Thursday 31 July 2014

Ooh... me piles!!!

Wargaming Health. Pt. I: Ooh... me piles!!!

These aren't my piles...

Nor are these...

Wargamers aren't the healthiest or sportiest bunch.

I recall going to Salute on a couple of occasions when there was a Flora London Marathon registration day on at the same time. The sporty types, all looking very trim and healthy, and with women outnumbering men, were a stark contrast to the wargaming crowd gathering for Salute: almost 100% male, and with a significant quota (if not quite a preponderance) of overweight and unhealthy looking characters.

I noted with some alarm that I seemed to be headed more towards the physical model of the latter group, rather than the former. Hey-ho!

Having established that most wargamers aren't exactly paragons of the Olympian physical ideal, it's perhaps no surprise to learn that pretty much every wargamer suffers from piles... piles of unpainted figures, that is. And I confess, I'm one for whom the painting ointment treatment is desperately needed. Sorry about this, but it's going to get gruesomely graphic: what follows isn't pretty, it's a picture of my piles:

These are my piles, or at least some of them. Each of these bags contains a 6mm French division. The open bottom drawer behind contains the 6mm Russian army.

The shelf unit itself also contains 10mm French and Russian armies, of pretty similar sizes.

A day or two back I decided I needed to do a stock-take of my 6mm stuff, to get a handle on how much work I needed to do to get the armies painted. I still haven't finished that yet, but I can say now that each army is approximately 1,000 strong in infantry, with circa 200 cavalry and 20 guns each. 

Each army represents only part of the forces used in the attack by the French on Smolensk, on 16-18th August 1812, just over 200 years ago. Actually both sides had around 200,000 troops to draw on, but neither side committed anywhere near their full strength, with the French committing about 50,000 and the Russians about 30,000, to this defensive engagement.

An indispensable reference work for Napoleonic wargamers, from prolific author Digby Smith (sometimes AKA Otto Von Pivka!)

Another essential piece of Napoleonic reference from Smith.

Using Digby Smith's superb Napoleonic Wars Data Book, and a number of other sources, including his Armies of 1812, Wikipedia, and a few books from my ever-growing 1812 library (and, of course, numerous other sources to be found on Ye Olde Interwebbe), I worked over an OOB I had originally created some time ago. I have it as an Excel spreadsheet now, which I reproduce as a graphics file below.

My French OOB for Smolensk

I've got most of the units for the French army, except that my Polish contigent is rather thin (about 10%: two and half battalions, as opposed to 21!). But, although not all the units are complete yet, I do have almost 30 of the approximately 33-ish French battalions! And I've got all the cavalry and most of the necessary guns.

But this all means I've got vast amounts of painting to do... aaarrrgh!! Here's the painting workbench, as is, with two infantry battalions and three-and-a-bit cavalry regts on the go. The 'and-a-bit' element is a single squadron of the 28th Chasseurs a Cheval, which I've nearly finished, and will probably post pics of as my next post on here.

For completeness sake, here's my Russian OOB for Smolensk:

Treat Those Piles: Some Painting Guides

When I say 'treat' your piles, I don't mean wine 'em and dine 'em... no sir! 

One thing I've coming to realise, in trying to treat my own piles, is that I'm not painting as efficiently as I ought to be. At present I practically finish the figures, then I do a Quickshade wash, and then I spend ages going over the figures, bringing back detail and colour that the Quickshade knocked-back and/or obscured. 

I found a good tutorial for 6mm figs here, and there's another here, the first by Richard, who's set up the excellent perfectsix forum (dedicated to Napoleonics in 6mm... heaven!), and the second by Liam/Leon of Adler. Another painting tutorial I really like, although I don't as yet follow his methods (partly 'cause I'm doing 6mm, not 15mm or bigger) is this one, by the meister, Anthony Barton.

The key thing I got from the above is something from Richard's guide: do the wash after blocking in the larger colour areas, i.e. before going into any detail! It seems so obvious to me now (face-slap)! Everything I've painted up until now only got the wash very near the end. Hopefully I'll save some time with this new working method. I need to, with so many figures to paint!

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Painting Progress: AW 15mm Brits cont.

I've given these minis the Quickshade treatment, plus some highlights - Quickshade made them look too dull - and finally two coats of Testors lacquer...

Took the pics outside, for a change, it being so glorious... 

As I mentioned in my previous post on these figures, I chatted to the guy who runs AW, and he's a very nice guy. Looking at his website now it seems he's more focussed on 28mm than 15mm. 15mm used to be my main scale, but for gaming Russia 1812 at anything over skirmish level, it's too large and expensive. 

My favourite 15mm are AB and Anthony Barton era Battle Honours, and then Minifigs (the latter for nostalgic reasons). I think these AW are a bit too stocky for my tastes, and it's a shame about the ill-formed bayonets on some of these (the French aren't quite so bad in that respect). The worst offenders I snipped off, and may well rebuild with Milliput if I ever get the time! Some I might leave sans bayonet.

