by: Adam Wilder
Armor Modeling Today
Earth tones and effects such as dust and mud have become more accepted among armor modelers over the recent years. Modelers are now devoting more time and thought both to the research and realistic application of earth tones and effects on military models. Let me start this article by discussing some of my thoughts regarding these effects.
There are still a number of armor modelers protesting the use of dust and mud. These individuals dispute large amounts of mud stating that it can be used to cover mistakes. Others quarrel that the increasing use of earth tones with their effects have resulted in a loss to the “artistic appearance” of armor models over the past years.
Of course large amounts of mud can be used to hide mistakes on a model but this can cause other problems. Attempting to hide mistakes with earth colors and texture might cause people to loose the freedom of their application in an attempt to hide these errors. I have personally labeled this problem as “Chasing the Finish”, and this may affect the quality of the completed model. My recommendation to avoid Chasing the Finish is to simply construct each model carefully and with attention to detail prior to painting regardless of the amount of earth colors and mud texture that you intend to apply. This will give you complete freedom in applying the earth tones and mud texture allowing for the best results on your completed model.
I completely disagree with modelers arguing that earth colors and mud have subtracted from the artistic appearance of models. First of all, we are simply talking about personal opinions in regard to what is an artistic model. We have been spending large amounts of our disposable income on after-market accessories and protesting about minute flaws in the new kits released for many years now. Our spending and protests have been with the hopes of having the easiest and quickest opportunity to construct the most accurate replica possible. Armor modelers today are now simply placing this same importance on the finish including earth tones and effects again in an attempt to achieve the most accurate replica possible.
I strongly feel that applying earth tones and mud in a realistic and effective manner is indeed challenging requiring both time and research. But if effectively applied, earth tones and effects such as mud will help add life and history to a model greatly improving its authenticity. The recent work published in the magazines and posted on the web will quickly draw one to conclude that many other modelers now feel the same about the application of mud and earth colors. I think that the appearance of armor models as a whole has improved resulting from an increasing emphasis on careful research and application of both earth colors and mud. Obtaining the most realistic looking model, despite how much earth-tones and mud have been applied, is in my opinion, the secret to the true art and the fun one obtains through armor modeling.
In this article I will demonstrate, with the aid of pictures shown on the right, how to obtain two types of different earth effects on to your armor models using some running gear parts for the example. I am first going to display the steps I use to achieve a dry dusty appearance containing limited dust and minute dry-mud texture. In the second part of this article I will demonstrate how to get a convincing muddy appearance with lots of texture. I will also briefly discuss the importance of the mud texture applied to the track and its affect to the rest of a model as a whole. I hope to give the reader a better understanding as to how he/she can research and obtain convincing mud texture particularly onto the running gear of their models.
To start, the hues of the earth-tones and mud will differ depending on the theater in which your replica is supposedly present. This is of course up to the modeler to research. In the case of the two examples in this article, I will be using earth tones observed in photos more toward Eastern Europe. I used two examples from the same area to let you focus more on the mediums and steps needed to obtain more convincing dusty as well as muddy vehicles. You will see that the muddy vehicles I create simply include a few more steps over most of the processes used to create dusty AFV’s containing limited mud. Therefore, let us start with the steps used to weather a dusty vehicle.
Obtaining a Dusty Appearance to the Running Gear of an Amour Model
The earth tones and effects used in the first example were referenced from the color photos of Russian vehicles on operations in Chechnya. Other color photographs in the Missing Lynx Think Tank here were also studied.
The Czech 38T focused in the first segment of this article was weathered to have a dusty appearance in an urban setting. Observation of the 38T shows the model to be dusty with the chips still evident on the running gear and hull. Note how the tracks are dusty and polished with limited mud texture. The examples in the step-by-step pictures for this part of the article are a T-34 wheel and some Friulmodel Steyr tracks. The steps and mediums used in these photos are identical to the ones used to weather the entire 38T.
In one picture we can see two painted wheels. Both of the wheels were airbrushed using acrylic paints. A few coats of Vallejo Air Satin Varnish were then applied, again with an airbrush, to protect the acrylic base coat from the enamel washes used in the upcoming weathering steps. The wheel on the left has chips and other effects while the one on your right only contains a base-coat with a few washes applied. The left wheel is going to be used for our dusty example. You will want to have the chips evident under the dust.
creating the mixture
In the first four pictures, I am mixing the base color for the earth tones. Tamiya acrylics are perfect for this step. Tamiya acrylics are easy to airbrush and provide a nice matt coat. This matt coat will also provide you with a good surface for the pigments to adhere to.
I always mix the colors in small disposable clear plastic containers as seen in the photos. I start with a base of Tamiya buff and add small amounts of German Grey and Red Brown slowly working up to the earth color tone I desire. I then add isopropyl alcohol to thin the acrylic paints for airbrushing. It is very important that you thin the paint properly to help you obtain a nice faint coat.
