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Painting Peter Pig's T26

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BlackWidowPilot Fezian writes:

<<I'm not an expert on soviet armour markings. This represents a few afternoons net research and asking some gamers with experience.>>

Wile E.,

I'm an historian and unrepentant "treadhead." Feel free to shoot me a PM in future if you ever venture back into this territory. I'm actually reasonably friendly and approachable (just don't poke your fingers through the cage)… evil grin

I like 'em, even if they are too clean! evil grin

Leland R. Erickson
Metal Express

Revision Log
28 August 2007page first published

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Coyote Fezian of The General's Tent writes:

Painting tanks. It's something I've always wanted to try, but have never. Normally, my heart goes out to the poor bloody infantry, and I end up painting them. However, I've been painting Dream Pod 9's Heavy Gear miniatures lately, and decided that the techniques I've been using for giant robots could easily be adapted for tanks.

When Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian offered me some 15mm Russian T-26s from Peter Pig to paint (alliteration, look at me, I'm literary), I jumped at the chance. Anything to pimp my website, The General's Tent. I mean, anything to get a chance to write a Workbench article for TMP!

The first step was research. My knowledge of WWII comes mostly from the infantry side of life, and most of that from the Western Front. I needed to find out how these tanks were painted for the Barbarossa campaign. Since I don't see any more WWII Russians in my future, I didn't want to go out and buy books just for this; my wargaming budget was already stretched to the breaking point with the purchase of a new camera.

Instead, as always, I relied on the kindness of strangers. Being a member of various discussion groups is a good way to get quick access to information needed for smaller projects, or to fill a gap in your research when you just don't have the time to go out and read a book (which may or may not have the specific detail you are looking for).

Most sources I read as I performed my initial research agreed that Russian tanks were painted Russian Green. One chart even suggested Vallejo Model Colour Russian Green. Perfect, I have that very colour! Time to begin.

I started by cleaning up the worst mold lines with some files. I ended up reshaping the tracks, as there was a mold line running down the center of each. I used a three-sided file to get the mold line out of the detail of the tracks. Fortunately, the track design was simple, and I was able to recreate the pattern of the tracks easily.

During all the filing, I wore a dust mask. I started painting after the decline of lead in castings, so am not used to dealing with lead miniatures. According to the packaging, Peter Pig's miniatures do contain lead. I took no chances, and made sure to sweep up all the dust and dispose of it after each session.

At this stage, I also gave the parts a good wash with warm soapy water.

After gluing the treads onto the body of the tanks and straightening the main guns on the turrets, I hot-glued the chassis to Popsicle sticks, and then to my favourite painting handles. Having something large and robust to grip prevents my hand from cramping, prevents paint rub-off, and permits me to lock my hands together so that they aren't moving independently of each other.

Ready for painting

The turrets received a slightly different treatment. I drilled a hole in the peg which attached them to the chassis, and glued wire in the hole. This wire was then hot-glued to Popsicle sticks which were attached to handles. This allowed me easy access to the turret for painting. When I was finished, I just cut the wire off at the pegs. This technique also works well when you plan to pin your miniature, but want to paint arms and whatnot separately. By using a longer piece of wire for the pin, you can easily attach small pieces to a painting handle. Cut the wire when the painting is finished, and you'll have a pin ready for assembly.

With everything ready for painting, I primed the parts with Liquitex acrylic Black Gesso. The gesso creates a good surface for painting, doesn't obscure details, and allows me to avoid spray paint. I came up with the idea when trying to invent techniques for painting soft-plastic miniatures. I tried gesso because it was meant as a primer for canvas paintings, which constantly flex as the artist applies colour. I guessed that it would hold up well to repeated flexing... and so far, it has.

After letting the primer cure for 24 hours, I started the painting process. First, I basecoated everything with a mix of Vallejo Model Colour (VMC) Russian Green mixed with VMC Black and VMC Dark Blue. This would be my shade colour.

