I have been requested to put together this step by step guide, which will provide a detailed look at the process of painting my Empire of the Blazing Sun Tenkei Class Sky Fortress. My aim is to include valuable information to those wanting to paint using a similar style tom myself.
1. After the mini has been cleaned-up, washed and assembled it is ready for painting. I begin with an undercoat. This is done to ensure an even 'canvas' for the paint to adhere to. Generally I will use one of three colours of undercoat - White, Black or Grey. I base my choice on final results I am looking for. White is great for producing bright finishes and is ideal for light coloured paint schemes. Black dulls the finish, providing a more matt look. It is also ideal for minis with a lot of metallic areas, as they respond well to a black base. Grey, not surprisingly comes somewhere in-between and I will often use this when painting military mini that don't have a lot of bright or metallic colours.
For the Sky Fortress I chose to use Black as I wanted a matt finish, the underside of the mini to be a dark scheme, therefore speeding up the painting process; and there are several areas of the mini that will be painted in metallics.
Paint used - The paint I will use is Acrylic-Polyurethane Surface Primer from Vallejo and I will be applying it with an airbrush. I use this paint because it provides a great finish, is pre-mixed for the airbrush and is sold in large bottles; making it both cost effective and great to use. It can be bought in several colours, I have White and Black; an equal mix giving me my Grey. Although pre mixed for the airbrush I prefer to mix it at a ratio of 1:1 with Vallejo's airbrush thinner. This can then be applied easily with little clogging of the airbrush and also extends the life of the paint.
Equipment used - When undercoating I generally use my cheap(er) airbrush. This is a dual action gravity feed airbrush with 2mm needle widely available online. they are mass produced in China, usually come in a box with blue foam and are commonly known as eBay specials. I have used these for several years and realise that they are only really good for undercoating/base coating/varnishing; any job that doesn't require any level of detail.
Powering the airbrush is another eBay special, my compressor. The main features of his basic compressor are an air regulator with display, which enables you to accurately set the pressure that the air is delivered to your airbrush. This provides you with a level of control for the various methods used during airbrushing. It has a moisture trap, which prevents water leaving the compressor and reaching your airbrush; if this happens it can ruin your work. It has a reserve tank attached which means that the compressor does not have to work as hard to maintain it's pressure. Writing from experience I would never buy another compressor without a tank. I could only use my old compressor for half an hour - an hour before it would overheat and produce lots of moisture. In addition, my current compressor has an adaptor to allow me to attach three airbrushes, this saves having to swap them over when needed.
The next big piece of equipment I use is an air extractor. Though not a necessity, I have found it to be a really useful tool. It removes the fumes/dust created when airbrushing, keeping my hobby contained, home cleaner and wife happier.
Lastly a quick run through the other smaller equipment I use. A hobby lamp with natural light bulb, this ensures that I can clearly see the mini I'm painting and in it's true colours. A respirator, even with the extractor its possible to breath in paint fumes. Although I use 'harmless' Acrylics, I don't want to paint my lungs. I use a small shot glass to mix my paint, which I do with a kids plastic paint brush. I prefer the plastic ones as I sometimes mix directly in the airbrush and plastic won't damage it like a metal one will. I transfer the paint to the airbrush with a plastic pipette. I keep the tip of my airbrush clean thought the painting process with a cotton bud. My left hand, which holds the mini is protected from the paint with a latex glove. I use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. And finally, I use a wash bottle, plastic measuring jug and some hot water to clean the airbrush once finished. If their are any stubborn stains, I use Airbrush cleaner; and after a long session, I will use my ultrasonic cleaner.
Method - I set the compressor pressure to about 15 PSI and load the airbrush with about 20 drops of paint:thinner mix. This will be more than enough to adequately cover the mini. I will however have a little extra mixed ready in the shot glass, in case I require more.
Holding the mini at one end I start painting the underside first. I use short burst on the airbrush and keep moving up and down the mini; concentrating on small sections at a time. This ensures a good even coverage and avoids the paint gathering/running or being patchy. Once I have covered the underside, (up to where I'm holding the mini) I then give it a blast with the hairdryer to ensure its completely dry before moving on. When using the dryer, its important not to get to close or too hot, which could make the paint run. Next, gripping the mini at the same end, but top side up; I paint the topside, using the same technique as before. Another blast with the dryer, then grip the opposite end of the mini and paint the gaps to both top and underside (where I was holding the mini), then finishing with the dryer. Before cleaning up and finishing I give the mini one last close look to check I haven't missed any spots.
Tips - When airbrushing with a dual action airbrush its important to get the right paint flow. Do this by using a spare sheet of paper and doing some test sprays before hitting the mini. If the paint consistency is wrong its best to fix it before hitting the mini. Too thin and it will look watery and won't cover or dry properly, you need to add more paint to the mix. Too thick and it wont leave the airbrush with any flow and will clump on the mini; you need to add more thinners. You also need to get the air pressure correct, again the test spray will help you to get this right. Ideally you want to be dusting the mini with a fine mist. too much pressure and the coverage will be thick and lead to running; you need to pull the trigger on the airbrush less or reduce the PSI on the compressor. Too little pressure and the paint doesn't come out or splutters; again, increase pressure on the trigger of compressor. Throughout the session you may notice that the flow of the airbrush fluctuates from the ideal that you had at the start. this is usually due to 'tip dry', when paint dries and builds up around the needle preventing it from flowing from the airbrush. This can be frustrating, slow you down and ultimately ruin your work. When you feel the flow starting to change/reduce, use your spare paper, pull the trigger right back and do a short spray; this usually clears the jam. Additionally from time to time carefully wipe the tip of the needle with a cotton bud, removing the build up of dried paint. To give you an idea of how often this is done; whilst undercoating the Sky Fortress I used the cotton bud six times and sprayed the paper twice to clear build up.
Conclusion - The mini now has an even black undercoat and is ready to start taking the basecoat. More of which on my next post.
As always if you would like a closer look at any pictures above, click on them. If you have any comments or would like to ask me questions or provide feedback, please fill in the comments box below (this will be moderated before being published on this blog).