Interview: Steven Zuleski

Recently we found a beatiful diorama by Steve Zuleski on TrackLink and had a chance to ask him some questions. He’s making wonderful big scale figures, and in this text he was kind to share his secrets!

Hello Steve!Thanks a lot for your time sharing with our interview!

A. Hi Pavel and all the readers, thanks for your interest in my work. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have, it’s an honor to be asked.

Steve (left) with his brother

Q. Steve, you make a really outstanding figures and dios. How, in short word, you’ve managed to reach such skills?

A. Well, tons of practice and many years of just trying to make my models and figures look real. I always look over the Master’s works and try to incorporate their techniques along with mine. I have to reread and review their work before I start a new project, this keeps me on the edge!

Q. I’ve read your story on T/L about how it was all starting for you with a modelism. Can you tell this story for a Russian modelers? It’s very different from our experience. Just imagine, in 70s we had no models here at all, in 80s we had only some kits of very poor quality from local model manufacturers, in late 90s only it was that we saw at last some of Tamiya kits, and aftermarket – well until 2005 it was rarely seen on Russian models at all.

A. I know things were pretty tough behind the Iron Curtain back in the 70’s from history and I’m very happy you all are now able to get involved in the “Sport” of painting models. There’s lots of talent on your side of the globe, I just wish you all could have been there sooner. However, you all have caught up very nicely and there’s mega talent in Russia! I’m very impressed and like what I’m seeing.
Well, when I was about 12-13 years old a family living in my neighborhood had some rather impressive skills, namely the father. He was the editor of “Campaigns” magazine. His son and I were friends and so he got me started in the hobby. I will forever be indebted to them for their willingness to teach me the skills of this fun hobby. I built my skills from there on and always tried to perfect them as I went along. I’m not where I want to be, so I’m always learning as we all should. I don’t think we ever arrive, if we do, we fall way back to the starting line. Practice, practice:.and well, you get the idea.

Steve's house in CA an winther months


Q. I know you were in the Army, can you tell about this period of your life? For us Russians it’s very interesting to know. There you’ve served, was it difficult, had you seen action in Desert Storm for example. What weapons had you’ve been dealing with?

A. Actually I served in the U.S. Air Force from 1982 to 1988 active service and Guard and Reserve until 1992. I never saw combat, but we were always told of the Russian Bear was ready to attack the Eagle in key locations, and so we were always ready when or if the call came. I really enjoyed my
service to my Country, just as you all did for yours. I served in the States for a few years and two years in Panama, I had a great time too. I’m very thankful we never had to face off, too many of us younger lads would have paid a heavy price for Political reasons on both sides of the fight.

Q. Are there many modelers in army? Does this hobby popular in army?

A. Honestly, I never ran into another modeler while serving in the Air force, but I did some painting while in Panama, I had my mother send my airbrush, and I was able to paint using the actual paints that were used on the UH-1N Gunship for my UH-1C model. A fine bird used in Panama to protect the nuclear sub while in transit through the Canal Zone. The XM-93 mini-gun is one heck of a piece of fire power. I plan of replicating the Gunship some day, the parts are available now. I was a weapons loader on numerous aircraft, F-15, F-16, A-7, O-2A, UH-1N, A-37B, A-10, A-37, T-38. My favorite was always the Uh-1N. I had left the hobby for several years in the early 90’s and returned to find it had taken a leap into light speed, i.e., photo etched parts, etc., and all those new awesome techniques I had never heard of before.

Q. Do you track to events in Iraq and Afghanistan? What you feel as an American citizen? Where it all would come to?

82nd Airborne. 1/10

A. I personally think it’s time to pull back and leave that area, but I don’t see an end on the horizon. I have friends who have served in country and they are ready for the war to end. We will have to see where it goes from here.

Q. Vietnam is a quite important subject for you, as one can see. We Russians know this conflict mostly from movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, and we have a lot of our own similar conflicts, like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia and so on. What Vietnam means to you? What lessons can you give us, based on this experience of your country?

A. I’d have to say if a politician is involved, we are all going to get hurt, just my honest opinion. I personally think most of us around this world would prefer to be left alone as we raise our family and enjoy or friends, agreed? True reasons for the war are just beginning to come to the surface and it doesn’t look pretty. I have a feeling this is true in every arena of war across the globe.
I have chosen to honor the Vietnam Veterans by my work, because I remember seeing the news stories on TV as a little kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Now that I’m older and have many friends who served their country in the “Nam”, I felt it was important to honor those who served without reservation, without question. Their country called and they went. Many gave all just as your comrades did in Afghanistan and so on. The price was too high in my opinion. Hollywood can only scratch the surface of what really happened in Vietnam. But, books like “Phase Line Green” can give us
a better glimpse of what our Veterans had to deal with on a daily basis in the Nam. Very telling from a soldier’s perspective.

