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Weathering uniforms

by Mark Bannerman

In recent months, I have received several emails asking about ways to approach weathering and dirtying clothing on figures; specifically, for showing mud, fading, stains, dirt, etc.

Bill Horan makes excellent use of enamels for weathering his figures. He weathers all of his figures and always ensures that it is not overdone. His approach is to mix "flesh" and earth toned Humbrol paints into the semi-wet base colour he uses for the uniforms. With slow and meticulously placed jabs and pokes of the paint brush, he blends the earth colours into the base by varying the colour tones – adding lighter and darker colour shades. This approach, combined with carefully controlled and strategically placed washes of enamel earth tones, goes a long way to achieving realistic faded and dirty areas on clothing.

Of course, there are many approaches and different techniques depending on the medium (acrylics, oils or enamels) you opt to use. Here I'll deal with a "quick and dirty" approach to weathering clothing which I use.

My choice of medium for dirtying clothing is enamels. My reason for this is that I find it the simplest to use, it dries extremely flat and matt and it is manageable. Also, because of the extended drying period of enamels (over acrylics), application of enamels can be "reversed".

Once a figure is completely painted - be it in acrylics, enamels or oils - I proceed to work on the uniform to transform it from a "parade" clean-looking uniform to a weather beaten, dirty and dusty uniform. Before applying the weathering, consider the terrain, the circumstances, and the degree of weathering you want to achieve: it can easily be overdone. The golden rule is that "less is more".

I used Jaguar figures - designed by Yoshitaka Hirano - with Hornet heads and a few other small alterations - hands, arms etc. As I am depicting a Karkhov scene, both would need to show considerable wear and tear. The first figure (pointing) was painted entirely in Humbrol paints - a green-greyish mix for the jacket and a blue-ish grey for the trousers. The highlights and shadows were completed (adding black to the base colour of the jacket, dark grey shadows for the trousers, and white in both instances fore the highlights). After all had dried, I decided where to show the wear and tear - and decided on the knees, the bottom of his jacket, his boots and his elbows.

Firstly, the lower half of his jacket. To depict dried mud, I used Humbrol 72 (Khaki Drill), Humbrol 29 (Dark Earth), and Humbrol 61 (Matt Flesh). I reached to the bottom of each tin with a tooth pick and placed a bit of the residue at the bottom of the tin onto a palette.

I then proceeded to mix a bit of Humbrol 26 with Humbrol 72 in a 50/50 ratio. I placed a bit of paint on my "00" brush, removed the excess (similar to the amount of paint you would typically need on your brush for drybrushing armour) and proceeded to lightly jab the paint onto the lower jacket. At first, it may seem as though no paint is adhering at all. This is fine and perfectly normal. Next, I added a bit of Humbrol "flesh" to the mix and again, removed the excess paint and lightly jabbed the brush onto the same lower area of the jacket going all the way around. I probably jabbed the brush 100 times going all around the jacket. I then added Humbrol 34 (Matt White) to the mix and repeated the step. It is ideal to go from a dark tone on the lower part of the jacket working your way up to a lighter tone on the upper section to depict dried mud/dirt on the top and fresh mud/dirt at the bottom.

The trick is to ensure that the paint application is kept very light with each jab, avoiding at all costs scrubbing the brush back and forth and if it appears not enough paint is not adhering,

The same technique was used for the trousers and elbows with the exception of starting with a circular pattern of lighter dirt tones (Humbrol Khaki drill mixed with Matt White) and working your way to the centre of the knee cap and elbow, finishing off with Humbrol 29 neat in the centre part. Again, always keep as little paint on the brush as possible, keeping it all subtle.

If you applied too much dirt, there are two ways to reverse this. You can either "mute" or cover the effect by jabbing some of the original uniform base colour to tone it down or use a little thinner to remove the excess paint. I would suggest the first option as this carries less risk of messing up your work.
The figure is still in progress - but at this point, the weathering process is complete.

On the second figure, I painted the figure's trousers with Vallejo paints. I wanted to keep the weathering minimal but also wanted to accentuate dirt on the knee area as much as possible whilst keeping it realistic. In this instance, I used two colour combinations - Humbrol 26 and Humbrol Flesh. I proceeded with the very same technique as above but keeping the paint in one area - almost in a circular pattern. I jabbed the Humbrol 26 straight out of the tin and added Humbrol Flesh in minute quantities, I was able to draw different tones within a very small area.

Pastel chalks do have their purposes for weathering AFV/armour but unfortunately they are not the best for depicting wear and tear on uniforms. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, at close glance chalks tend to look as though they are sitting on the surface of the uniform and were applied as an afterthought. The result one is trying to achieve is to show "ground-in" dirt. Secondly, pastels are not permanent, so any exposure, handling or otherwise would quickly ruin the effect. Also, pastels can sometimes obliterate well executed highlights and shadows.

Moreover, the jabbing motion is critical because it gets the paint into those hard-to-get-to nooks and crannies. The stroking of a brush back and forth - like drybrushing - to apply dirt and mud results in only the highlight areas receiving the treatment. Also, the back and forth motion of the brush creates nasty brushmarks, another undesirable effect.