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Painting the Fail Dauntless, Part 1: Three-Layer Blend

July 10, 2010

Last week, I picked up a cheap 1/48 scale Revell SBD Dauntless. The thought behind buying it was that I could use it as a warm up of sorts to get back into the swing of modeling.

So poor it doesn't even bother to specify which model Dauntless it is...SBD-2, SBD-3, etc.

I didn’t realize until I cracked the box just how cheap and crappy the kit really was. Poor fits and flash (excess plastic left on the pieces from a poor injection molding process) abounded. Cockpit detail is sad at best: the Dauntless doesn’t even have a pilot’s seat, just a vaguely squarish shape molded to the back of a rather shoddy-looking pilot figure.

I made a brief good-faith attempt at actually taking the kit seriously, but soon decided it wasn’t worth it. This Dauntless was full of fail.

So instead of building it to completion, I decided I’d slam the Fail Dauntless together and use it to test out some of the painting techniques I’ve been reading about over the past several weeks.

There I built it

First Flight of the Fail Dauntless: The Three-Layer Blend

When I was building models as a kid, my approach to painting was pretty straightforward. Prime, airbrush the base coat, follow up with any camoflage or detail work, then slop the whole thing in a sludge wash of heavily-thinned black or brown paint to give everything a weathered look. It worked alright, but I always thought I could do better.

This time around, I’ve been reading up on the techniques of pre-shading and post-shading. The first involves spraying the panel lines of the aircraft black, then applying the base coat in light layers so the panel lines appear darker. Post-shading is basically the opposite. You shoot the base coat, then spray the panel lines with a heavily-thinned, slightly darker color.

Both of these seemed inconsistent and unpredictable. Go a bit too thick with the base coat and the pre-shading will just disappear. Go a bit too thick with the post-shading and it’ll stand out too much and look ridiculous.

So when I stumbled upon Gregg Cooper’s three-stage technique, which I’m calling the three-layer blend, I was ecstatic. It’s a simple process that achieves the same result as pre- or post-shading, but with a much greater degree of consistency. Since I’m far from the world’s best hand with an airbrush, I’m all for anything that’s relatively predictable and repeatable.

The first step in the process is the simplest: shooting the base coat. After priming the Fail Dauntless with automotive primer, I used my Paasche H to lay down a base coat of 1:1 Neutral Gray/mineral spirits (a lot less awful to be around than laquer thinner).

The Fail Dauntless with the base coat applied

After giving the base coat a day to cure, it was time for step two. This involves spraying a lightened shade of the base coat to the center of every panel, every access hatch, ever flap and control surface. I mixed Neutral Gray 2:1 with Flat White, then mixed the paint 1:1 with mineral spirits and loaded the mixture into my Iwata HP-C double-action brush. The Iwata can shoot a much thinner, more precise line than the Paasche, so for detail work like this it’s ideal.

Panel lightening completed

At this point, the Fail Dauntless looks pretty nasty. The lightened panels stand out way too much and look completely unrealistic. But there’s a reason this technique is called the three-layer blend, not the two layer-blend.

Next, it’s time for the blend coat, which will bring the lightened panels back toward closer to the original base coat.

The blend coat goes back to the original Neutral Gray, this time mixed with mineral spirits at a 1:3 ratio and loaded into the Paasche H. The Paasche isn’t anywhere near as precise as the Iwata, but it’s simple, durable, and excellent for larger applications such as this.

I started with one light coat, then, as that dried, added another, and another on top of that.

After the blend coat

Overall, I’m very happy with the way the three-layer blend came out, though I think next time around I’d maybe go back with one more pass of the blend coat to calm things down just a bit more. Still, it achieves everything pre- and post-shading are supposed to, and gives the airframe a look of depth and use that no base coat can achieve.

Blended coat on the right, versus plain base coat on the left

With the addition of a sludge wash to accent the panel lines, finish painting, decals, and all the other stuff that goes into finishing a model, I think the three-layer blend is going to serve me very well.

But wait, the Fail Dauntless will fly again!

The Fail Dauntless’ days as a testbed aren’t over yet. Next up…natural metal finish…

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