Sunday, August 20, 2017

How I Paint: 1/35 Figures (Part 1)

Today I will be sharing the method by which I prep, paint, and varnish 1/35 figures using all non-toxic materials.  As you will soon see, I paint them in an almost comically simple fashion, sort of mimicking the methods a child might use if they were to be given a little box of plastic men as a gift.  I do NOT pretend that my painting style is photorealistic by any means!  I actually have painted figures with that goal in mind before but have found I actually prefer to paint them in a purposefully toy-ish way.  The subject upon which I will be demonstrating these methods is an adorable-looking German WWII infantryman from one of Tamiya's earliest figure kits.  You can tell that it is from one of their early kits because of its soft detail and the fact that his full compliment of equipment has been pre-molded onto him, unlike their later kits which had all separately-molded equipment for their infantry.  The only gluing required for this guy was to glue him on his base.

These are three of the figures from the kit, but we will focus just on the marching guy today.

Even before you undercoat/prime a figure, it is recommended to first wash the figure in warm, soapy water or if you want to be REALLY sure they are 100% free of any oils, mold release, or dirt particles for optimum paint adhesion you can dunk them in 91% concentration rubbing alcohol, but even the soapy water method, I have found, is often not needed with hard plastic figures.  It's really just the soft/bendy plastic figures that you need to more thoroughly degrease.  Also, rubbing alcohol is strong stuff and should be treated with caution.  I can get into more detail in a future post with how to more thoroughly prep and paint the ultra-bendy 1/32 and 1/72 figures.
Buy the matte stuff for use as primer.
One of the most useful tips I have found, but by no means take any actual credit for, is to prime plastic figures with white glue, aka polyvinyl acetate.  People have been using this method for years, especially for bendy plastic figures, because it is a cheap method of priming figures by giving them a flexible, durable base that readily accepts paint.  However, there are several, crucial disclaimers that must accompany this.  First of all, all white glues are NOT created equal.  While yes, technically Elmer's School Glue, Glue-All, Mod Podge, Titebond, etc, are all forms of polyvinyl acetate (PVA) white glue, they are all very different formulations.  They differ wildly in terms of strength and flexibility once dry.  These two properties, durability and flexibility, improve vastly the more expensive the brand is.  I have determined from much experimentation, for example, that Elmer's Glue-All and School Glue are virtually useless for the application of priming plastic figures.  They are ridiculously weak formulations of PVA glue and will rub off and crack off of even the most rigid, non-glossy plastic parts,  to which normally virtually any coating adheres. The cheapest brand of widely-available white glue that I would even consider is Aleene's Tacky Glue, which from my experiments appears to remain flexible once dry but rubs off almost as easily as the Elmer's.  Instead you should opt for Mod Podge, which is almost as widely available as Elmer's but is almost immediately rub-resistant and seems to be about as flexible as the industrial-strength white glues like Weldbond even once dry.  Yes, Mod Podge is a little more expensive than Elmer's but the difference in the finishes between Mod Podge and Elmer's is not unlike the difference between a durable plastic coating and a coating of wet Kleenex.  So if there is anything you take away from this post, it should be that you should NOT use Elmer's brand glue, at least not for this application.  Mod Podge is also a little bit thinner than Elmer's and goes on much smoother and so is even better right out of the container than the more expensive industrial-strength white glues.  Bottom line is, Mod Podge is basically superior in every conceivable way to every other brand of PVA glue that I have tried, and no, this is not a paid endorsement. Now that we have that sorted out, moving on...
Apply the PVA liberally with paint brush.
 Take one of your normal acrylic paint brushes (I got this one from Hobby Lobby in a cheap pack) and coat the figure somewhat thickly with the Mod Podge, within reason.  Don't intentionally glob it up in the recesses of the figure's details.  Don't be afraid to repeatedly brush over the spots where it got a little bit clumpy to smooth it out.  You can even thin the Mod Podge a little with some tap water if you would like it to go on as smoothly as possible, but I don't thin it at all personally.
This is how the figure looks while it is drying.
