Saturday, 26 September 2009

Colours and Paints

One of the indirect criticisms sometimes levelled at this site and others is that the colour information does not include suitable hobby paint equivalents. Some people can be quite rude about this, adding to their questions about colour that they are not interested in Munsell values or any of those other "meaningless numbers" - as though there is an obligation to provide them with exactly what they want - and for free.

The problem is that the range of hobby paints now available is enormous. In addition to the question of acrylics vs enamels there is the matter of preferred paint ranges. The internet caters to an international audience - but unfortunately the hobby paint manufacturers don't! Not all paint ranges are available in all countries. Then there are the personal preferences, those content with a reasonably close out of the bottle (or tin) colour and those who like to mix their own paints to a precise match. Those who prefer or are restricted to using a particular brand of paint. Then there are the paint ranges that purport to provide "authentic" colours and their adherents who often jump in when the subject is being discussed to suggest using a ready made paint which bears no resemblance to the original colour. There are a number of websites that tabulate equivalents across paint ranges but very often these are based on the appearance of printed paint charts rather than actual comparisons and many are subjective - without any indication of how close, or how far, one paint colour is from another.

It is just not practicable (or affordable!) to attempt to create matches for all the available paint ranges. For example, the Testors Model Master range popular in the USA is not available in the UK. Potential colours cannot be assessed from charts - the actual paint itself has to be obtained and examined. That is why to a certain extant the communicated colour values, universal as intended, ought to be useful enough to anyone prepared to invest in a FS deck, use a search engine or to do a little experimental mixing based on the rendered colour chips. Several online programmes allow conversion from, say, Munsell into RGB, whereby a reasonable chip can be rendered on the consumer's own monitor and then assessed against the paints in his or her possession. When it comes to a model micrometric precision is not as important as the inherent characteristic of a colour (although a fair few get even that wrong).

Those who do seek precision in assessing and communicating colour, whether as researchers or end users, frequently come under fire from the "anything goes" brigade, attracting such pejoratives as "rivet counters" or "colour police". I have noticed this more and more in online and magazine articles, where the author's ignorance is often thinly disguised by an attack on knowledge, a reference to the ubiquitous "internet research" followed by an implication of reaching a definitive conclusion which is nothing of the sort or an attack on those who are more fussy about the colours they use. No matter how many times it is stressed that decisions about paint colours are individual and personal there is nothing more misleading than those modellers who, having made an individual and personal decision about colour, attempt to pass it off as some kind of definitive conclusion in a published article. The honesty of "I don't know but I chose this" would be a refreshing change. Somehow they think that because they are building the latest large scale Tamegawa flavour of the month for a mainstream magazine feature it puts an onus on them to make a definitive pronouncement about the colours. In some cases they don't even bother to cite what the instructions have to say about it. Dare we criticise? Not hardly, because the article invariably fires a few warning shots about said "rivet counters" and "colour police" intended to deter anyone from pointing out the wrong colour of the Emperor's new aircraft.

Specialist websites like and Arawasi represent an enormous amount of behind the scenes hard work and research by passionate and dedicated enthusiasts in order to make quality information available to modellers and it is therefore galling to read mainstream articles where modellers use glib phrases to conceal their laziness or ignorance of the subject, especially where it is communicated to readers as something more than a personal choice. Look, your decision to paint the cockpit "aotake" is perfectly valid, but don't try to pass it off as some kind of definitive advice for others based on your so-called "internet research". That "research" itself is sometimes poorly presented and very often the author neglects to cite the websites or sources of data he has used so that others can see it for themselves. In some cases it is only too apparent that the author has absorbed the data incorrectly and passes it on in a garbled or inappropriate form. I saw that quite recently where a modelling "name" dropped one of those peremptory "end of argument" soundbites into a thread, clearly mistaking his prolific modelling for prolific knowledge. Specialist websites like are free resources with tremendously helpful archived threads and FAQs but that doesn't seem to prevent the odd idle bozo from complaining in a post that they were not helpful - or the classic cliché that he or she ended up even more confused than to begin with.

This month two mainstream articles that between them displayed a staggering level of ignorance about Japanese aircraft, the current state of research and the resources available made me think seriously about the point of continuing to maintain this blog. Once again there seemed to be enormous confusion over the difference between opinion and knowledge and a fantastic discourtesy in not acknowledging how far the availability of information has extended thanks to the researchers and websites that have generously shared it. Had these modellers and artists been stranded on an island for ten years? I wondered. Was their ignorance accidental or just pig?

Twenty to thirty years ago the absence of the internet and the house style of modelling magazines ensured that knowledge was a prized commodity, not to be de-valued by the opinion overkill we see today. In those days knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge seemed to drive the modelling but all too often these days it appears that the modelling drives the knowledge, even when it is far from perfect and often in the wrong direction.

Image credit: © 2009 Straggler


Anonymous said...

Fighting windmills again, eh?

Do not be discouraged, there's a bunch of us who appreciate your efforts.



Mark Jahsan said...

The pursuit and use of knowledge is as complicated as the colors themselves.

I'm firmly in the "I don't know, but I chose this" camp, but I am also smart enough to understand my ignorance and ask for help when I truly need it, as witness your (and others)advice when I was building my Sanger Topsy.

I have to admit, a lot of what you do is far more esoteric than my needs, but I also respect the effort it takes to seriously quantify a subject like this. I'm sure some of the people calling out the "rivet counters" and "color police" have no idea what true research is, simply using their sources as gospel without going to the source material, perpetuating common misconceptions.

"You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think" is a variation on the expression, and I think it applies here.

And I do agree with your criticism of the arrogance some people display concerning their skills over others. Giving those folks their come-uppance is something to be savored, but the flip side is appreciating the work some folks have put into their "incorrect" models just because they enjoy it so much. To me, that's what the hobby is about, the cameraderie, the chance to show off a little while learning from the experts, so my next effort is that much better.

I'm sure your reasons for this pursuit are complicated as well- not just in the advancement of the hobby, but also the excitement of sharing new discoveries and the pride of a job well done.

So I for one would like you to keep on keepin' on- besides, I'm still waiting for that post on building recognition models I sent you! Again, that's a huge contrast between what is true and what the so-called experts think.

noel said...

Hello Nick;
Well said, but please don't get discouraged. Objective commentary on the the historical record of 20th century Japanese military aviation is of significant value. Your presentaion of information has always been informative, amusing, and thoughtful. Please keep up the good work and thank you for all your efforts. Cheers!
- noel

Joe Taylor said...

all good points and I support them.
At some point, we need to scare all of the realistic possibilities in to one corner with each supported by its respective proofs. Thereafter, we can further narrow the possibilities as better proof surfaces. I don't think this first step has been done. Give us the reasonable possibilities, availbable proofs and paint choices/mixes. The modeler then makes his choice or waits for further proof.
It appears to me that all the possibilities are being kept in play by the leading researchers and it is discouraging to me, if not many.

Bill Weckel said...

I'm a professional graphic designer who deals (suffers) with accurate color reproduction on a daily basis. I feel your pain. Short of sending your readers to a fine arts college to study color theory, having them attend a few physics lectures on light, and then making them work in a paint lab, or pre-flight department at a commercial printing house, I'm not sure there's a solution. Don't be discouraged - there's a few of us out there that "get it".