I think the Tamiya paint to about three parts paint and four parts alcohol. Slowly tilt the clear container back and forth to see how quickly the paint runs down the side as seen in the picture. How quick the paint runs down the containers side will give you an understanding as to how diluted it is. Over time you will form your own liking as to how thin you want the paint for use in your airbrush.
Spray the base-coat very lightly and randomly onto the wheels and model as displayed in photo four. Remember, we are only applying a light coat of dust. It could be very easy for one to overdue this step quickly nullifying all of the time he/she spent adding those nice paint chips.
After airbrushing the light coat of dust I apply pigments. For eastern European tanks I generally apply a mixture of the three colors displayed in the fifth picture. It is important to remember that color 026 Copper Rust is now sold as Concrete Dust. I usually place the pigments into a tin separator and mix them to my liking. I used the light dust as a base then added the dry mud and Copper Rust until achieving my preferred hue. Again, reference color photos when ever possible.
Break your model into imaginary sections. Apply your dust color to the model one section at a time using an old brush. It is better if you apply light amounts of pigments slowly working up to your desired amount instead of adding too much. After applying the pigments blend them using turpentine. This is where the importance of the satin varnish coat applied before the Tamiya earth base comes into play. Applying this step to one section of the model at a time gives you better control of how much dust you are adding to the model.
After the turpentine has had time to evaporate you can remove the excess pigments using a ridged brush leaving a dusty appearance. The last picture displays the wheel completed. The chips are still evident under the dust adding to the finished appearance. Some old grease was also added. You can also apply more pigments to the wheel using a dry brush if you are not completely satisfied with the finish.
Painting the Tracks
The tracks are the most important part of an armor models finish. I have seen some beatify weathered models with limited attention paid to the track. If the track is not weathered properly, the model will be affected as a whole. You obviously want to use the same colors and mediums to weather the tracks as used on the rest of the model when ever possible.
I always use Friulmodel metal tracks when ever I can for a number of reasons. First of all, Friulmodel metal tracks are fairly easy to assemble. Second, they are workable and therefore relatively easy to assemble and apply to the model after they have been painted. Friulmodel tracks are heavy giving you a realistic sag between return rollers. But the best of all, they are easy to weather giving you a very authentic appearance as I will demonstrate.
Applying the base coat
After assembling and cleaning the tracks with soap and water a Tamiya base coat identical to the shade applied in the large picture above. Remember, you obviously want your earth colors on the hull to match your tracks. After the base coat was set I applied the pigments and blended them using turpentine.
I simulated the worn areas of the tracks using two methods. On the inside I apply the worn metallic sheen caused by the running gear using a fat pencil. The graphite is then blended using a rubber tipped artist sharpener purchased in an art supply store. The outer sides of the track are simply brushed with sand paper revealing the metal underneath the paint. This is the biggest advantage of using metal tracks.
The finished look is relatively easy to obtain and very realistic as shown in the photos. A full step-by-step article about the 38T in this segment will appear in an upcoming issue of AFV Modeller. Let us now move onto the second part of this which focuses more on applying large and effective looking amounts of mud.
Obtaining a Muddy Appearance to the Running Gear of an Amour Model
Applying large amounts of mud to a scale armor model can be a bit trickier requiring more attention. Large amounts of mud, if applied effectively, can add much life to a model. I have seen people refer to models with lots of mud as “Extreme Weathering”. I personally do not see anything extreme about a model containing large amounts of mud carefully applied and well researched using specific examples in actual photographs.
The T-34/76 used for this second part of this article was referenced from photographs located on pages 24 and 48 of the book: Armor at War Series, Soviet Tanks in Combat 1941 – 1945 by Steven J. Zaloga, Jim Kinnear, Andrey Aksenov & Aleksandr Koshchavtsev - from Concord Publications. Specifically note the second T-34/76 directly behind the SU-85 in the photo at the top of page 48. All of the T-34s in these photos are missing the rear fenders resulting in large amounts of mud being thrown up onto the rear of the hull. Color photos of modern Russian armor in Chechnya were again used to help obtain the tones of the mud.
Apply in layers
You want to weather models containing lots of mud in layers starting with your dry mud, then applying the damp mud, and finishing with a bit of wet mud (like on an actual vehicle). As mentioned above, models containing lots of mud include some of the first steps used to achieve the finish on models having only dust and dry earth.
In photo one I am again mixing a dusty hue of Tamiya acrylics starting with a base of Buff then adding bits of German Grey. I did not add any Red Brown on this model simply for personal preferences. This time I am airbrushing a heavier coat onto the running gear. One can observe that it is a waste of our valuable time applying any chips to the running gear and lower hull as they will be covered by this step.
Mixing dry mud
After airbrushing the base coat of dust I mixed the dry mud. I simply used a mixture of the same Tamiya colors then added pigments. Plaster was then added for texture. Add a little tap-water if your mixture is too thick. You will observe that the colors used for the Tamiya base and colors of the added pigments are identical to the colors used on the 38T. Remember, I used two vehicles toward Eastern Europe to eliminate confusion letting you focus more on the steps and mediums used.