"Flower Power" 1/10


Q. Concerning your recent dio “Battle for the Citadel”, was there some real historical background? In my opinion it looks very impressive and realistic! Can you share some of your tips, applied in this artwork?

A. I have to say the book “Phase Line Green” was the most telling and inspirational book for me on the Vietnam War. The author, Nicholas Warr, really told a story I could never have imagined on my own from my limited knowledge of the war at that time. He really makes one feel like they are right along side him. That book put the hook in me, so to speak, and got me started on this massive diorama. Nick was kind enough to actually spend time with me to make this diorama as accurate as possible. It turns out he lived within six miles of me in San Diego, California, and after I read the book he was willing to help. What a great opportunity to talk with the actual author, not very common.

Diorama "Battle in the Hue City"

The diorama actually depicts the “Delta 1/5 Marines”, who finally took the Dong Ba Tower. The NVA were so embedded in the tower that the marines could not continue until the tower was taken and held. The diorama is based on that actual event, and so I tried to portray how it really happened. In construction I did a lot of scratch building of the structures from poured plaster and made many modifications to several figures. It was ten years of work, off and on, trying to copy UPI and Associated Press photos, just to get it all into perspective. I watched many DVD’s of actual combat footage, along with lots of photos from the internet. Many hours of research went into this diorama before I ever got started on it. I had to have this as close to real as possible, I think I’m pretty close from the comments of Vets who were there. I would tell anyone who wishes to replicate an actual event, do the research and get lots of photos. It made a world of difference in the end. I had many photos posted on the shelves of my model bunker for reference, full submersion into the subject matter works best for me.

Q. What is modeling for you: a sport of competition with others or a sport as a personal challenging? What are the FAIR PLAY rules for a modeler, in your opinion?

A. Modeling is and should always be a “Sport” of personal challenge. If you really think you can compete with others on a personal level, you are in it for the wrong reasons. I have always called modeling a “Sport”, maybe a misconception to some, but a challenge for me to better myself from where I just left off. I loved playing Rugby in Panama, at team sport, but as an individual I had to really work hard to keep physically ready for the game, which as you know is physically demanding for any individual. There are many great modelers out there and I learn from them all, they are the team.

I can often look over a piece and learn from their photos. It’s the art of expression and one we should always try to improve. Just go back and look over your first few figures or pieces of armor and see where you are today.

Did it happen over night, I’ll bet it did not? So, I always strive to improve with each project. That’s why I love this “Sport”, I compete against myself. And there are no rules, it’s all fair play, and you can tap into ideas and concepts from others players to help you improve your skills.
Just make it happen for yourself, you will always improve, trust me, just do it!

Q. Painting figures in a big scale: this is quite different experience from the 1/35 figures? How can you describe the main features?

"101nd Airbourne. Normandy 1944" 120 мм

A. Some folks may call me strange, but Large Scale Figures are actually easier to paint for several reasons. Please allow me to explain; you will always see your mistakes up front which will make you correct them immediately, and with oils there is always time to correct those mistakes.
The most important aspect of Large Scale Figures for me is using oils. The blending properties have no match. An artist can make a world of difference with oils, just adjust the colors and blend to bring the figures to life. Sounds too simple, but that is how it works for me. And never be in a hurry, if you feel pressure to complete a figure, back off, come back later and relax and have fun while painting. Your creation will come alive, it works! I currently have a running forum log at Track-Link right now where I am attempting to document my progress in painting Large Scale Figures. I hope someone can learn from it. Up until now I have painted only 13 Large Scale Figures with plenty more on the bench ready to get started.

Q. Is this closer to a work of a sculpturer than a modeler? Which specific skills a big-scale modeler needs?

A. I personally would not equate painting to sculpting; they are different art forms and require different skills to accomplish. However, knowing the body structure gives one an advantage in painting properly. That would be the only comparison. I really appreciate the sculptor, and there are many good ones. If the sculptor wasn’t there, we’d all be out of business.
Painting is a totally different art form, one you begin to feel as you go along. I personally use oil paints for all my figures because of the work time allowed. I’m a slow painter and never in a rush to finish. A key component in any art form and anyone interested in Large Scale Figures should consider taking their time to accomplish the results they desire. Blending colors is the key in my opinion; it’s all a matter of practice, practice, and more practice. Viewing real life on a consistent basis will help the painter create realistic flesh tones. Honestly, it’s that simple.

