Paint special!

Just some random warblings about how I abuse various types of paint.
Not a how-to paint-by-numbers recipe that you should follow dilligently to get a guaranteed nice result, more a description of a chaotic process as it usually plays out here, some reasons why I do things the way I do and a lot of jumping off points to go make a mess of your desk yourself.

I may keep adding odds and ends to this post in response to questions I get, so if you’d like to know something, dump it in the comment section! I regulalry get paint questions so it would be nice to have a sort of FAQ here.

Part 1: Stuff I use.


Let’s start with the basics: paint. I mostly use humbrol and revell enamels, because that’s the stuff I’ve used for years (and we have a ton of the stuff at work.)

Humbrol paint used to be really good as evidenced by some 40 year old cans my dad used back in the day, but sadly quality (coverage, drying time, drying oil) and consistency (two cans of the same number can have very different colours) have gone down the drain considerably. Not sure why, environmental regulations? At the moment I pretty much gave up on gloss or satin humbrol paint as it seems to be generally hopeless.

A general rule with matt humbrol paint: ignore the oil on top, only use the chunky stuff from the bottom and thin it down yourself, The oil will make it dry extremely slowly and the result will often be glossy. Yes it says on the can you should mix the oil in. They lied to you. Only when using humbrol in an airbrush it’s sometimes good to add in a little bit of the oil to get a slightly smoother result.

To make up for this, I use Revell satin paint. It’s good stuff, just seems like humbrol sticks a bit better to your model.

Here’s a list of colours I (should) always have in stock:


  • 33 black
  • 28 warm light grey
  • 62 orange brown
  • 63 sand yellow
  • 60 red
  • 29 earth
  • 72 khaki
  • 98 dark brown
  • 100 dark orange
  • 56 aluminium
  • 70 brick red
  • 117 green
  • 109 blue
  • 30 dark green
  • 101 bright green
  • 82 orange
  • 35 gloss varnish


  • 2 matt varnish (doesn’t go white. The humbrol equivalent does)
  • 5 white (better coverage compared to humbrol white)
  • 301 satin white
  • 302 satin black
  • 310 satin yellow
  • 330 satin red
  • 350 satin dark blue

model master

  • chrome (alternatively humbrol 191 is ok-ish)

artist’s oil paint (brand doesn’t matter all that much I believe, I use Rembrandt)

  • vandyke brown
  • burnt sienna
  • raw sienna
  • chromium oxide green

This list is just a start of course, these are just the colours I use the most for mixing. Yup, that’s right, from now on: nothing straight from the can. Mix that stuff. Use your eyes.

Dump all these paint cans into a random drawer like I do and you’re living the professional modeller life. bonus points for half of them having the lid barely on and having leaked all over the drawer and/or just being completely bone dry.


  • games workshop chaos black primer (sticks. excellent coverage.)
  • some cheapo primer (I found out the cheapes hardware store stuff actually sticks better to brass etchings than all sorts of expensive stuff)

I keep these rattlecans for models with loads of metal bits where humbrol won’t stick all that well, but for most applications humbrol sticks better than the vast majority of purpose-made rattlecan primers. When using enamel paint, in general I’d say avoid using primer on resin or styrene, it’s not really necessary and it can go spectacularly wrong.


Then, get some solvents. Those bloody things seem to have different names all over the place, so I’ll just use the dutch names here, will add the correct names in other languages later as hopefully you’ll put them in the comments

  • terpentine (smells nice. Not very volatile. doesnt strip off dried paint.)
  • wasbenzine (more smelly. more volatile. otherwise kind of similar to terpentine) (ge: waschbenzin)
  • (cellulose) thinner (angry stuff that glues styrene, very volatile, strips dried paint. Also, I always use it when thinning paint for airbrushing)


Also, get an airbrush. Doesnt really cost more than a nice locomotive and you already have at least 25 of those, so the 26th one can wait. I’ve had a badger 150 ever since I turned 18, wrecked the first one by storing it dry while not cleaning it meticulously every time so you have to take it apart with a certain amount of violence, the second one got a different treatment: It lives in a jam jar full of thinner.

The good thing about a badger is that only the air valve is not thinner-proof so that part stays attached to the air hose, the rest of the airbrush seems quite happy after a couple of years submerged in thinner. I later improved the jam-jar by adding a sort of deep-fryer-basket floor to it so the tip of the airbrush is a bit above the sediment at the bottom of the jar.

