Zaku Heads and Intermediate Weathering

So, it’s been a while. As I’m writing this, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and while people are talking about reopening, I’m not sure the end is as close as some of us think and hope it is. Fortunately, I have a stable job with the ability to work from home, so I’m not suffering too badly, but this crisis has really started to get to me in a lot of ways, and I’ve found being able to focus on things to be a real challenge, so some things like content creation have fallen through the cracks…

Anyways I’ve talked about weathering a few times on this blog before. From simple painted on scratches and chips and sponge weathering, to the hairspray technique, weathering is not only a great way to make your models match the environment and tell a story, but also a really easy way to cover mistakes. Just keep that last part between us, okay?

However, a couple recent projects involved me experimenting with some new techniques, or at least techniques that are new to me, so I think it is worth revisiting the subject and talking about some of my recent projects. These techniques are, in my opinion, slightly more advanced than some of the simple techniques I’ve showcased before like painted on scratches and sponge chipping, however they are quite rewarding and actually don’t take that long to execute once you get the hang of them.

The Zaku Head

To illustrate, I’ve got a little project that I call “The Sands of Time.” It’s an Exceed Model Zaku head that was given to me about a year ago, and my idea was that I would do a little vignette of it having been abandoned in some sort of post-apocalyptic desert. Since I was thinking of painting it green, it was only natural that I would go for a Martian desert because of colour theory – red and green are complementary colours, so there is room for some nice contrast there.

The model itself was very simple; in fact I suspect it is a toy from a gashapon machine. I made a box for it out of thick plasticard and filled it with clay, and to make the model appear half-buried, I wrapped it with saran wrap and after it was painted, pressed it into the clay. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…


Salt Chipping

Salt chipping is an interesting technique that is very simple; aside from paints and an airbrush, all it requires is salt which you probably have at home or at least can steal from a McDonalds. Like with the hairspray method, the first step is to base coat your model in the colour of the chips. You could go for some sort of metallic like an iron or silver, do something a little rusted up, or even go with something completely out of left field if the object you are chipping is made from some exotic space-age material. In the case of this helmet, I just did simple grey metals, applied zenithally.


Vallejo Metal Color over Stynylrez primer

Once that is dry, what you need to do is use a big old brush and some water to get the surface of the model wet and sprinkle some salt on it. You can use regular table salt, or if you want to have fun, mix it up with salt of different grain sizes such as kosher salt. The salt will stick to the wet surface of the model, and remain in place as the water evaporates (which is a process that can be sped up using a hair dryer).


Saltier than your average Warmachine player

Once that is done, simply airbrush your colours on normally – working from shadow to highlight, using thin paints. When the paint is dry, knock off the salt with a stiff brush and you will see that the salt effectively acted as a mask, leaving little chips underneath where the salt was stuck to the model.


And with green paint applied, and most of the salt knocked off.

You can also do multiple layers of salt chipping – in this case, I laid down the green first, then masked off the white stripe and applied even more salt so that a large portion of the white would be chipped off and some of the chips would overlap the chips in the green coat.


Double layer of salt chipping on the white stripe for double the fun

The downside is that sometimes the salt can leave a funny texture on the surface. I think what is happening is that some of the salt is dissolving in the water, then as the water evaporates, tiny pieces are left stuck to the surface. While this isn’t necessarily bad and the texture could actually represent textures that are intended to be present on the surface, it is something to think about.

Surface distressing

This one is pretty simple. With some very fine sanding pads, go over your paint, just giving the surface of the paint a little bit of distress. You can sand down through layers of highlights into base colours, or just scratch and polish the very top. This technique works really well in conjunction with salt chipping, as it can help take down some of that rough texture and expose some extra smaller chips that wouldn’t have been exposed from just knocking off the big chunks of salt.


And after a little messing around with the sanding pads…


The risk is that you can sand down too far and expose the plastic. But even that is easy to fix – simply get a couple drops of primer and a couple drops of grey metallic paint and paint some chips overtop. In fact, the places where you do risk going too far are generally places like corners and edges which are most likely to chip anyways. I do need to do some experimentation on this, however – I’m thinking perhaps a coat of varnish in between an undercoat and a paint colour might allow me to sand through the top layer of paint but not all the way down to the plastic.

Oil washes and filters

Most of us who paint miniatures work with acrylics exclusively, and for good reason – aside from the number of us who have had traumatic experiences attempting to paint space marines with those old-school square glass testors bottles, acrylic paints tend to taste better than things like oil paints, lacquers, and enamels. However, so long as you can resist licking your brush for a little while, a cheap set of oil paints can open up a lot of possibilities when it comes to adding finishing touches to models.

There are a few disadvantages to working with oils. First, you need some sort of oil-based thinner or spirits, preferably odorless as recommended by Bob Ross, in order to thin your paints, clean your brushes, or basically do anything with them. You do need to be a little careful with these solvents, as they can remove underlying paint if you are not gentle with them, but a coat of varnish between your acrylics and your oils can prevent this and give you a little peace of mind. Finally, artist oil paints are designed to dry by having some of the oils soak into the canvas. Since we are not painting on a canvas, it is important to prepare your palette in advance. Put a dab of each colour you will be using onto a paper towel and let it sit for a couple hours, allowing the paper towel to soak up these excess oils that would prevent the paint from drying if we applied it to a solid surface like a model. Otherwise, it will take forever to dry.

Oh, and don’t use a wet palette, for obvious reasons. Something about mixing oil and water. And while I’m at it, also don’t use your fancy kolinsky sable brushes.

For all this trouble, oil paints offer something that acrylics can’t really match. They have a drying time which is orders of magnitude longer than acrylic paints, which opens up a lot of techniques that are simply not available with acrylics. You can push oil paints around on a surface for hours without it drying, which makes getting smooth blends very easy.

One way to work with oils is to use it to create filters and streaking. Simply apply a dot of paint to the model, then get a clean brush and push it around – either downwards, to create a streak, or all around to tint an area. Since I didn’t take any good photos of this process, check out this video from someone who has done it more than me.

Oils are also useful for making washes. Consider a traditional acrylic wash. Even well-regarded products like Citadel shades can have major coffee-staining issues and can impart a messy look to models. And if you’ve ever tried to remove some wash from somewhere you didn’t want it, if you’ve waited longer than about thirteen seconds after applying it, it gets real messy. However, remember how oil paints take a really long time to dry? You can make a wash with them by mixing a bit of paint into some odorless paint thinner. This can be applied either using the traditional “slather it on” Nuln Oil method, or by dropping it into panel lines. The properties of the wash itself (I’m not sure if it’s surface tension or viscosity) that make it flow nicely along panel lines, and the fact that you have a long working time that allows you to easily wipe away the wash from places you don’t want it, something you can’t do with Citadel shades or Army Painter washes, and prevent coffee staining.


I didn’t get a great picture showing the effect of the oils, but you can clearly see on the finished product the effect of the wash on the panel lines — they were able to be done very cleanly with no coffee staining of the sort you might see with something like Citadel shades

I do need to play around with oils a bit more and unlock some techniques, but as someone who is used to working with acrylics, they are proving themselves to be an interesting medium and one with a lot of potential.

Back to the head

The final thing to do on the head project was the groundwork. This was my usual artist acrylic mediums, washed and dry brushed multiple times to get colour variation and texture to show. To finish it all off was some dry pigments. Throwing some on there a little haphazardly, I was able to blend the ground and the model together and make it look dusty, as though it has been sitting there for a long time. A few final touches and it was done.


