Friday, October 30, 2009

A Gaul-ling embarrassment

...In which our protagonist rather sheepishly unveils the 10mm Gallic "army" that he's been "working" on for the last three years.

By putting this picture at the top of my post, I can almost pretend this army looks good!

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who gave such positive comments about my 1812 Napoleonic French. I think they certainly raised the bar for this blog... so now, just to show that we have absolutely no commitment to quality here at Mike's Leadpile, I present something much worse.

Why does this pic look so much yellower than all the others? Why didn't I take the time to fix it? We may never know...

Basic Skimpetus

I'm somewhat embarrassed about this Gallic warband, for a variety of reasons. I almost didn't blog about it; but, as you might've guessed from reading this, I ultimately decided to go ahead with it. Why? I figured it was time to make a return to 10mm. And I wanted to get a second blog post in this month. Petty? You better believe it.

This also happens to be my first force for Basic Impetus (BI). I was inspired by JET aka Jason over at Geektactica, who manages to churn out a great-looking Impetus army with seemingly no effort every couple of weeks. By comparison, it's taken me the aforementioned three years to come up with something much worse.

WTF is going on in this picture? Sadly, your guess is as good as mine.

The sad truth is that these Gauls weren't even intended for BI. With my tastes leaning towards huge armies in small scales, I was seduced years back by the endless hordes in serried ranks promised by Warmaster Ancients (WMA). As it turns out, WMA never quite made it past the 'impulsive purchase' stage for me, and the multiple 2,000-point armies I bought for it proved vastly beyond my attention span. I had painted up a few units from each army to begin with, and had even completed a few more on occasion, whenever the bug bit. Even so, I never got even one army close to the playable stage.

Five figures on a 60 x 20mm base! Back when I was trying to paint armies for WMA, I'd stick a dozen on 40 x 20mm. Which explains, I think, why that project flopped.

Luckily for me, making a "force" (I'm not going to glorify a few dozen badly-painted Gauls with the name "army") for BI doesn't require a lot of figures-- which, under the right circumstances, also means not a lot of effort. A quick glance through the wobbly pile of storage boxes in the corner showed me that I had enough minis to make about 20 or 30 different forces, and indeed, had enough painted figs to make a good start on several. Since this was meant as a lazy side project, I opted to start with the Gauls, as a fortuitous lack of 40x20mm bases when painting up my 6mm Successors meant that this bunch was already rattling around loose. Ready to go!

AIM 10020207 - "10mm Celtic Warriors", from AIM's Carthaginian collection. This is quite an old range, lacking the sharp, painter-friendly details of many modern 10mm figures. Nevertheless, their proportions are fairly good, and there are many decent poses, even if some of them are quite susceptible to breaking.

Recycle, Reduce, Rebase

A closer look at my chosen band revealed many of them to be in sorry shape. My painting standards had swung from one end of the spectrum to the other over the years that I'd been "working" on them, ranging from best-efforts, to products-of-impatience, to guinea pigs for new techniques. Many of them had scratches from the indifferent handling they'd received when I needed their original bases, despite the thick coat of too-shiny varnish that most of them were burdened with. An intensive touch-up effort was needed to bring them up to my current standards.

Pendraken AG1 - "Warband". A lot of Pendraken's older figures come in weird poses; at least with this bunch you get three weird poses.

The good thing about standards, of course, is that they can go down as well as up. And when you're trying to keep a lazy side project on the lazy side, this is exactly what needs to happen. Instead of touching up the minis, I simply looked the other way and based them as-is. (note: I mean "looked the other way" in the figurative sense; the author in no way condones the use or attempted use of superglue while actually looking the other way).

With paintjobs like these, I should have turned off the "macro" setting on my camera.

The Spoils of War

Celtic warriors were renowned raiders back in the day, always on the lookout for good plunder. In war, they even stripped the armour from their dead opponents. Actually, as anyone who bothers to do their research should know, pretty much everyone in the ancient world stripped the armour off their dead opponents, and used it too. The notion that each culture had its own unique military equipment is, generally speaking, a fallacy perpetuated by devious manufacturers of wargames miniatures, in order to get us gullible saps to buy more figures.

Pendraken AG3 - "Command". Can you believe they actually sell a pack of 30 figs containing 15 each of these two poses? Can you believe I actually bought one? Bah!

But I digress. As I was trying to say, much as the ancient Gauls proudly plundered shields off the battlefield, I have shamefully plundered shield designs off the internet for my miniatures. Okay, so it's a poor analogy and no justification for a morally reprehensible act on my part; but here I am, freely owning up to it and promising never to do it again.

