Thinking Scenically Part V

Bringing out the Details

By Bob Beaty, MMR 

October 17, 2002

Steel City Division 

We often add details to a scene, continue on with the scenery process and later go back and wonder where the details went.  That is because these individual items of detail, trash, cans, junk etc have the same muted colors as their surroundings.   In order to see ‘em you need to SEE ‘EM!  This a method to make these things “pop out.” 

What you will need:

    Alcohol (rubbing or denatured)

    Chalks or weathering powders, at least rust and black

    White or cream acrylic (water based) paint

    A small flat semi-stiff brush or 2

    The standard darkening solution (India Ink diluted in alcohol)

    A paint mixing surface                           

    Paper towels


If the detail parts are metal they will need to be washed and primed with a neutral color (gray).   If you are using resin castings like from Sierra West or ones you made yourself, these will need the mold release washed off, priming is not absolutely necessary but will help the materials adhere. 

Lay the parts out on the workbench, you can do several at a time.  Color specific parts as desired.  You can also paint these  with Floquil or with other acrylic colors.  After you have added basic colors allow to dry.  You can add a spray of the darkening solution, this will seep into the cracks and accentuate the shadows.  These probably look pretty good now but  now the fun begins. 

Dip your brush into the alcohol then into the chalk and apply to the detail part as if painting.  You can scrub it into the detail or layer it for a built up effect.  Do this with as many colors as you may desire (or have).  Remember if it doesn’t look right at this stage, you can take it to the sink and wash it off and start over. 

The key to making these details stand out is to accentuate the high spots where light would reflect off it back to you.  But because we are talking a model part of detail we have to over do it slightly in order for our viewers to really see it. Think of black rivets on a black car or raised letters on a detail part.  These small details will fade into the over-all colors if not augmented in some way. Here is where the dry brush technique brings out these details and set this item apart form a “just painted” one. 

Put a small amount of the white acrylic paint onto your palette or mixing surface.  Wet you brush then dry it almost completely.  You want it damp not water logged.  Dip the brush into the paint covering both sides of the tip edge.  Now wipe it all (almost) off on the paper towel.  You want just enough paint to lightly mark you wrist if you drag the brush across it but not make a complete paint stripe.  Too much paint?  Wipe of some more.  Now you are ready to highlight. 

Use a light touch, and gently drag the brush’s flattened tip over the details, leaving just a hint of paint on the raised surface.  It does not take a lot, but if you are not careful and light handed you will get more than you want.  You can wash or wipe it off and start over.  Add as much as you think necessary.  This is as much artist’s eye as it is technique.  You are emphasizing the highlights just as you emphasized the shadows with the diluted ink.

Back to Clinics