When the airbrush is not in use the lid of the jar is my oil paint mixing surface, because of why not.



Just look at this sorry lot and uh yeah. Isis treats their POW’s better than I treat my brushes, so please don’t do as I do. anyway. Get some nice small ones but not only small ones as usually the biggest brush that will only just still do the job will actually get you the nicest smoothest result.

Part 2: What to do with all this stuff.

In the past I have already written about painting stuff in the context of a single model. Here’s a list of some projects that had some stuff about paint that may be useful:

So… I’ll quickly go over the process again and tell some reasons behind it and some experiences I’ve had that may be useful:


Most models, both vehicles and buildings, start with a black or dark brown basecoat. This works very well to make sure the surface of the model is not translucent anymore, lending the model a much better, more solid appearance. Just blast it on with the airbrush, full coverage, especially in all the hard to reach places. After this you can spray the final colour with only partial coverage, simulating some shadows, giving the model more depth.

So, what base colour to use? well, most top colours work fine on a black basecoat (humbrol 33 with some cellulose thinner), but very light colours, especially white, yellow, light grey, cream etc will not react well at all to a black basecoat, as the black will turn them very cold blue-grey-ish. In these cases use dark brown. Just add some orange-brown (62) and/or red (60) to the basecoat.

For a model with a nice satin finish, don’t use matt humbrol but satin revell (302 for a black basecoat, add a bit of red 330 for yellow/white top coats.) Spray the satin basecoat and top coat a bit “wetter” (less air, more paint) than you’d do with matt paint.

In case the colour of the model needs to be really bright, use a light grey basecoat.

where not to use a basecoat: fresh wood, or wooden stuff where you’ll use oil paints for nice wood effects.


Well, just throw the right colour in the airbrush and go at it over that basecoat you just laid on, right? Well, pretty much. Some things to take into account when mixing the colour:

  • generally, it’s much easier to make a model darker than lighter. Take this into account when mixing your colour, go a bit light.
  • even on a dark brown basecoat, the chalky light brick and concrete colours on a lot of industrial buildings on le bassin tend to get “pulled around” by the dark base coat quite a bit. You might want to make colours like that a fair bit “warmer” than you’d want the end result to be, as in, almost a skin tone to get a warm grey result.
  • for red brick buildings, humbrol 70 brick red can be a quite useful colour. Do note there’s a lot of blue in it though, so on black it tends to go quite purple. Add some humbrol 100 to compensate.
  • when spraying the brick walls of the Ougree houses I basically sprayed several parts of a house with a certain colour, added a splash of another colour to whatever was in the cup of the airbrush, wen spraying bits of another house, addes another splash of another colour to the cup etc. This way all colours tie into each other, yet there are a lot of subtle differences and it works quite conveniently.
  • Something to plan beforehand: which colour will you actually spray? mostly, the one that will guaranteed look like shit when brush-painted. So what to do with a house with a nice white gutter on top of a brick facade? well. Spray the brick, then spray as much as you can of the gutter white, without masking (because lazy and dont want to wait for the brick to dry) and without too much overspray. Basically, spray as many colours as you can. This row of houses is a good example of how much I usually do by airbrush, without masking tape.
  • I’m not going to write a lot about spraying trains and vehicles, as I’m not particularly good at it. My methods work for weathered stuff, but pristine models require more cleanliness and organisation than I’m willing to invest. Basically, it’s the same as everything else, basecoat (mostly matt, sometimes satin) and then just throw on a layer of satin yellow (well, most of my vehicles are yellow anyway). Same as with the light bricks: make the colour a bit lighter and warmer and things will mostly be fine.
  • When painting models with weathered/bleached paint, spray the model in its original colour, mix up the bleached version, spray on the bleached bits.
  • Seriously dirty steam trains with red wheels and frames (german stuff): spray it all dirty black (humbrol 33 and 29). Add the red later using drybrush. This works much nicer than having everything bright red and then trying to cover 90% of it again. Mentioning this here and not in the weathering section in case of homebuilt locomotives like my PKP stuff.
  • finally, a list of colours that I found work pretty well:
    – Rust: humbrol 70 and 62, just mist it over a mat black basecoat.
    – Wood: humbrol 28 and 63, no basecoat. After drying, wash humbrol 62 for fresh wood, add a bit of black to the wash for older more weathered wood.

