How to: Weathering

Articles and tutorials can be a bit tricky. They always just show one way of doing something or one artist and his or her method of achieving a certain result – and they never show the way of doing things. Still by giving you a few insights into my approach to weathering BattleTech miniatures I hope you find something useful to take away and add to your toolbox.

For me weathering is something that truly makes a Mech ‘come alive’. I just love it as it can add so much detail and character to a miniature. A couple of times I have tried to paint a clean Mech with a shiny ‘out-of-the-factory’ scheme, but I can’t. I always come back and add at least a little bit of wear and tear. Hey, even with Jamie Wolf as the pilot the paint scheme will suffer scratches and wear around the feet just moving out of the factory.

When looking for inspiration I often look to military modelling masters like Mig Jimenez. Trying to adapt their ‘classic’ techniques to BattleTech miniatures is very challenging as it leads us to arguably the biggest problem we face: scale. Traditional techniques often look out of scale on Mechs (remember: BattleTech is 6mm scale) and you just can’t do all the details as convincingly as on a 54mm (or larger) scale vehicle. But this is also where the fun part starts, trying to make certain things work on a smaller scale, finding out what works and what doesn’t, giving your own twists to techniques you read about.

Weathering can be done in so many ways using many different techniques, but I want to give you a closer look at the process I most frequently use for adding battle damage and chipped paint on a Mech. Presumably this is simple and straightforward, but there are many variations and possibilities. Trust me on this.

The first picture shows a Cicada I am painting in the colors of House Marik’s Iron Guard. At this stage I have applied the base colors and added first shades and highlights, nothing special or complicated so far. I’d say the shading/highlighting is about 50-60% finished. Many tutorials about chipped paint add the chipping after a miniature has been (mostly) finished. This is not ‘wrong’ of course, but I like to add the damage and chipping at this stage as I feel this gets more varied and interesting results.

To create a random pattern for the paint chipping I use the tried and true ‘sponge technique’, a commonly used technique in scale modelling and increasingly in miniature painting for a plethora of scales. As a sponge I take a bit of the foam you can find in the blister of the miniature (or also available in most craft stores). This blister foams works quite well at 6mm scale as the structure gives you smaller rather than larger spots. I don’t cut off a piece of the foam, but tear off a piece. This greatly helps with the randomness of the pattern.

My paint is a mix of black and a dark brown thinned just a little bit with water (a bit more black than brown – can’t give you an exact ratio as I don’t work this way). I have used a color called Dark Rust, but any dark brown or red will do.

Next dab your sponge into the paint, remove excess paint (dab the sponge on a tissue) and dab the sponge on the miniature. This is very easy, but it takes some practise. If there is too much paint on the sponge you will get huge blobs of paint without much structure. Because of the scale issue we are looking for smallish spots. I remove quite a lot of paint of paint and dab the sponge on the miniature fairly heavily and more than once on each spot. It is also important to (roughly) keep in mind where chips would happen. I usually concentrate my spots around the feet and edges or use them to break up large surfaces. When trying to figure out where chips and damage would occur also keep in mind that chipped paint and damage can be caused by many reasons: the Mech bumping against something, shrapnel and debris flying around, weapons fire.

You may notice that I have also added a unit number and the Marik Eagle before ‘sponging’ the miniature. It doesn’t matter if you use decals or do it freehand – if you want those markings to look weathered, add them before ‘sponging’.

As you can see in the picture I concentrated the ‘sponging’ around the feet – a location were naturally lots of wear and tear occurs – and the right side of the Mech where I imagined the Mech as having taken some damage from weapons fire like an LB-X autocannon for example.

Enough with the randomness, now it is time to define and refine the spots using a brush (I use a size 1 or size 0 sable brush with a fine tip for this and all following steps) and the same paint mix from the previous step (thinned a little further though). At this stage take a brush with a fine tip and connect some of the spots, creating larger chips and add more spots and streaks where you think they look good. The aim here is to shape the randomly applied pattern to better match the effect you want to achieve and also to add things you can’t achieve with a random application like streaks or a line of bullet holes.

