Thursday 28 February 2008

Paint and a quiz

First an apology, my wife dropped a cup of coffee over the keyboard this morning, so I am not sure if all the keys are working at the moment.

The greta thing about blogging is that pictures can be included at very little extra effort. With that in mind I have put together a selection of what I happen to have on my hard drive. They include black, grey and white undercoats and a variety of paints; Placka poster, artsts acrylic, Humbrol enamel, indian ink and acrylic ink. See if you can identify what is what?

First off though, I have put up a shot of a Sash and Sabre unit that has reached a stage in painting that shows what is now my standard way of doing things. They are sprayed white and then a wash of 50/50 flesh and grey is slapped on. Two wet brushes of white bring the uniform and strapping back up to white.

The flesh is painted a very pale shade then black for packs, helmets, shoes gaiters etc. packs are done and then the packs and flesh are washed with dilute indian ink in reddish brown. After that the remaining colours are added and the lightened by dry brushing. Black leather is drybrushed dark earth, black cloth is done with blue grey. The musket is blocked in leaving black showing. Matt varnish and then metallics after.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Some more painting

I should really be doing some painting this evening, but I find myself absorbed by the comments people have made on my blog and through direct emails. There is quite a volume of comment of which the following may be given as a typical example.


I have been using Black undercoat for over thirty years now and I have NEVER felt any need to use a bright colour. I may add that my collection of Assassins, Zulus, Ninja and Brunswick Napoleonics has attracted comment wherever it has been seen."

Thank you to 'disgusted of Brighton'.

I actually do realise that some people get excellent results using that system, to me its hard work but if it works for you? What I will always applaud is the individual who works out methods that they are happy with rather than just following the latest trend.

I was pleased to see Ron making this very point, especially since I inadvertently deleted a post he commented on before - sorry! I do sometimes feel that if all those people who wanted to make elaborately painted vignettes just cleared off and became proper military modellers the rest of us could get on with making simple, decent sized armies, perfectly happily on our own.

Steve makes an admirable post to reclaim the middle ground, our armies are what they are, not dioramas and not gaming pieces. Though the hobby is broad enough to happily include those who choose to enjoy either approach. Well perhaps not gaming pieces!!

Whilst in an unusually tolerant mood I should say I have absolutely no quarrel with those who choose to buy their armies ready painted. Whether because of lack of time or they want to possess models beyond their ability to produce themselves. After all Pope Julius never felt the need to grab a ladder and a couple of gallons of dulux when the cistine chapel needed a lick of paint. In fact one of the great pioneers had his armies painted for him, Peter Young was one of the greatest collectors but I do not think he ever painted a figure, certainly in his later years.

One of the gems of Brigadier Youngs collection:54mm Prince Rupert by the French maker Madame des Fontaines, a uniquely crafted one off model almost certainly created without the pressure of having to finish another dozen for the game on Fri night.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Talkin Paint

In simplicity we begin

As promised I return to painting and undercoating.

I must confess that in my time I have used many different colours as undercoat. In the eighties I haunted the racks of car paint in Halfords. Back in those day's British Leyland used to paint their cars in some truly horrible colours,( who really wanted to buy a sh*t coloured car?) but the shades of brown and beige were ideal for undercoats. I painted a whole army of Fuzzy Wuzzies by spraying them Simca Beige and then washing them with Indian Ink.

I am less adventurous these days but still have cans of black, grey and white in my garage. I use Black the least, but still I do use it for dark uniforms such as rifles and Prussians or when I want to increase the bulk of the figure, eg my French Cuirassier. I do not use a technique of leaving a black edge because I find it too slow. I also find black to be harder to see and am often jamming the brush point against the figure.

I use a grey undercoat which I then wet brush heavily with white. This is a quick technique for mainly white clad figures such as Austrians, but I mainly use it when I intend to do a good deal of the rest of the figure with inks or paint washes. It gives a fairly subdued effect when using bright colours that I think works sometimes.

The main reason for using white is that it gives a clean pure palate to work on. I also remember an article on Russian Icon painting which dealt with the physics of light. Building up colours from a white base coat meant that light was reflected back and not absorbed giving greater depth and warmth to the image. Now that may well be nonsense, but I like to think that enables me to use a more subtle palette of colours as a result.

