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I see it on the various forums and bulletin boards all the time... "What is a wash?"..." Why should I even bother with a wash?"..."How do I use a wash?"..."I took a bath today... I'm done with washing for now!"
Washes are simple and easy to use. The "WHAT" is a very thin mixture of paint or other pigments with the appropriate thinner. It is "washed" over an area where it settles low spot, nooks and crannies. The "WHY" is for a few reasons. It is used to accentuate detail be giving some visual dimension to what is usually, due to the small scale, relatively flat. The other reason is to simulate the years of wear and dirt/grime that a the real subject would have accumulated over a period of time. The amount and extent of the wash application will also age the model. A light wash can be used to represent a fairly new or well maintained subject while the heavy application of a dirty washes can give the "rode hard and put away wet" look.
It can be partially wiped away leaving enough behind to add some extra depth and dimension to details that may otherwise look flat or featureless. The "HOW" is a more involved answer but a relatively easy process.
First let's talk about what washes can be made from:
What is sometime referred to as an oil wash is made enamels or artist oils mixed with a suitable solvent.
An acrylic wash made from, yes, you guessed it, acrylics paint. Either hobby or artist acrylics mixed with water and some liquid dish soap. The soap breaks the surface tension of the water allowing it to flow instead of beading up.
A Pastel wash is made in a manner similar to an acrylic wash but the color is made from chalk pastels that are ground to a very fine powder, like flour, and mixed with water and dish soap. The ease of application and compatibility over a wide range of surfaces is what makes it versatile.
A wash flows best over a gloss surface where the capillary action will aide in pulling it along a panel line or detail that is molded in relief like that in a wheel well or a cockpit sidewall. That is not to say you can't apply a wash over flat paint but it will spread more into the paint surface and may be difficult to remove the excess, if need be, for a desired effect.
Pastel and acrylic washes work well over a surface coated with flat paint. This is handy since it eliminates the extra step of gloss coating. I usually apply the wash very liberally and do a some clean up after it dries. A small retractable contact or terminal cleaning brush, with yellow handle the photos below, can be found in electric supply places. This one has glass fibers and the brush is pretty stiff.
WARNING: This brush produces small pieces of glass fiber. Take appropriate precautions when using this brush to reduce contamination of the work area and from breathing the fibers.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DUST PRODUCING PROCESS!
Take the warning seriously but don't let it scare you. It should be what you are doing when sanding, filing or sawing anything we use in modeling like wood, plastics, resins, metal etc.
The photo on the left has a bottle of acrylic wash that is a mixture of water, artist acrylic and some dish soap. the tools are the basics for any wash application. The color has settled out but that's OK. When it is time to apply the wash the color is stirred up from the bottom with the brush. It us easy to control the density of the color this way and it has a nice long shelf life.
The photos below, showing the basic colors, and to the right, showing the prepared wash, illustrate the procedure for producing a basic pastel wash. The pastels are ground to a fine powder using a cheap mortar and pestle that I picked up at a kitchen supply place for a less than $10. This gets mixed just like the acrylic wash. This however is a one use wash. When I went to use a bottom of a pastel wash I had made a few weeks earlier, there where these little clumps of coagulated pigment in the mix that were hard to get to smooth out again. I have no idea what causes that but the result are better with a fresh batch each time. I do have a jar filled with the dry powder ready to mix to save time.
The colors of the wash is nearly unlimited due to the range of colors of the pigments available. For modeling uses, the washes generally fall into the black to gray group or shades of brown. I have seen some nice color effects, like simulating the tempering colors on a piece of heated metal, using the brighter pastels colors like the reds and blues. The acrylics I use are white, black or Payne's gray, raw umber and burnt sienna. Use a good quality artist acrylic. They are a bit pricey but a tube lasts a very long time. The pastels also come in a large variety of colors and can be ground and mixed to make different shades as needed too.
My basic "dirty" acrylic wash is burnt sienna and black. The pastel powder I keep on hand is mix of black, white, burnt sienna (or brownish) and some beige (ish) color. This works pretty well for nearly all applications but I will sometimes adjust the color for a particular usage.
For things like PE flaps, cockpit side walls, wheel wells etc. I use the acrylic wash to flood the area. Touch the puddle with pointed cotton swab to draw off most of the wash, leaving some in the recesses. It will dry a bit lighter so leave it a bit heavy. Either way it can be adjusted later but adding a second application or brushing some away with the contact brush. After it dries, a light dry brush of the original color is used for some highlights. This is a 1/48 PE cockpit door from a Spitfire. The photos on the far right shows upper & lower PE flaps and wheel wells on a 1/72 Fw 190D-9 and the wheel bay of a 1/48 Me 262 done this way too. They show the varying degrees of dirt build up that can be represented.
A pastel wash was applied to the interior of these wheel well doors and allowed to dry. They where cleaned up with the contact brush.
After a final gloss coat is applied over the decals to seal them and, help fill in the edges, The pastel wash is brushed on following all the panel lines and allowed to dry. A pad made from a very tightly folded damp paper towel is used to wipe the wash off. Start at the front and work towards the back. I will usually give the entire model a once over that will get rid of the lines of wash spreading the "dirt" out evenly. Don't press too hard or the pastels will be cleaned out of the panels lines. Move to a clean part of the pad and wipe the model down again. If the area you are working on looks to clean, go back over it with a dirty part of the paper towel to re-apply some of the pastel. Hopefully next time I will remember to take some photos of the cleaning process.