Saturday, November 21, 2009

Basing by numbers

...In which our protagonist gives a step-by-step look at his ridiculously-complicated basing method.

I'm going to show how I make a simple vignette, in this case a base with some troops wading through a puddle, like the one shown above.

Basing. It's another one of those aspects of a great looking army that wargamers either love or (more likely) hate. From the pioneering days of green paint to the the modern age of artificial foliage, it's been a long struggle to balance between the quick and easy, versus the great looking, and again versus the realistic.

My own style has verged decidedly away from the quick and easy, at least for the current 6mm Borodino project-- so don't try it if you haven't got a lot of patience! And remember: I'm not plugging this as the best way to base your figures; it's simply a way, and not even necessarily a good one.

Step 1: you need something to base your troops on.

Well, actually step 1 would be getting troops and painting them; in this case I've already got some painted ones standing by. Anyways, being too lazy (not to mention too inaccurate) to cut my own bases, I much prefer to buy mine. In this case I'm using an excellent pre-cut 60 x 60x 2.5mm MDF square from East Riding Miniatures. Different media have their pros and cons; MDF bases are cheap, fairly durable, and thick enough that you can grab them directly, rather than using the figures for leverage and consequently ending up with an army full of spaghetti spears. On the other hand, MDF is not magnetic, and it swells and warps when wet-- so don't spill your beer.

Step 2: figure out where your troops are going to go.

This means getting out your ruler and sketching some guidelines. Yes, a lot of wargamers are too impatient to bother with such things... and it tends to show. It's worth taking the extra couple of minutes to do this, even if you're using figures cast in strips (granted in that case you don't need to worry about spacing, only alignment).

Step 3: etch and sketch.

The surface of most bases is going to be pretty smooth, which is not ideal for creating a strong bond. If you're planning to use sand, flock, or anything granular as texturing, you will definitely want to roughen the surface before getting out the glue. In this case I've scuffed it using a coarse sandpaper.

Note, however, that I didn't scuff everywhere. Since this base is going to have a puddle on it (which I've sketched in), and since the puddle won't be taking any texturing, I've left it smooth. The two Xs you see in the grid mark where the standard bearers will go in that formation, which is important when it comes to identifying victims for the next step.

Step 4: down and dirty.

Looking at the layout grid for the base, you can see that three soldiers are going to end up with their feet in the muck. Muck, of course, is not generally kind to white uniforms, so out comes the brown wash. Three unlucky Russian grenadiers get their gaiters spattered, and then go in for a bit of amputation!

Out come the side clippers to cut the base off each of the figures, and the needle file to flatten the botttom of the cuts. I've also decided to have a partially-submerged log floating in the puddle, so I've also done some surgery on a twig.

Step 5: stuck in.

At long last, I've finally gotten out the glue. I told you my way was long and absurdly complicated! Most wargamers would probably be done the entire base in less than five steps. In any case, I've used gel superglue to stick my three amputees in place, one at a time, along with the protruding bit of wood. As I glue each figure, I prop them in place while the glue dries. You don't want your grenadiers stuck on there leaning at 45 degrees! Once everything's in place, I brush on some PVA glue to strengthen the join.

Now wait for the glue to dry.

Step 6: work that murk!

Because a single stage would be entirely too quick and easy, I do the water in several layers. First, I paint the puddle green. This represents... algae. Yeah, that's it. Hey, I never said any of this made sense: it just happens to be what I do.

Now wait for the paint to dry.

Over top of the green goes a coat of watered-down brown ink. Since the forward regiment on this base will have already marched through the puddle, I've drawn "ripples" in the brown ink with a wet paintbrush, letting part of the green undercoat show through. Finally, a thick layer of glossy varnish gives the water a distinct shine. Note that I've also glued on a scrap of bark, which will in due time become a boulder.

Remember to wait for each layer to dry before brushing on the next one!

Step 7: everything at once is too much.

Have I mentioned how absurdly long my basing method takes? By this point you should be starting to see why. In this stage I've glued on the front rank of each regiment. Why the front, and not the back, or both? Well, since the grenadiers I'm using are all in an "advancing" pose, the space between the ranks is pretty much inaccessible once all the troops are glued in place. By sticking only the front rank on first, I can deal with the "in between" space without having to worry about anyone's bayonette being in the way. If I were using minis in standing/marching poses, I would definitely glue everything on at once.

...And wait for the glue to dry.

