M3 Grant - Sheperd Paine Tribute Diorama

Anyone who built models in the 1970s knows the name Sheperd Paine. In the early 1970s he did a series of about twenty dioramas for Monogram Models to promote their kits, both aircraft and armour. Colour and black and white diorama tip sheets were included with the kits and were very popular. These sheets contained two to four pages of text written by Mr. Paine giving advice on building dioramas and modelling in general as well as photographs detailing how he went about creating the particular diorama depicted in the sheet. As a boy I gawked at what was possible and tried my best (I must say, with very little success) to replicate what Mr. Paine was doing with the same kit I had. I still have my collection of almost all twenty tip sheets. The tip sheets themselves have become collector items. I all humility, I attempted here to replicate one of the more simple dioramas that were depicted in the Monogram tip sheet for their 1/32 scale M3 Grant kit that came out in 1973. It’s an excellent example of what can be accomplished with a very simple scene. Realizing that I needed all the advantages I could get to produce something even close to Mr. Paine’s diorama, I released myself from some of the restrictions under which he was placed when he produced his masterpieces. He was allowed to use only Monogram products in his dioramas had blistering deadlines. I believe the shortest was one week. I also shamelessly made use of such advantage photo etch parts, resin aftermarket sets and kits which were generations ahead of their 1970s era counterparts in moulding technology, dimensional accuracy and general engineering.

This scene depicts a British M3 Grant tank from the 9th Lancers, 1st Armored Division advancing past a disabled Afrika Korps Pzkpfw IV Ausf. E somewhere in Libya in 1942.
The British Tank - M3 GrantThe Grant I used is the Academy M3 Grant (#13212) kit. While not without issues, overall it’s a very nice kit. The most annoying and expensive issue to fix is the oversized bogie assemblies. I’m not a nitpicker but these parts are visibly too large. They can be fixed with meticulous rebuilding but it will add an enormous amount of time to the build and subtract years from your life in aggravation. A better solution is the Tasca VVSS Suspension kit (#35015). Each bogie is a small kit in itself and adds much to the “correct” look of the finished model. The kit has an extensive interior for the hull and turret which I set aside for this build since figures were going to occupy the hatch openings. There are also a few contours on the turret which need minor reshaping. The hull had a few small fit issues but there was nothing that some basic modelling skills couldn’t overcome.
Grants in this time period most commonly used the distinctive “double I” rubber block tracks. Personally they look more like an “H” to me but that’s beside the point. I used a set of DS tracks from a Dragon Sherman kit for these. These tracks are certainly a gem. They look every bit like individual link tracks but go together in a fraction of the time.
I used the Eduard M3 Grant (#36034) photo etch set on the exterior. The stowage on the rear deck is from the spares bin and wooden 75mm ammo boxes from GC Laser. The tarpaulins and camouflage netting on the side rails are tissue paper and cheesecloth stiffened with white glue. The water cans are resin aftermarket parts left over from the Tiger Models Designs M3 Honey interior set. The canvas mantlet cover on the 75mm gun is made from Epoxie Sculpt. I love Epoxie Sculpt for it’s convenient drying time and water cleanup. For the base color I used Tamiya XF-57 Buff mixed with a small amount of XF-59 Desert Yellow. I post shaded this with more buff thinned heavily with Tamiya Laquer Thinner. The green is Polly Scale British Dark Slate Gray (#505266), post shaded just like the Buff base coat. The fender markings are from the Archer Fine Transfers 9th Lancers, 1st Armoured Division, North Africa (AR35174) set. The squadron markings on the turret are painted on.