On subjects like a T-34, I like to apply the mud primarily to the inner corners of the wheels where it tends to collect as I have observed. Applying the mud in this manner also makes the heavy mud on your model appear a bit more controlled. After applying the mud keep tapping it gently with your brush. This will give it more texture as it begins to dry.
After applying the bulk of the dry mud I apply a little more carefully using an old paint brush and quick bursts of air from my airbrush. This step will add more texture while covering up cracks caused when the thicker brush applied mud has dried. I strongly recommend you practicing this step on an old model prior to using it on your current project. Use a piece of paper to mask the rest of your model if the running gear is attached. Photo nine shows the wheel containing the Tamiya base and dry mud mixture.
Important: After applying the dry mud is when you will want to apply the coat of dust colored pigments to the upper hull as displayed in the earlier pictures in the first part of this two-part article.
creating 'damp' mud
I use Humbrol enamels as the primary ingredient for the damp mud with a bit of brown artist oils. Next, I add the pigments with a bit of sifted sand and plaster for texture. Some gloss for oil mediums purchased in an art supply store is also mixed into the concoction. The gloss should thin out your mixture allowing you to easily place it onto the model using an old paint brush. Add a bit of turpentine if your mixture is too thick.
Once more I apply the damp mud mixture to the inner corners of the wheels using an old brush. You will also want to place the damp mud into all of the inner corners of the lower hull on your model where it might collect. After applying the wet mud slightly blend the mixture with the dry mud using turpentine. I would apply the damp mud to one side of the hull then blend it before moving to the other side. The wet mud mixture might dry making it more difficult to blend.
After letting the damp mud set for a bit carefully apply more splattered mud again using an old paint brush and quick bursts of air from your airbrush. You might need to place some of this concoction into a tin and thin it with turpentine to get a better result. I once again recommend that you practice this step on an old model to assure that the mixture is thinned enough allowing you a desired appearance. This step will give your damp mud a realistic splashed appearance while again adding more texture covering any cracks that might appear in the damp mud as it dries on the model. This was the technique used to apply the mud to the rear of the T-34.
Photo 16 displays the road wheel with both the dry and damp mud applied. Excess grease has again been added to give one more affect to the completed model.
Finishing off the tracks
The track on a model containing lots of mud is weathered identically using the same colored dry and damp mud paint mixtures as applied to the road-wheels and hull. In this example I used some left over Friulmodel KV tracks.
After applying a dust colored acrylic base-coat over the tracks the dry mud concoction is applied. Brush on an even coat of dry mud to the outer side of the track as displayed in the pictures shown below. On the inner side of the tracks, only place the dry mud onto the areas that will not be polished smooth from the running gear. You can also see pictures below showing a view of the track with the dry mud applied.
The process of applying the damp mud onto the tracks is similar to adding the dry mud. Again, brush on a fairly even coat to the outer side while only focusing on the areas not polished by the road-wheels on the inner side. After applying the damp mud blend it using turpentine. Also apply the turpentine to the entire inner part of the track.
For the next step I again placed some of the damp mud concoction into the tin and thinned small amounts at a time using turpentine prior to applying onto the track with bursts of air from my airbrush. The two centre pictures in the third row below show you the outer and inner parts of the track with both the dry and damp mud applied.
The worn metallic areas on the track in this example were achieved using the same methods as on the dusty example. The outer side was simply polished using sandpaper. The inner parts of the track were rubbed using a large pencil. The graphite was then blended using an artist sharpener. A full step-by-step article of the T-34 used as the example in the second part of this article will appear in Osprey Publications Modelling 33, Modelling the T-34/76.
You can simply make areas of wet mud on your model by brushing on some clear gloss over the damp mud. I would recommend focusing the wet mud primarily to the track and randomly to the running gear. The last picture shows a Russian StuG III hybrid with areas of dry, damp and wet mud all working together. The layers of mud on this StuG III were applied using methods identical to the ones just discussed.
The difference in the two finishes can be seen in the photo of the completed wheels and of the two completed sets of tracks. How much mud you apply will depend on how much you observe in the photo that has influenced your current build. The example of the T-34 might be a little more uncommon. Sometimes, although rare, no damp or wet mud will be needed.
Often I will find a specific AFV that I want to construct because of an interesting camouflage or other unique detail. I will then simply try to find another photo with the same type of AFV containing more or sometimes less earth tones and mud. This will allow me an interesting build, a unique paint scheme and lively weathering.
I included a few other photos of some work I have recently completed. Although without tracks, the NATO Front End loader was weathered using identical techniques as discussed in this article. The earth colors on this model were referenced from color photos of Golf War vehicles. I also included a full view of the Soviet StuG III hybrid briefly discussed at the end of the second part of this article. If you have any questions or comments or thoughts please send an E-mail to me at: [email protected]
I would like to thank Tim Eckfold, Andy Lock, and Ralph Koziarski for encouraging me to write this article. I would like to thank my father Jeff for his guidance with editing the text.
Adam N. P. Wilder