You can also see that I've started to apply my texturing medium, in this case good ol' terrarium sand, stuck on there with undiluted PVA. A lot of people dilute their PVA with water-- a waste of time, in my opinion. The stuff is dirt cheap, spreads nicely enough without being watered down, and dries twice as quickly to boot. And believe me, when you're doing as many steps as I am, drying twice as quickly saves a lot of waiting! Notice, though, that I've been careful not to apply any sand where the other ranks are going to be.

Now wait--again--for the glue to dry.

Step 8: you put three layers of sand?

Yes. Three. Again, this is something a lot of people are going to say is pointless: a bit of static grass will easily cover up the "step" between a single layer of sand and the thick figure bases. Even those who like a flush base will frequently go with some sort of pumice. In my defense, I have only couple of points: firstly, that a single layer of sand will tend to deteriorate from day-to-day handling, whereas the three-layer method simply wears down to the next layer of sand (and for that matter it has so much hardened glue in it that it's much less likely to wear away). Secondly, pumice is comparatively expensive, and a careless brush coated with the stuff will leave white smears all over the place. Sand and PVA, by contrast, cost next to nothing, and the glue dries clear if you get any where it shouldn't be.

Of course, you do have to wait three times for the glue to dry.

Also note that I've capped off the three layers of sand with a dark brown wash. Again, for anyone who cares and who didn't already know, I'm using the Baccus Basing System (with a few minor tweaks of my own).

Step 9: the middle ground.

This is an easy one-- just drybrush the ground between the ranks to suit your usual "ground" look.

(And wait for the paint to dry!)

Step 10: double the fun!

Now, at long last, I glue on the second rank of figures. And wait for the glue to dry. For the sake of interest I like to my my ranks a bit of variation, so here the line is straggling a little bit where it's gone through the puddle.

It might seem like a preposterous amount of waiting to get to this point-- but notice that each of the steps to get here takes only a couple of minutes (well, aside from painting the figures). The trick is to plan around the waiting. For instance, I'll generally do two or three bases at once, working on them for twenty minutes or so in the morning, and again in the evening. Depending on your schedule, you might even be able to do three coats of PVA in a day. Painting is similarly handled-- because I know I'm only going to base one rank at a time, I don't even paint the second rank until I've already started glueing on the sand.

And waiting for that glue to dry.

Step 11: touches and textures.

At long last the base is starting to look good. Here, after the long wait for the glue holding on three more coats of sand to dry and make everything flush, I've drybrushed the ground to bring out the texture. For the sake of a better photo I've drybrushed everything; realistically, this is when I'd decide (more or less) where the static grass is going to go. Obviously, any ground that will be covered with ground doesn't need to be drybrushed.

That scrap of bark I stuck on there also gets its own drybrushing, in this case a medium grey followed by a light grey. When that's dry, a inking with watered-down black brings out the surface details, and you've got yourself a boulder. Finally, I paint the base edges to cover up any messiness from the previous stages.

...And wait for everything to dry.

Step 12: it's alive!

At long last we come to the fake foliage stage. I outlined in a previous post the materials and methodology I use for this. One thing worth repeating is that bases seem to look better when they have a "dominant" type of foliage. In the picture above you can see the bright yellow-greenish mix I've been using in this role; the pic below shows the final result, with other grass mixes and some flocking added. Of course, every different type of foliage you add means having to wait for the glue to dry!

So, after all that it's finally time to give the base a last once-over to make sure everything's the way it should be, followed by a helpful squirt of varnish to keep it that way.

I pronounce this base ready for the gaming table!

...and it's off to join its grenadier division.

For anyone who lost count, I waited five times for superglue to dry, seven times for PVA, a good six or seven times for paint and/or ink, and twice for varnish! I'm surprised the grass didn't end up longer...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bare flesh and hot rides... Yowzah!

...In which our protagonist writes about the other half of his Celtic "army" for Basic Impetus, while simultaneously indulging in a bit of historical revisionism. It's not nearly as sexy as the title makes it out to be.

The Ancient British force, with options, deployed in the famous "pose for the camera" formation.

For something that was supposed to be a lazy side project, this one turned out to be something of a chore to finish. My dislike for painting large models was the reason I moved to small figures in the first place, so when something as "large" as a 10mm chariot comes up I tend to look for ways to procrastinate.

British light cavalry. Like my Gallic horse, the figures are a mixture of AIM and OG riders on AIM's WWII horses.

Nevertheless, the Ancient British are done. Sort of. At the moment they're stuck using the same warband infantry as the Gauls, so while I can say I've got two armies finished for Basic Impetus, I can't actually have them fight each other.

