Tamiya D.520 – Part II: Paint and decals

In our last article, I assembled the Tamiya D.520 with some Eduard photoetch bits. Now, it’s time to talk about painting and finishing the model, which, given my preference for paint, is surely going to be the easy part.

Yeah, about that…

The paint scheme

I chose to keep things simple and go with the box scheme. I didn’t want to ruin my model with the garish red and yellow stripes of the Vichy version, and I also didn’t feel like doing a lot of research, so box scheme seemed simple enough.

Why would you ruin a perfectly good plane like that?

The D.520 has a tritone camouflage scheme on the upper surfaces of cool grey and desaturated browns and greens. On the underside, it is a light sea grey. Fortunately, all of these are colours that can be effectively shaded with blues or blue-blacks, which would not only make the shading easier but would unify the model with consistent shadow and highlight colours.

An interlude on lighting

Speaking of shadows and highlights, I need to do a brief interlude on some stylistic choices that were influenced by my background in figures. I think this background gives me a perspective on things that most people who build aircraft don’t have. As an example, someone on facebook asked me what colour I used on the blue of the markings and how accurate it was. I didn’t really have a great answer because I used at least four different paints to highlight and shade it, and I don’t care all that much about accuracy in colours.

Consider painting red. The traditional scale model approach would be to find the red that is closest to the real thing and spray it on in a uniform, opaque coat to simulate the real thing.

Whereas, my approach is going to be very different. I’m going to use colour theory to figure out what colours I want to use to highlight and shade the model. With reds, I like to go with a coal black to start as my deepest shadow. I might undercoat from coal black to ivory, from shadow to highlight. Then from there, I’ll go from crimson in the shadows to a brighter red in the highlights, and maybe even into a desaturated orange before pulling it all back together with a glaze of red ink. This adds shadows and highlights, making the model pop, accentuating the lines, and adding visual interest.

This approach doesn’t really take accuracy into account too much, because I’m using five different shades of red to paint one red item, and the goal is to get a gradient from shadowed to highlighted surfaces and accentuate shape. Even if I knew exactly what shade of red was used on the real thing and had that exact match, I’m still going to be using other colours to shade and highlight that tone. So to me, it’s kind of absurd to try to precisely match colours when a simple red consists of paints from coal black to ivory with crimsons and bright reds and oranges in between.

I know this approach isn’t quite traditional, and I feel like it is very different from what I usually see on the tables at model shows. This is an approach more informed by artistry than pure craftsmanship and historical fidelity. That’s not to to rehash the pestilential “are models art?” debate, and definitely not to lord over mere craftsman with my artistic snobbery. After all, one can respect both artistry and craftsmanship and everything in between, and just because something is artistic doesn’t mean it is good — good craftsmanship can be more impressive than bad art.

But, I think this is an approach that gives my models a relatively unique style; I’ve had someone comment before that he could tell that my 109 was done by a figure painter. It also makes the model stand out from a distance, which I think has some advantages to it — I feel like a great model is one that can pull your attention at several feet away, and then bring you in closer to discover all the details.

Where things started to go wrong…

I primed the model, no problem. I went with a zenithal prime, as you do when you learned everything you know from painting figures, then started to paint the kit. The bottom sea grey colour went on nicely, but then it came time to get serious about the camo pattern…

Primed, and with all the little sub-assemblies ready to go

My first thought was to use silly putty for masking. After all, I’ve seen people use putty for masking soft-edged camo, they just lay it down in round snakes instead of trying to flatten it and get hard edges. Yeah, that did not turn out great. The colour transitions were an inconsistent mix of hard and soft edges, and it was just a messy paint job. Also, I varnished in between colours, but the varnish went on too thick and gave a weird texture, and there were steps along the paint lines. It was just a really crappy looking paint job, completely unsalvageable, and the sort that had me worried that it was completely ruined. But, not giving up, I bit the bullet and stripped it completely before going at it again.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I think I’m done with Vallejo varnishes. I generally use Reaper’s brush-on sealer as my varnish of choice as I find it sprays better than anything I’ve tried from Vallejo. The only downside is that nobody stocks Reaper paints locally, so I have to order it direct from the manufacturer. Fortunately, Reaper offers free shipping to Canada if you spend $75 on their website, and I’ve never ever had a problem with finding a way to spend $75 on the Reaper website.

