Not even close.

Not even close.

I’ve hammered away on the theme of deliberate practice in past blog posts but for this one I decided to lead by example.

For those new to the blog, deliberate practice is an advanced way of learning a new skill. In essence, you make an attempt with the new skill set, then stop and analyze the result, looking at what worked and what didn’t. You then repeat the process many times while incorporating the knowledge gained with each analysis. Practicing this way accelerates the learning process more efficiently than doing mindless repetitions.

For my deliberate practice exercise I focused on applying thin washes of color to styrene test pieces. For the exercise, I cut a piece of scrap styrene into several four inch squares and used burnt sienna oil paint and odorless mineral spirits for the color wash.

My objective was to build up an even wash on the test piece.

For my first attempt I placed a dap of the oil paint of a folded paper towel, dipped my brush into the undiluted color and then into the mineral spirits and blotted the brush on paper towels to remove the excess. The results were mediocre.

In my second attempt, I wet down the styrene, then dropped the color wash onto the wet surface and left  it to dry completely. This produced a more satisfying outcome but still fell short of my goal. Attempts three and four were variations on the first two that incorporated the lessons learned. All four attempts fell short of my goal. Here’s why.

As a perfectly smooth, non-absorbant surface, unpainted styrene is a poor candidate for this technique. The wash will just sit on the surface until the carrier liquid evaporates, leaving the pigment behind. It doesn’t matter if the wash is oil or water based, the result will be the same.

Additionally, if there’s too much liquid, it will tend to pool near the edges of the test piece and the color will concentrate in these areas. These factors among others render this technique totally unpredictable in this application. Although I haven’t tried it yet, I suspect that a coat of primer, a fixative or a layer of paint would greatly impact the working properties of the wash by giving it something to soak into. Of course using the wrong type of thinner to create a wash on a paint layer will likely result in a disaster too.

Used under the right circumstances, many thin layers of color can be built up with this method, giving the most subtle tones and variations imaginable and this is what I want to get to with the technique as it applies to modeling railroad subjects.

In some ways I’m re-inventing the wheel in these experiments. I’m doing them to gain some insight while I’m waiting on the arrival of a new book that will answer my questions about the right approach to this technique.

A mere four attempts at something hardly constitutes an intensive learning regimen, let alone mastery, and yet I have learned a great deal from these simple practice exercises. I plan to continue with them in preparation for future weathering projects because they are a low risk, high value alternative to ruining a good model.