Pimp my rides

Chariots. Transportation, fashion statement, and getaway vehicle, all in one.

Adding to my general reluctance to finally deal with them, the chariots I had were... shall we say unimpressive. Each model came in 6 pieces: two horses, two wheels, the chassis, and a single figure for the two crewmen. Several specimens of both crew and horses showed defects in casting. The wheels were even worse, many of them coming with spokes broken or cast together; even the best castings weren't even round! Only the chassis seemed to lack casting flaws... with the caveat that there was no way to attach it to either wheels or horses.

Pendraken AG7 - "Chariot, 2 Men & 2 Horses (3)". Not one of Pendraken's finest offerings. You can see how I jury-rigged axles out of scrap balsa; an inelegant solution to an inelegant problem.

The wheels had clearly been designed with holes in the back of their hubs for wire axles; in practice, probably half the wheels were cast with their holes filled in (sounds kind of raunchy, doesn't it?), and even when they didn't, glueing the wheels on properly perpendicular proved something of a nightmare. Anyway, the drillbits I broke trying to drill out the remaining hubs were worth more than the figures themselves, so ultimately I gave up on the wire axle idea. Substituting a bit of scap balsa still resulted in a few fingers being superglued together and/or to various chariot components, but the end result probably wasn't any worse than it would have been with wire.

Once painted, the models do look fairly nice, though. And yes, this time the shield designs are mine.

The horses were another issue. Coming in two different poses, with no real indication of whether they are supposed to be used as left/right in a pair, or matched (as I have depicted them), these simply add even more frustration to an already frustrating project. To their credic, at least these horses are depicted wearing horse collars. Now, I don't know if any archaeological or pictoral evidence actually exists for the yoke system used on Ancient British chariots, but at least the collars are a reasonable guess-- certainly they make far more sense than the fantastical oxbow-style chariot yokes depicted on many a wargames miniature that, in reality, would likely asphyxiate the horses.

On the other hand, the rest of the harness on the Pendraken figures is ambiguous at best. Just what are those straps leading wrapping around the horses' hindquarters supposed to do, anyway? And how are you supposed to attach them to the pole of the chariots' chassis? Long story short: more scrap balsa. Oh yeah, and hope that Pendraken re-sculpts their Celtic range some day.

Beware! Male Nekkidness!

AIM 10020410 - "10mm Barbarian Warriors". I used these for naked fanatics and javelin-armed skirmishers, but the 10mm Celtic Warriors pack from the AIM Punic Wars range makes for a better warband. I'm not sure whether the "naked" figures are even meant to be naked, but inflatable G-strings were the only other explanation I could give for their accoutrement!

Were there ever actually naked fanatics? The jury's still out on that one. Certainly in greco-roman sculpture there's a discernable towards nude Celts-- but in greco-roman sculpture there was a general tendency towards nude everything. Yep, no hiding the Family Jewels from the Greeks. There are also a few ambiguous statements by Greek and Roman writers that have been interpreted (or not) as meaning some Celts fought in the buff. Mind you, factual accuracy in writing ethnography and history was not really a priority back in the day; it was considered perfectly alright for a writer to spice up the facts to make a more exciting read.

Man, these fanatics have babymakers as big around as their biceps! Oh, and tatoos that I drew on with a blue Sharpie pen. They didn't turn out all that well.

Of course naked fanatics are a staple of wargaming Ancients. Heck, even the standard Gallic warband charges bare-chested across the wargames table, even though current archaeology tells us that it was the Celts who invented chainmail. In fact, the Romans copied the famous "Gallic" helmets used by imperial legionaries, and there's good evidence that the oval "spindle boss" shield of Republican times was a Celtic invention as well. The Roman legionary would have been something of an imitation Celtic warrior in his equipment! Celtic torcs became prized Roman military decorations; some of the best imperial weapons and armour were manufactured in Gaul after the Roman conquest.

All roads lead to Rome

Old Glory ANT-107 - "Gallic Slingers". These are surprisingly nice figures; in fact OG's Gallic range is among the very best of their grand scale offerings. It's a pity their warband figures are cast in strips.

In fact there seems little evidence of Roman superiority over the Celts. The Romans built roads and lived in walled towns; so did the Celts-- and these were not barbarian copies, but home-grown technology that were just as sophisticated. Roman-centric historians over the ages have denigrated the Celts as living in primitive tribes; modern research indicates that many Celtic groups were governed as Republics, with elected annual magistracies not so different from Rome herself. The similarities go even further: linguistic research shows that the Celtic languages of Gaul were perhaps Latin's nearest relatives in the ancient world. Given how little change there would have been for many, perhaps it's not so surprising that the Gallic provinces were so receptive to Romanization!