Oh no! it looks all wrong!

this is entirely normal, you need to gain some experience how different colours react to each other, or your paint mojo has just taken a long weekend off. It regularly happens to me as well. No panic though, now comes the fun bit: launching a rescue mission to fix your bricked model. For example: I had been airbrushing just about most of a day and then realised those chalky brick walls of the ateliers centraux were…. well… far too yellow. I sort of ignored it at first, already started painting details on those walls (not the smartest thing perhaps), still hated the walls, then just gave the walls a wash with some humbrol 28. fixed.

Those walls went very yellow… Pretty Vollmerish I’d say.
wash with humbrol 28 to the rescue. Toned down nicely.

The opposite happened here, on my first building with those pesky white bricks: it went all greenish. This is actually a bigger problem…

but some washes containing quite some humbrol 62 and various grime turned it around quite well. Had something similar with some yellow trains, a raw sienna oil paint wash fixed that quite effectively

Where a wash won’t do the trick is when a model turned out too dark. The best course of action is just to spray it with a lighter colour….


After you got the model sprayed in the main colours it’s detail time. Just some good ol’ brush painting, nothing special. When using mat humbrol colours, watch out with the oil getting you nice shiny spots, keep digging the stuff from the bottom of the can, thin it down with some terpentine. You can go properly artistic and use a wooden palette, which works because the wood and layers of old paint absorb the unwanted oil from the fresh paint you’re working with, but for those less sophisticated like me a bit of cardboard works just about as well. I use it in the same way as a palette though, just have blobs of various colours on it and I keep mixing all the time.

It does pay off to already do some weathering at this stage, like imitate damaged paint (chipping) by taking a small, wrecked brush dipped in some thick half-dried humbrol 98 dark brown (its basically manhole cover brown, perfect for bare metal) and running it along all sorts of edges and do some random stippling in larger areas. Basically like sloppy poorly executed drybrushing. You can do this with lots of care on trains or just go at it like a mildly rabid baboon like I did on this blast furnace frame.

blast furnace 7 frame. First sprayed black (humbrol 33), then a mix of 70 and 62 all over to get the whole thing looking rusty. After that sprayed the light grey 28 slightly from below, so the floors are still rust colour without having to do any masking. After that the 98 drybrush as mentioned above. This is just about the only decent picture I have of a model at this stage… apparently painting is more fun that taking photos. Below some counterweights of the same blast furnace. The counterweights got a wash to separate the concrete from the grey metal frame a bit.


The main method I use to get pretty much everything that’s seriously grimy up to standard was concocted while painting some old Espérance-longdoz ore cars that had been repurposed for coke traffic and were painted bright yellow.

I wanted some nice high-contrast weathering, lots of dust in all the corners, bigger surfaces occasionally cleaned by the weather, some traces of water running down the sides, taking dust with it… In the end this turned oud to be relatively uncomplicated: just grab an old brush, humbrol 33 with a bit of 29 and paint the edges of some of the panels on the wagon body, then get some clean wasbenzine, a somewhat stiff brush and start washing the paint off the middle of the panels again in vertical motions to simulate rain streaking. I used wasbenzine because terpentine will stay wet forever, disolving the paint and letting it flow freely all over the wagon. I wanted the paint to stay pretty much where the brush left it, so wasbenzine did the trick because it evaporates much more quickly. Do help the drying a bit with a hairdryer, this reduces the risk of unplanned paint flows and annoying shiny spots in case there was a bit of oil in the paint.

This same trick can be done in a much more subtle manner when you put much smaller amounts of paint in place using the airbrush, then working with that still wet paint in much the same way using the wet wasbenzine brush. Here some work in progress on fauvet girell 73. Put some sort of “airbrush beginner’s weathering” on the loco, then started to play with it with it on the frame and the long hood. Cab and short hood still as airbrushed.

And a close-up of that same cab and short hood after brush treatment (didn’t really do much else on the yellow) Note: I added the number decal after weathering the loco. This prevents the decal from interfering with the weathering, I later blend in the decal by just brush-painting it with revell 2 matt varnish and if needed a bit of humbrol 72 drybrush.