So, what do people think? I've been told that one shouldn't use Testors over metallic colours (it says so on the can as well), but I think the metal areas look ok. Sure, they're a bit duller than they were, but they still look metallic. I'm still not sure about Quickshade. But then this is the first time I've used it! (I bought the tin about three years ago!)

Part of me wanted to paint the bases green again, after the Quickshade pooled around their feet. But I think that seeing as I'll be basing them at some juncture, there isn't really any point. It'd just be wasted time and energy!

Sunday 27 July 2014

Painting Progress: AW 15mm Peninsular British

AW Miniatures peninsular Brits in 15mm (pic from their website), available from AW here.

Despite my youthful Waterloo fixation, once I'd started collecting wargaming miniatures seriously, in my teens, I was always more interested in what I saw as the 'main' campaigns, i.e. those between France and Austria, Prussia and Russia.

I built a French army, mostly for the Minifigs range, and convinced a couple of buddies to buy Austrians and Russians. Sadly the whole project stalled rather, and only I pursued my part with any vigour, in terms of painting and basing. The net result was that these collections were never gamed, and were ultimately sold off later (see earlier posts).

Gillray captures the British over-inflated sense of self-importance, with an over-inflated John Bull.

I still don't really know why (I have rough ideas, some already alluded to above, which I may go into in other posts), but I more or less shunned the campaigns the British were involved with - The Peninsular and Waterloo being the most obvious; back then I didn't know about the debacles of Walcheren or South America - regarding them as sideshows, and somehow feeling that there was something embarrassingly parochial about the British obsession witht their own relatively minor role in the land wars of the era.

More fabulous Gillray humour: in some (rear) quarters attitudes towards our (in)continental cousins have hardly changed!

As the Waterloo bicentennial looms though, I find the fascination with Waterloo returning. Actually I got back into it a while before I started thinking about 2015: I'm a bit hazy on the chronology of this wrong, but Barbero's The Battle, and Hofschröer's Wellington's Smallest Victory both played a part. I read them several years ago, in part to simply get some Napoleonic relief from the tidal wave of Russia 1812 material I was working through.

At one of the first of the wargame shows I went to, perhaps even the first, which might actually have been Derby World Wargames at Donnington, in 2011, I met and chatted with the owner and figure designer for AW miniatures, whose name escapes me now. A very friendly guy, we talked about how we got started with the hobby. I told him that I've always been something of a frustrated figure sculptor - having made plasticine armies as a kid, I'd also sculpted some Milliput miniatures, but not sufficiently well to feel confident enough to take it further - whilst he told me about his studies, which involved something to do with a mass Napoleonic grave site in, I think, Russia.

Couldn't find pics of the show (Salute 2011) in question, so here's one of your truly getting in the mood for Derby WW 2012!

Having enjoyed our conversation, and learning that his was a fairly new venture, I felt inclined to support his work, even though his miniatures, or the 15mm range at any rate, are for the Peninsular, a theatre I'm not really that into. So, despite this, I bought two bags of his minis, one of British line infantry, and one of French. Both designed for the Peninsular, and both saying they contained 24 figures. These subsequently remained on my living-room shelves for several years.

A couple of months back, with the commencement of reasonably serious efforts to make inroads on the lead-pile, and the beginnings of this blog (also coinciding with a return to further Waterloo themed reading), I would often look at the bags of AW figs, and think ruefully whether I really ought to have bought them. After all, they were a distraction from my 6mm and 10mm plans. But then, on a country walk at a local National Trust property - we're not well served for NT properties in this neck of the woods, but we are fortunate in having Wimpole Hall more or less on our doorstep - I came up with an idea that intrigued me: a 'what-if' Napoleon invades Great Britain story with a local twist.

One of the more far-fetched Invasion panic pictures.

Having worked on numerous aspects of this idea on and off for a while, and read a few books about the Great Invasion Scares, one of the threads began to coalesce around an idea for a battle fought locally (I won't go into detail here, I want to save that for future posts). And, as sometimes happens, these various strands started to cohere: what if I was to work towards wargaming some of these scenarios in 15mm, as skirmish type affairs? At this stage I hadn't thought that this would thereby make the AW purchases useful, that penny only dropped much more recently!

Anyroad, the upshot of all this is that I decided to paint the AW Brits as the 30th Regt of Foot, i.e. the Cambridge Regt. So I dug out my copy of Franklin's British Napoleonic Uniforms (and my Funcken, just in case), and looked them up. I was disappointed, as a drummer myself, that the drummers uniform info was lacking, but glad that between Franklin and the Funckens I had the kind of resources I needed. The 30th had pale yellow facings, and I decided to do the drummers in the generic reversed-tunic-and-facings manner, and ad-lib the lace in a generally period style, using the web and my books as inspiration.