British slingers. Why do the Brits get slingers but not the Gauls? I dunno. It doesn't really match what Caesar told us.

Of course the Romans had a better army. Wargamers know at least this much: how the badly-outnumbered but disciplined legions of Rome squared off against the innumerable but poorly armed barbarian rabble and beat the stuffing out of them time and time again. Or did they? I sometimes wonder. After all, it's the winner who write the histories-- and in this case the losers weren't even literate. Indeed, the lack of a writing system was the one outstanding technological deficiency of Celtic culture.

A horse is a horse, of course (of course)

AIM 10020411 - "Barbarian Cavalry". Reasonably nice figures, but, like all of the old AIM lines, lacking in the over-emphasized details that make painting easier at this scale. All of the musculature on both horses and riders has been faked with paint.

Anyways, getting back on topic here, the final component of the Ancient British force for Basic Impetus is a couple of stands of light cavalry. Now, one thing about horses is that manufacturers tend to use the same sculpts for all their ranges-- so a 19th century cuirassier is going to ride a horse no bigger than that of a 17th century dragoon, and indeed, no bigger than that of an ancient Celt, even though the latter would likely have had a pony for a mount. I say most manufacturers, because there are an enlightened few; in 10mm the winner is Pendraken, who mount their ancients on nice little pony-sized horses. Strangely, I've actually heard a number of people complain about this! I mean, you're counting the bloody buttons on your Peninsular War redcoats, but you whine when somebody sculpts Ancients on appropriately-sized horses!!????

This picture is fairly similar to one of the ones at the top of the post. I'm not really sure why I'm including it.

Okay, I'll admit that it could well be different people who are complaining about the one thing versus the other. In fact it probably is. To each his own, right? I, for instance, don't care how many buttons there are on my toy soldier's jacket, but I prefer to be able to mock anyone who's anal-retentive enough to count.

And now that we're off topic again...

Another picture similar to one already posted.

What was I saying? Horses. Right. So Pendraken makes cavalry that would have been perfect for these ancient Brits... but I didn't have any. And since the whole point of this project was to use the figs I already owned, you won't see any here. Disappointing, eh?

All the Celts, all lined up.

A final note on things Celtic

'Celt' is a rather slippery term. Usually it's held to have come from the Greek word Keltoi. We don't actually know what the people in ancient Gaul and Britain called themselves. Even the concept of 'Celt' as a single homogenous, identifiable ethnicity is problematic. To my knowledge (and feel free to correct me here if you know better), aside from a few groups who straddled the Channel, the people of ancient Britain were not even identified with the Gauls-- the latter were supposedly tall and fair-haired, the former small and dark. Linguistically they must have been close; but as we've already seen, the same was true of Gauls and Romans. The speech, customs and culture from one end of Celtic Europe to the other may well have been just as varied as it has ever been.

So who were the Celts? In a way 'Celtic' is as much a product of Sir Walter Scott, Queen Victoria and their contemporaries in 19th century Europe as it is a meaningful distinction. Wargamers like me, who so blithely use Gallic and British figures as interchangeable, are only fuelling the melting pot.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Much Ado About Horses

...In which our protagonist obscures the fact that his output is currently rather unimpressive by producing this instructive article.

Cavalry. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are impressive. Or at least they should be.

A lot of people are intimidated by cavalry-- and I don't just mean on the battlefield. One of the comments I see again and again is how much wargamers hate painting horses. They're big, obvious, take forever, and never quite seem to look right. Believe me, I know the feeling, 'cause I'm a onetime horse-hater myself.

But painting horses doesn't have to be an awful chore, best avoided; the truth is, in smaller scales horses can be painted quickly, easily, and can still look good.

Equus ferus caballus, of the "brown" variety. Now why is it so hard to get a mini to look like this?

Tickle me brown

Before getting down to business here, let me ask a hypothetical question. If you were going to paint an infantry unit-- let's say the 1st Battalion of the 3rd British Foot Guards in 1909 --how would you go about it? I'll give you a hint: they wore red. Now get painting.