Second time’s the charm

So, when my attempt at masking a soft-edge camo pattern went south, I remembered a saying that has helped me in times of modelling trouble, when things didn’t quite go right with the finish or when I don’t have the right decals. That saying is “fuck it, I’m painting it freehand.”

After re-priming the model in the zenithal style, I used some very thin inks to brush on some general outlines for the camo pattern, just slightly tinting it to make myself a map for airbrushing. Then, I went at it freehand with my airbrush, gradually building up the colour from dark to light. I started on the bottom, and the only things I masked were the canopy and the bottoms of the wings and horizontal stabilizer when I went to do the upper surfaces.

I generally work from dark to light when I’m doing this, working with thinner paints as I go lighter, as it’s easier to add multiple layers with an airbrush than take them off. Also, with thin paints, you get a smoother gradient and can avoid that misty, airbrushed look. To place my highlights, I followed the zenithal prime, and focused my highlights in two ways. First, on a macro level, I wanted to highlight the upper surfaces, leading edges, and other areas that are highlighted based on the shape of the plane. Within that paradigm, I also wanted to add some modulation by higlighting the middles of the panels and leaving the panel lines a little more shaded. Of course, I also intentionally worked in some stippling and tonal variation, making sure not to apply a smooth, even coat, but rather something with a bit of visual interest.

See the subtle mottling and tonal variation on the underside

I did this one colour at a time, starting with the grey then moving into the greens and blacks. I did have to do some cleanup where the colours met, so it wasn’t quite as simple as 1-2-3, more like 1-2-3-1-3-2-1-2-1, but it eventually came out nicely. Finally, some Drakenhof Nightshade from GW was sprayed into the shadows and in the area of the panel lines to reinforce them and unify the scheme. A quick clear coat and I was in the home stretch, all I needed to do was apply some decals!

Mo’ decals, mo’ problems

The initial plan was that I would paint the stripes on the tail using a simple mask, then rely on decals for the remainder of the markings. Unfortunately, what no one told me was that the Tamiya decals from that time period were crap.

I applied the decals using all the best practices I could find online, and nothing I could do would get them to stick to the model and stay there. I had roundels coming unstuck and curling up, and my attempts to get them to stick just made things worse. And on top of everything, the roundels on the fuselage were applied over the white stripe on the arrow, but since the white wasn’t completely opaque, you could see the arrow running underneath the roundel. After struggling with it for several hours, I gave up on these craptastic decals and decided to use good old-fashioned paint instead.

Fortunately, the fact that these decals wouldn’t stick to the model meant they were easy to remove. About 95% of the decals would come off with a bit of masking tape, pressing it down over the decal and pulling it back up, and the other 5% could be removed with some gentle sanding using fine sanding pads.

The arrows and stripes were easy; they were simply a bunch of straight lines that could be easily masked. The roundels were a little harder, and I picked up a circle cutter and a template from a local art store to make a series of circular masks. As for the numbers… well, “fuck it, I’m doing it freehand” has been kind of a theme with this model, so out came the trusty Raphael 8404s.

Using liquid decals for the arrows…

Maybe it’s just that I had a bad experience, but I’m still suspicious of decals and would prefer to avoid them whenever possible. Even when they aren’t a god damn dumpster fire as in this case, it feels like there is just a lot that can go wrong even if you do everything right — they can silver, or you can get visible decal film, or they won’t settle properly. The decals could be old, or they could be crappy, or yellowed, or not quite opaque, or they could disintegrate the second they touch water. Maybe there is something I am missing, or maybe it is my inexperience with decals and strong background in painting, but it seems very much like to some extent, you are rolling the dice and taking your chances with decals while paint is more predictable.

The other thing for decals is that for all that, I’d still have to go over them to bring in highlights, shades, and tonal variations. Decals are generally flat and uniform in colour and my figure painting background means I can’t paint any single surface without using at least three different colours to highlight and shade it. It would look off to me to have all this tonal variation and weathering on everywhere on my model except for the markings, and things like white stripes are too stark for my tastes if they are pure white.

