Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

A change of tack

Posted by Martin on April 26, 2014

I have, on occasion, written about how I look at other flavours of the modelling and painting hobby to find ideas and inspiration to bring back to improve my own work. Quite often, it’s involved looking at the activities of large scale (54mm and above) figure painters but every once in a while the idea comes from even further out. In today’s instance, I’ve decided to experiment with something that I found when watching some videos made by a member of the gunpla (or gundam plastic) modelling community. If you haven’t come across it before, gunpla is a niche modelling community that devotes its energies to kits depicting the mechas, vehicles and characters of the fictional Gundam universe by Bandai. It’s extremely popular in Japan and South East Asia but has spread to Europe and North America. Which is handy for me because the videos I’ve been watching have English narrations!

So what’s it all about? If you were paying attention at the end of my last posting, I mentioned that I’ve been getting to grips with my (now not so) new airbrush. Without getting ahead of myself, one of the most productive uses I’ve found for the airbrush is priming figures. But I’ve run into a slightly messy problem with the way I mount figures for painting. Until now, I’ve favoured blutacking the figures to plastic bottle tops and this has had many advantages – it’s cheap (we have lots of spare bottle tops passing through our house), it’s easy and the grips on the bottle tops are a neat aid to twisting and turning the figures when I’m painting.

But when I’m handling figures mounted that way and using an airbrush instead of a conventional paint brush, can you guess what happens? Yep, I’ve been getting a lot of primer on my pinkies. Sure, I could buy disposable plastic gloves but that’s another expense and I suspect it would actually be pretty fiddly when it comes to removing the gloves. And that’s where this video came to the rescue. I love how people are creative with re-purposing common objects for something different. In this case, look what you can do with some crocodile clips, a few wooden BBQ skewers and a bit of of polystyrene packaging.

Since seeing this video, of course, I’ve come across this idea being used already all over the place, particularly by aircraft and military vehicle modellers. So you probably knew about it before me. Still, you’ll be seeing plenty more of those crocodile clips on sticks from me in future – so you’d better start getting used to them.

The fringe benefit of this way of holding figures is that is avoids a seasonal problem I’ve observed with the blutack method. During warm Summer days, I’ve noticed that the Blutack softens and, mainly on heavier figures like horses, its grip on keeping the figure securely attached to the bottle top becomes tenuous. I’ve had a few pieces gradually keel to one side in slow motion necessitating a pause in painting to firmly reposition the wayward figure.

There is one footnote to this idea. While we all have easy access to polystyrene packaging and BBQ sticks are sold in almost every supermarket as soon as the Summer arrives, getting hold of crocodile clips takes a bit more effort. Especially if you want to get a lot of them at a reasonable price. Frankly I was shocked a the prices charged by some big name high street retailers – and the meagre quantities in the packs. Those of you in the United Kingdom may be amazed to learn that Halfords charge £1.69 for a pack of two and Maplins charge £1.59 each! Prices correct at the time of writing, as they say. Alright, both come with plastic sleeves but I don’t need those. So instead, I turned to searching Amazon and eBay and was quickly able to source a pack of 20 for the princely sum of £6. A unit price of only 30p.

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8 Responses to “A change of tack”

  1. Burkhard said

    So Martin… what Airbrush and Compresor have you gone for? I actually got me that Sparmax a while ago (funny thing is… the cheapest dealer in Germany was less than 10km away) we talked about. I actually switched the Airbrush as well, but “only” upgraded to the Harder & Steenbeck Evolution AL which is made from aluminum instead of steel and weights only about half of my old one. I am pretty happy with both decisions.

    When it comes to mounting minis. I do the same for airbrushing as I do for regular painting. I have a bunch of old film containers filled with sand. The sand adds a nice amount of weight, which makes them easier to hold still. The containers have a nice comfortable diameter to hold them, too. Also if you drop them, this will be the heaviest part and will therefore orient itself towards the floor. So it is always the container and not the minis that strikes the floor when you drop it from more than a meter!
    I simply attach the minis to the top of the container with a drop of white glue. Provides a good bond and is easily removed once the minis are done (the smooth surfaces on the container and integral tabs really help here).

    • Martin said

      I went for an Iwata Revolution HP-BR airbrush and a Sparmax AC-501X compressor in the end. I’m really happy with both of them. Plus, of course, I’ve got selection of accessories – airbrush cleaner, acrylic thinners etc. Some time soon I’ll write something more detailed about the set-up I’ve chosen and why. There’s an awful lot of advice on the Internet for the novice airbrush buyer and it can be pretty confusing.

  2. Phil said

    Nice. But what about Calpe????

    I went with an Iwata Revolution and absolutely love it. Have you seen Don’s airbrush tips (you can Google it) – I’ve learned a ton about them there. My airbrush doesn’t seem to like Vallejo, but loves both Lifecolor and Tamiya. I’ve turned to priming and finishing with lacquers though with an appropriate mask to wear.

