Whither Weathering?

Like many modellers, over the years I’ve become involved in various projects  that seemed like a good idea at the time.  One of these was what became known as the ‘six week train set’ on RMweb, and one of the more positive outcomes of that  involvment was a thread dealing with the preparation of the rolling stock.

In line with the whole project, 6WTS used basic, tried and tested techniques that would suit someone looking to move on from a raw beginner, and in fact were pretty closely aligned to how I got started in this game.   I first dabbled in the black art back in my teens, when weathering articles in the modelling press were pretty thin on the ground; probably the biggest single influence was one by Derek Shore, whose ‘Avondale, Waterfoot and Creston’ layout appeared in the ‘Modeller in the early ’70s.

Many of us in this hobby have sticking points with various things; the biggest one is usually just getting started and in that respect, I’m all for anything that can unstick you. The content here starts with a summation of a few points to get across some basic aspects;  I suppose you could look at it as a ‘taster’, in that it’ll either whet your appetite to find out more, or put you off altogether!  What appears on these pages isn’t as extensive as 6WTS, but hopefully it’s more concise.

The whole RMweb thread is located at http://www.rmweb.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=86&t=17068&hilit=6wts.   Although it takes time to wade through, the organic Q&A aspect makes for an enjoyable read; unfortunately at the time of writing, its continued accessibility seems doubtful. 

The finishes applied on these pages won’t be anywhere near as thoroughgoing as some that you’ll have seen.  Nor will they immediately turn you into a virtuoso at the subject; that takes persistence and practice and a willingness to serve a kind of  ‘apprenticeship’.  This is very much a ‘stripped down’ approach, a return to the basics that I used and began to develop more years ago than I care to think about.  It probably also warrants mention that the methods are principally based around 4mm scale; they will adapt to 2mm with a lighter touch and more impressionist approach but conversely, in 7mm I suspect that more detailed work might be needed to be convincing.

Rather than treat each vehicle as a ‘start-to-finish’ project in itself, 6WTS was set out in a modular approach that can be applied to just about any ordinary-ish wagon of your choosing.  Any complex task becomes easier if you can split it into smaller stages, and the visible parts of most common or garden wagons effectively break down into easily recognisable components: the underframe, the side/end sheeting, and the roof or floor/interior.

A sound foundation, involving washes, dry brushing and other techniques, will enable you to get the feel of simple processes and materials. As you build your confidence, you’ll be able to make your own judgments about what will and won’t work, and eventually develop an approach which is largely your own, rather than a slavish copy of mine or anybody else’s.

First then, a few key points as food for thought before you start.  This is the logical place for them, but don’t just read them the once – look back at them often, as you try different things and progress.


*  Firstly understand the terminology.  ‘Weathering’ is not simply a case of making things look disgusting, but is a range of visual effects, which help to both create an illusion of reality and enhance the realism provided by today’s excellently detailed models.

*  Whatever techniques you follow (whether they be mine or someone else’s), you’re not following some ‘recipe’ that will guarantee you success. You can’t acquire experience and judgment by reading, they’re qualities you have to build up for yourself by practical experience.  This means you have to take the plunge and experiment.

*  The usual ‘getout clause’, one which I must have heard a hundred times, is that you don’t want to ruin an expensive loco.  Whilst that’s perfectly understandable, you really can’t hide behind this one.  Cheap swapmeet wagons are ideal for sloshing about with in your very first trials, and after that, current generation Bachmann equivalents can be had brand new for the price of a couple of magazines.  They have excellent detail and sound basic finishes that respond very well to weathering treatments.

*   Don’t run before you can walk. Conduct trials with your materials and follow through a limited range of options until you have confidence to try other things. Advanced techniques in particular tend to be less reliable, and diving in too deeply is unlikely to bolster your self-confidence. A simple process, sensitively applied, will always be better than a complex one applied without skill.

