Sunday, January 23, 2022

Being Creative with Brickwork

If you are like me, each time you look at a layout, you can't help but see the Walthers catalog right in front of your eyes. Indeed, this is a generalization since many kitbash and scratchbuild their own structures. However, what ever your opinion on the subject, commercial structures can be useful in many cases, particularly when dealing with brick building. Indeed, even if you kitbash them, a trained eye will tell quickly if it's DPM, Walthers, Vollmer or Revell to name only the most common ones.

One thing that can truly change their appearance is how we paint them. Different colors, texture and patterns can greatly disguise their origin, hide no so great splices and offer more character to the layout.

Over the last month, I've been experimenting quite extensively on brickwork and while I will probably do a more in-deep write up, here's a neat little trick I want to share.

From the 1880s up to the 1910s, architects and masons outdid themselves with brick patterns to create intricate and attractive motifs on facades. It was a period of prosperity at the crossroad of the industrial revolution and the traditional aesthetic canons. The two world wars would put a definitive end to these labor intensive and costly sophistications. "Plain" was the new way of showing off your wealth which would lead notorious architect Philipp Johnson to say: "Less is Bore" as a reaction to the more famous "Less is More"! I'll leave that counter productive yet fascinating debate for another time!

In Quebec City, this tendency was even more important as the city tried to create a new romantic international image to attract tourism. This obsession with anything castle-like would merge with the Second Empire style and many other American trends into a very eclectic blend that percolated from Government buildings to sheds.

It was also an era when it was particularly fashionable to mix pale Scottish brick with regular common red brick to enhance corners, pilasters, windows and cornices. These beautitul works of art are unfortunately seldom replicated in model form. They certainly take a long time to paint, but I feel the result is well worth your time, particularly when dealing with a signature building.

Dominion Corset: the most beautiful factory in Quebec City

As a proof of concept, I used a remnant of an Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing Co. structure to replicate a common pattern that could be found on many factories in downtown Quebec City. This building has an intricate cornice typical of that era and it reminded me of the old Dominion Corset Factory still standing on Boulevard Charest.

As a proof of concept, I simply used beige paint to pick up some bricks that were previously coated with red primer. Keep in mind this isn't a real paint job, only a test to see if it would be feasible to replicate early 1900s brickwork.

The result seems convincing to me. Sure, the habit of tool makers to punch windows without taking into account the brick pattern shows off on each sides of the windows, but otherwise, it completely transform the well-known Atlas kit.

No great isn't it!

Mind you, it's only paint... No kitbashing done at this point, no careful painting, no weathering. For the sake of realism, I also added a weathered copper-color cornice salvaged from an old Roundhosue 3-in-1 kit. It's a little bit crude and I would probably 3D print better looking cornice if needed, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieve. Don't be fooled by the results! No special skill is required there. Get yourself a good precision paint brush, thin down correctly your paint, take your time and correct your mistakes by covering them with you main brick color. You'll be surprised!

By varying the colors, great results await you!

If you approach this paint job by doing a little bit each day, at the end of the week, you will end up with a fantastic structure!


  1. Matthieu, I greatly enjoy your blog. You've been touching on some subjects not often covered in the model rail hobby. I've a couple of Atlas' Middlesex Manufacturing kits; they're to become part of the Quaker Oats complex in Peterborough Ontario. Atlas really did this historical modeller a service with these good and yet adaptable models.

    Something to keep in mind was that storefronts and industrial buildings often would have the street side faced with the best looking "face brick". The cheaper brick was used for walls less seen by the public. I often visit a cafe' in Ingersoll, Ontario having a nice storefront, but the brick walls inside the cafe' are made of yellow brick having a great variety of shades. They are also misshapen pieces that would have been offered cheaply for use in walls that would be covered with lathing and plaster. Renovations a couple of decades ago revealed these walls; almost two hundred years old, they still bear loads and present the quality work of the craftsmen who laid these bricks so long ago.

    Steve Lucas

    1. Gosh, my long reply got deleted in a freak accident! I'm glad this can be inspiring for you. I thought it was an interesting aspect of architecture well worth modelling.

      I agree, not all brick walls were born equal back then. Common brick was used for everything that was not in sight when possible. Overbaked and darkened bricks were also often used for these side and rear walls. They didn't look great but were quite resistant as a facing. Underbaked bricks, often very light in color, were used as infill within the walls or for partition walls inside. These wouldn't survive if exposed to the weather. What was considered subpar or contractor grade work to be hidden has no a value to our eyes. Modern architecture no longer use imperfect materials like that and gains a new value it certainly didn't have back then.

      As an anecdote, I currently work on an heritage building built in brick and stone back in 1856. In many parts, the plaster or even the walls were in very bad shape. It could have been a good opportunity to expose them for posterity, but after consolidation, I covered them back under several coats of plaster as they always have been. Mind you, I got a lot of criticism from colleagues and even subcontractors for not keeping a few walls visible to "add texture" to the project. I laugh at them, saying it was the most overplayed trick in the architect book. If I wanted to be original, hiding them was the bold choice that no one would dare to do. To be honest, it's a neoclassical building that keep had a great level of authenticity and I felt it would have been a great disservice to try to be obnoxious with "grand gestures". Also, I've learn from experience removing finishes on old masonry exterior walls is generally a recipe for disaster in the future since it changes how vapor migrates through the wall, particularly during winter. Mind you, I do love old brick walls, it was just not the project for it.

      As for Dominion Corset, Mr Amyot, the founder and CEO, was a proud man who wanted to build the most beautiful factory in Canada. With this goal in mind, he went all in to surpass his competitors and hired one of the most prominent architect in Quebec back then. No efforts were spared and the four facades were all cladded in fancy brickwork with Scottish brick inserts. Even the invisible walls of the interior courtyard were treated in the same fashion. I am led to believe had he not gone all in with this project, this factory would have been torn down a long time ago. However, it was such a fascinating monument that it was salvaged for posterity. I'll probably publish other articles related to brick buildings.