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Tom Hall

Scale Colour Effect: When did it come to plastic modelling?

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I first recall reading about so-called "scale colour" or "scale effect" adjustments of model paints in the middle 1980s. It was in Fine Scale Modeler in the USA.

When and where did this topic first come to plastic modelling? In the UK? In the USA?

What was the groundbreaking article on the subject? Did the topic start in the model railroad hobby before reaching the plastic modelling crowd? Who was the benefactor (or culprit, depending on your point of view) who brought it into plastic modelling?

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Hi Tom, the time frame sounds about right for me too, though I can't remeber how it snuck up on me and not that I've been too bothered with it, that or weathering. I suppose if it foalts your boat and you have time to get involved it it then OK. Persoanlly I just get as close to the colour refered to using available modfel paints and then I'm more or less happy. It's the subject that normally matters to me.

Colin

Lynx-GB-banner_zps53c18225.jpg

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Ian Huntley had an article in Scale Modelling. This was before the days of SAM so would make it no later than 78/79.

Trevor

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Thank you. That's a good clue, Headroom.

Is it safe to say that in the late 1970s Scale Modelling did not contain much about model railroads?

Do you know of any bibliography or listing of articles that appeared in Scale Modelling in the 1970s? I'd really like to track down and read that article and any earlier articles on the subject to see how the doctrine entered the plastic model hobby.

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Scale Models magazine did a special on model colours in the 70's , this included a chapter on scale colour effect , written by Ian Huntley . I've got a copy somewhere , tucked away . Probably predated FSM article by several years.

Andrew

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Thanks. Yes, I suspect the doctrine got started in the UK and that FSM didn't run with it until some years later, as IPMS-USA did.

One correspondent says Ian's articles appeared as a series in Scale Aircraft Modelling. I'd like to be able to read the article(s) to see whether it was misunderstood.

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Ian Huntley certainly had a series of articles in SAM, but covered a wide range of subjects and not restricted (or particularly devoted) to "scale colour". Surely the practice was simply that common to artists for centuries, and application to models will have predated any appearance in dedicated modelling magazines? I suspect that it only became highlighted, as it were, with the common appearance of very specific paints linked to official specifications, Applying these directly to small scale models results in an excessively dark appearance to the colours. This may not have been noticeable when it was normal to mix colours by the eye to obtain specific hues, which would result in toned-down colours by natural means, rather than the excessively regimented proportions laid down in some accounts.

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That's what I'm researching: the who, what, when of the adaptation of a landscape painting consideration into a written guidance for modellers. I understand the doctrine and don't want to get into its validity here. Just its history in plastic modelling.

Mr. Boak, you make the good point that use of the doctrine in plastic modelling may predate any articles on the subject by some years. How widespread do you think observance of the doctrine was before essays on the subject came to plastic modelling?

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I simply cannot say, because it would have been happening beyond my horizons. Up until the mid-sixties I was as straightforward a solitary "kit basher" as you would care to meet. At this stage my main guidance was from the Aeromodeller, which was not really interested in such details and (I felt) took even the hand-made solid scale model only on sufferance. That and the model pages in Flying Review and Air Pictorial, such as they were. The late sixties saw considerable development in what was available, and my tastes developed along with that. I had no knowledge, and scarcely could have had any knowledge, of what older and more sophisticated scale modellers were doing.

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Scale colour, a very complex subject due to the way our brains interpret images. let me further complicate things with this image

11337629063_26b424b8b4_o.jpg

The two greys are exactly the same, put your finger over the middle to demonstrate, Its called the cornsweet illusion.

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Thanks, Cheshire, but as I said above, I'm not looking for a discussion of the doctrine itself. I'm looking for a magazine article. The first on the subject aimed at plastic modellers, whatever that may be. If you can post a picture of that magazine cover, I'd be grateful.

Thanks, Mr. Boak. I can't imagine that many modellers would have drawn a connection between art theory for painting backgrounds in landscapes and painting scale models before the article came along. Maybe just modellers who also painted landscapes. That, to my mind, makes the article groundbreaking for the hobby, and I'd like to know exactly what the man said in it. If no one can name the issue fairly soon, I'll probably contact the publisher, but it's really an imposition to ask a publisher to search for an old article with rather vague clues about where it might be.