Which raises another objection to black undercoat. In that style contrast is everything, the figures may not necessarily be as brightly coloured as Micky Mouse but the aim is the same as the cartoonist. Bright, rich, heavily pigmented colours with highly contrasting shades and divisions. Muted colours are not possible nor are they wanted. The result is a completely artificial effect, which is the opposite of our daily experience of the way light works.

If we are kind we can say that these painters are following in the steps of the Pre Raphaelite school or the Japanese miniaturists. A less kind view would be that they are completely obsessed with the way the figures look when photographed and are in danger of disappearing up their own 3 colour system.

Take a figure and stand at the window, hold it at arms length and try and find someone in the street who is sufficiently far away to seem the same size as the figure. Now take a good look at them, Interesting isn't it, the way the pupils of the eyes stand out and each knuckle catches the sun?

The fact is that colour fades as distance increases. I would never use black on a figure of 25mm or less. I would either heavily dry brush it with medium grey or dark earth, or simply use a dark grey instead. When using rich and vivid tones I always mix them with a little pale grey first. These effects work best on a white undercoat, simple as that.

Of course the choice is always open to simply paint the figure with no lining, highlighting or shadowing at all. This is a technique which screams out TOY but I will share secret on a big table with lots of units, this looks better than any other type of painting. There I've said it, the fragmentation of light caused by the myriad of different shading and highlighting colours makes the figures look dark and muddy when viewed from six feet or so. The simple figures look clear and attractive, still that's enough of such heresy I don’t want a visit from the painting inquisition.

And finally we return to simplicity

Sunday 24 February 2008

Lessons learned - or not

Now here's book that's more often quoted than actually read. Major Robin Scouller of the signals corps might have been deliberately trying to exclude wargamers from his readership. He claimed to exclude from his subject matter tactics, regimental organization, battles, drill, and uniforms.

In fact the book was well ahead of its time in that it examined the army in the framework of a state war machine. It is the genius of the author that he manages to make the details of payment recruiting and quartering, and of the doings of the paymaster general and board of ordnance both intelligible and absorbing to the reader.
I must confess it is a book that I dip into a few pages at a time rather than curl up with a mug of cocoa. Nevertheless I always come away with an added insight to the period.

My copy has an inscription from the author, which always makes me smile. I imagine Major Scouller handing the book over after a weekend as a guest. What a surprise for the hostess, who may have been expecting a bunch of daffs or a nice box of Milk Tray, when she opened the wrapping and found a book on 18c logistics! A very tight lipped thank you might have been forthcoming.

I simply have to quote the authors summing up of the condition of the army three hundred years ago:

(Subject to) " the futile meddling of men who knew nothing of the business of fighting; the corruption and inefficiency in every sphere; the penalties inflicted on the honest, efficient, or painstaking; the rewards for the dishonest, the dilettantes, and the inefficient; the irresponsibility of politicians in high places who cast patient officers and humble soldiers on far strands without arms food or medicine or even orders; the miracle of the transformation of the sweepings of the country, recruited hap-hazard and by barely concealed press into an army unsurpassed then or since; the intractability of pettifogging allies; and the resilience of a well-tried enemy. Above, far above it all, however, shines as a glow as of a lighted tower the sheer endurance, patient loyalty and capacity for infinite suffering of the officers and men who stood in the files and squares."

Style versus Function.

25mm Essex Austrian Cuirassiers, survivors from my last army

I am taken aback at the number of interesting comments made in response to my last entry. The issue of painting styles is a huge and fascinating subject on its own and though I am dying to talk of undercoats and light,pigments and physics, I hope you will forgive me if I leave that aside for a while and pick up on a very interesting question from Jubilo, who asks:

Dear Sarge ,
One has to ask if the figures are to be used for gaming or dioramas ? The overly painted and shaded figures featured in the hobby magazines tend to look rather bizarre and "super-hero "-like . The simpler paint jobs look better from several feet away ( war gamer distance ).
Is a ten musket unit going to look like a period battalion or is the ten musket unit that size for gaming ? No criticism here only curiosity. Carry on .
all for the old flag,

Jubilo cuts through all the waffle and asks "What are they for ? "

What a good question! Luckily I have thought hard enough about this to be able to answer. They are for gaming with. They are not going to sit in a display cabinet, so I do not want people to pick up individual pieces and admire them. I do not want elaborately based vignettes, that are really 54mm display pieces that never grew up. Nothing over detailed, nothing fussy, nothing that detracts from clean lines and the beautiful simplicity of the figures.

