Topics

Painting (or not) Automata

 

Greetings...
I am opening a thread for the discussion of painting, or not painting, automata.  I'll make my own post to this thread later this evening.
--
-Jim Coffee-
creating automata near San Diego, California
one of the group moderators
JamesCoffee.com

 

I create automata mostly using wood...so my comments will pertain to wood.
  • I've tried to airbrush and have failed.  I gave up airbrush...however am getting ready to retry.
  • I find that priming my wood pieces with rattle can automotive primer, sanding, and recoating with a second coat is good.  I use the automotive primer because at least in my neck of the woods it is finer.  It does not cover detail.
  • And then when I can find a color suitable and when the situation is right I will rattle can spray more coats, sanding between, until I'm satisfied.
  • For the "non sprayable" components, which seems to be most of them, I hand brush craft acrylic.  My default brand is Craftsmart from Michael's.  I am NOT satisfied with it.  Coverage seems inconsistent.  For example the last automata that I built (and that I take out into the public with me) has a green section where the green covered very poorly...many coats...and very poor coverage. It looks awful...I'm ashamed of it.
    • As a result of this poor coverage situation I did research and learned a lot about pigments, and binders, and additives, and etc.  Bottom line...I now know that I need to spend the $$ for better paint.  There is a difference!
    • I believe that I will be using Liquitex acrylics to paint my next build.
  • Regarding the airbrush...I was thinning craft paint and as a result was simply spraying clogs.  It was a horrible experience and it caused me to put my excellent quality airbrush and compressor and etc. into the cupboard.  My initial thoughts were that they could just sit in there and 'rot' for all I cared.
    • Time flows and anger subsides and reason kicks in.  I now realize that the last thing I should have been doing as a beginning airbrusher was to thin cheap craft acrylics and expect them to work.  
    • As a solution I'm tossed between Liquitex airbrush paint (knowing I could match colors) or the Vallejo airbrush paints.  I'm tending toward Vallejo.
  • As with many automata there is an 'upper, action' portion, and a 'underneath, drive' portion.  My default is to paint the upper as I have described above.  The lower I treat differently, though.  I rattle can spray the lower components with camouflage paint.  I keep four colors on hand and usually use all four colors, with the inner components being darker...the outer components being lighter.  This results in an automata that is color separated by two color schemes.  The upper action portion of the automata is colorful, and the lower drive section is more subdued.  This is simply how I do it.  It's not right...it's not wrong...it's simply the way I do it.  And I might mention that the rattle can camo spray colors go on very nicely...as nice as the automotive primers.
So that's where I am with paint.  I think that paint is very important.  I think that the paint job should always be excellent...at least that's what I strive for.

That said I need to ask the question "should there be paint"?  As I build I use unpainted wood, just as most if not all of you do.  And when done (but not yet painted) the automata always looks very interesting in it's unpainted state.  So, should there be paint?  I think a combination is good.  In my case I think most paint, but some wood.  It all depends.  But the big question remains...regardless of how much wood does not get painted...how should it be finished?  So far I'm pleased with several coats of wipe-on poly, usually with a satin finish, sanding between coats. I'm fortunate to have a hardwood store near me that has a cut-off bin...sometimes I find very neat stuff in there.

So anyway...those are (briefly) my thoughts about paint (and no paint).  I'm hoping that this thread can stay focused on "painting automata" and that it will be useful for decades.
I look forward to your comments.
--
-Jim Coffee-
creating automata near San Diego, California
one of the group moderators
JamesCoffee.com

Mike
 

A very interesting thread Jim, one I've pondered often in my short but enjoyable automata lifetime. Does painting wood enhance the piece or make it appear cheaper by covering the wood's natural beauty?

Finishing/painting has always been my Achilles heel. After spending days or months creating a piece, I loathe the idea that I "may" ruin it with a less than professional finish or shaky-handed paint job. I need a lot more patience and practice in this area. Sanding pieces to reapply a finish destroys the fine details, so often as not, the piece ends up in the burn pile.

