Compass:  A Guidance Tool

Contributing Editor: Joe "vecojoe" Wagner
Fifth Installment In This Series
Here are a few of the "impressionistic" techniques that I've used in my own
scale airplane modeling. For lightweight free flight types, if dyed tissue in a reasonably close simulation of the "real plane" color isn't available, I cut
white tissue to "covering panel size" (plus a few extras); lay them flat on a
fiberglass window screen (devoted exclusively to this work), and airbrush
them sopping wet with liquid fabric dye mixed to the required shade.

This both colors and pre-shrinks the tissue. The fiberglass screen seems to
provide JUST the right amount of "surface tension adhesion" so that the
tissue remains reasonably smooth as it dries. (Its shrinkage on the screen
is about half the "usual shrinkage". Thus this process helps avoid surface
warping in lightweight structures, such as "Earl Stahl type" scale rubber models.)

For power models I prefer dope. That allows me to mix and blend colors
as necessary for maximum realism.
For example, I add a little black and
yellow to my white dope. That's because the titanium dioxide pigment used
in today's white paint is far brighter than the zinc oxide and similar
agents" of pre - 1950 airplane finishes

I also "dull down" most other color dopes I use. I prefer achieving "
that way than to paint my models in bright, "pure" hues, then add
over that.

I've tried MANY ways of applying insignia and other markings to my models.
I used to favor colored tissue appliques for my free flight airplanes. But the dyes used in commercially-available covering tissue are quite fugitive. Even black will fade away to a faint grey in a few years.

Decals are OK for a few purposes, though they lack durability. Computer
cut vinyl stick-ons work well. (VinylWrite's are one brand I've tried with
excellent results.) But especially for large models, decals & stick-ons look artificial to me. They're too perfect to provide the impression of the"real   thing".

My preferred method today of adding markings to my models -- scale and
non-scale both -- is to paint those freehand directly onto the airplane.
That takes me less time than it would to mask and "unmask", & I have
no bleed under worries. As for patterns, I draw those up full-size & Xerox
as many copies as I think I'll need -- plus a few more "just in case".

Transferring the marking outlines to the airplane can be done several
ways. "Saral paper" (a sort of "carbon paper" used by artists) is available
in various colors. (It's easy to see yellow outlines on a dark blue background.)

Another way to transfer insignia outlines is by using the Xeroxed patterns
like stencils, with "china marking pencils" to trace the shapes. The Xerox "stencil" can be hinged with bits of masking tape, so it can be swung aside during the painting; and re-positioned as necessary for multi-color

I paint the outlines with a sable watercolor brush. Fine detail needs a #0
or even #00. Once the outlines are done, the "body" of the markings can
be filled in with a larger brush. The slight irregularities that freehand
insignia painting inevitably produces help a lot to make my models look
"real". After all, the full-size airplane's markings were applied in much
the same way.

One further aid to realism in scale model airplanes is avoiding glossiness. With few exceptions (such as the gaudily-decorated U. S. Army and Navy aircraft of the 1930's) pre-1950 airplane finishes were generally matte.

Most war-time airplanes had particularly non-reflective finishes -- with a goodly share of blemishes as well. Combat airplanes were never intended
for "concours" competition!