Final Thoughts

When painting models, weathering is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are some obvious caveats – it is important to consider which areas of the model will be subject to weathering and try to tell a story, and the amount of weathering one applies is up to the person doing the painting. However, even a little bit can go a long way and some techniques can be a low-effort way to make your models look better.

It’s also good to try multiple techniques. Even if they aren’t used for every project, or even not used very often, it’s always nice to have more tools in the toolbox. Salt chipping, surface distressing, and messing around with oil paints are all great techniques that you shouldn’t hesitate to give a go.

Bonus Content – Hope & Courage

Hey, remember when there were these massive brushfires in Australia and that was the worst thing to happen so far in 2020? Yeah… it’s been an interesting year. Anyways, Reaper did some brushfire relief minis earlier this year, and I thought it would be nice to do them up as a little diorama.

The minis themselves are two little cute koalas, one planting a tree and the other working away with an axe. I did have to remove the bases from the minis as they were sculpted on as one piece, but that didn’t take too long, and there wasn’t too much else to the minis themselves aside from a little work on mold lines.

The thing with these models is they are absolutely loaded with texture, which is great if you don’t like blending. While I started out with a quick wet blend and a little washing and dry brushing on the fur, the secret to these models is the thousands of tiny hashes that represent textures. Using my liner brushes, I simply made a bunch of little lines in light and dark colours over the wet blended base coat. These lines were done in the direction of the fur, and were in some cases guided by the texture already built into the model.

Similarly, if you look at the robes that the female Koala is wearing, you can see that they are not perfectly smooth either – again, I started with a quick wet blend, but instead of trying to add layers of highlights and glazes overtop, I went back and forth with tiny hash marks overtop, in both highlight and shadow colours, to add some deliberate microtextures rather than make it a perfectly smooth surface.. Particular focus was applied to the highlights, as generally textures are more apparent in light than in shadow.

As for the tree, I sculpted it with paper clips and brown stuff. Originally, I was going to go for cherry blossom leaves to symbolize spring and renewal, even if that was a little anachronistic for Australia. However, as I glued the leaves on, I found they detracted from the models themselves way too much, so I changed gears and did the tree leafless and somewhat charred, but incorporated that theme of renewal with the pink flowers.

All in all, it was a fun little project and it felt good to simultaneously feed my painting addiction as well as give a little financial support to people who are having a tough time. I thought it turned out quite nicely, though I was a little dismayed that my original plan for the trees didn’t work out. I will have to take a class at some point on making realistic trees, but until then, I’ll just stick to grasses and shrubs.

00 Gundam Part 3: Final Details

In my last two articles, I painted and weathered the bulk of my SD gundam using the hairspray technique, oil streaks, and some other effects. That took care of about 90& of the model, but there were a few details that had yet to be done, namely the eyes, the gun, and the sword. These details I saved for the end for a couple reasons. First, I wanted to do a different finish on these, so I didn’t want the varnish that I would apply to the bulk of the model to ruin it. Second, I wasn’t planning on using the same weathering techniques on the glass and shiny metal surfaces as I wanted to do on the painted surfaces, so I didn’t need to do it up front to keep consistent weathering across the model.

The Eyes Have It

For the eyes, I wanted to achieve a reflective glass look. So to start, I basecoated with Reaper blue liner. I knew to create the illusion of reflection, I would need to keep most of it dark, but then sharply transition from near-black to near-white.



Of course, I had to decide where to put the highlight. If you will remember from last time, I chose to put the primary light source in the right front quadrant, coming from above. The shape of the eyes was a key factor. If you were to look at them by themselves, you would see that they have a convex shape in the horizontal plane, but are straight up and down in the vertical plane. Basically, they could have been cut out from a vertical cylinder.

Fortunately, when it comes to reflections off a cylinder, we have an easy source of reference material. If you stare long enough at the handle of a hobby knife or the body of your airbrush, you will see that light reflecting off a cylinder tends to form lines of light and dark parallel to the cylinder axis.

What this means for this model is that the eyes are basically cut from a vertical cylinder, so the highlights would be most accurately represented by mostly-vertical lines. I did take a little bit of artistic license and angled the line slightly, to both represent the fact that the light is coming from above rather than from directly from eye level, and to add a little visual interest.

Anyways, now that we know where to place the highlight, it’s time to lay it down. So, I worked up from that base coat Blue Liner through some bright, midtone blues, into sky blue, and finally white, making sure to do a steep a transition as possible while still keeping it smooth. The key to getting a reflection that really pops is for the majority of the reflective surface to be dark, and then for it to quickly transition into the highest hightlight.

With the main highlight done on the right eye, I added a second and third highlight to the left eye, with the third highlight being much less intense than the first. Finally, I added a few highlights here and there around the edges of the eye to represent glints of light on the edges.

With that all done, I glazed over it with Badger Miniataire Ghost Tint Plasma Fluid, a blue glaze which viewers of Vince Venturella’s youtube channel will no doubt be familiar with. In addition to adding a little blue tone to it, this glaze helps smooth out the transitions a little. Finally, I finished it off with some gloss varnish just to give it a nice, shiny finish.

True Metallic Metal

For the gunmetal parts on the sword and the gun, I decided to do a true metallic metal technique. True metallic metal, or TMM, is more than just painting the entire thing in a shiny silver. In fact, it is closer to non-metallic metal, where you use flat paints to paint in reflections and glints, only you’re using metallic paints so you can take advantage of both the painted in highlights and the natural shininess of metallic paints.

As with non-metallic metal, there are some rules as to how you need to place the highlights and shadows. while they aren’t hard and fast and they are open to some artistic interpretation, understanding the source of the light and the shape of the model, and breaking it down into simple, familiar shapes (flat panels, spheres, cylinders and cones) is how you know where to place the highlights. In a way, light on a reflective surface tends to “move” and “collect” in certain places, depending on the shape.

So, similar to the eyes, I wanted to start with a dark colour. In this case, I basecoated all these areas by brush-painting on some Vallejo Metal Color Gunmetal Grey. While this is an airbrush paint, it brush paints quite nicely, flowing smoothly off the brush and delivering a smooth coat.

Next, I went into the highlights, using Vallejo Metal Color Silver to paint in the highlights on the edges and in places where the light would collect. Fortunately, the VMC Silver is a smooth enough paint that it is possible to blend it out and feather the edges into the underlying gunmetal grey.

With the highlights laid in, it was time to reinforce the shadows, and here is where the artist acrylic inks come in handy. I added some black into the deepest shadow, and worked into Payne’s Grey and Indigo, the latter two colours having a bluish tone which would add a subtle blue to the midtones.


Back view. Note the metallic highlights on the edges of the blades on the shoulder pads.

Finally, it’s time to break out the secret weapon I’ve been playing with lately. Molotow Liquid Chrome is a pump-action paint pen filled with an alcohol-based acrylic paint that is brighter and shinier than any traditional water based acrylic I’ve come across yet. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the marker itself, so I usually pump some out into a well palette and paint it on with a brush, using 99% isopropyl alcohol as a thinner and to clean my brush. With this super-bright chrome, I can really make the highest highlights pop.

Unfortunately, the one issue with this is that any varnish that I’ve used, even a gloss varnish, will kill the brightness of the chrome. Which is why this was done last – I didn’t want the varnish on the rest of the model to get onto the metallics and kill the shine.