*  Similarly, start off by considering a fairly limited range of colours.  Precise shades aren’t too important, but remember that neat black (except in very specific cases) is inadvisable – stick to the warmish greys and browns as detailed further on.  And bear in mind that weathering is much more about the method than the materials – many effects owe much more to patient working and layering of the paint than to using the so called ‘correct’ colours.

*  Any complex task becomes easier if you can split it into smaller stages, which is why 6WTS was presented  in a modular approach.  For various reasons, you shouldn’t really try and do a whole wagon in a single hit – see the next section for one suggestion of how to break the task down according to the construction of the vehicle.


*  Observation is definitely a key point, but tread carefully.  Stock advice that’s often given on weathering is to copy what you see in a photo; whilst it’s undoubtedly sound (in that it definitely pays to have some idea what you’re trying to represent), there can be pitfalls. The newbie is unlikely to have highly developed analytical skills, and can be either blind to or bewildered by the subtle range of hues often evident.  On top of that, some effects just don’t scale down in a literal sense – both the basic techniques here and my own more advanced methods rely on being to some degree interpretive and impressionist.

*  That said, many wagons do have particular constructional features which can be accentuated by careful treatment, so as a start, look to analyse this – which bits were made of wood, which were metal, and where the parts were that would get naturally gunged, knocked and abraded.   From that, you can start to think about the difference you can make in how you paint them – this broad and simple form of texturing will make your models look more like they are actually made up of sheets of plywood, steel sections or whatever, instead of a lump of injection moulded plastic.

So: look at plenty of photos and have some idea what you’re looking to achieve, even if you’re not sure how you’re going to achieve it. But then again, don’t look into things too deeply, not until you feel you really know what you’re looking at.

The milk tank below is not my work, but that of Geoff Forster.  Geoff will readily tell you that he’s learnt from my techniques, but the message here is not to sing my own praises, rather to make the point that he’s taken them on from the basics, using his own observational skills and undoubted artistry on a wagon type that I’ve never personally tackled.  The results (which are further detailed on his own Chronicles of Penhydd blog) speak for themselves:


*  Initially, basic weathering methods will consist of ”wet brush’ and ‘dry brush’ techniques, but as you progress you should soon appreciate that there’s a whole range of variation to be explored between the two extremes.

*  Further to the above, sometimes you might let a wash dry unassisted, in other cases you might want to try wiping or poking them around a bit.   Again, experiment and get the feel for things.

*  Remember to try working your brushes and/or cotton buds in different ways – wiping off washes with varying amounts of pressure and different lengths of stroke, blending paint into a surrounding finish, or stippling it with the bud held ‘end on’ at 90 degrees. Basically, just experiment, and see what happens.

*  Did I say experiment?

*  One point I’ll always emphasise is that you should think in terms of working with the detail, rather than against it.  It’s important to get some sort of weathering mix well into corners, crevices and recesses, and around raised detail – it produces a sort of forced shadow effect and brings it out.

The opposite to this, all too often seen, is the ‘splodging’ effect where a blob of paint, half-heartedly thinned and applied, sits in the middle of a flat panel with little surrounding reference, and as a result looks pretty much like, well, a blob of paint…    Even with a more complex and variegated effect, a ‘lump’ of colour with no surrounding reference can look odd if not done with care.

*  Take a long hard look at it when you’ve finished – and go back over the bits you missed, there will be some!  Similarly, don’t expect to get detailed painting spot on straight away.  Cocktail sticks are very handy for removing paint that’s gone where you didn’t want it to.

*   Don’t have too rigid an idea how you want things, as it can be difficult to predict exactly how things will turn out. But short of a deliberate attempt at annihilation, you’re unlikely to ruin anything; just leave it alone a while, have a think and adapt it into something else.

Lastly, another emphasis on the idea that this is not a ‘recipe’ that will guarantee success, any more than I could be a top chef simply by reading Delia Smith. In theory, these techniques will be so basic that if followed closely, half a dozen modellers should be able to get near-identical results; but that takes no account of individual skill, dexterity and patience levels, which rarely come full-grown and have to be worked at.

