Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Word About Finishing Your Model

So, I took the night off from modeling to give you some of my personal insight regarding a rather hot and polarizing topic in this hobby - Finishing your model. Before I begin, I consider the "finish" the process by which you paint and weather your model to include markings/decals. Painting and weathering can often blend together in technique so I quite often refer to them in as one and the same. You may feel free to disagree with me at any time, this is simply an opinion.
My rant here was sparked by a question brought up on a post I made on The Combat Workshop Facebook page. The question can be seen here in the comments, but to paraphrase, I was asked how I feel about emphasizing the panel lines on aircraft. Already, as you're reading this, you've already thought about your own answer to this question, because lets face it, every aircraft modeler has an opinion on this and some are more unforgiving than others.
If I was to give you the shortest answer possible, I'd say do what you want, its your model. But I'll do you a favor and elaborate. The craziest modelers, and by crazy I mean the guys who really are sticklers for accuracy, seem to believe this hobby is driven by history and pure facts. I think they fail to realize the importance of imagination, and sometimes I feel bad for them because what kind of fun can this hobby be when you've relegated yourself to sitting in your workshop counting rivets??
There is a level of adherence to history governing our actions in this hobby, no doubt, its unavoidable for the military modeler. However, and it will pain some people to hear me say this but, this hobby is an art form as well. In order for me to truly enjoy it, I embrace its artistic aspects as much as I can, and much of that art is applied in the finish.

So, let me get to the meat and potatoes of this opinion of mine. Since the post was made regarding panel lines, I'll start there. Every one should be familiar with the wide variety of options modeler's have for accentuating panel lines on a model aircraft. Some people think less is more. Some go pretty hog wild. I fall some where in between. I like my lines visible, but not markedly contrasted. I settle upon pre and post shading techniques, and rarely apply washes to engraved panel lines. I just don't like that look for my models, not that there is anything wrong with it. Is there?
Good question. Perhaps you'd like facts. Now, I can qualify some of my answers based on what I've seen being a member of the United States Air Force and having snuggled closely to the F-16C. However, some of you probably don't just want to take my word for it. So lets take a look at a few things.

Now, I don't believe in real life that 100% of panel lines are visible on a single aircraft. We've all heard the argument that if you scale down a real life aircraft to "fill-in-the-blank scale", panel lines would never be visible, blah, blah, blah...Fine, yes, maybe to not the extent that we model it, but there are panel lines visible on most weathered combat aircraft. Lets take a look:

Panel Lines
Here we have a flight of F-16's. The two in the foreground are South Korean, following their American counterparts. This is a great example of differences in the finish. Compare the weathered state of the Korean jets to the relatively clean and sleek US Air Force F-16's that show no discernible lines, though they are far away. Looking closely at the Korean planes you can clearly make out panel lines, among other forms of weathering like heavy streaking and even carbon build up around the gun port....

That is a pretty extreme but obvious example, and to me is honestly enough to justify accentuating panel lines on your aircraft.
But, if that isn't enough for you, take a look at the underside of this RAF Phantom. Clearly, there is streaking coming from nearly every panel line...

Still not convinced? There is an F-14 you should look at then. Here you see a pattern more akin to a pre-shaded finish. The panel lines are not clearly defined, but they are emphasized buy some grunge and staining.

To dirty for you perhaps? Let clean it up a bit. Below you'll notice another F-16, this time far less dirty yet the panel lines are none the less visible. And these ones are clearly defined, more of a pin wash style of finishing.

Was that picture a bit too close for you? Lets take a few steps back then. This Canadian F-5 has visible panel lines as well. As I said above, not all 100% of them can be seen, but there is evidence of them.

So, my take on panel lines lies any where within the extremes I have just provided here. Unless you've seen every jet on every air force in every combat zone, you can't really say that it isn't possible. And also as I said, one example is enough for me. If there is one like it, then there must be more.

That covers panel lines, but what about weathering in general? Do you like to fade your aircraft? Chip the paint? Create some streaks? I do, and as I've shown you, its perfectly acceptable at most levels. Here are some more examples...

Weathering isn't just for those tread heads. This may be one of the most extreme examples of weathering I've seen on an air worthy combat aircraft. And its carrier based, so that pretty much nullifies the argument that carrier aircraft would never have been allowed to reach such a state. Well, judging by this photo, that opinion is a bunch o' smoke up your rear end, ain't it?

Here is a lovely picture of a P-61 sporting a worn olive drab finish.

