Learning to Paint
Improving the painting techniques with the Fujimi 1/72 Stuka
I bought this 1/72 Fujimi Ju 87 Stuka kit some years ago,
because I wanted to have a training model, to practice painting, decaling
and weathering. I have no special interest in the Stuka, and that made it
to a perfect training object!
I decided beforehand to paint the model according to the Fujimi instructions only, without trying to find a photo of the real aircraft. This was a deliberate choice, to focus the work on the painting, decaling and weathering, and not drown in research. For me this is unusual as I advocate quite the opposite approach. Personally I think that too many modellers build their models without trying to find a photo of the actual aircraft they are building which sometimes results in paint schemes which are way off the ones you can see on wartime photographs.
Anyway, my model portrays a Stuka of the Geschwaderstab of Stukageschwader 3 (St.G3), flown by the Geschwaderkommodore Oberstleutnant Walter Sigel. Hence the model's 'S7+AA' code. It was stationed in Derna, Libya in summer 1942 - or at least that's what Fujimi says!
The model generally fitted well with only minor construction problems with the fit of the canopy parts. Although I tried really hard to build it as a out-of-the-box model, I could not resist a few small modifications. These included adding an extra panel line to the spinner and a new landing light.
According to the plan, I was rapidly getting to the painting stage.
A major preparation job was to mask the canopy. I used adhesive aluminium foil, not Bare Metal Foil but Cheap Chocolate Foil. Due to the large number of panes in the Stuka's canopy, this masking consumed many hours, but the end result looked really cool. The adjacent photo below shows the forward canopy covered in foil. Also visible is some of the puttying and shimming during construction.
Painting stage 1 (abortive)
Then the painting drama started. I started off with Humbrol matt enamels. The base coat of a sort-of RLM65 turned out very grainy. I decided to rub down to model with 1200 sandpaper, a very tedious job. And because I sanded through the paint in some places, I had to repaint it. More grainy paint. I then decided to continue with the top colors, and to try to smooth out the grainy paint later with gloss clear coats. Next was one of the greens, I don't recall whether it was 70 or 71. That paint resulted in an even grainier surface, close to 300 sandpaper! The corners between fuselage and wings were the worst. This was completely unacceptable, and I put the model away. Months later I stripped the paint off the model using NaOH (sodium hydroxide), and swore never to use matt Humbrol paints again. Note that I had painted models successfully with Humbrol satin paints before, and I did not expect problems of this magnitude with matt paints. Perhaps I'll once learn a trick to avoid grainy paint.
Painting stage 2 (change of paint)
Perhaps a year later I bought some Model Master II enamels. These semi-gloss paints turned out to spray very easily, and I took my stripped Stuka out of the box. I had to mask the canopy again with adhesive aluminium foil, since the masks had been damaged in the paint stripping process. The masking was however different from the masking shown earlier. In the mean time I had learned that part of the canopy framing was internal. I therefore masked the panels in such a way that only the external frames would receive camouflage colors. Contrary to common practice of starting with the lightest color, I decided to paint the top colors (70 and 71) first. I started with 71, and achieved a very nice smooth paint coat. This made me very enthusiastic again! Finally a paint that worked for me.
Then I spent many hours on the masking of the splinter camo, exactly following the Fujimi pattern. I laid down the pattern using Tamiya tape. However, airbrushing at this point would result in a small ridge of paint against the tape. Therefore I added another layer of tape exactly on top of the first layer of tape, and lastly a third layer of tape which had an overlap of some 0.5 millimeters. Only then I sprayed the RLM 70. With the paint a mere 10 minutes old I removed the masking (I was so curious), and found a very nice result. There was no paint ridge, and the ´hard edge´ between the two colors was just a trifle ´soft edged´ to make it look realistic. Definitely a technique I will use again. However, I was surprised by the huge contrast between the two colors. Some color checking later revealed that Model Master's RLM 70 and 71 deviate quite a lot from accepted FS matches. Oh well. The photo shows the result of the painting.
