Friday, September 09, 2011

How I painted some figurines

Over a prolonged period I had been accumulating figures to populate the railway from a variety of sources. The figures are a mixture of whitemetal castings, resin castings and plastic mouldings. I have even started to sculpt my own figures from polymer clay which can be hardened in the oven.

As with all my postings, I do not profess to be any sort of expert, but I have tried to learn from others' experience, had a go myself and am using this blog to share my own experiences, frustrations and musings with others in the hope they/you might be able to short-cut your own practice.

No matter what type of figure I was working with, the first stage I went through was to wash each figure thoroughly with detergent and hot water. My researches suggest that it is best to avoid using soap powders or detergents with too may additives as these can leave residues on the figures. I tended to use the cheapest washing-up liquid I could find (usually on the window sill above the kitchen sink).

I used an old (recycled) toothbrush to clean out muck and more importantly greasy deposits from the crevices. The figures were then left to dry at least overnight.

In some cases, I removed the slab base on which the figure was mounted and then for all the standing figures I drilled a hole into one leg and inserted a short piece of 1/16" (1.6mm) diameter brass rod. This served the dual purpose of giving me something to hold when painting the figure and would be used to mount the figure on the railway while allowing for removal during the winter.

The next stage was to prime the figures with, in my case, matt black primer from an aerosol spray. Again, my researches suggest that white or brown primer can be used. The consensus seems to be that lighter primers help to produce brighter final figures, whereas darker primers produce duller final figures - which seems to make sense. As the period in which my railway is being modelled is the late 1920s/early 1930s I went for a black undercoat, as most of my figures would be likely to be wearing drab or at least muted colours. I found that a couple of light coats of primer were preferable to trying to cover the figure in one heavy coat, which could mask the finer details of the figures' mouldings.

Once the primer had dried (at least overnight), I decided to pick out the figures' flesh using a mix of red, yellow and white acrylics.


I tended to mix the flesh tones lighter (ie more white) for females and darker (ie more red and yellow) for males. As my railway is set in a rural community I assume that the men would be more likely to be engaged in outdoor occupations. My reasoning for painting the fleshy areas first is that I can then overlay the clothing colours on any inaccuracies in my painting. Some figure painters suggest blocking out the larger areas of colour first and finishing with the flesh tones. It's all down to personal preference.

I then blocked in the base colours for the clothing, starting with the garments closest to the skin and working outwards. In this example, I started with the shirt, then the waistcoat and the trousers and then the topcoat.

I then usually repeat the process as I find one coat is often insufficient to get an even covering. This also allows me to touch-up areas where my painting has not been as accurate as it could be.

I then start to pick out the details on the faces; for example the shadows under the chin and hollows of the cheek and the highlights of the cheek bones using darker tones. Lips are picked out in a slightly redder flesh tone (lips are seldom bright red unless lipstick has been applied). Following advice from various websites, I paint the pupils of the eyes first and then the 'whites' (white with a little yellow added to tone it down). Where teeth are showing I use the same yellowy white (who in 1930 would have actually had ultra-white teeth?).

Hair is usually given a base colour at first and then a dry-brushing of a lighter colour to pick out highlights. Dry-brushing, as the name suggests, is achieved by loading the brush with paint and then wiping off most of the paint on a paper towel. The brush is then wiped lightly over the area so only the raised areas receive the colour. In the picture below, the figure's hair and moustache has been dry-brushed in light grey over a dark grey base coat.

I then picked out the creases in clothing with a darker shade of the base colour. A watery mix was painted into the creases and any excess wiped off with a paper towel. On some figures, a lighter tint of the base colour was dry-brushed on to accentuate the raised features of clothing.

Most of the of the bare-headed figures were given hats. As my railway is set in the late twenties/early thirties, people seldom went outdoors without a hat or cap. 'Green Stuff' two-part modelling compound was used to model the hats. This can be sculpted into quite fine details and left to harden. It then takes acrylic paints without problem.

Where appropriate, the gaps between fingers were also given shadows using a darker shade of flesh colour.

And then fine details (eg ties, buttons, patterns on clothing) were picked out with a 000 brush.

Once the figures were dry, they were given a couple of coats of matt varnish to take the sheen off the acrylics of their clothing. I've found from experience that it's advisable to pay a little extra for a decent matt varnish as the cheaper so-called 'matt' varnishes are seldom matt enough.

Fixing the figures in place
 On the wooden platform at Beeston Market Station, a 1.6mm hole was drilled in the platform and the spike on the figure inserted.

All my other platforms have been cast in concrete and so a different approach was needed. The flared heads were removed from a few 5mm plastic Rawlplugs.

A hole was drilled in the platform with a hammer drill. The Rawlplug was inserted and the spike from the figure tapped into place with a small hammer.

The figure was then pushed on to the spike. Sometimes the peg needed to be bent slightly to ensure the figure was not leaning at an unrealistic angle.

The figures were grouped on the platform as if in conversation or patiently waiting.

I am in need of more railway staff. These are few and far between at the moment, but some are presently going through the paint-shop and so will join the line by the start of the next season.


The Controller said...

Excellent method for which I will adopt. I had a problem with magpies taking my figures until I secured a piece of garden wire around a leg and then attached the other end to an old/spare two inch decking screw which was subsequently pushed into the ground on soft surfaces. I haven't lost any since, but it is a little unsightly and impossible on hard surfaces. Your method for securing is the way I'll do it from now on. Thanks for the tip.

GE Rik said...

Thanks. I've not had them out for a whole summer season so can't vouch for the resistance of this approach to magpie attacks but as long as the brass peg is a tight fit I'd imagine they would be 'safe'. I'll let you know if I find differently, I often have magpies in the garden.