There's a lot of disagreement out there concerning weathering ship models. Weathering, whether you agree or disagree to do it is a natural part of the real thing unless it just hit the water from dry-dock. The second a ship touches the water it begins to deteriorate. You know, rust! It all seems simple to me. If the model is mounted on pedestals, no weathering. It represents a likeness to the real thing, a model. Models set in an ocean base represent just that, a representation of a ship moving through its natural element, therefore weathering is part of the model. Not showing weathering on a ship in the water is like displaying a pristine show car on a muddy road. It ain't gonna happen! Weathering, like white water, is very easy to overdo and that's where a lot of modelers and judges get turned off.
There are three methods to weather model ships I have used to great success. I use all three on my ship models:
The first is using washes to create rust. With the wash always goes dry brushing. This is very useful to pop out minute bulkhead detail on any scale ship.
The second is the use of chalk pastels. Nothing makes more realistic looking rust stains than chalk pastels. They can also be used in a dry brushing fashion to pop out bulkhead detail.
Third is the use of an airbrush to tone down as well as weather deck markings.
Rust is Where You Find It
And for ships at sea, that is literally everywhere on the ship. Most of the maintenance on a ship goes into repairing the damage done by salt water or humid sea air. It creates rust on everything from the hull and bulkheads to the electronics.
I use a wash as step one to weather ships. I mix a wash using solvents that aren't compatible with the paint. In other words, since the model is painted with enamels, the wash would be made up of oil colors and solvents. I use a chocolate brown color of oils and thin it with Permtine. I mix Burnt Sienna and black to get the chocolate brown. This color gives a somewhat dirty appearance while looking like rust at the same time. Permtine is a brand name for artificial turpentine. It works just as well and doesn't stink nearly so bad. You can find small tubes of oil colors and Permtine or other Turpentine substitutes at arts and crafts stores. Add the Permtine to the color in a jar and make the wash. Test it on a piece of cardboard or paper using a flat, soft brush. It should have a transparent look to it. Now, using a sharp pointed brush, touch all the raised details on the bulkheads. Let dry about an hour and dry-brush the raised details with the same color that the hull is painted (see photo 1&2). Almost every part of a ship model can benefit from a wash and dry-brush. Don't forget to detail weapons, vents and even lifeboats.
Chalk It Up To Pastels
My second step to weathering ships involves the use of chalk pastels. Nothing, but nothing makes more realistic rust stains than chalk pastels. Pastels are a very fine ground chalk. They can be found in almost any arts and crafts store and are very inexpensive for the final result they give. In Oklahoma City, I can buy a single color pastel stick for about a dollar. Pastels can be ground up, mixed together and applied with a brush just like paint. Using 60 grit sandpaper, grind up some orange and brown pastels. Rust is quite orange so make sure the rust color is right. The only rules to follow using pastels is to apply them on a flat (not glossy) colored surface and check the effect you're creating often at arms length. The pastels are applied with a round tipped brush. The one thing you must remember is that they are easily overdone. Dip the brushes tip in the pastel dust and apply to the hull starting the stroke at the point the rust begins. Using one smooth stroke, go straight down using no pressure at the end (see photo 3 & 4). At first nothing appears, but after four or five strokes the color begins to show. The moment the color begins to show, check it at arms length under good light. At 1/350 scale even light rust stains show up.
A Marked Deck
My final step to weather ship models involves the use of the good old standby, the airbrush. The airbrush is indispensable to realistic weathering, especially for the decks. As a rule I generally paint all the markings found on the decks but sometimes it isn't practical. For instance, danger stripes around guns in 1/700 scale are just too small to mask and paint due to the many raised details on the deck. Decals should be used here. The problem using decals is the color is way out of scale. A one to one shade of white pops out like a sore thumb on a 1/700 (or 1/350) scale model. Apply the decals as you normally would and let them dry thoroughly. Remember deck markings usually get a lot of wear. Using the color of the deck, turn your airbrush down to a fine spray so as to not over-spray surrounding details (see photo 5). Gently dust the decals a bit to tone them down to a more scale appearance. Use a fine tip brush and touch up any over-sprays.
Carrier decks are a different matter. I mask and paint all carrier deck markings with the exception of the ship number on the bow. Once painted, dust over the entire deck with the deck color and tone down the markings in the appropriate areas. Carrier decks get a tremendous amount of weathering due to exhaust from the jets, skid marks, tractors, oil, fuel leaks and so on. They are re-painted often at sea to keep the markings visible to the pilots. The airbrush really pays for itself here. The deck markings are almost black at the trap wires and catapult starting points (see photo 6). Give this a try on your next model and you will notice a definite difference beside models that don't use it.