Weathering Model Boats
How do I start the weathering process for a model tug?
First, let’s talk about weathering – what it is and what we’re trying to achieve.
There are two schools of thought on how to present a model. The first, most traditional is on a stand where the model is finished as the day she was launched, i.e. without any trace of weather and wear. All Admiralty models and builders’ models produced by shipyards were finished this way going back 100’s of years.
The other way is to finish the model as she would have appeared somewhere along her career, blemishes and all. To reproduce the wear and tear is what we think of as weathering on a model.
Historically this is a relatively modern way, probably pioneered in the 50’s or 60’s. I believe weathering is appropriate on static models on an ocean base and RC working models. Going one step further, I’d say it is mandatory on the former, but not the latter.
A third scenario is to make a model look “antique”. Personally, I think this is wrong. If the model is new, it should look new. If you need an antique model – pony up the dough and buy one, or build it and let it age like a fine wine.
Part of the challenge is to replicate wear from use and weather and sometimes repairs. Not only is it a challenge to mimic wear and rust physically, it is also a challenge doing it in the right places and to a believable degree.
For instance, tugs and fishing boats are some of the hardest working vessels on the waters anywhere, so pushing the envelope makes sense. Heavy rust and wear has its place and enhances the appearance if done right. On the other hand, some ships either don’t rust or are not allowed to deteriorate to any really noticeable extent.
The most obvious non-rust boats are wooden and fiberglass boats. It’s not always obvious when these materials were used. Most minesweepers for instance were wooden well into the 1950’s. Small landing crafts such as the British LCA, the American Higgins boat (LCVP) and WW2 PT boats were all made of wood. Many smallish naval crafts today are made of composite materials etc. So a model of any of these ships with heavy rust would look plain weird.
Another thing to consider is to weather in the right places. Rust appears quickly where paint is worn off and where water drains and sprays. So anchor chains, hawser pipes winches, scuppers etc.
Execution of Weathering Model Boats
As to execution, I’m no expert or anything, so if anyone has specific tips – jump right in. It’d been a while too since my last attempt, so bear with me.
On top of what’s been said, here are a million ways to skin this cat. Methods differ depending if you have an airbrush or not for instance, or if there are mediums you prefer over other (pastels, oil paint, charcoal, enamels etc).
Here is a fairly generic rundown of the work sequence:
- Weathering is one of the last things you do in the finishing process, so all wood is sealed, primed and painted. Plastic, fiberglass and metal parts has its final finish as well.
- Figure out what medium you will use and make sure they are all compatible with the undercoat and possible topcoat.
- Apply a “wash” coat. Typically a thin mixture of dark paint (either dark brown or black) and thinner. Since this is a high solvent solution it is very important it doesn’t dissolve the previous coat.
The purpose of the wash is to get into creases, crevasses and inside corners to create an artificial shadow effect. The way I’ve done it, a section at a time, and quickly wipe off the access.
It should only go in the deepest depressions and sparingly. If overdone it has to come off and the process started over. If it is too light, it can be done over again until it looks right.
- Pastels are popular to simulate rust and dirt. First make sure the surface is matte. There is a brand new clear gesso primer by Winsor & Newton that I think is perfect for this. I have not used it yet for the purpose of weathering though, but it has potential. Another option is to lightly rub shiny varnished or painted surfaces with a Scotch Brite pad to get the pastel to stick. Test on scrap.
- For rust, mix orange, reds and browns by shaving off some “chalk” into a dish until you have a decent rust color. For "dirt" you can use gray. There are even "pastel sets" of assorted gray tones plus a black and a white.
- Next apply the dry mixture with a round-tipped brush. A light hand is key, and be careful not to over-do it. Follow the path water would run – vertical in most cases. The pastel will be more accentuated in the early part of the stroke, so always apply in the direction the water would flow. Go over the same path a few times if necessary. Check your progress carefully.
- Once you are happy with what you've got, the pastel needs to be stabilized - a fancy term for not smudging - by applying a product called "pastel fixative". Fixative can be found in art supply stores. My wife, who is an artist, suggested that regular old hairspray can be used. In either case it is likely the colors will shift slightly, so again, test on scrap.
- For working models it’s good practice to apply a clear coat of varnish for a top coat. Make sure, once again, that it is compatible with the other paints used. The top coat is best applied by spraying, either through an airbrush, regular old spray gun or a rattle can.
And that’s pretty much it. As always when it comes to paints and finishes - always try new things on a piece of scrap first. It’ll save you hours of work later.
As I said earlier, I'm sure I've glossed over (pun intended) some things, so any questions and comments are welcome.