“I could just give up now and say it was captured by the Japanese…”

Weathering & Final Touches

Some light weathering was applied with the sponge technique. I did two-tone chipping, using the highlight colour of the paint (which was, of course, four different colours, depending on where on the camo the chips lay) and some grey metallic, applied mostly to areas such as the leading edge of the wings. The highlight colour chips were done first, while I saved my metallic chips for the end because, as I’ve said many times before, applying a matte varnish over a metallic paint kind of ruins the entire purpose of using a metallic paint in the first place.

To shade the panel lines, I mixed up an oil wash using white spirits and some black and blue oil paints to make it a blue-black. This was applied carefully over a coat of varnish, trying to keep it in the recesses only, then left to dry for a day before giving it another coat of varnish.

With the oil wash done and sealed in and my final coat of varnish down, I could finally pick out the metallic bits such as the exhaust, which was done with a mixture of Vallejo Metal Color and black ink. Exhaust staining was laid down with a mix of black and brown inks, ultra matte varnish, and flow improver, to create a transparent mix that avoids the glossiness and fragility sometimes associated with inks.

Finally, I could pop on the little fiddly bits like the pitot tube, antenna, and propeller, as well as remove the canopy masks. A sigh of relief was breathed as I placed it on the picture frame I made into a base — while an enjoyable exercise, there were moments of complete and utter frustration that really tested my patience.

Final thoughts

This is a great kit of a beautiful aircraft, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone, so long as you are willing to either make your own masks or get some aftermarket decals. For $20 or so, it could be a nice weekend project. As for me, I’m happy with it and I’ll probably take it to the local model shows and see how it does, whenever the hell those start happening again because 2020 sucks.

Bonus Content: Jagd Doga

I won this kit at a Gunpla contest a couple years ago. It’s an MSN-03 Jagd Doga from Bandai’s RE/100 line. RE/100 models seem like a step down from their more mainstream 1/100 Master Grade models — perhaps the equivalent of a High Grade kit blown up to Master Grade scale.

Of course, the kit went together quite nicely, as expected for Bandai. This particular kit has a lot of nicely curved surfaces in line with the Zeon aesthetic. I find I prefer the Zeon mobile suits over the Gundams, as these curved surfaces are fun to highlight with an airbrush.

It was a fun build, larger than just about anything else I’ve done. I didn’t include the shield because I couldn’t find a way to attach it in a way that I felt didn’t look awkward or detract from the pose. I also left off the beam sword and didn’t use the clear rods to represent missiles in flight because I’m not a big fan of these sort of clear parts – I find they tend to detract from the realism, and there isn’t much you can do with paint to make them look right.

Finally, I chose to go with a paint scheme inspired by Quess Paraya’s version because… well, because I looked this thing up on the Gundam wiki and I thought it looked cool. And just for shits and giggles, I took a picture of it holding my airbrush.

Incidentally, while I was looking up reference material on the Gundam wiki, I had a good laugh at this guy’s name.

Tamiya D.520 – Part I: assembly and cockpit

If you ask five warbird nuts about what the best looking plane is, you will probably get about eight different responses. Some people love the classic shark-mouth P-40. Others like a clean, in-line engined plane like the 109. People who watched Baa Baa Black Sheep as a kid might have fascination with the Corsair. And this is all tinged by national pride, with Brits preferring the Spitfire and Americans leaning towards the P-51 Mustang. However, all these people are wrong because the Dewoitine D.520 is the best looking plane ever. Period. End of story.

Okay, I might be overstating my case a little, but I think you could make a strong argument that the underappreciated French fighter is objectively a very beautiful craft. With clean lines, a long nose, and a canopy that transitions smoothly into a triangular tail fin whose swept rear contour adds just a little character, it’s got a very nice airframe. On top of that, their tri-tone camouflage scheme of desatured browns, greens, and cool greys hits a lot of the right notes when it comes to colour theory. They even went so far as to paint parts of the interior in a beautiful midnight blue colour — truly, this aircraft is a testament to French elegance, at least so long as you don’t ruin it with the garish yellow and red scheme of the Vichy version.


