Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mortal Mortar Monday

I can't believe it's been over a month since I (finally) started painting the buildings at East Berlin (click here for the start of the saga). But this time, my hiatus isn't due to procrastination, but to lack-of-time. Well, lack of big blocks of time where I can work my way into painting some more.

Fortunately, despite my busy time at work, I've been able to get little 15 minute chunks of progress in. As proof, folks following The Valley Local group on Facebook have seen the "Morning Progress" photos which are becoming somewhat regular. Seems the time I make before I go to work is the only free time I have lately.

But when I can, I've been confronting my latest challenge - painting effective mortar lines. It's been about 4 1/2 years ago (yikes!) since I last did a brick building (Ballantine's Beer Distributor) and that came out pretty well. Fortunately, I documented what I did (in this blog post) and tried to follow the same technique - just using a wash of PollyS MILW gray, thinned 5:1. Unfortunately, this time the brick didn't turn out as nice - at least not so far...

I didn't have any more of the PollyS gray on-hand, so I picked out a bottle of craft paint that looked pretty close - in this case, Apple Barrel's Granite Gray. I put 5ml in the cup.

I then filled up the cup to the 30ml mark with some acrylic thinner (made up from a formula Joe Fugate introduced in his acrylic painting book).

Figuring the station is the least-prototypical (i.e. important) of the buildings I'm doing in the area, I practiced with them first. I brushed on the wash and then wiped it off. Didn't come out so good...

I tried moistening my finger to get the white off the brick faces, and that helped a bit, but still not great.

I even tried a pencil eraser. Looking a little better but still not the look I'm trying to achieve.

So I moved on to some other wall sections, trying the same techniques.

Looks a little better. Maybe I should have used a glossy based brick color. Maybe the wash is getting into the flat finish and making it hard to get off the brick faces?

Finally, instead of brushing the wash across the whole wall, I tried just flowing it into the mortar lines themselves, relying on capillary action. That came out much nicer - but still got on the faces of some of the bricks.

So out came the pencil eraser again. This looks the best so far and if I can't figure out a better technique, this may be where I settle. Maybe the mortar color is too bright/white...

Let me know if you think I'm doing something wrong here and/or if you have any additional suggestions/techniques to try. At least I seem to be heading in the right direction - the last wall I did is definitely better than the first one - but still not looking quite right.

Whattaya think?


  1. Hey, Chris!

    Since I just fell into this thread and haven't seen the previous threads, what is the base material for the building?
    Jimmy Simmons had a good mortar technique for his wood kits using Bragdon's Lime Mortar White powder.

  2. First, the amount of pigment and viscosity of the PollyS may differ significantly from the craft paint, so you might be thinning it too much/too little comparatively. So you might need to tweak your formula.

    Second, I wouldn’t thin it at all. I just brush on acrylic paint full strength and then immediately wipe it off with a paper towel. A lot of people use joint compound the same way for mortar lines.

    Third, you’re missing the final step. Weathering. The white on the bricks is (presumably) much thinner than that which has settled in the lines. Drybrushing a brick color, or brown, will help darken things up so the brick faces don’t look so white, and will also help blend it all together. The blotchy white will help the weathering look more random. You can drybrush acrylic paint, but I generally use a random mix of several browns (especially reddish/rust browns), grays, and a little black Pan Pastels.

  3. I think Randy is right. Looks like you are leaving the paint on the surface of the model too long. Acrylics are not forgiving and when they dry they freeze on the surface and can no longer be worked. I've had much better results using oils which remain workable far longer and being a different medium will take buffing with a damp rag with mineral spirits to clean the brick face without affecting the brick color.

  4. Hi Chris
    Dry brush of black is what Bill Maguire used on his very nice buildings. I tried that on my O-Scale city hall structure to good effect. Similar to you I had used PollyS for mortar after which I scrubbed semi-dry surface with damp cotton cloth which either took almost all mortar off or not enough (because bricks have low spots on top surfaces too). Applying dry brush black enamel followed by Dull Coat rendered good results (which I texted picture to you).