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I do have the article in question, but it is much more about the preparation of metallic finishes and only mentions the scale colour effect in a single paragraph. It is in the special Scale Models Extra: Model Colour, which is not specifically dated but includes a Hannants ad with prices stated as correct for September 1977. (Inflation was a serious worry for the UK at this time.) This was followed - a year later? - by a second such issue called Scale Colour, where Ian spends slightly longer on the principle - a whole two paragraphs but with added diagrams. Send me a PM with your email and I'll scan you the relevant pages.

Edit. Sorry about the delay - I was misled by the reference to a "Scale Modelling". However, although many modellers such as myself approach the hobby from a more "engineering" aspect, I suspect you may be underestimating the number who would have been exposed to the idea in art classes at school and have then adapted such to their own hobbies. At least amongst the older modellers.

Edited by Graham Boak

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Ian Huntley was writing in Model Railway Journal in 1994 on the same subject, according to which he's been at it since 1944 ! I'll see if I can fish it out, IIRC it goes into some detail including the development of a 'Scale Colour Tinter'.

Edited by stuartp

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Tom,

I used to attend joint monthly meetings of the Miniature AFV Association and the British Model Soldier Society in the early 1970's. There was a marked difference of approach between the BMSS members and our MAFVA members. It was accepted without question by the BMSS lads that colour was modified to take account of the reduced size of the model figure whereas we had never considered the idea and didn't adopt it for our vehicle models when the BMSS lads mentioned it. They also used other techniques, such as emphasising shape by using deeper shades (tones) of paint for shadows and by highlighting raised details. We did adopt some of these latter techniques when we grasped their potential application to vehicles. It was very noticeable that several of the BMSS had had art school training. One was a set designer for a local TV station and another was some form of graphic artist or display designer. Another was a printer. This suggests that they had simply applied ordinary artistic techniques to their models as a matter of course and the other BMSS members had followed their lead. I was interested to see a letter published in one of their Society journals in which the writer argued against highlighting and shading which he considered unnecessary so the practice wasn't universal although the letter struck me as being a rearguard action in a lost cause by the time it appeared in the 1970's.

In one of his articles in SAM, Ian Huntley recalled his early realisation of the effects of distance on colour. He said that he had been looking at some railway wagons from the window of his office and had been struck by the difference in colour between these and the models he had seen on model railway layouts. This seems to have prompted him to try to formulate these differences for models of other subjects. At some stage, he wrote a book on the subject and I borrowed a copy from the library in the 1980's. The book was not new then but I don't know when it was published. I think it may have been an Almark publication but cannot now be sure.

It might be difficult to establish exactly when the idea of scale colour gained acceptance in scale modelling circles. In my experience, different types of modelling tended to have their own approaches to finishing and, until the later 1960's or early 1970's, techniques used in railway modelling, for example, were not adopted by aircraft or ship modellers or vice versa. Tradition seemed to have more influence than it has now. Scale colour might have been familiar to and accepted by some branches of modelling much earlier than by others. John Ahearn, a respected railway modeller and writer, mentions shading and highlighting in his book on Model Building Construction which was written in the early post-WW2 period and recommends the use of aerial perspective (colour modification to suggest distance) in painted and partly modelled backgrounds for layouts but I don't think he adopted a scale colour approach in painting his scratch-built locomotive models.

I hope this helps a little. Good luck with your researches.

Gordon McLaughlin

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Thank you, Northduk. That's interesting. Gives me some idea of his thought process.

Thanks, Mr. Boak. I appreciate you offer and shall contact you by personal message after a little more Christmas preparation around the house.

I have learned of some articles on the subject in SAM for August 1982, July 1983, and possibly also June 1979, shortly after the magazine came into being. Materials from the mid-1970s and earlier would be of interest.

Yes, I may be underestimating the number of plastic modellers who would be exposed to landscape painting principles in the UK. Would that have been typical curriculum at some point, kindergarten through 12th grade?

Here in the USA, where both my parents were artists (but not landscape artists) and where the schools I attended had fairly strong art programmes, I was not exposed to the idea of scale colour until I read model magazines. We did not study landscape technique at the schools I attended. What I remember was drawing, colour mixing, clay, yarn, papier mache, and woodblock printing. What my mother remembered was a kindergarten teacher who had a fixation about borders...for five-year-olds!