I also determined that I would try a new painting approach. I would block in the colours, and use Quickshade, rather than mixing separate paint shades. I toyed with following the Tony Barton method - the essential fundamental of that being a white undercoat - but eventually went my normal matt black undercoat route. The AW miniatures are quite stocky, and I thought I might try and do them as simply as possible, in order to be quicker than I normally I am. But the level of detail on the sculpts is, as with most modern figures, quite high, so I ended up taking as long as ever!

Once the figures were blocked-in with the base colours, I took a deep breath... and went for it with the Quickshade. Personally I'm quite annoyed that Quickshade leaves the minis with a gloss finish (although, re a previous post on vintage figs, esp. Peter Gilder's stuff, this may come in handy, if I start collecting older minis), but I pressed on nonetheless. I didn't dip these, as the product suggests, but painted it on, as many people do. As anyone who uses it will know, it does pick out detail pretty well, but it also pools in places. 

Slapping it on quickly with a large brush, I was then able, with a thinner brush (best to use cheapo brushes for this; I'd learned via some preparatory viewing of YouTube that Quicksahde can ruin brushes), to remove the excess where it was pooling, in recessed areas. You need to do this pretty sharp-ish, as it does begin to thicken and dry quite rapidly. Aside from the gloss effect, I'm pretty pleased with the result. It's very different from building up light and shade with mixed colours, but for these figures I think it works okay.

The final stage, which I'll be doing today, is spraying some Testors lacquer over the whole lot. I'm just wondering whether I ought to retouch the bases first? As you can see from my pics, I've worked on the entire battalion stuck to one rather long bit of wood. I've been doing this for a number of units ever since I began painting again in earnest. This batch has convinced me - having dropped it several times, resulting in needing to glue figures back on and touch up paint damage (thankfully nothing worse!) - to go to something smaller. I bought a bag of hobbyist lolly sticks, and as the following picture shows, have based up and undercoated my AW French on these: four lolly sticks with six figs each does the pack of 24.

Talking of numbers, I was a bit confused, as I researched the Brits, about how to do them, in terms of centre and flank companies, etc. With 24 figs, 10 coys was awkward, so I plumped for doing the centre coys only. And then when I counted the minis, I found that instead of the 24 described in the bag, I actually had 26! Looking here, on the AW website, I see that there is only one visible officer and drummer, so I'm assuming that by some freak I was given a bag with two of these. I'll probably use them anyway, and leave out two of the marching infantry, as the officer and drummer add more colour and variety.

The French are based on their lolly-sticks and undercoated, so I'll hopefully do them soon as well. I may also share my thoughts on these AW minis in a review style appraisal as well. But before I do the 'The Frogs', I need to get back to my 6mm (& 10mm!). Indeed, I need to do a stock take, and see how much work lies ahead of me. Despite this recent and unprecedented burst of painting - I should count up how many I've done (like many of us wargamers, and the Vampire on Sesame Street, I love to count!) - I have a very strong feeling it's only a tiny proportion of the whole!

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Vive L'Empereur... almost

In a bid to take a break from painting my 6mm armies I decided to finally paint my Alan Perry Napoleon Crossing The Alps figure. The project has turned into something of an obsession! I get very little time to do it, but where I can I snatch it.

Here's a pic of the miniature as it is now:

A close-up view. Backdrop is part of a Caspar David Friedrich. Ok, not Jacques-Louis David, but hey, at least both have David in their names!

It's still not finished - now that I've based it I'm unhappy with the horse: colours look too blocky in places! And the tail and main remane (sorry, but I love spoonerisms and silly word-play!) too glossy, thanks to Army Painter Quickshade. So, hey-ho, on it goes! Here's a painting of how Boney allegedly really made it over the Alps.

Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, Hippolyte Delaroche, 1850.

This latter scenario is available as a beautiful model from French sculptor Bruno Leibovitz's firm Metal Modeles: Bonaparte crossing the Alps on May 20, 1800.

Here's a couple more pics of the work as it's been progressing: first the Milliput base, more or less finished, but unpainted; second the whole thing, with base painted... so, more or less finished... in theory!

The observant may notice Sean Connery enviously eyeing my cuppa... fuel for Milliput creativi-tea!?

A lick of paint for the rocky surfaces, and an attempt to tidy the edge of the circular base.

I've been enjoying the delights of Flanders & Swann in the motor, chortling as I'm pootling along. They do a great song about WWI which I'll post if there's a YouTube link to be had. In the meantime, they do make at least one reference to Napoleon, in the song 'Friendly Duet':

'When they whispered Napoleon
Pays Josephine's rent,
'Nonsense', said Bonaparte,
'She lives on her own, apart,
In her own apart-ment'...'