Classic Toy Soldier style from the great HE

But like so many of us, this is not my first army. The choices I make will not necessarily be the same as if I didn't already have 10,000 painted figures in the garage. So I am not going to paint these in a simple toy soldier style because I already have a seven year war army in this style and I hope to add a Crimean army in the same vein. I have 20mm ACW armies that are inkwashed and dry brushed to suit the modern eye. So this time somehing in between I hope. Enough shading toset them apart from toys but certainly avoiding the fashionable excesses and cartoon styles.

Rallying around the old tattered pole. 20mm Kennington.

Similarly I have Napoleonic armies at 36 man battalions, SYW at 48 and a Peninsular Napoleonic project planned in which the largest battalion will be highlanders at a massive 96 man battalion all individually based.

I intend that to all intents and purposes each battalion in this current project will be an individual gaming piece. Now I wasted many years in my youth going down the "its the base size that's important, the figures are merely there for decoration" road. I certainly don't want anymore to do with that load of old nonsense. But using gaming elements of a unit on each base has a long ancestry going right back to Joe Morschauser in 1962, so I am ok with giving them a run out again for this project.

Twelve men has been chosen as being the smallest number that doesn't look silly. It is also near the largest that will sit comfortably on a single base. So the driving force there is to construct a workable and pleasing gaming element. However I am hoping that the use of these bases will enhance the linear effect of the battlefield and avoid the giant rugby scrum that often develops with big battalions.

I am hoping that the small units will give an effect similar in style to a contemporary battle print.

Thursday 21 February 2008

Putting on some paint

So 12 man units it is. That affects the unit composition I don't want 1 in 12 of my army to be drummers I especially don't want to have to paint 60 or so drummers in the complicated French livery coat. But you can't have too many flags can you? Actually you can, flags have never been a priority for me, some of my regiments have been rallying round a flagless stick for many years now. But not this army, each unit will get a Flag, so I think a standard bearer, either an officer or drummer and 10 men will be the norm.

The figures are trimmed and spray undercoated white with a cheap car primer. I am aware that some use black but I am sure you will agree that is really a cheap trick for cads and other lounge lizards. I then stick the figures onto strips of wood with a hot glue gun. I like the hot glue, providing it is used sparingly it will grip the figure until a quick twist with a penknife blade releases it fully painted and varnished. The wood strips can be reused with the glue on them by giviing them 30 seconds in the microwave to remelt the glue then popping the new figure into place. I would recommend doing this when the significant other is out of the house but obviously that's up to you.

Now the big decisions start should they be painted in a vintage fashion with big blocks of plain colour or shaded and highlighted? I think these figures will respond to a bit of highlighting if it is not overdone. They are quality figures and we want to avoid making them look like toys.

So a basecoat for the coats. My friend, Bill Protz has been telling us for years now what the proper colour for French white is, so I mix up a thin wash of humbrol enamels equal parts of pale grey and flesh, this is liberally applied.

After a break to allow it to dry well I drybrush white all over. I find it easier to do this in two light coats rather than one heavy coat, which often comes out unevenly. Yes, I think I like that effect, though I am not going to be sure until the the rest of the figure is completed.

Finally a little bit of colour, we will give them red stockings, I will worry about what regiment this is tomorrow, for now a splash of colour will just set off the work we have done.

Thats it, a final sniff of the turpentine, lids tight on the paints and switch off the desk lamp. Goodnight and sleep well to you all.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Thank you for the comments

One of the unexpected bonuses from doing this blog has been the pleasure I have gained from the comments people have left after visiting. Some of you I know, others are strangers but every comment has been enjoyed.

Some of the points made demand further discussion so I intend to deal with a few from time to time.