The D.520 was basically the French equivalent of the Spitfire or 109 — a modern, all-metal, low-winged monoplane with an inline engine that was on the cutting edge early in the war. It came into service in early 1940, which was sadly too late to make much of a difference in the battle of France. However the story didn’t end there as production was continued under the Vichy regime, and the D.520 served in a number of air forces on both sides and on three continents in Europe, North Africa, and in the Syria-Lebanon campaign.

The kit

As I dabble somewhat in aircraft, this kit was strongly recommended to me by a friend who saw me fondling the box at a model show. Scalemates indicates a mid-1990s vintage, which may not be cutting edge but is a huge step up from some of the old kits kicking around at model shows. It sat in my stash for the better part of a year before I picked up some photoetch bling and then took it out. The local IPMS club is doing a French-themed contest for early 2021 (though who knows when we might actually be able to get together again, because 2020 is a dumpster fire), so it was only fitting that I went with this entry.

d520_boxWhen you open the box, you see that the kit is just two sprues and clocks in at a bit under 50 parts. There are no excessively small, fiddly, detailed parts — the smallest parts are things like the antennae, pitot tube, and control stick, which at 1:48 scale are not so small you need to get out magnifying glasses and tiny tweezers. There is no option for an exposed engine, which really cuts down on the parts count and makes for easy assembly on the front end. It does come with a seated pilot, which, although I didn’t make use of it, is a little touch that I like.

To kick the detail up a notch, I also got the Eduard photoetch set, which came with a photoetch fret and a piece of film for the instrument panel.

Assembling the office

Like most aircraft kits, you start from the cockpit and work your way out. The cockpit is also where the majority of the photoetch bits go if you want to go that route, which I did.

As I started to put the cockpit together, I quickly came to realize why people rave about Tamiya kits. It just went together right, and could probably almost have been just snapped together without glue. While more advanced modellers can fix problems, it’s a joy when a kit doesn’t have those problems to begin with. And remember, this kit is from the ’90s, so presumably Tamiya has only gotten better since then.

In the base kit, the only part of the cockpit that required more than the most basic of modelling skills to put together was the seat — there are a couple areas on the top corners that should be drilled out and cleaned up with a knife to properly represent the tube-and-fabric construction. I’m not going to complain about this because I suspect it would be tricky to mould the part that way to begin with, but it would be nice if this was called out on the instructions instead of forcing the modeller to figure it out on their own. There are also a couple of injector pin marks that could use cleaning up, but they probably aren’t very noticeable and that is to be expected on any model.

While I’m at it, cockpit assembly brings us into the wonderful world of photoetch bling. I went all out on this cockpit, using every piece provided on the fret. I’ve grumbled about photoetch before, but this was actually a much more pleasant experience than the last time I used it. I would have to credit that 100% to having the right tools for the job. A big part of that was due to a club member loaning me some proper photoetch tools, as well as me having upgraded my tweezers since my last photoetch project.

That said, while I went all out, I think you could easily get away with not doing so if you are so inclined. The catch with this and a lot of photoetch detail sets is that most of the details are in the cockpit, and they are generally hard to see unless you have an open cockpit and are specifically looking in there. The two parts that provide the biggest advantage to this kit are the instrument panel and the seat belts. The seat belts are one of the most visible cockpit details and do legitimately stand out with even a glance at the cockpit, so you would lose out by omitting those, unless you went with the included pilot. I’m not sure how visible the difference is, but the photoetch and film instrument panel also makes construction and painting so much easier than if you were to try to use the provided kit parts and decals.


Look at all that photoetch…

Painting the office

The D.520 is unique compared to a lot of other aircraft from the era in that it has this really interesting midnight blue colour in the cockpit, which looks really neat once it is all together.

To start out, I primed with Synylrez black and worked up through some blue-blacks into P3 Exile Blue with the airbrush. From there, I gave it a quick dry brush of a lighter blue with a soft makeup brush, then went in with my detail brushes to pick out things like buttons and levers, and finished it all off with a thinned down blue-black wash to bring it all together and reinforce the shadows.