A comparison, showing Celtic infantry from (L to R) Old Glory, AIM, and Pendraken. Also shown is my disgusting shield-design piracy.

The shield designs in question are from Little Big Men Studios (LBMS), a great company that produces rub-on shield transfers for an immense selection of miniatures, including a few in 10mm. Alas, Celtic designs are not numbered among these (or else I would have bought some. Honest).

Gallic warband, showing AIM, Pendraken and Old Glory figures mixed on the same base. I used to tell people they wouldn't mix; I guess I was wrong.

Horse Whispers

My attempt at maximum laziness failed when it came to the cavalry contingent of the Gallic force. Any horse larger than 6mm is a horse I don't want to paint. On the other hand, if I am going to paint it, nowadays I want something worth painting well.

AIM 10020213 - "Celtic Cavalry". I found the spears on these figures quite fragile; the top section in these examples has been replaced with wire. Unfortunately, this is not an easy solution, as the white metal used by GFI (the current producers of AIM figures) is very hard and resists drilling. These horses are also quite low on detail; eyes, nostrils, and even musculature have been faked with paint.

Once again I had a couple of choices, having a fair collection of both AIM and Old Glory (OG) cavalry. Neither of them, unfortunately, proved ideal: it was those dratted horses making things difficult, as ever. The AIM horses were nicely proportioned, but lacked detail; they didn't even have eyes or nostrils sculpted on them, which would make painting a pain. The OG horses, by comparison, had better detail, but were crudely cast, and -- putting an end to any thought of using them as is -- were hugely out of scale. Emphasis on HUGE.

Old Glory ANT-105 - "Gallic Cavalry". The three riders differ greatly in equipment, ranging from a bare-chested, to helm and tunic, to chain cuirass, crested helm and cape -- light, medium, and heavy. Shown here are the brutal OG horses, many of them suffering from rear "mono-leg" syndrome.

Luckily this was a problem I'd attempted to address years ago. Since the OG riders are cast separately from their horses, I'd also accumulated a large herd of riderless AIM horses to replace the unsuitable originals. Not the cheapest solution, as the horses on their own cost as much as cavalry with riders. I suspect I wasn't thinking things through when I bought them!

AIM (or GFI?) 12029906 - "N Scale Horses, Bare", from the WWII range. These are slightly larger than the 10mm AIM horses, but also have more detail. The standing horse at right is also part of the pack, but as they wouldn't have mixed in, I didn't paint any.

Ultimately I ended up doing a mix of 10mm AIM cavalry and 10mm OG riders on GFI's N-scale horses. I should mention that OG's "Grand Scale" cavalry, while ostensibly 10mm, ranges from large to very, very large. Think Goliath riding a Clydesdale. The Gallic cavalry is actually less grossly out-of-scale than most, which is why I decided they'd be okay to use.

A medium cavalry element, mixing AIM single-piece figures (with the larger shields) and OG riders on AIM horses.

Mix Master Mike

Surprisingly, differences in poses and size didn't really make anything stick out too sorely, in either the infantry or the cavalry. Then again, maybe it isn't really surprising. People and animals come in all sorts of different sizes, and Celtic forces weren't exactly know for their uniformity or discipline. What did come as a surprise was the different ways the minis took paint. The Pendraken and OG figures, with stronger detailing and deeper recesses, took a heavier coat of ink when I shaded them. In practice, this means that their details, particularly fingers and face, are visible from a longer distance; it also means that they appear darker, even when painted using identical methods to the AIM figs.

The general's cavalry element.

Once upon a time I also had some Magister Militum (MM) Gauls for comparison purposes. But you won't see any here, as I've long since sold them off. Suffice to say that MM infantry mixes very well with Pendraken, but MM cavalry doesn't mix with anything. Their horses are similar in size to AIM's, but much with a much chunkier (read: ugly as sin) style of sculpting.

Old Glory ANT-104 - "Gallic Cavalry Command." The carnyx horn carried by the fellow in the middle is quite large, but otherwise the riders are nice. OG horses remain as atrocious as ever, unfortunately.

May the Force be with You

So that's my Gallic "force" after three years of work. (Well, five weeks of work spread over three years). But it's still not done. While I've finished all the elements for the 1st century BC/AD Gallic list for Basic Impetus, I've got so many Celts in the leadpile that I've decided to expand. I'm already well on my way to morphing the Gallic force into an Ancient British force (with options).