Glowing Sword

Finally, we get to the sword. I wanted to do a glowing sword with a fire glow, as that would contrast both the base green and the blue of the eyes. Thinking about how the glow might work if these fighting robits were real, I figured that the heat source would be the metal thing running up the center of the blade. As such, the area closest to the center would be hottest, and it would cool off as we get out towards the edge of the blade. So, this means that it needs to be brightest right up against the center part and fade out as it gets closer to the edges.

As such, the plan is to base coat the sword in yellow and fade out through orange into red when we get closer to the edge. Unfortunately, yellow is a notoriously difficult colour to paint; yellow pigment is generally weak so getting good coverage is difficult. As such, in order to get a vibrant, bright yellow, you want to undercoat with white so you’re not trying to cover up any dark colours.

Unfortunately, painting white straight over dark colours isn’t that easy either. So, in order to paint the white that I needed to lay down so I could paint the yellow, I started with a medium-light grey. With the grey having more powerful pigments than white, it would cover the underlying colour and give a smooth undercoat that I could build my white on top of — which itself is an undercoat for the yellow. I also thinned my yellow with acrylic artist inks and a touch of flow improver, as these inks are so thin and so pigment-intense that you can use them as a thinning medium and still maintain the pigment density of the paint as you thin it down to the desired consistency.


So, after laying down some grey, then white, then yellow, I took my detail airbrush, loaded it with orange, and worked from the outside of the blade in, creating a smooth transition between the orange and the yellow in the center of the blade. Then, I followed up with some red, again, starting from the edge and using the airbrush to get a smooth transition into the orange, leaving myself with a smooth gradient from yellow to red as we move towards the edge.

Finally, an edge highlight applied with the brush running along the edges of the blade reinforces the shape of the blade and makes it not look like an orange blob from a distance.

With the blade done,it was time to add some glow to really sell the effect of a glowing blade, so I masked off the blade and sprayed some orange in the areas where the glow from the blade would hit the surrounding parts, similar to my green glow on Ruin. While this did kill the underlying metallics, I was able to mostly save the finish with some gloss varnish overtop of the places where the flat orange knocked the shine off the metallics.


This concludes this build. It was a fun little project for a number of reasons. First, it wasn’t that complex of a model, so there weren’t too many frustrations on the assembly. However, in terms of the number of techniques on this thing, I went all out, experimenting with multiple techniques and trying out new products. The simple model was a great testbed for some fun paint techniques, and is a great example of the freedom that is inherent to the hobby of gunpla.


More fun weathering the 00 Gundam SD

Last time, we had finished chipping this gundam, which gave me an interesting base coat. However, I still wanted to kick the weathering up yet another notch and try out some new techniques.

Panel lining and edge highlighting

If you’re going to be doing panel lining and edge highlighting with a brush, paint consistency is key. You want the paint to be fairly thin so it will flow smoothly off your brush. If you have to apply any pressure at all, that’s where your line starts to gets either wiggly or you start getting inconsistent line width.

You will obviously need to do some experimentation to see exactly how much and with what you should thin your paints. However, this is a case where a wet palette is really important, just so however much that is, you can maintain the paint consistency for more than the few minutes it takes for acrylic paints to start drying. I’ve found that a touch of airbrush flow improver helps when thinning for this purpose, and if you want to maintain the pigment density, using an ink instead of water as a thinning medium can allow you to get a paint down to a really thin consistency but keep the colours intense.

Some people avoid thinning their paints because they are afraid that too much paint will come off their brush, causing a big pool the second they touch the model. However, there is a simple solution to that – simply remove the excess with either your palette or a paper towel and you’re ready to roll.

Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but consider busting out either a natural hair liner brush or one of your fancy Kolinsky sables for this. This is detail work and needs a good brush.

So, with my 10/0 natural hair liner brush, I dropped some very thin black paint into the panel lines. From there, I moved onto edge highlights, using a Raphael 8404 size 1 and my highest highlight colour. Where the corner was sharp enough to allow me to use the side of the brush rather than the tip, I did that. Also, on the edge highlights, I skipped over areas that were chipped away for obvious reasons.

More weathering

With the panel lines and edge highlighting in, it was time for some more weathering. With my 10/0 liner, I painted on some scratches and chips, painting a dark line over a light line to make a pseudo-3D scratch with paint. With a few additional chips and scratches painted in, it was time to hit it with one last coat of varnish, if only to protect that second layer of chipping medium from moisture.


Additional weathering with acrylics

After the varnish dried, I did a little sponge chipping with a metallic silver colour. While I had initially started with Vallejo Metal Color Steel, I felt that somewhere between all the layers of rust, paint, chipping medium, and varnish, any metallic effect had long since been obliterated. So, a little sponge chipping here and there, focusing on raised corners, helped bring that back.

Finally, it was time to try something new. I had picked up a bunch of random old tubes of artist oil paints from a fellow IPMS member a few months ago, and thought it was time to try using oils for weathering.

These artist oil paints have some properties that are very different from the acrylics I am used to, which can make them very useful for certain techniques. The main difference is the dry time; oil paints can stay wet for hours, if not days, while acrylics only give you a limited window with which to work. That’s why you sometimes get coffee staining with acrylic washes – if it’s not laid down perfectly consistently, it can pool and dry funnily. While with oil paints, you have more time to play with it once it’s on the model and get it exactly how you want it before it dries.

Since this is my first time using oil paints, I decided to just dip my toe in. I put a few browns and blacks and ochres and whatnot onto some paper towel and let the paper towel soak up some of the linseed oil for a couple hours (which I’m told is important if you ever want the paint on the model to dry) and then went to work. To do my streaking, I would use a technique that is actually pretty similar to Privateer Press’ two brush blending. With one brush, I would put a little dot of oil paint at the origin of my streak. Then, with a second brush loaded with a little bit of paint thinner (odorless, of course, in true Bob Ross style), I’d drag that dot down, pulling the paint and thinner mixture downwards like a streak of rust or an oil leak.

I was actually quite happy with the effect. While oil paints are a little more involved than acrylics – they can’t be thinned with water, they take a long time to dry, and if you want to get the linseed oil out you need to plan your painting a couple hours in advance – once you get brush to model, they are actually fairly easy to use for this application. While I will be going deeper into the world of oils, that may be more for display models as Agrax Earthshade and Typhus Corrosion is probably good enough if I’m trying to bang out a tabletop quality model in advance of the next tournament (who am I kidding, I haven’t been to a tournament in months).


This model is all about experimentation with something new. I was initially skeptical about them as it seemed like it would be more difficult than the acrylic paints I’m used to. While there was a little more setup and cleanup to do, and I did have to put the model on the shelf overnight to let the paints dry, I am definitely going to do more experimentation with this medium.

Tune in next time while I discuss how I did the eyes, the glowing sword, and the gun.

Want some chips with that Gundam?

This past year, despite knowing absolutely nothing about Japanese cartoons, I’ve been trying out Gunpla, or Gundam Plastic Modelling, and have found it to be quite enjoyable. Gundam models are kind of unique in the sheer creativity that one can apply to them. There are many different ways to approach a Gundam project, from a cartoonish style to an automotive candy coat to a hyper-realistic weathered model, and all are equally valid.

So, after doing two high grades — a Zaku and a Gundam — I decided to mix things up and bang out the 00 Gundam SD model that had made it into my stash courtesy of a coworker who was into the franchise but evidently less into the modelling aspect.

