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  • Painting a 1/1200 Frigate - the lessons learned

    Having just completed my first 1/1200 scale Age of Sail ship I thought I would share a few thoughts and the lesson learnt in case they are of help to anybody interested.

    The most important lesson, I believe, to creating good looking ship models at this scale is one of accuracy of painting, but not of detail.

    The model in this instance was the 1/1200 28 gun “at quarters” British Frigate from Langton models. The “kit” itself is very simple comprising of only 2 parts – the hull, and stern gallery. Sails have to be purchased separately either as white metal or etched brass. The latter come with three masts plus the bowsprit, while for the former the sails and masts are cast together. A choice of sails is available providing a range of settings. Brass ratlines specific to the model can also be purchased.
    The frigate hull length is about 3.5cm (1.5 inch), with an overall length of about 6 cm (2.25 inch) and height of model is about 4.5cm (2.5 inch).

    1/1200 is a small scale. While it is perhaps an obvious statement it also shapes how the model is to be painted constructed and viewed. If I hold the completed model to my eye I can comfortably view it at about 6 inches – that equates to viewing the full size ship from 600 feet way. At that distance a great deal of detail cannot be seen, which is lucky given that at 1/1200 scale it is also very difficult to model detail so small. On a gaming table when viewed from 12-18 inches this equates to viewing the frigate at a distance of 1200-1800 ft (400-600 yards). Being aware of this helps puts into perspective the level of detail that can or should be seen on the model.

    What is however far more noticeable than detail is the accuracy of the paintwork. If a straight line at this scale is not straight then it is very noticeable. I would argue that a straight, but thicker line is better than a thinner wobbly line. Hence my comment that accuracy is the key here. Painted lines need to be straight and the various detailed parts need to be neatly painted. Splodges of paint must be avoided along with sloppy paintwork.

    Working with layers of thin acrylic paint makes it easier to be accurate when painting. Mistakes can either be removed with a wet brush, or painted over when dry. This “repairing” of the paint work is something I was doing at every step, whether it is touching up chipped paint, or removing an erroneous brush stroke. Doing this as I work on the model serves two purposes. Firstly I correct a repair as soon as it is made and so do not forget about it, particularly if it is not too easy to see, or is hidden from easy view. Secondly by keeping the paint work as accurate as possible I found it keep me motivated to remain accurate and not let standards slip as I work on.

    In order to make the model visually appealing and also stand out it is apparent that the painting of the model is more important than the detail of the kit.
    Good colour contrasts need to be created where possible, while at the same time colour harmony also needs to be retained. We are lucky that the colours used at the time (as far as can be told) do help provide both these requirements. As any artist knows blue and orange are complimentary colours and that the sea is blue and that brown and ochre are variations of orange (ok that is a gross over simplification but it provides the essence of the point). Light browns and yellows against a deep blue provides good colour contrast and a range of orange and yellows with a smattering of black creates further contrast and an attractive colour palette. Sails and ropes provide the opportunity for variations of these colours so providing harmony across the model. Details can be painted (creases at the corner of sails, blocks on ratlines etc). Depth can be created by the careful use of highlights and shade (This works particularly well on the sails). Painting a model at this scale has more in common with painting a picture on paper or canvas than building say a highly detailed aircraft or tank kit at 1/72 scale.

    Take the opportunity to enhance detail, or add to the visual where ever possible. This can be done by using a specific colour choice. Why paint the bulwarks of a model the same colour as the hull if an alternative is possible. Use the colour contrast to enhance the detail by making the bulwarks stand out. On the Brilliant I used red ochre, although of course I didn’t as it would be far too vibrant and out of scale. In consequence nearly all the colours have white added to them or are lighter versions of the real life colour. In my mind I called this using “pastel” versions of each colour. The bulwarks are actually a light pink, the ratlines are dark grey rather than pure black. The green stripe on the ships boats is a shade that catches the eye but remains in scale.

    I mentioned the sea earlier and I feel a good base for the model is essential. A degree of sea around the model puts it in context, and bow wave and wake detail reinforce this and give a sense of movement. At the same time the base allows for easy handling of the model while being constructed and painted.

    And lastly there is the rigging. Despite being way out of scale a degree of rigging and ratlines are required to finish these models. It is however a bit of a black art, and I think one of those cases where less is more, and definitely a case of appearance is far more important than accuracy.

    Lessons learnt - in no particular order

    • Invisible thread is
    • Superglue is heaven sent
    • 1/1200 is the not the scale to worry detail
    • Take the opportunity to enhance detail, or add to the visual where ever possible
    • Accurate and careful painting is the main requirement
    • The sea is blue.
    • Superglue is the devils spawn
    • The maths of 1/1200 scale - a six feet high man will be 1.5mm high
    • In order to be visually appealing use good colour contrasts while retaining colour harmony
    • Use “pastel” colours
    • Repair paintwork as you go, and as frequently as required.
    • Sails must not be one colour
    • Langton’s ratlines have a front and back side

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Painting a 1/1200 Frigate - the lessons learned started by PeteW View original post
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Bligh's Avatar
      Bligh -
      An excellent intro for new shipmates just starting out Pete.
      I have placed it in the "How to" Forum.
    1. pajaromuerto's Avatar
      pajaromuerto -
      Yea, thanks for those introspective remarks about the process. Very helpful, either as new info or to reinforce or validate stuff we have thought of ourselves :)

    1. TexaS's Avatar
      TexaS -
      A small note: Blue and yellow are complimentary colours. Stare at a Swedish flag for a minute and then at a white paper you'll see it inverted. On the other hand the sea most of us represent on our models have a little green in them and turquoise is the complimentary colour of orange.
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