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bob letterman

Working with Pastels, a lost art?

I've seemed to notice that throughout the years, when modelers wrote books or even magazine articles, they always struck me as not intended for the people who needed a bit of help or was a newbie, but for other modelers in their level! Sometimes they would use jargon that was unknown to some and never explain their systems fully. I've noticed that has continued onto the Internet.

This is a simple, no frills little technique that may have possibly became lost through all the years of pigments, filters and so on. I just completed a weathering of the locomotive that will go into my Logistics diorama of which I used this technique. I am certainly not putting down anybody's techniques or products, just reminding some of the younger guys that you don't necessarily have to spend a small fortune to weather. When i sold VLS I still had gallon cans full of pigments that we repackaged and sold under the Tech Star labels. I gave them away because I preferred pastel sticks.

You can buy pastel sticks at any art store and I would imagine even places like Michaels. They are relatively cheap, and one stick can last years! I have a wide assortment of colors, and I can't even remember the last time i bought any. It was long before 1999 when my business partner and I went separate ways. I'll write this as though the reader never heard of pastels, so all you old modelers bear with me please!

This is what a pastel stick looks like. This one happens to be olive green. I've used most brands and could never notice any difference. So, buy whatever is the cheapest.

Then I took a piece of thick plywood and cut a piece of sandpaper to roughly the same size and then tape it, face up with tape. I used duct tape. As you can see, It's had years of use!

I'll start with simple rust. There are a lot of products out there that I am sure will work well and if you're satisfied with one, then stay with it. I've tried several over the years and I prefer to do it this way. I take the object to be rusted. in this example, I'll use an old 1/16th scale engine block, exhaust and muffler and some leaf springs.

Then I prepare the pastels by rubbing them back and forth on the sandpaper until there is a pile of the pastel powder. For rust, I use black, burnt sienna and raw umber sticks. Keep the piles separate even though you'll be mixing them on the model being rusted.

After gluing the components together, then paint them with a dark, lusterless, (Flat) paint from a rattle can, air brush orsimply brush it on. After you are finished it won't matter which. I used Testor's flat black here.

Immediately, while still wet, take an old, larger preferred brush with worn out bristles worn very short and collect dome of the Burnt sienna powder and start jabbing it directly onto the wet paint. Here is the brush I used.

Continue picking up more of the burnt sienna powder until the object is fairly well covered. The pastel chalk will absorb the paint and the object will acquire a flat, roughly textured finish very similar to metal that has been left to the elements for some time. It is the texture I prefer with this method as opposed to some of the commercially available products I have tried.

The texture can be varied from extreme as in the photos below, or very subtle on models that you want to simulate newer rust just by the amount of coats you give it.

Then stick it in the black powder and jab here and there as well as the raw umber pastel powder. Continue until you are satisfied with both the color an the texture. Here is an extreme close up so you can see the texture as well as the color. And, yes, this is extreme, something that has been out in the weather for months.

Then blow off any excess powder into a trash can. It is messy stuff and if you're not somewhat careful, will get all over you. It does wash out of clothes! Another shot.

Here are the leaf springs.

And, all three components rusted.

Here is a car prepared for rusting. In this situation, the car had exploded and burned!


And after.

In other applications where intense heat was involved, then the use of white pastel powders come in handy!

I have used this technique on many model applications, such as exhaust manifolds on cars and trucks.

It works great on machinery that is laft outdoors and receives a lot of beating from the weather,

Here on the iron base of a statue, (Used primarily in Asia). The photography didn't capture the rust color very well.

On this dark gray locomotive cabin, a light swirl here and there of black and burnt sienna pastel powders gives it a dirty, used appearance as well as some fine, subtle texture.

I used it as well to blacken the floor to simulate coal dust.

Even the texture and color of this locomotive was created using pastels, except with a super soft and large brush, (Like the one I "Borrowed" from my wife Susan's makeup box). :-) They're great for this. Risky? Sure, but that's part of the adventure! Right? :-)
The technique is a bit different. You begin with spraying the entire locomotive with flat black, I let it "age", but on this, it really isn't necessary. You begin by taking the soft brush and "swirling: the black pastel on an area. Then do the same with the burnt sienna. I was generous with the black, but skimpy with the burnt sienna, otherwise it would look like the burnt out car above. Just slightly here and there until it looks just right. Then I used a rattle can of Testor's lusterless clear. and gave it a light coat just sufficient to seal it. Then move on to another area. Repeat until it is covered and then another very light coat to cover the entire locomotive. You can also use a tiny bit of raw umber as well. First, here is a close up of the actual finish.

Then the finished locomotive from further away.


I have used this method to weather ships.

An old friend of mine, Jim Stephens, (You may remember his models from all the Shep Paine/Kalmbach books), was a master with pastels. This Truck in my museum was completely weathered with pastels only!

A few years ago, in a campaign on this website, I built a 1/8th scale Yellow Ferrari from Pocher and the engine came with no chrome at all, just black plastic. I got this magnesium effect using Humbrol 27003, Polished Steel, by mixing a bit of medium blue pastels in the humbrol paint on a pallet. I brushed the mixture on, being careful with my brush strokes so they would not be visible after polishing. After drying, I polished it to this finish with a soft cloth! I love those Humbrol metallics. I've never seen any product that will simulate metal better!

I have found a thousand uses for pastels and continue to discover new ones all the time. Why not use pigments instead? No doubt you could, but, the pastels cost less, last longer and I believe have a wider variety of colors available. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it? On another day, I'll talk about "filters"! I believe that if you can get the same results and keep it simple, keep it simple!

Thanks for looking in!


bob letterman
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