by Chub Pearson

Reproduced from the book 'The World of 43rd'
a complete guide to building model cars available from


In many ways figure painting has more in common with painting a picture than it does with car modelling. Highlights and shadows, texture and depth are needed, but these are easily observed from photos etc. 1:43rd modellers will already have all the dexterity needed, and there are straightforward techniques for achieving good results. By using two or three shades of colour and a wash technique, the model can spring to life, giving a close interpretation of the real thing. Car interiors and engine compartments can also benefit enormously from these techniques. I've seen too many plain brown car seats!

The first step is to relate the scale of the figures with the amount of detail you will try to represent when painting. Take a good close look at a 1:43rd figure, holding it about eight inches from your eye. If you scale this up it is equivalent to a real person standing nearly thirty feet away. Small lettering on the overalls will cease to be legible, the eye detail will vanish into the shadow of the eye socket, etc. Find some pictures of people in magazines that are the same size as a 1:43rd scale figure and you'll see what I mean. The point I'm making, although I know many people will disagree, is that if you paint in details that would not appear in reality (especially eye detail) your figure will then take a step toward caricature. So you need to decide whether what you are trying to represent in your modelling is reality or a sort of technicolour version of it. It's similar to the high gloss/low gloss argument about car bodies. A car outside viewed from thirty feet or more away however polished has very little apparent gloss. You need to be much closer than that to see it, so I remain firmly in the low gloss camp. I want that first impression when someone looks at my models to be "My, that looks real", not "My, that's got a shiny body".

Once the figure has had all its mould lines cleaned up, it should be primed in white. It's a good idea to give it a good scrub with an old toothbrush in warm water and detergent to get the surface perfectly clean. I now use the cans of White Primer you can get at motor accessory shops for full size vehicles. These paints are now all acrylic, where they used to be cellulose, give a good solid white and provide an excellent key for the paint to go on top. They also add an extra brightness to reds and yellows.
Keep the head separate from the figure. I mount the figure either in a pin vice, or I use strips cut from the thick plastic card you can get from any model shop. Drilling a slightly undersize hole in the card means the peg on the figure will hold it in place while you are spraying it. Helmets too can be mounted in this way.

Basic Brush Technique:
Tend towards expensive brushes not cheap ones. The artificial hair (sable like) artists brushes are the best ones I've found. Size is a matter of choice. As long as a brush has a good point there's not much you can't do with a No. 2, but the sizes go right down to 00000, and these tiny ones can be useful for small lettering, etc.
All brushes start off perfectly straight, but rapidly develop a curve at the tip. Very slight at first, but it's always there once the brush has been used. Always make sure this curve is trailing when you paint a line. The brush will follow the line much easier than if you hold it the other way round, with the curve going down towards the surface of the figure. If you're painting into a corner however (touching up logo patches for example), you'll get a better result if you turn the curve down, putting the tip into the corner and drawing the brush away. And always rehearse the movement of actually painting, moving the brush just above the surface making sure that the movement along the line you want is easy and natural, changing the position until it is (which involves some contortions from rime to time!), before actually putting the brush to the surface.

Don't Wobble!
There's a lot of painting straight lines and edges involved in painting drivers, especially the modern ones with all their decorations. Always paint with your hands locked together in some way. That way you may still shake, but the brush and the figure will shake at the same speed! I'm left handed, so I hold the figure in a pin vice in my right hand and then rest my left (brush) hand against the palm of my right hand. This leaves the thumb and forefinger holding the brush free to move yet maintains a link between the brush and the object being painted, which I can also turn if necessary. Putting both elbows on the table can also help to steady the hands.

Using Varnish:
It's a good idea to put a coat of satin varnish over all the parts of the figure that will stay white before painting any straight lines or regular curves. The varnish over the area will both protect the paint below and allow the paint on top to be lifted off cleanly if necessary. Matt paint has a very 'grippy' surface, and if you try to remove a colour from on top it will tend to just spread the colour around. You'll never get it all off cleanly. Satin varnish has a much smoother surface, so the semi-dry paint on top will not adhere strongly. Always varnish over any white clothing before going near it with any shading or washes.
If (or more likely when!) you do have a twitch at the wrong moment and mess up a curve or line, leave the mistake alone and concentrate on finishing the curve. Once the paint is half dry (gone flat if it's matt), get together a small clean brush, a small container of thinners, and some absorbent material. I cover my workbench with old newspaper which is ideal. Dip the brush in the thinners, draw it across the newspaper a couple of times to mop up the surplus thinners, then, approaching the curve from the opposite side to the one you've just painted draw the brush up towards the blotched area so it lifts the paint back towards the proper line. After each contact with the paint twirl the brush in the thinners again and wipe it on the paper to remove any traces, otherwise you'll just put paint back onto the figure. Sometimes I'll deliberately overpaint the line and then take it back again in this way as it's often easier to get the curve right when taking paint off rather than putting it on. Thin lines can be painted by concentrating on one edge while painting, then returning with this technique to slowly pare back the line to whatever thinness you need.
There are times when it's simpler to make the correction with the original colour over the top, but you'll need enough thickness of paint to cover, and the principle of the less coats the better gives a better finish makes taking the paint off a more attractive proposition than putting more on wherever possible.
So the first move is to put a coat of satin varnish over all the parts of the figure that will remain white, i.e. overall logos, cuffs, etc. With helmets it's easiest to varnish the whole thing. This varnishing can be repeated whenever one stage is complete before going on to the next, both to seal off the work you've done and to make it easier to correct any mistakes in the next stage.