And we're all perfectly aware of the extent Japanese planes were allowed to weather during the later stages of the Pacific campaign, but the Germans had their fair share of over worked, tired aircraft. A perfect example is the He-111 below.

EDIT: This is actually a CASA 2.111 and this photo was taken over Maryland, USA in 2000. Though not accurate to the period, it is still a nice example of a weathered aircraft.

Hope that gives you some confidence that kicking the poop out of your model isn't entirely inaccurate. Again, I generally find myself between the extremes here.
Now, I'm only really touching aircraft with this post because I think its this subject that modeler's face the most push back regarding finishing techniques. Armor has less of an issue because they are giant, lumbering steel beasts that get beat up on a regular basis. But there is some kind of sacred force field surrounding aircraft that a lot of aircraft modelers aren't willing to touch.

But have you ever noticed that so often the fine detailed paint work is always so perfect on models? The markings are clear and sharp. The camouflage is sprayed on perfectly. Well, here are a few pictures to get you thinking.
First, some invasion stripes. These, of course, are invariably perfect when applied to a model. They are always perfectly aligned. The same thickness. No over spray. Why is that? Clearly you can see here that in some cases, they were hand painted and not immaculate. Note the drops of paint in the lower left. Imagine leaving that on your finished B-26...yeah, right. You likely won't win a gold medal that way. Some one would think you sneezed while painting those lines and didn't bother to touch it up...

Of course, the same can be said of markings on armor. Take a look at the hand painted tank number. Looks pretty elementary and a far cry from the crisp, hard edges we're used to...

But when it comes to markings, you can pretty well go as clean or as messy as you like and you're safe.

Don't get me wrong, accuracy is still very important as I don't believe weathering works in all cases, depending on your context. But I will say that if you build a plane and only paint it a flat coat of each color necessary to complete the model, then what have you? A painted hunk of plastic, in my opinion. As modelers we set out to create something that represents an actual vehicle, and in most cases, these vehicles participated in actual events. Make your model look like it has done something because that is far more interesting than the alternative. Give your model character. Give it a story.
Lastly, we as modelers struggle to give life to our models. We don't need to make them, realistic as much as they need to be "life like". Whats the difference? A clean, factory finish can be realistic, but a model with nicely applied finishing techniques will be life like. Make the guns appear to have been fired. Make it look like it has been climbed on. Give it streaks to show it has endured long flight hours. Accentuate the panel lines to vary the paint job. To make it more life like we may have to sacrifice some realism. What we create may not appear exactly the same way in reality...but that is a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Thanks for reading.


  1. What a great article, well written and so well put, also some excellent pics to go with your points. Well done.

  2. Great article, I for one am all for accentuating the panel lines and you've reinforced my beliefs. Carrier borne aircraft are subject to some of the worse conditions imaginable - salt, sea spray, sun bleaching to name but a few, so they're always going to look faded etc and, as panels are replaced, patchy too.
    I really enjoyed reading this well written piece; thank you.

    Grant Lovett

    PS: Absolutely love the F-14 and F-16 shots! (I may have to "steal" them :))

  3. Thank you both for chiming in and I'm glad you appreciate the article. You'll find I am no stickler for such things. I enjoy modeling for what it is, artistic expression with a flare of history.
    Thanks again guys!

  4. Nice the blog is very readable post thank for sharing with. It is really great information From with me.

    model finishing

  5. Dear Jon, I like your blog and your style – your style of modeling and your style of writing to be more precise. I also share many of your thoughts in the above article. For the reason of accuracy I just can't leave one of the photos without a comment: the "overworked German He-111" is in fact a Spanish built CASA 2.111 and on top of it, this is a modern photo of the a/c owned by the Commemorative Air Force. Check these photos as well:
    BTW, the bigger intakes of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines are very characteristic for the licenced built planes.
    In the next article you'll find more information about the photo you have used: http://www.warbirdalley.com/he111.htm
    Unfortunately this historical a/c crashed in 2003: http://www.stelzriede.com/ms/html/mshwma29.htm
    I believe there are thousands of historical photos showing well weathered German planes from the real period of their usage by the Luftwaffe to choose from and I hope you’ll find the right example.
    Best regards!

    1. Thanks for that information, Yves! I appreciate the correction!

  6. Eloquently put Jon B. Same thoughts, emotion and passion here. Four thumbs up on this article my friend.

  7. Eloquently put Jon B. Same thoughts, emotion and passion here. Four thumbs up on this article my friend.