Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spitfire IX Build: Fixing Decal Disasters

Hello Modelers, I am very sorry to have been away from my blog for so long.  It has been some months since I have made an entry, owing to a variety of pressing concerns, some pleasant and others not; both imposed and self inflicted.  All modelers hit slumps, but mine of the last three odd months has been among my longest periods in recent times where I could not reclaim my stolen joy (with apologies to Barracuda studios for plagiarizing their unofficial former slogan).

Previously made statements about having mastered the application of Decals from Techmod were perhaps mistaken and a little premature.  The Squadron badge, Polish Air Force “Chessboard” and serial numbers, all from the decal sheet in the Kagero book, went on fine; sealed under another coat of clear gloss they looked nearly painted on.  But disaster was waiting just around the corner when I tried to apply the 306 Squadron Code Letters, “UZ K”. 

Those looked like they would go well at first, but the large clear carrier film proved too much to settle down.  As they were being applied, they just would not adhere to the model surface.  I started to see them silver, then crack with whole chunks of decal flaking away.  No amount of coaxing on my part could get these things to settle down and conform.  By the time I had poked, prodded and pressed them around, they just began to fracture even more.  As the decals dried, the unfolding nightmare continued to get worse, with whole sections flaking away in some spots. 

I set the project aside to study the problem, but the solution eluded me for a long while.  It just wouldn’t do to leave sections silvered and broken. So I summoned a fair amount of courage and made the decision to strip off the code letters and start over again with airbrushing on the letters with the use of a home-cut mask.  I burnished on strips of Scotch brand frosted tape, carefully avoiding those areas where other markings were placed.  Using the “stripped off” letters as a guide, I carefully cut paper patterns of the letters which I then transferred to Taimya Yellow tape, stuck to a piece of flat glass (taken from an old picture frame).  

I lifted the mask patterns for the letters from the glass with a modeling knife, and using a horizontal strip of Tamiya tape as a placement guide, I set them on the model.  It required a bit of pulling, straightening and coaxing but they went into position.  I burnished these down so as to minimize bleed under effect.  I was now almost ready the paint on the Code Letters right over the camouflage, just like they did on real Spits during the war years.

Here starts the second great decal disaster: I knew I wanted to protect the surrounding areas from over-spray, so I hit on the brilliant idea of placing low-tac Post-It notes around the tape masks.  You can see the placement of these in the photo’s because I knew I wanted to show how I had done this.  Brilliant, right?

What I had not counted on was the Post-it notes actually lifting and tearing the decals away from the model surface, in areas that had previously been decaled flawlessly. The main damage was to the serial number on the rear fuselage, and also to the fuselage Roundel on the port side of the aircraft.  After I had calmed down, ranting subsided and the dog had come out of hiding, the cold reality of how bad I had messed up began to settle in.  It was like going through stages of grief, where anger eventually gives way to resignation. The model would have become an aerial test to see if I could hit the trash can with it, if not for three simple facts. One, this is a very expensive kit, both in terms of retail value but also from the standpoint of how much time I had already invested in the project. Two, there is a whole boat load of nearly as expensive Barracuda Cast aftermarket parts already inside the model.  Three, I had already written a lot about this beast of a project which has consumed about a year of building time and of which I had posted to this blog to share with my friends.  These are the same friends that I tell “I build models for the relaxation and enjoyment of the hobby”.

So as I mentioned I became busy with a number of other pursuits, my model building was temporarily set aside for an inspired moment of realization for  what in the heck I was going to do about this.  Many weeks passed before figuring this out.  I placed a “triangle” of Blu-Tac modeling clay around the chunk that had been bitten out of the fuselage Roundel.  I sprayed this with some Tamiya X-3 “Royal Blue” – just short bursts with the airbrush set on a very fine setting, gradually building up the paint until it became no longer transparent.  Once dry, I applied a chunk of decal (cut from the Tamiya kit decal Roundel) of the Yellow outer ring with a small bit of Roundel blue over the place it was missing on the Barracuda ‘Cal.  Letters and numbers that were missing were overlayed with sections of black digits from the decal spares box.  All were sealed under another layer of Gloss. 

Thus, progress is at last being achieved.  Today marks one year since having started this modeling odyssey.  The current status is that the Spitfire IX is up on it’s legs, the paint & decal problems are fixed, and we are on our way to finishing details and a coat of clear flat, which should take place in the next few days.  The motto of the Royal Air Force is worth remembering here, “Per Ardua, Ad Astra”; through adversity, to the stars.  

The next blog entry will not be three months away, I promise. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Here are some pictures of the latest work on the Spitfire IX kit.

