A miniature figure, aircraft, ship, vehicle, or other scale model does indeed need a certain degree of attention to the exaggeration of highlights and shadows; otherwise it will look bland and toy-like. The smaller a model is compared to the real item, the truer this is. But shading and highlighting can be overdone, and overdone to the extent that a thing this author calls an “artsy-fartsy” effect is produced.
The truest sign that one is viewing a model project guilty of the artsy-fartsy effect is the thought “Boy, that sure looks cool!” followed by a nagging realization that as cool as it may appear, its finish is not truly realistic. The artsy-fartsy effect comes about in two ways: An overwhelming desire to give a model that quality of “pop,” an excessive love of finishing and weathering techniques, or both.
Artsy-fartsyness can be found in many areas of modeling, but I shall confine my comments on the phenomenon to the area with which I am most familiar—the ever-popular field of World War II armor. Examination of period photographs, many of admittedly poor quality, reveals some common features regarding the appearance of wartime armor. Chief among these features is dirt—dirt, dust, and mud, closely followed by general grubbiness, scuffed and worn paint, and greasy handprints. What is not often seen on the real thing, but frequently featured on scale model versions of Second World War fighting vehicles is extensively scratched and chipped paint.
One American veteran of the war in Europe described derelict German vehicles he encountered as most closely resembling yellowish, formerly-mobile clumps of earth. These vehicles were not, evidently, color-modulated, pin-washed, “pretties,” nor did they feature large amounts of scratched and chipping paint. Why would this be so?
During the war in Europe, a German tank in a combat area that reached an age of three months would have been considered an old veteran. Through the very last days of the war, the Germans destroyed Soviet armor at a prodigious rate, so a three-month old Russian tank would have been even more of a rarity. Because of greatly superior numbers, general durability, and tremendous air and artillery support, American armor enjoyed a greater average lifespan, but even U.S. Shermans rarely sported tremendous paint damage.
AFVs (armored fighting vehicles) do take a beating in combat. They quickly take on layers of dirt and dust, and fenders, stowage boxes, and other non-armored parts rapidly become dented, shredded, or go missing entirely. Favored locations for climbing on and off vehicles become worn, as do areas around crew and access hatches. But excessive, random scratching and general failure of an AFV’s paint job? Not so much.
There are a couple of situations in which weathering of vehicles does occur at an accelerated rate, these being the climate extremes of desert and jungle. In deserts, sun and blowing sand will degrade paint jobs faster than in temperate zones. In a tropical setting (Burma, Guadalcanal, etc.) sun, moisture, and plowing through dense foliage will contribute to faster than normal weathering. But even when depicting vehicles in such settings, average service life should be considered. Would there be time for extreme paint degradation and other damage to occur?
The verdict of this writer and model builder is that, while exaggerated painting and weathering techniques may have a lot of visual appeal, too often these days, realism is taking a back seat to artistic license. A lot of current finishing techniques may be fun to apply and may look great, but its way too easy to overdo. Less can be more.