I prefer displaying ships in
water. Ive tried using pedestals and dry-dock looking bases, but ships (in my
opinion) look best in their element. Ships are the most beautiful and graceful of
mans creations in or out of water. Like seals and penguins, they look awkward out of
the water, but their grace and beauty have no equal when afloat. I have no problem with
full hull models. It seems to me that full hull lovers are the more technical modelers.
They want to see everything possible including the props, shafts etc. At least thats
how my modeler friends put it.
Ive experimented for years with different techniques for
simulating waves in the larger scales using various materials, but with little success. I
tried using Celluclay after reading a articles by modelers who've used it with success.
But its messy and it shrinks like nobodys business. A number of years back I
read an FSM article by Dennis Moore about using Gel Medium to simulate water. This
technique works beautifully in the smaller scales. I use Gel Medium to this day for all
small-scale models. The problem with Gel Medium is that its not thick enough to form
large-scale bow, or larger waves. It has the consistency of mayonnaise making it
impossible to mold into convincing bow wakes and swells in the larger scales. Also, it
shrinks. Just like white glue and putty, as the acrylic gel dries, the carrier agent that
keeps it moist evaporates. The only way to make larger swells and waves is to apply it in
layers, which is a time consuming process. I tried this and I just wasnt satisfied
with the final appearance on large-scale models.
I finally came across a modeling material that looks
like the real thing. Its cheap, molds like clay, and will not shrink. The material
is Sculpey modeling compound. It is available in arts and crafts stores for about $8.00
and will make enough water for 4 to 8 large ship models depending on the size of the base
and waves. Sculpey is soft as clay and will bake hard as a brick at 275 degrees in your
It didnt take long for me to figure out some techniques to create
fantastic looking water. First the model should be mostly assembled, painted and decaled
with no brass details or other delicate parts that could be damaged due to handling. This
is because the model will need to be handled, test-fitted and positioned during this
phase. Once set in its water base, the model can be safely handled using the base. This
comes in handy keeping the model stable while installing photo-etch parts and rigging
Start where all good models begin - good photos! And not just any photos. There are tons
of great photos of almost every ship in the US Navy on some of the Navy web sites. Aerial
shots are best since they allow the best view of wave patterns. If youre building a
battleship, use a battleship photo; if a carrier, a carrier photo etc. This is because
hull shape effects the pattern of waves flowing from the ship. Just look at aerial photos
of a carrier and a battleship for examples. The peaks and toughs of the waves as they abut
the hull are generally as follows:
Note wave pattern against hull
Note water coloration
Good shot of waves against hull
Note pattern of waves flowing away from ship
Selecting the Base
A hard grade of wood will be required for the base to withstand the 275-degree temperature
in the oven without warping. I use Ash but Cherry, Walnut, Oak or any other hardwood will
work. Softwoods such as pine and poplar while cheap, will warp and split as the moisture
is baked out of them. Dont spend a bunch of money for a wood base either. Unless
your model is large, requiring a special cut, you will find most millwork shops (where
they make cabinets) have scraps they will part with for a few bucks. They might even rout
an edge for a few dollars extra. Dont get one of those simulated wood plaques.
Theyre only covered with wood grain vinyl and may catch fire in your oven!
I first stain the routed edge and let dry. Since the entire top of
the base will be covered with water its a good idea to scuff it up with 60-grit
sandpaper. This will give the wood "tooth" and provide the Sculpey a rough
surface to grab hold of. Otherwise it may pull loose during the baking process. Position
the model on the base. Using a pen or pencil, trace around the base of the model. When
sculpting the waves, this line will act as a guide so you will know where the model will
be on the base in relation to the waves (see photo 4). So remove the model from the base!
What you want is about 1/16" gap between the model and the waves
Sculpt the waves to represent your photo. Theres no need to coat
the entire base with Sculpey. Test fit your model from time to time to make sure you have
a good fit. I use the Sculpey only for
waves and swells, leaving bare wood for the surface. Dont worry about fingerprints
or small imperfections. They will be dealt with later. Smooth the Sculpey as best you can.
Bake the base according to the directions on the box. Dont bake too long! If your
base has average waves (about ¼" thick) dont bake for the full 20 minutes.
