Sea History 090 - Autumn 1999

Page 34

MODELMAKERS' CORNER: D own to the Sea in Shoe Boxes

The Art of Naval Miniatures by Peter Sorensen


he glass-cased ship model is a popular focus for srudenrs of borh arr and maririme history. Still, ir was rhe crew rhar animared each vessel rhroughour histo ry, and today rhe collecting and crearing of naval miniatures can be as rewarding as the construction ofa ship model. The world of riny seamen and troopers consists of two basic types. The "toy soldier," with its rougher approximations of uniforms and weapons, manufactured by the old masters such as Brirains, Minor, Blenheim or Courtenay, are finished products to be discovered, enjoyed, and collected. This is the older of th e two types, and therefore it is the "toy" that is eagerly sough tout byanriquecollectors. The "military miniature, " with more detail in raimenr and accourremenrs, is a recenr product originally designed for hobbyists and is now rhe focus ofborh collectors and those willing to research, assemble and paint their own miniatures. How to Start Collectors and hobbyists will find kirs availab le for assembly and painring that portray a broad range of historical and fictitious maritime subjects: a World War II hardhat diver; Long John Silver; an 1812 English Officer of Marines; and a lieutenanr of the Royal Navy from the same period. These figures are available in metal (varying from pewter to amalgams of tin and lead) or in a composite resin rhar is becoming increasingly popular. Kits in evitably come with paiming instructions, but rendering historically accurate subjects makes research a necessary and pleasurable aspect of rhe hobby. One of the first challenges is kit selection, as the plethora of options can be overwhelming. In rhe search for quality sculptin g and production, and with the di versity of historical subj ects, rhe novice must be selective. Regarding scale, modelers and manufacturers use millimeters, and the traditional measuremenr for figures is the distance from the eyes to the sole of the foot. Popular sizes are 54mm (2 1/s"), 90mm (3 1/i"), and 120mm (43// '). Only minimal tools, readily available through local hobby shops, are required. Yo u will need a well-lighted work space, an


X-Acto knife with va ri ous blades, a set of small files, epoxy cemem and white glue, sable-hair brushes(# 1, #4 and three or four of #0000), a rube of filler material, primer and paints. Seemingly all categories of paints, and their combinations, are being used today. The tins ofHumbrol enamels of a couple of decades ago gave way to acrylics. Today, the rage is artist's oils. All have their advanrages and disadvanrages. Start out with whatever is readily available at rhe hobby or art supp ly store, and don 't hesitate ro ask for advice. Step one with any kit is cleanup. Most figures come dismembered with major pieces of equipment or dress separated. Ofren the molding process leaves minute holes, seams and extraneous metal or plastic (sprue) o n individual pieces. Holes and assembly gaps are remedied with a filler compound. Sean15 and unwanted metal or resin are eliminated with an X-Acto knife and files. Prior to assembly, individual pieces are washed in lukewarm water, with a mild detergent, to remove dust and any oils transferred from hands. Once dried, each piece is test assem bled to ensure proper fir before adhesives come into play. Some pieces, especially acco utrements such as swords, sheaths, sextanrs and harpoons, are best set aside, painted separately, and added to the figure following its com pletion. After the cement has cured, the figure is examined again for overlooked sprue or new seams created by rhe cement. Following anoth er bath, most figure hobbyists use white glue to affix rheir subjects to small blocks of wood, which act as temporary bases and handles during priming and painting. Most figures come with foot pegs to facilitate this. To help the paint adhere, a light laye r of white or light gray primer is painred or sprayed on and allowed to dry.

giving the figure its character; • Face, clothing and acco utrements are usually painted in at least three steps- base colors, shadows and highlights; • Large areas are painred with the # 1 and #4 brushes, and rhe derails with the #0000; • Do not apply painr directly from tin, rube or bottle; paint should be transferred to a square of aluminum foi l or other surface for blending and thinning; • Thoroughly clean brushes between co lor applications; • Use a separate brush-cleaning bath for brushes used to apply metall ic fini shes; • "D ry brushing" and "washes" are two valuable brush techniques to read about and master early; and, • There are dull- and gloss-coats available to dress up areas whose finishes turn out too shiny or too flat. When the figure is completed, water brushed aro und rhe anchoring foot pegs will loosen up the white glue allowing separation of the figure from its temporary base. Perm anent bases are sometimes supplied in kits, bur shops and catalogues offer bases in a varieryofwood s and designs. The final touch is creating a display base with ground or deck-work giving the figure a sense of place.

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Painting the Figure Numerous figure-painting books and magazine articles offer guidance for novices and advanced artists. Here are some general guidelines:

Mastering the si ngle stock figure is just the beginning of an art, which can be expanded in a number of directions. Dioramas may be created with multiple figures and intricate settings. Classic show stoppers have portrayed the smoke-filled gun turret of Monitor and the death of Nelson aboard Victory. Some kits include extensive props and settings. A further step in naval miniarures is the adaptatio n of stock pieces to differenr naval units or eras. And, of course, the ultimate challenge is the sculpting and painring of original figures of one's own. With a modicum of manual dexteriry, a love of historical research, and patience, almost anyone can enjoy a unique art with strong nautical .t themes and very rewarding results.

•Although all figures come with color direcrions, it is rewarding to research the subj ect yo urself; • Begin with the face and head, thereby

Mr. Sorensen works in Hartford, Connecticut, in the insurance business and appropriately lives in Mystic CT where he pursues his hobby ofcreating naval miniatures.