Q. Do you learn some painters tips, painters like Rafael or Rembrandt or Rubens I mean. Can this be useful?

A. I would say skills learned in any art school would always be useful, but not necessary. I’m a pencil drawer by nature, but it sure didn’t help me with oils or paints. I think a guy just needs to get his feet wet and jump in all the way. In other words, go for it and make the mistakes, its how you will learn. I think I love Large Scale Figures because that is what I learned to paint first, figures. I didn’t attempt tanks or structures until I was comfortable with painting figures. My family friends gave me a set of 1/32 Airfix figures and showed me the basics and sent me on my way. When I was done I brought them back and they showed me how to correct my errors. They really took the time to teach me how to paint figures. This doesn’t mean a person can’t get into painting figures and really be good at it. You just have to be willing to give it a try and not worry so much about mistakes, you are going to make them, so get it over with and keep trying. Be sure to always review others work, it helps a lot.

Q. Who are those people, who probably influenced your modeler style? Is it important to have a tutor or this is closer to self-made-man philosophy?

"The Iron Triangle" 200 мм

A. Well guys, I’m not a self made man, but other than my childhood mentors I would have to give much credit to Shep Paine’s books and Mark Bannerman for his tutorials on Missing-Links. I read Mark’s articles long after much of my skills had been developed, but he really brought them into perspective and explained why I was getting the results I was. He makes it very clear and simple for a beginner to get started. Often times I will reread his articles before I start a new project to become focused on the end result. I’m still learning and it never hurts to review a lesson or two before a paint brush ever gets wet. My challenge is the break time between paint sessions. My most profitable paint time is in the winter, summer is all work on the Ranchito. It’s hard to get any painting done when there’s work to be done outside. This is why I study before I get started each time. It’s much easier to review a great model magazine with great painters before you get started, it keeps the motivation going for yourself and keeps you in the groove, or in the game.

Q. Which websites can you recommend to those who are interested in upgrading their big-scale skills?

A. There are so many site available for a person to learn from when it comes to painting figures, several come to mind like Track-Link and Missing-Lynx. I have seen a few articles on Mig’s forum as well, even Armorama. Just go through the links on most model sites and a person can find a world of information. Many model magazines cover this information, but are not as available as the web, so search and you will find.

Q. What is your personal TOP SECRET of painting realistic figures? Can you share it with Russian colleagues?

A. Ok Amigos, here it is; Never be in a rush to finish a figure, follow your instinct and look at your friends. Do they look real? Make your figures as they are, shadows and all, view nature as it is and leave the fake stuff out. Always remember that life will teach you a lot if you are willing to observe it with an open EYE! Colors, colors, colors, and blend them. Take your time, don’t rush. Since I always use oils when painting figures I would suggest reviewing the properties of oils if you don’t already understand them. The blending qualities are very important; Titanium White and Burnt Sienna are my closest friends.

Adolf Galland. 200mm

And here’s what some may call a Top Secret Tip, “The Oven Cleaner Method”. Most in this Sport already know that if you fail and can’t deal with the results, wash it over with a basic oven cleaner, it removes almost all of the paint and you can start over. However, I can coin a phrase, because nobody has done so, so I own it now! I own it! The “Oven Cleaner method for Large Scale Figures” and it is applied as follows; after making a major error in coloration of “Sarge Knows” I was very unhappy and decided to give it an oven cleaner bath. What resulted after an initial Humbrol Base flesh tone and Burnt Sienna wash was a pathetic result. I administered an oven cleaner bath and what was left was a beautiful base color for flesh tone I could never have imagined. This was a simple mistake that had turned into a masterpiece which I built upon to gain the result seen on the 1/10th Bust. Gotta Love it, Ya? And so, as coined, “The Oven Cleaner Method for Large Scale Figures”.

Other than that my friends, there is no top secret to painting figures, just trial and error.

Q. Can you describe your OIL techniques step-by-step, for whose who just at the startline of this long and troublesome road?

"Sarge knows" 1/10

A. First of all, don’t view this as a troublesome road; get that out of your head now guys. If I can do it, so can you and everybody else. It’s in your head if you get hung up on painting figures in oils, it’s that simple. I always start with an acrylic base tone, Tamiya XF-59, Desert Yellow, then build upon that. For flesh tones, the most common oils I use are Titanium White and Burnt Sienna, adjust accordingly for darker or lighter flesh tone. Adding a few dots of Cadmium Red oils to the cheek areas and blending will bring more color to the face, then Titanium White dots on all the highlight areas lighten to lighten them up. This is a very simplified explanation, but it really is a simple process. I always have an advanced artist’s work in front of me to keep my perspective in check, again, always viewing other artists work. Oils blend very well and give you time to adjust for errors. If you mess it up and really don’t like your results, give the figure and Oven Cleaner Bath and start over.

Steve's Modeling Bunker

Q. What do you feel about Russia as a country and its people? Is this an interesting subject for you? Do you have some questions which we can answer as your Russian friends?

A. I have always been intrigued by the Russian people as a whole. Your tenacity to survive as an honorable people through many difficult periods in history speaks volumes of your character as a nation. You folks have been through much and have you always survived . I can feel the Patriotism you
have for your country as we do here in America. That is an awesome thing to behold.

