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Castle Grayskull Revisited: A Custom Paint Project.

Wesley Arscott

Back in 1983 the Filmation produced He Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon series was busy doing what cartoons were intended to do back then. That is, sell toys 22 minutes at a time! Of course by that time He Man toys had already been on the shelves for two plus years. With its blending of high fantasy and science fiction both the TV show and the toy line were instant hits that appealed to a wide range of fans. And although the idea wasn't wholly original (Thundarr the Barbarian, Blackstar) its execution was arguably the best in it's genre.

What's interesting about Masters of the Universe is that the toys hit the shelves in 1981 while Hasbro's GI-Joe A Real American Hero was still a year away. That meant that for a whole retail year, Masters toys absolutely dominated the boys action toy market! Then in 1983 both properties got their own syndicated television shows. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe from Filmation, and GI-Joe: A Real American Hero from Marvel/Sunbow. He-Man debuted September 5th 1983, exactly one week earlier than GI-Joe and It wasn't until 1984 that The Transformers came along to round out the big three action figure giants of the 1980's


Back in those days toy company's produced some pretty elaborate playsets to enhance and extend the play value of their figure lines, and at the center of the Masters line was Castle Grayskull. The castle sold in several markets with some variances in colour and interior construction but one thing was always constant. That classic visage of a stone skull chiseled out of solid rock....er...um....plastic? ;-) 

Grayskull was the only playset I had as a kid and I absolutely loved it. Even though the proportions suggested that it should be many times larger than it actually was, I still thought it was awesome. It was quite simply something to behold. And when the artists at Filmation interpreted it in the style that is uniquely theirs, my love for Grayskull only deepened.

As an adult collector I made a choice to stay away from vintage toys because I honestly believe that modern toys are just superior in every way. In the case of Castle Grayskull that statement is even more true. So when Mattel asked the fan community to buy into a new Castle Grayskull based solely on a rendering I jumped at the opportunity to own one. This Grayskull was going to be up sized and upgraded and I was sure that it would fill the hole in my heart where the vintage playset had once occupied. And it did....in spades! Updated sculpt, updated interiors, updated EVERYTHING! I couldn't be more happy.


But lately I'd been feeling the yearn to get creative again. In my late teens and early twenties I had taken to painting 25 mm fantasy miniatures and I really enjoyed it. But over the years my interests changed (along with my responsibilities) and I put my brushes down. So here I am 20' ish years later surfing some toy related You Tube videos and I come across a channel out of Australia where this guy takes relatively inexpensive toys, and on a shoestring budget modifies and paints them, transforming them into really amazing display pieces. 

Having binge watched every bit of content on the channel I said to my wife that I should buy a couple of dollar store P.O.S. toys just to play around with to see if i could "upscale" them myself to scratch my creative itch. And that's exactly what I did! I bought a 14 inch dollar store policeman action figure and a pretty cool looking .357 magnum pistol. And to this day they are still sitting on a shelf in my house untouched. I just couldn't get motivated to actually do something with them! I think there was a little fear that I would mess it up. Kinda laughable when you consider that I was "scared to screw up a dollar store toy"!

But then a couple of weeks ago, one of the guys in an action figure collector group I belong to on Facebook listed this bad boy! 

I said to my wife, "I should get this and see if I can do a custom on it". One that not only respects the original but is also my own. And she totally agreed with me! At twenty bucks I wasn't taking too big a risk....but man oh man the emotional connection was RIGHT THERE! Finally!!!!!! The motivation I needed to get the creative juices flowing again!

Those of you who are Masters or  She Ra fans might get that the red and grey paint scheme was an homage to the Evil Horde. And as much as I love me some good villains, this Grayskull needed a heroic face lift! So off for priming it went. What surprised me about this castle when I bought it was that the two shell halves were actually from two different castles! Grayskull was molded in green plastic and these shell halves were different shades of green. 

One thing I learned while watching customizing videos is that not all plastics take paint very well, or at all! A good primer is essential to any paint project like this, and this one comes highly recommended!

It doesn't look like much at this point, but the sheen is dulled down and primer coverage is even with no over spray. Just a little roughing with a sponge sanding block to promote adhesion. If you're going to try a project like this patience is a virtue. Use even strokes with the can about 15-30 cm away from the surface you're priming. 

I love how much detail is molded into the "jawbridge". It's absolutely stunning!

