Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM



This has been the easiest article title I've come up with yet. Since the last article (Shadow of the Dragon) talked about how we customizers might improve on what the big producers give us, this one should attempt to demonstrate that, so this pitiful customizer can justify his pathetic existence in the Universe. I talked big in that article-- yeah, all it takes is a little bit of painting, tailoring and wham, bam, shazzam! Instant improvement. Talk is cheap. In fact, it's debatable whether anything I do in this article is an improvement. It just makes Dave look dirtier. You might be able to accomplish the same thing by dragging Dave through the mud or taking him to a donkey dance south of the border. But it makes me feel better because I feel like I'm doing something. I reiterate here that I'm not the world's greatest painter, or even a very good one. I'm just bold and not bothered by the possibility of mucking up a toy figure. This is how I play with my toys.

Before we get started though, I'd like to dedicate the cheap digital effect above to Ransome Chua. (As you can see, Evabeth is getting Dave in the mood to get dirty.)


Picture #1- Belt: The first thing you notice about Dave is that his belt is really cool, but it's way too clean and featureless. There's really quite a bit of detail molded in it, but it's just molded in that single color-- no paint -- so it doesn't stand out. We can fix that with a simple black wash.

Unfortunately, paint doesn't stick to rubber very well. In fact, the first thin wash of black sits on the top in lonely puddles. However, if you work it, spreading out the puddles, it eventually distributes and dries. You have to keep working it though, and not allow it to dry in a puddle and form edge lines. It may not look like much has changed. Do it again, and the wash goes on much easier. And again. Eventually the tan becomes a darker khaki color, and the recessed areas are a darker shade than the higher areas. Yes, the paint isn't very durable, but that's not really a big deal. It's not like we've put down a solid coat where a paint scrape is going to be really noticible. We've just made the belt (and canteen & pouches) dirtier. Rubbed off paint brings out the highlights.

The belt grommets are easy to do. I believe they're supposed to be a darker color, maybe black? In any case, you can use a fine tipped permanent (Sharpie) marker for this. It sticks to rubber well, and has a slight sheen to it which simulates a bit of metallic quality. It works well for the metal closures on the canteen and pouches too. In the right light, it almost looks like the part is shiny from wear-- the parts are so small that you really can't see that the shine isn't brass colored. You might also want to sand the attachment hooks and go over them with the marker. If I had some gun blueing solution, I might try that. The shiny silver hooks look really cheesy if left untreated.   (Burke Snow provides this valuable tip: "...Birchwood-Casey makes some gun touch up products called Super Black Instant touch up pen and Presto Instant touch up pen. The Super Black gives the metal a black painted appearance and the Presto gives metal a blued appearance. The best part is that both are like a marker and are easy to use..." Great tip, and thanks Burke!)

Picture #2- Leggings: is a comparison of the leggings with the same treatment applied. I didn't have to do anything to bring the lacing color up-- they get more defined when you put the wash down. I should mention that the process is a lot more free form than I'd indicated. You do a lot of wiping with your fingers and guiding with the brush. You can use the brush's capillary action to suck paint away from areas. Also, you can vary the paint thickness and concentration to put more opaque pigment into small detail quickly. Basically, you just let your eyes guide you, blending the effect and trying to make it look natural. This means no hard edged lines. I did add a little bit of dirt dust to the shoe-- shaved pastel dust, brushed on.

I suppose you could seal this stuff up with Dullcote. I didn't because it's just friggin' dirt. However, if you do, be sure to test the spray on a similar piece of plastic to make sure they're compatible. Also, the spray will probably change the appearance of any dust you put on.

Picture #3- Canteen: shows one of those minor details that Dragon left off. Even though you can't take the canteen's cap off, a real chain looks niftier than a sculpted on one, in my opinion (even if it's the wrong color-- you can always do the magic marker trick to tone it down). Very easy to do: just tack the ends down with clipped off pins. You may wonder where the chain came from? Over yonder. That's one of the few upsides of being a packrat. Knowledge of its true origins were lost many brain cells ago.

Picture #4- Buckle & retainers: (02/29/00) The buckle's slightly beefy, but you really can't thin it down because it's plastic and it might break. The metal ones made by other manufacturers are stamped metal, so they're not 3-D enough. At least you can paint this one to resemble natural wear: A combo of gray and gunmetal applied irregularly seem to do the trick. The rubber retainers can easily be replaced by a much thinner brass strip, appropriately blackened with gun blueing.


