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Painting USMC

The USMC in the pacific Campaign of WW2 has been well represented on screen in recent years with the series The Pacific and the Clint Eastwood film Flags of our Fathers, as well as outstanding books such as Tolls Pacific trilogy (only 2 out yet…) and older primary sources like ‘With the Old Breed’ by Eugene Sledge. They are also well represented by Warlord and Rubicon and I have recently finished my second USMC Army so thought I would add this quick ‘How I paint’ to the Blog. Bear in mind that as a commission painter I am seeking a good standard within a reasonable timeframe not expensive perfection.

Step 1 Undercoat and basecoat. As most of the weapons teams are metal I always give these an enamel black undercoat to stop paint rubbing which ive found acrylic undercoat doesn’t stop. Then all are sprayed light grey acrylic undercoat. I use black undercoat on figures where the uniform itself is dark such as black sea sailors but where I’m after a lighter finish it’s the grey.

Then I spray in the base colours in this case Vallejo Green Grey and Us Army Dark green. I try to vary the jacket and trousers just for visual interest and some guys have a third colour which is a 50/50 mix. To spray model colour I just add some flow improver and make sure its well stirred.

Step 2 Next up I add in the flesh and webbing. The flesh is basic flat flesh and the webbing, gaiters etc German camouflage beige. Observant folks will notice that in a moments confusion I decided to paint the helmets in a very greeny green. This was because I was painting while listening to the Audiobook ‘The Coldest Winter’ about US involvement in the Korean War and momentarily started thinking about parallels to Vietnam and bingo I was painting USMC figures in Vietnam helmet covers….

The book is excellent by the way as it surveys the entire military and political context for the war as well as the actual fighting from all sides. There are interesting echos down to today in how the Republicans demanded enormous cuts to the US military post WW2 (which Truman agreed with and carried out) and that the USA should be more isolationist. Then when it all went belly up with the Korean War Republicans used this as a way to blame the Democrats for being soft on Communism, so kicked off Mccarthyism and ‘Reds under the Beds’ to invigorate their electoral appeal having lost 5 elections. Picking on “the Other” never goes out of fashion for some folks….

Step 3 With all the base colours done its wash time using Army painter and GW washes in different areas, Army painter Dark tone on the clothing and strong tone on the webbing with GW flesh wash on the…flesh.

Step 4 Humanising Time to go back with flat flesh and go over the bare flesh and start highlighting the face only leaving the wash in the eye sockets and wrinkly bits. I have said before that I think painting eyes is a waste of time as in real life unless you have eyesight like Viv Richards you cant see them at more than 30 yards as more than a shadowy area and a 28mm figure at arms length is smaller than a man at 30 yards. Unless you have very short arms or live in a country with very tall people such as the Netherlands. In any event any harshness in the effect will be smoothed out later on the larger areas with a glaze of thinned down wash. Highlights were also added on cheeks nose and chin at this stage.

The webbing was also re painted with German Camo Beige at this time to get a bit of contrast going.

Step 5 Back to the Helmets…having realised I was an Idiot I returned to the helmets with Camo Beige then divide the guys randomly into two groups. The first group had splodges of Model colour US dark green ( which isn’t very dark) and Extra Dark green added to the Helmet cover in what look like random patterns but I try to make sure about 2/3 of the darker splodges are touching the lighter ones…. This to me looks better. Then smaller thinned Flat brown patches were added – between 4 and 5 no more or less. Again this is entirely arbitrary but captures the look, The second group had Flat brown and German Camo extra dark brown patches added as I believe there was a second type of helmet cover - or it might have been reversible, I don’t know. Either way it provides more visual interest to the unit as a whole. Lastly a thinned down military green was went on the green camo and thinned agrax on the browns.

The remainder where then painted a darker green than absolutely necessary so that the helmet webbing in camo beige would stand out.

Step 6 Return to the uniform. Now it was time to add some highlights to the uniform which was done by successively highlighting the basic colour whether grey green or US Dark Green with more and more white. I use the Model air white which is thinner than model colour as it feels like it works to smooth the paint without adding water etc. Marine uniforms in theatre are much lighter after a short period of time so there is a wide variety in tones to reflect replacements, veterans and add interest. As always if the highlighting goes too harsh pill it back with thinned version of the original colour.

Step 7 Weapons and Boots were painted Extra dark brown. Apparently Marine boots darkened with age and to be honest feet are the last thing to catch attention so time spent here is wasted and only adds cost. Weapons on the other hand catch the eye so are worth time. Dark brown lightened up with flat brown and even a bit of orange brown for wooden bits. Metal bits basic black then gunmetal, then gunmetal with silver for highlights. I’m not convinced this is realistic but it looks better to me than just a very dark steel.

Step 8: Basing Earlier in the process I added pva and builders sand to the bases so that when I varnished with matt varnish it would hold better when the Wilkinsons thinned down chocolate emulsion came down. This is drybrushed with desert yellow and a sandy colour and shrubbery attached. A harder decision than usual depending on whether its an atoll or Guadalcanal or Okinawa. Certainly not the black sand of Iwo Jima!So that’s it more or less. I will paint sergeants stripes on one or two figures but that’s the marines done and dusted. I would like to paint some of the amtrac type vehicles from Rubicon someday but will have to await another commission.

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