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Ocean and Gesso

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  • Member since
    January, 2015
Ocean and Gesso
Posted by TheMongoose on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 9:49 PM

i'm working on my first try at a diorama for a ship model. I'm using the 1/700 USS New York. I picked up some insulating board at Home Depot and am coating it with Gesso. I'm getting air bubbles in it and having surface cracking problems. At first I thought I put it on too thick but even after going very thin on the last 2 coats (6 so far) i have the same problems. I'm working fromFSM weathering rough seas. Any advice on the details of how to apply Gesso or any other advice for that matter would be heful

Having a pasting problem (smugmug link has % signs instead of brackets []) so will put up pic later.

On the bench - 1/48 Revell PT-17, on hold 1/32 T-38 Thunderbird custom build, and in the works a 1/32 kit bash F-18A Desert Storm Hornet.

  • Member since
    November, 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:53 AM

I have had problems getting gesso to be transparent too.  Some friends say it is the brand or type, others just say it is the art of application.  Anyway, I now use the stuff just as a thick molding substance to shape waves (at 700 scale you do not have to get too much vertical buildup unless you are simulating hurricane.

Anyway, I get the surface looking the right shape and relief, then I paint it to get the colors I want, then apply several coats of a glossing medium such as Testors Glosscoat or a Gloss polyurethane varnish.


Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    December, 2003
  • From: 37deg 40.13' N 95deg 29.10'W
Posted by scottrc on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 11:29 AM

The type and brands do lay on differently and the foam doesn't help in that it traps air.  I prefer to use the medium acrylic gels now instead of traditional Gesso.  

  • Member since
    August, 2014
  • From: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Posted by goldhammer on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 2:14 PM

I'll second the acrylic gells.  Modelcrazy has done several sea scenes and they came out great.  Available in thick, medium, and thin varities.  Not the most inexpensive....I get mine at Hobby Lobby, usually in the larger sizes with the 40% off coupon.

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • From: Formerly Bryan, now Arlington, Texas
Posted by CapnMac82 on Saturday, October 14, 2017 7:20 PM

My best results with gesso have been as an underlayment (and over a fully sealed base), and then, only at large scales--like 1/144 or more.

That's because a 3' wave at 1/700 is 0.05" high--ripples in aluminum foil really suffice.
A 20' sea (Beaufort 8, Fresh Gale 35-40kt winds) would be 0.342" high, a mere 5/16"

For comparison, at 1/72, a Beaufort 6 10' sea is 1 5/8" tall.  Building that up with fillers and smoothing with gesso maes sense.  Being able to blend acrylic paint into the gesso even more sense.

But, for the top coat, tansparent gel medium is your friend.  At 70 & 350 scale, putting over finished paint gives depth, a plus.

  • Member since
    March, 2005
  • From: West Virginia, USA
Posted by mfsob on Monday, October 16, 2017 12:53 PM
What CapnMac82 said - in 1/700 scale, waves just aren't that big, even if you're modeling the North Atlantic in winter. I've been using acrylic gel medium with good results for awhile now, and gotten good results by applying it over a painted base. If you need big waves, build the gel up slowly in layers (but the stuff dries pretty quick). Below are photos of two different dioramas, both using a base painted in a mix of shades of phthalocyanine green and phthalocyanine blue (use ACRYLIC paints for this). The first one shows a Liberty ship in the stormy North Atlantic in winter, hence the large waves. I mixed a little gray into this water base to tone down the colors. The second shows a Japanese seaplane tender in calm waters:


  • Member since
    September, 2006
  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Thursday, October 19, 2017 4:11 PM

I use acrylic gel, too, rather than gesso.  So far, I've applied it right on the bases I use, but I want to try the trick Chris Flodberg has shown in his build articles, to put a layer down on the base, and then to put paper towel into that later, to help get a more even layer.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

  • Member since
    January, 2015
Posted by TheMongoose on Friday, October 20, 2017 9:34 PM

Ok, I’ve made some progress. Lots to learn here. Since i started this way I’m going to finish it and then maybe try one of the different suggestions next. I put the gesso on much thinner for the 3rd and greater coats and it no longer shows cracking. To eliminate the air bubbles i wait a few minutes after application and then very very slowly drag the paint brush over the surface. This breaks up the bubbles. 

