristle paintbrush give the figure a gentle scrub. Plastic and resin figures are by their composition naturally oily all of these figures and vehicle parts have a mold release residue on them. These oils, residue and just the oils from your fingers will affect the paint that you put on them later. Really cleaning the figures will give you a much nicer flatter finish and your paint will adhere much better.

 

If you have ever had water based acrylic paint bead up on your figure and not coat smoothly this is because of the oils on the figure.This is the old oil and water not mixing problem. Generally the way to over come this problem of paint beading up and not adhering is to put on more paint in a thicker coat but if you slop on too much acrylic paint it will not dry flat, it will dry with a semi gloss sheen, that is impossible to get rid of even if you coat the finished figure with dull coat or some other matte finish. Priming and painting in thin coast is the key to a flat finish.

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  1. After washing the figures I poke the skewers in to a block of Styrofoam and let them dry, again for about another 24 hours. Once the figures are really dry I give them a coat of flat white paint. I use Testors flat white spray enamel. You don’t need much just give the figures a light coat or two. Don’t spray too close just give the figures a nice dusting. If you work with an airbrush you can use that too, but I just use the flat white in spray cans.

The white paint will really tie the figure together it will also make any imperfections a lot easier to see, gaps, holes, ejector marks and mold lines will really stand out and make them easier to see and fix.

 

Priming the figure with white primer seals up and unifies the figure and gives you a nice white uniform ground to paint.The acrylics will adhere and flow on the white primer perfectly.This works just as well for artist oil paints as well as model acrylics.

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  1. Now its time to start adding the color. The setup, gap filling, washing and priming takes much longer than actually painting the figure but without the careful prep work the end result will be a lot less than you hoped for. When painting the figures I can’t stress this enough to paint in THIN coats. Let the paint and color build up, putting the paint on too thickly even if it is flat acrylic will result in a plastic looking semi gloss finish giving your figures a kind of toy like look. Paint in thin coats, it is ok if the white primer shows through here and there on the high spots, it will disappear as you build up the color.

 

If you apply the paint in thin coats the paint will naturally settle in to the recesses and darken the low areas, this will show you where you need to shadow and where you need to highlight.All painting whether flat 2d painting or painting a 3d figure is just the correct positioning of darks against lights to give the illusion of depth so with these little figures just darken and shadow the low areas and highlight the high areas.

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  1. I mix artist Gouache to my model acrylics. This is just a personal preference but I think the vibrant color of the gouache helps to punch up the color of the acrylics. I add the gouache to the acrylics as a tint. Gouache is an artist’s opaque watercolor that dries with dead flat finish. Gouache by its self is very fragile and not water resistant when dry. However, when I mix a tiny bit of gouache with the acrylics I get the strength, and water resistance of the acrylics with the vibrant colors and matte finish of the gouache. To me most model acrylics always look a bit dull and lifeless. That dull look is ok when painting vehicles and metal gear like ammo boxes and tripods but I like the vibrancy and velvety matte finish the gouache gives when trying to simulate texture and look of skin and cloth.

     

    Painting faces is actually a pretty quick process. I apply a thin base coat of some flesh color and then I apply a second thin coat of the base color tinted with some Burnt Sienna If you are not using gouache use a thin coat, almost a wash of a darker skin tone and let that settle in to the recesses, the eye sockets, lines on the face, under the nose and lips and around the neck. Then going back with a lighter shade (I prefer to use the base color mixed with some Windsor & Newton Naples Yellow) highlight the high spots of the face, the nose, the cheekbones etc. When painting the faces and hands the highlighting only takes miniscule amounts of paint apply a tiny dot and then feather it out along the cheekbones and down the nose.

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If you look at that messy swirl of paint you can see how I push and pull the colors together. That blob is a mix of Tamiya Desert Yellow and OD along with some Olive Green, Naples Yellow and Chinese Orange gouache. When it comes to painting uniforms and cloth let the color vary a bit, I move back and forth in that swirl of paint, adding a shadow then adding a highlight and then feathering the colors together. I never worry about getting the color exactly the same, one figure may have a more greenish jacket and one figure may have amore faded jacket. I think the variations add visual interest.

 

Don't get hung up on the names of the paint, Afrika Desert yellow with a touch of OD looks fine on a US M41 jacket. Years ago I belonged to a model club and I remember debating with guys that were saying that you can't use Panzer Gray or Japanese Tan on US items you need to use US spec colors. The names on the bottles don't matter, color is color trust your eyes and reference material the names the manufacturers put on the paint are just names. If the color looks good to you, then it's good.