Helmet: You knew this was coming, right? This is the same thing I did with my Mitchell Paige figure, elsewhere in this website. Starting with the liner, I removed the plastic strap and replaced it with leather. I shaved it thinner, but it's still too thick, which is why I didn't reproduce the excess understrap after the buckle. The buckle is made from sheet brass or copper, cut into two pieces and formed into the clip and housing shapes. Although I drilled the hinge holes, I didn't put a hinge pin in.

I decided to replace the helmet straps entirely, including the "metal" attachment rings. The rectangular real metal replacements are hinged to the helmet by brass strips (although leather would have worked as well). I replaced the elastic straps with a wired cloth strap. Since the doubled over cloth is stiff, the wire lets you form it into a more natural-looking drape. The hook & miscellaneous hardware was formed with wire & brass-- I didn't have the best pics to work with, so I fudged on his right (pic left) connecting buckle (it's a Rio Rondo buckle).

The finish is kinda funky. It pains me to say this, but Texas doesn't have the best beaches, so the sand used in the paint mixture is pretty coarse. I could have used something more powdery, but that wouldn't have been "Texas". Yee haw. Naturally, there's a bit of the obligatory exposed steel paint drybrushed around the rim.

Pic #2: Screw Texas Pride (It's a cheap & lousy beer anyway). I removed the South Padre Island finish and added powder to the paint. It's a much finer-textured matte finish which I think looks a lot better. I've gotta admit though... that semi-gloss thing in pic # 1 looks interesting.

By the way, the color is slightly different from the original Dragon tint: It's olive drab mixed in with a touch of black. I assume everyone knows that these are acrylics, right? And for the record, I'm not too fussy about brands-- I prefer craft paints (like Folk Art, Apple Barrel, etc.) because of the neat dispensers, lots of colors and they dry quickly. Hobby shop paints are expensive and seem calculated to rip you off by being in small containers that don't pour onto a palette easily, and dry up too quickly if you leave 'em open. But Tamiya paint sure smells good! Tamiya's a very durable paint, but takes longer to dry and sometimes dries with a weird gloss. Also requires their special thinner (but you can use Windex if you want to muck with their cash flow). Whatever works for you.

Thompson: (read revision at end) The pics are too small to see much, but my main objective was to get rid of the uniform coloring which made it look bland. First step was to repaint the metal with home-brew gunmetal. This was a palette mix of silver and black, using washes to make it darker in crevices, and drybrushing edges with the silver. This exaggerates the detail as well as giving it a "used" appearance. Again, the main thing is to be subtle: You don't want clean lines anywhere. Even the edges which show wear should be blended into the surrounding gunmetal.

Although the original furniture looked good with subtle streaking, it was too uniform and clean to fit in. Fixing this required a fully loaded palette mix of red, yellow, beige, dark brown and black. It's difficult to describe how you do this, but you paint, smear, and streak the paint along a perceived woodgrain to simulate the rich coloration and texture of wood. As with metal, you try to imagine where the worn areas would most likely be. I used a thick brush with fairly short but full bristles, and used the continuum of washes to drybrush. Most of the final strokes were drybrush, followed by finger-assisted smears to blend the paint.

One of the cool things about repainting a finished piece is that you don't have to be too concerned about paint wearing off (unless you drastically change the colors). I don't know how much protection Dullcote actually provides, but it's a moot point for me because I can't seem to find my sprays! Another good thing about this is that I don't really have to paint all the magazines because my version of gunmetal is fairly close to theirs (and they're in his bag where they can't be seen, anyway!).

I didn't do much about the strapping because I'm kind of tired (...or, I don't have good reference materials, har har). One thing I will say is that Dragon uses the sturdiest jump rings I've ever run across. If you remove them, be really careful about plier-ing them open, and don't use the plastic nub for leverage. I had to use real needlenose pliers (when normally hemostats will do), and twisting the ring open threatened to misalign the tips. Anyway, here as in up there, the replacement metal fittings were colored with black marker. (I may come back and do the strap & buckle in a more authentic style.)

Revision, 02/28/00: After seeing a couple of these in person, I felt that my gunmetal hadn't really captured the look the real thing-- not black enough. Also, the receiver & magazine are made of two different metals and in most cases, the shade wouldn't match exactly-- the magazine is stamped steel and is slightly more glossy than the receiver. To fix this, I brushed pure black (airbrush) paint in a fairly opaque coat over the magazine, then polished it with a Q-tip. I polished harder at the edges to wear through the paint to the underlying more silvery black. The receiver was painted with a thinned coat of black, but this was polished through harder to reveal more of the original silver & black, overall. This technique of creating the wear is more authentic, because you're actually wearing down a finish to what's underneath.