Polishing a turd: The PZL.23 Karas

So, I’ve been dipping my toe a little bit into other forms of hobbying as of late. Aside from a couple gundam kits that I’ve bashed out, I decided to try my hand at model airplane building, partly to try something new and partly because it’s what all the cool kids at the IPMS were doing. So, with the idea of doing a quick weekend project to practice before I start on an $80 kit, I pulled out a box off the shelf and…

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Oh, dear.

The kit

The PZL.23 Karas is one of the more esoteric aircraft of World War II. A Polish single-engined ground attack plane, it was roughly equivalent to the Fairey Battle or the Breda Ba.65 in that it was a very advanced aircraft for its day, but it was a little outdated by the time the war rolled around and had been outpaced by more modern aircraft. Still, in the hands of the Polish, it put up what resistance it could against the German war machine. Notably, it was a PZL.23B which made the first bombing raid of the war within German territory, and captured examples would go on to be used in small numbers by the Romanians as well as in second-line duties with the Bulgarians.

As the title alludes to, this kit is kind of a turd by modern standards. Looking at Scalemates, I can see that this was a 1980s rebox of a kit originally produced in 1964. There are only about twenty parts and they are made from a cheap, crappy plastic. It has raised panel lines, and there are a lot of areas where details are extremely lacking. The interior detail is nonexistent, with only three seats (and no locating tabs to know where to put them), and no dashboards, controls, etc. Rivet counters could probably find dozens of inaccuracies from the profile of the plane to the number of panel lines; I know I inadvertently found some when I was looking up paint schemes. Fortunately, I’m not a rivet counter, so I don’t care.

And, just to add insult to injury, the instructions were in Polish. Because of course they were.

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Okay, got it

My approach

I’ve picked up a lot of techniques for model aircraft by hanging around the local IPMS crew. However, while I knew I could do research and suss out the internet arguments of pre-shading versus black-basing and which one is the superior, more realistic technique that serious modellers use, part of me wanted to remain willfully ignorant of this for a couple reasons. First, this was just a practice piece for another project and the kit was so crappy that I knew this wasn’t going to be a masterpiece regardless. Second, I wanted to see what I could apply with my figure painting techniques to the art of scale aircraft building. I felt like instead of just copying what everyone else was doing and doing a bit worse of a job on it, I could go into it without any preconceived notions and see how it turns out.

So, this is in some ways an experimental piece – give a figure guy a model plane and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you’re only out the two bucks that this turd of a kit cost.

Assembly

While the kit may have not been the greatest, there were a couple things which were working in my favour. The main wing was moulded in two pieces – an upper and a lower piece which both ran the entire span of both wings. The upper mated to the fuselage, which had a cutout on the bottom for these parts to go together. This meant that alignment wouldn’t be too much of an issue; it would be hard for me to mess up the dihedral with how the kit was engineered. Additionally, this plane has no visible struts and the landing gear is fixed with a big, thick fairing, so there isn’t going to be any futzing around with spindly little landing gear legs and worrying about getting them at the correct angle, not to mention painting all the details inside the landing gear bays.

I managed to get it all together in one evening while consuming a copious amount of beer (though not so much that I would mess up the kit even worse than it was messed up coming out of the factoty or stab myself with an x-acto knife), though I left the propeller able to spin for now to make painting the cowling easier. It took a couple layers of apply and sanding milliput to fill seams and sculpt something a fairing between the horizontal stabilizer and the fuselage. Even after the second layer, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for government work and I was getting antsy to start painting.

Priming

As mentioned, I’m a figure guy. So, that means I’m relatively ignorant of the eternal internet struggle between pre-shaders and black-basers, and firmly on the side of a good zenithal prime. So, I loaded up my Patriot 105 with some Stynylrez black and sprayed the entire model down, getting a nice coat on both the top and the bottom. From there, I cleaned out my airbrush and pulled out the Stynylrez white and fired from above and from the front. I focused on parts that are in direct sunlight and the leading edge of the wings, letting the primer fade into black on the underside and near the trailing edges of the wings and control surfaces.