The picture of lord Ligonier, was from Peter Young’s history of the British Army. Ken Trotman has republished Rex Whitworth’s excellent biography should anyone want to know more about this interesting man.

The second volume of CS Grants book is mainly new material especially on Spain Portugal and Italy. The first is essentially an updating of the WRG book. Nevertheless I find it to be a worthwhile purchase.

The excellent advice to go with frontages that look right with the figures has been heeded by me. Much easier to look at the figures in situ and decide.

Finally after much thought I have changed my mind about the battalion size and basing again. As several of you had pointed out I am in danger of loosing the vision I originally had. The main reason not to stick to a 12 man battalion base was difficulty in making a sturdy enough base. All the other reservations are fairly easily over come.
So the answer is make a better base.

I know what will happen if I go with smaller multi bases, no matter what I say people will insist in putting them in columns. Then they will annoy me by asking what percentage of a move it takes to expand their frontage. Far better one big base that they are unable to meddle with.

Oh, and why I am wearing a suit? It’s the only photo I have that looks anything like me.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

The best wargames magazine in the world just got better

I suspect that discerning readers of this site are already aware of the quality and high standards of writing to be found in Battlegames magazine.

The editor, Henry Hyde, has picked up the standard once carried by Practical Wargamer and Wargamers Newsletter. A literate, well produced publication that reflects the sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm of wargaming.

I am very proud to say that I have undertaken to provide a column in each issue from now on. Or at least until I get boring. If you do not recieve this magazine please consider going to the website and taking out a subscription today.

Not only will it be the best value for money you will recieve in a long time, it will also help pay my fees. ( I promise to spend it all on Les Higgins figures).

Monday 18 February 2008

At last a start is made.

Finally, I get around to making a start on the figures. I have decided to start with some French. In fact these figures are fairly generic so it’s a matter of choosing a pose I like. But first a bit of DIY.

I remove the cast on pole from the standard bearer and glue in a new one from some 1/32 brass rod. A 30p rod gave me 8 x 35mm lengths. The metal is soft enough to flatten easily in a smooth pliers and a few strokes of a file suggested a spear end. The hand was drilled out with a Dremel bit. Well, I say Dremel but in fact it was a cheap Chinese rip off that I bought for £20. The drill does tend to sit off centre and whirl around erratically chewing up the surface before eventually plunging in some distance from where it was first placed. But apart from that it is every bit as good as the brand name version

Next looking around in the box, I find a surprise. There are two variations on the drummer figure. This was not indicated by the catalogue and is a nice bonus. I shall have to check with the current manufacturers whether they have both types in their range now. I decide the smaller chap without lacing looks more French.

That brings up another point, ordinary line regiments would not have the lace bars that are modelled on these figures. Perfect for Gardes Francaise but really I will have to trim these off this regiment. I suppose while I am doing it the bayonet can go as well. I must get in touch with the manufacturers and check whether there is any chance at all of a version with a belly pouch. Typical, I sought out these figure for their classic uncluttered style and already I am obsessing about details.

I sort out Officer, drummer, standard and 13 men, then do the same again. I prefer to paint in lager batches and sixteen is not really worth mixing paint for. I shall try 2 battalions this time and see how it goes. Enough for one night, not a lot done but finally I am underway,

Thursday 14 February 2008

The mundane and just a little bit of the sublime

While in York I visited several museums, had some splendid teas at Betty's and attended three evensongs and the Ash Wednesday mass at the cathedral. So with a full range of intellectual,corporeal, and spiritual inspiration I gave full consideration to the question of basing.

I was rather keen on fitting the whole battalion on to a single base. The major drawback would have been the weight involved and the strain inevitably placed on fragile ankles as my banana fingured opponents attempted to lift the whole base by grabbing the end figure. I wandered about making the base thick enough to provide a good grip but this would still not be fool proof, and would probably have involved cutting up planks of wood.

So I have reached that most English of solutions a pragmatic compromise. I shall base 8 figures in two ranks on a 60mm frontage. Two bases will be a 16 man battalion. An identical sized base will hold three cavalry and be a single squadron. Thus the normal formation of a pair of squadrons will be the same frontage as a battalion. A brigade of infantry will have about 8 bases so if I should decide on a Fire and Fury type rule set the systems will fit the basing. If not the worst that can happen is that I have more flexibility in formation than I actually require.