Without a doubt finely painted details can add to the story of the automata and make it more immersive and thus enjoyable to the viewer, much in the way a music sound track adds to a movie, but both must be applied properly or they overwhelm the main focus of the piece. Unpainted wood is interesting, but probably more so to the craftsman or woman that created the automata than to the casual observer.

My consensus is that finely painted automata is more distinguished and provides a richer overall experience.

Threads that stay on topic are so much more beneficial than those that head off into too many directions. I have other thoughts and questions regarding finishing automata, but it is outside the topic of painting, so I'll initiate a new thread on mixed media. 

Automata Magazine
 

Concerning painting, I think the the end justifies the means. If a good paint job (or even a mediocre one) enhances the piece or helps to tell the story, go for it. I have seen many, many automata. The vast majority have been painted or otherwise colored. However, there has been some beautiful work done in both natural wood and bare metal, where paint would definitely have detracted from the finished product. Having said that, all of my own pieces have been painted. I hate paint, though -- four-fifths of paint is pain. There's always the potential of ruining, or at least delaying the finishing of, the piece. But the end result, once that has been overcome, is always better. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I hate painting but love having painted. --Marc

V Bass
 

This is only tangentially related, but it springs to mind reading the thoughtful notes on the topic. The beautiful Greek and Roman marble sculptures we see in museums were all painted realistically when they were new. The "classical ideal" of stark white was shown to be a false notion when we got more sophisticated about detecting traces of pigments that had been worn away over the millennia.

So, the Greeks and Romans painted their sculptures. If you're Greek or Roman and living 3000 years ago, you know what you have to do. Otherwise, do what your creative mind likes to do. The Greeks and Romans would not have liked Picasso, but I do.

Vance

 

I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear with my intent for this thread.  I DID NOT want to start a debate of whether or not to paint automata (though it's certainly OK to discuss), but RATHER I wanted to get a discussion going about how do you paint...and how do you treat unpainted wood.
As we've seen from different replies already this seems to be a frustrating area for more than a few of us.  I'm hoping that discussion of how it's done would be helpful.
Cheers
--
-Jim Coffee-
creating automata near San Diego, California
one of the group moderators
JamesCoffee.com

 

Thanks for the reply.
You make several points that I would like to respond to:
  1. You show an unfinished automata and pose the question of how to dress it.  You say "I've zero idea how to sew...".  I agree that clothing is a difficult item.  It would be wonderful if there was someone in this forum (or recommended by a forum member) that loves to sew small clothes for automata.  Clothing is a weak link that is looking for a solution.
  2. You say " The scenery is always painted with acrylics, the mechanism always clear coated" May I ask: 
    1. Are you hand brushing...airbrushing?
    2. Do you favor a specific brand of paint?
    3. What do you clear coat with?
  3. And then the last image..."really bad paint job on top of a really bad carving job..." I would say that your work looks very fine to my eye.  I would like to be able to do as well.  What is it that you see wrong.
Thanks for sharing.
-Jim-


On Sat, 12 Oct 2019 at 16:29, <klekner@...> wrote:
Hi Jim,

Huon pine, an Australian, now rare and protected, is an excellent carving timber. Left natural, without paint or clear coat, it mellows into an almost perfect skin colour, as does basswood to a lesser extent. Since all movements for a character are internally controlled, it has become more and more a neccessity for clothing to replace painting for my works. The scenery is always painted with acrylics, the mechanism always clear coated. I look for a believable appearance, related to the story, using finishes to accent the theme. The attached photo of a recent project lacks any finish yet, can't decide how to complete it. Tossing between a black suit for the large figure, which I have zero idea how to sew as yet, and leaving the beggar raw, no clothing, no paint is the dilemma. The large figure bends from the waist, the space between top and bottom body sections has to be covered, paint won't serve the purpose. Carving badly done cannot be improved by paint in my experience, and good carving can be ruined by  bad  painting. All part of the great enjoyment of creativity isn't it ?