The SD series, or Super Deformed, are basically the egg planes or toon tanks of the Gundam universe. With big heads and short stubby limbs, they look like cute chibi versions of regular Gundams. The kits are even more simple than the High Grades, with fewer parts and fewer points of articulation. For example, the arms on this kit are just a couple pieces and the elbows don’t articulate. This doesn’t really bother me because I tend to want to get the assembly over and done with so I can start painting, and I don’t really care all that much about articulation.


The kit

Because it’s Bandai, assembly was fairly simple and straightforward. There were a few seam lines to fix up and one or two areas which were hollow on the kit and needed a bit of filling, but it was all relatively painless. The kit does come with multiple configurations for weapons loadout; I ended up settling on a pistol and a sword, and I did fill in a couple sockets on the skirts for holding weapons because I didn’t like the look.

In this case, I knew I wanted to paint it just because I’m all about the paint. I figured that it would be fun to really go overboard on the weathering, because it would be a fun juxtaposition between the cute, chibi model and a finish that is ridiculously over the top on the grittiness and battle damage.

As usual, I started with a zenithal prime with black and white Stynylrez. With these Gundam kits, I find it’s easier to pop the arms, legs and head off, prime them black, then put them back together in your intended pose before hitting it with the white. I chose a pose with the head turned to the left, looking in the same direction as the barrel of the gun. The primary light source was placed coming from the upper front right quadrant; this generates a little more interest as one half of the face would be in light and the other half would be shadowed. I’m not sure the zenithal prime was completely necessary as I’ve probably wiped out any preshading effects with my multi-layer chipping, but I’ve found it to be a good initial step regardless as doing a zenithal and taking a few photos can really help my understanding of how light and shadow interact with the model.

Of hairspray and chips

Having tried out the hairspray chipping method earlier this year on some terrain, I decided to kick it up a notch. For those who don’t know, the idea behind the hairspray chipping method is that you paint the model with the colour you intend for the chips to be, varnish it, apply a chipping medium (either specific hobby products or hairspray) and paint your main paint colour overtop all of that. Once that second coat of paint is dried, you can spray some water onto it. That water will soak through the acrylic paint in the second layer and into the chipping medium, where it will reactivate it. With that underlying area reactivated, you can chip away chunks of the top layer of paint with a stiff brush and expose the underlying paint colour.


Cross section of a model with hairspray chipping.

The advantages to this technique should be obvious. You’re basically chipping away paint on the model, similar to how paint on the real thing would actually chip and flake off as it gets beat up. You can get a very interesting look, different from either sponge weathering or painting on your chips. And, while it does take a little extra time with the multiple layers (though if you know how to use your airbrush, it’s not that bad), once you pull out your toothbrush and go at it, you can chip away large surfaces in no time flat.

So, for the first layer, I took the thing apart again and sprayed it with Vallejo Metal Color steel, VMC being the only metallic paint that goes through my airbrush. Next, I followed up by spraying a few random browns and oranges here and there in a random pattern, just so there would be some variation in the rust colour on different areas of the model.


Rusty Gundam

Finally, I took a big, stiff brush and some Citadel Ryza Rust and just dabbed, stippled, and dry-brushed this all over. Ryza Rust is a bright orange and is one of Citadel’s dry paints, which are very thick, goopy paints designed for dry brushing. While they are often maligned — after all, it’s not that hard to dry brush with regular paints — it is pretty good for this sort of application where you just want random rust patterns. That said, I suspect that artist heavy body acrylics would be pretty similar and much more economical than the Citadel dry paints, and don’t come in one of the worst paint posts known to man, so I’ll probably head to the art store rather than the FLGS next time I need more.


With the first layer done, I varnished it with some Reaper brush on sealer through the airbrush, then sprayed some Vallejo Chipping Medium over the whole thing. However, instead of going straight to my top colour, I had an idea. Like in our models, real-life vehicles are primed before they are painted. I figured that it would add another layer of interest if I had some of the chipping go down to the primer, while other chips would go all the way down to the metal.


Zinc Chromate primer (Army Painter Sulfide Ochre) chipped away

As such, I picked up some Sulfide Ochre from Army Painter, which resembled the yellow-green zinc chromate primer that was commonly used on a lot of military vehicles, at least until they found out how carcinogenic it was. I sprayed the whole model with it, needing at least two thin coats to get good coverage, then randomly chipped away about half of it.


After another coat of varnish to protect my work and then another layer of chipping medium, it was time to hit it with the actual base colour. I knew the weapons and fists would stay in a gunmetal colour, and there were details such as the eyes that I would have to do with the brush, so I didn’t worry about painting or chipping those, but I figured I would do a two-tone scheme for the rest of the model.

Paint time

Being elbow deep in brightly coloured fantasy models, I hadn’t done many “realistic” colours in a while. So, I decided to go with a green and khaki scheme, partly because I had some Reaper MSP triads in my stash for both an army green and a khaki colour. Reaper tends to group their paints into “triads” where you can get a shadow, base, and highlight colour, which is really useful for beginners. In this case, I had the Terran Khaki (Terran Khaki, Khaki Shadow, and Khaki Highlight) and Olive Green (Olive Green, Muddy Olive, and Pale Olive) triads.

That said, I wasn’t completely enthused with the triads for these colours. When I paint greens, I like to have a cool to warm transition from the shadows to the highlights, and these colours didn’t seem to have much of that. The green in particular didn’t seem to have much change in hue; instead it looked like they just added white to the base colour to create the highlight. So, when I was spraying, I added a drop of their Blue Liner, a dark blue-black, to the two shadow colours just to deepen the shadows a little. Further, for the greens, instead of using the supplied highlight colour, I added yellow to the base colour to make a warmer highlight.


Paints used

I sprayed the Khaki first, again, using a similar procedure as I did for the zenithal prime. I would disassemble the gundam, spray the entire thing in the shadow colour, making sure I get good coverage, then reassemble it and start working up. This allows me to both make sure I don’t miss a spot, but also with it reassembled and in its intended pose, it’s much easier to figure out exactly where to place shadows and highlights. I took it apart again, did a little masking, and repeated the process for the green.


Finally, there were a few areas that I wanted black. They weren’t particularly large, so I brush painted them on, using my usual cool black highlight colours. Generally, when I’m painting black, I have a little formula that starts with a pure black, and gets highlighted up to Reaper’s Blue Liner, P3 Gravedigger Denim, and P3 Frostbite. Using a combination of blending and glazes, I made a fairly smooth transition with the brush that didn’t involve a lot of masking and an airbrush. I felt that while I wanted them to be nice, the transitions didn’t have to be perfect because even if my blend wasn’t completely smooth, the weathering and chipping would either cover it up or draw attention away from it.

Now, with my beautiful paint job all done and the right highlights and shadows, I sprayed all the pieces with water and chipped it once more, revealing both the zinc chromate primer and the rusted metal underneath.

Next Steps

While the model was starting to come together at this point, there was still a lot to be done. Panel lines and edge highlights, as well as some additional post-chipping weathering. Finally, there are a few details that need to be done — the eyes, the sword, and the gun — which are to be done with completely different techniques than the rest of the model. As this is starting to run long, I’ll try to address those in a follow up article.


The model, after chipping and some additional weathering steps



Paintlog: Ill-conceived conversions and fun with photoetch

It’s been about a month or two since my last paintlog, and if I had to give November a theme, it would be conversions and kitbashes. Possibly ill-conceived and overly-ambitious conversions and kitbashing, but conversions and kitbashing nonetheless.

