Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Paint-in #1: figure preparation and priming

Posted by Martin on January 13, 2013

Figures prepped, mounted, primed and ready to receive paint.

Figures prepped, mounted, primed and ready to receive paint.

Before we start, an apology: I’ve been unwell for the last week, so I haven’t yet finished posting out all the orders. There aren’t too many to go now, so I think it’s safe to begin the paint-in. Not least because I paint so slowly that those of you who are still waiting for your figures will easily catch up!

So, in this first part of the BfK Limited Edition figures paint-in, I’m going to focus on figure preparation and priming. Luckily, preparation is not an arduous task with Peter F’s castings. He’s so skilled at figure design and mould making that two of the typical areas that need attention – flash and mould lines – are almost non-existent.

However, you will still find some “runners” (small lengths of superfluous metal) that need to be trimmed off. These come from vents in the mould being filled with molten metal during the casting process. The vents are cut to allow the metal to flow into all parts of the mould and provide somewhere for trapped air to be expelled. Typical places you’ll find them on these figures are at the end of the drummer’s drumsticks and at the end of the whip held by one of the artillery train figures. Carefully rest the figure on a cutting mat and cut off the vents cleanly using a sharp knife. I use a traditional Swan-Morton scalpel for these sorts of jobs. Then you can clean up the surface with a needle file.

After I’ve removed the vents, I rotate the figure under a good light looking for any slight mould lines or flash that need to be removed. Depending on the extent and location of the problems, I file them off or scrape them away with the scalpel. Once I’m happy I’ve removed any problems, I look to see if there are any parts of the casting that are bent out of shape. This isn’t an unusual occurrence – it sometimes happens when the figures are removed from the mould or during shipping. The metal Peter F. uses is flexible enough to be gently straightened by hand. The place I’ve noticed that this most often needs attention on this set of figures is the stock of the Marie-Louise’s musket.

Next make sure that the underside of the figures’ bases are filed flat. The final step I do in figure preparation is to give the figure a gentle brush all over with a fibreglass brush to remove any loose and unwanted oxidization. The emphasis is on gentle – yes, you do want to get a shiny metal finish but you don’t want to rub away any of the detail from the casting. By the time you’ve done all this, you’ll probably notice that you’ve got pretty black fingers so this is a good time to wash your hands thoroughly to remove any metal. Make sure you do this, because the metal does contain lead which won’t do you much good if you ingest it.

Now we’re ready to mount the figures on to suitable bases by which you can hold them during painting. Everybody’s got their own preferences for what to use a for a base and how to fix the figure to it. I tend to use old plastic tops from drink bottles -we have a ready supply of them in our house and they conveniently have grippy grooved edge. I simply fix the figure to them using BluTack, though doing so with something like a hot glue gun would work just as well.

Vallejo surface primer.

Vallejo surface primer.

And so to priming. I suppose the question is why bother with this step rather than go straight to painting? And the simple reason is that acrylic paint won’t form a lasting bond with the bare metal. It might seem to have adhered initially but over time it will start to rub and peel away. Primer provides the “grip” between the metal underneath and the paint above. Also, depending on the colour of primer you use, it can have beneficial effects on the final appearance of the paint job. Here, again, we’re into an areas of personal preference and painting style. Some people prefer a black primer (I used to do that myself), some like white and some like other colours. The merit of black is that it automatically shades those difficult to reach places that you might miss later in the painting process but it does tend to dull down the finish and make some colours (white, yellow, red) hard to get nice and bright. This latter problem is the reason why some people prefer a white primer. These days, I’ve compromised on a grey primer which also makes it easier to see some of the more fiddly details that need to be painted.

Once you’ve chosen your primer colour, you then have the choice of what kind of primer to use and whether to brush it on or spray it on. For all kinds of reasons, I’ve now standardised on brushing on Vallejo Surface Primer. It comes in brush-on and aerosol variants and the brush-on version is suitable for airbrush use. It’s also available in 15 shades – I use Grey (product code 74601) and bought a 200ml bottle that will last me for years.

The bottle will need a really vigorous shake before you use it to make sure pigment is well mixed in with the carrier. Then it’s just a case of squirting a blob out on to you palette and painting each figure. Make sure that you apply a thin coat to avoid obscuring the detail of the casting. One of the things I like about the Vallejo primer is that it’s fairly forgiving if I do accidentally apply a bit too much – it levels out nicely as it dries to an even matt finish (see the photo above). When you’ve finished put the figures aside somewhere to dry, preferably under a cover of some sort to stop dust attaching to them. The primer does dry quite quickly but I recommend leaving it overnight.

Next day, inspect the figures. It’s almost certain that you’ll spot a couple of glints of bare metal from spots you’ve missed, so touch up the gaps and set aside to dry again. After all that you’ll be ready to start “real” painting. And that’s where we’ll take up the story next time. In the next paint-in, we start work on the figures’ heads beginning with the eyes!

In the meantime, if you’ve go any questions, feel free to post them as comments.

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8 Responses to “Paint-in #1: figure preparation and priming”

  1. Ralph said

    Thanks, very interesting, although I will stick to a black primer myself as old habits die hard…

    I certainly agree with your point about no flash or mould lines on Peter’s castings – Yesterday I sat down at the work bench to methodically prep 2 Regts of Prussian Dragoons and a Regt of Uhlans – 54 figures in all…I think I must have spent more time laying out my files and knives than in filing!

  2. And so it begins. Excellent! 8O)

    I’ll be joining the procession once the raw material arrives at the ends of the earth, maybe in synchronisation with The son & heir.

    Salute
    von Peter himself

  3. John said

    Martin I may be fik here but do you apply the primer on neat or add water,;-)

    • Martin said

      Ah, just the sort of thing I should have mentioned. I use the Vallejo Surface Primer neat. It’s pretty runny fresh out of the bottle but it does seem the get thicker/stickier the longer it’s exposed to the air out on the palette, so I suggest only putting out a little at a time.

  4. Juan Mancheño said

    A very good introduction to the work, sir. I am another one “black primer” zealot, but the article is really useful for me. Thanks!

  5. El Grego said

    Hello Martin,

    Long-time reader, first-time comment… Thanks for the info on the Vallejo primer. I have been using black gesso for a while but have always preferred grey; it is on the shopping list!

  6. My variation on your theme…
    Rather than using a scalpel, I use small jeweler’s file and a Xuron nipper to clean flash and “runners.”
    My primer of choice is Floquil Rail Brown. Rail Brown is mid-tone brown which highlights the detail nicely without giving that hard edge to color lines. Washes of color over the Rail Brown give a faded, worn look to clothing on the figure.
    Floquil (a Testor’s product) is a petroleum distillate product with a fine ground pigment base. It adheres to metal tenaciously and its fine grit provides a stable base for the slicker acrylic paints. The paint is very thin and flows evenly and smoothly so you don’t use very much to cover. It does, however, take at least 48 hours to cure. When the smell is gone, you’re ready to go with the acrylics.
    I use both Vallejo and Andrea paints mixed with a bit of Winsor & Newton Blending Medium.

    Cheers!
    Nice figures, BTW…

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