I began the weathering with a heavy wash of black artist oils. This acted well with the lighter buff base coat and gave me a pleasing contrast among the many rivets and small areas of surface detail. I followed this with judicious chipping created with a #9 graphite pencil. I then set aside the tank to wait to apply pastels until it was set in the diorama base.
I usually shy away from figures since they pose challenges I seldom like to tackle. If I wanted to replicate Mr. Paine’s creation though I had to take the plunge. The tank commander and gunner are from Mini Art’s British Jeep Crew set in somewhat modified poses. The driver is from a resin set that sat in my spares bin for years. I don’t remember who the manufacturer was. These are all very nice figures with excellent detail. I chose them for their initial poses which allowed me to do as little repositioning as possible. The berets and face scarf are Epoxie Sculpt. The goggles were pirated from the figures in the Tamiya Universal Carrier kit. The radio headsets are from scratch.
The German Tank - Pzkpfw IV ausf EThe Panzer is the Dragon Pzkpfw IV Ausf E 3 in 1 kit with a Tank Workshop interior.
I’ll say up front, I’m not a fan of German armour modelling. This isn’t because I don’t admire German armour with it’s great variety and lethal beauty. It’s because I feel like they are just done to death by the modelling industry. It rankles me that there seems to be at least three kits of every obscure Panzerwaffe vehicle that even made it to the drawing board when there are so many other valid British and American subjects that are left unmastered. Heaven forbid we get an M2A4, LVT1 or a decent 2 ½ ton truck done in 1/35 scale. All that being said, this kit was an absolute joy to build!Even though it was a joy, this was no simple kit. Its generations ahead of the Monogram PzKpfw IV that Mr. Paine used in his diorama, which makes his work all the more impressive considering he had to scratch build pretty much all of the interior and much of the exterior fittings. There are lots of parts and lots of options with this kit. The modeller has to be keenly aware of where he is going in the build process or he will find himself having to go back and redo certain steps (yes, I speak from experience). There are optional parts of both styrene and photo etched brass to choose from. There is also is a fairly complete turret interior so the modeller can leave those beautiful side hatches posed open.
Since I was trying to replicate Mr. Paine’s diorama I needed to pose every available hatch open. Because of this I was forced, like Mr. Paine to add more interior detail, even though much of it is difficult to see when finished. I had the advantage over Mr. Paine however in that while he had to create a full interior out of styrene and thin air I hardly had to scratch build anything. I used the resin Tank Workshop Pzkpfw. IV Interior and Engine Compartment (TWS2006) set. It was a nice set but many of the parts such as the ammo bins lacked detail and were oversimplified. In the end this didn’t matter much since few of these parts were visible on the finished kit. The transmission housing and brakes were very finely detailed though.I strayed from the Monogram sheet in a few areas, one of them being the tracks. I had the advantage of a much better kit with individual tracks instead of the vinyl ones in the Monogram kit so I posed the vehicle as having shed a track in a more realistic manner.


I started the painting with a base coat of XF-63 Panzer Grey. Most armour that arrived in North Africa came in either the standard grey or dark yellow. Desert camouflage was added locally. I masked off the spots where the Afrika Korps palm tree insignia was to go and started with a very light coat of Tamiya XF-60 Dark Yellow mixed with XF-59 Desert Yellow. I made sure that certain areas received somewhat spotty coverage to let the base coat of grey show through. I also left a turret silhouette on the upper deck that would show when the turret was traversed to the 90 degree position. I then post shaded heavily with XF-57 buff to replicate the bleached look that all vehicles seem to get in harsh desert conditions.




I used the kit decals (black 411) instead of hand painting the turret number (black 800) like Mr. Paine did because, well let’s face it, I’m just not as good as he is! The Afrika Korps palm trees and balken kruz are from the decal set that came with the kit. Once everything was dry I applied judicious chipping with a #9 graphite pencil. I followed this with a heavy wash of black and umber artist oils. This reacted very well with the light desert camouflage scheme and created pleasing shadows among the fine detail.
The TerrainThe most important part of building a diorama is planning the composition. A diorama is basically a snapshot and the same rules that go into taking a good photograph should be followed when setting up your scene. Luckily for me, Mr. Paine supplied my planning. This is a simple scene but there are subtle tricks he used to convey the feeling he wanted. For example, the bent back radio antennae and pennants on the Grant convey the speed at which it is passing by the abandoned German tank. Almost every possible hatch is open on the German tank showing a hasty exit by the crew.









While on the subject of the all open hatches, I should point out that a certain amount of artistic license was used here. The manner in which the tank was portrayed as damaged/abandoned is not entirely accurate. For instance, if the tank had slipped a track there would have been no reason to open the engine compartment and steering brake hatches, especially if the crew was evacuating the vehicle under fire. This is understandable though and necessary. Leaving them all open gives the tank a much more derelict and defeated look. The base is a simple and inexpensive picture frame with the glass removed. I find that picture frames consistently make the best and easiest diorama bases. With the staggering variety available at discount stores there is a frame suitable for any size diorama. And the fact that they are relatively inexpensive makes them even more attractive. I removed the stand on the back and glued the particle board backing in place before I started constructing the terrain.
The groundwork is Elmers brand wood putty. This is a wood filler compound available in most hardware stores. It’s about the consistency of margarine and is water based. The thing I like the most about it is that it dries slowly enough (fully cured in less than 24 hours) to give you plenty of working time and rarely cracks when drying. It’s cheap too. A 16 ounce tub, which is what I needed for this project, cost less than $5.
Even though it might seem like it deserts are not table top flat. So, before I spread the filler into place on the frame I glued several small pieces of foam board to the base to give the ground some contour. I also did this because I wanted the Grant to ride just slightly higher than the panzer so it dominated, and the panzer to ride just a little unevenly to convey the fact that it was “broken”. Once this was done I spread the filler in place about ½” to ¼” deep and textured it by stippling it with an inexpensive 3 inch wide disposable paintbrush. This gave it a nice rough texture. I followed this by carefully applying progressively larger sizes of gravel, sand and stones taking care to keep them natural looking and asymmetrical. Once all the groundwork was in place and the wood putty was still pliable I pressed the models into the base so they would look sufficiently “heavy” and not “floating” on small stones. During this process (before the models were painted and completed) I took the opportunity to articulate the suspensions slightly, showing them to be on uneven ground. Since this scene was to depict fairly hard, rocky ground I opted to not sculpt track marks into the ground. With hindsight I wish I would have. I think it would have looked better. I just take small comfort in the fact that it’s at least “correct”.

