Popular Paints for Model Figure Painting

Orangeville, ON (James Doan) In talking with other figure modellers in the area, I have found that there are several popular paints in use. Each person has their own reasons for using the paint they have chosen. As each type of paint has different characteristics that give unique advantages and disadvantages, the first suggestion I will make is that initially you should try each paint, find what works for you and make a selection based on your own preferences. In some cases, it might even be possible to use a combination of the paints to take advantage of each paint’s properties.

For any paint, the first consideration, as far as painting model figures is concerned, will be just how long it takes for the paint to fully cure or set. This is important because it will determine how easy it will be to blend your paints as they are applied to your figure.

A brief comparison of the main paint types will show how this feature affects the style of painting

Matte-finished hobby paints (such as Testors, Model Master, Humbrol, etc) are the most commonly encountered in our area. These paints, which can be thinned with mineral spirits, are quick drying. But they will still be workable for up to twenty-four hours before they actually cure. With these paints, as you will be blending your colours once the paint has become dry to the touch, you will have to be careful when working the paint to ensure good results. Matte hobby paints can become glossy as you use the thinner to blend and this is the main disadvantage. Hotter, lacquer-based hobby paints (such as Floquil) should not be used on plastic figures as the thinner that is used can easily dissolve plastic. If you are working with resin or metal figures this does not present a problem.

Acrylic paints (such as Tamiya, Model Master, Poly S, Liquitex, Ceramcoat, etc) typically have an alcohol-based thinner but can effectively also be thinned with just water. In most cases, it is advisable to apply a matte primer undercoat to enhance paint adhesion. Acrylics are becoming more popular due to their ease of use, wide selection of colours and suitability for fine detail work. Because these paints cure almost as quickly as they dry, there is little time left for proper blending. The main disadvantage is that they set as soon as they dry, leaving little time for blending. For my own figure painting, I find that using a base colour along with one highlight colour and one shadow colour, without blending, gives a satisfactory effect. Be sure there is a contrast between the various shades.

Artist’s oil colours have traditionally been the connoisseur’s paint for figures. They have a slow drying rate which allows you to take your time when blending. Some modellers have been known to use gentle heating with a lamp or even in an oven to speed the drying as required. From an economic point of view, even a set of small tubes of oil paint will be able to provide you with paint for several years.

Whichever paint you use, you will find that an important property of the paint will be its consistency. Trying to work with paint that is too thick will not allow the paint to flow freely from the brush. On the other hand, when the paint is thinned too much it has a bad habit of flowing where you don’t want it to. Proper consistency can be controlled by adding just enough thinner, usually less than you think will be required, and then continuing to add very small amounts through the painting session as the thinner evaporates from your palette.

A final consideration for anyone who wishes to achieve the best results is the quality of your brushes. Always purchase the best quality red sable, round brushes. Initially, the #2 and #000 sizes will be sufficient. You will not need to buy many of them if you realize that what you are paying for is the point. By taking good care of the points, these brushes will last you a long time. Only use these sable brushes for figure painting. After each session, clean your brushes with the appropriate thinner and then be sure to wash your brushes carefully in warm soapy water. Take the time to reshape the bristles into a point, being careful not to twist them. Finally, always store the brushes where they will not be damaged.

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