The Art of Priming

by Alex Castro


Two-Part Priming  Technique:

Priming is one of the most important processes next to painting in painting miniatures or statues. It is the foundation for the painting process, yet it’s often times misunderstood and undermined. My process breakes away from the traditional priming and provides a two-part priming technique, which consist of two parts: silvering (enamel) and white primer (acrylic white) that will bring your figure to a different level.

Many traditional primers are of poor quality and out-of-scale for miniatures. As I tried out different primers, I found that they were primarily metal primers. Spray cans were unpredictable, created inconsistent spray patterns, over saturated areas and were overall too thick for the tiny relieve areas. Also primers were usually in gray color designed for lead pieces. There was no universal primer for plastics and resins. Therefore a different primer had to be purchased for each. Another problem I encountered was that the castings were not molded in one color; some were beige, some white, others green and black. This made a big difference in priming because the darker colors required more primer. This impacted the relieve areas.

After numerous testing and experimentation with automotive, household and art primers, I came across a silver primer made by Krylon (found in most hardware stores). I found, that unlike other primers, the atomization of the spray of this paint was thin. Another good quality is that the Krylon Silver was closer to the scale of miniatures. It had the ability to cover, across the board, any color in one coat. Krylon Silver dried quickly; it could be sprayed into the airbrush and also could be brushed. Also, it did not create a chemical or adverse reaction with resin, plastic, vinyl or lead. Most importantly, it allowed touch ups with a little thinner or solvent. This is crucial particularly during the repair stage.

The silvering technique brings up hidden scratches and fine details that were not visible to the eye prior to spraying. It also falls in line with the fast drying time of acrylics.

Once the piece is silvered, it allows itself to be easily covered with a light dusting by any light acrylic paint. Essentially it provides a good ground, a gripping agent for the white primer (I like to use Tamiya Flat white). The piece could easily be covered up with a dusting of white primer. The importance of the white is that it allows you to get to the true value of the color you are applying. When you apply color on the white, it is permanent, and doesn’t clog your relieves. It’s firm to the touch and can be easily handled without falling apart. This is true for any tiny castings, small figures and large figures.

A very important benefit of this process is that if during the application of the white primer I find an imperfection, I could easily wipe the white off (acrylic) and not disturb the silver (enamel). The key here is that it is easy to repair one level at a time then to re-paint or re-silver each level in a seamless fashion. Other primers can become gooey and you might have to re-do the figure or in some cases even lose it. The silver it self bonds just about to any material and has enough tooth to hold any acrylic paint. With this process you get the true color value without having to put more paint on, as said earlier, with just a mere dusting of paint!

Another benefit is that this silvering can be used for armor, for metal effect, base coat for weapons, etc. it also makes a great undercoat for exposed paint and chipping for tanks and airplanes. It works wonderfully on buckles. The silvering on these models gives the model an appearance of heavy metal.

Setting Up: It is recommended that you setup in an area that is well-vented before using the aluminum spray paint. I strongly recommend a spray booth to vent out particles and fumes. Also most importantly, use a mask. Cover up the area you’ll be working in. If you are only silvering one section cover the rest of the figure with a plastic wrap because silvering releases airborne particles. When using a brush to silver, spray the silver on a piece of paper and then dip the brush and work quickly since the paint evaporates rapidly. I recommend that you keep a set of brushes for this purpose because silvering destroys your brushes.

There are two different approaches to holding and painting figures. One is the Statue Approach where most of the figure is assembled, staked, and stuck in a hole or a vice to keep it in place. In some cases, the model is already in the statue mode. The second approach is the Modular Approach where the figure is kept disassembled as long as possible to allow more complete control of parts. There are pros and cons to both. For example, in the Statue Approach a positive outcome is that most gluing is done prior to painting. Therefore, the piece is handled less. On the other hand because posing is done very early it may be difficult to reach some detail. In the Modular Approach access to detail is better, and you do not have to commit to posing early on. On the other hand there is gluing on finished painted parts, there are loose parts that can be lost and more handling of parts. However, both approaches are good. It’s a personal choice. Note that both require different painting approaches.

If you are spraying small parts, take a piece of paper and apply masking tape, which has low tack, to keep the pieces from flying away as you are spraying. I spend a lot of time posing the figures, pinning them and arranging them, just to see what the best approach to take is. Every model has its own little innuendos and problems that are unique to the model and must be addressed before you get into the painting stage. It’s already too late if you discovered that you left a piece out or you shouldn’t have put a figure together because it’s going to be a problem to paint. All of this has to be figured out before you proceed.

Silvering Process:

· Start by placing the piece with the backside facing up.