Another area where I strayed from the Monogram sheet was the vegetation. Mr. Paine’s diorama is completely lacking vegetation. Deserts are not moonscapes and only rarely and in very small localized areas are they completely devoid of vegetation. Even so, I wish they were devoid of vegetation. While in the wastelands of southern Iraq it seemed like every time I had to lay down on the ground, for whatever reason (use your imagination), when I got up I was always pulling various types of thorns and stickers out of my clothing, arms, legs, hands and other sensitive parts of my body. So, I opted to fill the dead spaces with scrub and grass. I used theatrical hair for the tufts of long grass and seafoam for the scrub bushes. To fix them in the groundwork I drilled small holes with a pin vise where I wanted them and set them in place with white glue.
I sealed the ground work with a liberal coating of ultra thin CA glue. It took about a full 1 ounce bottle to cover the 11” x 17” base. The glue serves to two purposes; first, it grabs on and pins down the inevitable loose sand and gravel. Second, it seals the wood putty and prevents any future shrinking or cracking due to changes in humidity etc. One warning though; if you use this method take extra care you do it in an very, very, very well ventilated area, like outside! And even then make sure you are upwind. I have a small basement workshop and the first time I utilized this method I just about asphyxiated myself as I burned out my eyeballs.
The wood putty only takes about 24 hours to dry rock hard. Once dry I had one or two small cracks that I filled with Tamiya putty. Once all was set, I painted the dried groundwork with a mixture of Tamiya XF-52 Flat Earth and XF-59 Desert Yellow. I then highlighted this with thinned XF-57 Buff. After painting I applied liberal washes of first black then umber artist oils. This created excellent shadows and gave the terrain a convincing three dimensional look.



Now that the groundwork was done I could place the tanks. I set them in place with white glue. With dioramas it’s important to do the final weathering steps with the vehicles in their places on the base so you can blend them in with the terrain. If you do the weathering separately you run the risk of the tanks looking out of place. I did the final weathering with pastels. This gave the groundwork and vehicles a pleasingly earthy and dusty look.


ConclusionSo, there you have it. For all my efforts I still like Mr. Paine’s diorama better. I think he pulls off the overall composition better and his figures make mine look decidedly ameturish. If, as Mr. Paine wrote in the Monogram sheet, “Imagination is the key ingredient in any diorama..” then I am completely guilty of blatant plagiarism in this project since all the imagination came from him. However, since it’s also true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I hope I can be forgiven for trying my hand and copying a masterpiece.




















8 comments:

  1. Awesome work!!! Excelent work!!! Awesome work!!! Excelent work!!! Awesome work!!! Excelent work!!!.
    Fine tribute for "Saint" Shep Paine

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  2. I well remember the Monogram diorama pamphlets from when I built these kits in the early 70s...Like you, I wanted very much to emulate Shep's work. You certainly did justice to this one!

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  3. Beautiful work!

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  4. Amazing work of art !!! A classic from the past revisited in a modern key !!!

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  5. Beautiful job. I am sure Mr. Paine would be very pleased and proud to see your tribute.

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  6. Don't sell yourself short when it comes to your artistic abilities. You sir are a true artist with a great deal of skill.

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  7. I loved building these Monogram tank sets in the 70's.
    Now I find them again online for my son.
    It's great to see the Shep Paine dioramas after so long.
    Thank you/Arigato !

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  8. I well remember these diorama sheets from the Monogram kits from the 1970's. You did an awesome job with this one. Shep would be proud. You should be too.

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