Go Go Gallic Force!

...And that's my embarrassing little side project. For those who'd rather hear about the Borodino project (which is probably most of you, as I can't imagine people come here to read this other crap), fear not: the next bunch of Russians is already in progress. I'll have it painted and ready to show within... ohhhh, let's say three years or less.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Nothing rhymes with 'Davout'

...In which our protagonist, having completed Davout's 1st Corps for Borodino, tries to think of some clever title for the associated post, but instead merely reaches the lame conclusion given above.

Charge of the light cavalry: Chasseurs à Cheval and uhlans of the Vistula Legion. Davout is not in this picture.

So I've finished my 1st French Corps, and without it taking another whole month. Mind you, painting a bunch of little toy soldiers before an arbitrary deadline probably isn't what most people would consider a worthy ambition, but not all of us are Barack Obama, for crissakes. Or, for that matter, Louis-Nicolas Davout.

A French general. But not Davout.

Who in the world is Louis-Nicolas Davout?

Wargamers know him as the Iron Marshal, as the Prince of Eckmühl, as the sometime Imperial Minister of War, as the victor of one of the most astounding battles in military history, made the Duke D'Auerstadt in the giddy aftermath. He was one of Napoleon's finest soldiers, a man whose command fought on, undefeated, even as his humbled Emperor abdicated in 1814. His desk job during the Hundred Days and his consequent absence from the battlefields at Quatre-Bras, Ligny and Waterloo offer one of the great 'what ifs' of Napoleonic history.

More importantly, he was bald.

Davout. Or, as I like to think of him, the 'Baldest of the Brave'. How could you not love a pate like that?

As I mentioned in my last post, Adler makes special figures for famous generals. With the French, this is taken to the extreme: there's a pack consisting entirely of Napoleon and his Marshals, and another for their virtual army-within-army of aides-de-camp. Of course, as I also mentioned in my last post, I'm too impoverished and/or cheap to buy said packs of specific characters.

Adler FN 21C - "Mounted General and ADC". They look good, despite my paint job.

Although I considered chopping the bicorne off one of my generals and sculpting the great man's Shining Dome out of green stuff, ultimately I decided to grit my teeth and make do with a proxy figure for the time being. Very likely the Adler's special Davout figure is wearing a hat anyways... which sort of defeats the purpose of having a special figure in the first place, in my opinon. I mean, how else are you supposed to recognize the guy, in 6mm, from across the table?

French proxy general investigates the disposition of the infantry. I call him, uhhhh... Pravout. Yeah, that's it.

When I'm Feeling Blue

While Russians may or may not have worn green, there's a general consensus that French infantry wore blue. No problem, right? I've got heaps of blue paint. I have so many different shades that most of them got tossed into storage to free up space. Of course that was when I was doing Ancients. The thing with Napoleonics is that all of a sudden you can't just slap on some Imperial Blue here and Prussian Blue there. It's wrong. You need a uniform guide accredited by the Imperial Ministry of Napoleonic Uniformological Studies, as well as all 168,152 officially-recognized colours of paint.

In front, the 7th light infantry regiment, with the 108th line regiment following. The line infantry wear blue coats and white trousers and gaiters, while the light troops are all in blue. Shockingly, I used the same blue for both types. Suck it up, buttoncounters!

I'll admit it. I didn't even try to find a good colour match for the hues shown in my reference material. And I'm quite happy that way. Being indifferent to strict historical accuracy is one of my guilty pleasures, along with a fondness for peanut butter and listening to Madonna.

My French gun crews also wear the same shade of blue. It doesn't matter if they serve 12-pounders, 8-pounders, or howitzers.

Tell us, O Prophet, how such miracles are achieved

Now that I've confessed to making little-to-no effort towards attaining historical accuracy, this seems as poor a place as any to endorse My Fool-Proof Method For Painting Adler French (MFPMFPAF, or 'mif-pim-fip-aff' for the phonetically inclined). I mean, it's got to be foolproof if I can do it, right? Anyway, if you're NOT planning to paint Adler French in the near future, you can probably skip this next bit and head down to the eyecandy at the end.

Adler FNG 5B - "Guard shako advancing (1812)". These guys make great demonstration pieces because their uniforms have the full gamut of Napoleonic frou-frou, although the same basic technique works for any troop type.

To begin with, you need minis and paints. Also paintbrushes. Probably you already knew that; but if not, you can't say I wasn't looking out for ya.

