Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Art of Small Soldiery: Putting 6mm into Perspective

...In which our protagonist attempts to show how little 6mm figures actually are.

I can't claim any credit for the battery idea. If there's anything that's recognizable all over the world and always the same size, it's batteries-- and far wiser people than I realized this a long time ago.

Admittedly, I've generally avoided dwelling on how big (or little) the figures I'm working with actually are. Instead of drawing attention to the toy soldiers themselves, my focus has gradually shifted towards what those toy soldiers are meant to represent, to make that mini look like the real soldier might have, and the miniature army look like a real one.

For a while now I've been using the Canadian penny to show how big figures are. Of course, out of the six-and-some-odd billion people on the planet, only a miniscule fraction actually know how big these things are...

In my current Borodino project, I've taken this philosophy even further, trying to take advantage of the excellent Adler miniatures to give the impression of movement and action. I've tried to make every base a vignette, and tried to highlight that dynamism in my photography. Heck, my most poplular posts recently have probably been the massed army shots, where I've employed every last bit of 6mm scenery in my feeble collection to try and bring the scene to life for the viewer.

Headphones make really big speakers for really little men. I mean really big speakers. It kind of reminds me of that scene from Apocalypse Now... except there are no helicopters, no napalm in the morning, and this is not Charlie's Point.

But what if I took a step back? What if, for just this one post, I really went and concentrated on the toys, rather than the soldiers? I mean, I can do my very best to make them look big and real, but the fact remains that they are pretty damn small. And really, that's the remarkable thing, isn't it?

So how do I go about showing the Liliputian marvellousness of what is perhaps my finest batch of toys? Attempting to accurately convey a sense of scale has been one of the eternal difficulties for figure painters. In this case, anyone who has painted 6mm figs will of course have a good idea of how big they are, but what about gamers and painters who deal exclusively with 15mm, or 20mm, or the gargantuan 28mm?

Bon Appetit! Plates, unfortunately, come in all sorts of sizes. This one happens to be quite small, which makes the little fellas look a great deal larger than they actually are.

And so I concocted this series of pictures: 6mm Napoleonics shown alongside everyday items. Neat, huh?

...Okay, so it's pretty lame. I'll concede that much. But you're not paying anything to see this, so don't complain.

Talk about a crappy site for a battery! Ha ha ha! ...Yeah, I guess I'm not quite ready to quit my day job to become a stand-up comedian. Also worth noting: I did not bring any miniatures into the bathroom for this. These are fresh, unsullied rolls that have never been within 10 metres of a toilet.

This would've been a good shot if it was in focus. I suppose I could have taken another picture, but let's be serious here: in this day and age, you just take 10 shots all at the same time, and if none of them turn out, this is what you get. Deal with it.

Funny story about this one. Well, actually it's no funnier than the rest of this post, but I'm still gonna tell it. Anyways, I've been renovating my basement recently. Eventually I hope to build a nice little hobby area down there (among other "more important" things, whatever those are), but in the meantime it's all just a lot of dust, swearing, and sharp and/or dirty stuff that generally succeeds in destroying clothing and not doing much else. I've got lots of tools and whatnot, including a greatly under-used carpenter's apron that generally seems to end up in the least accessible part of the room. Consequently, I keep stuffing my pockets full of nails and screws whenever I'm using them, and when I come up at the end of the day to change, I almost invariably discover myself trailing leftovers all over the bedroom. Nails and screws do, however, make good objects of comparison in this sort of situation.

Also, you could probably make some pretty nice 6mm poplar trees if you flocked some screws.

Not such a good picture here. From a technical standpoint, it's in poor focus. Aesthetically, the horsemen should be riding towards the centre of the picture to make a more satisfying image. And rhetorically, the unfortunate choice of background suggests that A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars is available on CD, which, to the best of my knowledge, it is not.

Another good idea let down by faulty execution. With all the blurry pictures in this set, I must have drank too much coffee beforehand. Or more likely it was the hours of hammering studwalls together in the basement-- hard on the nerves. But hey: at least it's a good poker hand!

A portrait of the Artist as a Brobdinagian

Next time: more Russians. And I really mean it this time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Russian VIII Corps in 6mm, Part 1

...In which our protagonist, for reasons of throroughness rather than necessity, shows off some more old stuff, in this case the Russian 2nd Grenadier Division.

Colonel Shatilov's 1st Brigade, comprising the Kiev Grenadiers to the fore, followed by the Moscow Grenadiers.

Most of my Borodino-in-6mm efforts so far have centred around the French/Allied army. There are a couple of reasons for this; for one thing I've simply painted a lot more of the Allies, but for another, the Allies are simply so much more photogenic.

The problem is (and yes, once again I'm going to rant about the so-called problems I have with this project, despite the fact that I've done so many times already, and despite the fact that I have no one to blame for starting it but myself. But anyway), the Russians are saddled with the twin disadvantages of 1) having very dark uniforms, and 2) not having much by way of differences in uniforms.

