Since childhood, when I would spend hours upon hours studying the aircraft of World War I, I’ve had a keen fascination with airplanes. As a young child, I built model airplanes with all the skill and enthusiasm of my eleven year old self. Fortunately, my workmanship at this sort of thing improved before my stint working at the largest aerospace company in the world, however that was a hobby that I sort of trailed off from by the time I hit high school.
Anyways, a couple years ago, I picked up a couple model airplanes on a whim, for about $5 at a comic con. Of course, because I’m kind of a hipster, instead of picking up the usual P-51 or Spitfire, I went for a PZL P.11. And then promptly forgot about it. A while later, as I was getting into airbrushing, I decided to quickly slap it together and use it as a target for my airbrush practice. I sprayed some green and sky blue on it, matching the historical colours with the closest Vallejo equivalent, and then… forgot about it again.
So, after moving across the country, I was left with this half-finished plane sitting on a shelf, staring at me. After attending CapCon, and hanging around with the local IPMS chapter, I was motivated to finally finish it off.
First off, apparently one of the rules of building model airplanes is that sometimes, you get what you pay for when it comes to kits. This kit had some issues, some of which went beyond my somewhat haphazard assembly. First, being a Polish plane, the instructions were naturally in Polish. Fortunately, there were enough pictures that I eventually figured out how to get it together, and used google images to figure out the paint scheme rather than trying to guess what colour “czerwony” is.
Next, the clear windscreen part was missing. To solve that, I figured I would try to scratchbuild something. Fortunately, the windscreen was all flat panels, and you can buy clear plastic from Privateer Press, which comes free with a miniature inside! I cut out a bit of plastic from an old blister pack I had lying around, scored it, and folded it into a shape approximating that of a windshield.
So, with the windscreen replaced, it came time to get my paint on. The base colour, which I had done a not so great job of airbrushing on a year prior, was Vallejo Model Colour Green Brown, with some Light Sea Grey on the underside. There were some black bits, like the radiator, tires, and machine guns, and some brownish red, which I mixed up, around the cowling. Overall, nothing too challenging; no interior detail or anything like that on this kit, and I had no intention of browsing aftermarket bits suppliers to spruce that up. Anyways, once I finished that little bit of painting, it came time to do the decals. Easy peasy, right?
Unfortunately, that posed some problems as well. When a model kit has been sitting around for as long as this one has, there is bound to be some deterioration of the decal paper. So, when I placed the first decal in water and went to slide it off, it simply disintegrated.
So, in a stroke of either genius or stupidity, I decided to go with Plan B. I’m pretty good at freehand, so I’ll just hand paint all the markings on!
While it was a little time consuming, this actually wasn’t that terrible. I started with the white squares, for what is perhaps obvious reasons, then did the red, careful not to do the Polish air force symbol backwards (red goes on top left!). Finally, I added in all the other markings like the number, stripe, and squadron insignia. For the squadron insignia, I did a whole bunch of historical research (by which I mean I google image searched it) and eventually chose to represent the squadron that I thought had the easiest insignia to draw.
Anyways, there are a few tricks to this sort of freehand.
- Use a wet palette. Trying to do something like this on a traditional palette would be close to impossible; the paint would dry out on you and you would just have a bad time.
- Use the right brush. People think that to do fine detail, you need a tiny, tiny, brush like a 10/0. Unfortunately, tiny, tiny brushes don’t hold a lot of paint. What you really need is a brush with a fine tip, but a bit of belly to it as well so it can hold paint. For this reason, I usually stick to size 0 and 1, and don’t go any smaller than an 00, though I do have a 10/0 rigger brush which, due to its longer bristles, can hold a lot more paint than a regular 10/0, and occasionally comes in handy.
- Thin your paints. Freehand requires thin paints in order to get the paints to flow off the brush nicely. Again, the wet palette comes in handy here. You don’t need too many fancy additives, however one trick I have found for painting colours like white is to use an artist acrylic ink instead of water for your thinning. The artist acrylic ink has the consistency of water, but a very high pigment density, so for colours that don’t have very good coverage, using it as a thinning medium allows you to get the consistency you want without sacrificing pigment density
I got a few comments on the decals at the build day at which I was working on this project, which I thought was kind of cute, before I brought it home and proceeded onto the final step: weathering.
Here, I decided to do it in three stages. First, I used the sponge technique with some dark metallic colours to simulate paint chipping, focusing on areas such as the leading edge of the wings and propellers, which would likely take the most beating. Then, I followed up with some washes, both to give the model some depth and visual interest, and with the goal of darkening it. I also added some GW Typhus Corrosion on and around the wheels to simulate mud and the like. Finally, to finish it off, I added some very dark grey dry pigment, focusing on areas such as around the exhaust and guns, which would be stained with soot and gunpowder residue and the like.
A spritz of dullcote, and I had finished my first model airplane in 15 years. To be honest, I have some mixed feelings about this model. On the one hand, I think it has some problems with the paint. The washes, in particular, didn’t quite give the effect that I wanted to, pooling in a couple of places and showing off some imperfections. I really should have mixed up a glaze, or tried out an oil-based wash, rather than trying to use a GW shade for a purpose it wasn’t really suited for. The assembly wasn’t great, but again, I did it kind of haphazardly and didn’t do a great job on filling gaps and that sort of thing, and I also didn’t have all that much to work with, as shown by the missing windscreen. Finally, there were a couple of places where I think I may have overdid the weathering.
On the other hand, I think the freehand turned out pretty nice, and overall it looks pretty good as long as you don’t get too close. And it’s a unique subject; not many people spend a lot of time building Polish warbirds. I think my final assessment is that while I am happy to have it done, and while I think I didn’t do too bad considering it was my first model airplane in 15 years, this was more of a learning experience than a true exhibition of what I am capable of as a hobbyist.
And maybe sometime I will tackle that P.23 sitting on the shelf…