Marking out:
Once the varnish is dry mark out the edges of the patches on the overalls using a well sharpened very soft pencil. This has a double benefit. It will be far easier to paint around them with the line to guide you, as you won't have to worry about the placing of the outline, leaving you free to concentrate on the painting itself. Also, all the paints are opaque to a degree, particularly reds and yellows, so the pencil line will show through enough to give an edge to the patch even when it's painted. It'll look more as if it's on the overalls rather than part of them. Make sure everything's symmetrical before committing yourself to paint. If you get it wrong the pencil marks rub off easily (use a putty rubber if you have one, as you can make a tiny little point with the rubber).

Basic Colours:
Always have the figure mounted in some way. Pin vices are ideal' but you can also use a bit of dowel with a hole drilled in the end to take the figure. Avoid handling the surface as much as you can. If your skin can take it it helps to wash your hands with washing up liquid beforehand as this takes all the natural oil from the skin. Some skins react to it, but you'll already know that from all the washing up you've done, won't you fellas! This oil does transmit though, however small the amount, and wherever it gets onto the figure it'll attract dirt and the next coat of paint won't cover or adhere so well.
Paint on the main colour of the overalls. It'll need two coats to get a good cover, on the second coat leave the top surfaces for the lighter shade. If the boots are the same colour as the overalls, they look much more distinct if you make them a slightly darker shade.
I use enamel paints rather than acrylic. I'm used to them, and I like the longer drying time, so I've never bothered with acrylics, but all the same techniques apply, with the sole exception that oil paints won't mix directly with acrylics, which are water based, whereas enamels, being oil based, will.

Have a good look at some pictures to see how the colours change with the shadows and highlights, stark shadows in high summer, softer by far in the rain at Donington.
There are three methods of achieving shading, usually done in this order:
1 - by painting on a darker shade of the colour to all the undersides of the figure. Simply darken the main colour and paint it wherever the light would be weakest. Between the legs, under the arms, the chest if the figure's leaning forward. Looking at the figure upside down helps. Large creases can be shaded where they overlap. When darkening paint try to use a complementary dark colour rather than just bunging in some black. Reds need dark brown, yellows benefit from an ochre wash, particularly Transparent Gold Ochre (TGO). White is a problem to shade, as grey just makes it look dirty, but light grey shading with some TGO carefully applied works well, as does a very thin wash of TGO but not on the top surfaces, leaving a pure white highlight.
2 - by using wash techniques where darker shades are run over the surface. Artist's oil paints are better for this than enamels, the paint seems to break down finer when thinned. But they do take longer to dry. Mix up a darker shade of your main colour and dilute it thoroughly with thinners, thinner than ink, dip a brush in this, touch the point against the container to take off the surplus, then if you touch it to any crease or recessed line on the figure it will flow along that line from the point of the brush darkening it. The edges of a belt, for example, a touch of the brush, and a dark line whizzes half way around the figure. Sometimes you put on too much, but then if you wipe the brush and then put it back it will reabsorb the paint just as readily. Any smudges can be lifted off with a clean brush and thinners if you've varnished over the area again before you start. Washes always dry much lighter than they first appear. Always satin varnish over any surface before using washes. On bare matt the wash will smudge and be difficult to remove.
3 - by drybrushing to add highlights. This involves using semi dried paint, and this is where the longer drying time of enamels comes into its own. Lighten the shade. The paint needs to be tacky on the brush, which should be lightly wiped flat, and then drawn over the area to be highlighted as flat to it as possible. Paint will only be transferred to the highest points. With larger areas you can almost scrub the paint on. If you have to thin the paint, be careful when you reapply the brush as it will go on much more freely. All the top surfaces should be highlighted in this way.

