Rust: A Tutorial

The unaltered Bug, out of the package

Following the amazing feedback I got from my rust technique on the ’57 DeSoto on the Gaslands Facebook group, I decided to try to chronicle every step of the technique on a new build. I initially did an orange Jeep build but kinda screwed up my own technique (but learned what NOT to do!), so I tried it again with this M2 Machines Bug model I found at the store for a couple of bucks.

I liked how the open doors and hood looked on the DeSoto, so I took a screwdriver to the Bug and pulled it apart, then yanked the glass out of the windows and removed the hood and trunk. I also took the opportunity to do a tiny bit of interior detail work: painting the steering wheel and seats. I wanted this to be a fast build though so I didn’t do much. While the shell was off I went ahead and sprayed it with Matte Finishing Spray. This serves two purposes: it acts as a primer when you want to keep a car’s original paint job, and it tends to weather and smear paint a bit, which you can see it did in the pictures. It’s a look I like but you pay prefer not to do that; if that’s the case, just spray a thinner coat of Matte.

The next step was to do a bit of the detail work on the outside: putting the Bug back together, painting a few details on the engine, painting and mounting the minigun, and then using a black wash on the mechanical parts. I went ahead and painted the headlights an off-white color I like (it’s technically “parchment” I think) that ends up looking pretty awesome once you put the final coats of wash on the car.

Initial weathering: some gray streaks

The first step I do in weathering is to add a few grey streaks here and there, to simulate areas where paint has chipped away and the metal underneath shows. I try to do it on lead edges of the car so it looks like things that might have happened driving through dust storms or something suitably post-apocalyptic. Most of these will end up being rusted over, but a few end up showing through.

Then it’s on to the first coat of rust. I use a color called Spanish Tile, which has heavy tints of orange, as the “base coat.” I drybrush it on the areas I want to rust fairly liberally: make sure some of the paint beneath shows through in places, and it’s thicker in others. This entire rust effect is based on making things look textured, so you want different colors of paint (including the car’s original coat) showing. Texture is extremely organic-looking and keeps your rust from just looking, well, painted on.

I should also point out that I spent a lot of time looking at reference pictures of old rusted cars to try to figure out which areas of the cars rust the most. I feel like that “sells” the rust as much as anything. I also recommend NOT painting your rust coat symmetrically; nature is rarely symmetrical, and any time a car is sitting out in the rain and elements, the wind is almost always a major corrosive agent and usually comes from a similar direction, so nothing ever quite rusts evenly.

The second coat is about halfway between the first and third in darkness. You want to try add this to about two-thirds of the area of the initial coat, mostly in the center (the darker the rust, the closer to the center of the rust spot), and remember you want both colors showing as much as possible. I like to think of the drybrushing as “feathering” the paint on, because the effect is similar to a bird’s feather in terms of the different areas of color.

The third coat is about two-thirds of the second coat, and is byfar the darkest. This represents the areas of most rust, and it’s easy to overkill here, so paint less first and come back if you feel like it needs to be a little darker. Personally I feel like less is more on this third coat, but for things that have been “out in the rain” a while longer, they’ll definitely have bigger rust spots, so keep that in mind.

If you want to add areas of pure naked metal among the rusted-out areas, this is the time to do it. I didn’t do any in the Bug build but one or two little obtuse-shaped patches of naked metal look cool and kind of help sell your model.

The final step for the rust technique is to use a brown wash. This helps do two things: a light layer of rust in areas without any paint (and it gives the whole car a kind of dingy look), and it helps blend the three coats of paint you’ve already applied a bit. I strongly recommend using a thin coat to begin with, especially on the areas where you’ve painted rust, since there’s a very fine line between blending the paint and losing detail under thick layers of wash. A quick coat, followed by removing some of the thicker areas with your brush, should do the trick.

Rust paint blended with wash and finished wheels

After that you can finish the car as you like. I dirtied up the tires and added some mud to the low areas like the bumpers and such; I need to learn how to do better dirty tires next. And there it is!

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