Now it is time to add some depth to the spots. We are trying to create the impression of chipped paint and light battle damage which means we are trying to create a three dimensional effect on a flat surface. To add some depth I take a rusty brown (for example Bestial Brown from GW or Light Rust from Vallejo – as long as it is a rusty red or orange brown color), and use it to highlight the larger spots towards the top. Don’t apply this highlight on all spots. You will get more variation by only highlighting some of the larger spots creating the impression of ‘old’ chips and damage which were already subjected to time and the elements. As you can see in the pictures this steps really makes the chips ‘pop’.

Almost done with the chips and damage (for the moment), but a very important aspect is still missing: to complete the three dimensional illusion it is important to add a very bright highlight to the lower parts of the chips creating the impression of an edge which catches the light. For the highlights I mix colors which are close to my final highlight colors overall. As I don’t have fixed ratios for mixing colors and at this point don’t really know what my final highlights for the blue and purple will be, I will just approximate.

When working with the transparency of thinned acrylic paint exact mixes aren’t very important so this is not a problem. For the chips on the blue areas I use a mix of Reaper Master Series Ashen Blue (my base color) and Vallejo Model Color Ivory. For the chips on the purple parts I mix up a bit of Vallejo Model Color Purple (my base color) with a very light blue and Ivory. Again I want to point out that I don’t highlight all chips that way. Leaving some spots dark adds variation and helps with the scale. This way we get a good mix of deep chips and superficial scratches.

Another way to add some superficial damage is to just add a few streaks of the highlight color. For those streaks I thin the paint a lot and have to apply most lines a couple of times before the result is noticeable.

That’s it – we are done with the ‘sponge technique’. If you apply this technique after everything is finished this is roughly what your results could look like (maybe toning done some of the wider and brighter highlights a bit – if this had been the final stage for me I would have taken greater care to paint very fine lines). But as mentioned above the shading and highlighting on the Cicada isn’t finished yet.

That means we are now painting over all the carefully applied chips and damage. Usually my painting is based around applying thinned layers of paint over a solid basecoat, working a lot with the transparency of thinned acrylic paint. That’s why my layers of shades and highlights don’t completely cover the chips, but rather work like filters fading the chips a bit. In my opinion this again really helps to create the impression of old and new chips. Some damage is more recent, some damage has been there for quite some time, greatly helping with realism (as far as realism can be applied to Mechs). After being satisfied with the shading and highlights the Cicada looked like this:

Almost there, but not quite … bear with me. As you can see all the chips are rather faded now, but as I really want to create the impression of old and new damage I re-highlighted a few chips. Just a few, be careful not to overdo it.

Something else I did at this stage was to add a few dirt or rust streaks running down from some of the larger (or rather deeper) chips. Those streaks are a two-step process:

  1. take a rusty red or orange brown and thin it down a lot. Now apply the paint in a very controlled way creating a rather broad streak running downwards.
  2. Take a dark red or dark brown color and create a much finer streak inside the first. This becomes easier with a bit of practice.

All that is left now are the finishing touches, additional details, maybe another shade here and a highlight there (yes, my painting is that chaotic and ‘back and forth’), and it is time to introduce yet another weathering tool: pigments.

To finish the Cicada I used some green and brown pigments around the feet giving the impression of dust and dirt (just dap the pigments on using an old brush). I made sure to use pigments similar in tonality to the colors I used for painting the base. Pigments can be used in many different ways (for example to paint rust on a barbed wire as seen on the base), but that is better left to an article on its own.

Here is a comparison between the first step and the finished miniature:

The process I have just described probably sounds more complex and difficult than it actually is. With a bit of practise all the steps almost happen automatically (and sometimes in a different order – for me painting is very intuitive and, well, uncontrolled in a way). And you don’t always have to go to such extremes – looking at my own gallery here on CSO the Griffin IIc for example was created with similar steps as described above while the damage on the Firebee was added after the miniature had been painted using only one or two washes to tie everything together. The difference is not that noticeable in the pictures, but when comparing the miniatures in hand it is very obvious.

Something else to note: the whole chipped paint look is much easier to pull off on lighter schemes. It is difficult to make look good on darker schemes or even black. I can be done of course. The theory is the same and the same techniques can be used, but it takes some tweaking and a slightly different emphasise on methods used.

Well, now you have reached the end of my little excursion into the world of weathering. Again I want to stress that the techniques and methods shown are by no way the only or best way to weather a Mech, but (one of) my ways. Looking forward to seeing what tweaks you add to make those your techniques.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me via the forum here on CSO. And now get painting!