How to Paint Model Ship Decks
Updated: Jan 11, 2022
I've had a few requests for a quick tutorial on how I paint the wooden decks of my ships. I should note that, as usual, this is my method and is in no way definitive. If you've got some tips or a different way to tackle decking, drop them in the comments below!
The Canvas: Textured vs Flat Surfaces
This method works on textured and flat surfaces alike. However, when working with a texture, just be mindful of painting along the grain.
I want to mention that I've settled on a decking color recipe, despite the fact that so many different nations decked in slightly different colors. In the end, I just wanted it to be simple and quick, so that won out over historical precision in my collection. Also, unless specifically noted otherwise, all colors are Vallejo Model Colors, and I've tried to include the paint number as well where available.
I wanted a nice fresh wood color for my decks so I started with a Yellow Ochre (121) as my base. The highlight color is Cold White (002).
Above: Yellow Ochre (121), Cold White (002) & Brushes (Sizes 5, 1, and 00)
If you're going to choose another color, simply swap the base color for one that's a few shades darker than the color you're aiming for. The added highlights will bring the color up to the desired level. Just make sure you don't start with the final color otherwise you'll end up with bright decks.
Step 1: Basecoat the Deck Surfaces (Size 5 Brush)
Above: Cover the deck surfaces with your basecoat. Obviously, I'm not super concerned with being tidy at this point.
Step 2: 75:25 (Base:Highlight) Streaks (Size 5 Brush)
Above: I mixed up a 75/25 mix of paint. The ship on the left is in simple basecoat. The one in the middle is half done with this step and the third one is complete. I used the larger size 5 brush to make wide streaks, pulling the brush in one direction only. Don't worry about uneven streaks at this point, just try and keep them straight-ish.
Step 3: 50:50 Streaks (Size 1 Brush)
Above: I stepped down the brush size to 1 and increased the highlight mix to 50/50. I left the middle bit in the middle in basecoat so that you can see the effects of adding this layer. Again, I pull the brush along the length of the ship and only in one direction.
Step 4: 25:75 Streaks (Size 1 Brush)
Above: I increased the mix to 25/75, base color to highlight. Same dance as before, but now I'm getting a little more deliberate with the streaks, trying to keep them consistent and evenly distributed as possible.
Step 5: Pure White Hairlines (Size 00 Brush)
Above: Finally, I drop down to the smallest brush, size 00. I'll use the pure highlight color to draw hairline lines, as straight and narrow as possible, about 1-2mm apart. ANd with that, the planking is done!
Cleanup & Finish
Above: If I feel that the decking is too bright, I will repeat the last step but with the basecoat color only. I then get to work on the details and finishing. If I get any paint on the decking (and I usually do), its a simple matter of patching it with the basecoat and, if necessary, a quick few streaks with the highlight color.
And that's it! Any questions or comments, please post them below! The models I used to demonstrate the method are all from East Coast Ironclads, specifically the Battle of Albemarle Sound Set. I've painted them up in preparation for the next Dawn of Iron release about the same battle. I'm putting the final touches on that battle pack now, so it'll be hitting your digital bookshelves soon!