    • Martin said

      Patience, young grasshopper. News from the master will arrive soon.

      Tamiya paint is widely recognised as being formulated specifically for airbrushing (it’s rubbish for painting with a conventional brush – I know, I’ve tried). I’ve no experience with Lifecolor. As for Vallejo, what sort of problems are you getting? And are you airbrushing the Model Color or the Model Air paint? I’ve airbrushed Model Color successfully but it does need thinning down with a suitable thinner. I have some Model Air paints to try but haven’t found time to experiment with them yet. I’ve also been airbrushing Andrea paints happily.

      At present, I’m sticking to “safe” acrylics and aiming to avoid enamels, lacquers, cellulose etc. You’re absolutely right to wear a mask with these sorts of things and also make sure the room you’re working in is well ventilated. I’m intrigued about what kind of lacquer you’re using for priming – have you found something that provided enough bite for the following layers of paint?

      And, yes, I did come across Don’s site when I was doing my research. Along with loads of others plus some very helpful YouTube videos.

      • Phil said

        VMC jams things up really nicely. I have some model air paints that I’ve yet to try – hopefully they’ll work better.

        I’ve been disappointed with Vallejo’s surface primer. When brushed on it leaves lots of air bubbles. I originally thought that was because of a bad reaction with flow enhancer, but it does that even on its own. When airbrushed on it comes off easily. And when it comes off it has a deep enough layer that there’s really no good way to fill it.

        So I’ve tried Alclad and it seems to work ok, but I don’t have long enough experience with it to say I’m on it. I also picked up some Mr Surfacer I plan to try on my next batch of figures.

        On the mask, if you’re using an airbrush, you should use the mask with everything. Lacquer smells nasty but you’re creating a cloud of paint of whatever sort when you’re using an airbrush, and your nose is pulling it into your lungs.

        • Martin said

          This could turn into an interesting thread quickly, especially if others start adding their experiences.

          There are all kinds of factors that can affect how well a particular paint airbrushes. With VMC, one thing I have noticed is that the paint has a quick drying time, so dried paint can build up on the needle tip (so-called “tip dry”) and cause sputtering. Potential remedies to this include thinning the paint sufficiently (but not too much otherwise you’ll get paint runs on the object you’re trying to paint), thinning with the most suitable thinning agent (different people report success with different things from water, through the Vallejo acrylic airbrush thinners – which is what I use – to Future/Pledge floor polish), and perhaps adding some retarder to slow down the drying time (apparently Future/Pledge does this too). The other thing that helps is regularly checking the tip and using a cotton bud to carefully wipe off the dried paint gunk.

          Your Vallejo surface primer woes are interesting. I’ve never experienced the air bubbles problem – that’s new to me. It certainly doesn’t need any additives like a flow enhancer or a thinning agent, and I don’t know what cure to suggest. I have experienced the primer rubbing off and I think that’s inevitable to some extent if you handle it. I always try to leave it to dry for 24 hours before doing anything else. Some people complain that you can’t sand it because it peels and there are two remedies that I’ve seen put forward – first let it dry thoroughly before sanding; second mix in something like Future/Pledge and that apparently hardens it up a bit. The latter might also help with the rubbing problem. Maybe I’ll experiment a bit and report back; it certainly sounds like there’s enough raw material for a Vallejo primer posting/video.

          I’d be interested to hear more about how yo get on with Alclad and Mr Surfacer. I suspect that we all have our own preferences and different things work for different people in different places at different times.

          Lastly, of course, you’re absolutely right about the mask thing. Sometimes I’m a bit lazy about it, especially when I’m doing a short spraying session. I use a mask that I inherited from Peter F. when I spent a day casting figures with him. Same principle – stray minute particles of paint or metal in the air are easily inhaled and can cause problems for your respiratory system.

          • Phil said

            Indeed, very interesting. For VMC I was using their airbrush thinner with it.
            On the Vallejo surface primer:
            – the irritating thing about it is that it rubs off more easily than either base coat I’ve used before – Humbrol enamel or plain old acrylic paint. I guess what I’m looking for is something that reliably sticks, and provides a thin flat smooth surface. And it seems to do neither.
            – when it peels you’re pretty much hosed – I don’t know of a way to fix the surface
            – I haven’t tried sanding it, but am interested in that because I’m doing some vehicles now, but that’s what the alclad and mr surfacer are made for
            – One other primer I’m probably going to try for resin vehicles anyway is krylon plastic primer that comes in an aerosol can. I plan to decant it and run it through the airbrush.

  3. Phil said

    I would be a little hesitant about the alclad on metal figs now. I put it on a couple of batches of metal figures. I actually tried to beat it up and it was resilient. But now, finishing up one of the figs, without being rough on it, some of it came off, down to the bare metal. I’m guessing there was a bad reaction with a sealer as I was in the sealer phase but I have no idea how as there were two or three layers of paint on both spots. More experimentation in order.

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