by Scot Dobberfuhl
If you've built and covered a couple models, you know that Japanese tissue comes in a very basic range of colors. Worse yet, white Japanese tissue becomes transparent beige when that first coat of dope hits it. That's just fine for a Pioneer scale model, but less than ideal on a Mr. Mulligan. While airbrushing represents an obvious solution to the Esaki dilemma, it's also potentially messy, time consuming, and expensive. Fortunately, there's a better way. With a set of soft pastels, you can transform the standard seven tissue colors (red, orange, yellow, blue, green, black and white) into a staggering array of colored tissues, ranging from pale blues and grays to shocking shades of purple and chartreuse. Thanks and acknowledgements go out to Chris Parent, for discovering and perfecting the majority of the techniques outlined below, and to Larry Marshall and Rich Weber for sharing their chalk expertise with me.
All you need to get started are some soft pastels, Esaki tissue, a sheet of glass or several sheets of newspaper, a wad of facial or toilet tissue, and Krylon.
Pastels, at the heart of this process are artist pastels--a fancy name for colored chalks. A well-stocked art or craft supply store will have several brands to choose from. Most university bookstores carry pastels for students taking art classes. If you're desperate or want to get started immediately, the local Wal-Mart may even carry a brand or two (mine does). Some common brand names include Alphacolor, Talens-Rembrandt, Windsor & Newton, Conté, Carre, Yarka, Pastello, Holbein, and Prismacolor Nu-pastels. These vary in price and quality and are sold in sets or as individual sticks. In my opinion, the best value for your money is Prismacolor Nu-pastels, but don't get too hung up on finding a specific brand. I chalked my first tissue with Alphacolor pastels; a set of 12 basic colors cost less than $8.00 at my local Wal-Mart.
Individual colors are sometimes available for 50 cents and up, and there are often broken bits or leftover sticks in a closeout bin near the pastel display. IMPORTANT!: Don't go home with oil pastels or watercolor sticks by mistake.
Tissue, use Esaki, the standard Japanese tissue available.
Unfortunately, chalking doesn't work as well on the popular True Olde World
tissue available from Micro-X. The relatively open weave of this tissue, the
very thing I suspect gives it such gentle shrinkage, makes it too porous for
effective chalk treatment.
Glass, Foam-Core Board, or Newspaper - Any of these provides the smooth work surface needed for chalking. If you use glass or foam-core, make sure it's completely free of grit and dried glue. Otherwise the tissue WILL tear when you rub chalk over it (Guess how I know this). You can also cover your work area with several sheets of newspaper to create a smooth and slightly pliable surface. Put a sheet of white shelf paper over the newspaper to keep any ink from rubbing off on your tissue.
Facial tissue or Toilet paper or paper towels are fine too. After you apply the chalk, you'll use a wad of facial tissue to work the pigment into the Esaki tissue.
Krylon Crystal Clear #1301 is an acrylic coating that has replaced nitrate dope in my workroom. Look for it with the other spray paints at the hardware store. It's easily applied, water-resistant, available in glossy and satin formulas, and doesn't exhibit any nasty shrinking tendencies.
The Basic Process:
If you've read this far, you're probably anxious to get started. Now the real fun begins. Chalking tissue is odorless, painless, and rewarding, but I'd wear something other than a white oxford shirt because it can get dusty.
Grab a sheet of Esaki from your stash (I happened to choose red) and cut a bunch of sample swatches. They don't have to be huge--2" by 4" or so will be enough to see the color you create. Put the swatch rough side up on the glass or newspaper and grab any color from your pastel box. Rub the chalk over the tissue until there's lots of chalk pigment on your tissue. Now take a wad of toilet paper and gently rub the pigment into the pores of the Japanese tissue. This smoothes and blends the color. Brush away any loose pigment that remains. Don't worry; you can't rub all the color off. At this point you'll have one dull and dusty looking piece of tissue. That's ok. Take a pencil and write the chalk color or number somewhere on the tissue swatch. Finally, tape the swatch shiny side up to a piece of white bond paper.
Repeat the process again with different color chalks. Be bold! Use the royal purple on red. Don't shy away from the blacks and grays! If you've got chartreuse, use it on the red tissue. Never mind if you think it will clash. What you're doing here is creating a palate of colors that you can refer back to for future projects. Don't limit yourself to what you "know" will work. Unlikely combinations of chalk and tissue can yield surprising results.
