Customizing on the Go

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Customizing on the Go: aka Road Trip!

This article written by pluv was originally published in the March edition of the JoeCanuck Newsletter.

I'm in the middle of unpacking and don't have my computer set up yet. Which makes it the perfect time for the topic of this article, customizing on the go. I customize when the mood strikes me and when time allows. To that end, I have brought customs to finish on vacation with me before. After one time when I couldn't find any brushes or paint where I was vacationing, I started bringing some supplies with me, just in case. Over the years, these supplies have gotten much more specific since they have to adhere to airline policies, and smaller since they have to fit with everything else I'm packing. Or if you have time to kill while traveling for, commuting on mass transit to, or just bored at work, this could help you too.

I've seen customs from soldiers stationed in Afghanistan made out of playing cards, boot laces, and bottle caps. I've seen customs from kids made out of duct tape and cardboard. You use what you have on hand. Being able to plan ahead and think of what you might need and bringing it with you is a benefit you should try to take advantage of when you can. Here are the items I use regularly when on the go.

  • Sawed off paint brush
  • A bottle or two of paint
  • Rubbing alcohol in a travel size hand sanitizer squirt bottle (Not pictured since I haven't refilled it yet.)
  • Napkins
  • Clamp

If you don't have space to lay things out, then the trickiest part of this is going to be holding the figure and paint in one hand and the brush in the other. I tend to only use paint that gets caught in the lid, like the Citadel paint bottles, to make things a little easier. I take frequent breaks between painting so everything has a little time to dry, so I can clean the paint off the brush with the rubbing alcohol, and so my fingers don't cramp from holding everything in the "ok" hand gesture for so long.


I use the clamp to hold the figure while I'm painting whenever I'm in a jostling mode of transportation, (planes, trains, and automobiles). Then I will use the clamp as a stand to hold the figure in place while I paint something else. It isn't as good as the drying rig most people have, but it does the job in a pinch. Which brings me to the last tidbit of this article.

This isn't the ideal set up. There are many, many limitations. Unless you are in a hotel room or summer cottage you most likely won't be doing any fine detailing or complicated camouflage painting. I typically use this as a way to squeeze in more time to do the base colors of a figure. This way when I have the space and time I can do the more intricate work. When on vacation and it comes down to whether I want to do some limited customizing or no customizing at all, I'm going to take the traveling road show every time. Because that's how I roll.

Customizing while deployed by Tsunami


Tsunami in a far off land

Every now and then the Army decides it needs my services in another part of the world. Of course I pack my ruck and my duffle full of uniforms, socks, toiletries, and sundry other military gear (helmets and body armor and such), but I also leave room for entertainment. A couple of paperbacks, a couple of movies, weight lifting gloves, my laptop, and quite often, a small customizing kit. Now of course I was sent here for a reason, and that is the mission. The Mission always comes first. Often in a deployed environment I am working 12-16 hour days, most days of the week. I am often on patrol, or visiting other locations. Often I live out of my ruck for extended periods of time. But a six-month or a year-long deployment is a long time, and there is some down time during the tour. For a long deployment, the unit often plans to have a down day (currently I enjoy a half-day on Sunday). I find I often need to disconnect with a good sci-fi/fantasy book, a good movie, or to customize for a bit to recharge my mental batteries.

Be realistic

Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish during your time. Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish with your tools and supplies. I once tried to take my entire casting set with me. It was large, bulky, and time intensive. Plus the chemicals had a habit of being messy and odorous. My roommate was not appreciative. I also once tried to take a vehicle with me with plans to cut up, fill in, modify, etc….It sat in a box under my cot the entire time. This deployment I had a few figures I wanted to complete, plus I delved into a line of a self-customs of me and my wife as our Star Wars alter-egos. Early on in my marriage, I wrote some Star Wars Fan Fiction. I was a Tie Fighter pilot, my wife was a SeaTrooper. I ended up doing multiple versions of each of us. She thinks it is romantic and flattering, I get to customize. Most are simple head swaps, and some small paint and mods, and overall, very LBC-ish, but on a Saturday night, when I know I can sleep in on Sunday morning, I can kick back and watch Sucker Punch, Die Hard, Conan, or some other no-brainer action flick and whittle away at neck posts and paint torsos.

