returning to aircraft modelling in the last few years, I had been a long time
figure painter. It is perhaps for this reason that I enjoy tinkering with the
pilot figures often found in kits, although I generally don’t place pilots in
the cockpits as they hide much of the detail.
of the big problems with figure painting is that poor painting can ruin a
well-sculpted figure, but an exceptional paint job will not salvage a
poorly sculpted or cast figure. The reason behind this is painfully simple: We
all see the human figure daily and have done so for our entire life. This means
that we instantly recognise errors in anatomy, proportion, and pose, and a coat
of paint cannot disguise them.
add detail to the seated figure I searched on the ‘net for some reference
photos, although the best I could find was a page sized photo of the Dragon F-18
pilot doll. This showed a profusion of straps and survival equipment not
included on the Hasegawa figure.
To recreate these additional straps I used Tamiya masking tape cut to size. This is easily applied and adjusted using a scalpel blade. In addition a torch was made from plastic rod, a small vertical pocket on the chest was made from milliput and what looks like some kind of audio switchbox, again on the chest, was made from plastic card. The cable from this was made from copper wire. I also chose to remove the plastic oxygen hose, and replace it with one made from wire wrapped around wire (no seam to remove, and much finer detail). Copper wire was also used to make the steel snaplink visible on the right shoulder. The difference between this and the standard figure can be seen below. (Note; the arms are positioned so as not to obscure the figure, rather than a correct pose)
To start painting a quick undercoat is applied using the airbrush. This only wants to be a thin coat so that no detail is lost.
All three figures were painted using Vallejo Model Color acrylic paints (not the Air Color range), applied with a fine paintbrush and mixed on a “stay wet” palette. Due to the fragile nature of acrylic paints I often paint figures with a base coat of enamels, seeking to find a colour that is a close match to that of the final coat. Once the base colours are dry the real painting can begin. There are probably as many ways of painting a figure with acrylics as there are painters, and I make no claim that mine is the best, however it works for me.
using Vallejo acrylics it is very important the give the bottle a good
shake before use. Failure to do so will result in a gloss finish once the
paint dries, which is in contrast to the otherwise excellent matt finish
that well mixed paint will produce. All three figures were painted with a
Size 1 brush (Windsor & Newton Series 7), which shows that a quality
paintbrush and the correct consistency paint are the secret to good paint
basic principle followed by all figure painters is to create a range of shades
for each base colour. This allows lighter shades or highlights to be painted in
those areas that catch the light (i.e. the top of the arm), and darker shades or
shadows in the areas hidden from the light (i.e. the underside of the arm and
armpit). This range of colour gives a sense of depth to the figure that fools
the eye and makes the figure appear more realistic and natural. (Due to the
small scale of the figures natural light alone will not do this). This is why a
figure (or any object) that is painted with just one shade of each colour
required will look flat and lifeless, despite the fact that painting
instructions may have been followed to the letter.
1/48 scale figures it is acceptable to work with as few as three shades: base,
highlight, and shadow. These can be added to as painting progresses if required.
(Larger figures will require a greater range of shades). Having said this I
generally lay down a dark and light tone, and then repeat the process with
different dark and light tones, which means I lay done five shades in total.
easiest way to create three shades is to mix a large pool of the base colour,
and from this separate out two further pools. To these further colours are added
to create the lighter and darker versions. When creating these shades of the
same colour it is vital to ensure that each shade is sufficiently different from
the colour it will be placed next to, without being so different so as to look
wrong. At this point paint can now
be put on the figure. Some painters
work dark to light, however I apply the base colour first then add the shadow,
and lastly the highlight.
the F-5E pilot I have deliberately exaggerated the shadow and highlight to
ensure that they can be seen in the photos. To tone this back down a highly
thinned wash was painted over the trousers and jacket. This wash blends the
base, shadow and highlights together and is a useful trick to use if the
contrast created is too great.
an example when painting a jacket the process can be as simple as
If using more than 3 shades you also need to narrow the width of each brush stroke as you approach each end of the colour range. In other words the brightest highlight, and darkest shadow are normally the thinnest brushstrokes applied. This helps to create a graduated effect through the colour from light to dark. When painting with acrylics the edge between two shades of colour is not blended, rather the closeness of colour match fools the eye into seeing a graduation across the colour range. The more shades of colour used the subtler the effect that is created. Again I cannot stress the importance of colour selection within the process to ensure that the eye is fooled.