Greylord Outriders

These are models that have been sitting on the shelf of shame for at least two years. I remember when I first got them, I quickly slapped three or so of them together, and did some conversion work on the other two, messing around with green stuff and alternate heads to add to the gender diversity of this unit. I also sculpted some snowball like things coming out of their hands to represent the magic spells that they cast. These were just paper clips with an extended teardrop shape sculpted in green stuff, then textured by dragging a hobby knife along the length of the item. Drill a hole in the hands, pop the paper clip in, and call it a day.

Then, they rested on my shelf for at least two years. When I resolved to clear off my shelf of shame (that is, my shelf where I put all my assembled but unpainted models), these guys were some of the last that I got to, mostly because I don’t really like painting cavalry, and partly because they don’t exactly fit my army tactics-wise.

When it came time to paint them, I decided to start by using the airbrush as much as I could to bang out the bulk of the actual horses, then paint the riders and details such as the saddles, harnesses, and mane with a brush. After applying black primer and a zenithal highlight, I got to work, initially starting with a mixture of a dark brown and Reaper’s Blue Liner, which is essentially a blue-black that seems to have been originally formulated for doing darklining on blue surfaces like the armour of a space marine. Of course, the blue was chosen over black because colour theory.

From there, I worked up to the  highlights, spraying from above and going from brown to a slightly reddish leather colour, and mixing in a touch of P3 Menoth White Highlight (one of my go-to off-whites) into the highest highlight. When I was satisfied with the horses, at least for a tabletop quality miniature that I wanted off my shelf and in my display case with the rest of my army, I moved on to brush painting everything else. Finally, I did bust out the airbrush again to do quick OSL effects on the magic spells and a couple other little things. I may have gone slightly overboard with the blue glow, but they’re spell-slinging cavalry, so who cares?


Honestly, some of the green stuff work is a little rough and there are a couple places where the paint was a little quick and dirty and my blends weren’t perfect, but it’s good enough for tabletop and it’s got me closer to having a completely empty shelf of shame.

Vlatka Tzepesci, Great Princess of Umbrey

IMG_1085.JPGAnd, speaking of ill-conceived gender-bent cavalry models, I’ve decided to put my own spin on Vladimir Tzepesci, Great Prince of Umbrey (Vlad3) as well, kitbashing his horse and weaponry with Alexia’s body and head to make my own special version. The horse is basically stock, aside from some gap filling here and there.

As these were both metal models, this process involved a lot of filing to make Alexia fit on the horse designed for Vlad, and make sure that Vlad’s cape fits on her. It was a bit of a pain because cutting, filing and pinning metal models gets real obnoxious real fast. I did a little but of sculpting, using various epoxy putties to sculpt some transitions on places like the cape where the two pieces from two models not designed to ever go together met, and sculpted a cloth hanging down on one side of the saddle to cover up some rough areas where she didn’t quite fit that nicely on the horse. I also, of course, had to sculpt on some big shoulder pads because if there is one thing Vlad is notorious for, it’s oversized shoulder pads that put GW’s Space Marines to shame. I did keep it somewhat restrained though for both aesthetics and versimilitude, not that a model of someone riding a horse while simultaneously wielding a spear and a flail makes any sense on any level whatsoever. Finally, the weapons involved a lot of pinning with very tiny pins because they are small metal pieces that will break off if you breath on them the wrong way, and the shaft of the spear was replaced with a brass rod because leaving it in pewter is just asking for trouble.

In the end, between the reposing of the spear and the elevated base I constructed for this model, I think she is taller than a stock colossal. I know this is going to cause headaches if I ever bring her to a tournament, but that’s one thing that I almost never worry about.

Chibi Gundam


I’ve also started on an SD Gundam, which is basically the Toon Tank of the Gundam universe. I’ve decided that with the deformed, cutesy shape, it would be interesting to contrast that with lots of weathering. I’ve started off with the hairspray technique in two layers. After priming with Synylrez, I started with the metal and rust layer. I sprayed the entire model with Vallejo Metal Color Steel, then sprayed, stippled and dry-brushed some various tones of brown and orange on there. I varnished that, then picked out a colour that roughly resembles the yellow primer you see on planes and other military equipment from the Army Painter rack at my FLGS. After applying the varnish and chipping medium, I chipped away at it, trying to get about half of the primer off. The idea is that when I chip the top coat, some of the chips will show primer, while some of the chips will go all the way to the metal.

I haven’t quite decided what colours I will paint this in yet, though I’m leaning towards a green and khaki scheme. I’d like to really push the weathering; in addition to doing the double layer chipping for the first time and using my usual techniques of sponging and painting on scratches, I was thinking of trying out oils, streaking products, and really play around with dry pigments.

Flag Statue

IMG_1079.JPGI also figured that for Warmachine, I need a third flag model to act as an objective now that three-flag scenarios are a thing again. However, I’ve already exhausted both Khador standard bearers, so it was time to do a conversion. I took a Kossite Woodsman leader, a flag from a Man-O-War, some pins and a brass tube and made myself a third unique flag. I also used the same Reaper base as my last ones, and will end up using the same painting tactic to make it look like an old bronze statue.

Fortunately, I remembered to take the picture halfway through brush priming with Reaper, so you can see the use of brass tube to replace the flagpole. Now that it’s all primed, he shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to paint through heavy use of dry-brushing and Citadel’s Nihilakh Oxide technical paint.


And now for something completely different, with the successful completion of my PZL 23 project, I’ve decided to embark on a more ambitious scale aircraft, AMG’s Me-109B in 1:48 scale. I don’t have a lot of recent experience with model aircraft kits, but this is definitely more complicated than my last work in that medium, as well as the model kits that I would build in my childhood.

This kit includes lots of advanced features in the box such as photo-etch parts, and is of a sufficiently obscure subject that I can’t imagine that very much aftermarket bling would be either necessary or even available for the more discerning modeller.


Interior, just prior to joining the two halves of the fuselage

And speaking of photo-etch, that stuff can die in a fire. For the uninitiated, photo-etch are very tiny parts, made through the use of a photographic etching process on a thin brass sheet. This allows for smaller and more detailed parts than is possible with either plastic or resin, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Further, it is not uncommon to have to bend parts into the shape required, such as with the map case on the side of the cockpit. It’s not so bad when it’s just gluing a sheet to a flat piece of plastic, but when you start having to bend it and make complex shapes, it gets real obnoxious real fast.

Fortunately, most of the photoetch is cockpit detail, and now that I’ve got the cockpit in place and by some miracle the two halves of the fuselage actually went together fairly nicely. I think the plan is going to be work on filling seams for the time being, as well as getting some of the sub-assemblies together to glue on once that is done. I’m hoping to get it together fairly quickly, as I have a unique colour scheme in mind and I’m getting antsy to start airbrushing.

Secret project

I do have one more project on the go; though I shared some pictures with a few people, I’m keeping it under wraps for the moment until I’m done. Suffice it to say, it is a very expensive and very involved conversion that involves a lot of plasticard and milliput. And a lot of filing and sanding resin, which is always a task that requires care because that’s some stuff you really don’t want in your lungs.

Next Steps

Right now, I’ve eliminated my shelf of shame, however I have a lot of projects on the bench. I’ve been keeping them organized by using halves of boxes as trays, however it would be nice to clear off a couple and bring my WIP queue down to a more manageable level. But, on the other hand, a coworker is interested in a Warmachine demo, so I think I may pivot to that Cygnar battlebox I have kicking around. I know, it’s Cygnar, but someone has to be the bad guys.