My question for you all is this; has the internet made it possible to acquire the tools, kits, photo etched parts, magazines and accessories you need to build this wonderful hobby? Is there still any difficulty in accruing many items? Most of us across the globe take this for granted. I’m hoping availability has improved, there is too much talent yet to be discovered in Russia, I can see form your website this is true.

Well, Steve, our site is not the most significant, but thank you! Of course nowdays it’a all easier, often the polar bear express deliver some modelling stuff in our dugouts, especially when the short summer starts, and if the Drunk Cossacs guard it well. It’s still pretty dangerous over here in Russia, mongols, road police, pirates are common threats. And sometimes PE parts come with humanitarian aid from Alaska by parachute, but often Chinese intercept them… ))) Ha, thats a joke!
Really, we can purchase everything we need via internet, but most modelers can’t afford it because of money shortage, and they still work with local models, such as Zvezda, ICM, Miniart, MasterBox. We use more Chinese models and accesoires rather than EU or US ones, they are cheaper and closer to deliver. And we don’t use foreign magazines, because local pirats copy enough materiel and publish it in Russian.


Q. And traditional wishes to all readers of this interview:

A. I would like to say thanks again to all for your interest in my work, it’s very humbling to know others appreciate it. I hope I have inspired even just one to take up his brush and give it a try. And please don’t give up if you are having trouble, it can always be fixed if you are willing to work it. I really appreciate your model site, it is very professional with lots of information for others to learn from. I wish you all great success in this wonderful Sport. And as I always like to say, “Let’s break open that plastic, sniff some paint and glue our fingers together”. Have fun guys, this is a hobby!

Steve, Thanks a lot for your interview!

All the Steve’s models can be seen here Pavel Cherepanov, Vladimir Yashin (C)

"The Last Stand"

"Gun Trucks"

Расскажи друзьям

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What do you think about this work?

Comments (12)

  1. Макс says:

    Хорошее интервью. Спасибо, прочитал с удовольствием.

  2. Steven Zuleski says:

    Thx Makc, greatly appreciated, Ski.

  3. Melinda Kinnecome-Smelser says:

    Quite surprised by this work!! Doing research on models (meaning of the human kind for my eldest daughter) and some of these photos came up in the search engine. We clicked on them because they appeared so lifelike. GREAT WORK. And interesting thing is, I believe I knew this gentleman, Steve, back in the day when he was in the AF stationed at Holloman AFB in 1985.

    Continued Success Steve, and your work is amazing.

  4. Steven Zuleski says:

    Hi Melinda, yep that’s me and glad you like the figures. It’s tons of fun as always. Been a few yrs, eh? Thx for the kind words, greatly appreciated.

    Cheers, Ski.

  5. Great work Steve! You were always talented!
    Is this the Steven Zuleski that grew up in South Pasadena Ca?

  6. Steven Zuleski says:

    Yes Mark, thought you dropped off the face of the earth. Good to hear from you. Hope all is well. Man time flies doesn’t it?

    Cheers, Ski.

  7. angelo m giordano says:

    Great stuff on the “nam. Thank you for caring about us vets from the “Nam. Was with the 101st in the Ashau in “69-70

  8. Steven Zuleski says:

    angelo m giordano says:

    Great stuff on the “nam. Thank you for caring about us vets from the “Nam. Was with the 101st in the Ashau in “69-70

    Thx Angelo, and thank you for your service.

    Cheers, Ski.

  9. Mike Starkey says:

    Hey Steve, Did you grow up in Juniper Hills and go to Palmdale high School from 1976-80 and hang out with Alois Fierce, Bernardo Ortega, Scott Hamby and Mike Starkey? If so E-mail me its only been about 33 years LOL.

  10. Steven Zuleski says:

    Ya Mike, it’s me. Good to hear from you, been awhile Bro.

    Cheers, Ski.

  11. Mike Starkey says:

    Hey Ski, Ya long time Bro. I joined the Navy in !982-86. Took a couple of West-Pacs which Included tours to Hawaii, Philippines, Indonesia, Africa, Fiji Islands, Diego Garcia, Australia , etc., went through the em-famous Shell-Back initiations , etc. I learned a lot about the world and the entire military service definitely changed my attitude and outlook on life. I think that everyone should serve at least 2 years in a military for their country to not only contribute to their countries defense but to enrich and experience discipline for their own wellbeing. Give me an E-mail sometime to the given address and lets get together for a beer! Good to hear from you. I live in So Orange County now for 13 years. Over the years every time I asked anyone about you nobody ever heard a word so I finally started searching…. lol

  12. Steven Zuleski says:

    Mike, I’ll track you down Bro, can’t post email.

    Chat with ya soon and thx for stoppin by.

    Cheers, Ski.