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Make smoke plumes with rayon fiber

Bring a fiery diorama to life with billowing black smoke
Are you building an action scene, complete with flames? Then you’ll need puffy plumes of thick smoke to amp up the drama and add movement. That’s exactly what Robert Pierson did in his diorama of Monogram’s 1/48 scale B-24J Liberator crashing into water (January 2017 FSM).

Follow his method to create masses of billowing smoke of your own.

Rayon fiber, which makes pillows soft, is also the perfect material for smoke billows. You can find it at any craft store for cheap. Tease and stretch it into a cloud and trim stray threads. Consider creating two or three plumes, rather than one, to avoid too uniform an appearance — think of a child’s colored ring stack or ice cream cone look. Variety in the color and shape of the plumes adds realism.

You can use both spray-can and/or an airbrush to paint the rayon. Both work well, but it’s easy to saturate the fibers with the spray cans. Airbrushing flat black and gray acrylics allows you to control the shades of smoke in the plumes.

Keeping the density of the colors uneven and allowing a little of the white fiber to show adds depth to the smoke. While the paint is still slightly damp, compress the plumes with your fingers to neaten the edges and eliminate curls and frizz. These detract from the realism and give away the rayon origin of the smoke.

Hairspray tames flyaways in manes and flames but use it sparingly so as not to saturate the rayon. Spray soft short bursts with the nozzle 3 to 4 inches from the fibers. Only depress the button about 2/3 of the way each time; do not fully depress the nozzle or you’ll get droplets in the fibers. If that happens, gently blot them away with a paintbrush.

Time to style: The hairspray will help the rayon hold its shape as you apply gentle pressure to refine the billows.

Just a trim: Use fine scissors to remove stray fibers, smooth the edges, and make the smoke neat and presentable.

Be sure to test-fit the smoke a couple of times during the process to be sure the shape matches the nacelle and engine—or whatever you’re using the smoke for. After you’ve finished painting your model, secure the smoke with thin scenic cement. The hairspray firms it enough to lock it in place.
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