Once you've got all of your chalked swatches taped to white bond paper, add a "control" swatch of unchalked red Esaki. Here's where the fun starts and you get to see what I've been going on about. Spray the swatches with Krylon and watch the colors emerge.
If you did everything right, (and it's just about impossible to do it wrong), you'll be looking at hues ranging from orange to brown to burgundy--NONE of which I imagine were ever lurking in a sheet of red Esaki tissue. Green chalk on red tissue creates a brown that might be just perfect for that WW I model. Brown chalk on red tissue makes a rich mahogany perfect for a "plywood" fuselage on that Ansaldo SVA-5. Orange chalk on red makes a vibrant red-orange that cries out for a Mr. Smoothie racer. Red chalk on red tissue makes . . . red, but compare your chalked swatch of red to the unchalked "control" sample. Notice the difference?
Save the samples you've created. While any color in the spectrum is possible with the right combination of chalk pigment, here are the most easily achieved results.
Making basic colors more intense and opaque. Yellow chalk on yellow tissue makes a gorgeous Cub yellow. White chalk on white tissue makes a noticeably brighter and more opaque white. You get the idea.
Shifting colors slightly to achieve linen shades for antique ships or the grays and light blues found on so many military schemes. Start with white tissue and use the subtle shades in your chalk box. When you spray the tissue with Krylon, the white turns nearly transparent and the pigment really shows through.
Once you've found the chalk/tissue combination you want, chalk enough tissue to cover your model. Simply follow the steps above using a full sheet of tissue (or as much tissue as you'll need). DON'T spray your tissue sheets with Krylon-yet. Wait until the tissue is on the model. At this point your chalked sheets will look dull and dusty, and a little chalk might still rub off on your fingers. Don't worry about this. Covering with chalked tissue presents no difficulties beyond those usually associated with trying to create a smooth, wrinkle-free surface.
I cover with a blue UHU glue stick, rubbing alcohol, and Krylon because this
is what works for me. Thinned white glue, glue pens, and dope/thinner will
probably work too, but test cover a sample framework just to be sure. I cover
my models with wet tissue, and the chalk isn't affected at all. I place the
piece of tissue (shiny side up) I'll be working with on a towel, mist it with
rubbing alcohol, and place it on the model. Here are a few things to keep in
Be sure the chalked surface of the tissue is facing in and the shiny side of the tissue is facing out.
Blue UHU can bleach some chalked tissue, particularly light blue. Check a sample to be sure.
Once the model is covered and you've eliminated all the wrinkles (or are resigned to living with the ones that remain), spray the model with Krylon to bring out the colors, seal the surface, and lock in the shrinkage. A few words about Krylon. Several very light coats misted on are always better than one thick coat. If sprayed lightly, Krylon tends to sit on the surface of the tissue. The rich colors of the pigment come through, and the overall effect is more opaque than transparent. If sprayed thickly, Krylon saturates the tissue and it becomes (and remains) translucent/transparent.
Tips and Tricks:
Don't try for drastic color shifts. Trying to turn white tissue into dark blue will take a lot of time and chalk, and the end results are more likely to be blotchy or uneven.
Blend different color chalk dusts to create an even wider range of pigments. Chalk dust is easily created by rolling a paint bottle over a pastel stick. I created a deep maroon tissue by blending brown and blue chalk and rubbing it into red tissue. Adding small amount of white or black chalk dust to the mix can brighten or intensify the colors you create.
Dye tissue with Pantone or similar inks OR bleach tissue in the sun to create a different range of base colors to work from. This is especially true for green, blue, and orange. Tape the tissue to a piece of foam core and put it outside in a sunny place for a few hours or tape the tissue in a sunny window until it's sufficiently faded (Be ready to answer questions from curious neighbors).
Apply a 3:1 water/Clorox solution to bleach green Esaki to yellow or blue Esaki to white. The bleached areas can then be brightened or shaded with chalk to arrive at the perfect lightweight camouflage scheme.
Use colored pencils for adding the fine details in logos or for drawing pinstripes around registration numbers. If you do this on the backside of the tissue, the colors will shine through after you spray the tissue with Krylon and look like they're embedded in the tissue. Watch the scale judge run his fingers over the logo to figure out how you did it!