I am still considering the thickness and material for the bases. Some years ago I remember an article in Wargames Illustrated(?) which had a Napoleonic collection of 15mm on black laquer edged bases with name plates for each unit. Very tempting and again keeps nasty fingers away from the figures.

I must just add, that this was the first time I had been inside the Minster after dark. It is so tall that the roof is invisible and the smoke from the candles and incense drifts away into an infinity of pllars and carving. The sheer beauty of the building is remarkably moving.

What I bought on my holiday

Pegasus: Les Higgins: Irregular: Les Higgins: Strelets

The figures above were picked up during my stay in York. I bought the Irregular Miniatures figure from their stand at the show. I have always liked the uncomplicated approach of Irregular and I think their 20mm figures are quite nice. They would be fine on the same table as Les Higgins though not in the same unit. The range is fairly small though and it may well not be worth the effort of introducing another range just to get a grenadier variation or horse grenadiers. Still nice to know that they are out there.

On the left is a figure from the Pegasus 'Mission Indians' box. Bought for no better reason than that they are the right size and the box title intrigued me, I now have the challenge of how to incorpoate several weaving and sowing Indians, a couple of ox carts and some ethereal looking monks into my armies. Never mind, plastics were made for impulse buyers weren't they?

Finally a potentially much more useful box. From Strelets 'Swedish Artillery' for the Great Northern war. Now this could really be the business since more artillery figures would be very useful. Much cruder in style and a little larger, but the main issue is the somewhat fanciful and energetic posing of the figures. This is more corps de ballet than army corps. Bearing in mind the sensibilities of my readers I have displayed the most sedate pose for their perusal.

Looking at these figures I am reminded of a letter from Brian Marlow of Les Higgins Figures. in Wargamers Newsletter in the early 70's. He responded rather indignantly to an accusation that his figures were to small to mix with Airfix. His figures were PERFECT to mix with airfix, he replied, it was just that Airfix kept making their new packs bigger all the time. Tell us about it, Brian.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

A Day at the Racecourse

I have just had a few days holiday in York. Fortuitously the first day of the break coincided with the York wargames show held at the race track. But fear not gentle reader , I do not intend to inflict a blow by blow account of the show on you. We have all been to such events and this was an enjoyable and fairly typical example. We scrummed at the bring and buy, thrust wads of money at the traders and stood in inscrutable silence, flat faced and impassive in front of the 'demonstration'games. Onething I have learned with age is that no American will ever understand what a British convention is about, explaning the rules of Cricket is a doddle in comparison.

However thanks to the Gentleman from York modelling group who generously initiated me into the secrets of using floor polish and ink mixes ( I would tell you, but I had to swear not to.). Indeed I was especially grateful to him as most of the tables I stopped at ignored me with that uneasy, head down, non eye contact that I thought was a thing of the past. I eventually worked out that I was wearing my country coat and had been travelling since 4am so they probably thought I intended to try and tap them for the price of a cup of tea. Fat chance! a couple of years ago I asked the bar staff at a major convention how much the four of them had got in tips during the day? The answer was less than £2 in total. Even the railway modellers are open handed by comparison.

But I digress. At the show I treated myself to the two volumes by Brigadier Charles S Grant on the Armies and Uniforms of Marlborough's Wars. This enables me to honourably retire my old WRG handbook 'From Pike to Shot'. Hard to believe that this was published 22 years ago. This really was a ground breaking book in its day, back then if you coudn't get hold of Knotel there wasn't much else about.

The new books are just what I wanted for painting reference and have everything for the level of detail I intend to incorporate. I do have a pile of the editions Brokow in a box somewhere but really this is not a period that demands agonising over cuff details or the trim on a pelisse. There are some splendid colour illustrations by Bob Marrion (one of my favourite uniform artists) but I shall resist the temptation, simplicity is the keyword.

And so after two hours I had shopped till I dropped ( I bought two figures from irregular as well) and was content to take my purchases to the bay window of an hotel overlooking the Minster, where I drank Guinness and awaited the return of my wife from some serious shopping. Alas she was some two hours late returning, but that is another story.