Work in progress – and a review (sort of) of some 28mm buildings
Well, it is about time I demonstrated that my first posts were not just a flash in the pan and that I follow them up with another ramble description of current goings-on at Castle Plaza-Toro. This blog is supposed to keep me ‘going-on’ and focused on finishing my projects, so blog momentum needs to be maintained! I must pause at this point and thank everyone for their kind comments regarding my first steps into the blogosphere, both those attached here and the encouraging words spoken on wargames forums like WD3 and The League of Augsburg. Many thanks to you all.
Right then. After kick-starting everything a little over a week ago with pictures of my French National Guard battalion for the beginning of the Wars of the French Revolution, I thought I would let everyone have a peak at some work in progress on my next French unit. I am always a little cautious about showing unfinished work – in the raw, as it were – but I know many of you like to see the creative process in action so in the coming weeks (I’m a slow painter) the plan is to follow this unit at various stages towards its completion. So here it is – with just over half the figures done but nothing properly based yet.
This is going to be a battalion of the 29th Régiment de Ligne, the old Dauphin regiment of the pre-Revolution French army, representing its appearance during the early campaigns c.1792-93. For those unfamiliar with the period who are wondering what the difference is between this and the contemporary French National Guard unit that featured in my first post, it is perhaps best to think of the French infantry at this time as being divided into two distinct parts – one white, one blue. The white uniformed regulars (such as these) represented the last vestiges of the old military order, while the blue uniformed volunteers and conscripts of the National Guard were born out of the recent Revolution. The political radicals in Paris mistrusted the regular army because of its ties to the Ancien Régime and so the National Guard was raised (and expanded) as a more ‘politically sound’ bulwark to protect the fledgling Republic. In reality it was often les bleus of the National Guard that proved less than reliable, and in the Republic’s early moments of crisis it was sometimes les blancs of the old regular army who provided the desperately needed experience and backbone to see the French army through. Before long the two halves of the army were destined to be merged into one, in a drawn out process from late 1793 to the end of 1794, but that is a discussion for another time.
As a battalion of the old regular army I want this unit to have a more professional military air about it, compared to the deliberate ‘disorganised chaos’ look of my first National Guard unit, so I have chosen figures from the Eureka Miniatures range all in the shouldered arms (march-attack) pose and everyone will be based in fairly neat rows. However, conformity only goes so far, and I have once again mixed Eureka’s choice of smart, regulation appearance figures with those wearing ragged and tatty campaign uniforms. While some regiments of the regular army managed to retain a level of professionalism many other regiments declined rapidly as experienced officers fled France and the rank and file deserted in droves to re-enlist with National Guard units where the pay and conditions were better! Crippling shortages meant no replacement uniforms or even shoes and what little was supplied was invariably of inferior quality. Within just a short time of campaigning even the better quality regiments took on a dishevelled, decidedly un-military bearing. Here then, we have some figures with plums, others without; some wear the full fur crested helmet (introduced in 1791 and hugely unpopular) while others only get the economy version with a stuffed fabric sausage instead of a crest. Some non-regulation coloured shirts and trousers have started to creep in. And yes – the 29th had pink uniform facings! I intend to do both battalions of this regiment (two different flag designs) at some point. More as we go…
28mm Buildings from 4Ground.
The Duke is always on the look out for new real estate, and some of the (relatively) new laser cut building kits from UK company 4Ground have caught his eye. I first encountered these type of building kits when a friend showed me the hugely impressive laser cut model of Rorke’s Drift available from Warlord Games (made for them by 4Ground). Computer controlled laser cutting has reached a point where not only can small part kits be cut from thin MDF board with great accuracy, but the laser can even etch surface detail onto the various pieces. This produces an easily assembled model that (depending on the version you buy) comes complete with a game ready finish that can require little or even no further attention before you plonk it straight onto your battlefield. Indeed a quick visit to the 4Ground website reveals that they are now offering their kits as a fully painted option. They also offer what they call “Silhouette” versions of some buildings, which only have the very basic detail cut into them and are aimed at modellers who want to adapt them.