For the leather and fabric bits, the process was a little different as they will have a bit of texture and wear to them. To do this, I threw down a quick wet-blended base coat, with dark colours in the shadows and light colours in the highlights, then went in with techniques like stippling to bring in some texture. I finished it off with some ink glazes and washes, bringing it all back together and unifying the stippling and base coat.

Remainder of the assembly

With the two halves of the fuselage together, the remainder of the assembly went pretty quickly. Like I said, it had less than 50 parts. I left a few parts off for painting. The landing gear, propeller, and canopy were left off and painted separately; the fit was good enough that I would have no problems doing this. Also, the antennae and pitot tubes were left on the sprue until I was just about ready to attach them, as I didn’t trust myself to not lose them over the couple weeks to take the rest of the model from start to finish.

Apart from that, it was just a matter of following the instructions. I threw down some quick dark coats of paint on some difficult to reach areas like the oil cooler and radiator as I built, but apart from that there were no steps where I had to stop and paint.

You have the option of flaps up or down; I went with down, though I did break one of them off a couple times and have to glue them back on. Third time was the charm.

Overall, things went together very nicely. There were a couple minor issues, but they were probably my fault. The seam on the top of the nose is a little tricky — with the flat top of the nose, if you don’t line it up perfectly, it’s going to be a real problem to sand out the step. I would prioritize this joint when doing the fuselage join and work out from there, as I had to do a lot of putty, sanding, and rescribing to fix it after being a little too aggressive trying to sand out the step the first time. The air scoop on the bottom also didn’t quite go down right because I got it slightly warped when installing the radiator and oil cooler, so it needed some sanding and rescribing to make it work out.

Apart from those minor issues, assembly was perfect. Nice and simple, no major seams, the whole thing was a relaxing build and went together with the smallest amount of putty and sanding.


(Mostly) all together, with canopy masks applied

Final thoughts on assembly

In spite of the chaotic nature of the French aviation industry in the 1930s — a fascinating story that I may have to do some more reading on sometime — they put together a beautiful plane. And Tamiya did them justice by putting together a beautiful representation in 48th scale.

This was a nice kit. Fit was great, there were little to no frustrations, and it was simple enough that you could bash it out pretty quickly if you wanted. The Eduard photoetch bits were a nice touch and mostly went down well with the proper tools, but they ended up being barely noticeable, with one or two exceptions. There are two small bits in the wheel wells which were very frustrating, but those are not in a very noticeable place. There are some gunsights which would be a nice touch, but I chose to omit them after accidentally breaking them off two or three times, and I couldn’t find any pictures of the plane with these gunsights on them anyways. The rest of the photoetch parts are all in the cockpit, and while the seat belts are highly visible, you could easily get away with skipping the entire set, particularly if you are going with a closed cockpit.

Overall, this was a nice, relaxing build, and I’m sure this trend will continue into the paint and decals, because what could possibly go wrong with the decals that came in the box?


Bonus Content: Junior Commander Elizabeth Windsor

I got this bust for Christmas and decided to do it for a local model club’s blitz build a couple months ago. It is a 1/14 scale bust of Queen Elizabeth II in her ATS uniform circa 1945, from 9th Gate miniatures. The model comes in two parts — body and head — though it comes with two choices of head, with or without hat.

1/14 is a weird scale, noticeably smaller than I am used to for bust painting. Assembly was real nice, though. The cast was very clean and the two pieces keyed together so nicely you could paint them separately and avoid a lot of masking. If you looked very closely, you could see some striations from 3D printing the master, but they were so small they disappeared with a coat of paint.

I painted the two pieces separately, mainly using wet blending over a zenithal to lay down a quick, messy base coat, then smoothing it out with airbrush glazing. This makes getting smooth blends easy and avoids that misty airbrushed look. Since it came in two pieces, I could do the skin and the clothes separately without having to do any masking at all, which is very helpful in a blitz build. From there, I went back in with the brush to reinforce some highlights and shadows and paint the hair and all the little details.

I slapped it on a square black resin plinth and called it a day — finishing the blitz build with plenty of time to spare.