As much as we’d wish it were otherwise, the world is seldom shiny and new as a toy on a shelf. If you want your train layout or diorama to look realistic, you have to find a way to represent the wear and tear of the real world, showing what depredations the elements can wreak on unprotected surfaces. One of the coolest and yet easiest to create effects is rust.
There are a few ready-mixed multi-step products that can do the trick, like Rustall, but it is really not hard to create the effect of rust using a few simple techniques and paint colors. We will use the techniques of “the wash” and “the dry-brush” as discussed in earlier articles to achieve the desired rust effect.
Paint and supplies:
Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber(we use water based Liquitex in the bottle)
Silver acrylic paint (we use Apple Barrel or similar)
Testors’ Dullcote spray in the 3 oz. can
Powder (We use Bragdon’s Weather System rust colors)
Brown or gray chalk pastels
Dish soap – to add to the wash
Isopropyl alcohol – also for the wash
Step 1: Base Color
We'll start our example piece with a simple, clean, HO scale (1:87) truck body. We could certainly pre-weather this by painting a panel or two in primer grey or a lighter, more faded blue.
Step 2: Burnt Sienna Wash
Burnt Sienna wash is the first layer of weathering, applied liberally over the whole surface. Don't worry about the windshield; we're using acrylics which can be wiped from the transparency later with alcohol. If in doubt of whether your wash will harm the surface below, be sure to test it first.
Step 3: Burnt Umber
In the photo, we've dry-brushed a little Burnt Umber in a few sharp edged places like the running boards and the edge of the bed.
Step 4: Black Wash
In the photo, we've dulled down the shiny chrome with a black wash to get into the crevices and generally mute the shine.
Step 5: Subtle Streaks
Step 6: Metallic Tones
In the photo, we've made a light dry-brush of acrylic silver giving a subtle hint of the metallic nature of the truck body.
Step 7: Put your rusty object in its new home
Now the rusty derelict can be moved to its new home, a weed filled ditch. Weeds and other junk go a long way to sell the illusion of wear and abondonment.
Step 8: Other ideas for rust
Sometimes, the object to which you will apply rust is not metal itself, like a brick wall, but a metal object has been attached to it, like a ladder or sign. Here you may want to paint thin rusty streaks flowing down from the contact point. Use a thin pointy brush. The key here is subtlety. A little bit goes a long way and can be too easily overdone. The streaks should fade out quickly.
Perhaps you want to age a painted metal object with hard edges, like a 55 gallon drum. Dry-brush the hard edges with the rust colors and leave the rest alone except for a few vertical streaks as discussed above. The idea is that the hard edges would be where the object’s paint has scraped away allowing the exposed metal to rust, while the painted surfaces remain intact.
The Rustall effect is completed by dusting on some brownish dust to make the surface appear even more worn. You could also do this with the Bragdon powder of your choice, or even by getting some gray or brown chalk pastels from the art store and crushing them against sandpaper to produce custom weathering dust. Real dirt is probably too thick and granular to look good as a scale weathering product unless it is repeatedly sifted through progressively finer strainers. As with the other powders, sealing lightly with Dullcote makes the effect more resistant to damage.
In the photo is a tunnel portal demonstrating another example of rust adding character. Check out the streaking and staining on this O-scale Featherlite portal casting. No additional parts have been added; it's a single piece with elaborate but simple paint work.
Using this technique, it’s easy to build up a whole junkyard of rusty debris, but the uses extend much further. You can rust out rolling stock, or abandoned metal structures like signal bridges or water tanks. You can even bring life to a rusty fire escape on the side of a dilapidated tenement. The sky’s the limit, so just go out there and rust!