And here is an example of a really bad paint job on top of a really bad carving job by me.





V Bass
 

"I've zero idea how to sew...". Clothing is a weak link that is looking for a solution.
I bought my granddaughter a doll called "Lammily", whose selling point is that her features and figure are averages of hundreds of normal teen girls. So, none of those freakish "Barbie" clothes fit her and you must make clothes for her, or buy from the limited range available for her.

My wife, a good seamstress, balked at the visual and fine motor skills needed for this, then found some third-party patterns that are "sewn" together using hot glue.

Worked perfectly! Give that a try -- it might work on your automata, too.

Vance

 

As I've been working out in my studio since opening this topic I realize that there is one more important component to painting...one that I had not mentioned.  DRYING TIME.  I cannot tell you how many times I've not let something dry as long as I should have.  When rattle can spraying several days seems to be enough.  And when hand painting acrylics a day is not to much.
I'm at a stage now with my automata that when I disassemble for painting I plan a month for the process.  Lots of drying time. As a result...I'm getting better paint jobs.
--
-Jim Coffee-
creating automata near San Diego, California
one of the group moderators
JamesCoffee.com

Otto <nexus88@...>
 

Creating a controlled environment for drying your work can speed up the process.
 
Understanding and Controlling Acrylic Drying Time 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTs10lCxDM8
 
Homemade Plastic Model Forced Air Small Parts Paint Drying Booth
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRZkXAR11zg

BANOFALK
 

Hello All,

 

I apologise that some of these references may but unknown in other parts of the world (I am UK based).

 

I sometimes hesitate before painting and the bare wooden automata often look so good. However, painting can really enhance them!

 

I also often struggle with painting. I use a variety of paints depending on the finish and detail required. Choosing brushes is a huge issue, I often buy brushes that are no use at all!

 

I always prepare the pieces to be painted with matt white or grey emulsion, sanded between coats to get a good finish.

 

SPRAY PAINT:

Sometimes I use silk or gloss finish spray paints (often car touch up paints). Their advantage is they offer good cover (great for large areas) and a good finish with little thickness. The lack of build means that joints (like a knee joint) can still work after painting!

 

CASEIN PAINT:

For multi colour items I often use Casein paints such as Pelikan Plaka. It is a thick bodied paint but is easily water down to the right consistency. Brush cleaning is easy.

 

ACRYLIC:

The advantage of acrylic paint is the huge choice of colours. I have also been advised that Liquidex takes some beating though I have not used it yet.

 

ENAMEL:

For certain parts, particularly flesh coloured heads, I have used the small tins of Humbrol enamel model paints. They can be thinned with white spirit. They give a good, tough finish.

 

VARNISH:

I usually varnish the painted parts though this has lead to many disasters. I use either water or spirit based varnishes; you have to be certain that they will not smudge or melt the paint beneath. I do several trials before committing!

 

PENS:

For fine lines, black and white, I use ink or paint pens, applied on top of the varnish. I have struggled to get fine lines with paints, no matter how thin the brush tip. I think inks would be better for fine work.

 

STAINS:

My current project required a black stain, originally for the softwood parts, but in the end to darken the supposedly black MDF board as well. I happened to have some black leather dye which was perfect… great cover, no build and dried in seconds. A good solution to staining wood is using Potassium Permanganate crystals (I think my dad told me about it). These are dissolved in warm water to from a purple liquid which, for some reason, stains wood brown (and your fingers – use gloves!).

