So, I’ve been dipping my toe a little bit into other forms of hobbying as of late. Aside from a couple gundam kits that I’ve bashed out, I decided to try my hand at model airplane building, partly to try something new and partly because it’s what all the cool kids at the IPMS were doing. So, with the idea of doing a quick weekend project to practice before I start on an $80 kit, I pulled out a box off the shelf and…
The PZL.23 Karas is one of the more esoteric aircraft of World War II. A Polish single-engined ground attack plane, it was roughly equivalent to the Fairey Battle or the Breda Ba.65 in that it was a very advanced aircraft for its day, but it was a little outdated by the time the war rolled around and had been outpaced by more modern aircraft. Still, in the hands of the Polish, it put up what resistance it could against the German war machine. Notably, it was a PZL.23B which made the first bombing raid of the war within German territory, and captured examples would go on to be used in small numbers by the Romanians as well as in second-line duties with the Bulgarians.
As the title alludes to, this kit is kind of a turd by modern standards. Looking at Scalemates, I can see that this was a 1980s rebox of a kit originally produced in 1964. There are only about twenty parts and they are made from a cheap, crappy plastic. It has raised panel lines, and there are a lot of areas where details are extremely lacking. The interior detail is nonexistent, with only three seats (and no locating tabs to know where to put them), and no dashboards, controls, etc. Rivet counters could probably find dozens of inaccuracies from the profile of the plane to the number of panel lines; I know I inadvertently found some when I was looking up paint schemes. Fortunately, I’m not a rivet counter, so I don’t care.
And, just to add insult to injury, the instructions were in Polish. Because of course they were.
Okay, got it
I’ve picked up a lot of techniques for model aircraft by hanging around the local IPMS crew. However, while I knew I could do research and suss out the internet arguments of pre-shading versus black-basing and which one is the superior, more realistic technique that serious modellers use, part of me wanted to remain willfully ignorant of this for a couple reasons. First, this was just a practice piece for another project and the kit was so crappy that I knew this wasn’t going to be a masterpiece regardless. Second, I wanted to see what I could apply with my figure painting techniques to the art of scale aircraft building. I felt like instead of just copying what everyone else was doing and doing a bit worse of a job on it, I could go into it without any preconceived notions and see how it turns out.
So, this is in some ways an experimental piece – give a figure guy a model plane and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’re only out the two bucks that this turd of a kit cost.
While the kit may have not been the greatest, there were a couple things which were working in my favour. The main wing was moulded in two pieces – an upper and a lower piece which both ran the entire span of both wings. The upper mated to the fuselage, which had a cutout on the bottom for these parts to go together. This meant that alignment wouldn’t be too much of an issue; it would be hard for me to mess up the dihedral with how the kit was engineered. Additionally, this plane has no visible struts and the landing gear is fixed with a big, thick fairing, so there isn’t going to be any futzing around with spindly little landing gear legs and worrying about getting them at the correct angle, not to mention painting all the details inside the landing gear bays.
I managed to get it all together in one evening while consuming a copious amount of beer (though not so much that I would mess up the kit even worse than it was messed up coming out of the factoty or stab myself with an x-acto knife), though I left the propeller able to spin for now to make painting the cowling easier. It took a couple layers of apply and sanding milliput to fill seams and sculpt something a fairing between the horizontal stabilizer and the fuselage. Even after the second layer, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for government work and I was getting antsy to start painting.
As mentioned, I’m a figure guy. So, that means I’m relatively ignorant of the eternal internet struggle between pre-shaders and black-basers, and firmly on the side of a good zenithal prime. So, I loaded up my Patriot 105 with some Stynylrez black and sprayed the entire model down, getting a nice coat on both the top and the bottom. From there, I cleaned out my airbrush and pulled out the Stynylrez white and fired from above and from the front. I focused on parts that are in direct sunlight and the leading edge of the wings, letting the primer fade into black on the underside and near the trailing edges of the wings and control surfaces.
Primed with Stynylrez black…
This technique does two things. First, it helps me understand where the highlights and shadows should be on a model, which is critical in figure painting. An airbrush loaded with white primer coming in from above actually does a decent job of representing the sun’s rays landing on the model and illuminating the highlights while avoiding the shadows. Second, it preshades it for you, which can be useful in later steps. This can be done roughly with a black and a white rattle can as well, though I prefer the airbrush for the control and ease of use in my small apartment. Personally, I tend to push things a little more towards the white side than most people when I do a zenithal because I figure it’s easier to darken something later than lighten it.
Okay, here’s where I can really polish this turd. I sprayed the underside with a more or less uniform layer of Vallejo Light Sea Grey then masked it off. To be honest, there isn’t that much interesting on the underside, just that light sea grey and some mottling, so I’ll focus the rest of this article on the upper surfaces. Anyways, according to my sources, the closest colour to what these things were actually painted in in Polish service is Vallejo Green Brown. So, I loaded my airbrush up with… a mixture of P3 Coal Black and Reaper MSP Pure Black?
Fear not, there is a method to my madness. With an airbrush, it’s easiest to work from your darkest shadow to the highest highlight, as we did with our zenithal prime. And when it comes to painting green, you don’t want to shade it with just black and white. You want cool shadows and warm highlights, so you want to have it move towards the blue end of the spectrum in addition to getting darker in the shadows, and towards the yellow end of the spectrum in addition to getting lighter in the highlights. And Coal Black is this wonderful blue-green black colour that is darker and cooler than most greens and makes an excellent shadow colour, among many other uses.
So, I mixed up a mixture of mostly Coal Black with a bit of Pure Black to darken it up a little (because I’m all about exact mixtures), making sure to get it on the underside and in all the shadowed areas where there was more black than white primer.