The gloss coat here is Tamiya TS-23 “Clear” synthetic lacquer, sprayed right from the rattle can

I then applied decals, using the great markings set from Roy Sutherland’s Barracudacals , Sheet BC32004, “Spitfire Mk IX Series, Part I”.  I am using the RAF markings on this sheet for the Roundels & Fin Flashes and also for the Spitfire stencil markings.  There is a great narrative on “how to apply decals” in Roy’s instructions.  As he suggests, I used the Micro Set and Micro Sol solutions for all the Barracudacals.  I am especially a fan of the part where Roy writes about Gloss, Apply Decals, and Then Gloss again.  More on that later. 

I had one of those “Ah shucks” moments with decals on this model (or rather, that is nearly what I said).  As the upper wing Type B Roundel decals were setting, I had to leave the model bench. I should have stayed there and babysat these, because they both sat wrong as they dried. Instead of snuggling in tight with the panel lines like all the other Barracudacals did, a crease formed due to the blister over the outer wing .303 machine gun cover panel.  The crease was nearly symmetrical on both wings, extending from just outside the Dull Red inner disc, pointing towards mid span of both ailerons. As much as I worked these, I could not get the crease to disappear. 

In a near panic I called Roy to tell him that I was going to have to buy another sheet from him.  He suggested that I carefully sand the crease away and then re-airbrush this spot with some insignia Dull Blue.  I tried that  and to my great surprise it actually worked… using sanding sticks and eventually progressing to finer grit sanding pads (from Micromark), I was able to reduce the crease down to a smooth flat surface. I was careful not to “burn” through the decal down to paint, only to the white ink underlying the blue.  I cut curved masks from Tamiya tape with an Olfa circle cutter for both the outside and inside perimeter of the Roundel Blue. The closest paint I had that matched the Blue ink of the decal was Tamiya acrylic X-3 “Royal Blue”.  I loaded this into my Paasche “H” and with a number of light coats, covered the offending spots.  Just to blend everything, I sprayed a few light coats of Royal Blue over the rest of the blue parts of the Roundel.  The effect served to slightly discolor the original ink in just a few spots, much like post shading.  Spray some Gloss TS-13 Clear on top, and you can see the results.  Not for the faint of heart, but here is something new  I have added to my experience base.  Someone important to me used to say it was a poor day when you didn’t learn something new. 

For individual aircraft markings, I am using the decal sheet made by Techmod from Poland that is included in the Kagero book on the Spitfire IX / VIII, for that of  306 Polish Squadron.  The first of these I applied, is the serial number of this particular Spitfire IX, BS403.  At this point, the markings reflect what BS403 would have carried as she rolled out of the factory doors, before unit codes and badges would have been applied. 

Techmod decals can be very tricky to use.  The first rule to remember with Techmod is that you must start with a perfectly glossy surface on the model, much like for any decal application process.  The second rule is: do not use any commercial decal setting solution – use only water.  Counter intuitive, you say? Yes I know.  Modelers are brainwashed to think that decal solution is imperative, just because since the advent of Microscale in the late 1960’s it has always been so.  You frequently read postings on Hyperscale where modelers will rant about Techmod decals (in addition to ranting about everything under the sun like Life, The Universe and Everything) not responding correctly to setting solutions.  The trick is they should not use any setting solution on them.

Take a deep breath, step back from the model and say to yourself, “I am a modeler, I can figure this out; I can do this”.  Set aside your Micro Set and Micro Sol for your next Barracudacals masterpiece decaling project.  Just understand that Techmod decals are slightly different in design than conventional brands you’ll find from the USA or Western Europe.  Techmod decals are thin, perfect in register, slightly brittle and surprisingly opaque.

Do the following when applying Techmod markings:

1              Start with a very smooth glossy surface.

2             Do Not Use any setting solutions (Solvaset especially; it is way too hot for this decal brand); “Water Only”.

3              Place the decals is a dish of water as you normally would to loosen them from the backing paper, but also put some water on the model where you intend the decal to go. 

4             Float the decals onto the model, moving it around with a paintbrush.  (Side note: At the 2008 IPMS USA Nationals in Virginia Beach, I stopped by the Mushroom Model Publications booth and talked with the Polish guys that work with Roger Walsgrove at MMP. I mentioned that I used Techmod Decals, but had trouble with using Micro Set on them - that it stuck them and it was very hard to move. The Polish guys said not to put any solution on them at first.)  Just apply them, and blot out the water. I have done that, and it works.