After drying overnight it was time to get on with the facelift. And that meant going green! I had considered using spray paint for this for a couple of reasons. Firstly; the entire castle should have a green base colour! And secondly, it would go on much faster. But I was unsure if I could find a suitable matte green aerosol at my local hardware store so I decided not to spray bomb it. The other thing was that I was unsure if the spray paint would accept the acrylic folk art paint I had planned to use for all the detailing. Seriously, you don't need to break the bank on fancy model paints. Good 'ol dollar store craft paint works just fine! :-)


All the base coating was super easy and super fast because I used a one inch foam brush. In my own absent minded way, I thought I could toss on a wash of dark brown on the Jawbridge to further define the low areas of the wood. My first mistake was using a water to paint ratio that was clearly way too watery, and stupidly trying to apply it with the foam paint brush! Again, patience is a virtue. And yes acrylic paint + copious amounts of water = your paint washes off. Of course I couldn't make that mistake just once. I had to do it a second time just to let it sink in, but more on that lesson later!


 After a second coat of green it was time to get into some of the detailing. First up was the mortar between the bricks. I know mortar isn't exactly black but it would be consistent with the eye sockets and nose, and man does it ever make the individual bricks POP! One of the things I did in preparation for this project was look at other custom Grayskull paint schemes. And, I'm glad I did. There's lots of ideas out there and they all look cool in their own right. But in looking at these I had a conundrum. The roof tiles! The obvious answer was, "they're wood". But if that's true (and it is) then why is there no molded in wood grain like the Jawbridge? They're flat and smooth, and so what if they were actually  meant to be another material altogether? That led me to think about what authentic "period" (I know Castle Grayskull isn't exactly "period")materials would conceivably be used in castle construction? Slate tiles! But to me that would just be too much black and grey. So, wood was answer. On a side note; if I ever do another one of these, I'll be doing slate roof's and more grey, organic looking brick work just to see what it comes out like!

It's at this point where I decide that I do want to try to incorporate some "real world" period materials into the castle and my choices would be copper and iron. Almost all of the custom paint schemes I looked at had all the metal accents in flashy colours, golds, and silvers, but it just didn't make sense to me! Gold and silver is too soft to actually be useful.


With the roof's all painted in their base colours and the jawbridge well on its way I figure it's time to do another wash. This time, i'm going to thin down some darker green paint to try and darken the lows of the castle bricks. You'd think that I'd have learned from the visual cues I saw on the jawbridge that this wasn't a good idea. But I hadn't. And so blissfully I set about washing the castle with the same one inch foam brush and to my horror watched as the black mortar began running down the  castle walls. Sigh :-(

With toilette paper in hand (yep...didn't even have any paper towel) I quickly dabbed at the water trying to soak up what had pooled, and every dab brought more and more colour with it! Suffice it to say, that was the end of my experimenting with washes.

I thought the wood on the roof's still looked a little flat so I alternated each row in a darker brown. Then it was on to the next technique! Dry Brushing. With Grayskull being this ancient structure none of it should look "shiny and new", and that meant adding a patina to my copper and rust to my iron. I think the patina on the rook is pretty good at this point but the jawbridge still needed work.

So, washes were a bust and dry brushing appears to be going well. Time to add another technique. Stippling. I wanted the bed rock around the castle to be as organic as I could get it. and the light brown base I used wasn't cutting it. So I stippled on some black to darken it up without completely obscuring it. Then I did the same with red and orange to try and get some semblance of granite. And finally some light green to add a hint of "moss".


Back on to dry brushing with the lighter green, I was able to further define the bricks, cheek bones, teeth and crown. And from there I just kept on going with the light green to "moss up" all the wood surfaces. While it may not look as "mossy" as I'd hoped it would it sure does give a big nod to the original colour scheme and to me that's a big "alright, alright. alright".


So to put the final finishing touches on this Grayskull custom paint, I added a little more Patina to the shield emblem on the jawbridge as well as a little "moss". And what's wrought iron without a little rust?


Doing this custom paint was a lot of fun and really reminded me of what I liked about painting. Not only that, but I loved getting reacquainted with that awesome vintage playset. Turning it over in my hands, taking in all the molded detail and discovering new details I never appreciated as a kid was awesome! More than just a trip down memory lane, it felt like I made some great new memories with an old friend.


The 1981 vintage Castle Grayskull is still an awesome piece! Even if just as a display piece without any of the interiors. And it's not so huge that it would eat up an entire shelf in your toy collection. If you're even a casual Masters of the Universe fan I highly recommend picking one of these up. Get it as a paint project of your own, or to just admire. Either way you won't be disappointed. A complete shell with jawbridge shouldn't set you back too much, and the enjoyment it will far outweigh the cost.

Vintage Castle Grayskull gets 10 Orko's out of 10

How I felt when I painted it and when I admire it.....priceless.

Until next time....

...that's a wrap! 




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