A ground-level view of the 1st Brigade. I've compained before how the Russian NCOs that come with the infantry command strips are generally in pretty boring poses, but I should mention that the mounted officers, by contrast, allow for some interesting possibilities.

I'll admit dark green isn't a terrible colour in of itself. Heck, it's probably my favourite colour, and maybe what drew me to the Russians in the first place. But paint the coat on a 6mm figure dark green, and hold it at arm's length, and you begin to see... well, not a lot, admittedly. Dark green makes for pretty good camouflage at life-sized, let alone in 6mm. I've even had people browsing through the uniform plates in my copy of F.G. Hourtoulle's Borodino: The Moskova (a book that's forever underfoot hereabouts) comment on how the Russian uniforms "make more sense". Now, I've tried explaining how this viewpoint is largely anachronistic; at a time when most soldiers were armed with smoothbore muskets and generally closed to 50m or so before shooting (when they even bothered to shoot, instead of going straight to the bayonet), the camouflage value of one's coat was not such an issue. Well it was, but looking good was more of an issue.

Colonel Buxhöwden's 2nd Brigade. Alex Mikaberidze, in his The Battle of Borodino: Napoleon Against Kutuzov, spells Buxhöwden with an "ö"; consequently, I have no idea how to pronounce it. Pronunciation notwithstanding, the group with the orange flags is the Astrakhan Grenadier Regiment, followed by the Fanagoria Grenadiers with their pink-and-green.

Anyways, there's not much you can do about dark green. If you try brightening it up, it looks "wrong" for Russians; if you leave it dark, the damn Russkies start to disappear.

As for the complementary problem, namely the Russians' identical uniforms, there are steps that can be taken. I mean, no one wants their grenadier regiments to be confused with mere line, after all. But what's that, you say? You can tell which are grenadiers because they have big tall plumes on their shakos? And those plumes are... oh, yes, that's right, they're black. Just the hue to stand out against a background of dark green coats.

The 2nd Brigade, showing some experimentation with the rear formation. Mixing poses, I tried to make it look like the Fanagoria grenadiers are breaking from march-attack into a bayonet charge. I might try this again some time with the French, where the greater variety of poses would allow for more intermediate steps between muskets carried horizontally and vertically.

I opted for a different approach. I've complained before (can you believe it?) about how Adler's Russian infantry command strips only come with one standard bearer, whereas they should have two. This oversight, combined with my general cheapness-and-laziness, led me to build all my line infantry regiments with only one flag apiece. This of course left me with a golden opportunity: I could give my grenadier regiments two flags each!

Colonel Levin's 3rd Brigade, with the Siberia and Malorossiiskii (or Little Russia) Grenadier Regiments.

Doubling the flag count for the grenadiers meant making an exception to my usual cheapness-and-laziness, and furthermore led to an unfortunate surplus of already-underutilized drummers and NCOs. But who am I kidding? It was worth it-- after all, in a very drab-looking army, these brigades have twice as many colours as the rest! (Ba-dum ching: Napoleonic joke in poor taste.)

The 3rd Brigade from the anterior side (honestly, who says 'anterior'?). Astute readers might recognize this base from my basing by numbers post from way back in November!

So that's Major General Karl von Mecklenburg-Schwerin's 2nd Grenadier Division, as well as my quota of whining for... well, probably that's enough whining for this year. I'm still going to whine in my next post though. Also all the ones after that.

Next time: more Russians. Or not. We'll see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

French III Corps in 6mm, Part 2

...In which our protagonist finally gets around to posting about things that he can't even really pretend are new, since he already showed them last month.

Beurmann's Brigade, comprising the 4th and 28th Chasseurs à Cheval. I'm opening the post with this base not because it's the most interesting, but because it comes first alphabetically.

Yes, once again I've fallen behind in blogging, so here I am finally showing the brigades for Ney's corps at the Battle of Borodino that were already finished almost a month ago. Actually, as I alluded to in the intro, these bases all appeared in last month's 6mm French Napoleonics Eyecandy Extravaganza, so it's not even like I'm delving into never-before-seen content here, either. The fact is, that while I generally plan for great things here on Mike's Leadpile, I only have so much time to devote to this hobby, and when time is tight, I usually opt to paint the next batch of figures!

Chasseurs à Cheval, by Adler Miniatures. There are a bunch of different codes covering these troops, and, as you might guess from the above picture, I painted a bunch of them together and lost track of which models belong to which product codes.

The good side of my tendency to paint-first-and-blog-later is that I generally have a backlog of new stuff to blog about. The bad side is that no one gets to see any of it until long after the fact. Oh well; one of these days I'll try to catch up.

Adler FNC 10C - "Chasseur Shako". This command group features corded shakos, which none of none of the troopers seem to have; but then, like most of Adler's cavalry, they are so well sculpted that I can forgive a lot. The trumpeter/colour bearer also works much well for the French, since all of their cavalry seems to have carried colours of some kind.

