As I was getting ready to paint a batch of wheels I got to thinking that I haven’t done a post on how I do so. I went back and checked and sure enough I don’t see one. So here you go.
Giving credit where credit is due, this is a combination of techniques that I picked up from Brian Banna (who’s website is no longer active, though you can find a lot of his stuff on YouTube and Facebook, Mike Rinaldi who does the terrific Tank Art series of modeling books, as well as a few of the very talented people on the Rustbucket Forum.
I threw in a few of my own little flourishes to make things easier and came up with the following:
1) First of all, I set up the wheels in my Modeler’s Choice Painting Mask. This does a fairly good job of keeping paint off the tread and flange and makes it easy to paint a bunch of wheels at once.
After the wheels have been assembled in the mask, I use a micro brush to hit them with some Acetone to clean off any residue from manufacturing or handling.
2) Once the wheels are clean, I mask the axle points with Microscale Micro Mask. Paint buildup on the points will keep the wheels from turning freely and masking them ahead of time is much faster than scraping paint off afterwards and is less likely to damage the tips.
3) After the Micro Mask has dried I prime the wheels with Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer Spray that I decant from the aerosol can so that I can run it through my airbrush. This isn’t strictly necessary but I find the paint goes on smoother and I use a lot less with the airbrush. Pretty much any rust colored primer will work, I just happen to like this stuff.
While the primer is drying, I place some oils on a piece of cardboard to sit for 15-20 minutes so that a bit of the oil leaches out (this helps them dry faster). In the photo above I’m testing expensive Windsor & Newton Artists and cheaper W&N Winton oils to see if there’s any noticeable difference (there isn’t for this particular application). The colors I use are: Black, Titanium White, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, & Burnt Umber.
4) I apply the oils with a small paintbrush, placing dots randomly across the face of each wheel. Some wheels get every color, others get only a few. I also vary the amounts of each color.
5) Before the oils dry I dip a brush (a filbert) in odorless thinner, wipe most of the thinner off, and then blend the oils in a circular pattern around each wheel.
6) A day later, after the oils have dried a bit more, I go back over each wheel with pigments. On these I use Black, Gunmetal, a couple shades of rust and a couple shades of dirt, the brand doesn’t matter though I have a large stock of Ammo pigs and have been pretty happy with them.
I try to make the each wheel slightly unique. In the photo above I thought the two darker ones were too dark though and ended up toning them down with some additional dust. Subtlety is important since all these wheels are experiencing the same environmental conditions especially if they’re on the same truck.
7) When I’m happy with the way the wheel faces look I pop the Micro Mask off the axle points, remove the wheels from the painting jig and place them in “shop truck” to paint the axles and wheel backs.
8) The Rustoleum primer doesn’t brush well so for this step. I just brush on some rust colored acrylic primer. Here I’m using some Ammo stuff that I had lying around. I’m not too particular about this step. I just want to hide any bare metal.
9) After that I just repeat the process for the fronts on the axles and backs. Oil dots and blending followed by an application of pigments. Using cheapo shop trucks means I can be painting and weathering the actual trucks I’ll be using on the model at the same time, or in the case of these wheels which were replacements for P:87 wheels in an A-Line Gunderson Twin Stack, I could paint the wheels without messing up the weathering I’d already applied to the Exact Rail trucks on the model.
10) Once all the painting is done I take a micro brush and clean any over-spray or oil from the treads. This leaves them polished and shiny, like they’re constantly in motion.
It’s probably possible to complete an entire set of wheels in one long evening, though I would split it up over a couple of evenings to allow the oils to dry a bit. Generally I do this over the course of a week or even more, performing the various steps in between other projects that I have going.
This method does end up being a lot more work than just painting the wheels a rusty gray color, but I think it adds a layer of realism that on some cars can be very noticeable. If nothing else, the process is relaxing and makes for a nice capstone to a long kitbashing or weathering project.