Tuesday 30 April 2019

Buildings & Terrain: Painting my 6mm Russian Tower.

So, day three of my little 6mm Russian tower build, and I've finally finished the basic construction. I suppose I might add more, if things look too bare as I paint it up. But I hope not. As my first foray into buildings and terrain, I think I'll be content to keep it pretty basic.

Second and final grey undercoat. I'm pleased with it!

I've decided to use artist's acrylics, as you get a lot more paint for your pounds and pennies with them. Though they're still pretty dear, in my view. I mixed a pale brick colour from yellow ochre, white and cadmium red, and base-coated everything but the dome and 'spike'. I'm using the latter to handle the model at present.

 A pale terracotta type colour to start with.

As with my miniatures, I'm holding off basing at the mo', as I don't yet know how I'm going to base either my figures or my scenery. That's a conundrum for further down the road.

In the meantime I'm fortunate to have the leisure time to allow me to alternate painting sessions with lounging on the sofa, watching the snooker World Championships on ye olde BBC iPlayer. It's Gary Wilson vs Ali Carter, with the latter three one up (at the time of drafting this bit!). I think I'm rooting for ex-cabbie Wilson.

I'm a little chary of accelerating drying time with a hair-dryer, as much as I'd really like to, 'cause there's quite a bit of cardboard in this model, and I don't want that bending it all out of shape. I have to be patient, and pace myself. Not easy for an impetuous chap like me!


Okay, back to work after a 'foot long' chicken sub-sandwich. A darker red-brown artists acrylic wash over the terracotta base-coat looks fab! I actually feel it'll be a shame to paint over any of it! But I have to, really.

Dark red-brown wash, over two layers of varnish.

For the roofing and stonework I went with Vallejo's Basalt Gray, a colour I really like. The roofing will be various colours, ultimately. Not sure exactly what colours yet. The columns, lintels, arches, etc, will be various shades of pale off-white. I'm not sure whether this will have a gilded onion-dome or not. And the roof of the second-floor might be oxidised (green) copper. Hmmm?

Vallejo Basalt Gray for roofing and stonework.

Anyway, I have to confess I'm really chuffed with how this maiden build is coming along.

Getting the columns and lintels painted.

Doors and windows block-coloured in.

Getting there... still a fair bit to do painting wise.

Getting into the colour painting is fun, if fiddly. I'm not a terrifically neat painter. So I'm constantly having to go back and touch up bits and bobs as I go along. I think I need to do a lighter grey on the upper faces of the roofing, gild the dome and do a tarnished copper roof on the second story.


Dinner eaten, snooker on the telly, and my Russian tower more or less painted. I still want to do a wash or two, or some extra paintwork, e.g. to make the oxidised copper roof more defined, and get the whole building really 'popping'. But this will have to do for now. I've really enjoyed building this. And look forward to making more terrain.

Nearly there... copper roof and gilded dome painted.

I also glued a bit of cork to the base, so I could handle the model without using the spike atop the dome. Ok, it looks nothing like the building that inspired it (see previous post). But that's fine. That was just inspiration. And I'm very happy with how this has come out. Thanks to Tony Harwood and his title on Napoleonic buildings for the motivation.

One final thing I feel I should note: I think that reproducing building in 'true scale' doesn't really work. If we remember that each figure we have represents however many real soldiers, then we ought to realise that direct equivalence of individual figures to buildings will result in grossly oversized buildings. And yet we want the terrain to look right, in relation to our miniature troops. This is a tricky area! And in part why I named my blog 'a question of scale'!

Personally I like the approach this American dude whose name I forget uses. He wargames in 6mm, but using Heroics and Ros miniatures, which are smaller and less detailed than the Baccus and Adler I prefer. But his games always look stunning. His terrain being amongst the best looking I've ever seen. Taking a leaf from his book, my building are smaller than those commercially available from manufacturers like Timecast and Total Battle Miniatures.

This does present an issue: will I be able to use the models I bought from these guys? Will they work with mine? Or will I have to build all my building and terrain myself? I'm kind of thinking/expecting it'll be the latter. But I don't mind that. It's a challenge, for sure. But one I welcome.

Monday 29 April 2019

Buildings & Terrain: 6mm Russian Napoleonic Tower

Having just read and reviewed Tony Harwood's new book on buildings for the Napoleonic era, I thought I should try my hand at making something. Most of my 6mm and 10mm Napoleonic armies were bought for recreating events of the 1812 Russian campaign, so I'm starting with a Russian building.

My inspiration for this project.

