Colour Modulation

introduction by Miguel 'Mig' Jiménez
As a friend of Adam, I’ve seen how how his painting skills have evolved in an never-ending search for new directions and challenges. In reality, today’s modelling has become fairly ‘stagnant’ trapped within an almost stifling style which is both very technical and inflexible at the same time. This style, doesn’t give the modeller enough margin to either innovate or to create new styles within these (established) techniques. This ‘strangulation’ is, in part, due to the last few years. The incredible increase in dissemination of information which magazines and the ‘net can take credit for, have, in effect, created a double-edged sword. On one side, modellers have learned numerous techniques – which they’ve been able to apply with great success. However, on the other hand, the fear of ‘rocking the boat’, has led to an almost unquestioning acceptance of the ‘status quo’, and a difficulty to introduce new techniques and styles. We could say that painting techniques, have, in effect, become globalized.

In a tireless search for inspiration and originality expressed through his modelling, Adam has found himself being drawn into the techniques applied by the Baroque Artists such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens or Velásquez. These classical artists based their works on the use of light to generate depth and to accentuate expression. Their work was absolutely innovative within their period and, although it may seem strange, is actually very far away from what is actually done nowadays in modelling in the search for realism.

Adam has attempted to apply these concepts of use of light in his last models, achieving what he was working towards in the model featured here – a Panther Ausf. F in 1945. Based on the vivid contrasts of shade and light exhibited in the Classic paintings, Adam has achieved ‘one more step’ ahead in military modelling not simply with a new style, but opening up a new world of possibilities. Although some figure painters have been using these techniques with great success, no-one, up until now, has achieved the same with a military vehicle model with so much conviction.

This, is the new era of the Color Modulation Style (The point of ‘meeting’ between two radically different colors or shades. The modulation may be ‘soft’ (diffuse) or ‘sharp’ (created from various diverse shades))

I have been airbrushing different tones in my base-coats to add depth and contrast helping to differentiate various details from each other on the recent models I have finished. I have further differentiated the assorted tones more and more on my recent projects in an attempt to discover just how much variation and contrast I can obtain without it being too obvious on the completed model. I am now referring to this technique as The Color Modulation Style. With this method I am using different amounts of lights and darks in the colours starting with the base-coat, then continuing with the chipping and finishing with the earth-tones. I am calling this a style and not a technique because I am simply shifting existing finishing methods.

It is also important to know that I use lacquer thinner to thin the Tamiya paints I am using for this style. 96% Isopropyl alcohol has always been the means for modelers to thin Tamiya paints because of the false assumption that they are acrylics. Tamiya paints are not acrylics. They are only advertised as so to probably make them look less toxic. Tamiya offers both an alcohol type thinner and a lacquer thinner. The quickest way to distinguish the two thinners is that the alcohol type thinner contains a blue cap while the lacquer type has a yellow cap. You want the Tamiya thinner with the yellow cap. Tamiya paints spray much better and go on much smoother when using the lacquer thinner. You will also notice less of that dreaded sandy build-up on the surface of the model often obtained with Tamiya XF paints. This is very important because I apply successive layers of paints when working toward the highlights. Therefore it is very important that all of these layers spray on smooth to help ensure a nice sound basecoat.

Color Modulation uses different tones throughout the models painting and weathering but the most important step is in applying the basecoat. For this article I am going to quickly explain how to apply the base-coat into a simple Panther turret using other models I have painted to further aid with visual reference. Let’s get started.

About the Author

About Adam N P Wilder (ANPW)