A word about paints and stuff

Leading on from the above, for the 6WTS exercise I deliberately used a variety of paint types and colours in otherwise similar situations.   Your model won’t exactly be ruined if you dont reproduce these exactly; rather, the point was that as long as you stay within the spirit, you will along the way develop your own ideas of what looks convincing and what you’re comfortable with.  

I use almost exclusively oil paints (enamels) for my main weathering work.   The sole reason for this is that they’re what I’ve always used, I’m comfortable with them and I don’t have too much trouble getting the results I want with them.  For a long time I’ve used Humbrol, and still do, but I’ve also lately taken to using certain colours of Revell enamels.

I’ve experimented with acrylics, I find they can be useful for blocking in chassis and interiors but for the methods that I’m used to, I find they flash off too quickly to be worked effectively.  I know there are such things as acrylic thinners, and I also know that others get good results with them, but unless I’m in the mood to experiment, I take the view that my time is better spent sticking to what I know.  If you should try them and you get on with them, that’s great; the end result is what matters, it isn’t important how you get there.

Whichever paint you choose, I’d recommend that you initially start off with a fairly limited range of colours and get the feel for them.  Precise shades aren’t too important but remember that neat black (except in very specific cases) is inadvisable – stick to warmish greys and browns. And bear in mind that many effects owe much more to patient working and layering of the paint than to using the so called ‘correct’ colours.

I’ve never used an airbrush, other than weathering track with a cheap Humbrol brush many years ago.  I’ve nothing at all against them, and they are certainly capable of marvellous things in the right hands (although I’ve been told by other weatherers, who do use them, that they won’t do everything).  There’s also a world of difference between a professional painting a Martin Finney kit for the glass case of a well-heeled enthusiast, and the sort of five and ten quid RTR wagons, as seen here, that work for a living.

The main points that I’d make to a newbie are a) that an airbrush is just another tool, and not an essential one at that, and b) that there is a definite learning curve to face.  As it was, I learnt my basic techniques at a time when I couldn’t in any case have afforded a decent airbrush, and I really couldnt be doing with all the faffing, mixing and cleaning. There are many versatile techniques using conventional paint and brushes which will not only serve as a simpler introduction to paint and colour characteristics, but they involve a far lower level of investment, a shallower learning curve and a lower degree of disappointment if things don’t turn out well.

Powders are something else favoured by the tyro weatherer (and often promoted as such) , on the grounds that they can be easily removed if it all goes horribly wrong.  Whilst that’s true to an extent, you’ll be lucky to remove every trace and  if your thinking is that you’re bothered about spoiling a favourite model, then don’t use one – use something cheap and expendable for your first efforts.

Possibly slightly controversially then, I don’t see powders as in any way a primary weathering process.  They generally won’t stick very well to any surface without texture, and I do believe that most people will do better in the longer term if they can summon the courage and determination to learn basic paint-based methods (again, just use a cheap swapmeet model to practice if you’re wary).

Gouaches are another type of paint, more specialised and to be found in art shops rather than model shops.  Like powders, I don’t see them as a primary medium, but I find them very useful (more so than powders) for subtle toning work.  Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate more about them at a later date.

These are not the only choices you can make, nor are my techniques the only ones that you’ll come across.  Whilst I’m happy to promote my methods if it helps  somebody get ‘unstuck’, I try not to evangelise about them and by the same token, I’m uncomfortable if others  do so about theirs.  Like anything in life, if you find materials or methods that you’re comfortable with, you tend to stick with them.  If they work for you, that’s all that really matters.

2 responses to “Whither Weathering?

  1. Robert Bage

    Hello, I’m as new as they come as I registered today.
    I started by reading an articles on weathering a van which made reference to a user product label applied to the van and you commented “more anon”.
    I am at the point of frustration because having then read several of the articles, I can’t find this one.
    Also, have you already expanded on the “more anon” promise and my limited computer skills are preventing me from finding it or is there something planned?
    Great work.

    • Hi Robert. I haven’t yet done the piece on the trader’s labels – good intentions and all that! Thanks very much for your kind words though, and my apologies for causing you frustration.

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