every highlight has a shadow and vice versa. The eye expects to see this, so
make sure you painting reflects’ it. When painting these highlights and
shadows ensure your brush strokes are controlled and in the right place.
trick when painting figures in this scale is to exaggerate the contrast between
similar colours, or select differing colours. An example of this is the blue
flight suits of the two F-18 pilots. Blue was chosen not only because Top Gun
crews wear them, but also because it prevents the figures from being green all
over. (Green flight suit, G-suit and combat vest). For the same reason the
jacket colour of the F-5E pilot is a different green from the trousers. As a
consequence the figures are more interesting to the eye..
I wish to hint at a gloss or shiny surface I carefully paint the appropriate
area with a light coat of Future. This produces, in this scale, a satin effect.
I have done this on all three helmets, as well as the visors on the seated
I mix my own flesh, using a mixture of white, red and yellow, together with a touch of brown to give colour. This is good practice and helps allow me find the light and shade tones. Due to the large amount of white in flesh you cannot darken it by adding black rather you must make a mix using less white.
tend to make the light tone first and undercoat all the flesh areas of the
figure. While this is drying I then add further red, yellow and if necessary
more brown to create the darker tone. This is then carefully painted around the
hairline, under the chin, cheekbones and other areas where appropriate. When
painting a face in this scale there is no need to try and recreate the detail of
eyes, mouth etc, rather you only need to hint at it. Look at a real person at a
distance of 20 feet as that equates to a 30mm figure held about 5 inches from
the eye, and see how much detail you can see.
detail that is needed is best added by using the light and shade tones.
Underline with the shade tone the mouth to give it definition, while applying
the highlight tone (this may be almost pure white) to the bridge of the nose
etc. These and the other contrasts on the face will give it depth and provide
enough detail for the brain to feel in the gaps. (In other words you again fool
the eye). I’ll cover the painting of faces in more detail in the article on
painting a 1/32 pilot.
are easy to do when using acrylics due to the high level to which they can be
thinned. They are best used to bring out scribed or recessed detail, as the
thinned colour will run into recesses and remain there. For this reason most
washes either add to the shade tones, or are used to provide a contrast to a
lighter colour and so reveal detail. The two oxygen hoses received washes to
allow the ribbing detail to be seen. A wash will not change the level of detail,
but you can see the difference between the kit hose and the wire one.
mentioned earlier an overall wash can also be used to blend colours together.
Not only was this done on the F-5E figure, but also on both helmets for the
seated figures to create a subtler effect after the detail of each had been
outlined (see below).
technique also allows detail to be more easily seen, in this case by simply
painting a darker outline around all or some of the features of the figure.
The seated figures have had the details of the oxygen masks and helmets
outlined, so bringing out the detail of the various straps etc. Choice of which
colour to outline with is important, and I would suggest black never be used,
rather a darker tone of the base colour.
While the F-5E figure paints up nicely with just simple preparation, I think it is fair to say that the additional work on the detailed F-18 pilot makes a significant improvement over the OOB figure. We see daily here on ARC finished models of the highest quality, often incorporating expensive aftermarket items, be it resin cockpits, photo etch frets, or decals all adding to the quality of the overall build.
don’t sell yourself short, a little work (and practice) on a pilot figure will
also pay great dividends.
One of the comments you frequently read on the various internet forums and websites, be it aircraft, figures, armour or whatever, is
colour best matches ……”
suggestion being that every colour we use, must come straight out of the bottle
is just another tool in our armoury and we can use it any way we like to gain
best effect. As a modeller be prepared to mix colours and experiment with paint.
These are the paints I have to hand
will use any of the above in a project if I think I will gain the best result as
a consequence, and often I will experiment on scrap first to test my thinking.
If for no other reason, it is worth having a go at painting figures, as it will make you more confident in mixing colours and gain a better understanding of how you can make paint work for you.
Photos and text © by Pete Wenman