1:48 Editorial Comment Tamiya Thought for the day... Tips and Techniques USAF


Not everything needs to be filthy to be interesting. Sometimes, clean and tidy can be just as attractive.


“What I do have strong feelings about, is the idea that a model cannot be interesting if it is not weathered – frankly, that’s just rubbish”


In between making cups of tea, watching overwhelmingly bleak news reports about yet another crisis generated by our political overlords, grabbing a bowl of cereal and trying to find the Shed keys that I seem to lose with alarming regularity, the first hour or so post waking up in the morning, is taken up with Facebook and the various Online modelling forums that I visit on a regular basis. Amongst the cat pictures, those “please share this post or you will die and so will all of your family, honest” chain updates and memes telling the world that you really miss your great untie Mabel, there’s some really interesting modelling material to enjoy, material that is sometimes discussed further, on sites such as Hyperscale, so the time is often, well-spent.

As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes this morning, I came across a discussion on the merits or otherwise of cleanly painted aircraft models and why they don’t always need to be covered in dirt and detritus, to be interesting. What made this  exchange more than a little fascinating, was that it occurred as I was finishing a picture-perfect Tamiya Mustang ‘Warbird’ to go with the weathered MENG kit that I revealed last week. So, in essence, I’d indulged in both sides of the argument and as usual, was enduring splinters from sitting on a particularly familiar fence.

In all honesty, I have no strong feelings one way or another when it comes to the way models are finished: if you want to paint it ‘clean’ then do so, if you want to weather the bejeezus out of it, then that’s fine too. What I do have strong feelings about, is the idea that a model cannot be interesting if it is not weathered – frankly, that’s just rubbish. There are thousands of models on this planet that are stunning to look at, but have zero weathering: engineering studies, museum models, ships, cars, bikes etc., all miniatures that capture the look and feel of real machines with no attempt to replicate their environment. Don’t believe me? Pop down to the RAF Museum Cosford and take a look at David Glen’s 1:5 P-51D Mustang (http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/cosford/whats-going-on/news/unique-mustang-model-now-on-display/) and tell me that that’s no less interesting for being painted ‘clean’.

As mentioned, I sit very much on the fence when it comes to actual builds, being just as happy to tackle a weathered model as one that’s pristine, my decision often being dictated by the subject. For instance, I tend to go for lightly weathered with aircraft, picture perfect with motorcycles, reasonably grubby with military vehicles and then as close to reality as I can if I’m building dioramas. It all depends on the subject and in many cases, my mood. Sometimes the idea of spending longer to weather a model than I would take to construct and paint it in its base colours, is simply be too much to bear, so I’ll opt for something simpler and less time-consuming. I also tend to concentrate more on the initial construction and painting stages because my choice of subject is often based on my love of the prototype, its shape, paint scheme and markings – and not how grubby it gets. To me, the worst thing anyone could say to me upon first seeing one of my models is “great weathering!” – yeah, but what about the way the model is built and finished?! Oh never mind, you’ve ruined it now…

So let’s get back to the Mustangs that I’ve just finished. I have to say that the challenges that arose during the painting of their respective schemes were very similar, but for quite different reasons. The Canadian aircraft  was challenging because not only was it painted in over Aluminium Lacquer, it needed to be lightly weathered in keeping with the original – no mean feat when it was in such a light colour and then decorated with such bright markings and everything needed to be sympathetically treated. The Tamiya kit on the other hand that formed the basis of the second build, needed to be kept immaculate and thus not only exhibited similarly painted wings to the Canadian aircraft, but also has a highly-polished fuselage and then large, gloss-painted panels of blue and red. Add to that heady mix of finishes, the need to define the panel lines and not make it look weathered and the challenge is there for all to see!


With the models in front of me, I’m hard-pressed to decide which one I prefer. The MENG kit is no doubt more detailed and thus more accurately depicts this aircraft in miniature, but there is something about the simpler Tamiya build with its bright plumage, that is inherently pleasing to the eye. I like the weathering on the MENG kit, but love the different surface finish on Tamiya’s. I just can’t decide and that really illustrates why deciding between cleanly finished and weathered models, can be so difficult – there are so many other things to take into account!


