Preparing to Weather – Flat Finishes

By Rob Manley

I had a great time at the Amherst Model Train Show back in January this year. I gave a PanPastel® weathering clinic to a full house on Friday and did demos at the PanPastel table for the rest of the weekend. It’s always great to meet the modelers that use PanPastel and those who are interested in trying. The word is definitely out and there are some great examples of really high-end modeling by using PanPastel. What I have to remember is that the product has as much appeal for the novice as for the more experienced user too.

I’ve been using PanPastel since 2009 and sometimes I forget about those starting out in the hobby. So after some soul searching (I should have looked in the back of my sock drawer) we are going back to the beginning…

So why do we modelers weather our stuff? Well in a word, realism. It is also another way to put our personal mark on our models in a hobby that is becoming more “ready to run”. Models have become straight from the box, contest winners, with all the prototype details correctly installed and painted. Some of the time anyway. Weathering is also a great way to hide flaws too.

I saw some great layouts at the show but on some of them I did notice was that the motive power (and most of the train) looked like it rolled from the paint booth. Yep, no weathering. Right from the box and on the rails. So why, does this happen? Well I’m glad I asked that question. Modelers I met at the show who don’t weather gave me some of the answers.

  1. “I can’t weather.”
  2. “I don’t have an airbrush.”
  3. “I’m afraid of wrecking my expensive model.”

All, extremely, valid, points. Well, here are my answers:

To #3 – You can not wreck it with PanPastel because it can be removed/corrected easily.

To #2 – You don’t need an airbrush.

And to #1, that’s OK ‘cause I’ll teach you how I weather.

PanPastel is a great product with an amazing limitless number of uses. It’s easy too. There is really no down side to it as it lasts a really long time.

In my experience other pastels and chalks can fall off or get eaten by dust and ultimately swept away. The PanPastel® Weathering Kits are designed to give you a good start with one set of colors and can be expanded quickly with a second and third set. I originally experimented with one color, Red Iron Oxide Shade, and some Sofft® Tools. I was convinced after that. PanPastel colors are highly pigmented with super-fine artist’s quality pigments. They will stand the test of time and are only limited by your imagination.

Other frequent comments at the show related to the use of a flat finish either prior to weathering or after weathering. “Do I need to seal the PanPastel after I’m done?” That’s a hot topic and an extremely important one. So herein lays the most basic, fundamental step in a happy life when weathering with pastels. Let me give you an analogy. PanPastel was originally invented for artists. They primarily use it (as with pastel sticks) on paper as intended. Paper that has a flat, not glossy, finish which when magnified reveals a slightly “toothy” surface. So if our models are made of plastic they need to have a similar finish to paper – to give them a level of “tooth” or grab. If they have a glossy or very smooth surface they should be painted with a flat paint or a flat clear finish. Think of it as a dull varnish instead of a glossy varnish and you can begin to see what I am describing. This means the model needs to be tricked into thinking it is paper. (Paper modelers need not worry 🙂 ) Besides a flat finish working better with the pastels many feel that it looks better and it is practically a hobby standard.
Why? Luckily we haven’t left the time machine so we can go back to the 1950s. One of the first articles in Model Railroader magazine that impacted my life was by John Allen. He was a big proponent of weathering your rolling stock and everything else on the railroad. Originally a photographer, he got a job shooting for Varney Model Trains which required the use of close-up table top dioramas. Doing so he became fascinated with the models and he noticed that they looked better with a dull flat finish. They didn’t reflect the hot photo lights from their surface. That glare also didn’t reduce in scale. The flat finish helped enhance the tiny details.

Modelers that paint and decal their own miniatures usually start with a glossy finish to help the decals adhere to the surface. They are flat finished overall to hide the glossy paint and blend the decals to look like they were painted on. The main reason you are covering the entire model with flat finish is so you can cover the entire model with PanPastel. This is why you may need to flat finish the model. This makes the PanPastel work better.

NOTE: Models that won’t be handled often may not need the application of a flat finish over the PanPastel. For Example, structures, vehicles, figures, rail and ties. Some of my locomotives and railcars have been over-sprayed with the flat and some haven’t been. So weather or not (heh-heh) you over-spray is your choice.

Those engines I mentioned earlier would have looked so much better with weathering and toning on the trucks and some exhaust on the top deck and exhaust stacks, really I would have loved to help.

Applying Flat Finish PRIOR to Weathering

Now your model is ready to be flat finished. An airbrush would be a good future investment but does take some time to master. It also needs a compressor and some related hardware. Not exactly what the novice is ready to deal with. Let’s use a time honored medium, the “Rattle Can”. Can products that I have used include: DullcoteKrylon® Matte Finish & Krylon® Workable Fixative. (Workable means you can pastel, spray and lock the colors down and add more art or weathering on top.) So you could add a wash over the first layer and have time to manipulate it. Can or airbrush accomplish the same end. The usual good sense should be employed: read, understand & follow all directions and safety warnings on the can. Use in a well ventilated area. Shake the can thoroughly before use and spray above 50 degrees.

  1. Wash the model in a grease killing gentle detergent like Dawn or Ivory with a soft toothbrush or paint brush to remove all fingerprints and oils. Do not immerse in water. Quickly rinse in clear water.
  2. Let air dry or use a blow dryer. No traces of water should remain. Make sure it fully drains. Set on a paper towel. If you are a procrastinator, this is a good thing. Don’t rush it.
  3. Refrain from handling with your hands. Use disposable latex or cotton gloves.
  4. Make a fixture to hold the model allowing you to spray from all directions and surfaces. See the images below.
  5. Spray starting before the model and continue to after the model. Don’t start in the middle.
  6. Spray from all angles also from bottom to top and top to bottom.
  7. Use several light coats rather than one heavy coat. Let dry and check for shiny spots in a bright light.
  8. You are now ready to start weathering with PanPastel.

Here is a quick video showing how I spray:

Keep practicing this will get easier and will yield better results. You can always add more flat finish or fixative later.

This is the method I use and have the most predictable results. The tools in my modeling arsenal include a compressor with a holding tank. These have gotten more affordable recently. When I started all I had was a small compressor. It’s output was about 35 pounds per square inch or psi. It could not be turned down to a lessor value and it occasionally sputtered water from the compression. I eventually bought a unit with a 10 gallon tank that allowed me to fill the tank with air at 100psi and spray through a moisture trap. The trap also came with a regulator that I could control the output down to 25psi or less.

For more information on Prototype Modeler Rob Manley visit this page.

One comment

  1. peter fluchere says:

    I bought a “lotta stuffs” from you this winter @ Amherst.
    Am rebuilding my layout, and setting up a new work space. I will get to modeling eventually.
    It is a great product. I am signing up for your newsletter.
    Tony Koester’s article really did it!

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