Time for RLM 65. I used tape masking on the wings, and Blu-Tack sausages on the fuselage. The third paint layer went on pretty nice too, and no bleeding from the dark colors underneath. So much for the standard technique of starting with the lightest color, and ending with the darkest color. I like these Model Master paints a lot, the colors matches less though. Note that the wheels are still wrapped in aluminium foil.
At this point I decided to make things a little difficult. Somehow I wanted to make the model show that the brown RLM79 spots were added 'in-theatre' over the existing markings. Question was how the ground crew would have handled such a task. Would they have sprayed around existing markings, or would they have taped them off? A study of East front winter camouflages showed both techniques (here I go digging in my reference books again). I decided to try to simulate spray painting around the markings. Thus it was time to add most of the decals now. First though I painted the white North African band. The band was masked and sprayed white.
Decals stage 1 (a recovered failure)
Being completely unfamiliar with Fujimi decals, I first performed some tests on a scrap model I had painted along with the Stuka. These tests revealed a lot of problems. I tried combinations of Micro Sol, Micro Set, Future, polishing the paint, and some more. Although Sol did seem to soften the decals, they wouldn't pull into panel lines themselves. 'Helping' the decals with a needle worked, but also risked tearing the decal. When I thought I had developed a technique that worked good enough, I started with the wing crosses. The results were mediocre; they didn't want to conform much to the surface, and adhesion was poor.
Next were the fuselage codes. These would cross numerous panel lines, and I didn't want to take risks there. So I tried a new technique: cutting the decal wherever it crossed a panel line. The cutting was difficult to measure, but it worked; a technique to remember. However this decal silvered very badly, despite all my precautions. The only solution was to overpaint the affected areas with a tiny brush. I had only one decal left: the fuselage code for the left side. And only then I found the solution for the silvering problem: I wiped off the decal glue, and attached the decal with Future. Finally it worked! But still I had to cut up the decal. After drying, I filled in the cuts in the decal with black and blue paint using a tiny brush. This improved the appearance a lot.
This left only a few decals. First I added Xtradecal swastikas to the fin. Then the Werknummer was cut in two (horizontally) and added to the fin tip. Fujimi's decals for the letters 'A' on the landing gear spats were way too large, and I replaced them with A's from a 'ROYAL NAVY' decal from an old Matchbox Lynx (I think). The only decals left off were the "AA" markings on the left fuselage side, and "S7" markings on the right side. These would be added after the RLM79 patches. Finally I added a layer of Humbrol Satin clear (135) to blend in all the decals. Despite all the problems it looked pretty good.
The photo shows the Fujimi decals of the fuselage code and the Werknummer (both cut in pieces), and the Xtradecal swastika that conformed using conventional means (Micro Set and Sol). Note however that the photo was taken after weathering and the painting of the RLM 79 patches.
Weathering stage 1 (abortive again)
I had planned to use pastels to weather this model. I knew about the discolouring effect of subsequent clear coats, so I made some test samples to judge the changes. Armed with that knowledge I went ahead. The first try was way too subtle, and after a clear coat all traces of pastel had disappeared. For the second try I mixed some pastels, and applied these more liberally. A clear coat revealed that on RLM70 nothing was left of the pastel powder, but on the RLM71 is looked like sh!t (literally). At this point I promised myself I would never try it again; the technique had worked brilliantly on my YF-23, but failed on the Bf 109, Me 163 and now the Stuka.
Plan B was to achieve the desired 'anti-monochromatic finish' by using paint. For this purpose I mixed the basic colors with all kinds of greys, browns and greens, and painted (scrubbed) these on the model in a randomly fashion. In some places the effect was too strong, and straight paint was scrubbed over the affected areas. The decals were treated the same way, which made them blend into the paint job considerably. Another layer of Humbrol 135 was necessary to cancel out different degrees of glossiness, and only then I was able to judge the result. It looked good enough, better than my Me 163. The adjacent photo tries to capture the painting technique, but it doesn't do a good job.