Building these two kits has been a fun exercise and has resulted in two models that I really like. Later in the year I’ll be building another P-51 in this scale with the release of the Airfix kit, a model that I just might really go to town on and create a truly filthy airframe befitting its use during WWII – just don’t hold me to the promise…


I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!

5 comments on “WHETHER TO WEATHER

  1. Michael Moore

    The question is not “to weather or not to weather?”, but rather “can you find it within yourself to respect my choice?”. I like looking at models. Pristine can look fantastic. Heavily weathered can look fantastic. I can appreciate the craftsmanship and skill that goes into either type of finish, regardless of my preference.

    What I detest seeing are comments along the lines of:

    “Nice caricature of an airplane”
    “Real planes NEVER look that weathered”
    Or any other variation of “that doesn’t look right to my eye so it’s an inferior, flawed, or even rubbish model”.

    It’s a big hobby with enough room for everyone. There’s no reason to disparage a model just because the finish isn’t to your tastes. I like the AMPS philosophy there, don’t judge the technique used, judge how well the technique has been employed.


  2. Kenneth David Hanson

    Great builds as usual, Spencer. I’ve seen some pretty amazing & pristine aircraft models at shows. The racing era aircraft stick out in my mind. They just wouldn’t look right to the eye done up in a weathered state, though they may be that way after racing. I think it comes down to the condition and environment we normally associate a particular vehicle with. I’m more likely to be drawn to a highly weather model of a UH-1 Huey than one that sports a factory-fresh overall OD scheme, however, even a slightly weathered USAF F-16 Thunderbird would just look wrong to me.


  3. Good blog post.
    First, both of those P-51s look great. I likes me some P-51s.
    Here’s my take. For myself, I look at context of the vehicle/aircraft in question. If it is military, I find them to be more interesting since weathering lends itself to the subject matter. Military vehicles and aircraft get dirty and beat up. So, that is the way I like to see them. Keep in mind, that is my personal preference. Does this mean that a Sherman M4A1 painted up in pristine condition is wrong? Nope. Just not the way I would do it, and maybe not one I would look at as closely if there was another one next to it all dirtied up and look battle hardened. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the fine construction and flawless finish (if it has one!) Personally, I just find military stuff more interesting in its natural habitat.
    On the other hand if the same, pristine Sherman were in a diorama with context, I would be all over it like stink on cheese! For example, said pristine Sherman on the factory floor, just rolling off the production line, or just getting ready to be loaded on a rail car for shipment to front line duty. Voila! It makes sense that it is clean and pretty. Or, if the clean Sherman is on a diorama portraying a museum display. Again… it makes perfect sense. Especially if some oil/fluid stains were dribbled onto the floor underneath!
    Cars, motorcycles and civilian aircraft I look at in the opposite way. Clean and spiffy works great because they tend to get taken care of better that military stuff… at least on the outside!
    So, in short… yes, build it and paint it the way you want. It can look great either way: clean or dirty. If it is a subject I am interested in, I will most likely dig it either way.


  4. Konrad Schreier

    Nothing is perfectly clean, but very restrained weathering can be very effective as your warbird build shows. For me, the degree of dirty should be set by the research – if real thing was a hot mess in pictures, well then so should be the miniature. Spandy clean? Then go with that. The risk can be going too far with it – extensive chipping on a German tank that had a service life measured in months may look cool as heck, but historically can be a little problematic. Vehicles that lasted longer and operated in remote areas far from regular service on the other hand can look amazingly beat up. Airplanes don’t usually fly in that condition. So in the end, its all about context, and the weathering should be as much an intentional part of the model as are the colors and markings.



  5. Wayne Beattie

    I really like the contrast between both Mustangs. There are skills displayed building and finishing each kit. Personally I like a plane that is weathered. It doesn’t have to be going to a junk yard but a nice used look. After seeing your clean Mustang I might actually try to do a kit that way.


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