Editors note: I’m quite fortunate to have access to a large, talented group of modelers through the Seattle chapter of IPMS. One such modeler, Evan Smith recently completed his Eduard Gustav in an eye-catching finish that captures the subtleties of an accurately rendered Luftwaffe mottled scheme. Luckily he was willing to share his technique with us.
Many thanks, Evan.
My friend John asked me to give you an overview of the tools and techniques I used to achieve the mottling on my Eduard 1/48th bf-109 G-6 painted in the standard Luftwaffe scheme of RLM 74/75/76. Tackling this for the first time can be a little intimidating. However, I was able to do this on my second attempt so with a little practice, this type of mottled scheme it is absolutely doable.
For this I used my normal setup, a Harder-Steenbeck Infinity dual-action airbrush with a 0.2 needle and nozzle. One of the handy features of this brush is the “Quick-fix with Memory Function” which enables you to set the maximum travel and simultaneously prevents you from bumping the trigger back too far. My compressor is a basic Iwata with a small tank with a built in regulator and a Harder & Steenbeck In-Line Fine Pressure Control valve with quick disconnect making it easy to dial in the exact pressure I want. I prefer a low pressure of around 6 to 10 psi, depending on how cooperative your paint is being on a given day. The key for me is to find the pressure setting where the paint stops atomizing and begins to spatter, and then increasing just a pound or two above that to find the sweet spot where you get sufficient atomization with fine-line performance. I also tend to work very close, often less than an inch from the surface to minimize overspray and keep control over the pattern.
My paint is a relative newcomer to the modeling world, a brand called Mr. Paint out of Europe. It’s different from the usual acrylic and enamels in that it is a lacquer based paint, which gives it excellent flow characteristics and far less drying on the tip than I’ve been able to get from acrylics. These paints are also pre-thinned from the bottle, so there isn’t any messing about trying to dial in the thickness or to get it to lie down smoothly. I also like to give my primer coat (in this case AK Primer and Micro-filler #AK758) a light wet sanding with Alpha Abrasives Micro Finishing Pads, to knock down rough areas or irregularities in the surface. Another of my favorite things about the lacquer based primers is how well they take to sanding, making it very easy to feather in any corrections or seams that need to be fixed.
Please note that since Mr. Paint is a lacquer, it is critical to have adequate ventilation and respiratory protection when using this stuff. The standard folding plastic spray booth so many of us start with is nowhere near up to the task, and unless you have something like the Pace booths that move over 100 cubic feet per minute, you will need a chemical respirator! It’s also necessary to be sure to fully mask off any clear parts, as lacquer based paints can etch into them and create some extra polishing work at the end of your project. I didn’t run into any issues with that in this build, all I needed to do was make a quick pass with a microfiber swab to remove a little bit of adhesive left over from the mask as well as polish the surface and it was done.
Now on to the real meat of this: how I went about this paint job.
The first and most important step is understanding the scheme on the original aircraft. If you can find a photo of the actual plane you are building, that is ideal, but other aircraft from the same unit and time frame are almost as helpful. These aircraft were often painted in the field under rushed conditions, usually with a can of compressed air and a fan tipped spray gun that sprayed more of a vertical oval than the circles our airbrushes give. This was hand work, and done as the painter saw fit in the time between essential repairs.While there are numerous photo sets of museum aircraft all over the Internet, I prefer to steer clear of these for guidance on markings and color. Despite the best efforts of restorers, the spraying equipment and conditions are quite different from what was in use 70 years ago, and some of what you will see there can be misleading.
What does this mean for the modeler? In most cases (again, this is where period photo references are invaluable), avoid dots and repeating patterns. Focus instead on making little kidney and peninsula shaped mottles with occasional dots in between, always keeping a very light touch and making sure you are laying down a very light layer of paint: somewhat transparent. Spattering is to be avoided at all costs, as it will kill the scale effect faster than anything! It’s also worth noting that the painters tended to avoid the areas around the national and unit markings, as it was inefficient to have to go back over the work you just did. Take it slow and go one section at a time. With thin paint and care, it is entirely possible to do this scheme in 1/48th scale with minimal masking.
You will make mistakes in the process, of course, but if the layers are kept light it is a simple matter to go back with the base color and clean up your work. And of course, you can always practice on a spare bit of styrene sheet or a paint mule to hone your technique. The same results can be obtained with acrylics using John’s dilution methods listed elsewhere on this site. The real key is having an even flowing paint that won’t spatter or gum up your brush in the middle of your work. Either way with a little practice, mottled schemes are quite doable and make for rewarding and eye-catching finish.