At any rate, this time I get to show off my newest batch of cavalry. The huge number of different uniforms Adler offers for each troop type, combined with their by-the-strip purchasing options can cause problems-- at least if you're like me, in that you make one huge order rather than a number of smaller ones, don't really make any notes as to which figures are intended to represent what, and then work on projects sporadically with months-long stops and starts. I'm still not certain as to whether I'd originally intended to mix headgear within each "regiment", as I did with Davout's cavalry, or go for uniform headgear, as I did this time around.

Adler FNC 3A - "Chasseur, habit, colpack" (I think). Lovely figures, useful for elite regiments or companies who retain this older-style headgear. The coloured "bag" provides great contrast and helps these figures to stand out at a distance.

On the plus side, at least I'm not the only one who's confused; after nearly 200 years of research and argumentation, no one's really sure who was actually at the Battle of Borodino. For this first base I gave General Beurmann the 4th and 28th regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval; Beurmann's actual brigade probably comprised the 4th and one or more regiments from Württemberg. Where the 28th was, I'm not even sure-- although apparently several of its officers were killed at the battle, so one might infer that they were at least present.

One of the challenges of 6mm is trying to make the uniforms bright enough to attract notice without making them the wrong colour. For more somberly-clad troops like these, bright highlights like the yellow facings of the 4th regiment can help to create contrast and liven up a formation; even so, this bunch is on the verge of being too dark.

Another ongoing problem has been the French army organization. For anyone not versed in this sort of thing, this warrants an explanation. More or less how it works is this:

  • several soldiers = a platoon
  • several platoons = a company
  • several companies = a battalion
  • several battalions = a regiment
  • several regiments = a brigade
  • several brigades = a division
  • several divisions = a corps
  • several corps = an army
That's how it works in theory, anyways. This level of organization conferred logistical, strategic and tactical advantages over armies not so organized that contributed to French military ascendency in the early Napoleonic period. It worked so well for the French that everyone else copied it (well, except for maybe the British, who pretend they didn't). Some armies, namely the Russian, were even pretty consistent in applying this organization. The standard Russian division in 1812, for instance, always comprised six regiments of two battalions each.

Gengoult's brigade, with the 24th light infantry regiment and the 1st Portuguese regiment.

Not so the French. Napoleon was pretty notorious for rearranging his orders of battle, taking battalions, brigades, or even divisions from one commander and reassigning them to another. This allowed him to give more responsibility to his better commanders and less to his lesser, and also helped to confuse enemy espionage and reconnaissance-- but for the wargamer it can be pretty annoying!

Adler BN 4B - "Centre comp Belgic advancing". Again, I've used British troops in the "Belgic" shako to represent soldiers of the Portuguese legion wearing the barretina. The ankles on this particular code are quite fragile, and although my order arrived intact at my doorstep, I had several casualties while preparing them for painting.

I've complained before about the inconsistent number of battalions in a regiment and regiments in a brigade in French armies. I've even tried to impose order on chaos by making each base a brigade of two regiments, irregardless of actual historical composition. It was a struggle I thought I was winning, fool that I was. Yet now, as I pass the halfway mark for finishing Ney's III corps, the weaknesses of my plans begin to show. You see, Marshal Ney had only half as many troops as Marshal Davout in reality-- but Ney is on course to end up with more bases!

Gengoult's brigade from behind. Both the French and British/Portuguese on this base are in "advancing" pose, but the minute differences from one advancing pose to another can clearly be seen.

So what to do? I guess one of the advantages of French infantry, at least in 6mm, is that it's pretty generic. I could go back and beef up Davout's I corps to the appropriate number of brigades, sacrificing the easily-organized "always-two-regiments-to-a-base" system for something more accurate, and no one would be the wiser (well, except for anyone who's bothered to read this far, since I've just told you). But that would involve more time, effort, and money...

Adler FNC 6A - "Lancer, helmet". The lance shafts on these models are pretty fragile, and a few of the ones in my collection have undergone amputation.

I've mentioned previously how I didn't really start this project with any particular rules in mind. In fact, gaming with this bunch at all is, for the moment, a distant consideration, as renovations-in-progress have taken up all my space. Completed units are left to reside ignominously in re-purposed Ferrero Rocher trays, or, at best, taken out for the occasional parade on a 2'x2' card table. So do I really need to go back and expand formations that I've already set aside as finished? Especially when I've already expressed doubt as to how far in this project I'm even going to get?

Mourier's Brigade, with the 11th Hussars in the lead, followed by the 6th Chevau-légers. The lancers' shiny gold helmets really stand out nicely on the tabletop, while the pelisse, or decorative coat worn over one shoulder by the Hussars also makes a good accent.

Then again, what does need have to do with anything in this hobby?

The Lancers' pennants also help create contrast.

Next time: some Russians