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.