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P.S.: Thank you, StuartP, but I don't want to trouble you about that 1994 article, unless he retracts some of the earlier doctrine. Don't especially need a scale colour tinter.

Northduk, what scale(s) are we talking about on those BMSS figures and MAFVA models?

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There is a strong English tradition of watercolour and landscapes. I took art until the start of the 4th year at secondary school, so that would be 14+, which is when subjects were dropped for specialisation. Certainly I did watercolour landscapes, with the washed-out backgrounds being applied first with steadily increasing strength of pigment as I approached the foreground. I don't recall specific labelling of the technique other than the general observation that distances were weaker and faded out. I certainly didn't adopt it for my modelling until I observed it directly for myself around 1976 or thereabouts - when Airfix released their production Jaguar GR Mk.1 and I took a strip of different paints into the hangar. I can't honestly say that I regularly adopt it now, though I do tut-tut at myself when my 1/700 destroyers etc come out far too strident, and I know full well why... I do sometimes do my graded WW2 USN examples "one step down", and avoid the darkest of the IJN greys, but that doesn't add up to a large proportion of my kits.

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The earliest article I can recall is in SAM August 1990 Ian Huntley column 'A Question of Scale Colour' the Aircraft in Detail was the Hawker Hurricane. IIRC the article had a chart showing the % of 'tint' to be added to produce scale effect in different scales and ages of finish.

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Thank you, Sleeper, but I believe that tables of suggested colour adjustments began appearing well before summer fo 1990. I saw one in the middle 1980s and I expect to find some before that.

So, Mr. Boak, would your art education have been typical, and would it have been in the 1960s?

Japanese middle school students were studying watercolour and landscape technique in the mid-1990s. I saw it in classrooms there and some of it was impressive. I expect that it has a long tradition in Japanese classrooms. I may look into that.

One more question, Northduk: Would those BMSS figures have been considered part of the plastic modelling hobby? Or, were they metal?

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I believe that it would have been typical, yes. though I can only speak for my own school which was one of the better ones locally. Water colours being cheap, I don't see any reason why the less well-funded schools would have been different in this matter. You are looking at the late 1950s/early 60s.

The magazines of the 60s included articles on figure modelling as well as aircraft, railways, etc.

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Tom,

The figures that the BMSS lads painted were very varied in scale, media and subject. Their most common scale was 54mm (roughly 1/32 scale) but they sometimes worked in 25mm (roughly 1/76 or 1/72) and 30mm (roughly 1/60). During the 1970's, larger scales gained in popularity as new commercial figures appeared on the market. The largest that I remember were in 120mm scale although 70mm was more common. The more talented figure modellers scratch built their figures from whatever materials they liked but they were a minority. Metal figures were the most common but plastic figures of various kinds were also popular for their cheapness and ease of conversion or adaptation. These plastic figures included ready-made commercial figures in hard polythene (such as Britains or Crescent) and polystyrene kits such as Historex and Airfix.

The figure modellers used a wide variety of paints. In addition to Humbrol and similar enamels, they often used artists' oil paints and watercolours, gouache and drawing inks. We tended to stick to enamels.

The scales used for military vehicles also varied. My preference was for small scale, usually 1/76 and 1/72, and these were initially the most common scales. Larger scales were generally 1/48 and 1/32 but the emergence of Tamiya in the 1970's introduced 1/35 scale and this progressively overtook 1/32 as the most popular large scale. Plastic was the usual medium but scratch-building and conversion still involved the use of card, wood, wire, paper and other traditional materials.

In my experience, British schools didn't really teach Art as a serious subject. At my grammar school in the 1960's, we were given very little tuition in any aspect of art and were just given a tin of solid watercolour paints, given a subject and told to get on with it. We never looked at landscape or any other subject matter as a topic. If parents wanted their sons to learn about composition, light and shade, perspective, different media and other topics, they had to pay extra for tuition. I doubt if most peoples' art lessons had any influence on their modelling at all.

Best wishes,

Gordon McLaughlin

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My impression is that those with signs of artistic flair were encouraged to a greater extent than those without, but then I was in the sciences stream. What happened, specifically in the arts-oriented stream, once the uninterested were skimmed off and matters got more specific in the last two years before the exams, must have been quite another matter.

