Painting a German Panzer Crewman
Updated: May 23, 2022
One of the nice things about Tamiya armor kits is the included figure. One of the not nice things about Tamiya vehicle kits, assuming you are 1) a completionist, and 2) primarily an armor modeler, is the included figure. That figure, from my Tiger 131 build? Promptly set aside, to my ever-increasing mental discomfort.
Figures are tough, get it? Splinter and Dazzle camoflauge patterns? Yes please! Eyes and faces? No thanks!
But completionist, I am...sometimes. The time had come.
In 1935 the German army introduced the classic all black uniform for armored vehicle crews. It's a menacing uniform and had the added practical benefit of hiding oil and grease stains. The uniform consisted of a double-breasted jacket, baggy trousers, and a leather belt. Distinctive pink piping was used for tank crew branch-of-service colors, or Waffenfarbe. And completing the look were Totenkopf, or skull and crossbones insignia, on the collar lapels.
As the war went on, many subtle changes to the uniform were made. There is an excellent video by HandGrenadeDivision that I have linked at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to watch if you are interested in the details. But for my figure, I will draw inspiration from a longstanding book in my reference collection, Uniforms of World War II, by Peter Darman.
Some people prime their figures and some people don't. I'll sidestep that debate for this post and simply say that one priming technique has always stood out to me: "Zenithal Priming". This is an advanced priming technique whereby a dark primer is applied to the figure followed by a lighter primer. Crucially, the lighter primer is sprayed from a direction that simulates a light source. The goal is to accentuate the natural shadows and highlights on the figure. The top portions of clothing folds are highlighted by the light primer while the recess of folds remain dark.
Priming debates aside, there are a few areas of figure painting that modelers generally agree are better to do and have than not to do and have:
You want quality paint. I use the Vallejo Model Color and Panzer Aces lines. These are water-based acrylics that are formulated for brush painting. And from what I understand, the Panzer Aces line uses the same formulation as Model Color, but come in colors created in consultation with Euromodelismo Magazine to simplify painting tank crew.
An assortment of quality brushes is also helpful. I use a number 2 brush for the general painting, and go down to a 5/0 for eyeballs. For the kit-enthusiasts, my brushes are primarily a combination of Princeton Aqua Elite and da Vinci Maestro.
Paint should be applied in multiple thin layers, and a wet palette can help keep paint thin and fresh.
Use some type of holder to avoid leaving fingerprints on the figure. I glued the figure to a piece of old sprue.
It might seem counter intuitive, but many figure painters start with the eyes and move outward. A lot of time is also spent blending areas of the face and working shadows into the eye socket area and under the neck. Highlights, sometimes near white, are usually added to the brow, nose, chin, and cheekbones. I am definitely not an expert at this, so I will post some YouTube video links below that I have found helpful.
When the face was done, I moved on to the hair, and then uniform. This is my favorite step, because what once looked like a sloppy mess, quickly turns into something that approximates a figure. I used the Panzer Aces line for the black field jacket, trousers, and cap. Specifically, German Tank Crew (70.333) as a base with Highlight German Tank Crew (70.337) for accents. German Tank Crew I (70.334) was used for the shirt.
I kept working with these basic colors and darkened or brightened each of them with Model Color Black (70.950) and Panzer Aces White (70.344) in a wet palette. I adhered to the zenithal principal and used detailing brushes to add darker shades into the uniform recess and lighter shades onto the uniform crests.
Eventually I got to outlining the figures clothing seams, detailing the medals, and adding the trademark pink piping of the panzer crews with Model Color's Sunset Red (70.802).
I was pretty satisfied by this point. And why shouldn't I be? Face? Check. Shadows? Check, Highlights? Check, Details? Check. I was on a roll. I felt nothing could stop me!
A track is thrown!
I'm going to be honest with you: things happen and not everything can be attributed to the modeling gods withholding good fortune. No, this was hubris. A real Icarus moment. And for the mean-spirited among us, your chance to laugh, point fingers, and shame-tweet Mido of igluemodels.
Want to see what I'm talking about? I bet you do, so here it is...
...A failed attempt using Vallejo's Gloss Varnish (70.510) as the barrier layer for an oil wash. For some reason, several coats of Vallejo's Matt Varnish (70.520) were unable to remove the gloss on the figure. Maybe I used too much gloss varnish, or used the matt varnish incorrectly. All I know is that my tanker looks like it was dipped in chocolate ganache.
I said it in the beginning, and I will say it again: Figures are tough! I was rather happy with the results I achieved just prior to the gloss-varnish-Icarus-moment. However, I should note that the zenithal priming didn't work as well as I thought it would, and I know the figure's face still leaves much to be desired. But I'm not bothered by either of these things. The zenithal priming will be tried again, and next time I will use even thinner coats of paint. And faces, are just tough. Nothing to be distraught over.
In my eyes, the gloss varnish was the principal error in this mini-project, and fortunately is easy to correct. I simply won't do it next time.
The silver lining to all this: it's nice to know when you're at the beginning of a journey. That's what it's all about, right, the journey?
Thanks for reading,
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org or on IG and Twitter @igluemodels
Sources, information, and other useful links
HandGrenadeDivision - German Army Armoured Fighting Vehicle Uniforms 1934-1945
Uniforms of World War II; Darman, Peter; Chartwell Books, Inc.; 1998
Panzer Crew Uniforms, Ramirez, Roberto; Hernanz, David; Vergara, Juan Manuel; AK Interactive; 2014
Shane Smyth - Lets Paint: Alpine Miniatures 1/35 German Tank Crew