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Primed with Stynylrez black…

This technique does two things. First, it helps me understand where the highlights and shadows should be on a model, which is critical in figure painting. An airbrush loaded with white primer coming in from above actually does a decent job of representing the sun’s rays landing on the model and illuminating the highlights while avoiding the shadows. Second, it preshades it for you, which can be useful in later steps. This can be done roughly with a black and a white rattle can as well, though I prefer the airbrush for the control and ease of use in my small apartment. Personally, I tend to push things a little more towards the white side than most people when I do a zenithal because I figure it’s easier to darken something later than lighten it.

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…and followed up with white from above

 

Paint time!

Okay, here’s where I can really polish this turd. I sprayed the underside with a more or less uniform layer of Vallejo Light Sea Grey then masked it off. To be honest, there isn’t that much interesting on the underside, just that light sea grey and some mottling, so I’ll focus the rest of this article on the upper surfaces. Anyways, according to my sources, the closest colour to what these things were actually painted in in Polish service is Vallejo Green Brown. So, I loaded my airbrush up with… a mixture of P3 Coal Black and Reaper MSP Pure Black?

Sure.

Fear not, there is a method to my madness. With an airbrush, it’s easiest to work from your darkest shadow to the highest highlight, as we did with our zenithal prime. And when it comes to painting green, you don’t want to shade it with just black and white. You want cool shadows and warm highlights, so you want to have it move towards the blue end of the spectrum in addition to getting darker in the shadows, and towards the yellow end of the spectrum in addition to getting lighter in the highlights. And Coal Black is this wonderful blue-green black colour that is darker and cooler than most greens and makes an excellent shadow colour, among many other uses.

So, I mixed up a mixture of mostly Coal Black with a bit of Pure Black to darken it up a little (because I’m all about exact mixtures), making sure to get it on the underside and in all the shadowed areas where there was more black than white primer.

Next, I washed out the airbrush and loaded it up with the Vallejo Green Brown which would be my base colour. Similar to when I did the white on the zenithal prime, I sprayed mainly from above and in the areas that wouldn’t be shadowed, painting most of the plane in this colour but leaving some shadowed areas. Finally, I added some yellow to the base colour and added some highlights. The highlights were focused in a few places — near the leading edges of the wings and stabilizers, along the top of the fuselage, and in an area on the side to emphasize the transition from the convex surface of the round fuselage to the concave transition into the upper cockpit area. I also sprayed some into the middle of the panels, particularly on the wings, in order to create a bit of modulation.

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Airbrushed the top; note the colours used in the background.

That was all well and good, but I kind of wanted to shade the panel lines as well. And, since I’m a figure guy, what do I immediately reach for when it’s time to shade something?

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Good old liquid talent…

That’s right, GW’s washes, or shades as they call them. But we aren’t going to brush them on because that would leave so much nasty coffee staining. We’re going to airbrush it.

I made myself a mixture of Athonian Camoshade, which is their olive drab sort of wash, and a bit of Nuln Oil to darken it (again, very scientific and exact proportions) in the cup of my Badger Krome and got to spraying. When spraying these washes, a very light touch on the trigger is very important – you want just enough that it will build up in the recesses and tint the surrounding area, but not spray enough over the model that it will start beading and coffee staining. If you aren’t confident in your trigger control, this may be a very good time to try out a trigger stop. I sprayed some of this in a random, mottled pattern to add a little bit of visual interest to the model. Then, I followed up by tracing some of the panel lines, which reinforced the modulation and shaded the panel lines, giving me what I thought was a nice effect.