Next, I washed out the airbrush and loaded it up with the Vallejo Green Brown which would be my base colour. Similar to when I did the white on the zenithal prime, I sprayed mainly from above and in the areas that wouldn’t be shadowed, painting most of the plane in this colour but leaving some shadowed areas. Finally, I added some yellow to the base colour and added some highlights. The highlights were focused in a few places — near the leading edges of the wings and stabilizers, along the top of the fuselage, and in an area on the side to emphasize the transition from the convex surface of the round fuselage to the concave transition into the upper cockpit area. I also sprayed some into the middle of the panels, particularly on the wings, in order to create a bit of modulation.
Airbrushed the top; note the colours used in the background.
That was all well and good, but I kind of wanted to shade the panel lines as well. And, since I’m a figure guy, what do I immediately reach for when it’s time to shade something?
Good old liquid talent…
That’s right, GW’s washes, or shades as they call them. But we aren’t going to brush them on because that would leave so much nasty coffee staining. We’re going to airbrush it.
I made myself a mixture of Athonian Camoshade, which is their olive drab sort of wash, and a bit of Nuln Oil to darken it (again, very scientific and exact proportions) in the cup of my Badger Krome and got to spraying. When spraying these washes, a very light touch on the trigger is very important – you want just enough that it will build up in the recesses and tint the surrounding area, but not spray enough over the model that it will start beading and coffee staining. If you aren’t confident in your trigger control, this may be a very good time to try out a trigger stop. I sprayed some of this in a random, mottled pattern to add a little bit of visual interest to the model. Then, I followed up by tracing some of the panel lines, which reinforced the modulation and shaded the panel lines, giving me what I thought was a nice effect.
Addition of the shade
At some point, I decided that I should do something creative with the cockpit. Between the missing clear piece and the complete lack of any interior detail, this is where an elite scale modeller would either scratchbuild a bunch of tiny parts or spend a lot of money on aftermarket pieces to bling it out. I am not an elite scale modeller. I was missing a clear piece, and given the amount of detail on the average 1960s era Polish model kits, I knew if I painted over the cockpit, you wouldn’t be missing much.
So, my idea was to adapt a technique I used on figures for painting gemstones to do an opaque cockpit. I started by spraying the entire thing in a blue-black. From there, I used the edge of a business card as a mask and sprayed some lighter, more saturated blues into one of the lower corners of each pane of glass. I followed that up with an even lighter blue, so I had a transition from a dark blue at the top into a light blue at the bottom where the light would filter out of the cockpit.
Details and Weathering
There were some details remaining to be picked out with the brush. First was adding some glints of light to the top area of the windows, opposite the lighter area, just to kick up the artistic glass effect. This was done with some sky blue and some P3 frostbite, and as the windows were flat, I made the glints corner-shaped.
From there, the engine, exhaust pipes, propellors, canopy framing, etc., were all done with a brush. And when it got time to apply markings, because I can’t do things the easy way, I decided that instead of using the decals in the kit, I would bust out my trusty Raphael 8404 and brush paint those on, doing such detailed consultation of reference material as funding the first result on google image search that looked cool and easy to paint and running with it. I used panel lines for reference where I could to make sure that my markings somewhat approximated the proper scale and made sure to keep a steady hand. Most importantly, I double checked before putting down the red on the checkerboard roundels, because there is nothing worse than finishing a Polish roundel only to find that you’ve accidentally rotated it 90 degrees and now it’s all wrong. Also, I didn’t go all the way to white in the checkerboard patterns — a light grey is more than sufficient to make things read as white in this context, and it’s not as chalky and hard to apply as a pure white.
For weathering, it was important to keep it subtle. I did a little bit of sponge chipping in two layers; the first layer being some of the base colour mixed with white, and the second layer being some sort of midtone metallic silver. In this case, when you’re doing chipping, you need to think where to place your chips. And this is more than just where to cover your mistakes. Chipping on a plane is going to be concentrated in a few areas. It’s going to be on leading edges, on the front and underside of the cowling, and on the areas where the pilots are likely to step on as they climb into the plane. Weathering should tell a story, and these are the areas that are going to get beaten up the most.
Finally, I threw on a little Typhus Corrosion to represent dirt on the wheels and the spats, some light dry pigments to represent dust on the tires and landing gear, and some black dry pigment around and leading back from the exhaust pipe to represent soot. And with that, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour because I had turned this old kit into something that didn’t look half bad, at least not from a distance.
If you’re looking for a detailed representation of a PZL 23A Karas, don’t buy this kit. In fact, I think at $2, I probably overpaid. There is a Heller version of this plane in 1/72nd scale that has been reboxed a few times which is less than 50 years old and not made behind the Iron Curtain, so I would assume it would have to be better than this thing.
However, while the detail is lacking in some areas and there are some obvious inaccuracies that I was too lazy to fix, overall, I’m not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a cheap, simple kit, painted up to look nice from about three feet away – which is the distance from which it will be looked at that 99% of the time when it’s not being torn apart by a nitpicky IPMS judge. So, I would say that my efforts to apply figure painting techniques to scale model aircraft were mostly successful. I’m now feeling more confident in tackling the 109B I have in my stash… that is, I was until I saw the photoetch.
Bonus Content: Owlbear!
As I wrapped this thing up at a build day, I also worked on a quick speedpaint on a project a little closer to my roots: a Reaper Bones Owlbear in 30mm scale, with plenty of inks, washes and dry brushing to get it to a decent tabletop standard quickly. An Owlbear is exactly what it sounds like, and for the benefit of your sanity, try not to think of show that may have came to be. I’m using it for my Necromunda gang to represent a Khimerix, becuase when someone says “horrific gene-spliced abomination with sharp claws and a nasty bite,” I think Owlbear.
I call him Owl Dirty Bastard, leader of the Hoot Tang Clan.