I'm guessing that at this point no one is ready to paint the 1/3rd Foot Guards 1909, despite my useful hint (well, aside from a tiny minority of sad, anal-retentive buttoncounters). Anyone actually intending to do such a unit would be well advised to seek out uniform references and plates as a painting guide. And yet most people will take their miniature horses, say "oh, they're (mostly) brown, right?" and blithely start painting.

Horse colour chart, blatantly lifted from Junior General. Hey, if everyone else is doing it, why not me?

And so I present to you the horse colour chart. Even a quick look at this would probably solve much of the usual brown-o-philia and horse-o-phobia. You can clearly see that not all horses are brown; furthermore, even the brown ones tend not to be completely monotonous.

But let's take our education a bit further, shall we?

That dratted real horse again, showing areas of contrasting colour.

Take a look at the above picture, and compare it to the colour chart. I think we're all intelligent enough to see the patterns here, so let's get painting.

Witty subtitle about painting 6mm horses

As always, I like to start with black. For the purposes of this demonstration, I'm also painting the horses in their entirety before painting their riders; in actual practice, this isn't necessarily the case. I'm going to do "brown" horses which tend to be the most common in my armies (a circumstance driven by the limitations of my paint collection, I should point out). Slight modifications to the shade of brown will give you bays and chestnuts.

Step 1: black undercoat.

Step 2: coat

In painting the brown coat, you'll notice that I've left the nose and socks black, and, because these are large-ish Adler horses, I've also taken some pains to avoid painting the eyes, nostrils and tack. More importantly, select a slightly lighter shade than you want your end result to be.

Step 3: hair

Pretty much as you'd expect: hit the tail, mane and forelock. I've used a dark brown for this, which I've also used on the base. Note that I also snuck in a gold edging on the shabraque and pistol cases in this step.

Step 4: ink

I probably should have mentioned this at the top, but in any case at this scale I like to use inks for shading. Here, I've used a dark brown ink on the coat, and a black ink in the hair. Note that these are inks, not washes; there's a difference. Inks tend to be more opaque, and are also quite glossy-- a definite advantage in this instance, as real horses tend to have quite a glossy coat.

Step 5: markings

Paint the nose, forehead blaze and socks as desired. Avoid painting the mouth and nostrils if possible. On brown horses I like to use white for the markings, as the contrast looks really spiffy. Dark brown or black are also realistic choices, but tend not to stand out so nicely. Another note: real horses may sport coloured socks on anywhere from zero to all four of their legs. For the sake of quickness and contrast, I almost always do all four.

Step 6: tack

Hit the bridle, reins, etc. in the appropriate colour. Most Napoleonic tack seems to have been black, so in this case I've simply touched up any overpainting from the previous colours.

...And that's it. You're done.


Just paint the riders, and you've got yourself some decent looking horsemen!

Grand Scale greys

As a special feature here, I'm also going to show how I paint my 10mm horses. This is a more complex, time-consuming technique, but it does look better. I've never bothered to try it at 6mil, but the Adlers, at least, are large and detailed enough that it could be done.

Ideally, I would have demonstrated brown horses once again, to better illustrate the differences between the two techniques. Unfortunately I wanted a grey team for my last Celtic chariot, so that's what you're getting instead. Note that in horse-speak the term "grey" actually refers to white horses (I don't get it either). What you're seeing me paint here are actually "black roans" or "blue roans" (yeah, I really don't get it).

Step 1: black undercoat. As per the usual.

Step 2: coat, and Step 3: hair

Anyway, you should already see the difference here: rather than applying a uniform slathering of colour, I've taken some pains to detail the musculature of the horses' legs and haunches. If your models actually depict this level of detail, all to the better; if not, it isn't that difficult to fake. Also worth noting is that on these grey horses I've painted the hair in the same colour as the coat. Finally, I've used a darker shade for the coat than I want the end result to be.

Step 4: ink

Here I've used black ink on the hair, socks and nose to give them some contrast.

Step 5: highlight

Here I've gone over the coat with a lighter shade of grey, keeping a border of the original shade. The result: instant highlights!

Step 6: tack

Paint the tack in your preferred colour, and you're done! This technique takes longer and a little more finesse with a brush. In ultra-close-up macro photographs it also tends to look worse than the simpler technique I outlined first; but at any realistic viewing distance, this is the better-looking way of doing it.

Examples of this 10mm horse-painting technique.

So that's my take on small-scale horses. In other news, I've got more of these smaller, friendlier posts in the pipeline. Heck, why not? It keeps me from wasting an entire weekend each time I want to make a blog post, and it also keeps me from going weeks and weeks without having anything to show. Is that progress? I like to think so.