Ship model building has long been a popular hobby for some and a near-obsession for others. Some die-hard model builders insist that ships be considered true fine art, rather than “craft” or “folk art,” according to Erik Ronnberg’s North Shore Living article “Ship Models in the Art Market.” Starting out in this craft is relatively easy—the basic skills take little time to learn, yet years to fully master. Painting can be the most daunting task for a new model builder. But with the right paints and proper technique, even a novice can do a quality job.
Pull out a pack of fine-tipped mini-brushes (see Resources below). While you can eventually transition into air brushing for certain models, paint brushes will give you better control as you start out. Stock up with several brushes if you plan to build more models later; brushes are cheaper when purchased in sets. You will see a wide array of brushes on sale, but stick with a basic fine-tipped mini-brush for your first ship. Later, you can experiment on scrap paper with fan brushes, angled brushes and other unusual brushes.
Determine what colors you want to use. While most model kits do not come with paints, the better ones suggest colors. Purchase paint specifically designed for models (see Resources). It is available at craft and hobby stores.
Look for water-proof paints if your ship model is one that really floats.
Invest in primer; you will end up using fewer coats of paint and the colors will last longer.
Apply primer to the entire model using a large fine-tipped brush. Make sure the primer covers everything; you may need a smaller brush for tight corners.
Wait for the primer to dry. Consult the primer bottle for the time that will take.
Paint the largest areas of color first. Use a relatively large brush, but make sure it is fine-tipped; you don’t want to have big, visible brush strokes on the body of the ship. Model paints typically cover well, especially when the surface is primed. Still, do not become discouraged if your first coat does not look perfect. Wait until the paint dries and then apply another thin coat.
Use the thinnest, finest-tipped brush for minor detailing, clean lines, and touching up any accidental blotchy areas near colored edges. As with the initial painting from Step 7, multiple thin coats are better than a thick coat; let the first layer dry and add more paint later on if necessary.