The importance of hobby cross-pollination

Whether I’m painting my miniatures or slaving away at the numbers factory, I like to have a podcast on in the background to keep me focused and prevent myself from being left alone with my thoughts. One of the newer ones in my feed is a scale model podcast aptly, if not particularly creatively, named the Scale Model Podcast. In the most recent episodes, he had Jon Bius as a guest. During their conversation, Jon discussed his experiences with starting out building almost exclusively aircraft and then moving into non-traditional subjects such as Gundam and Warhammer models. That got me thinking a little more about what I like to call hobby cross-pollination; that is, looking for the common ground between similar but disparate hobby communities.

Hobby groups

When I step back, look around, and ask myself “who makes little versions of things out of plastic,” I generally see a few disparate hobby groups. First, there are what I like to call the traditional scale modellers – the often-greying folks who make up groups like the IPMS and who build mainly historical subjects such as cars, tanks and military aircraft. There are the gundam guys, who are younger and into anime and build mecha models from their favourite Japanese cartoons. You have wargamers who build and (hopefully) paint their armies, and figure painters who are often ex-wargamers that at some point discovered they were bad at wargames. There are also model railroaders, toy soldier collectors, whoever keeps buying those Space:1999 kits, and likely some others that I don’t even know about.

The catch is that all too often, these people have their own groups and rarely talk to each other. The gunpla guys have their own clubs, as do the traditional scale modellers and miniature painters. They also all tend to do things just a little differently; for example, armour modellers do great weathering and add lots of little photoetch bits, while figure painters tend to focus more on rendering light and shadow in their pieces. Traditionalists may turn their noses up at models that look too “cartoony” for their tastes, while the gundam guys literally make giant robots from a cartoon. Figure painters use almost exclusively acrylics, while people who work in other genres use a lot smellier and worse tasting paints.

There is just so much that these groups can learn from each other that it’s a shame that they tend to self-segregate and these unique skills don’t get spread around. There are plenty of techniques that I picked up from IPMS members that I use to weather my big stompy robots. Also, there is just a certain cool factor in seeing what each other is doing; when all you see is space marines, a finely detailed Spitfire is a breath of fresh air.

Additionally, some of these groups can use either a bit of fresh blood or some old hands to teach some tricks. One of the perhaps slightly morbid things that Jon and Stuart discussed on the podcast was that given the remaining life expectancy of the average IPMS member, the industry that supports their hobby may struggle in coming decades as their customers literally start dying off. Some people get a little melodramatic about it and start wondering if their hobby and industry is dying. However, if you step back from your Tamiyas and Hasegawas for a moment, you will see that Bandai sells millions of Gundam kits a year and Games Workshop is the best-performing company on the London Stock Exchange. Maybe modelling isn’t dying; rather, younger modellers are just not as interested in cars made 30 years before they were born and military vehicles from a war that ended 75 years ago. But those younger modellers are still interested in the techniques they can learn from the old guys and their decades of experience in the hobby.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that there are organizations that cater to all of these groups as they all have their own specialized interests. A lecture on the changes in the rivet patterns on the glacis plate of the Panzer IV between the early-war and late-war variants is something that is going to be very interesting and valuable for only one of those groups, and perhaps the gunpla guys can skip that meeting. And, if you’re only interested in Swedish military aircraft of the WW2 era and are having a blast building them, then maybe you shouldn’t feel pressured to make one of those newfangled gumdan things unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous one day. But sometimes it seems like a shame that the hobby of “making little plastic versions of big things” is so compartmentalized and that people tend not to venture outside their little boxes a whole lot.

My story

When I joined my local IPMS chapter, I have to admit I was a little anxious at first. In part, that was due the background social anxiety that I deal with on a daily basis and the awkward feelings surrounding being the one new guy in the room, but there was a little more to it. I had a couple model airplanes in the stash, but I hadn’t actually built anything that falls into traditional scale modelling since I was about 13. Further, there was a definite demographic difference, which is a polite way of saying that the average age in the room was about twice my own. Finally, there were some other little differences as well that were palpable.

To better explain by way of an analogy, it felt a little like showing up with a tuned-up Honda Civic to a meeting of a classic car group. While it’s fundamentally the same thing – making cars look cool and go fast – there is a bit of a cultural and language difference that can make things awkward. Traditional scale modellers focus more on references and accuracy, while people with a fantasy wargaming background don’t usually worry about getting the exact shade of German panzer grey and instead try for bright contrasting colours that look good from across a 4’x6’ table. One group talks about brands like Tamiya, Airfix, and Mr. Hobby, the other group refers to Games Workshop, Reaper, and Privateer Press. 1/48 or 30mm scale. Unbuilt kits versus unpainted miniatures. Glue-sniffers versus brush-lickers. And so on.

However, instead of being a bunch of crotchety old guys and self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby, the local group was very friendly and welcoming. They didn’t turn their noses up at my weird pink and purple Khador models, and were genuinely interested in some of the techniques I used. And on my end, despite not actually building model airplanes in a long time, I still had a genuine interest in the subject that goes back to my childhood and my couple years working on 1:1 scale airliners. I like to think that we both learned a lot from each other; I learned a lot about weathering, scratchbuilding, and decals** and actually picked up a couple aircraft kits for my stash. On the flip side, I gave a presentation on painting figures to the group and sold someone a Reaper C’thulhu that he enjoyed and did some nice work on.


Pictured: not a T-34


One of the strange things about the hobby of “making small versions of things out of plastic and painting them” is that there is often this segregation between traditional scale modellers, wargamers, and gunpla guys even though they are all doing basically the same thing. A little cross-pollination is good for everyone as people can learn new techniques from each other and inject a little fresh blood into each other’s groups. And that can start with you – if you’re a wargamer, go to an IPMS meeting and ask someone how they did the weathering on their tank. If you’re a traditional scale modeller, try a gundam kit or a space marine. And if you’re a Gundam guy, check out how the Warhammer crowd paints their big titans.

Look into other aspects of the hobby, and you’ll probably have fun, meet new people, and you might even learn a thing or two.


Pictured: A well-balanced hobby diet. Don’t hate me for the Cygnar model in the top right; I swear I only bought it for parts for a conversion.


** A little post-script that illustrates the point of this article. There generally aren’t a lot of decals in figure painting or fantasy wargaming; while there are some included in Games Workshop kits, there is a lot more freehand painting in wargaming. So, when I decided to finish painting my first airplane in 15 years, I thought it would be an appropriate subject for an IPMS build day. Since I spent about three dollars on a kit from Communist-era Poland mainly just for something to spray when I started out airbrushing, the decals had long since yellowed and gone completely useless. So, I did what made sense to me — threw them out, googled the plane on my phone, found a nice three-view, and freehand painted all the markings. Which turned out to be quite the shock to some of the other modellers present; I’m still not sure whether they were more shocked that I was mad enough to say something like “these decals are no good; I’ll just hand-paint all the markings” or that it actually turned out not half bad.

May 2018 – Model Show Update

One of the advantages Ottawa has over Winnipeg is the fact that there are other major cities within less than an eight hour drive. As you’re not completely surrounded by hundreds of miles of wheat and canola, you can actually do day trips to other cities and attend events put on by other clubs. The month of May was a busy one with a number of clubs within not too long of a drive putting on model shows. In addition to the first local Gunpla group’s first contest (which I won first place in with my Zaku), I managed to make it to two model shows, the IPMS Montreal’s gala and Torcan, put on by Peel Scale Modellers.