· If you choose to pin your pieces use spools, small plastic cups, so that you don’t have to lay the piece down and can easily rotate it. For pieces like the head you can use a pencil or a narrow object that can allow you to hold it and get underneath it with paint.

· Once the pieces are laid out, take the can and start spraying before the piece in one continuous arch stroke, approximately 12 inches away from the piece.

· As soon as you see the silver color STOP.

· Move the paper again, and silver. When you finished you should have moved the paper approximately 3x spraying at differently angles. As soon as the piece is dry to touch (approximately 5 minutes) flip it over and repeat the process.

· Take one or two pieces of foam about 1 inch thick and wrap it with a paper towel and tape it the reason for this is that after the spraying you can discard the paper towel and use the foam again. You can also use utility rags that can be washed. They work just as well.

You can mount the figure on plastic cup, or lay it down on paper that’s on covered foam, spray from the bottom up and rear to the front. Wait five minutes and turn the piece over and spray gain from the bottom up and rear, to the front and do the sides. The piece dries in five minutes.

· Stand the piece up and place the piece on a pedestal or cardboard. I also use a marble Lazy Susan so that I can turn the piece around. This marble dish is easy to clean. Now spray the piece from the top down. REMEMBER only apply a spray mist. For a bust, you must spray under first and then do the same from the top.

· Now you’re ready for the white primer.

The White Priming Process:

· Use an acrylic white. I prefer Tamiya flat white XF 2. You can also use light gray. I prefer white because it allows you to get to the true color value quickly. Thin the

paint according to the airbrush you use. To cover large areas I use the Iwata HP- BE1 with an air pressure of 25-35 PSI.

· Take a new jar of Tamiya Flat White XF2 and fill it with alcohol (1/3) rigorously stir it using a stirrer and handshake.

· To test viscosity, take an old airbrush needle or the equivalent and place it inside the paint. Immediately pull it out. If the paint rolls off rapidly and there is a constant flow of paint, then it’s just about right for your airbrush. The slower the paint drops, the thicker the mixture.

REMEMBER you want a dusting not a painting. Dusting – as soon as you see the color change.

· If you see the paint cake, then you sprayed too much paint. Another way to tell if you have used too much paint is to take a bristle brush. Go to an area with a dark background and brush the figure. If you see a white dusting, continue to brush until it stops. Keep a small flat bristle available in case the airbrush splatters or some imperfections occur so that you can remove them immediately.

· When you spray look for imperfections such as scratches, holes, seams, etc.

Finished Primed Piece

Repairing and Touch-up Techniques: · Constantly lookout for imperfections.

· If there is anything wrong it is very easy to take off the white and leave the silver. The silver is an enamel and remains in tact. This method saves the piece from being completed stripped.

· If there is a hole you can strip the piece by taking off both the white & silver.

· After you putty the hole, then you take a brush with the silver, brush the silver on the area and then spray with the white paint.

· This technique prevents you from stripping the entire piece and it can also be done when you apply color after the priming stage.

· To fill the whole, take household plaster 50% and flat white paint 50% (dilute as needed). There is a symbiosis between all the elements. This combination of plaster with paint fills the holes eliminating the imperfection by blending it into the existing surrounding area. Therefore, the figure appears seamless when you finish. This can also be used when the piece is chipped.

· If the white is damaged, without eliminating anything else, you take a brush, preferably a bristle, and lightly dip it into the cleaning solution. Wipe off the excess and with a random stroke motion blending in the surrounding area. This loosens up the paint of the surrounding area and removes any ridges, and smudges around the area. Then slightly dust the area with white using the airbrush to blend.

· This doesn’t have to be an exact match, since the paint will be applied to this area.

· NOTE: This repair becomes super critical on exposed fleshy parts like faces and other anatomical areas and smooth surfaces.

· Imperfection Hunt: Look for irregularities, rough areas, and particles.

· If everything is up to par, and the figure is dry, take a bristle flat brush, use size approximate to scale of model, and dip it in clean water and go around lightly scrubbing the model. This smoothes the surface for fleshy areas.

Smoothing technique.

Work-Protect, Work-Protect: Once you have completed the priming stage, seal your work with a dull cote (I use Testers Dull Cote). This is optional at this stage. However, the advantage of this is that if you mess up, you only lose what you have done up to the sealer. If you don’t seal it and you mess up, the primer then has to be removed. One advantage of not sealing your work is that it gives you a cleaner relieve. Pastels, and certain colors will tone down with dull cote. Also the dull cote may not be as flat as advertised.

When you work you are making an investment in time, and materials. The two-part priming technique is just one part of the whole, that takes a little work but necessary to produce quality primed models that leads to these dynamic results.

Written By Alex Castro

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