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Threw away the realism and kept the Afterthought

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  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Threw away the realism and kept the Afterthought
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 11:55 AM
Shallow, fakey, plastic people - one of my peeves on even the most stunning scenery. Right out of the box, these factory painted denizens of HO sport mostly the worst and dated of fashions from petulant pink polyester pantsuits to Three Stooges style bowl haircuts. I'm amazed at how even the master builders of the "wish I could do that" trade pub photo feature variety will slap these little eyesores into their layouts. As if Fabio and friends popped in on your sawmill or depot to do a photo shoot in their latest club disco fashions.

Having done quite a bit of wargaming miniature painting, even some of that kooky fantasy chain mail bikini stuff, I think it's relatively easy to apply some similar techniques to even HO scale people. That way all the painstaking rusting, weathering, and ultra realistic alcohol staining don't get spoiled by "mannequins playing checkers," "pensive botox lady in cowl necked sweater dress," or " army of pasty men shoveling."

My father-in-law asked me to come up with a quick way of making his people more attractive. So here goes: always shave just after a shower, use high quality moisturizing products, never scrimp on the shoes and accessorize.

Anyway, I figure it's all in the washes and dry brushing. Quick and dirty: Mount the figure on a large diameter dowel. A few inches in length will do so you can get at all angles of the figure. Kind of like HO scale figure on a stick. Two little drops of super glue gel works for me. I can stabilize the figure against the brush strokes and easily xacto it off the dowel with no heartache. Prime the figure with white gesso. The white undercoat makes the colors brighter. Make sure that you get enough coverage to make the paint stick but not so thick you lose detail.

At this stage take a look at the figure and start deciding on color choices. There shouldn't be too many: pants, shirt, bag, shoes, flesh, hair, utility belt. I usually can layout some "right out of the bottle" colors in front of me that satisfy. What you'll be doing is 3 variations of each color. The basic color for blocking in and mid tones, a lighter version of the color for highlighting and dry brushing, and a darker color for shadows and washes. As far as paint selection goes, there are some fancy paints like Citadel colors or Vellejo, but I find the 90 cents a bottle acrylics (Plaid brand I think) are just fine from Hobby Lobby or Wal Mart. These paints tend to have more filler and less pigment, but I prefer to reserve the nice paints for larger scale miniatures and other projects where the hues can be really seen and appreciated.

Next, block in your basic colors. Maybe blue for a uniform, black for shoes, a flesh color. Stay in the lines if you can. Paint the way you would get dressed or at least the way your were taught. Paint flesh first, then undershirts, pants, then outerwear, hats and shoes last, etc. You'll do most of your corrections at this point. The figure will look pretty flat but will still be better than factory painted. You could actually stop here, but you'd be missing the fun rewarding part.

I usually do washes first and then dry brush just by the nature of the processes. Mix a darker version of your basic color. Blues take black pretty well, Mix in blues to darken greens, dark oranges to darken yellows, then dilute a bit with water. Acrylics don't make the best washes but you can get by or you can just use colored and diluted ink. Basically you are trying to get the color to run into and darken all of your creases and folds by washing the figure with the diluted paint or ink. After the wash dries I dry bru***he figure just a little with the mid level color. Then mix a lighter shade of the mid level color and dry brush for highlights. I believe it's ok if the dark, mid, and light tones contrast rather than blend due to the small scale. So don't mind it if you find yourself picking out light flesh with a pure white dry brush, or a navy uniform with sky blue. This whole process is actually faster than it sounds and the results are light years from "out-of-box" blobbed on factory painted figures.

You can finish up the figure by dark lining with the undiluted dark mix from your mid tone color. Everywhere a shirt meet some pants, or a sleeve meets an arm put in a very thin line of dark color to contrast the colors of the pants to shirt or arm to sleeve, etc. I believe contrast and exaggeration at this scale really make a difference for casual viewing and layout focal points. I'd say go crazy picking out bright brass buttons or colored uniform piping if you have a mind to. Finally hit the figure with a blast of flat acrylic sealer and you'll be good to go.

A note on brushes. Nothing beats a good brush. A Kalinsky sable size 0 and 2 should do you with a cheapy brush for dry brushing. The brush most recommended I find are the Windsor & Newton Series 7 with shorter handles but any quality brush in these sizes should do. Usually if the brush is around $12 and looks like you could use it to write your full name inside the period at the end of this sentence you are in the right area.

  • Member since
    August 2002
  • From: Corpus Christi, Texas
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Posted by leighant on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 10:56 PM
One thing I have occasionally done with scale figures is pretend I am a movie director casting extras. I have a structure or an area on the layout I want to detail and I start looking through my batches of figures that need painting (and/or repainting of ready-to-run) trying to imagine what figures look like characters that might be involved in that scene. For instance, in a scene of a 1950s small town downtown movietheater, I found a couple of preteen kids that look like they might be waiting on the sidewalk for mom to pick them up after the show. How would they be dressed for that role? I also found a female figure that made me think of not Marilyn Monroe herself, but a young woman in a small town who is trying to imitate Marilyn Monroe. The kids are staring at her. I painted these figures thinking of that scene and their roles and it made a slight difference in how I painted them.
  • Member since
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  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,495 posts
Posted by dknelson on Thursday, October 16, 2003 8:08 AM
This is going to sound very odd ... but I think many layouts have too many figures on them. When I go railfanning or just am engaged in casual photography (I like taking shots of interesting buildings, for the unlikely day when I have all sorts of spare time and can build build build) I do not see the crowds of people on sidewalks or at factories that I see on some layouts in MR. Obviously there must be some (and the sidewalks of NY City or New Orleans would obviously differ from the sidewalks of, say, Oshkosh in terms of density of population) but in general I think some people over do the figures. And since as our topic creator Hoss points out, the figures available are often rather improbable, figures can detract at times.
Dave Nelson
  • Member since
    April 2003
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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, October 16, 2003 1:07 PM
I agree with Mr. Nelson, Less is More.
A few well placed, well painted figures will add compositionally to a scene more than gobs of funky crowds. Also note the poses of figures. It's always odd to see people frozen in a running or briskly walking pose while the train rumbles by. I tend to select less active poses to promote the illusion that the scene is not necessarily a snapshot in time.

Since I'm from New Orleans I think it's interesting that New Orleans might be depicted as a very busy city like New York. I've always thought of New Orleans as a big small town where everyone knows "your mom an' nem." I think this perception comes from Hollywood stereotypes, as if Mardi Gras crowds happen in New Orleans year round. Also, they have the accent all wrong. If you happen to be in New Orleans and think there are a large number of New Yorkers around, you are probably hearing the locals. (Many of the same immigrants who stayed in New York settled in New Orleans creating a similar sounding accent, yet still very unique.) I have never encountered the sterotype "Southern" accent in real life, although I imagine it might exist somewhere around North Carolina or possibly small parts of Georgia.
  • Member since
    March 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, October 16, 2003 9:34 PM
Well Hoss I was judging New Orlean crowd density by the touristy French Quarter, the area near the river, and also the lines of people waiting to ride the St Charles Line trolley. That alas is about as much as I know of that city.
Dave Nelson
  • Member since
    April 2003
  • 302,278 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, October 16, 2003 11:38 PM
Ponderhoss,
Great thread title, good humour, and well written.

And oh.... I shave before the shower as I don't like to wait until my face is perfectly dry before I use the electric.

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