1: Primed and marked out in pencil
2: Main colours blocked in
3 & 4: Washes added, logo colours, boot detail
5: Lettering detail added

Once you've given the helmet a coat of gloss varnish and let it dry thoroughly, draw out the basic pattern in pencil in the same way as the overalls. If the helmet's in a pin vice lines around the helmet are simple as you just rotate the helmet while dotting it with the pencil. Then you can block in the main colours, making any corrections as described under "Varnishes" above. Always leave any white areas. For instance, if you've a basically yellow helmet with a white logo on it, draw the outline of the logo in pencil and when painting the yellow go round the logo leaving it white. The pencil line will show through giving the eye a 'key' which tells the viewer it's a square patch on a yellow surface. The edges don't even need to be terribly precise. Don't paint all over yellow then go back to paint the white later. The lightest colours always go first. Once you're satisfied, another coat of varnish, left to dry before going for the finer detail. Lines running around the helmet should be painted as thin as you can initially, concentrating on the 'white' edge. Any deviation in the line will be much more apparent than it was in pencil, so keep a watchful eye on the symmetry. The thinner the initial line the more room you have for manoeuvre. Curves are always easier to paint from the inside.

1: Primed and marked out in pencil
2: Main colour blocked in with rough edges
3: Edges tidied up before the paint has dried
4: The visor has been painted black leaving a white strip for the lettering and secondary colour added to the helmet
5: Add the lettering, and paint in the black edging around the face aperture and the base of the helmet

Faces and Hands:

Using Humbrol red brown No. 133 and matt white make a mix slightly lighter than the skin tone you want (it will darken as it dries). Use your own hand as a guide. Paint this on, then adding a little more white highlight the upper surfaces on the hands and the forehead, the ridge of the nose and the chin. The colour will be too pink and flat looking when it dries, but that will be corrected by oil washes later. Leave it to dry thoroughly. If you want to paint in eye detail, don't use white for the whites of the eyes, but pale blue or brown depending on the eye colour. Pure white will look far too garish to be real. Two washes are needed. Firstly a dark brown one (50% Black 50% Brown Madder Ahz). Run that around the hair line and neckline, with a touch on each eye. On the hands use it at the wrist and between the fingers. The second wash is one (or more) of Transparent Gold Ochre. Wash this all over the flesh colour. It will give a tanning effect over the pinkishness of the colour and add a slight sheen which will be more like skin. The more you repeat it, the more tanned the skin will appear. But let it dry between each coat, or it'll just wash off again each time.

Advertising Logos:
Satin varnish over before starting. You should aim to get the larger lettering fairly legible, but smaller signs will only be dotted in. For example, the Marlboro sign on a drivers back would be large enough to read, whereas the smaller ones on his arms and chest would not be. With lettering, use the smallest brush possible (0000 or 00000) and thin the paint well enough for it to flow easily. Do the vertical strokes of the letters first, starting at the centre of the word and working out. The sloping and horizontal lines go in afterwards. The height can be evened out simply by painting a white (background colour) line across the top and bottom (easy), or by lifting the paint oil with thinners (somewhat trickier!). With small wording, just painting vertical lines (capitals etc.) and dots lower case) will give a good representation. Marlboro would thus become line line dot dot line line/dot dot dot dot, and will look like it says Marlboro. A yellow square with a black dot in makes a Ferrari badge. A red circle with a yellow centre looks like a Shell logo. White lettering on a black or dark background can be done in reverse, by leaving a white oblong when painting the background - see the visor in the pictures of the helmets - then filling in the detail between the letters in the background colour rather than putting in the letters themselves.
Finally, once the helmet has been glued in place give the overalls a coat of matt varnish to get rid of the satin finish from the varnishing, and go over the helmet and visor with a good coat of gloss.

Always remember that there are no hard and fast rules for creating a lifelike image, everyone develops their own techniques with experience. I've just tried to give a basic starting point for you to begin to form your own.

Colour Shading Chart:

Darker Shade
Light grey plus TGO
Add white
Add Raw Sienna
TGO , Raw Sienna
Add yellow
Add dark brown
Brown Madder Aliz + black
Add light blue
Add darker blue or black
Ultramarine + black
Add lighter green
Add darker green or black
Dark green + black

TGO = Transparent Gold Ochre (Winsor & Newton)
Suggested Oil Paints: Transparent Gold Ochre. Black. Brown Madder Aliz. Ultramarine. Raw Sienna.
Humbrol enamels will mix quite happily with oil points, so only the Transparent Cold Ochre, Row Sienna and Black are really essential.
© Marsh Models 1994.