Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rant About Weathering

Weathering is an essential aspect of model making. There have been volumes written about proper techniques and materials needed to master tonal variation, washes, filters, chipping, stains, steaks and so on. There are even magazines and Facebook pages dedicated to giving your model that realistic used and abused look.
But is it realistic? While weathering is popular it is also fairly divisive. Not everyone believes in a worn finish and prefers a clean aircraft to a dirty one. That's fine and dandy. Clean aircraft exist just as much as filthy ones. They aren't as fun to model or as attractive to behold, but hey, it's your thing not mine. 
A little friendly disagreement ain't so bad. We're all grown ups, and I can tolerate another person's preferences (however erroneous) as the next guy. What I can't tolerate are absolutes, like when a modeler says "a jet would never get that dirty", or "you've over-weathered it". People like this attack the realism of weathering and base it on, what, a trip or two to the Smithsonian? A time they went to an air show? I don't know.
It's this type of thinking that bothers me more than straight up rivet counting. For as annoying as it may be to be told my model has the wrong avionics bay vent opening in panel 3306 on the right-hand strake for the version aircraft I am building, at least that assertion is based in reality and not in the clouds. I can work with that. Telling me I've over done my pigments? That doesn't help me.

Look! A Weathered Aircraft! 

I've used this photo time and again as the hallmark for a dirty, beat up modern fighter in the US inventory. It's got everything:

Chipping, grime, panel lines, faded paint, mismatched panel colors, it's just outstanding. Not to mention, this jet isn't even configured for combat. While I could feel comfortable resting my case here, there is bound to be a knuckle head or two who would say this photo is bunk, an exception to the rule. An abomination. So I'll go on. 

A typical USAF squadron is made up of about 18 aircraft. The vast majority of them will be outside while the remaining aircraft will spend some time indoors going through Phase maintenance, fuel system repairs or, if they're lucky, just chilling in a shelter instead of the flight line.
The jets that are outdoors are naturally exposed to whatever elements the season brings - baking hot sun, freezing rain, snow, humidity, high winds, you name it. The sun will fade their paint, the moisture will corrode their screws, and the dust will chip their finish.
 Once a jet is finished with it's maintenance in a cosy hangar, it's back to the harsh environment of the flight line to get dirty just like all the others. That's the thing. A weathered jet is no exception - it's the rule. To have ONLY a single jet amid an entire squadron that is in the kind of shape pictured above is unlikely. You can rest assured, if one F-16 looks like that, they all do, at least to a considerable degree.

But the crew chief would never...

Insisting that a crew chief would never let his aircraft attain such a level of filth is ridiculous. I can't help but think that the guys who make that statement have never experienced operations on an active flight line before. 
The aircraft maintainers have more to worry about than the simple cosmetics and aesthetics of the jets they are charged to keep. They are busy checking oil and hydraulics, filling tires with nitrogen, changing LOX bottles, launching and recovering the aircraft, fitting in additional maintenance as well as catching a bite to eat at some point. A jet can fly dirty. A jet can't fly with a flat tire. It's all about priorities and cleanliness is not up there on the list. 
So yes, in short, a crew chief would...

So, Where Does This Belief Come From? 

I don't want to delve into the psychology that makes these people tick. I would assume that the majority of folks like this have an aversion to weathering because they just don't know any better. They've founded their opinions and perpetuated this myth through their perceptions which are probably based on what they've seen at air shows, or museums. Another possibility is that they just simply can't do it. Weathering isn't easy, especially in its extreme. When a large chunk of the modeling community is capable of pulling off some incredible looks but you can't, well, some resentment toward the technique or the trend may arise whether they acknowledge it or not. As they say, those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't do either, criticize. 

Whatever the case may be, modern aircraft do, in fact, weather and get down right disgusting. Don't let some one tell you that you've over done it because if there is one photo reference backing you up, there are dozens more aircraft in the same squadron that look the same. Fight the good fight. Keep on weathering. 


  1. .. who's dealing in totally subjective absolutes now ! Weathering is NOT "an essential part" of modelling. The problem with "weatherers" is that they tend to lose all notion of 'scale realism' and get totally carried away with creating a replica that is closer to 'arty' than scale effect - exhaust stains, chipping, rust, absolutely invisible to the eye had the real thing been scaled down to 72, 48th, 32nd whatever. I don't want to get into the psychology of guys like you, but obviously creating a scale replica is not enough; you are very rarely capable of building a scale model from what you see in a photo, you need to be Michelangelo in your own Sistine Chapel, totally carried away with your own artistic sensibilities that you perceive so much more superior to the straight forward OOB guys!. Those guys who rescribe a model aircraft that in reality is constructed with overlapping riveted panels have the same mindset..