I think everything you said is correct Jim, especially since you stated before hand that it is your own idea of what realism "is" as it pertains to military modeling. With the internet allowing all the folks here to develop and share their own ideas, its no big surprise that a "status quo" of techniques was born. Those modelers in the upper echelon, award winners and such, will always be followed for the quality of their work. People who are less skilled will always say "I want my model to look like that, how did you do it"? I think the important thing at this point is to encourage modelers of all skill levels to experiment and dive in to the unknown rather than following a diagram of how it "should" be done. While I am brand new to this site, it is not hard to see the division between those who think for themselves and those comfortable with conformity. As far as color modulation goes, I have seen it used on several of Bill Plunk's models, to some seriously subtle, but almost fascinating effect. To me the subtle blues and greens of natural fading in a Panzer Grey/German Grey painted vehicle are best represented this way. I'm sure there are other means of achieving it, however color modulation has been an artist's tool for a long long time and I'm sure you can imagine how it began. Paint a picture. Seal it. Not happy with some shading, too uniform. Put a dab of color on. Thin Brush. Smear it in. Very effective. Easily manipulated. It sounds like you really have to answer the question yourself. Since there is no side-by-side review, why don't you arrange for one? I'll help. I have never done any kind of weathering before except for dry brushing, so I'll be learning the techniques as we go. Right now I have a really bad, old, Tamiya kit of a Panzer II that I have just put the primer coat on.
JAN 11, 2009 - 10:47 AM
Hi Mike. truth be told i am still riding the learning curve on the whole weathering thing. anything i produce would not be the best representation of what this technique actually creates. as a control i thought the only fair way to do a comparison was applying the different techniques to the same base model all done by the same builder/finisher to minimize any disparities between finishing skill abilities and minimize any effect the various finishes would have emphasized or diminished as may happen between different models. a Tiger I finished one way and an Opel Blitz finished another way would probably not be fair to compare to each other. besides, different color plastics may also have an effect. the only multiple duplicate kits of military subjects I have are 6 1/48 Accurate Miniature P-51 Mustangs and 4 1/35 Tigers i have specific plans for. besides all that, i am incredibly SLOW at getting anything done because right now i don't have a committed work area. all my building and painting is done in my livingroom and only sporadically whenever i can get all my stuff out for a while without the silent reproach my wife is so good at shouting out.
JAN 11, 2009 - 10:32 PM
Hello I am sorry in that I was unaware that this topic still had action. It is very obvious that a few of you have really put much thought into these very interesting postings. Again, I apologize. I do not have two of the same models, one with and one without the CM style, to post next to each other at this time. I came up with this style, before I even decided to call it a style, to try to add another dimension in the basecoat while giving more volume and bringing attention to certain areas on a model. Over time I further altered the tones of the basecoat between the hi-lights and the lows in an attempt to make it more apparent on the finished model. I also had to start changing the tones in the chipping and weathering as well. I wanted to “force” the lights and shadows adding more volume making the static model more dramatic. My Panther F, the focus of the article posted here, was the first model where I was able to finally get an idea of just how much I would need to alter the tones in each finishing step to obtain a look of colour variation and volume on the finished model. As I said this style is a result of a certain finish I have been trying to obtain for a few years prior to this Panther. It is not my intention to change the hobby but simply have fun. Personally I prefer very dramatic looking models and my work has always gained me both very hard critiques along with nice complements and support. I was asked to make the Colour Modulation DVD after the success of the Panther F model. Although I have added to this conversation I do not feel as though I have answered any major questions. I just wanted to give some more of my thoughts about how and why I can up with this style. I guess that I do not really have any at this time as only time can tell just how much of an effect, if any, this style will have on our hobby. Sincerely ANPW
JAN 15, 2009 - 12:52 AM
Hi Adam, Nice article! Now, I do have one 'serious' question though. I was wondering why the use of filters was not a part of this article (or a part of the modulation style as a whole). I mean, as I understand it, the purpose of such style is to allow for subtle tonal differences on the vehicle's base color to truly mimic the impact the environment may have had on them (hence the use of various shades of what basically is the same color and the oil dot method). Please forgive me if I don't get it but wasn't this [achiveing such tonal differences as it pertains to the base color] also a reason for such techniques as 'filtering'? Would filtering, in particular, be then a separate process, as a wash would be, applied after the modulation style is complete? I am really just curious about where filtering fits in all this. Thanks, Rob
JAN 15, 2009 - 06:14 AM
