Weathering Stuff

I have been weathering since 1971 and, any time now, I hope to crack it.

There is a serious message in that flippant opening line. Weathering moves on constantly, often driven by new products, techniques and modellers. Frankly, it takes an effort to keep up, and it is not inexpensive. Ironically, with all this support, it remains very easy to do badly. Apart from the arrival of acrylic paints (ignored by many to this day), nothing much happened for years; we all stumbled along, admiring the work of pioneers and certain show and magazine layouts, especially in the Model Railway Journal. Then came Martyn Welch and his seminal Art of Weathering (Wild Swan) – perfect in every way but for the lack of colour pictures. But he changed the hobby nevertheless. Then pigments came on stream, and custom washes, and the list goes on. We have progressed in leaps and bounds since 1971, and there is even an international weathering magazine!

Which brings me to the book in question – Weathering for Railway Modellers by George Dent (Crowood 9781785003301). There are two volumes, and I have purchased the first which covers locos and rolling stock. Volume two features buildings, lineside and scenery. The recommendation is short: if you have any interest in the subject, you need this book.

Let’s see why. There are plenty of people writing books and articles and making videos on weathering. The key issue is that very few are truly good at it. Even the doyen of the weathering world, Mig, doesn’t quite get it right on trains. Don’t get me wrong, they are hugely talented modellers. But this is about the overall package. Like assessing a Tiger tank’s ‘sit’ or a Gresley A4’s shape – it is a ‘look’ issue. Similarly, weathering that sets off a tank perfectly is usually not right on a locomotive. It is also possible to overdo it. Yes, I am very fussy and critical.

Mr Dent presents us with a mainly pictorial guide ranging through wagons, coaches, diesels and steam. Every picture is sharp and the details are clear. A decent caption accompanies every image, sometimes reinforcing the paints, colours, tools and materials used. It is not for everyone, but I learn well with this visual approach and after reading it in one sitting I can now revisit to check on specific techniques. There are over 200 pages of this illuminating content. I can see the book getting heavy usage.

The next plus point is transparency. Often the experts in the hobby publish a tutorial but don’t quite explain everything.  I assume this is for reasons of brevity or protecting their competitive advantage. They tell you that they used pigments, or a mix of enamels, or a varnish to finish. But they neglect to give you manufacturers, colours, details and proportions. It is like a vague recipe: make some pastry, add a filling, crimp the edge, bake it. We need the details, the measurements, even the timings. Or at least a shot at working them out. Mr Dent shows pretty much everything in every picture and even if a jar is obscured, we can see the code. This is extremely useful; the only downside being that the price of all the materials used will make you wince!

So finally, to style. Mr Dent has a wide range of knowledge, experience, techniques and paints which means each of his projects is individually treated – bespoke weathering. There is a complete absence of a ‘quick spray weathering’ where one style fits all (and works for none of them). This results in a bewildering array of names, terms, materials and images. I absorbed it all, but I already knew a lot of the techniques from military modelling. Importantly, everything works. The wagons look spot on, the coaches are less dirty, the diesels have believable grubbiness and we learn to impart the sheen of steam. All convincing, all explained. And explained so well that if there is something you don’t agree with, you are well armed to ring the changes.

This is an excellent book. I really can’t fault it. Probably the best since Welch for railway subjects, and if you had both on the shelf you would be well prepared for any project – but like anything worth doing, be prepared to put in some trial and effort. I intend to track down the second volume as soon as I can.  The book is pretty much up to date, covers a huge variety of techniques and subjects, and the pictorial coverage is excellent. Highly recommended.

Available from airbrushes.com and the usual book retailing outlets. The Art of Weathering can be found second hand until, one fine day, we see the revised edition.