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If you prime the figure and work in thin coats the paint will just flow on perfectly. The white underpainting really pops the color. Painting on green or gray unprimed figures will really make the paint dull.

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The figures are about 95% done. Once I get to this point in the project I would snap the figures off of the skewers and glue them to the base. After I glue the figures in their final place. I go back and tweak and touch up any problem areas.

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To go back to color for a minute. The photo below shows Tamiya brown on the right and Tamiya brown mixed with a touch of Chinese orange gouache.

 

If you look you can see the straight brown acrylic is a big dull, by adding the orange the brown becomes a bit more vibrant and richer.

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I ended up using gouache with my model paints sort of by accident. I was trying to get a color right, was short on paint and just added some gouache that I had laying around and I really liked the colors I was able to get. All but one of the hobby shops in Philadelphia have closed down and the only way to get paint is on the internet, so my available colors were limited at the time.

 

It does not matter wether you paint with model acrylics, oils or acrylics mixed with gouache if you play around and mix paint, lightening and darkening the base color you can get a wide range of variations and more accurate colors.

 

If you look at the photo below you can see that I have Vallejo Yellow Olive model acrylic in the center as the base color and a spot of Naples Yellow on the left for the light tone and Indigo on the right for the shadows.

 

These are the 3 colors that I used on my USMC Guadalcanal vignette.

 

 

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Using a drop if water and a wet brush I draw in some yellow and some indigo and let the paint mix. If you keep the mix wet and paint in thin coats you can shadow and highlight the figure.

 

This may take some trial and error, fool around with the paint and notice the variations in the shades. If you paint all your figures with one color right out of the bottle they will all end up looking alike the uniforms and webb gear will all be the same color and your figure might come out looking flat with no depth.

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In this photo you can see how I used the colors shown above on these figures. The Olive mixed with a bit of indigo was used for the deep shadows, under the cartridge belt and in the deep folds of the jackets. The olive mixed with the Naples yellow was used in the high spots, the shoulders and other high parts of the cloth folds.

 

I chose to shadow the olive with indigo to try and give the impression of sweaty, wet clothing. Darkening the olive with black may have been too dark. I wanted a more subtle shadow. I highlighted the collars and shoulders with the Naples Yellow to give the impression of the sun faded, salt stained cloth.

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Yes mixing indigo or blue to the base color will give you that wet, damp look. That works just as well on uniforms as it does on vehicle canvas, tents, baggage hanging on vehicles etc. I have found that it is better to darken the base color with blue and maybe a tiny touch of black to really deepen the shadow. On the opposite end it is better to lighten the base coat with naples yellow rather than white. If you over use white and black to lighten and darken the olive base coat you could end up with a black and white figure, eventually the black and white will overpower the olive base color.

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This is my WWII ETO Mannequin. Every thing on Sergeant Dummy is original and dated pre 1945. If you take a look at the uniform and gear you can see a whole lot of variations in the basic OD color (Olive Drab). During the war pretty much if it was green it was called OD but there was not a complete uniformity in color. There were endless variations of the basic color that the Army called OD. The type of fabric, cotton poplin, HBT (Herring Bone Twill) or wool, the place of manufacture, the manufacturer's process, when it was made, age, wear, exposure to rain, sun, cold etc. all contribute to the color and shade of the gear.

 

I mention this and the endless variations because it makes our job of painting these figures a lot easier. If you swirl together some OD, Khaki, Desert Yellow, and a touch of Chinese Orange and Naples yellow you can create endless, subtle variations of color. Even if you choose not to use gouache you can still get lots of variations and color by mixing model acrylics.

 

If the jacket on your figure is a a light shade mix in a slightly darker greenish shade for the pistol belt. I like mixing up the colors on the figures. If you look at the dummy you can see that the pack straps are actually 2 different colors.

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In this photo you can see about 8 different colors. The flaps on the cartridge belt are different than pockets on the belt. It's faded but you can see that the edging in the canteen it a different shade than the body of the canteen.

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The body of the pack is darker and a bit more greenish than the meat can holder. The canteen and first aid packet are different shades as well. Have fun with painting these figures, we have a wide range of OD colors and shades to pick from and they would all be appropriate.

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There are a lot of great scenic and foliage products out there today. The static grass works really well. The air dry clay available at most craft stores works really well for forming terrain, it's also great for making realistic looking sand bags.

 

Well that's about it I hope you may find something useful.

 

Thanks

 

Dennis

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Excellent work on this SBS Old Marine :)!

 

This is perfect for those starting out. Your methods depicted in the series of pics are thorough yet easy to follow. Incorporating samples of clothing and gear go a long way to point out the variations in colors and tones, and demonstrate the importance of good references.

 

Joe

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