IMG_0314.JPGMontreal was a fairly small show, with probably somewhere a little under entries. I did well with my figures and Gundam; they didn’t allow sweeps but I won first and second in fantasy figures, and was the only entry in busts so I won by default. There were only two Gundam entries; mine won first, but the second-place was a nicely assembled Real Grade Zaku of some sort reaching out to pick someone up from a busted up concrete shell of the corner of a building.

The really nice thing about the Montreal show, however, were the two presentations they put on by local modellers. Laurie Norman did a presentation on figure painting, including fantasy creatures like dragons. I think a lot of people managed to get a lot out of it, because painting figures is one thing that a lot of scale modellers feel intimidated by, and a lot of armour builders struggle with. Her session also reminded me that I’ve never actually done a dragon, and maybe I should try something like that sometime (hello, Reaper Bones…). Xiao Yang, who is an excellent naval modeller and won best in show at CapCon last year, did one on rigging ships which was very informative. I know I took away an important lesson from it, which is “don’t build anything that requires rigging.”


At Montreal, there was the usual smattering and some interesting subjects, including a Saturn V that had me clenching my buttocks as it swayed back and forth on the table as people walked by. The highlights for me, however, were the dioramas. That, and a big CN semi tractor-trailer. Automotive isn’t usually my thing, and less so big industrial vehicles, but this was impressive in the finish, the scale, and the detail that went into the sleeper cab underneath a removable roof.


Note the roof on the base next to the truck; it is removable

As mentioned, there were a number of dioramas with a number of focuses, including aircraft, armour, and civilian vehicles. They were all great, but here’s a couple standouts.





Torcan was a larger show, with almost 500 models on the tables. Again, these were spread out over all categories and had a nice mix of aircraft, armour, ships, etc., with a strong space and sci-fi section. I had a really good day at the awards ceremony, probably my best to date, sweeping the Fantasy Figures category, winning first place in Busts, Humour, and one of the Gundam categories, snagging third with my old Victor in the other mecha, and winning the Best Overall Figure with my Dana Murphy. So, overall, one sweep, as well as three other firsts and a third, and a Best Of award – quite the haul. The rest of the Ottawa crew also did well at the awards table, snagging about thirty awards across all the categories including one other sweep.

For some video coverage, check out this link.

Again, there were a lot of great models and dioramas on display. I didn’t get a lot of photos, but I managed to get pictures of a few that caught my eye, including the following.


This egg tank was one of my favourites in the show because of the weathering. I just loved the use of that purple; it adds so much dynamism to the colour and really makes this piece stand out. The one criticism I have of it, though, is that it’s a shame that the builder didn’t carry some of the weathering over onto the decals. Seeing beautifully weathered pieces with pristine markings is one of my little pet peeves, but apart from that, this was a great example of taking an egg kit and running with it, and using interesting colours to create fascinating colour variation.


This Lanchester armoured car was a unique subject, and in my opinion, it was a great use of colour modulation to highlight it. I know there is a debate over how much colour modulation to use, particularly among historical modellers, but as someone who started out in tabletop gaming, I’m a fan of it and I think this is an example of an appropriate application of the technique for a historical subject that really helps make it pop.


Without getting too political, this diorama, titled “Happiness” was not only well done, but I felt that the portrayal of the triumph over Nazism and the end of the war is a refreshing alternative to a lot of what we see on the tables, and sadly poignant in 2018. But I like the hope that this diorama shows, as the nightmare of Nazism and war is finally over for this town and for the people in this scene.


The Throne of Sprues was a humourous touch, as were the wedding cake columns on this base, but the weathering on these gundams were top-notch.


Finally, someone brought a collection of Roman miniatures in what looked like 15 or 20mm scale. They were nicely done, and represent a scale that is just a little too small for me, so I have to give a shout out to my fellow wargamer for bringing these in.

I didn’t get a picture of everything that caught my eye, such as the 1/2 scale BB8 from Star Wars complete with lights and sound, or the historical crusader figure that I would assume really gave me a run for my money in the best figure award, but there are some photos and videos kicking around on facebook and the broader interent that one can probably find with a little looking.


If you have the opportunity to go to one of these model shows, do it. You will see a lot of fascinating models, and learn a lot just by looking at how people did their stuff. Better yet, bring some of your stuff. Even if it doesn’t win, you can get some valuable feedback and meet some new and interesting people, which is more important than any piece of hardware you might bring home.

Not that bringing home some hardware isn’t nice…


Gunpla is Funpla

As part of my recent efforts to branch out in my hobby time and cleanse my palate a little from masses and masses of Warmchine models, I’ve been trying a few different things lately. As part of this, I picked up a Gundam model a little while ago and visited the local Gunpla club for a meeting or two. As they had a contest coming up, I figured I would put it together and see what I can do as someone who is completely new to the world of Gunpla and doesn’t know an RX-78-2 Gundam from an RB-79 Ball.

But first, a little primer on some terminology, because I had no idea what these Gumdan things were either when I picked up my kit.


I believe the technical term is “robit”

Gundam is a media franchise that started with a TV show called Mobile Suit Gundam in Japan in 1979, and since then has spawned countless spinoffs, not just on TV but also movies, comics and video games. In the Gundam universe, wars are fought with Mobile Suits, which are sixty foot tall mechanical combat vehicles that resemble giant robots. These mobile suits are piloted, can fight on land or in space, and often have both melee and ranged weapons. The protagonists refer to their mobile suits as Gundams, while the antagonists call their mobile suits something different, just like how all Panzers are tanks but not all tanks are Panzers.

Gunpla is short for Gundam plastic modelling, which is the hobby of making models of things from the Gundam universe. This isn’t just limited to gundams, but can include other mobile suits and vehicles such as tanks and spaceships.

These model kits are also categorized in a system of scales and grades. High Grade is the most common and is your basic 1/144 scale model. Master Grade comes in 1/100 scale, and has more details and points of articulation than the High Grade. Additionally, the Master Grade models typically come with an internal frame construction that the panels are laid over, allowing for better posability. Real Grade kits are in 1/144 scale like the High Grade, but their construction and level of detail more resembles the Master Grade. Perfect Grade is the top of the line, and at 1/60 scale, can be pretty large and come with a commensurately large price tag. Finally, there are also Super Deformed kits that are basically mobile suits in a chibi anime style with stubby limbs and giant heads.

My Zaku


My first gunpla model

So, with that out of the way, lets get down to the not-Gundam Gundam that I built. The kit I got was a High Grade Zaku I MS-05 from Kycilia’s Forces. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what any of that meant but thanks to a little help from the local Gunpla club, I settled on it for a few reasons. First, I wanted to challenge myself with freehand, so I wanted something with a big shield to give me lots of room for intricate designs. On the shelf at the hobby shop, there were only a couple that really met this category, and I felt that I could do more with the rounded curves of the Zaku rather than the straight lines of the regular Gundams.

There isn’t much to say about the assembly of these particular models, other than that these Gundam kits do have a lot of pieces, but they go together brilliantly. They are made of hard plastic and come on sprues like model airplanes, only they are manufactured to such tolerances that you could probably just cut them off the sprue, sand off the nub from where you cut it, snap them together and be fine in most places. If you do use glue, however, it is probably a good idea to be careful which parts you’re applying it to as these models are engineered with many points of articulation and you don’t want to inadvertently glue a knee or elbow joint into an undesirable pose.

Fortunately, I only did this once, and since my plan was to glue most of these points of articulation into place instead of making it poseable (because I didn’t want to put a bunch of effort into painting cool highlights and glow effects only to repose the model and end up with the shadows on top and the highlights facing the ground), I was able to work around it by selecting a pose where it works. Apart from that, it’s a testament to the good engineering on the kit that assembly was sort of ho-hum, with only a tiny amount of annoying sanding and gap filling to do to get it right.

