Monday, April 13, 2015

Paint it black and close it up

Like many of you I have a lot of models in my stash. More than I can build in my lifetime. Well, maybe....

What if we could speed up our builds, go from building five models a year to 10. Or if you're already building 10 a year then to increase your output to 15 or 20? We still may be be able to build all of the models in our respective stashes, but we'd build considerably more by the time we go to that big hobby shop in the sky, right?

I've had a few ideas, and I've wanted to test and write about them. This one is a bit of a success story, so I thought I'd share it, if only to prove that I practice what I preach...and that sometimes my suggestions are actually viable!

Last summer I saw an F4F Wildcat fly at The World War Two Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania. I'd never seen one in the air before and was struck by its speed relative to the other aircraft. Who knew that a reciprocating engine could propel a rocketship! I knew I had to build one eventually. Fast-forward a couple of months, and I stumbled upon an Academy 1/72 F4F Wildcat on sale at the LHS. It was cheap, so I bought it.

I took it off the shelf recently to build it but immediately saw how crude it is. The cockpit is barely better than those provided in the old Matchbox kits of the 1970s, and the engine is about as simple a representation of a radial engine you will see while still being identifiable as an engine. I briefly looked for a resin replacements for both, found what I needed on eBay, and put them into my watch list. Then I thought to myself, "Self, as cool as the airplane is, you're not really a huge fan of the Wildcat. Why do you want to put a great deal of money and time into this particular model when there are so many others in the stash that excite you more?"

I wondered how I could build a $5 model without investing $40 of resin and 40 hours time into it. And do so relatively quickly. What if I build the cockpit using only the parts provided in the kit but paint it completely black. It's a small cockpit and the single-piece canopy can't be positioned open, so black would hide the nonexistent detail and allow me to quickly proceed through assembly and to painting and weathering, which is what I most enjoy. Could I do the same for the engine? Sure.

So I committed to building the model as quickly as possible so that I could focus my time and effort on the finish, which is what I enjoy most. A quick application of black paint on the appropriate parts and I was ready for assembly within 30 minutes of opening the box.

Assembly was fairly quick, and after filling seams and rescribing a few panel lines I had the airplane ready for painting.

That's where I spent most of my time with the model, painting it. I used my typical custom-mixed Tamiya paint, matched by eye to photos of Wildcat models I studied on Hyperscale and ARC, and weathered it with some post-shading, pastels, and artist pencils. I'm happy with the result considering how quickly it went together (even if my photography skills leave a lot to be desired). It looks good in my display case, where the black hole of a cockpit detracts little from the overall look of the model.

In fairness, painting a cockpit black may not work for everyone. Some cockpits are quite large and visible (such as an A-37), or you may simply enjoy painting and detailing cockpits. I do, too, but looking forward I can see myself doing this again, if only to increase my annual output by one or two models a year, which could amount to my ultimately completing 50-60 models more than I would otherwise.

Try it. You might like it!


  1. It's definitely an option, perhaps at the extreme end, but it could well achieve a boost for anyone feeling blocked by the feeling they HAVE to detial cockpits to the nth degree before progressing on a model. I see quite a lot of excellent interiors, particularly on bombers and AFVs, which will be almost completely lost to view once the fuelage or hull is closed-up. The builders know this, of course, but it must in some way satisfy them to know it's all in there, and they do have the photos. Heck, I used to do it myself to a degree with AFVs.However, not everyone would feel that way and the "need" to detail, often with the extra expense and effort of aftermarket or scratchbuilt/modified parts, on areas that will be barley visible at best is certainly something for modelers to think about. Why are they doing it? Who are they pleasing? The personal answers would indicate which way to go.

    These days I would lean toward the "paint it black" method, (perhaps it could be termed the "Rolling Stones" method?), probably reigned-in to just a basically detailed cockpit to give some sense of shape and/or colour though the glazing as appropriate. Certainly, at my stage of life, getting the thing finished would in general be gaining increased precedence over detailing.

    1. Good observations. Yea, this is an extreme approach, so I'm more likely to paint what's there in the kit, avoid adding much more, and then close it up.

      Rolling Stone Method. I like it!

  2. Intriguing! I also bought this kit for $5.00 on a lark and had the same thoughts about the lack of interior detail. Considering the minimal investment, this may be a good time to try something similar. Thanksfor the post!

  3. I will admit I often prefer the look of an aircraft that is closed up rather than canopy open, but after spending so much time working on the cockpit I don't like to hide all the effort I put in to it!

    Though I might suggest maybe instead of painting it black, just paint it with the correct colour, roughly pick out some of the side wall details, maybe the seat if it was a different colour, throw an acrylic brown wash over it and then button it up.

    Obviously not as fast as just painting it black, but it should only take 10-20 minutes to do and with the canopy closed it'll be hard to tell the difference between a speed-painted cockpit and one you spent hours doing!