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Addition of the shade

At some point, I decided that I should do something creative with the cockpit. Between the missing clear piece and the complete lack of any interior detail, this is where an elite scale modeller would either scratchbuild a bunch of tiny parts or spend a lot of money on aftermarket pieces to bling it out. I am not an elite scale modeller. I was missing a clear piece, and given the amount of detail on the average 1960s era Polish model kits, I knew if I painted over the cockpit, you wouldn’t be missing much.

So, my idea was to adapt a technique I used on figures for painting gemstones to do an opaque cockpit. I started by spraying the entire thing in a blue-black. From there, I used the edge of a business card as a mask and sprayed some lighter, more saturated blues into one of the lower corners of each pane of glass. I followed that up with an even lighter blue, so I had a transition from a dark blue at the top into a light blue at the bottom where the light would filter out of the cockpit.

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Cockpit airbrushed, will follow up with a brush

Details and Weathering

There were some details remaining to be picked out with the brush. First was adding some glints of light to the top area of the windows, opposite the lighter area, just to kick up the artistic glass effect. This was done with some sky blue and some P3 frostbite, and as the windows were flat, I made the glints corner-shaped.

From there, the engine, exhaust pipes, propellors, canopy framing, etc., were all done with a brush. And when it got time to apply markings, because I can’t do things the easy way, I decided that instead of using the decals in the kit, I would bust out my trusty Raphael 8404 and brush paint those on, doing such detailed consultation of reference material as funding the first result on google image search that looked cool and easy to paint and running with it. I used panel lines for reference where I could to make sure that my markings somewhat approximated the proper scale and made sure to keep a steady hand. Most importantly, I double checked before putting down the red on the checkerboard roundels, because there is nothing worse than finishing a Polish roundel only to find that you’ve accidentally rotated it 90 degrees and now it’s all wrong. Also, I didn’t go all the way to white in the checkerboard patterns — a light grey is more than sufficient to make things read as white in this context, and it’s not as chalky and hard to apply as a pure white.

For weathering, it was important to keep it subtle. I did a little bit of sponge chipping in two layers; the first layer being some of the base colour mixed with white, and the second layer being some sort of midtone metallic silver. In this case, when you’re doing chipping, you need to think where to place your chips. And this is more than just where to cover your mistakes. Chipping on a plane is going to be concentrated in a few areas. It’s going to be on leading edges, on the front and underside of the cowling, and on the areas where the pilots are likely to step on as they climb into the plane. Weathering should tell a story, and these are the areas that are going to get beaten up the most.

Finally, I threw on a little Typhus Corrosion to represent dirt on the wheels and the spats, some light dry pigments to represent dust on the tires and landing gear, and some black dry pigment around and leading back from the exhaust pipe to represent soot. And with that, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour because I had turned this old kit into something that didn’t look half bad, at least not from a distance.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a detailed representation of a PZL 23A Karas, don’t buy this kit. In fact, I think at $2, I probably overpaid. There is a Heller version of this plane in 1/72nd scale that has been reboxed a few times which is less than 50 years old and not made behind the Iron Curtain, so I would assume it would have to be better than this thing.

However, while the detail is lacking in some areas and there are some obvious inaccuracies that I was too lazy to fix, overall, I’m not dissatisfied with how it turned out. It’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a cheap, simple kit, painted up to look nice from about three feet away – which is the distance from which it will be looked at that 99% of the time when it’s not being torn apart by a nitpicky IPMS judge. So, I would say that my efforts to apply figure painting techniques to scale model aircraft were mostly successful. I’m now feeling more confident in tackling the 109B I have in my stash… that is, I was until I saw the photoetch.

Bonus Content: Owlbear!

As I wrapped this thing up at a build day, I also worked on a quick speedpaint on a project a little closer to my roots: a Reaper Bones Owlbear in 30mm scale, with plenty of inks, washes and dry brushing to get it to a decent tabletop standard quickly. An Owlbear is exactly what it sounds like, and for the benefit of your sanity, try not to think of show that may have came to be. I’m using it for my Necromunda gang to represent a Khimerix, becuase when someone says “horrific gene-spliced abomination with sharp claws and a nasty bite,” I think Owlbear.