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Northduk and Mr. Boak, thans very much again for your comments.

To summarize, I get the impression that (1) Scale colour doctrine came into modelling, at least in the English-speaking world, via the UK, apparently starting at BMSS, then fairly quickly getting into the rest of military modelling; (2) The BMSS proponents had some understanding of landscape painting techniques, but it was probably gained by private study and not necessarily familiar to many UK modellers; (3) Mr. Huntley possibly picked up elements of the doctrine from the BMSS people; and (4) The book titled Scale Colour for Modellers was written by Ian Huntley and published in 1998 under the pen name of "Ian Peacock".

Does anyone happen to know whether Mr. Huntley is still living? If he is, I expect he would be in his nineties.

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I believe Mr Huntley died not all that long ago

Trevor

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Tom,

Reading your most recent posting, I feel that you are generalising too much from too little information. If there had been responses from a wider range of modellers, you might have had a more accurate, and more generally applicable, understanding of the situation. I suggest that the spread of scale colour in modelling might have followed a pattern more on these lines:

Plastic modelling was introduced, for most practical purposes, in the 1950's although there were a few plastic model kits, moulded in acetate, in the 1930's. Initially, it was not a separate form of modelling and was seen as a development from more traditional modelling as practised before WW2. Before the war, aircraft, ships, figures and railways were the most common forms of modelling. Models of buildings, cars, lorries and other aspects of townscape were largely viewed as part of railway modelling.

Although it was open to anyone with an interest in several areas to make models of various different subjects, the different types of modelling tended to lead separate existences and the literature devoted to each tended to reflect this separation. Meccano Magazine was the only widely available general modelling magazine before the war (as far as I know). Airfix Magazine and Scale Models were both introduced in the 1960's. This meant that techniques used in one branch of modelling might remain specific to that one branch rather than being widely known and adopted in others.

Questions of painting and finishing were often the result of tradition or the work of writers in specialised, single subject, publications. Model soldiers had a long history and encompassed wooden figures that simply depicted uniform colours and details, more sculptural figures for various purposes and "flats". Flats were very low relief metal castings or stampings and needed some knowledge of artistic painting techniques, particularly light and shade and aerial perspective, to make good use of them. Uniform information often came from coloured prints found in books or magazines on military history. The techniques used by individual modellers were entirely a matter of personal choice and the use of the art-related techniques would have been largely restricted to those with some artistic ability and the necessary training.

Model railway layouts varied, as they still do, in their approaches to painting. Railway company liveries seem generally to have been copied as accurately as available paints allowed. Scenery, buildings and backdrops might use techniques related to landscape painting if the owner(s) had any knowledge of them. Others might use the commercially available printed background sheets. Some ship modellers whom I once knew told me that they painted their models in lighter shades than the real thing because of the small scales that they used but they were not scientific or artistic in choosing how much lighter the paint would be. They just added white to suit themselves. Those aircraft modellers who made static scale models seem to have tried to match the actual colours rather than concern themselves with scale colour. As far as I can tell from reading pre-war modelling books, one branch of modelling had little, if any, influence on other branches where painting techniques were concerned. To a large extent, materials were often similar as few specialised materials were available for modelling. Specialised modelling paints were not available either. Books and articles refer to poster paints, watercolours and artists' oils.

When plastic kits appeared after the war, they sold into two distinct markets, established modellers who applied their existing skills and techniques to them and new modellers who were attracted to the possibility of making presentable models without the need for craft skills. Advertisements for early plastic kits often stessed this last point, saying that no cutting, carving or sanding was needed. These new modellers had no pre-existing traditions, customs or established methods to apply to their models and probably didn't consider ideas like scale colour initially.

These new modellers and the later generations, "brought up" on plastic kits, would mostly have picked up the more advanced modelling techniques, including scale colour, from the magazines that appeared in increasing numbers in the later 1950's and 1960's. They might also have acquired them from members of clubs and other sources if they bothered with them at all. In this way, they carried on the traditions, customs and established practises of the branches of modelling that they were interested in.

In view of all this, I doubt if you could say that scale colour was introduced into plastic modelling at any particular time and I think it unlikely that one branch of modelling greatly influenced the others until relatively recent times.

There is unlikely to be anything else that I can usefully add to this thread but I wish you luck in your researches.

Gordon McLaughlin

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