The 14 paints I'm using are:
1. BLACK matte spray paint, as a primer/basecoat.
2. GREY, for shako highlights, greatcoat, canteens, etc.
3. WHITE, for crossbelts, pants, etc.
4. DARK BLUE, for coats.
5. RED, for epaulettes, collars, cuffs and turnbacks.
6. FLESH, for... flesh.
7. TAN, for backpacks
8. BROWN, for musket stocks and hair.
9. BROWN ink, for shading. Ideally this should be a darker hue than 7 and 8, above.
10. BRONZE, for shako plates.
11. SILVER, for musket barrels, bayonettes, and canteens.
12. BLUE, for coats.
13. LIGHT GREY, for greatcoats.
14. GROUND COLOUR, for the bases.

I'm not going to tell you what brand of paint to buy, or what particular shade of blue you need; that would defeat the purpose of MFPMFPAF. Rather, pay attention to what each colour is used for, and find a paint appropriate to that usage. If you're painting voltigeurs or tirailleurs, you will also need YELLOW and GREEN for their collars, epaulettes, pompoms and plumes.

Step 1: prep the minis for painting. This means cleaning away flash, straightening bayonettes, separating the figures, and basecoating BLACK. Some people choose not to do all of this at this stage. That's fine; but before you procrastinate, you have to ask yourself: do you really want knives and/or side cutters and/or black spray paint near your painted minis? Anyway, as you can see in the pic, I've used carpet tape to temporarily adhere the minis to a bit of scrap MDF for painting. I like this solution better than glue, but to each his own.

Step 2: GREY. Paint the rolled greatcoat and canteen where applicable, and drybrush the top edge and visor of the shako. I usually paint a narrow stripe up each side of the shako as well for a highlight, although the discerning viewer will notice that I've forgotten in this instance.

Step 3: WHITE. Paint the crossbelts, trousers, gaiters, and shako cords where applicable. Drybrushing the shako plume is also useful, as it will brighten any colour painted over it. Likewise, if painting voltigeurs or tirailleurs, paint the collar WHITE and then YELLOW. Go ahead and be messy painting the crossbelts; the whole point of getting them so early on is that it doesn't matter.

Step 4: DARK BLUE. Paint the coat, and, if applicable, the trousers and gaiters. To be quite honest, you could just as easily skip this step, although it's a good opportunity to straighten out those messy crossbelts.

Step 5: RED. Get the collar, cuffs, epaulettes, turnbacks, cockade, shako cords, pompoms and/or plumes, again, as applicable. I've yet to attempt a cockade on a 6mm fig, but those with more skill than I are known to do such things.

Step 6: FLESH. Hands and face. Need I say more?

Step 7: Paint the backpack TAN.

Step 8: Use BROWN for the hair and musket stock.

Step 9: Shade the face and backpack with BROWN ink.

Step 10: Paint the shako plate BRONZE. For the button counters, some shako plates may be SILVER or GOLD.

Step 11: BLUE. Highlight the areas painted DARK BLUE. If you skipped step 4, this is where you cover up the ragged edges on your crossbelts. Paint the pompoms if you want blue ones.

Step 12: Use SILVER on the musket barrels and bayonettes. If the figures have canteens, highlight them.

Step 13: Pull out your FLESH again (and stop thinking dirty thoughts!). Use the 'four dot' method for highlighting the face: a dot of paint on nose, chin, and each cheek.

Step 14: This is another optional step. Get out your WHITE again. Paint the musket strap as required. highlight the turnbacks, without completely covering the RED. Touch up any other WHITE areas as required.

Step 15: Paint the ground using your GROUND COLOUR. Probably this is some sort of green or brown, but I guess it could be anything.

And you're done! Simple, right?

Adler FN 18A - "Artillery crew (1812)". These were painted using the MFPMFPAF method, with only a differences from the example pieces: blue trousers, no crossbelts, pure red turnbacks.

Now you have to glue those minis to their bases, add a bit of sand and static grass, and in no time you've got units looking like these:

French line infantry. The pompoms on 'centre' companies can be green, orange, purple or blue; light companies can have green and/or yellow pompoms or plumes, while the grenadier companies are supposed to sport red plumes.

French infantry, showing a few of the many available variations in pose and equipment. Adler actually produces 19,629,486 different product codes for the French infantry alone, accounting for most of the major troop types in some of the more common wargames poses. I have it on good authority that Oompa Loompas are working feverishly to fill in the gaps.