On the top of a steelworks loco you’ll find plenty of dust, so after making some streaks and doing some stippling with the wasbenzine brush in the paint on top of the loco I added another mist of the same colour with the airbrush. As a finishing tough I added a mix of water, white wood glue (PVA) and real steelworks dust to all horizontal surfaces. (just brushed it on, then immediately dried it with a hairdryer to prevent it from making glossy water stains)

Blast furnace 7 also got a far bit of this type of weathering, putting paint in place with both a brush and the airbrush, then lots of wasbenzine-brushing. A lot more dirt near the bottom, somewhat cleaner near the top.

This same trick of dropping some paint on the model and then streaking it out works very nicely with oil paint as well.

You can do it the other way around as well, especially on larger rusty surfaces like the cowpers of blast furnace 5. Wet the surface with terpentine, make various rust streaks with vandyke brown and raw and burnt sienna. The oil paint effects look much stronger when wet, so if it looks a bit scary at first, you’ll notice it all disappears mostly by the time it’s all dry.

Highlighting details

As described above, you can use a wash to adjust the colour of a model, but of course it’s also important to add a bit of depth to a model. When choosing the appropriate colour to use as a wash, read the bit about the basecoat again, as it basically works the same, you can thoroughly brick some yellow/white/cream model with a “cold” black wash.

You can use a wash to cover a large area, but also do small very local things like picking out individual bricks in a brick wall. Doing this randomly enough to get a natural look can be surprisingly hard! It usually takes a bit of time to get into the right state of mind and then it just goes automatically. I tend to go ovwer the whole wall, sporadically picking out bricks, then getting denser and denser. Meanwhile the wash is changing a bit as I add paint and/or terpentine, so at times you’ll darken bricks a lot, then after the wash waters down not so much anymore. This gives some nice variation, but will not look good if you systematically work your way over a wall from left to right. Of course you can do the same with light colours as well, or rooftiles etc…

As the wash creates the shadows, you create the light with some drybrushing. My go-to colour for drybrushing anything a bit darker coloured is humbrol 72, as it is a nice sort of grimy-dusty coulour that also has something “metallic” to it, works excellently on black train bogies, al sorts of rusty stuff etc… On lighter colours 28 works well, or a mix of both. White tends to be a bit aggressive, but it has its place, for example on lead covers on roofs etc.

a little example, click on the pic for a larger version:

This row of houses shows many of the techniques mentioned above.

  • a normal wash on the storefront shutters
  • oil paint streaks above the storefront and on the alley-door on the right
  • black-ish industry dust under the gutters done by painting these areas with the good old 33+29-mix, then feathering it out with a wet wasbenzine brush.
  • highlighting individual bricks (well, darkening them actually) with a black was on the red brick houses. The yellow brick house got the same treatment but note the different wash colour used: don’t remember exactly what I used but probably something humbrol 62-based.
  • drybrush is not very prominent here, but it’s very much there! 28 on the brick bits white on the shingles on the house on the right and the bluestone decorations.

Some very unspectacular vehicles. You’ll see the chipped paint (98 drybrush) on the crates in the truck and on the forklift. Some fresher damage is actually still shiny. (pencil and/or a drybrush with a bit of silver). Some washes put a bit more emphasis in panel lines and other details and of course there’s the usual rust streak here and there. a humbrol 72 drybrush always works great on tyres. The chains of the forklift hoist mechanism have some shiny grease on them (humbrol 35 gloss varnish with some dark brown/black)

More of the same, basically, see what you spot for yourself. Some fuel spillage streaking below the fuel filler cap of any vehicle will make it instantly life draining.

Well. with these examples I’ll end this paint special for now, in case you have more questions, please let me know in the comments!

Now, go and mess up your hobby desk!



3 thoughts on “Paint special!

  1. Hey Floris,

    This is a very informative piece about paint, color use and the effects of a colored base. Thanks for that!

    I myself am a “yogurt-type” for many years, (acrylics). But used to spray a lot of Humbrol so that is also very recognizable. And Acrylics like Gunze (MrHobby) have exactly the same issues with sometimes an awkward undefinable goo on top of -what matters- the paint.

    I may have another tip; As a primer for on resin, brass and all those other materials we so like to mix up, I have recently added a rattlecan Aluminum primer to my palette. Thin mist coat is sufficient. I like this well. Does not chip off and shrinks nicely so details are not lost.

    And furthermore, keep up the good work!



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