Sometimes Less, Sometimes More: Advice for New Customizers

Hey, true believers!

I was contacted recently by someone new to customizing, who asked me for some pointers. While I still consider myself a beginner, I decided to give it a shot. So, here goes….

More Prep Work

In my book, you can never do too much planning and preparation. Don’t be in a hurry to jump right in and start painting. You should spend 60 percent of your time doing nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. What I mean is, you should be doing research on the character to find some good reference artwork and studying your figure to get a picture in your mind of exactly how you want it to look. You have to have an idea of where you’re going, before you can figure out how to get there.

Less Sculpt

No matter how small an amount of Aves I mix up, I always end up wasting some. It usually takes less than you think it will to do what you’re doing. Also, it’s much easier to add another layer of sculpt, if you need to, than to sand down after it’s hardened. So, don’t worry about making it perfect the first time around. Once you get something that looks decent, just stop. You can always come back to it, later. Usually the more you try to do at one time, the more likely you’re just going to mess it up and have to start over.

More Sanding

To some people, sanding is prep work. But, to me it is an integral part of painting. I’ve never used an airbrush, so I can’t speak to that. I paint all my figures by hand. It’s going to take more than one coat of paint to make it look right. I usually end up with about five or six. And, I sand the figure after each one. On a smooth surface, like Spidey’s head, I will go all the way up to 12,000 grit. At that point, your not really removing paint as much as polishing. It actually makes a squeaking sound when I’m sanding! On the body, 1000 or 2000 grit is adequate. You want the surface to feel smooth to the touch.

Less Painting

What I mean by less paint is putting less on the figure at one time. You have to thin your paints. I started out just using distilled water, but the paint starts drying too quickly, unless it’s too thin and runs all over the place. Now, I use Liquitex Flow Aid and Matte Medium. I still use the distilled water, but in comination with the Flow Aid. The Flow Aid need to be diluted at 20:1 ratio. So, I put one drop of flow aid in my palette and add 20 drops of water. Then, I mix six drops of that with four drops of the Matte Medium. The 60/40 mixture is what I use to thin my paints these days. Different brands of paint need to be thinned more or less, so there’s no precise formula for it. You just have to experiment.

Also, less painting means fewer brush strokes. I try to think of the paint brush just moving the paint around on the surfae until you get it the way you want it. The brush is used to get paint from your palette, or the bottle, onto your figure. And, the paint’s only job is to dry and leave the colored pigment. It’s as simple as that. Don’t overdo it with the brush strokes. Once the surface you are painting is evenly covered, STOP. The worst thing is to keep brushing over it, while it begins drying.

The Basic Tools

You really don’t need a lot of stuff to make a good custom figure. What you need is patience and perseverance. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to destroy some of your figures in the process. But, as long as you know what went wrong and how not to do it again next time, you’re on the path to getting the customs you want.

I use a lot of toothpicks. You can use one small brush for pretty much all of your painting. It might take a little time to find one you really like. I use the 10/0 brush from Royal & Langnickel’s Majestic Set. You might want a pin punch to help disassemble your figures. But, mostly it’s basic things like a hobby knife and some pliers. When you are trying to do something, you’ll find a tool that works. Don’t worry about it until then.

Paints are a different story. You will want to try a lot of different paints, but they should all be acrylic. I use Tamiya, Vallejo, Citadel, and Testors. Most acrylics are primarily water-based and will not adversely affect the soft plastic used to mold action figures. You can use a lacquer overcoat, but only after your acrylic base coats are completely dry. Avoid using enamel paints altogether. They’re a mess.

Well, that’s all I had on my mind. Action figure customizing is really a continuous learning process. Each person has to develop their own style based on what techniques work for them. The important part is to enjoy the journey!


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