 

Regards

 

Barry

BANOFALK
 

Hello ALL
I have found my perfect paint! – for small areas anyway. Not sure if this is available outside the UK but for me it is ideal. Humbrol Acrylic paint – liquid in small pots. It covers well, dries quickly and appears to be quite tough.
Regards
Barry

_._,_._,_

 

Good morning Barry...
The results look outstanding!  Tell us a bit more.  Did you prime?  How many coats?  Sanded?
I looked on Amazon...we here in the US can order it.
Nice paint job (and good looking automata).
Cheers
-Jim Coffee-
one of the Automata Group Moderators
I create automata near San Diego, California







On Sat, 2 Nov 2019 at 06:31, BANOFALK <banofalk@...> wrote:
Hello ALL
I have found my perfect paint! – for small areas anyway. Not sure if this is available outside the UK but for me it is ideal. Humbrol Acrylic paint – liquid in small pots. It covers well, dries quickly and appears to be quite tough.
Regards
Barry

BANOFALK
 

Hello Jim
All the figure parts are birch plywood (except the head which is from a peg doll – Ebay). Two coats of white enamel sanded when dry. The figure’s tunic was spray painted, the rest is Humbrol Acrylic. I usually struggle with painting but this paint made it easy!
Regards
Barry
 
 
 

 

Good evening...
When I started this thread about "painting or not" one of the things that I was looking for were comments about how to finish wood without painting it.
In the most recent Automata Magazine (Nov-Dec 2019) there is an outstanding article about Probost's Mechanical Christmas Crib.  The article starts on page five.  On page seven in the More Information and Videos section is a link to a 20 minute video that shows this automata, including it's restoration.  An excellent video I might add.  Anyone who builds or enjoys automata should view it.
And to get to the point...in the restoration section of the video it describes how they disassembled and cleaned all the of components, and then how they refinished them.  What I derived is:
  1. After cleaning, color was applied to the wood.  It looks like some sort of stain to me.
  2. Then the piece is sealed with shellac. 
  3. And then a final coat is applied: beeswax with some carnauba wax added.  It looks like this is applied warm...brushed on.

These were professional restorers working (wouldn't that be a wonderful job?!). 
And one more thing that I would like to point out is that they used beef tallow to lubricate all of the moving wood components.

I highly recommend that all of you watch the video...you will marvel at this automata.
--
-Jim Coffee-
creating automata near San Diego, California
one of the group moderators
JamesCoffee.com

Gus
 

Hi Barry,
Your finishing is excellent ! Is there a video of the piece you show here ? 

Regards,
Gus

BANOFALK
 

Hello Gus
Waiting for a bright day to make a video!
Regards 
Barry


On 6 Nov 2019, at 23:09, klekner@... wrote:

Hi Barry,
Your finishing is excellent ! Is there a video of the piece you show here ? 

Regards,
Gus

BANOFALK
 

Hello Gus
Just put a video of the FULLER automaton on YouTube.
Regards
Barry
 

On 6 Nov 2019, at 23:09, klekner@... wrote:

Hi Barry,
Your finishing is excellent ! Is there a video of the piece you show here ?

Regards,
Gus

Mike
 

Barry, I enjoyed the video very much. The colors you used were very cheerful.

Thanks for sharing it,

Mike
--
Geppetto must be in my family tree, as I also like to bring wood to life.
My Website

 

Hi Barry...
Thanks for posting the video.  You've created a very nice automata.
I was unfamiliar with the term "Fuller" so looked it up.  Here is a snippet from that exploration:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves working the cloth while ankle deep in tubs of human urine. ... Stale urine, known as wash, was a source of ammonium salts and assisted in cleansing and whitening the cloth. By the medieval period, fuller's earth had been introduced for use in the process"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
All very interesting.  Good job on the automata.  
Cheers
-Jim-

On Sat, 9 Nov 2019 at 06:58, BANOFALK <banofalk@...> wrote:
Hello Gus
Just put a video of the FULLER automaton on YouTube.
Regards
Barry
 

On 6 Nov 2019, at 23:09, klekner@... wrote:

Hi Barry,
Your finishing is excellent ! Is there a video of the piece you show here ?

Regards,
Gus