Monday, July 4, 2016

On Miniatures - Essay The Third - The Professor And The Paint

The Professor And The Table Saw
(But that's another story...)

Right, then; this is going to be a somewhat complicated post - or maybe a couple of posts - about painting miniature figures as was practiced in Ye Olden Dayes.

Back in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, collecting and painting miniature figures meant that one was working in 54mm scale, and doing figures of (hopefully) museum quality. When the smaller 'wargame scales' - and I have seen a local guy doing French and Indian Wars in 54mm; it's astonishing!!! - were introduced, there was a lot of the collector figure painters doing the small figures, often as part of gaming clubs.

I'm going to skip over the subject of artists' oil paints, which were the paints of choice for a lot of the collectors; they can be used on miniatures to spectacular effect - one of my daughters does this, and it impresses the heck out of me what she can do! - but the paint takes forever to dry. Most modelers, in this long-ago time, used either enamels such as the American Testor's / Pactra line, or the lacquer-based Floquil line; painters outside the US had access to the superb line of Humbrol enamels; Humbrol paints were available in the US, but only from specialist suppliers and at great expense. As a result, they enjoyed a certain 'prestige value', right up there with artists' oils.

Acrylic paints, which will figure (sorry about the pun) later on in our story, were not widely known or considered for miniatures at this point in time. More anon...

Both Humbrol and Floquil came out with lines of their paints - Humbrol Authentic, for example - that were aimed specifically at the miniatures painter, and these are what was the standard paints in use when I started doing wargame-sized figures back about 1975. These had very specific colors, based off samples of actual paints and dyes, and were very useful for us - if you wanted an authentic paint scheme on your model, you looked at the list, bought the paint, and brushed it on.

So, the Tekumel connection. Phil loved miniatures, and he used Humbrol Authentic and Floquil Historical colors. When he says 'red leather' in his "Painting Guide" in "The Dragon", or 'scarlet' in the painting guides in the "Armies of Tekumel" series, he's talking about specific paints in the Humbrol Authentic line. Similarly, when he wanted to describe the paint he used for Tekumelyani skin, he specified Floquil 'Samoa' (M-80, in the old catalogs). Oddly enough, he never did specify the exact color he used for the Tsolyani 'Azure Blue'; I have some samples of what he used, and I'll mention them as we go along.

When I was Summoned To The Presence in early 1976 to paint figures for Phil, I had to make a list of everything he used, and what for; I then went out and got some of everything, as well as the paints I was using for my own models, and that's what we'll be discussing as we go along.

Now, the bad news. Floquil, Humbrol Authentic, and even the humble Pactra lines ae no longer being made. So, we'll have to look at the paint racks in the shops or online to come up with substitutes for these vintage paints. Here, as in so many things, the Internet is our salvation. Let's take a visit to our friends in Stockholm, and the website of the local chapter of the IPMS - the International Plastic Modellers' Society:

and to our friends at Microscale, suppliers of very handy hobby stuff:

Now, I do have a footnote to the Floquil chart; they do not list 'Samoa'. My suggestion for this color would be the Testor's 'Model Masters Acrylic' #4707 "Red Earth"; I matched this to a sample of Floquil's 'Samoa', and it's as close as I think we'll get to what Phil used.

How do I know this?

Okay, I'll confess. I still have my Secret Stash of all the paints I bought back in the day to paint figures for Phil, and they're all still useable - I made sure to always keep the threads on the caps clean, the appropriate solvent in the bottle to keep the paint 'wet', and - like any good wine steward - I kept the bottles in a cool dark place. (The cellar, or basement as we call it hereabouts.) to come up with my color matches, I painted a half-inch square of the old paint onto a flat white bit of styrene plastic card, and then did samples of all the new paints on the same card. I use three 60-watt incandescent lamps on my workbench, and I looked at the samples under this light - I paint under these, so it made sense to me to do it this way.

Now, we'll pause, and let all of you ponder these historical facts; now that we have the basics, I'll move on in the next post to more specific information. However, I do need to provide this very important safety warning:

While Humbrol enamels use mineral spirits / turpentine as their solvent, always check the actual tinlet that the paint comes in for the exact thinner to use on these. Floquil is a lacquer-based paint, and will dissolve anything made of styrene plastic that it comes in contact with - the solvent is basically acetone, which is the 'active ingredient' of plastic model cement. Both paints were made long before there were any kind of safety considerations being thought of, and both are toxic - Floquil very much so. I would very strongly advise anyone using these paints to use a good respirator (I do, and I insist on my girls doing so as well) and an exhaust fan; better yet, paint outside. But still: wear the respirator!!! I also use gloves and eye protection, which is why I am still alive; I can think of quite a few of my painting friends who didn't take the precautions that I have for the past four decades, and are no longer with us.

Next up: Chirine's guide to painting for Tekumel...


  1. Amazing to maintain paints for that long!

    Seeing your ships on the shelf in the background, got me to wondering if you could show us all your watercraft please?


    1. Thank you! The secret seems to be to keep the caps clean, and to make sure to put a couple of drops of the correct thinner in the jar or bottle if the paint won't be getting used for a while.

      Ships and boats? Sure, happy to; that's an old photo, from four years ago, and the Missuma River Yacht Club's fleet has grown a bit. I'll shoot some new photos, and get something done.

      Love your blog, by the way! Can I post a link to it?

    2. Thanks all around and please post a link

  2. I was just at the army museum in Toledo (Spain) where one whole wing was dedicated to the history/hobby of painting miniature armies...apparently a very solid pastime that has spanned several centuries. Amazing to see the development between figures over time...even two-dimensional tin soldiers are impressive when painted up and organized in the hundreds. 54mm might have been the standard in the 60s and 70s, but smaller scale (3D) models have been around since before that!

    1. Great observation! Thank you!

      Agreed; painting miniatures has been around as a hobby for a very long time. I have a stack of 'mass-market' books from the Sixties about the hobby, and it was very much a 'gentleman's hobby' back in the day. I have some flats in my collection; they didn't seem to catch on here in the US, for some reason. 54mm seemed to have become a standard during this time - Airfix and Historex did plastic figures, and there were a lot of small companies doing metal ones here in the US. Bill Murray, of Old Guard, was a 54mm guy before he did the Tekumel 25mm figures...

  3. Here in Poland Pactra paints are still available.

  4. Wow! Really? That's a good thing to know, when I finally need to restock my supplies...