Painting (Part 1)

(above) A collection of paints from the '60s.
(below) Today!  Just some of what is available.

Back in ye olden days my model painting supplies consisted of a shoebox full of Testor's enamels, a couple of the cheap brushes that came with the hobby pack, and a jar of kerosene to clean the brushes. The little bottle of brush cleaner that came with the pack lasted about one hour or until you knocked it over, whichever came first. The paints were mostly high gloss, so you ended up with models that looked like they'd been buffed and waxed.  Enamels are still widely available today, in fact the model kit section of your typical supermarket will probably only have a rack of the Testor's Enamels.  You can do a great job using them, especially now that flat colors are available.  The problem with enamels is, they take forever to dry, smell up the house and require special (and flammable) fluid to thin or clean the brushes. I'd strongly suggest you pass these up and instead head for the local hobby or craft store for acrylic paint.

Acrylic Paint:  Acrylic paint has revolutionized model painting, pure and simple.  They come in thousands of colors, both gloss and flat, they thin with water and dry quickly.  You can get the little bottles sold in hobby stores, or go to a craft store and use the Liquitex type in tube or the kind like Apple Barrel that come in squeeze bottles.  Acrylic does adhere fairly well to plastic, although I always recommend a primer first on any type of paint.  If you work in vinyl, acrylic is the recommended paint of choice.

Suggested colors:  Both black and white of course. Then a selection of primary colors, with several values of each.  You'll want both dark and medium red, for instance.  Don't forget the browns and greens.  Some modelers mix their own flesh tone, I just get a bottle of the stuff (I get suntan shade and lighten it as needed). One bottle of gold and one of silver will eventually be necessary.  I usually stick to the "flat" paint to save money and I use clear flat, satin, and gloss as a final coat as needed. No matter how many colors you get, the rule of thumb is you'll run into that one color you need for just this model and can't figure out how to mix from what you have. Off you'll go back to the store to paw through their selection.

Brushes: Take a look at the huge selection in a craft store, then when you're finished being amazed that something as simple as a brush can come in such a bewildering variety of (expensive) styles, look for the ones labeled "red sable".  For what you're going to be doing, these are the best.  You'll need soft natural bristles, and I mean soft: red sable is perfect and won't empty your wallet.  The secret to eliminating brush strokes and doing a good job begins with a very soft brush, you want bristles that will lay down flat when you run it over the palm of your hand, you're actually going to be using the side of the brush more than the tip.  I prefer the flat head (sometimes called a blending brush) rather than round, I do a lot of drybrushing and those are needed for a good job.  You can usually find a hobby pack with a good selection of small sizes. Then get a tiny little pointed detail brush, and take care of it like it's gold (it costs about as much).  It's better not to go cheap on the brushes, trying to use a stiff or worn out brush will drive you crazy.   And these brushes will wear out eventually or get clogged with paint no matter how carefully you clean them.  Buy a new set once in a while.

Working with acrylic: For my work center I keep one bowl of water for cleaning and soaking the brushes. DON'T ever drop the brushes into a glass or jar of water, it bends the bristles and will ruin your brush. While I'm at it, change the darned water once in a while, before it achieves the consistancy of mud. It might be a good idea to keep one clean bottle of water to use for thinning the paint.  When you're finished for the day take the brushes into the kitchen and wash them with hot water and dish soap.  Also, remember the acrylic dries really really fast, and while it's drying on the model it's also drying on the brush. In other words, rinse the brush every couple of minutes even if you're still working with the same color paint!

Now for the bottles of paint. Save up a bunch of plastic pop caps to work out of, and use them even if you aren't mixing colors. Just pour a little paint into the cap and wipe off the threads on the bottle, and you won't be running hot water over the tops to unglue them everytime you want to use that color, and the paint won't be drying out in the jar while you work on the model.  I collect little pill bottles for when I need to mix colors and that way you can come back days later and touch up where you need it on the model.  The paint should not be as thin as water (unless you're going for a wash effect, covered later) and should not be so thick you can't flow it onto the model. With a little experimenting you'll know just how "liquid" you want the paint for a particular job.  With the right brushes and the right thickness paint, you won't see any of those brush strokes, you can get a nice even coat of paint, and you'll be able to put the paint just where you want it.  With practice you'll be able to control the paint, not let it control your result.

That's just about it for the tools. Next time we actually talk about the model again, and get into just how to put on a paint job.

Tip: When you mix paint for that special color, don't be stingy with the paint. Mix a little more than you'll think you need. You won't have to fuss with getting another batch that exact color when you run out before the job is finished.

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