Spanish Fly

There is one unit in Davout's corps that I couldn't paint using MFPMFPAF. This was the Joseph Napoleon Regiment.

The Joseph Napoleon Regiment, shown in their white and green unifoms.

One of Napoleon's brothers, Joseph Bonaparte was ostensibly the King of Spain; the entire Spanish army was up in arms against the Bonapartes, however. Much of that Spanish army had actually been 'serving' with French forces in Germany, and while most of these troops escaped aboard British ships and were repatriated to Spain, a few thousand were captured by their erstwhile allies. These Spanish POWs were pressed back into service as the Joseph Napoleon Regiment, intended to form the core of King Joseph's new army. In the event, the Regiment never saw service in Spain, or under Spanish colours; as a unit of the French army it marched into Russia in 1812, only to be bled white by that campaign.

Mike and the Amazing Technicolour Grasslands

Readers of previous posts here at the Leadpile may have noticed a gradual evolution in my basing techniques. One of my inspirations has been 6milphil's excellent basing style, which combines layers of flock with layers of static grass. Of course, being in mid-project meant that I could hardly abandon my own previous method, but I've been doing a bit of tweaking, and have been pleased with the results so far.

Bourdessoulle's brigade tramples some different grasses.

I've been using the excellent Baccus Basing System pretty much universally since I picked it up, and this latest batch is no different. Since my first lukewarm review, the BBS has definitely grown on me. It uses sand as a base medium, drybrushed consecutively with several colours of paint to bring out the texture. While both quicker and more realistic results can be attained by other techniques, the BBS is a consistent, elegant, and versatile method, well-suited to customization.

So what have I done with it, you ask?

The above example illustrates some of my current basing fetishes:
1. I've gone with a coarser grade of sand than that provided by Baccus, which makes drybrushing easier. As a personal preference, I also like to use several layers of sand, building up the 'ground' until it's flush with the metal base of the figures themselves.

2. This is the static grass that came with the BBS - I believe it's actually KJ0850 "Light Green Mix" from Realistic Modelling; maybe someone can confirm or deny this. At any rate, it's a pretty standard mix of yellow, light green and red strands. It contrasts well with the BBS drybrushing, and in 6mm contrast is everything. While I feel that a few different 'flavours' of grass or flock will improve the realism of a base, I've found that making one 'flavour' dominant (i.e. 50% or more of the foliage on the base) improves the overall look. To match my older stuff, based in vanilla BBS style, I've made this grass dominate.

3. This green-brown mix makes good dying grass. I've used it around the edges of the greener stuff, as well as around rocks and logs -- delineating dry or rocky areas where plants might have trouble growing. This particular mix is miniNatur 002-29 "Short hay, 2mm", from Angel Barracks.

Girardin's cavalry brigade, on a base showing different grasses to good effect.

4. I've used a few patches of more intense green as well. This could represent a different species of plant, or wetter and more nutrient-rich lowlying areas. The mix is a combination of the monochrome miniNatur 002-22 "Grass flocking 2mms. Summer", also from Angel Barracks, with a sprinkling of the venerable 99229999055 "Static Grass" from Games Workshop for variation. Most of us probably realize that static grass is made from nylon, but it's supposed to look like real grass. Blending colours helps promote the illusion; a monochrome swathe just looks like astroturf.

5. While it's tough to make out in the picture, I've also added a few 6milphil-inspired patches of oldschool foam flocking. This represents moss or weeds, again furthering the impression that your armies are marching across a living, breathing ecosystem. This is a mixture of Woodland Scenics T41 "Fine Turf - Soil", T42 "Fine Turf - Earth", and some long out-of-production green and yellow stuff.

6. I'm also trying to put a point of interest on each base. This isn't necessarily something to draw attention; a log, a puddle, drummers, or in this case a boulder can serve. These are just little things your brain can pick up on unconsciously to differentiate each base from the next.

On this base a puddle and a log serve as objects of interest. Note the greener grass around the wet area.

It's tough to see in the picture, but this base features a couple of soldiers struggling to move a stubborn pack mule from their unit's path.

There's the mule again, in the background on the left. I stuck a broken 4-pounder on the base to the right, giving cover to some skirmishers.

I'll shut up now

Enjoy the pictures. Why not leave a comment?

Finally, I'd like to wish a happy Thanksgiving to any fellow Canadians out there. Also a happy Columbus Day (whatever that is) to the Yanks, and just happy... day... to everyone else.

Next time: something different.