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.


  1. You have some superbly painted and based minis! I was just sitting on my couch in awe at all the 6mm French!

    Damn you Mike! Now I have the sudden urge to buy hundreds of 6mm French!

    Keep up the posts and pics because I am a fan of your work.


  2. You, Sir, are mad - mad I tell you!

    But in a good way, if you know what I mean!

    Seriously, you are quite talented - makes me want to seriously start a 6mm collection.


  3. You've done a great job. Truly inspiring. I have always only painted my Adler to get them on the table and as quickly and in as many numbers as possible. I would like to know who you actually paint these. As in the brush, the strokes and such. Any information will help.

  4. Absolutely stunning paintjobs! Well done and thanks for sharing them.

  5. Hey, Great stuff... where abouts are you in Ontario, I'm in Ontario and just ordered bagrations army and Davouts corps for Old trousers in adler 6mm.


  6. Thanks for the nice comments, guys.

    For anyone who enjoys painting, I would highly recommend Adler figs. If you're just looking to get an army on the gaming table quickly, they really aren't the best solution.

    David- I use a #00 round for the large, flat areas, and a #000 for the finer detail work. When painting raised details like crossbelts and cords, I try to use the side of the brush rather than the point, using strokes along the belt (or whatever it is) in the direction of the brush handle, i.e. dragging the bristles so they don't splay everywhere. Geez, it's not easy to describe a brush stroke!

    Bagration: I'm in Brantford. Not particularly close to you, unfortunately. Still, it's nice to see there's other small-scale fans in the province!

  7. What an incredibly comprehensive post, the ranks of stunning figures are the cherry on top.

  8. Hi Mike,

    I love to stop by your blog for inspiration when I'm feeling outnumbered on my project. Just looking at your fantastic work gets me back to work instantly!

  9. Great pics and figs. What are your views on priming in white (instead of black): I've just primed 250+ Frenchies and then read your illuminating tutorial. Damn!