I call him Owl Dirty Bastard, leader of the Hoot Tang Clan.

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Bust a move with Amy Johnson

Lately, as I’ve been experimenting with larger scale pieces, I’ve been painting some busts. My Mary Read 1/12 scale bust from Scale75 was an absolute joy to paint and really came together nicely in the end, and I’ve got a lot more in my stash to start up at any time.

Busts offer some interesting advantages over full figures. They allow the modeller to focus on the most interesting and characterful parts of the model such as the face and upper torso, while not requiring them to spend a lot of time on boring parts like boots and pants. Further, a bust is to a much larger scale than a full figure of equivalent size (and, presumably, price), which allows the painter to incorporate more accurate details, especially on things like the face and the eyes. Finally, they really push the painter to get things right, especially with the skin tones. At this scale, you can’t just get away with slapping on some Citadel shades and call it a day; you need to know what you’re doing.

The model

Amy_Johnson_portraitAmy Johnson, born in 1903, was a pioneering British aviatrix from the golden age of flight. In the 1930s, she set many aviation records, including becoming the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia. Sadly, her flying career was cut short during World War II. While serving with the Air Transport Auxiliary, her Airspeed Oxford went down in the Thames Estuary. There is some controversy as to the exact circumstances of her death, but that’s too much for me to get into; suffice it to say, it was a sad day for the aviation world when we lost her.

The bust itself is a 1/10 scale resin kit from Bad Squiddo Games, sculpted by Przemysław Szymczyka. Bad Squiddo is an interesting one-woman company out of Nottingham, founded by Annie Norman with the explicit goal of increasing female representation in tabletop wargaming. I ended up purchasing this bust several months ago with the goal of completing it for the local club’s “Anything British” themed contest. She didn’t quite win, however she did manage to pull a silver at the Sword and Brush competition in Toronto this past weekend, which I was quite overjoyed to receive.

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Assembly

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Head piece – note damage to rims of goggles

This kit comes in two resin pieces, with the head and neck separate from the rest of the body, so assembly was nice and simple. I chose to keep them separate for most of the painting process, as there were some areas around the neck where it would have been tricky to get a brush in there, especially as the fur would probably require some dry brushing. I mounted the head on a paper clip taped to the side of a pill bottle, and matching hole was drilled into the neck of the body (which itself was also temporarily mounted to a pill bottle) so that when I finished the head I could just snip the paper clip and drop it in.

The one other piece of assembly I had to do before painting was to repair the rims of the goggles. The detail in that area was fairly small, hard and brittle, and I suspect that it was damaged in transit as the two pieces bumped up against each other in the package. Since I didn’t feel like asking for a replacement, I simply sliced the remainder of the rims off and resculpted them with aluminum putty and milliput.

Edit: Annie confirmed after I wrote this article that there are plans to strengthen the goggles to prevent this problem from happening.

Preparing to paint

Before I put brush to model, I had a couple decisions to make. I chose to paint the jacket and the cap as leather, but decided that I wanted them to be slightly different shades as they are not necessarily part of a matching outfit. For the fur, I had a few options but I decided to do a neutral to cool grey in order to contrast all the warm tones in the leather.

However, as figure painting is often the art of placing shadows and highlights, the most important decision was light placement. I wanted to really play with directional light and play with light and shadow on this project, so I chose to have her painted as though she was lit from her top front right quarter. With the angle of the head relative to the body, I felt this would make for a good choice, as it would imply that she is turning her head towards the light.

So, while I primed the head white to make a better undertone for the skin tones, I chose to use the zenithal priming technique on the body. This is where you initially prime in black, then spray white overtop from the direction of the light. By using your airbrush to represent a light source, the incoming white spray will approximate incoming rays of light. As such, the lighter paint will fall onto areas where the light should hit the model, which does two things. First, it naturally preshades the model, and second, it helps the painter understand which areas of the model should be lit and which areas should be shadowed.