When it came time to decide what colour to paint it, I took some inspiration from Soviet tanks from WW2. A camo green with some red markings makes for a good theme as it takes advantage of complementary colours to get some nice contrast. I also took a little inspiration from the box art, deciding to break up the green with some black panels as well.

Finally, for the shield, I was initially thinking of carrying the Soviet theme forward and doing a star or some random Cyrillic-looking letters, but then I saw a picture of Kycilia in the instructions and figured why not? It would definitely be a lot more intricate than any freehand I’ve done before, but I knew that would make it a nice challenge, and if I nailed it, it would look amazing.


Primed with black, then shot from above with white to preshade

When was planning this paint job, I also took a lot of inspiration from Angel Giraldez’ book on painting Infinity miniatures and how he gets his extreme highlights. As such, I wanted to really crank up the contrast and the shadows/highlights to emphasize the shape of the model and its interaction with the light, and the many curved surfaces on the Zaku would give me the opportunity to do so. I started with a zenithal prime by disassembling the model, priming all the parts with black Stynylrez, then reassembling it into a pose vaguely similar to what I would be going for. To complete the zenithal effect, I shot it from above and from the direction of the light with white Stynylrez. This does two things. First, just by shooting white from the direction of the light, it gives me a little pre-shading which could be useful later on, particularly if you choose to use a lot of translucent paints. Second, the white will naturally collect in areas that are going to be hit by direct sunlight, so by taking a few pictures of the model primed in this manner, I have a reference that I can use if later on I start having difficulty deciding where to place my shadows and highlights.

With the prime done, I sprayed some red first, let it dry overnight, and then masked off some stripes with Tamiya tape. After that, I disassembled it again and got a nice base coat of P3 Coal Black, which is a dark blue-green. I chose Coal Black as my base colour because not only was it dark, but because the hint of blue makes it a cooler colour, and by using it as my base, I can not only go from dark to light from the shadows in the highlights, but also from cool to warm. This adds a little more contrast, and is one of the reasons why when you’re highlighting green, it’s often a good idea to add a bit of yellow rather than just mixing in straight white.


After applying the green. Note the contrast between light and dark

With a base coat laid down in my shadow colour, it was time to reassemble the model (again) and start highlighting. I used Reaper’s Olive Greens triad, working up through the triad and finally adding a dash of Menoth White Highlight (an off-white colour that has a bit of yellow to it) to the Pale Olive to make the highest highlight. Since we’re working up from our shadow colour to our highlight, I focused my fire with the airbrush on the areas where the white was present in the zenithal priming stage to get those highlights in the right place.

From there, I took out the brush and hand-painted in all the silver mechanical bits and the areas that I wanted to paint black. I suppose I could have used an airbrush for the black, but that was much more masking than I wanted to do, so I just made sure to use thin paints and get a smooth coat, which wasn’t too hard because black naturally has better coverage than, say, yellow or red.


The left leg, before and after applying highlights to the black

With the base coat of black laid in, it was time to break out the airbrush once more and start highlighting the black. This time, I used Blue Liner from Reaper and Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3 for my highlights. Blue Liner is a very dark, almost black colour, while Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite are desaturated blues that I often reach for when I have to highlight black. Again, I would just work up with the airbrush, applying the various blues from dark to light in the areas I want to highlight. Some areas I had to use tape or silly putty to mask off the green, but others I was able to use brush control, disassembling parts, and a business card or piece of paper to protect the already painted green from overspray. I also made sure to keep some of the black on all the pieces so that the finished product will still read as black to the eye in spite of the blue highlights.



Colours used

Next, I did up my freehand drawing of Kycilia on the shield. This was the most ambitious freehand I’ve done, and it was accomplished by starting with basic shapes and adding in detail. Initially, I started by just getting the vague shape of her shoulders and head, and gradually added more detail and more colour until I was working on emulating the fine lines in the art. This is also where thin paints, good brushes and a wet palette come in handy; particularly on the skin, I had to use multiple thin coats to get good coverage as thick paint would have ended up looking patchy and not giving me the brush control I need.


Freehand in progress. Also note the additional highlights on the black between the third and fourth picture


It wasn’t easy to work up the courage to mess up my nice work, but the end result is worth it.

When I was satisfied with her, all that was left was panel lining, edge highlighting, and weathering. Again, use thin paints, dab away the excess, and use a brush with a fine tip when you’re trying to do fine detail work like edge highlighting and panel lines. Also, when it comes to edge highlighting, I like to focus the brightest edge highlights on the upper surfaces of the model because those edges are going to be catching more light and I’m not crazy about the old GW style where they would put extreme highlights on all the edges, including the bottom. For weathering, I used mostly the same techniques that I used on my Grolar of painting on scratches and sponging on some Pig Iron and Umbral Umber, and then following up in some areas with GW Typhus Corrosion to represent grit and grime. I focused a lot of the heavy weathering on the shield because taking hits is kind of what shields are for, but I was careful not to overweather it and ruin all the freehand that I had done. While it takes some courage to apply weathering over freehand painting, doing so really makes it look better and avoids the weird look where you have places that should be weathered absolutely clean because you are too afraid to ruin your nice freehand.


Base detail — before and after applying texture and paint

The base was made out of a chunk of air-drying clay, with some bark chips embedded in it to represent rocks and textured artist medium spread over it to represent dirt. While I mixed some artist acrylic brown into the textured medium to get the base colour, I tried out something a little different in airbrushing a lighter tan colour over some areas of the base facing the light source. This was to highlight and draw the eye to the front of the model, and not have a harsh transition between a model with extreme highlights and a base that looks flat. With the dirt basecoated brown and tan and the rocks basecoated in a dark grey, from there it’s just a matter of washes, dry pigments, and lots and lots of drybrushing to get the highlights and the subtle colour variation on the rocks and dirt.



That’s hot

Finally, the last thing to do was the axe and the glow effects. The blade of the axe was basecoated white with the airbrush, before going at it with reds, oranges, and yellow to get the glow effect. While I masked off a couple areas for part of this project, I wasn’t super worried about overspray because it can be used as part of the object source lighting. While I painted the axe separately, I also sprayed some reds and oranges and yellows on the hand that is holding the axe, the glowing areas of the jetpack about to activate and launch the mech forward for an assault, and the area around the mono-eye to get a nice glow effect. After that, all I had to do was touch up the mono-eye and I was done.


I would say that this Zaku turned out well. The freehand painting was ambitious and isn’t quite perfect, but it represents me pushing myself to do more complex freehand designs than I had ever done before and not totally screwing it up. In that respect, I would say that it is a success nonetheless.

I think my favourite part about Gundam models is that since they are based on a cartoon, you can go a lot of different ways with it on the finish. You can paint them in a very realistic style with plenty of weathering and battle damage, or exaggerate the light and shadow like on a wargaming piece. You can go for a candy coat of the sort you see with automotive scale models, or play around with things like metallic or colour shift paints. Or, since they come on pre-coloured sprues, you could even just sand off the nubs, snap it together, hit it with a panel line marker, and call it a day. All are perfectly legitimate and all are correct, and since it’s based on a cartoon, no one can really tell you that you did it wrong. And as someone who doesn’t want to bother researching the number of rivets on the glacis plate of a late-war model, that’s the kind of modeling I like.


The finished product, and… oh crap, I just noticed the flaw.