5             I also had success wetting a cotton bud (Q-Tip), and rolling it across the decal as it was setting, very much like when you've had your fingerprints taken (in the old fashioned way with ink, I mean).  If it sticks in the wrong place, float some more water under it, working the decal around with your paintbrush.  Loosen it and start over.  Take care not to handle it roughly as it will tear.  Did I remember to say “Water Only” yet?

6             The clear carrier film has a slightly translucent quality. Don't freak out, it will disappear later when you spray on a second coat of Gloss after it dries.  

7              Allow the decal to dry.  With careful blotting and your rolling wet Q-Tip action, it will settle into the panel lines of your glossy surface.  It is a beautiful thing.

8             When it is all dry, spray on your clear gloss again (can you say: refracted light?),
 followed by your favorite clear Flat (Matt) of choice.

Check out the close up of the Air Ministry serial number, on the rear fuselage of BS403 above, to see the results. But you’ll see more of all that during the next segment, as I apply unit codes and markings.   


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hello again,

Thanks for looking in on my blog once more.  After looking at the pictures on my monitor, I can tell there are a few spots that require some touch-up airbrushing. You may not be able to see them, but I can (trust me).  This project has been a been a while in the making, so I am delighted that progress is finally being made.

The wing leading edge had previously been painted yellow before masking.  This was a recognition feature of RAF Day Fighters in North West Europe during World War 2, as was the “Sky” colored band around the rear fuselage; on the actual fighter aircraft these bands were 18 inches wide, so the mask had to be carefully measured.  With the masks off, these features stand out and really help the model look like it is nearing completion.

The other item that is often represented as decals but seldom look very good, are the walkway lines on the wing upper surface.  I cut strips of Tamiya tape on glass with a sharp No. 11 Xacto blade, guided by a steel straight edge. I placed these next to where the walkway lines go, and then added more 3M yellow tape along the masked area.  I was able to spray a thin airbrushed line of Tamiya XF-69 “NATO” Black.  When the masks were lifted, I had an even, sharp walkway line of consistent width. 

Some artwork would have you believe that these lines were painted over the Dull Red and Dull Insignia Blue roundels on the wing, but I am not buying that. I will place my decals on top of the painted lines.

As stated earlier, there is just a small amount of touch up to address, but I am satisfied at how the project has come together thus far.  I hope in the next week or so to start putting a coat of clear gloss finish on the model, in preparation for placing the decals into position.  

Until then, be safe and happy modeling!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

With the Spitfire’s undersurfaces painted in Tamiya’s XF-83 Medium Sea Grey and appropriately post-shaded (as described earlier), I masked the fuselage camouflage demarcation line according to reference photographs & drawings.  Early Spitfire Mark IX’s appear to have had the “MSG” extend over the bottom of the rudder, a fact I had never noticed before.  A few strips of Tamiya tape were placed to match the demarcation line, and the masks were on.  I was also careful to mask the wing fillet training edge, extending into the Spitfire’s distinctive underside gull wing contours, where the flaps meet the fuselage.  The undersurface of the horizontal stabilizers and elevators were also covered to protect them from overspray as well. 

I then airbrushed the Tamiya XF-82 RAF Ocean Grey along these areas first, before flipping the model right side up and covering the majority of the upper surfaces with this color.  I also removed the paper towel from the cowling so I could position the magnetized cowl panels, so that in painting the camouflage pattern, it would line up on these pieces. 

You’ll see just a bit of primer around the cockpit area, because I new this was a place that would end up being painted green. All Ocean Grey areas received the usual post shade treatment as described earlier: base color, a darker version of base color and then a lightened version of the base to go on the highlighted areas. 

I used a pencil to mark where the camouflage of Tamiya XF-81 RAF Dark Green would go, carefully matching the pattern drawings.  Using the pencil lines as a guide, and with my Tamiya HG SF double action airbrush set on as fine a pattern as I could sustain, I started laying down the color separations, free hand by airbrush. 

I found myself spraying Dark Green into the body of these areas because I didn't want to get confused about which side of the pencil lines to paint!  This is something you really want to pay attention to, particularly if your vision is caged inside of an optivisor; you occasionally need to pop up to take look around the model to make sure you are still spraying in the right place.  I sprayed the paint into the insides of all the Dark Green blotches until the color density was gradually built up.  I also painted the cowling panels and the canopy frames off the model.  Once I had the Dark Green on, it too received the subtle post-shade treatment. 

Some touch up is required here and there, with both colors.  Just keep at it, correcting the goofs as you find them until you find your happy place.  

And so there you are, a nearly complete painted Spitfire model. Next, peel away the masks!  Not entirely unlike unwrapping a Christmas present, and just about as much fun. 