The face

This was my first attempt at painting flesh with my airbrush; normally, I brush paint my skin tones, but I figured this would be a good time to start airbrushing. So, I began by laying down a base coat of blue. I started with blue for a few reasons, the first of which is that skin is a semi-transparent sack of meat and bone, and if you look closely, there is actually a lot of blue underneath the skin in certain areas.

The second reason why I started with blue has to do with colour theory. As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to play with lighting and shadow with this piece. As such, I knew that blue would be the perfect shadow colour to contrast the highlights. First, it’s more or less across the colour wheel from a lot of my skin tones, so it’s going to generate some sharp contrast. Second, we also have the warm/cool contrast between the warm pinks and reds in some of the skin tones and the blue in the shadows. When you have warm colours in the highlights and cool colours in the shadows, it makes the highlights “pop” a little more.

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Why do I start with blue? Well, it worked for her…

One of my favourite examples to illustrate this principle is actually a canvas painting. Prudence Heward’s “Girl in Yellow Sweater” on display at the National Gallery of Canada is an excellent display of light and shadow. If you look carefully at it, you can see a lot of interesting colour choices the artist utilized to create the shadows and give it a three-dimensional appearance. The blues in the skin tones, the purples and greens on the yellow sweater… if you want to get better at painting figures, you would be well-served by studying this and other paintings made by artists who are clearly good enough to have their work on display in a national gallery.

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Amy, after airbrushing the first layer of skin tone

Anyways, with the blue down, I followed up with a lighter skin tone. Similar to the zenithal priming technique used on the body, I used my airbrush as a light source, focusing my fire on the areas under direct light. The end result was an interesting transition from a base flesh tone into the blue shadows.

With the airbrushing done, it was now time to do some brush painting. There were two main things that I felt I needed to do with the skin tone — bring up the highlights a little more, and make the transition between the blue and the skin tone a little better. For the highlights, I applied some very fair flesh tone on the areas where the light would hit it, blending out the edges to make a smooth transition. For this technique, a wet palette is mandatory. Also, some additives can help — I like to use my airbrush flow improver to extend the dry time of my paint and make it easier to feather the edges of the paint out or mix them together on the model.

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Highlights and glazes applied. Note the highlights on the right side of her forehead, as well as the hints of Khardic Flesh adding life to the model

In order to smooth out the transition from the blue into the skin tone, I mixed up a glaze out of P3 Khardic Flesh (a very pink skin tone) and some Vallejo Glaze Medium (though you can just use any acrylic matte artist medium from an art store as well). This medium is essentially paint without pigment, so mixing paint and medium will reduce the opacity of the paint as there is less pigment and more medium, while not breaking it down or changing some of the properties like viscosity and surface tension too much like if you thinned with too much water. As the glaze is basically just more transparent paint, it will tint the underlying layers. Glazes also can help smooth out transitions, so they are useful for either making the model have less of that airbrushed look, or smoothing out blends that aren’t quite perfect.

In this case, with a glaze of a very pinkish flesh tone, not only does it add a transition that was kind of missing before, it also adds a little more life to the model which was previously lacking some of that rosy glow. As before, I blended out the edges both into the highlight and into the shadows, ensuring a smooth transition from the blue shadows, to the pinkish midtones, to the lighter highlights.

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Some paints I used for the flesh. Soft Blue from Reaper was my undertone. The one on the right was my glaze colour. I also added a bit of white to the Fair Skin for the highest highlights.

Glazes are also useful for doing makeup or adding in shadows. In this case, I wanted to give her a little blue eyeshadow, so I mixed up a glaze out of some desaturated blue and some medium. Because the glaze is more transparent, a glaze applied over skin tones will be more of a subtle effect that doesn’t resemble Mimi from the Drew Carey show.