I picked a tower that appears to be part of an Orthodox church building complex. I'm keen in the long run to build lots of Russian buildings, including parts of Smolensk, and the town of Maloyaroslavets. I also want to make lots of ordinary buildings. Whenever I search for buildings of the era, I mainly find the most opulent and ornate Russian churches, or maybe a palace. It's quite hard to get good ref for more ordinary town or country architecture.

Started with plastic card an corrugated card in layers.

Added some paper and toothpick columns.

I also have a bunch of commercially produced buildings, which are mostly either log cabins or churches. That's partly why I've wound up starting on this particular building, as it's neither a log hut, nor a complete church. It also featured a number of things I thought might be fun to model: tiered or stepped levels, columns, porticos, ornament and doors/passages that can be looked through.

Tried my hand at using foam, a la Tony Harwood.

It bulks out quicker than card, but...

Scale wise, I've kind of busked it. I'm doing less levels/layers than the real building has, and simplifying what levels I do have. I'm also drastically squashing the vertical axis. If I built all the levels and stuck to true scale for this model it'd wind up massively tall and very spindly, and probably likely to topple over.

Bit of a jump to three storeys plus tower.

Approaching the 'onion' dome stage...

Already I've learned quite a lot about working with numerous materials. But I can see I still have an immense amount more to pick up. I've used card from bother back and front of old sketch-books, dense black foam from a circle template backer, plastic card, matchsticks, cocktail sticks, and numerous types of glue, including everything from PVA to super-glue. I've also used a Revell plastic putty filler, and DAS modelling clay.

All these each require different tools and skill sets, as well as China the mouse to use the right material or tool at the right moment. Certain materials, especially when working in thus tiny scale, like the foam and the corrugated card, can compress whilst cutting. The foam springs back. But the corrugated card won't necessarily do so.

There are aslo issues like knowing when to glue more detailed parts in place. I glued the matchstick and cocktail stick columns in place too soon. And without properly squaring off the internal corners, meaning that many of the columns lean rather drunkenly. Making the curved roof 'lights' (windows) on the uppermost roof (excepting of course the dome) was challenging. But I like how it's come out.

I had to stop at this point, not having anything to hand suitable for the dome. And then today I bought a few 10mm diameter wooden beads, sawing a small part off one, and passing a cocktail stick through. I reckon it looks ok!?

Wooden bead onion dome with toothpick spike.

At this point I sprayed the building in Halfords grey, so as to get a better sense of what I had so far. All the different colours, materials and textures were making it hard to really see the building clearly. I realised some time before this that I'd diverged from my inspiration/source ref in numerous ways. Which was fine. But one thing I wanted to preserve design wise, was the hermetically contained ground floor level.

Reworking the ground floor exterior.

More detailing on the top tower, etc.

I'm quite happy with how this is developing. Particularly as it's my first such build project since returning to the hobby. I think it'll make a decent addition to my Russia 1812 arsenal. It's great to get started on the scenery side of things. But I'll have to start working faster and more efficiently, given how much I want to build, e.g. a wargame-able reduction of the whole of Smolensk! I must be mad...

The tower at close of play today. Taking longer than planned!

Saturday 27 April 2019

Book Review: wargames Terrain & Buildings, The Napoleonic Wars, Tony Harwood

In this excellent and very useful new book from a series entitled Wargames Terrain & Buildings, experienced building/terrain modelmaker Tony Harwood shares his knowledge and expertise via a series of projects suitable for The Napoleonic Wars.

After a brief intro outlining his personal history, as both a wargamer and writer, and the pathway that lead him to publishing the book, in which we get a glimpse of some of the philosophies that inform his approach, there's an even briefer word about the paints he uses. Then we get to the real meat, nine buildings in three sections, as follows:

One: working in different scales
- 15mm Russian Windmill
- 28/30mm two-storey French house
- 20mm La Belle Alliance

Two: quick & easy
- 28/30mm French pigeonnier
- 28/30mm stone built well
- 28/30mm Russian granary

Three: detailed, step by step tutorials
- 28/30mm Die Kleine Bäckerei
- 28/30mm Hungarian chapel
- 28/30mm Peninsula diorama

Whilst most if not all the techniques he uses are transferable to other scales/periods, and his methods, as he notes himself, aren't the only way to do things, almost all the builds are in the 28/30mm scale, with just one in 15mm, and one in 20mm. Sadly there's nothing at all in either 6mm or 10mm, the two scales I'm building my main Napoleonic armies in.

Harwood has a repertoire of techniques that have become his personal m.o. And this book sees many of these being repeated frequently. This is good in one way - they are obviously tried and tested methods - but occasionally makes for rather repetitive reading. He does seek to break up the potentially monotonous reiteration here and there, chiefly by deciding in a couple of projects to limit himself to mostly one material, as per the almost all card building (I forget offhand which this was), and nearly all foam built Peninsular diorama.

