One building material that continues to surprise me is
craft foam sheeting. This stuff is inexpensive, feather
light, flexible, and super-easy to cut, and it glues easily
with foam-safe CA. It is my go-to material for items that
need to look like curved metal, such as ammo chutes. I’ve
also used it for radio boxes, louvers, and fake stringers/
stiffeners in fuselages. Another bonus (if it is a space that
you have to get into once in a while) is that these pieces
are flexible, not brittle, so they bend instead of breaking
off. It is easy to bend, and with a little heat from a heat
gun, it stays that way. Metallic paint creates a convincing
item made out of metal.
Almost all modelers are aware of JB Weld. A longtime
friend of mine, Olen Rutherford, enlightened me regarding
JB Weld for use as an inexpensive substitute for Milliput,
the fine scale epoxy modeling compound. JB Weld is a
bit runnier—at first. But after it starts to set, it is quite
malleable for at least half an hour or more, which is
usually enough time to sculpt finer items like knobs,
door latches, and even control yokes. It’s great for most
things you could use epoxy compound for but at about
a 10th of the price. The downside is that it can be heavy
used in quantity, but for small items, it isn’t a problem. It
can even be used to give a better shape to an existing
part. You can shape a control yoke, for example, out of
coat-hanger wire, then coat it in JB Weld, which can then
be shaped thin or thick to arrive at the correct shape.
When cured, it can be sanded, filed, and drilled to arrive at
the desired shape.
Another excellent material for adding texture is gel CA.
This stuff won’t run! It is awesome for building, but I find it
also great for putting down rivets, buttons, and switches
that are down low in the cockpit and are not too closely
looked at. Sometimes we are just going for texture and
not accuracy. Dip a pin, toothpick, or a juice-box straw in
a bit of gel CA and dab it in lines for rivets. Then give it a
spritz of accelerator and it’s permanent.
Gradients. I have observed that any object painted a solid
color, no matter the color, is boring. But if you modulate
that color, by making it a just a little darker or a little
lighter in one direction or another, it grabs the eye.
My least favorite way to paint is with an airbrush
because, let’s face it, an airbrush can be a finicky pain-in-the-tuckus; however, it can give you subtle gradients
like nothing else can. One of the best ways to achieve a
subtle gradient with an airbrush is to start with your base
color and, as you move upward, add a little white or gray to
the color directly in the color cup of the airbrush. Darken
your colors more toward the corners as well. Again, to
mimic light and corners in airplanes, get darker with a little
dirt and grime here and there.
Shading. After applying a base coat with subtle shading, I
usually follow with a dark wash to enhance shadows and
to bring out panel lines and other details. I almost always
use water-based acrylic paint, so be aware that some of
this won’t work with oil-based paints or enamels.
Dry brushing. Also known as highlighting, dry brushing
is the counterpart to shading. Now that you are thinking
you ruined your cockpit by making everything look too
dark, this part lightens things right up. Remember earlier,
when I mentioned texture? All the raised bits are going to
grab the little bit of the light paint from your brush and will
How to make scale cockpits
Working on one item at a time, you can really add realism to the pilot’s front office. (Airplane built by P. J. Ash)
Here is a Corsair with a Best Pilot in the seat. You don’t have to worry about any of the details covered up by
your pilot figure. There’s still a lot to look at around the pilot. Subtle highlighting makes a big difference.