And this in turn reminds me to remind those who don't know but might be interested that novelist R. F. Delderfield wrote a book about Napoleon's amours, in which he (Delderfield that is, not Napoleon) refers to the field of love as the 'bonestrewn beach of the Sirens', which I quite liked!

Monday 21 July 2014

Figure World 2014 & More work on Perry Boney

Ol' Boney his-self.

Last Saturday, 19th July, Teresa and I visited Figure World for the first time. In the beautiful setting of Oundle School, itself set in the very picturesque village of Oundle, enthusiasts for figure modelling put on a show that's still quite new, and is, apparently, the only UK show solely dedicated to figure modelling.

This is actually the view looking out from the venue, but it's still part of the school, and gives the flavour of the setting.

I was there to further work on my Perry 'Bonaparte Crossing The Alps' figure. I wanted a wooden base, and some matt enamel. A pretty short shopping list for me! I was tmpeted by some nice but pricey 54mm metal Napoleonics, and also some superb books on modelling trees, by Gordon Gravett. But I managed a rare feat of self control, and only got what I'd originally intended to buy. Phew!

The wooden base I bought. Laburnum, apparently!

Today I boldly embarked upon the next, and to me the scariest step: modelling a scenic base. I've never done anything like this before. Even the bases for wargaming figures I made over two decades ago, when I originally built up armies as a youngster, were nothing like this is intended to be. I want to emulate the rocky ground in the David Painting. I'm also setting the miniature on a round wooden base, so I needed to somehow cut out a neat circular section of the rocky scene.

I wanted to use the modelling of the rocky setting as an opportunity to tilt the horse into a more reared-up pose, as per the painting. The figure as is, if based directly onto a flat surface, is in quite a different pose to the very alive and energised David renderings.

In the end I used some yellow/grey Milliput. This Milliput is as old as some of my older Humbrol enamel tinlets, i.e. over 20 years old, minimum! But, amazingly, it's still usable. Having mixed the epoxy materials together, I started modelling a sloping disc, using various knives and sundry other tools. I then used a plastic lid, from a cylindrical spice container, which I'd found was more or less the perfect diameter, and cut into the Milliput, cookie-cutter style.

I like this view, as it shows clearly the jagged rock edges that I've modelled in the style of David's Belvedere painting.

I superglued the Milliput to the wooden base, and went around the edges attempting to tidy them up. In the process my nice clean cut cookie-edging lost a bit of its sharpness. But I'm satisfied, especially as this is a first ever attempt. I then put a it of superglue on the base, and pressed the painted figure into the Milliput 'rocks', before going to work to try and achieve a satisfying balance between preserving aspects of the sculpted base, and integrating it into my David-style rock scene.

Where the integration of the figures' base and the Milliput rocks looked pretty clumsy when unpainted, I think this black undercoat draws it all together quite nicely.

Impatience then lead me to paint the Milliput, after it'd only sat and 'gone off' for around about one hour. So far it's just had one coat of 'Umbrol matt black. Tomorrow I'll work on painting the rocks. Then I need to varnish the whole thing - figure and rocks, but not the wooden base - which is another stage I'm a bit worried about: as the figure stands (I know, I know, he's actually sitting!) I've used a mix of matt, satin and gloss paints, not to mention several metallic colours.

A guy at Figure World sold me a spray can of Testors varnish. It doesn't actually say what finish it is anywhere I can see, rather alarmingly and annoyingly . I did specify matt... so I very much hope it is matt! I'm feeling very chary of spraying Boney and his horse, as I don't want to wreck all the paint work with a uniform lacquer. But I need to do domething, as the Army Painter Quickshade wash I used on the mane and tail is a bit glossy/shiny, and I don't like that!

Once the base is modelled and painted, I think I'll commission an engraved 'plaque'. I got the contact details for someone who can do that at Figure a World as well. So it was a useful trip! Below are a few examples of the kind of eye-candy that was abundant at this show. There was all sorts of stuff, but I continue to confine myself mostly to Napoleonics. 

I couldn't resist the WWI artillery diorama though. There was also a guy at the show trading as Tommy's War, and his WWI figures were both very impressive and highly tempting. And that's saying something for me, as it's a period I'm not much drawn to as a rule (mind you, I do like German lancers mit pickelhaube!). I also very much liked this WWII 'Landser' as well, modelled on a photo from the German Signal magazine.

The photo that inspired the model, from my copy of Swastika At War (Hunt/Hartman).

This post was originally done from my iPad, using the Blogger App. Looking at it in Safari it needed some serious editing. When I publish from my desktop at home I always Photsohop pics etc., to get stuff sensibly sized and reasonably consistent. Publishing via the Blogger App seems a bit less finessed! Still, it's another option, and trying to publish via Safari from the iPad has problems of its own! But I've been back over this to tidy it up.