It's very interesting to hear, right at the outset, that he's become a building and terrain modeller first and foremost, followed by figure-painter, and lastly, wargamer. This mirrors my own predilections for the constructive phases over the final/finished gaming part. He also laments the tendency to stockpile unfinished stuff. I totally identify with and relate to both these 'confessions'! And likewise, whilst I'm not unduly bothered by the former, the latter is a constant worry.

One of the chief plus points, to my mind, about a book like this, in addition to the knowledge and skills one can learn about and hopefully pick up (reason enough in themselves for getting books such as this) is inspiration. This could be the desire to emulate a particular build project. Or, and more likely for me, the more general inspiration to: 1) give it a go, 2) see projects through to completion.

One area where I think the book could've been improved a little is about reference and sources. Several times Harwood mentions his inspirations, which range from other books on the same topic, to books or articles about particular architectural styles, things he's seen in films, and of course, these days, stuff found on the web. There are also even a few photos in which one catches a glimpse of these sources. Or there's the model he based on a Lilliput Lane creation.

A complete section devoted to the subject of research and design would've been great. He does allude often enough to these processes, and in fairness his target audience are probably, on the whole, already well-versed in such activity, as our hobbies demand it. Numerous of his sketches appear amongst the copious and very useful 'step by step' photo-series that illustrate each build project. One thing he does have, which too many specialist books omit, is a glossary. Well done!

My briefer Amazon UK reviews says much the same as what I've said here, thus far. But this being my blog, I can now indulge in a more detailed dissection!

Firstly, here are some of the things I like best about this book. For starters, there are the projects themselves. They are all great little models. Tony is clearly a skilled and accomplished modeller. And it's fantastic to have in a compact and thoroughly well illustrated form, a distillation of all his many years of practice in his art. And then there's the period specific aspect. Again, very useful, and perfect for me, as I'm building several Napoleonic armies.

Harwood also addresses everything from the completely scratch-built (most of them!), to the modification of commercially available products. The latter exemplified by his extensive reworking of a Sarissa laser-cut MDF kit of La Belle Alliance (the lone 20mm project). Like Tony, I find these MDF products, aside from being too costly for my meagre means, unappealing, on account of being too boxily flat and square. With the exception of his Hungarian church, all the projects here are delightfully irregular and wonky, which gives more character and looks more realistic.

Another plus point is the 'scavenger gourmet' aspect, re materials. A large portion of what he uses, from card, through foam, to wood and even plastic-card, is sourced from 'junk', for free! Way to go. Our hobbies are expensive enough, and getting more so all the time. For some lucky folk this may not be an issue. But for me budget is a massive potential stumbling block. So I'm grateful to Harwood for reminding me that I can build great models using freely acquired materials.

I also feel that simply by reading this I've begun acquiring new skills. Of course the proof of this pudding is in the building. And I intend to get into that ASAP. I may even make a start on something today? Numerous of Harwood's basic methods are not what I was expecting. For example the building up of layered corrugated card profiles into a solid block, which is then more or less papier-mâchéd with newspaper. And I haven't used DAS modelling clay, ever. Not even back when I was a kid. I'll be buying and trying that.

His techniques for creating wooden features seem heavily reliant on various types of foam. Again, not what I was expecting, and a useful new avenue to explore. Despite further definitions of this material in the glossary, I'm still not entirely sure exactly what type of foam he's using. So, something to be explored there. The same goes for his methods of working this material, by sculpting it and texturing it, etc.

Now onto a few criticisms. And before going any further please note that these are purely my own personal reflections, intended as (pardon the inevitable pun) constructive criticism, and with due acknowledgement of the authors' greater expertise/experience and my own absence of same! Some of these are about the editorial mechanics of the book: some pictures could've easily been improved with a little colour/contrast tweaking in Photoshop, for example; occasionally photos appear to be nigh-on identical, i.e. possibly redundant.

Another vein of critique involves modelmaking conventions. So, whilst I admire Harwood's methods overall, in particular how he renders walls and roofs, I'm not as enamoured of his way of doing 'glazed' windows, with blue and white dots, or his preferred choices of earth colour and 'grass' materials on his bases.

And whilst the idea might seem good, I think the way he did his stained glass windows on the otherwise fabulous Hungarian church, slightly mars an otherwise terrific model. I absolutely love stained-glass. And very early on in my love affair with it, I noted how, viewed from the exterior, it looks nothing like it does when viewed from the interior, on account of light being bounced back off it, rather than coming through it, as it does when viewed from inside.

