Painting Plastic Icehouse Pieces

(another screed for the painting-incompetent)

Long ago, I painted my wooden Icehouse pieces. It was fun! You should try it -- if you have any. But you don't, because wooden Icehouse pieces haven't been sold for years and years.

Now they sell plastic Icehouse pieces.

Naturally, this entails a whole new set of opportunities. And a mostly new set of problems. That's what this web page is about. But you should probably first read the screed on painting wooden pieces. I'm going to concentrate on the differences here.

Things You Want

A set of Icehouse pieces.

Paint. Sadly, the acrylic paint which works so well on wooden pieces is a disaster on plastic. (It beads up. Even if you get an even coating, it scratches off easily.) You need enamel paint, the kind used on model airplanes. Testors is the most famous brand; it comes in tiny square bottles. I saw "gloss" and "matte" variants. Buy all the same variant, unless you don't want to.

Brush-cleaner. Turpentine, or some substitute. Buy a good-sized bottle. Remember, the fumes are unhappy, and they'll make you unhappy too. And I have no idea how to dispose of it. Dumping it down the sink is illegal, right? I think you pour it back in the original bottle and throw it away when nobody is looking. Fortunately, one batch of turpentine can be used for lots of brush-cleaning; it works just as well when it's gray. I kept it in a large jar, and simply put the lid back on when I wasn't using it.

Brushes, aluminum foil, paper towels, jars or cups.

Pliers, to open stuck jars of paint.

Bamboo skewers or long toothpicks. Really, I found these the easiest way to get a few drops of paint out of a bottle. (If you try to pour, you get way too much.) Stir the paint vigorously, then dip out as much as you need with the toothpick. Sure, you can use a brush, but why clean one more brush?

Varnish is unnecessary. Enamel paint dries nearly as hard as the plastic underneath, and if you buy gloss paint, you don't need any glossing action from varnish either.

Setting Up

Find your spot. Unroll your aluminum foil. Line up your pieces. Turn on the TV.

(Not the stereo? I apologize. Last place I lived, I had a stereo near the work-table. Now the paint is back by the TV, and you can't really hear the stereo. It's okay to watch bad TV while you're painting -- since you're not actually paying attention, it doesn't count against the weight of the feather when you die.)

Deciding What To Do

Your guess is as good as mine.

Remember that you have transparent pieces. You can make use of that. Or, you can paint on a solid base coat and work from there. Paint the inside? Paint the inside and the outside? How about those recessed pips? Can you use those?

Like all opportunities, the transparency is a nuisance as well. You have no reliable background color. A dark blue line may show up well when your blue piece is on a white table, but become invisible when the piece is on a dark surface. Examine your pieces both ways.

In fact, as you paint the piece, the unpainted parts will change color. They'll get darker -- because less light is getting inside. Of course, you don't see this until you put the piece down. Argh!

Painting Things

Dip some paint, mix and go. I didn't use any thinner.

Correcting mistakes is much harder with enamel than with acrylic paint. The stuff smears when you try to wipe it off. (Maybe I should have used some thinner -- purely for wiping, I mean.)

The paint also smears on your hands. No matter how much you wipe your fingers, the paint still wants to turn into fingerprints on plastic. Try to keep from touching any wet paint with your piece-holding hand.

One coat is still not enough. I'm lying. You can glop enough paint on to make an even coat; but it's hard to do it reliably, especially over large areas. If you think your paint is even, try holding it up to the light. Look through the plastic. Doesn't that look patchy and awful? Put on another coat.

No, I never have the patience, either.

Enamel paint dries to the non-smearing point in just a couple of hours. You can then paint on top. But it takes a couple of days to dry completely. Don't scratch at it if it's only dried overnight; it won't have reached full strength yet.

The Payoff

Not only can you show off the pieces to impress girls, but they nest. Do the designs combine in interesting ways when you nest them? Did you think of this when you were planning?

(I didn't.)

Last updated January 13, 2000.

Painting wooden Icehouse pieces

My painted Icehouse pieces and Zarcana pieces

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