As the Mod Podge dries, even where it was applied almost frighteningly thickly, it shrinks to form a tight, crystal-clear skin around the figure, gripping the plastic with a durable coating that will accept and make rub-resistant even the most fragile of acrylic paints.  Now the primary reason that I use white glue to prime many of my plastic figures in the first place instead of an actual plastic primer is because many primers are either toxic while wet or completely inflexible once dry, or both.  In fact, the only brand whose primer I have so far found that has nearly all of the properties I like is Vallejo's Acrylic-Polyurethane Surface Primer, but this is much more expensive than even the most expensive white glues and does not dry clear.  The reason that for my purposes the primer must dry clear is that I personally often like to essentially utilize the color of plastic that the figure was molded in as its base coat.  Sometimes I will, in the case of German infantry for example, even paint their tunic olive grey but leave their trousers the color of the bare, bluish-grey plastic.  This may seem unconventional, bizarre, or just lazy to do, but there is actually much precedent for painting toy soldiers and even fully-articulated action figures in this manner, the full story behind which I will not get into now but may get into more in a later post.
This is how the figure looks once the Mod Podge is completely dry.
 You will know when the figure is completely dry when even the places that you applied the PVA thickly are no longer white or even frosted-looking, but totally clear.  This usually happens within about 15 minutes or so after applying the PVA, but if you want to be REALLY safe you could wait a whole hour or if you're completely paranoid, overnight.
My full collection of Vallejo Model Color.
 Now onto the actual painting of the figure.  I will be using for this post exclusively water-based acrylics, and more specifically the Vallejo Model Color range of paints, but you can also use other water-based acrylic brands like GW/Citadel, Vallejo Game Color, and many others.  I could make an eight-page post just about my knowledge and experience with all the different types and brands of paint available for painting models (and even including brands not meant for that exact purpose) but that is for another day.  For now, just know that you should stick to water-based (non-solvent based) acrylics if painting over any form of PVA, so no oil-based enamels such as Testors/ Model Master or alcohol-based acrylics like Tamiya.  You probably should be fine using Model Master acrylics, but again I can get into much, much more detail about different paint types and brands, and which you should use when, at a later date.
Step 1: Paint the face and hands.
So first I paint all of the flesh-colored areas of the figure, so usually their face and hands, but obviously don't paint the hands or face if they are covered by gloves or a mask, respectively.
Step 2: Paint all the black details.
 Now these next few painting steps obviously vary quite a bit from figure to figure, but generally my process is to always first paint the flesh, and then paint the color that is used the most before moving on to the next-most used color, and so on, until I am painting only the smallest details the colors for which are barely otherwise used on other areas of the figure.
Step 3: Paint all the other details.
Now for the most tedious part: painting all the smaller details.  Of course you can go as detailed or as un-detailed as you want.  I have painted figures so detailed to the point where I painted every single button on a 1/72 scale figure, but usually I don't bother.  As I said earlier, I may be capable of painting to a very high standard, but I have found that I personally prefer a much simpler, old toy soldier-style paint job in most cases.  Also just to be abundantly clear, the purpose of this post is NOT at all meant to be some sort of expert tutorial on how to professionally paint military miniatures for display by any means.  This post and the many related ones that I plan to follow it up with focus much more on the brands and types of paints, primers, varnishes, washes, etc and all their different properties and uses, than on how to expertly utilize painting techniques to achieve an authentically realistic look.  They focus on my knowledge based on the results of many months (so far) of experimentation and borderline-obsessive levels of exhaustive research concerning not just the different types of paints but also the different types of plastics, and then how the different plastics react with the different paint types, going so far as researching how to make paint jobs on plastic items have durability, adhesion,  and flexibility at the industrial level while also taking into account cost, toxicity, practicality, and availability of the materials I use (or do not use).  In future posts I will address the more toxic/solvent-based methods of painting plastic figures, which generally produce a more robust painted figure but can be much more difficult to work with. But for now this concludes Part 1 of my first "How I Paint" series.  See you in Part 2.

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