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No. Just… no.

The eyes have it…

Oh boy. The eyes were easily the most difficult part of this project. I had to repaint them a couple times because I just couldn’t get them lined up right; this is a larger scale than I’m used to.

Anyways, on small scales, I like to start from the eyes and work out, but in this case, the model was big enough that I could just paint the eyes directly. So, I started with a light grey, with just a hint of flesh tone mixed in to paint the whites of the eyes. It’s important here to not just paint them white; if you look closely, the whites of people’s eyes aren’t actually white, and if you do do them in white, they end up popping and the model looks surprised.

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Reference material, courtesy of the first result on a google image search for “blue eye”

With the whites done, I did some research to see what colour Amy’s eyes actually were, and thanks some paintings I found online, the answer was blue. However, because this is figure painting, the answer is never quite as simple as “just paint them in a uniform blue colour.”

If we look closely at a blue eye, we see some interesting things going on. While we obviously can’t show every little striation in the muscle of the iris at this scale, we can see some patterns here. First, the iris is darker near the outer edge and lighter closer to the pupil. Second, the way the light filters through the cornea, the bottom tends to appear a little lighter, similar to the sort of effect you get with things like gems on fantasy models. So, in painting my iris, I wanted to make sure to incorporate that highlight and that dark area around the outer edge of the iris.

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Note: I did touch up the eyeliner after; there was a little too much on the bottom.

Similarly, while I painted the pupils in black, if you really want to make the eyes come alive, you need to add that little tiny dot of near-white in the pupil to represent the reflection. That little point of light is really important; it’s what really makes the eye come alive at these scales.

Leather, fur and goggles

For the leather, my initial idea was to start by airbrushing on the shadows and highlights; basically redoing the zenithal priming technique but with browns and a hint of light blue in the areas where the light would be reflecting off of it. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working out, though it did leave me with not a bad base colour. As I was looking at it, what I realized I had to do was to get the texture first, then glaze in the shadows and highlights.

With plenty of leftover pluck foam kicking around, it wasn’t hard to find an applicator. Using the spongy material, I dabbed on various shades of brown, working up from a dark Walnut Brown into some midtone and lighter browns, and occasionally adding a stroke or two with a liner brush to represent creases in the leather.

With that done, I had a nice texture, but I had lost the shadows and highlights from the airbrushing. Here is where our old friend blending comes in again. By making a blue-black glaze out of some glaze medium and a tiny amount of Scale75 black and blue inks, I can come back in and reinforce the shadows in the wrinkles and near the bottom of the model, while still maintaining some of the texture.

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A sample of paints used for the leather; inks to make the glaze in the shadows are on the right.

For the fur, I am not ashamed to say that I used Citadel shades and dry brushing to get the effect. Citadel shades are sometimes considered to be “talent in a bottle,” and some people turn their nose up at dry brushing as a technique for newbies, but it still can be a useful technique if used properly and in the right place.

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Note the texture in the leather and the fur

However, what I started with was some wet blending — placing light paint on the highlights and dark paint in the shadows, and mixing them together on the model while the paint is still wet. Opposite to how I did the leather, in this case, I did the lighting first, then added the texture later with controlled washes with Citadel shades (both Nuln Oil and Drakenhof Nightshade) and dry-brushing light grey and white onto the raised areas of the fur.

Finally, er get to the goggles, I knew I had to do something to represent the reflection. To do so, I painted the lenses of the goggles in a very dark blue, and added a diagonal line of a sky blue colour. This represents a point on the goggles where the reflection of the light source off the curved surface might catch the viewer’s eye. I did blend out the edges to get a smooth transition from dark to light, however one of the keys to painting reflective surfaces is sharp highlights, so I went from a very dark blue to a very light blue over a very small distance. I continued that technique on to the rims, using true metallic metal techniques whereby I had dark metallic paints over most of the area, and bright silver where the light is hitting it and reflecting off.