My scene is near the beach so I hope to get away with some larger waves. The one thing that caught me off guard is that there apparently was a textured pattern to the paper towel i laid down. That is showing thru really well and is in the opposite direction of the waves! Go figure. So I’m applying my 7th coat of gesso, heading for 12 to try and cover it up. Seems to be working. Definitely some inconsistencies but for display in my model room and for experience it will work.


On the bench - 1/48 Revell PT-17, on hold 1/32 T-38 Thunderbird custom build, and in the works a 1/32 kit bash F-18A Desert Storm Hornet.

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • From: Formerly Bryan, now Arlington, Texas
Posted by CapnMac82 on Saturday, October 21, 2017 2:00 AM

My scene is near the beach so I hope to get away with some larger waves.

A couple of points.

Those of us in the ship driving trade tend to think of "uncomfortably close to shore" as being about 10,000 yards (5 miles/6 KM).  Anything shallower than 60 fathoms (360'/109m) is generally considered "shoal water" and to be avoided.  (Which includes those of us in the Amphibious trade, where we grounded small craft for a living.)

But, more importantly, ocean waves follow physics.  Ocean waves are a rotation of water molecules generally following a cylindrical pattern.  Typically, only the top 1/10 of that cylinder is exposed (wind can "pile up" that height aproimately a 1/3 more).

Shore waveas begin to brea when their base reaches the undwerwater shore line.

So, a 3' (1m) ocean wave will begin to "break" as a shoreline wave about where the water depth is 30' (10m).  Once the wave becomes surf, it will try to not expose but 1/3 its height, but, with the right slope and momentup, will support 2/3 its height as breaking surf.  There's tons more.  Like beach slope.  A shallow fetch (like Normandy) produces lower surf heights than steep volcanic ones (lie Diamond Head in Hawai'i).

Now, back to the technique.  I would have probably gone with a tissue (like that used in clothing boxes) rather than a paper towel, just for not having as much texture.  That's just expereince.  Not an absolute expression of technique.

What you may find is that you need to thin the gesso as you develop the last coats.  That's becasue gesso has an annoying habit of having air bubbles (this is why I much prefer using the gel medium over gesso, the clear gel tends to be less "bubbly").

  • Member since
    January, 2015
Posted by TheMongoose on Saturday, October 28, 2017 11:50 PM

Thanks for the suggestions CapnMac82. I especially liked this image “where we grounded small craft for a living”! 

I thinned the gesso out, slowed down the stokes with the brush, and went over it a 2nd time about 5 minutes after application. The 2nd time across broke up any remaining air bubbles. I definitely think tissue would work better next time. I’m trying to replicate a technique from finescale modeler so the materials I’m using are specific to that article. The whole things a learning experience. It’s always the little things that are left out of articles like that and it makes it really hard to try and use them yourself. Don’t know that I’ll use paper towel again but if i do I’ll pay attention to the pattern and its direction.

On the bench - 1/48 Revell PT-17, on hold 1/32 T-38 Thunderbird custom build, and in the works a 1/32 kit bash F-18A Desert Storm Hornet.

  • Member since
    July, 2014
  • From: Meridian, ID
Posted by modelcrazy on Sunday, October 29, 2017 1:52 AM

Hi Mongoose,

I don't know anything about wave hights and such but I play it be ear. I also don't use gesso or a paper towel on my water bases. I use hard foam, strips of paper, medium acrylic gel, painted and toped with several coats of acrylic varnish. The bow splash, white waves and wake are cotton. The only time I have a problem with bubbles is with the acrilic varnish, but if it is brushed on slowly the problem is minimized.

Here is a few pictures of my last 1/700 ship. Mod Podge was used to adhere the strips of paper but I prefer acrylic gel.




1/48 Tamiya Mk.1 Swordfish
1/350 Tamiya Prince of Wales

In Que

1/700 Tamiya King George V



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