There’s a disconnect between the general modeling world and the dollhouse world. While those of us who’ve been reproducing scale cars for years might be used to plastic kits, many in the dollhouse world are unsure of how to approach them. So if you’re feeling a little intimidated by Chrysnbon or, indeed, your latest acquisition from Shapeways, this post is for you.
Below, I’ve listed some tips and tricks that help me get the results I want and that I believe will help you, too.
Prepare for Success
No paint job, however fabulous, can compensate for a bad build. Start slowly, and start right. The foundation you create now, as you’re assembling your kit, is what’ll allow you to achieve that realism. Cut each piece from the sprue with an actual sprue cutter; don’t twist them all off, you’ll warp the plastic. Sand each piece, paying real attention to preserving detail. Use a professional grade putty like Milliput whenever necessary to fill in holes and gaps. The tools required for this first, and most important phase can be pricey but they’re an investment in your craft. You simply can’t succeed without them–and you can’t succeed without patience.
With every new kit I begin, preparation is literally half the battle.
Primer for the Win
Never, ever skip primer–and use the right one. Not all primers (or paints) are made for use on plastic; some will melt it. In my own work, there’s only one instance where I don’t use primer and that’s when I’m spraying black plastic with matte black enamel paint. Every other time, including when I’m applying gloss, or semi-gloss black, I use primer. Otherwise, the paint won’t adhere correctly!
When I’m simulating some sort of metal (cast iron, copper, etc), or some other non-wood finish, I use Tamiya Fine Primer. Personally, I find that light gray, or gray work best for most things. I use pink, however, under copper and under fully rusted objects. When I’m working with “wood,” I prime with two coats of Mr. Super Clear Matte UV Cut. This is the same spray doll artists use, as it provides a wonderful “tooth” for adhesion of both water colors and pastels.
And remember: multiple thin coats beat one thick coat, every single time.
Use Supplies Designed for Plastic!
Craft glue doesn’t work on plastic. Neither does craft paint. Due to this, I’ve talked to fellow miniaturists who think you can’t paint plastic. You can, whether you’re working with injection molded polystyrene from Chrysnbon or 3D printed nylon from Shapeways. You just have to know what you’re doing–and where to shop.
Keep Your Spare Parts
I have so many, at this point, that they’re coded and catalogued. Behind every finished kit, especially in the beginning, were several failed attempts. Whether it’s an unexpected flood of glue, a badly warped part, a spray can (or airbrush) disaster, or a dog-induced error, not every kit winds up being fully usable. Instead of tossing those partly used kits, however, I kept the spare parts and today I use them for everything from kit bashing to fixing mistakes.
Chrysnbon kits are expensive and, at least in my experience, getting more so. They’re also getting harder to find. Save yourself both money and heartache, and dedicate an ArtBin (or two) to building up a cache. And, while you’re at it, consider buying an extra kit or two, just to have on hand. I like to do that, whenever I encounter either an extremely rare kit or an extremely good sale. Even if the kit itself isn’t one I love, I always consider its potential for kit bashing.
Do you know what’s in a typical aerosol propellant? Propane and butane, to start. Propellant is toxic, and it can kill you. Even if you’re using an airbrush, though, alkyd (enamel) paints themselves usually contain petroleum, linseed oil, and a bunch of other toxic–and highly flammable–stuff. You need to use them in a well-ventilated area.
Invest in a high quality spray booth (I recommend a reasonably priced one here) and by all that is holy wear a mask. Perceived “convenience” is not worth at best a migraine and at worst heart failure, cancer, or even spontaneous human combustion. And if you think that last one is a joke, propellants can and do catch on fire all the time–especially when used in enclosed, poorly ventilated areas. Keep modeling both fun and safe: use the right precautions.