Mounting

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Hehehe… I have wood for busts…

For this project, I ended up making a plinth out of a cherry wood block that I had sourced from a fellow IPMS member. A hole was drilled in the top, and after applying some cherry stain and three coats of polyurethane varnish, I had a nice looking piece of wood to mount her on. With her head angled to her right, I intentionally positioned her on an angle such that the front of the plinth was facing somewhere between the angle of her head and the angle of her body.

 

To make the sign, I simply made up a quick little text box in Microsoft Word and printed it on plain paper. To get an aged look, I shot a few different warm off-white colours of paints and inks through my airbrush at it in a random, mottled pattern, with the paints thinned such that they are very transparent and shooting just enough to tint the white of the paper, while not appreciably affecting the black printer ink. I then used some thinned white glue to attach the paper to the wood, and laid one more coat of varnish on to protect it and give it that gloss look.

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Conclusion

This was an interesting project for a lot of reasons. First, I don’t normally do a lot of historical figures, tending to lean more to the fantasy side, but something about Amy Johnson and her story really grabbed me.

I feel like while this bust may be less flashy than a lot of fantasy figures, it posed an interesting challenge. Because there aren’t a lot of the sort of fancy accoutrements which are present in a lot of fantasy worlds, and because her hair is concealed by her flying cap, the painter is challenged to do what they can with textures and shadows to make a somewhat mundane bust look interesting.

I think it’s fair to say that I rose to those challenges, and that this bust does represent progression on my hobby journey. Between the techniques that I used to create the leather texture, the glistening light on the goggles and the eyeballs, and the use of directional lighting, I really pushed myself on this model. Not to mention the work that went into the plinth, as woodworking is far outside the realm of my usual hobby work.

This was a fun project, and will go in a place of pride on my shelf, which, at the end of the day, is really all one can ask for in any modelling and painting endeavour.

How real is too real?

I paint miniatures almost every day, but one curious thing about my collection is that there are barely any historical figures on my shelf. There are a few reasons for that. For starters, fantasy and steampunk stuff is often straight-up cool. In addition, I like to create my own schemes much more than researching exactly what shade of grey Hugo Boss chose for the uniforms of the SS. Fantasy figures give me the freedom to do this, because no one can tell me that I have the wrong shade of purple on my uniforms. And, of course, when you play fantasy wargames, you end up painting entire armies of fantasy wardollies so you can play the game.

But there’s another reason why I stay away from historical miniatures and wargaming, and it’s one that I’ve discussed with a friend back home a while ago.

I’m uncomfortable with war

At the last CapCon, there were a lot of pretty cool dioramas. Most of these were of a historical nature, representing scenes from world wars, which I didn’t mind until I got to one with the name “last stand” or something like that. In it, you had some Allied and German soldiers in some very close combat. The diorama exuded action, with plenty of the models in very dynamic poses, and was nicely built and painted. Unfortunately, it had a little too much death in it for my tastes — there were one or two soldiers who were falling down dead. Another guy was about to deliver a killing blow to an opposing solider with an entrenching tool, and one poor soldier was modelled with his helmet coming off as he fell to the ground, having just been shot in the face.

While it was technically very well done, and I liked the dynamic poses of the figures, something just didn’t quite sit right with me about it. Looking at it kind of made me a little uncomfortable (which may have been what the artist was going for), and it got me thinking about where I draw the line in my modelling.

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“I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder.” – Harry Patch, the last surviving combat solider from WWI.

When I was a kid, I had that sort of child-like wonder at cool pieces of machinery like tanks and military aircraft, and devoured books about the subject. But as I’ve grown a little older, I’ve come to realize that war is nothing short of human tragedy on a massive scale. Many of the young men and women who went off to fight came back blinded, wounded, missing limbs, or completely traumatized, and that’s if they were lucky enough to come back at all. Just try to listen to “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” without choking up; it’s practically impossible. I wouldn’t say I’m a pacifist, but this past November, I spent a little time thinking about whether I could line someone up in my sights and pull the trigger, and I’m not sure that’s something I am capable of.

