Aircraft In Progress

Hobbyboss’ 1/48 F8F-2 Bearcat: Any Color You Want, As Long As It’s Blue

Well, I’ve got the blues. Not the blues like your wife ran off with your best friend, and your car won’t start, and you’re out in the rain. No sir, nothing that dramatic.

But I do have the blues, nonetheless. The dark sea blues, specifically.

For whatever reason, I find painting US Navy aircraft of the all blue variety very difficult.

The first coat of paint is no problem. I just spray on whatever blue I’ve chosen, and there it is. The hard part, though, seems to be finding the right balance of what to do next.

In examining photos of naval aircraft of this color, it becomes obvious that there were paint chips, and there was fading and patchiness. Yet the techniques that I use for brown or green or gray aircraft just never seem to look right when it comes to blue.

Too much of the lighter shades and the model gets a patchiness that even a modeler like myself, who is firmly in the “artistic” thought camp of finishes, finds a bit contrived. Yet too little, and the airframe takes on a monotone look of such flatness as to almost appear two dimensional.

And I’d like to say I have finally cracked the code on this dilemma, but I fear I must disappoint you. (And me…)

I’m still struggling with it.

Which means I need to build more models. 😉

Still, as long as I have photos and I’m sitting in front of the keyboard, I may as well rattle on a bit about what I did this time.

Assembly of the parts was a no drama affair. A bit of sanding was needed to remove the seam lines, but no filler was needed. I did run some Mr. Surfacer along the wing and tail plane joins to ensure there were no hairline gaps, but aside from that, it was a near perfect fit.

The model was then primed in Badger Stynylrez Gray primer. My thinking there was that a lighter undercoat might give more room for some highlights and shading. While I want to replicate the dark blue aircraft of this era were adorned with, I also desire to keep it visually interesting. (Or, in fewer words, “don’t make it look boring, Jon!” :D)

I painted the white tip of the tail using Ammo of Mig Cold Gray. While this color appears as white next to most colors, it’s actually just the slightest gray color. This will allow some highlights to be added down the road. I’ve found that going in with pure white is often so over-saturated to the eye that it actually loses, for lack of a better term, some of its “pop”. A coat of something not quite so white allows for a few pure white highlights to be added, which then imparts a certain brightness to the whole thing by virtue of the contrast.

(At least that’s my logic. It has nothing to do with the fact that Cold Gray was on my airbrush desk, and pure white was not. Nothing at all…)

With the white masked off, as well as some wing walk areas painted in Tamiya XF-69 NATO Black, I could then move on to the Dark Sea Blue.

My go-to aircraft paint, Tamiya, does not have a color that out of the bottle is suitable. I have mixed up some Tamiya brews before that worked nicely enough, but as I’m a bit lazy… OK, A LOT lazy, I’d prefer to use something from the bottle.

I had two choices at hand. One being Vallejo Model Air USN Sea Blue (71.295), and the other Model Master Acrylic Dark Sea Blue. 

Purely from a usage standpoint, I prefer Vallejo. It airbrushes nicely, is reasonably durable, gives a good finish, and cleans up well in my airbrush. If all other paints disappeared, and I could only use Vallejo, I’d still be quite happy.

The Model Master paint is another story. First, I’m still not really happy with Testors killing off Pollyscale years ago, which was a far better paint than the Model Master Acrylic line. Pollyscale had some great colors, and worked nicely. So purely from a general principle standpoint, I’m not thrilled with anything Testors.

But beyond that, the paint suffers from awful tip dry, even when using the various methods to prevent it. I’ve always thought the finish was a bit too grainy in places for reasons that so far escape me. And my final grief – and this one is really often the deciding factor – is that these paints gunk up my airbrush in the most awful fashion.

So with these facts in mind, I was all ready to put the Model Master bottle aside and grab the Vallejo. But I thought I’d do a bit of a side by side test, just to compare the colors.

Much to my chagrin (word points!), the Vallejo paint just did not look right. It was a bit too gray, with almost a hint of purple. The Model Master paint, however, was almost mockingly close to being “right”. Photo reference after photo reference proved this out.

With great reluctance, I put aside the Vallejo color, and grabbing my handy Badger stir tool, opened the bottle of MM Acrylic and mixed it up. (Stirred, not shaken…)

I thinned the paint at a ratio of about two parts paint to one part thinner, my choice being Vallejo Airbrush Thinner. A few drops of the Cold Gray were added, just to make some account for “scale effect”. I normally pay little attention to that, but as blue can be quite the booger to weather, I knew I needed to start a bit lighter.

I began applying the color in slow fashion, building it up as I went. In past experience I’d found this technique worked better for this brand. Tamiya paints can look just fine when applied in a heavier coat, but Model Master’s Acrylics just seem to lose their mind and run all about the place when applied in similar fashion.

Happily, as I built the color up, it did go on reasonably well, with no orange peel or roughness to any great degree. The theory about using the gray primer also seemed to be the right choice, as I was able to build up over that and yet retain just a bit of the lightness of the undercoat.

With that coat down, I was pleased with the result. While the color is a bit glossier than I prefer, which effects later weathering techniques, I did think that overall it looked the part of a plastic model painted blue. 😉

I decided to get a bit brave, and try adding a hint of panel fading on the upper surfaces. The MM Acrylics have never seemed particularly good for fine, close work, so I knew I might end up needing spray back over any fading work I did. Still, I thought the risk was worth it. Adding more of the Cold Gray and thinner to the color cup, I went in to the various panels – on just the upper surfaces where the sun would beat down the most – adding in some subtle fading. (And I use the term “subtle fading” a bit loosely… it’s less subtle than I’d intended.)

It worked, mostly. The paint was still a bit difficult to control, and I had to clean off the tip literally every 30-45 seconds. (A process I had become quite used to by now…) Yet it worked effectively enough that I left it as is, knowing (hoping) that later weathering effects will blend things a bit to look more organic.

At the end, I was reminded why I dislike this brand so much. The process of cleaning my airbrush out was epic. “Gunk” does not begin to describe the paint that got into the nooks and crannies.

Despite that, I have the blue color applied, and some fading that is… well… there. The look I wanted to achieve is not there, plain and simple. But on that count, I place blame squarely on my own shoulders. Cracking the code on the USN blue is still eluding me.

So expect to see more blue USN aircraft in the future. 😉

4 comments

  1. Job, that looks terrific! Like yourself, I do not care at all for the Acryl line by Testors at all. Pollyscale was a fabulous paint but they killed it off. I hunt down Aeromaster GSB and use it myself. While I agree that Vallejo is a good paint line for this particular color I’ve never found or used a better representation. Of course that just my 2 cents LOL!

  2. Just remember that during this period of time, 1944 – 1954, the area forward of the cockpit windscreen was matt NS Sea Blue to diminish reflective glare. Check your references.

  3. That looks superb Jon!

    It’s nice to see you building some aircraft again. Was that a commercial choice or now that you’ve building a mix of subjects have you just got back into them?

    1. You hit the nail on the head- it’s a commercial choice for the most part. While I did feel the pull to build an aircraft model, I must build in order to stay in the hobby. And aircraft sell better than the other stuff I’m building right now. I am enjoying it though- it’s not a complete chore! 🙂

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