Thursday, June 23, 2016

The dilemma of D-Day stripes

This month we commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, so I thought it would be suitable to briefly write about one of the more popular topics of interest to modelers of World War Two era aircraft, D-Day stripes. Conversations about these markings on the forums are often contentious, but they shouldn't be. We can all pretty much agree on two points.

Some D-Day stripes were painted with great care.

And some D-Day stripes were painted seemingly with a mop from the mess hall.

And if you look hard enough, you'll find examples of D-Day stripes between these two extremes of neat and careless. That's good new for us modelers, because we can’t get D-Day stripes wrong, right? Well, sort of.

Here’s the rub. If you choose to paint perfectly applied D-Day stripes, your model may look like…a toy. Accurate, perhaps, but still toylike. If you choose to represent carelessly applied D-Day stripes and you paint them as poorly as they appear on that Boston above, people will think you’re a crappy modeler. Yes, a knowledgable modeler will realize what you’ve attempted to do, but your finishing skills will still appear to be subpar.

I did a quick image search in Google to look for models of P-47s, B-17s, etc. that feature D-Day stripes, and I discovered that the majority of modelers play it safe, applying fairly neat stripes. The results are generally effective. To be sure, I found some really nice models in the process and saved a more than a few for inspiration on future projects. But in general, it would seem we're reluctant to show sloppy D-Day stripes.

What makes a D-Day stripe “sloppy?” Well, it was poorly masked (or not masked at all), the paint was applied haphazardly, resulting in inconsistent coverage over the area, and the paint might have been applied with one very thick coat.

Knowing that, how do we show sloppy D-Day stripes on a model? I think the answer is, we don't. The key is striking a balance between what I refer to as accurate sloppy and representational sloppy. On an actual aircraft it would look something like this Spitfire, a photo that I'm sure you've all seen before. This is the general effect you should probably strive to represent on a model. Although the white paint seems to quite thick, these two artists have made a good attempt to keep the lines straight and the width of the lines consistent.

To mask representational sloppy stripes, you can toss aside the idea that you can paint them without masking. Maybe your grandfather did so on his P-51 in 1944, but in scale (even 1/32 scale) masking goes a long way to your achieving a good foundation for the stripes, even sloppy ones. The tape you cut for the masking doesn't need to be cut perfectly sharp and straight. You can score your tape partially through and then carefully pull the tape to create a mask with a slightly ragged edge. The degree of raggedness depends on the scale — the larger the scale, the more ragged it can be.

And then there’s coverage. When you apply each of the white and black stripes, you don’t have to apply a complete coat of paint. A thin to medium application of paint provides sufficient basis for a subsequent application of very thin paint applied with a brush, which is an attempt to represent the application of paint by brush on the actual aircraft. If you apply a thin coat of paint, leaving just the impression of brushstrokes, the in-scale effect should be ideal.

Here's my Hasegawa 1/72 B-26. Look closely and you'll see that the edges of the stripes aren't perfect; I left some imperfections to suggest that they weren't too carefully applied. I also did some chipping, assuming that the paint probably wasn't as durable as that which was applied in the factory. These stripes don't capture the effect quite like I had in mind, so you can be sure the next time around I'll vary my technique a bit and see what comes of it. (And you can bet that if I do another B-26 I'll spend more time fitting the landing lights properly.)

Finally, despite my joking about there being too many discussions about D-Day stripes, this recent WIP of a Typhoon on Britmodeller provides good advice for sizing your stripes.

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