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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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