So you want to paint a ship…? Tutorial: Part One

GM_Forge LOGO art2


Okay so I’ve been getting a lot of emails from folks who bought one of my ships off the wife’s Etsy shop — basically asking how I go about painting mine. I’ve been promising to do a walk thru but with so many distractions this summer the project just kept getting side-burnered. Now that I’m catching up on things I thought I’d get around to finally doing a tutorial.

This is also my sneaky way to follow up on another promise. For months I’ve been promising my buddy, Craig Zipse on of my hand painted ships.  So — it’s going to be his ship I’ll be walking through the procession this tutorial.

One thing before we start. I like to paint ships in batches and at a leisurely pace. Generally I do one task/step a day (from casting to finished ship), devoting maybe 15 to 30 minutes to each task in the morning or during a break from writing. I find it relaxing to do it this way and I also find I do better work if I don’t rush it. A large ship like the one I’m doing here, hand painted and fully rigged? Might take five days to complete. If I’m doing a batch of ten to 15? About the same amount of time. If you’re doing more than one ship it just makes sense to do them assembly line fashion since much of the time is in prep (like pulling out the proper, paints, cutting masts, etc). Saves a lot of time doing it that way.


So the above pic shows the ship we’re going to paint. Only difference is, since this is for my buddy, I’ll be adding some extra touches such as chains, anchors and other details.

Okay so first off — the ship. I’m not going to bother showing the casting process. I’ll be painting the largest ship I’ve sculpted to date (about 19 inches tip to tip when finished). I sculpted this ship last winter and it’s been one of my wife’s best sellers. I’ve blown at three molds casting this ship and with each new mold, I’ve made a few changes to the original master. This ship pictured here is what I refer to as a “rev 3”




First thing I do with any piece I plan on painting is to do some sanding/trimming. The edges on the ‘pour side’ are typically rough or uneven. I gently sand to take off any shine and make sure the bottoms and smooth and flat. I also check for bubbles or defects even though I typically haven’t experience such problems with these boats. If you do find a bubble one good trick is to pack it with baking soda and apply a drop of super glue. It’ll harden and turn white. It works so well oft time you can’t even detect the repair. You can also use squadron putty or even speckling compound – just be sure to sand it down smooth once hardened.

Next thing I do is put the pieces on in the dishwasher (don’t tell the wife). This is the best way I’ve found to completely remove any release agent on the resin — which can wreak havoc on your paint job later in the process.




Next step is primer. Now you can run out and buy the expensive speciality stuff, I suppose. Don’t bother. For $3.00 a can you ca pick up a can of Rust-Olem Flat Red 2X Ultra Cover. Home Depot carries it, I’m sure Walmart does as well. This stuff is great. It bonds with resin, goes on thin (so it doesn’t obscure details), dries fast and helps acrylic paints bond better. You could go with White Primer is you want a lighter looking, new ship but for me it’s Flat Red all the way.

I’ve primered a LOT of the ships this past year. Best way i’ve found to do it is to place them upside down on a flat surface, primer the bottom and sides lightly. Let dry for 30 minutes. Flip – primer the top. There are a lot of deep lines/details on this boat (mostly woodgrain and planking lines) so hitting the sides from various angles will help get better coverage.

You don’t have to completely cover the ship. Coverage can be uneven, just make sure it has a good dusting with no white showing through.

And this is what I consider to be Step One. Tomorrow we will apply our first base coat of paint.

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