At least, I’d like to think so. Throw me in the hell that is the trenches for a few weeks, and perhaps I would get so desensitized to the slaughter that my attitude may change.

There’s just something about doing dioramas about the throes of combat or painting historical military figures engaging in battle, that just doesn’t quite sit well with me. It’s hard to articulate, but I’m not sure I want to spend hours poring over, or have sitting on my shelf to look at, a diorama of a bunch of young Tommies going over the top and getting mowed down by machine gun fire.

Even if it is simply a soldier out of combat, it can be hard to look at knowing that he’s likely to be sent off to the front and end up killed or wounded. And this is before we get into the sort of sticky issues surrounding modelling the people who murdered entire families in the gas chambers and the Panzers that stormed through most of Europe to enable them to do so.

Blood for the blood god!

On the other hand, fantasy stuff doesn’t give me that same reaction. I can load up as much blood as I want on the chainsaw bayonet on my steam-suited character’s grenade launcher, and it doesn’t have the same impact. I think it’s because everything in the setting is so cartoonishly ridiculous that it doesn’t remind me of any particularly gruesome historical period. A pile of Orc skulls somehow doesn’t quite disturb me as much as seeing Tommy or Fritz face down in a pool of mud and blood because orcs aren’t real.

IMG_0492.JPGFor example, my Butcher model from Warmachine is ridiculously over the top. Blood splatters, body parts, and a guy cut in half on the base. However, it’s the Butcher — the craziest, most murderous character in the Iron Kingdoms, which is itself an insanely ridiculous and absurdly violent setting. The model itself is absurd; he’s carrying a boiler around on his back, right next to some presumably flammable or at least badly singed fur. His proportions make him look like he’s suffering from gigantism, his axe is too heavy for anyone to swing, and wearing those shoulder pads in actual combat is just straight-up insane. On top of all of that, he’s painted in bright purple and pink. Everything about him is so ridiculously over the top that slathering on more blood than a Quentin Tarantino movie doesn’t have quite the same effect.

I realize that most people who model historical stuff don’t do it to glamourize or fetishize war, and many of them have deep connections to some of the stuff they model — maybe that Lancaster was from their father’s squadron, or perhaps their grandpa served on that ship. But for me as someone who does primarily figures, it can be a little much, especially if we’re talking figures where I have to paint the whites of someone’s eyes as he draws his last breath.

So, I probably won’t be doing a lot of historical military figures anytime soon, not unless I spot a representation of a historical figure who really interests me such as Billy Bishop or Lidya Litvyak. As for historical wargaming, I feel like I can safely write off just about any game where someone has to play the Nazis, so there’s not likely to be any Flames of War or Bolt Action for me.

Final thoughts

A little while ago, I saw a picture on facebook of an award-winning diorama of the crash of SAS Flight 751. The diorama was technically very well done, and was an impressive feat of modelling. However, some people in the comments were expressing discomfort with the subject matter, because of all the death and destruction surrounding the site of a plane crash. At least, they were, until it was pointed out that thanks to some impressive airmanship and a bit of luck, everyone was able to walk away from the crash with only a couple serious injuries.

For just about everyone, I would wager there is a personal limit to the subjects they are willing to work on, and some things that they may find to be just too uncomfortable to represent in miniature. I’ve drawn my own line, and I know it may be logically inconsistent for me to be squeamish about combat scenes while pouring a whole pot of Blood for the Blood God over a space marine, but it’s what I’m comfortable with.

Hobby update — PZL P.11 (1:72)

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.

IMG_2179.JPGAnyways, 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.

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I have more of these kicking around than I care to admit.

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.

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Decals? Those are for cheaters…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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…