Have a plan

Set realistic accomplishable goals. On this deployment I brought with me a half finished custom that just needed to be painted, I also brought with me three parted out figures with their accessories. Two only needed painting, the third need painting and required some cutting and gluing of his skirt/holster/belt and needed painting. I also brought a small bag of heads (that sounds somewhat gruesome) as I wanted to work on my head swapping. I passed on bringing any WIP that required significant modifications and major surgery. I also passed on any WIP or project that required painting of flesh tones (matching), or eyes. So my plans were: Finish the one, paint two, glue/mod and paint one figure, and experiment with head swaps and “neck-octomy” (I think I saw somebody use that term on JC, I apologize for not remembering who to credit it to). As mentioned above, I created a whole slew of SW customs of me and my wife, all the while improving my head swap skills and learning to work with green stuff in making neck posts.


Space is a big limitation in a deployment. I have been moved around a couple of times on the battlefield, and all my stuff has to be portable. I simply cannot have a plastic bin (or more) full of stuff. I have experimented with a couple of methods. The small shoebox (child size) seems to work the best for me. I have also used a toiletry kit in the past. But the small shoe box seems to pack the best in my duffle or ruck. Once I have the container I fill it with my needs. Figures go in first, preferably separated in their own Ziploc, then paints and superglue (also in Ziplocs). A small bag of rifles/pistols/packs that I think will work to accessorize my WIPs if I have not already set some aside. Three or four paintbrushes (different sizes), knife and any other tools you may need are also added. I found my knife was not as precise as I wanted it to be when modding neck balls and cutting straps, I asked my wife to send me an X-acto, so that will be included in future deployments. I also packaged or picked up a few screws, drill bits, pointy objects and a half sheet of sandpaper. I ended up using all of them. A small strip of green stuff was added later. A cut down water bottle serves for paint brushes.

9mm, for when the custom doesn't turn out right
IMG 8677 (1).jpg

One thing I really miss is the dremel. For one of my secret santa gifts, I had to hollow out a Snow Serpent helmet for a MIG pilot. Working with the X-acto and a drill bit was taxing and imprecise. It got done, but it was rough. Another think I really miss is the glue gun, which is so useful when head sockets are too big.

One thing I found with working with what you have is that I spend a lot less time parting things together. At home I will happily spend hours digging through bins, laying out heads, arms, accessories, etc…and not quite ever get to the painting or customizing as I am sure that there is a better head somewhere if only I looked in this bin or container over here……By being limited on parts, as well as having a plan, it forces me to get to the actual paints and mods of the figure, something I am easily distracted from at home.

Keep it Simple (Stupid)

As discussed above, space is a limitation; therefore, I can only have a few colors of paint. Sub-teams are good. I used Black and Red on my Ice Storm squadron mates. I have also concentrated on a small Tiger Force team with matching brown/orange/yellow for each on a previous deployment. Having a few colors that work for the majority of the fodder you bring helps. In addition, I prefer darker colors. I can’t very well carry an aerosol can of spray paint on a C-130, or haul it around in the extreme heat or cold, so priming is out. Dark colors work better to cover up the existing paint scheme. I have concentrated on ROC/POC as they seem to be darker with lots of blacks, blues and reds. As mentioned above, I try to avoid doing flesh tones and color matching. First my skill index is still pretty low (I never have attempted to paint eyes, but Rescuer tells me it can be done), but also, less paint. The one figure I did finish up, my BAAT 2.1, I had primed at home, and only needed to paint the black and red portions. Also, picked up a cigar box, and I use that for my backdrops, and to store my completed figures in. I printed out several different backdrops and when I finish one up, I take a picture and send it to the wife.

So, that is about it, my few experiences and what works for me. Small goals, simple customs, plan ahead, and above all: have fun

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