Over baking will cause cracks and may cause the Sculpey to separate from the base. I
learned this the hard way. If cracks occur, they can be filled in later. When the base is
removed from the oven the Sculpey will still feel somewhat soft (and hot!). Thats
okay. As the base cools the Sculpey will harden. If its still soft after cooling,
bake a little longer. Its better to under bake than over bake.
The model can now be placed in the hole left in the Sculpey. Coat the
inside of the hole with a thick layer of Gel Medium and place the model in it. Any gaps at
the sides where the Sculpey meets the water will be filled with the Gel Medium. Any excess
can be used to blend into the Sculpey with a soft, flat brush. Make
sure you are happy with the positioning of the model within the gel/sculpey! There is no
way to remove it once the gel has dried!
Mask off the routed edges. Now give the Sculpey and
wood a consistent water-looking appearance. You will need some Liquitex Gel Medium. This
is the same stuff I spoke of earlier that makes great looking small-scale waves. It comes
in containers as small as plastic tubes to ½ gallon containers. A single tube is more
than enough for most models. I use a medium sized soft round brush to apply the gel. A
larger brush may be needed depending on the size of the base. A soft brush is necessary
because a stiffer brush would make it impossible to smooth the mayonnaise-like gel.
Cover the entire base with a thick coat of Gel Medium. Using you photos, sculpt in smaller
waves as you go. Be sure to coat all the waves and wood. If you have cracks or
fingerprints in your Sculpey the gel will fill them smooth them. If, after drying
overnight, the gel shrinks into the cracks, apply another coat just over the cracks. The
gel also prevents thin, delicate sections of the bow waves from breaking away. This also
gives the wood base and the Sculpey waves a consistent appearance. The biggest complaint I
have about Gel Medium is that it produces curly cues each time the brush is pulled from
the gel. To smooth these blemishes, let the gel dry until it can be touched without any
gel sticking to your skin. A tacky texture is perfect. Dip a soft wide brush in water and gently brush over the gel. Since the gel is still water
soluble, it will smooth the tops of the waves giving it a smooth, natural appearance. Let
the base dry for a day before proceeding with painting. The Gel Medium will continue to
dry until its clear, but you can still paint it as long as its dry to the
touch on the outside.
Painting is easy and straightforward. I use acrylics to paint my water bases, though oils
work equally well and allow more time to blend the colors. I use three colors for painting
water. Liquitex Phthalocyanine Blue, Phthalocyanine Green and Titanium White. I first mix
the base color for seawater. A good start is to mix one part green to four parts blue.
Test it on white cardboard and adjust to taste. As a rule, Atlantic waters are bluer while
pacific waters tend to have a greener tint. Mix a large quantity of base coat for use on
Paint the entire water surface with a couple of base coats. The acrylic
will be water soluble for about an hour allowing plenty of time to blend in green and
white. The color of water changes as bubbles mix in, so add a little white and some green.
This is really where a good photo pays off. Carefully blend the colors together to get a
natural appearance. Blend white at the bow wave and the larger swells and let dry (see
photo 7 & 8).
Mix some white with the base coat to a shade just a bit lighter than
the overall water color. Using a wide soft brush, dry-brush the entire base with lighter
shade. This will accent the smaller waves and keep the rest of the water from looking too
Its now time to add white water. Use Titanium White right from
the tube and touch up the bow and larger waves. Be Careful!
White water is like weathering. Its very easy to over do. Depending on the
speed of the vessel, white water could vary from almost none to solid white,
characteristic of ballistic subs as they move through the water. Add the white at the
leading edges of the bow wake in a broken pattern. Remember that nature doesnt paint
straight, even width lines.
That Glossy Look
Water doesnt look like water unless its glossy. Theres no secret to this
and the answer can be found at the grocery store. Future Floor Wax is perfect to add super
gloss to water but a few rules should be followed. Use a soft, wide flat brush to paint a
thick coat over the water. The one rule to remember is to drag the brush very slowly to
avoid stirring up very out of scale air bubbles. The first coat will give a glossy finish.
Dont touch it or your water will have fingerprints. Let this dry at least two hours
and apply a second coat for a super gloss. Let the Future Floor Wax dry at least 24 hrs
before touching it.
I have made waves over 30 scale feet high on a 1/350 scale Bismarck by
applying the Sculpey in layers. This is the best stuff out there for making large-scale
waves. Try this technique on your next model and you will add a whole new look to those