How should a reference maquette be painted? Here are four options to consider:
The first option is to paint it white, or leave it white, as in the case of this maquette bust of Dinotopia's Arthur Denison, which I sculpted out of Sculpey polymer clay. White is best if you're using it for direct observation, because you can really see the subtle plane changes and the effects of reflected light.
Gray is the best color for photographing because it tends to stay within the range of the camera's sensor against normal backgrounds. White objects often exceed the sensor's range, leading to clipping. I generally use a matte gray spray primer because it's fast and gets into all the small cracks.
If your maquette has a variety of surfaces and textures, you can paint the maquette to look as real as possible. When you photograph or observe the polychromed surface, a lot of subtle color interactions become apparent.
This maquette of Waterfall City is made from cardboard, styrofoam, modeling paste and two-part epoxy sculpting compound for the sculptural details. I used acrylic paint for most of it, and metallic enamel for the dome.
The silver Christmas tree ball provides a record of the entire surrounding light environment, a trick I learned from the world of visual effects, where they always shoot a mirror ball and a gray ball in principle photography to record the lighting information for the digital team in post-production. You need this lighting information to really understand the combined effects of various light sources on any given object in the scene.
The original archway maquette, along with the Arthur Denison and Lee Crabb sculpts are on view at "The Art of James Gurney is an exhibition of about 25 original paintings on the UARTS campus in Philadelphia, through November 16.
Dinotopia: The World Beneath from Amazon