Going the first mile (How to plan and to start)
As with all figures or miniature topics, it’s important to think before you start.
A miniature is always the expression of an idea and/or a certain mood, and the way it’s painted is not only a question of talent and practice, but also of thoughtfulness and preparation.
Changing your mind in between some steps might be helpful in some cases and necessary, but can also lead to a waste of time, effort and material – and sometimes is not doable anymore. That applies to historic topics as well as to fantasy, sci fi and all the other things I currently can’t think of.
The overall question of what a product should look like in the end, is always a result of:
a) want do I want,
b) what do I have,
c) what do I need
d) which way will I go
Sometimes, the model itself is your first inspiration, sometimes the scenery offers you an idea on which way you will have to go, and sometimes it’s your own imagination that sparks the fire of productivity.
Whatever may be the case – the first thing you should do is spending some time for research on the topic.
It doesn’t meant that – when you work on a M4 Sherman – you have to study the history of tanks, but maybe some colors, effects of certain areas (snow, mud, sand, etc), special markings and so on. Look for reference photos on camo patterns, maybe check the work of other modelers and get an idea on how you want to start – or, if you already started – how you want to continue. Damages or alterations of the vehicle can also improve the overall look of your vehicle. Scratches from ricocheted shells for example or accessories can improve the look of your model. And those elements also affect the application of weathering materials.
So you need to consider what such hits or effects look like and how you can include them into your work.
Another question is what kind of materials will or can you use? Do you want to get some pigments, or just work with oil colors or enamel, or just acrylics or everything combined?
Such questions are important to answer in the first place, because they affect the way you paint and weather your model.
Build and paint or paint while building?
One of the most important questions for assembling a model is always, if you want to paint it when finished assembling your work or finish one part and paint before continuing.
I think it depends on what you have to do. Some vehicles or houses you have to assemble before you paint them, some parts you can work on and finish before you continue your work.
Here you should always ask yourself if you can paint all parts easily without destroying already finished parts of your vehicle.
One example are tank tracks and/or wheels. I mostly leave the tank tracks and wheels off until I finished base-coloring the body and paint those parts separately instead. Some vehicles – for example tabletop tanks – require the wheels to be assembled because they are casted to the sides of the vehicle.
Other works like multi-color patterns require you to work on the vehicle as a whole to make the pattern look natural and cover the vehicle as a whole.
Base-coating – to pre-shade or not to pre-shade
Once you’ve got your model ready to be painted, the next question arising is the one of priming - or if you better pre-shade or post shade.
Pre-shading is a technique of applying a primer and then directly apply another (primer) color over it to emphasize darker and lighter parts before applying the main color of the model. That’s supposed to break up the monotone surface of your vehicle and imitate the effect of light falling on the model.
Another possibility to do this is post-shading: applying the primer, base color and then do highlights and shadows.
Both methods work the same way, but the effects are slightly different. With pre-shading, the highlight-shadow effect appears from under the basecoat, therefore it’s way more subtle and harder to recognize, but creates a smooth effect.
Post-shading is way more visible and pops out, but can also be overdone and therefore ruin your work if it’s done too stark.
I think it’s a question of what you like most. I use both variants, but due to my cartoonish style preferences I work mostly with post-shading.
This Chimera has been primed without any effects:
This flak gun was pre-shaded using a dark grey primer and a light grey primer over it. After that the base color was applied.
The StuG was post-shaded. You can see the larger surfaces appear way lighter in color than the overall vehicle.
Post-shading effect on some 15mm vehicles:
... and after all the weathering is finished:
And all combined:
As you can see, the basic effect of pre- and post-shading is almost the same, though you can imagine the color variation of the flak gun will later be more subtle due to more and more layers of color covering the pre-shading.
Some thoughts on “layers” of weathering
Once you have done your priming, it’s time to apply your colors. Here your earlier made plans spring into action.
A weathering effect is not only done by applying one layer after the other, but rather by combining your different layers into steps, making it easier for you to evenly finish your model.
Why is that?
The idea behind this is basically the imitation of the weathering sequence. No vehicle lives forever. When it leaves the factory, it's newly painted, and if the factory is not fully retarded, they make the paint job good enough so the vehicle will stay like that for a while.
But somewhen, the effects of weather will settle in. Our vehicle is hammered by the elements, rain, heat, cold, salt - whatever you can think of, will more or less "attack" the paint of the vehicle. The lacquer will start to fade, break up, will be repainted, will fade further, rust will accumulate and work against the structure.
Those are long-term effects affect the vehicle over time.
Midterm effects like streaks also take effect, washing away grime or dust that settles over time.
And short term effects like snow or dust will concentrate on the vehicle, but will be washed away or melt over time, creating midterm and long term effects.
You want a rather rusty vehicle? So maybe it’s better to paint on a rusty base color and put all the other colors over it instead of trying to create rust effects as some kind of layer.
Or you want to create German Hinterhalt-camouflage. In that case, it’s a question of what will be your base color – and if you want to go from dark to light or vice versa.
Starting off with acrylics, finish all the acrylic work, sealing it, doing waterslide decals, sealing it, doing enamel washes, doing oils, doing pigments, finished.
Or: Starting off with acrylics, seal it, use chipping varnish, do acrylics over it, let it dry, rub some acrylics off, then seal again, use washes, oil and pigments.
Or: Use acrylics, do all effects with acrylics, seal it and then do pigments.
It’s always important to make sure you finish one step completely, so you evenly build up your vehicle or house. Otherwise, you forget something, you mess up and in the end and your work looks like one of my older tanks, which I forgot to seal after I applied all the acrylics. I put enamel washes over it and used thinner to wipe off some wash - and with it, the paint and the plastic came off, too.
Basically that’s what we have to keep in mind, when we start our work.
So – let’s start our first vehicle, shall we?