Great question on the filter Rob. Offhand I would think it would have to be selectively applied or it may adversely affect the subtleties of the modulation. Adam: I really appreciate your response with this. My comment about the trend setters wasn't at all directed at you. It was just a general statement. As an example of what i meant the American gentleman, William Demmings I believe, who went to Japan after WWII and guided their industry, especially the auto industry, in its resurgence with his revolutionary ideas about manufacturing processes. He was ignored and about laughed out of the US because everybody thought his ideas were crazy. After what he did in Japan grabbed the world's attention, he was a much sought after consultant and his words and ideas were were almost Biblical. Certainly nobody was laughing at him any longer. For whatever reasons he felt the need to keep talking long after he had made and proven his points. In one of his last visionary proclamations given to industrial leaders he stated that what was needed to revitalize manufacturing was for everybody, especially engineers, to throw away their computers and go back to pencils and pads. Not the most intellectually glamorous statement a man of his accomplishments could have made, and, of course, fortunately nobody listened. That was what I was inferring with my comments about a cult of personality. Again, it wasn't directed at anyone personally, but just a comment that it isn't unusual for this to happen in any organization, any field, any activity. Personally, I'm glad people like you ARE out there striving to push the envelope. Last thing: Mig Jimenez was mentioned in a few earlier posts. What I find so unique about his view and approach on the art of model building is that he has formal art training. That understanding of color, light, the various forms and styles as well as technique brings something to the table that is most unique.
JAN 15, 2009 - 09:52 AM
Belive me its a great artical, well worth buying issue 40
JAN 16, 2009 - 04:42 AM
Thanks for the feedback there, Jim. Vey useful indeed! Rob
JAN 17, 2009 - 04:39 AM
Hello Rob The Modulation Style is a way of adding volume to a model or maybe drawing attention to a certain area on the vehicle. The filter is a technique used to alter the tone of a colour if you are not satisfied with its hue. The filter can also be used to faintly unify a camouflage. The filter will also give a bit of a weathered appearance to your base-coat. But Filters are not always necessary. On the Panther I was content with the different tones on the basecoat. I just used the fading technique with oils (sometimes referred to as “oil dot” or “dote filtering”) to get the weathered appearance and various tones that I was looking for. I have used filters to unify the different tones on a basecoat if I felt the colour modulation to be a but exaggerated. Does this answer your question? Please let me know. These techniques can be confusing if you do not use them often. I completely understood what you meant Jim and found your posting to be very interesting. Thanks again for devoting your thoughts. It means a lot to me. Thanks again guys. Great conversation! ANPW
JAN 19, 2009 - 04:09 AM
IMO, there appears to be two different thought groups. Those who paint realistically ... and those who paint artistically. Who is correct? Those who paint realistically, spray their model with a favourite or matched base colour and weather according to its settings. This is how the 1/1 model is seen ... is it realistic? Not in my opinion. A 1/35 model can never catch light in the same way, or provide shadow and depth as a real vehicle, so these effects have to be artistically achieved. Those who paint more artistically have developed styles that have been popular, almost trendy, but I believe most have taken this route, to come to the same "end" as those who paint realistically, and IMO have captured the essence of the real 1/1 counterpart, more realistically than those who paint exactly as done in real life. I believe the ending or goal, is the same with both groups as mentioned above, and it doesn’t say anything different. It’s not the journey, but the destination that counts in my books. The fact that some modellers always question the "how to"s and strive to push the limit a step higher each time, will always be the fuel that drives my interest for this hobby. Excellent article Adam. It’s always a pleasure to see your work and the ideas that you bring to the table. As with all art, some will like it, some wont, some will try to interpret it literally and others will see the possibilities in the techniques and try to incorporate it in their own work. I guess I’ll be one of those. On a side note, for anybody interested Rick Lawler has used this technique to great effect on his Panzerjäger 38(t) The above post is my opinion only .. no animals were harmed in any way during the writing of this post!
JAN 19, 2009 - 05:01 AM
That's a fine looking Marder at the link you provided, Frank. Thanks for listing it. It also made me a bit red faced because after looking at it I was was puzzled because it wasn't the color modulation technique I thought I was commenting on. It was the same technique I am working to master and one that I thing looks the best. The color modulation method I thought this thread was about was one I read about recently in which the surface areas were painted in larger areas with various colors, reds, blues, yellows, etc and then the finish was blended. The ides was the different colors produced more area specific color cariations. It wasn't the dot style. I had multiple windows open looking at both articles when I commented on them. I guess I put the right comments for the non dot one in the wrong thread. I cleaned out my old bookmarks recently so I lost the link to the other color modulation style. Does anybody remember the piece what I am talking about? Rob- my answer about filters would be my opinion on the OTHER modulation style. Since it wa designed to show how light affected the finish gased on how and where the surface reflected it. Since this was a different was of showing a realistic effect of variations in the finish I could see that any wash or other surface treatment couldn't help but lessen the effect. With this dot color modulation these same extra touches work very well with with dot color modulation. I'm sorry for any confusion I may have caused. At least some on my comments are gernerically valid....
JAN 19, 2009 - 04:59 PM