The reason for the blue should be obvious for photographers, who worry about white balance. We see sunlight as primarily white. In shade, a surface is lit by skylight. Take a picture of something in shade with a sunlight WB, and you'll find it has a definite blue cast. Thus, shadows have a blue cast compared to the sunlit parts of the model.

The mid-tone was pure VMC Russian Green. This took much longer to apply than the basecoat, though it covered less surface area. I basically repainted the tanks, leaving a thin line of the base colour in the recesses. I don't like washing, as I find that it muddies the miniature and isn't very controllable. Many of the recesses I wanted shaded weren't deep or sharp enough to catch a wash, anyway. I want my miniatures to look sharp, so that they are recognizable on the battlefield.

Mid-tone applied

My normal next step is to mix a highlight colour and carefully pick out the edges. However, with so many long, straight lines, I wasn't confident that the technique wouldn't end up looking sloppy. Instead I chose a technique I usually avoid: drybrushing. I generally don't like the effect of most drybrushing. This is because some people try to use it to highlight flat areas. Normally, I only use drybrushing for painting chainmail or tank tracks. However, I thought that I could get away with it this time, since I was using it only as the final highlight.

While I was drybrushing on the highlights, I tried to give the entire tank a good scrub with the drybrush just as it became too dry for the technique. This allowed me to add a little texture to the flat surfaces. This won't be noticeable on the wargame table, but if the tanks are picked up, I hope they'll be a little more visually interesting. It also allowed me to add some very subtle effects later.

At this stage, the majority of the tank was finished. I painted the treads black, and then drybrushed with VMC Gunmetal Grey. All that was left were the markings.

These tanks were supposed to represent a single platoon. However, it looks like Russian tanks were deployed in threes, so I decided to use two sets of markings. This is where my research let me down, and led to the subtle effect I hinted at above. What I read said that Russian tanks often had very different markings, which were constantly changed to confuse the enemy. Numbers (both Arabic and Cyrillic) were used, as were all kinds of symbols. In some cases, slogans were used. I decided that one set of markings would simply be a slogan (which I found on a decal sheet) on one side of the turret. The other would be the number 26 on one side, with a bisected diamond and Cyrillic number on the other side.

These were painted on carefully with a size 1 W&N Series 7 brush. It took a few tries to get them right. I wanted them to look as if they were hand-painted. However, sloppy hand-painting on real tanks looks pretty neat at 15mm scale. As I painted the mid-tone over my mistakes, it looked slightly different from the colour on the tank. In some cases, this would be a problem. However, since my research indicated that these markings might be repainted once or twice a week (in some extreme cases), signs of this constant repainting adds realism.

Original turrets

Happy with my work, I asked a mailing list that I'm a member of if the assumptions I'd drawn from my research were correct. Unfortunately, they weren't. For the time period I was modeling, most tanks were not using slogans. These were in use before this time and after. All my hard work on one set of tanks ruined. However, since these would have been hastily painted over, I decided to imperfectly erase the slogans by using some thin coats of my mid-tone. I then painted a white line around the turret as I was directed. The other three tanks I left as they were.

This is one of the things that both frustrate and thrill me about historical wargaming: Getting the history right. I'm still not 100% confident that I've got it right with these tanks, but I think I'm close enough.

I ended the painting process by popping everything off the hot glue, touching up the treads where the glue had been, and sealing with a matt varnish. Again, I used a brush for this task, instead of a spray can. Pebeo Acrylic Matte Varnish is my varnish of choice. The only thing to worry about with it is to not let it build up in the recesses, and to use a perfectly clean brush. (Once, I used my grubby priming brush with it, and discovered it could double as an effective brush cleaner.) I used a couple of coats, to try to knock down all reflections and keep the painting from rubbing off during use.

Finished tanks

Some people may notice that I didn't weather these tanks at all. In fact, I intentionally kept them simple. As I've already mentioned, I want my miniatures to stand out and be recognizable on the battlefield. This often leads to my miniatures having a bit of a factory-fresh look to them. I've been slowly experimenting with adding a bit of weathering to my models... but don't like to experiment too much when painting miniatures for other people.

Finished tanks