    1. Weird. This article is pretty tame. I was not preaching the benefits of weathering over not weathering, in fact, I said "clean aircraft exist just as much as filthy ones." I am arguing against the folks who so adamantly oppose weathering in the face of the physical evidence, for whatever reason.
      You seem to have missed the point, though you seem to be pretty hardcore against weathering yourself, so maybe that explains the harsh response.
      But you are correct. Creating a scale replica is not enough. At the very least, I intend to progress using techniques that I enjoy employing to create effects on the model that will give it life and character, beyond what a flat, unvaried paint scheme can accomplish. That is my taste. If it isn't yours, so be it. Thanks for commenting, and if you'd like to continue with a civil discussion, by all means do so.

    2. I must have missed the part where he said weathering was essential. What I took from the article was that all too often, those who complain it the most reflect their reasoning as to why when they present their own work that looks like.. Well, like a model. Which is not to say that it's bad. Like any subjective art medium, you've got the baseline criteria to make in look like an attempt at completion, and then you've got the other side of the spectrum that makes it truly look like art. In our realm, realism is the premise to be considered art. The more you take away from the fact that it's just a bunch of plastic glued together, the closer you get to blurring the line of art and reality. Weathering is one of those features that you absolutely cannot mimic realism with until you add some variation of it to your work. I'm not saying that you've got to expend half a tube of oil paints and have 14 different products caked on to qualify as having met the "standards of weathering", hell, I do 90 percent of my weathering eith) with the airbrush itself. The effects are often subtle, but in my eyes, very necessary, as leaving them out would make it look like a plastic toy replica. Sorry, but if I wanted to have a baseline replica, I'd save my hundred hours and instead spend a hundred dollars and buy die cast.

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  3. see first sentence!

    Jon, 'pretty tame' ? its my fault I missed the point, maybe you just explained yourself very badly You're busy accusing 'a large chunk' of the modelling fraternity of 'perpetuating myths', 'not being capable' 'knuckleheads' etc etc.. you see where I'm coming from. I'm not against 'weathering'. I am irked by your apparent dissing of those of us who are maybe not so capable of you of breathing life into what would otherwise be a plastic toy replica. Dressing it up as 'art'. It's not even as if it's even terribly creative; most of the time its straight out the bottle! You might think real aeroplanes etc get terribly dirty, but when you guys get on with applying those MiG powders, AK pastes and God knows what else most sensible notions of 'scale effect' or realism go right out the window.

    1. A large chunk of the modeling community *does* perpetuate myths - "a crew chief would never" and so on. I see them all the time. Every single day. Those like Jon and myself who run blogs and Facebook pages are perhaps more exposed to it...but it's something readily seen on just about every forum, group etc.

      A humble suggestion, if I may. Calm down. You're making yourself look like a jackass.

    2. Well you've definitely done a fine job at not keeping it civil and taking my words out of context.
      Weathering IS an essential part of the hobby. There is an entire aftermarket industry based on it as well as hordes of modelers on social media who spend a great deal of time helping fellow modelers achieve their goal of realism through weathering.
      The only people i call knuckle heads (if you would actually read what i wrote) are those who deny aircraft weather in the face of the evidence. Not people who prefer not to weather.
      This article is about those who argue against weathering by making erroneous statements, not about people who simply prefer not to weather.
      Scale effect? Give me a break. Look at both of those pictures and tell me what you wouldn't be able to see in fine scale.
      Again, feel free to be civil and discuss your point of view rather than call me names otherwise, I'd have to agree with Matt.

  4. I love the look of a well done clean aircraft...just a subtle panel line wash and flawless paint/markings. I really love a well one weathered aircraft too.

    But those in between....I don't care much for. Unfortunately for me, my weathering efforts have been terrible and I end up being very disappointed in the model after many hours put into it.

  5. I've just grappled with this issue in my own modeling. At 47, and with a stash of 400 kits, time is an issue. I'm an IPMS nationals, regionals and best of show winner. I used to scratch build, super detail, and spend more than half my build time weathering, but I think I'm done with it now and am going to return to the the childhood approach of just building it to look like the "model on the box" photos. I've served in both the army and navy and have been to war. I know they get the snot beat out of them and that operational tempo doesn't allow the luxuries of keeping them neat and clean. I'm just making the conscious decision to actually get shit built by forgoing all of the very time consuming tasks of weathering. That said, I truly enjoy seeing other people's efforts and appreciating the craftsmanship and artistic techniques employed. We all have our own motivations. I know you've served and as a brother, I find it annoying and ridiculous that so many who've never spent a day in the service of their country and around this equipment have so much wisdom about what is and what isn't realistic. As a TC in an armored cav company, and a crewman aboard a Nimitz class CV, I can testify that cleanliness, beyond practical operational needs, was nobody's concern during times of war. Safety, and making it home with all the parts you arrived with, was the one and only priority.

  6. AF jets are regularly sent to the 'wash rack' as a measure to mitigate corrosion. Wings located on a coastal installation typically task AMXS personnel with washing their aircraft once a month, due to the salty air. In short, USAF aircraft do get dirty, but they don't stay that way for long.