Anyway, these very minor critical caveats aside, this is a terrific and very useful book, which I'm very pleased to have, and would unhesitatingly recommend.

Friday 26 April 2019

Book Review: In Action With Destroyers, 1939-45, Dennis, ed. Cummings

Unpublished during his lifetime, Alec Dennis' naval memoir is an interesting and easy read. From the ill-prepared early days, to eventual dominance and victory, he was everywhere, from the Med to Murmansk, the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

A junior senior officer (i.e. young but holding a higher echelon role!) on the Griffin, a Destroyer, he tells how this class of ship was very active, in roles from convoy escort to U-Boat hunting, and might be called upon do anything from attending to dignitaries or picking up drowning seamen. Dennis was fortunate, as most his contemporaries boats were sunk, whereas in all his postings - the longest being four years on the Griffin - he was on 'lucky' boats, and whilst hit and damaged, was never sunk. The Griffin, like Dennis, survived the war, and eventually went, again like the author himself, to Canada.

Most of his naval wartime experiences, vividly documented here, were of a quite routine sort. Although no less intense for all that, what with the constant anxieties produced by regular aerial attacks and the omnipresent threats of mines, torpedoes, etc. And even on the occasions when he took part in notable actions - from the sinking of the Scharnhorst to D-Day - he was often in a relatively peripheral position. 

He's good on the naval pecking order, and not shy of voicing his opinions on his colleagues, who range from those he clearly liked or admired to those he was less enamoured of. The times he lived through were exciting, and saw the passing of an older somewhat Victorian Imperial order. His observations of the roving life of a naval officer at large in the world at that time are fascinating.

Most of his time was spent as a second tier officer, perhaps unsurprisingly, as he was very young. Promotion came late in the war, and he was only very briefly the actual commander of a destroyer. In remarking on how the battleship HMS Belfast, a casualty of war, not only survived but was preserved for posterity, Dennis notes rather mournfully, 'It is a pity that no wartime Destroyer was thus preserved.' It's a lament he voices several times.

It might seem overly pedantic, and is perhaps more an editorial issue, but I was annoyed by the repeated spelling of fjord as 'fiord', which I've never seen before (and hope never to see again). Strangely this reverts to fjord towards the end of the book! However, this is a very minor gripe, and overall this is a terrific book. Dennis writes with an easy familiar style, in impressive detail, and with great clarity, and even a welcome touch of wit/humour. 

Definitely recommended, especially to those interested in the naval history of WWII.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Kit Build/Review: T-34 Factory

The last thing I needed to do prior to undercoating my ten T-34s was add some scratch-built handles to the inner sides of the turret hatches on the Revell kit. With this done I duly sprayed them all with Halfords grey primer. The latter seems to vary in consistency. Occasionally I get a can that's heavier and grainier, producing a rough surface. That's happened this time, and is a nuisance.

Also getting sprayed, the Fujimi BMW R-75 and Kubelwagen kit, and accompanying figures. These latter include a reasonably rare example of a German officer in 1/72 giving the 'Roman' or 'Heil Hitler' salute. 

And there they all are, my little Russian 'horde', in front of similarly large numbers of German armour. I'm really rather chuffed. And I'm particularly pleased that I bothered to detail them all somewhat, to improve them, and give a bit more variety and, hopefully, realism. 

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Kit Build/Review: 1/72 T-34/85, Revell

Revell are known for modelling excellence, and this kit conforms to that standard. Is it a re-boxed Esci model? I don't know. But it does have Esci-style patented 'link and length' type tracks. Not everyone's cup of char, on account of their fiddliness, they can be great, or a real headache.

Laying out parts for pre-build clean-up.

At the time of typing this, I've only just started making this kit, having been on a bit of a T-34 binge, building, in total (including this tank), ten T-34s over the last week or three. These have ranged from Armourfast and Italeri quick-build wargamers kits to more detailed offerings, such as this one, and two Zvezda snap-fit T-34/85. The closest to this Revell, in terms of detail, was the Trumpeter T-34/85 I bought ages ago, from the shop at the Muckleborough tank museum.

Like many 1/72 tanks, this starts with running-gear.

Also visible in these photos are a batch of scratch-built tow-cables for the simpler Armourfast T-34s, etc. I've made six, plus I have a seventh left over from (I think?) the Trumpeter kit. Below are a couple of pics I took even earlier, during the process of making the eyelets for these cables.

Making eyelets for tow-ropes.

Establishing a suitable cable length.

