Monday, December 16, 2013

Diffuse camo without an airbrush

Last week I posted some pictures of some 15mm WW2 tanks that I'd done for a commission. Some of them had a three-colour camo scheme and Chen asked me how I'd done it without an airbrush. So here is a step-by-step using a couple of Jadgpanthers that I'm presently working one.

Before we start, I want to be clear that I don't consider myself a great painter--I'm competent but I'm always looking for ways to produce an effect using as little effort as possible. I'm also a fan of impressionistic painters so that drives my approach.

For these tanks, I built them, spray-primed them black and then sprayed on full-strength mustard (I think this was a model-master spray can--whatever the local hobby shop had). In the past I have used a white primer and washed on the base colour. But two shots with a spraycan was way easier. After that dried, I then mixed up the camo colours. I use acrylic paints in one-ounce squeeze bottles from Michaels (e.g., Applebarrel).

For this scheme, I chose burnt sienna and English ivy green. I then diluted them with straight Future floor wax at about a 1:20 ratio. The Future thins and enhances the flow so that the paints become a bit translucent. This mimics the colour shift that your eye needs to make small things look believable (i.e., far away and subject to atmospheric refraction). 

If you thin the paint too much it will be a bit runny and tend to puddle at the bottom of vertical surfaces but you can wick it off with a brush. You can see that happening in the second-from-the-right (still wet) boogie in the picture below. You can fix the puddling by adding a bit more paint to the mix and using less on your brush. This takes a bit of practice but is easy when you get the hang of it.

I then painted them onto the tanks in an erratic pattern. Airbrushes do a lovely job of making diffuse borders. You can mimic that by putting very little paint on your brush, making the general shape you want on the tank and then drawing or pushing the paint out from the general shape to make a rough edge. This gets rid of the sharp "water-mark" edge that will otherwise occur. Between the shaping and the thinned paint, you basically get a a set of irregular-shaped stains on the tank.

Obviously this is not perfect, but bear with me. I then block in the details (e.g., treads) and paint details (e.g., crew, shovel handles). I tend to half ass this as the last wash (below) will cover many mistakes. Then I might add a dot-camo effect to further disrupt the visuals (I've done one tank with and one without in the photo below).

Note the battle damage--both tax came out of separate boxes with part of the front fender on the left side knocked off. This meant no way to neatly attach the skirts. So I took this to battle damage, cut back the skirts on each (depth varied) and left it as is. Anyhow, back to the painting.

At this point, they still look kind of lame (washed out and cartoonish to my eye). But now comes the magic dip. The magic dip is basically a brown/black wash (using Future to thin and carry the paint) which puts some depth and shadow back in the tank. It also seals the tank. I like my minis shiny but you can easily spray a dull coat overtop. 

You have to mind the puddling with the magic dip--pay attention and wick off excess or you'll have a dark rim at the bottom of vertical surfaces. You can see a bit of this on the skirt of the left tank towards the front.

I then decal, seal the decals with more Future and done. In a batch of 10 tanks, I'd think we're talking about 20 minutes a tank (excluding building and decaling and drying in between steps). If you didn't do the dots, you could likely get that down to 15-minutes a tank. Mono-colour tanks are maybe 10 minutes. I know that sound alike I'm flying through the camo process--I am. A certain amount of "I don't care" helps with the randomness of the camo.


  1. Effective; I think the version without the dots looks more effective though. Nice work :)

  2. Yeah, I'm partial to without the dots myself, but I did both looks for the sake of completeness. Thanks!

  3. Wow, these look great in final aspect. Im pretty new to all this. Do you have an article on washes?

  4. No specific article. A wash is just paint cut with something to think it and make it translucent. Acrylic paints are water based, so they can be thinned with water (not so enamel paints!).

    But water tends to have surface tension, which means the wash won't flow very well. One option is to add a tiny bit of dish soap to the water to break the surface tension.

    An alternative is to use future floor wax in lieu of water. This allows the wash to flow. Apply to a dry surface, wick off the extra and there you go.

    Washes tend to stain as well as pooling in low points (i.e., where shadows go). Staining can be prevented by sealing the figure beforehand (so the paint cannot absorb the stain). Or you can embrace the staining as part of making things look realistic (i..e, dirty).

    Hope that helps.