Happy modeling,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Painting started on the Tamiya 1/32 Spitfire IX

Hello model Spitfire enthusiasts,

Right about now you are saying to yourself – “What, Marty Sanford builds models?” The blockages to forward progress on this project, much like writers block, have been abundant in both quantity and variety.  I could write an equally long passage about what I have been doing instead of building over the last several months, but I suggest we skip that and get on with the description of work performed so far. 

I was at the stage of airbrushing primer when I checked in with you last.  I will confide that my least favorite part of model building is in sanding seams, finding and fixing flaws, re-priming, detecting more seams that I had previously missed and then repeating the process over again.  I used super glue and accelerator to fill the hairline cracks, followed up with working them over with sanding sticks of ever decreasing grit, and wet-sanding & smoothing out with film and sanding pads all the way down to 4000 grit.  The first two pictures in this series are the payoff for all that drudgery though.  Clean, clear primer with all those dreaded seams gone, no more to be seen showing through the paint work.  I celebrated with a bottle of Sam Adams Boston Lager. Or maybe two.  It's easy to loose count...

If seams are my least favorite thing, then airbrushing has to be one of my favorite modeling skills. All paints are Tamiya acrylics, mixed to match the shade I was after.  I always spray a coat of flat white underneath anytime I spray yellow.  I chose to airbrush the Yellow wing leading edge stripes and the “Sky” fuselage band (same color as the spinner) before masking them off, instead of using the kit supplied decals for these markings. Take a look at these in the third photo, because they won’t be seen again until the masks come off!  Once these had cured for a day, I used Tamiya tape to mask these areas.  I also wrapped the engine area with a paper towel and taped it in place.

RAF Temperate camouflage in Northern Europe called for the undersides of Fighter aircraft to be painted in Medium Sea Grey by this stage of the Second World War.  I started with airbrushing the undersurfaces of my Spitfire, spraying a base coat of Tamiya XF-83 Medium Sea Grey, thinned with isopropyl alcohol.  I also added just a few drops of Gunze Sangyo “Mr. Color Thinner”, a Japanese-produced lacquer thinner that smoothes the flow out and results in a slightly semi-gloss sheen.  The following image illustrates this step. I am still undecided if I like the Tamiya rendering of RAF MSG here or not.  The color looks “warmer” than what I am used to, but I will think this over again before I move in the paint work too far.  Ever notice how the Brits spell Grey with an “e”, while Americans nearly always spell it Gray with an “a”?  I tend to use official color names as much as possible, so if I refer to a specific British MAP color (colour) name, I use their spelling, and vice-versa for US colors.  Thank you, Noah Webster.

With the airbrush cup still loaded with Medium Sea Grey, I added several drops of XF-69 “NATO Black”, and sprayed this color along all the panel lines and natural creases & folds on the underside of the airframe.  I started over with a clean color cup with XF-83 again, but added a splash or two of XF-2 Flat What, with just a few more drops of Mr. Color Thinner.  This thinned mixture isn’t meant to hide everything underneath, just to add a final transparent layering of uniform sheen, paying particular attention to the highlighted areas while intentionally not concentrating paint build up on the panel lines and shadow areas.  The object is to build the paint work in semi-transparent layers, giving an illusion of grime accumulation and oxidation.  There will be more filth to come, as in-service military aircraft always display their share of stains and oil smears on their bellies. 

Next: Masking the separation line, and on to the first of the upper surface camouflage colors, RAF Ocean Grey! 


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hello Spitfire fans,

Here is my First Spitfire update of the New Year.  Similar to my earlier e-mail format, I am now experimenting with being a blogger.  The learning curve is steep and formidable, but I am ably assisted my my friend Michael Scott with entering the blogosphere. 

The adventure in 1/32 scale continues with the airframe exterior: The Spitfire’s Merlin engine is in place, but I decided I wanted to shoot a coat of primer on the model when I realized I needed to mask off the engine.  Next, the canopy windscreen and rear sections were attached, and with the main cockpit opening stuffed, I painted the frames with RAF interior grey-green.

The 20mm Hispano Cannon Barrels seen here, are the turned brass items from Master Crafters and they are gems.  They have been super-glued in place here, along with the brass “plugs” that cover the “C” Wing second cannon position.  All this brass work will be covered in a coat of primer before the main exterior painting starts (soon, I hope).  It almost seems a shame though, as you have to see the brass items up close top appreciate what a great job Master Crafters did on these. Just lovely.

The prop hub components are shown next, all suitably painted with a little “Detailer” water based black ink applied, to make the aluminum paint look more like real metal items.