I couldn't get a suitable weight of cotton thread at any of our locals craft supply stores, and I didn't want to wait for an online order to arrive. So I went to a nearby fishing tackle supply shop, looking for rod-binding thread. They didn't have any. They did, however, have some suitable braid. RRP was a rather steep £5.95, but the guy in the shop, not wanting to empty his till changing my £20 note, let me have it for about £1.50! Which was all the change I had on me. Close inspection of the braid shows it to be just that. But at a glance from a distance it looks fine.

Making a start on the 'Lincoln-Length' tracks...

... using Tamiya masking tape to bind the parts together.

As ever with these types of track, it was hard work.

And done. For tonight, anyway...

Turret hatches up. Shame the driver's hatch wasn't open-able.

And that's that, for this evening, at any rate. A lovely model, even though the link'n'length makes things rather heavy going. That's my tenth T-34, of which nine were built over the Easter break. I still have several two-cables to add, and with the turret hatches open on this latest one I feel the need to detail the internal/undersides a bit.

I might even try and do that lot this evening, so as to be ready for undercoating and painting, next time. But I really ought to go to bed, what with my first days teaching since the Easter break being tomorrow.

Well, I went to bed, like a sensible adult (for once). That meant I didn't attach my scratch-built tow-cables until this evening. And I'm thoroughly pooped after my first day back at the goal face. Watching Jack Lesowski play Ali Carter on the BBC iPlayer, snoozing intermittently! But here they are, attached to the four Armourfast kits. I'm quite pleased with my detailing of these kits. The tracks are awful. But thankfully they'll be largely unseen.

Sunday 21 April 2019

Kit Build/Review: 1/72 T-34/85, Zvezda

Reading and thoroughly enjoying the Tank Craft T-34 book recently inspired me to return to working on a selection of T-34 variants I had already built, sprucing them up with some extra detailing/stowage, etc. It also prompted me to buy some more models, such as the Italeri fast assembly T-34/76 covered in my previous post.

I also bought three Zvezda kits: two T-34/85s, and a SU-100. I made a start on one of the former. And I'll probably also build the second, whilst I'm at it (probably going to save the SU-100 for another time). And a modelmaking buddy came over today, and very kindly gifted me a Hasegawa 1/72 SdKfz (?) 1/2-track model.

Step one...

Step two...

Prepping for steps three and four...

But back to the Zvezda T-34/85. This is yet another superb model, in my view. Excellently designed, so it can be built snap-fit style. I of course glue it all up anyway, save for such elements as the turret traverse and gun mount. I've started using Tamiya quick set cement, with its funky little brush applicator. For years I've been using the gloopy stuff out of tubes. Good glue, but prone to make models messy. The Tamiya stuff helps create better looking kits.

Cleaning up the running gear.

Assembling the tracks.

The design, fit, detailing, etc, of the tracks is terrific. This snap-fit system gives really great tracks. The only issue is that the very thin styrene is apt to break occasionally. They're quite fiddly to prepare and assemble, and only go together properly one way. But I do rate them very highly.

Using styrene rods, or sprue, to create more realistic track sag.

Zvezda T-34/85 #1 built, prepping #2.

The two kits more or less finished.

So the two kits are built. The plus sides are many, the negatives very few. One significant bummer, however, is that the turret ring assembly is such that it creates a very secure and movable turret, but one that can't easily be removed for painting. Another lesser issue is the absence of the rod style rails on the hull and turret that most T-34s, be they 76 or 85 types, had.

I think this gives me a total of nine T-34 variants now. Just need to do a little more detailing on a few of them, including the rods/rails/handles, whatever they are, on these. And then it'll be time to batch paint them.


Turret rails added to the Zvezdas.

Well, it's some time later, on Easter Sunday, and in the midst of other activities (or should that be inactivities?), I've snatched a few moments to add some detail to these and several other T-34s. I put rear-lamp covers on several of the T-34/76s, and turret rails and engine cover rails on these Zvezda T-34/85s. There're still more railings required on the Zvezdas, and tow cables for a few of the Armourfast kits. Once that lot's done, hopefully tomorrow, then I can undercoat the whole batch (plus sundry other kits that are waiting to be painted) in Halford's grey primer.

Handles added to the rear engine deck grills.

One final thing to note; I didn't follow the assembly instructions on the second of these kits. Instead I simply cleaned and prepped all the parts, laid them out, and stuck 'em all together. By and large this was fine, coming off the back of the prior build. But I did screw up with a few things, like not putting the gun into the internal elevating doodad before gluing the latter in place.

As it happens, whilst the turrets rotate nicely, neither of these T-34s have guns that will elevate or depress. The first one 'cause I glued several parts together to quickly, and the whole assembly leaked and set solid. The second 'cause I had to butcher it and glue it in place, having gone about things in the wrong order... hey-ho, so it goes!