For the Duke, I got two versions of the same building – 4Ground’s “Old Timber Frame Cottage” – one in its unpainted but full surface detailed form, and the other the Silhouette ‘plain Jane’ variant. I got both for no particular reason other than I was interested in how they differed and how much I could muck around with them. What follows then is a sort of part review, and part me adapting them type of story. Here is my finished take on the surface detailed version –
I built this pretty much straight out of the packaging. You can buy additional finishing kits from 4Ground called things like “Tudor” or “Stuart” with period appropriate doors, window architecture etc, which I didn’t bother with, but even so the only things I have added here are a door, some pseudo lead light windows, and a little paint. The first thing I can say about these laser cut buildings is they go together ridiculously easily. The model comes to you as a bag of flat-packed MDF wooden boards. The cut parts pop out of the boards with a little gentle persuasion (I used a sharp knife to tidy one or two scares left by the tabs) and everything then clips together with a satisfying precision. A little PVA wood glue is certainly recommended for build strength, but many of the parts fit together so accurately and snugly you could conceivably use almost no glue at all. Even with the gluing time, it took me less than half an hour to complete this model, and only once did I resort to a few strokes of a file to make the roof panels fit a little better. I then added a door of my own making (balsa wood) and to get a lead-light effect I glued some pieces of fly screen behind each window. The latter is a bit of a botch-job, as the fly screen ‘squares’ are not actually, well… square – so when you rotate it through 45 degrees you don’t get a nice symmetrical diamond effect. However, this is one of those occasions when I say “It’s just a wargames model” and the overall impression is perfectly adequate.
The finished building breaks down into three sections to facilitate access to the interior (ideal for RPG and skirmish gamers – or for people like the Duke who prefers to place his troops inside the building they are defending). This revealed perhaps the model’s principal negative – there is nothing to hold the three sections together. I soon discovered that a lack of concentration when picking the whole thing up often resulted in one or both of the upper sections sliding off and bouncing across the tabletop (or the floor!). This was remedied with a couple of off-cuts from the left over MDF boards glued underneath two opposite corners of the middle section (see the above, right hand picture) to ‘lock’ it (loosely) into the corresponding corners of the lower section. I then glued a short tab of balsa wood inside (and just protruding below) the bottom edge of each gable end wall of the top section (sorry, not quite visible in the photograph) which just tuck in behind the walls of the middle section to hold that in place as well.
Painting was straight forward. I was very impressed by the fine timber grain effect the laser etches (burns?) into the model’s timber framing. I just painted this a dark brown and then dry-brushed in a paler grey-brown shade to bring out the grain. The plaster panels were then painted a dirty cream/buff, and a bluish-grey slate roof completed things. From a visual perspective the roof is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the model, being flat and two dimensional – more like a pavement than overlapping roof tiles. I attempted to add some optical relief to the surface by highlighting each tile (most of the pictures show my first rough attempts at this – the picture of the two finished buildings at the end of this post show it after a second much more stylised re-paint).
And so to the “Silhouette ” version of this building –
As you can see the plainer (and cheaper) Silhouette version of the model is identical to its twin but for the lack of the extra surface detail: no wood grain effect, no interior stuff. I decided to do with this what 4Ground intended – apply some touches of my own. At this point I had just added my (slightly unsatisfactory) lead light windows, and I was considering painting the wood grain effect onto the timber frames by hand. Some painters are really good at this sort of thing – I’m not, and I wasn’t happy with my test runs. So admitting defeated, I adopted the Duke’s usually policy in these situations, which is – “If you can’t make one bit of a model look as good as you’d like, damn well make sure you distract the viewer’s eye by making some other bit look more interesting.” Accordingly I concentrated on the panels between the timber frames. I blocked all these in with textured paint. Textured paint is one of the great friends of the model maker. I have three grades of it: the coarse variety which I use for ground work on almost everything; a finer sandy mix for things like track ways and texturing the walls of adobe buildings etc; and a sort of thick silty consistency paint that the hardware stores often call “Suede” finish. You can pick all these up in relatively inexpensive sample pots from your local paint or hardware store – check out the customer return/dump bins even. Colour does not really matter as you are usually going to paint over it, but given a choice any earthy shade will do. For the panels on this model I used the Suede finish, applying it fairly thickly, but keeping it off the timber frames. Once dry I then painted this more tactile surface in a base of ochre and worked it up with increasing amounts of white to the finish in the picture below. (because of the plainer detailing I wanted this building to be ‘brighter’ than the first). The timber frame? Well I just painted all that a very dark brown (to suck in the light) and left it at that – no highlighting – nothing.
The other, immediately obvious feature I added, is the improved tile roof. I decided on this at an early stage and to accommodate it I permanently glued the top and middle sections of the model together (more on the implications of this later). The roofing technique will be familiar to anyone who has read one of Games Workshops’ books on model making and is just lots of individually cut squares of “cereal box” cardboard, glued on in overlapping rows. Yes – it is fiddly and labour intensive (it took me a whole evening to tile all the roof), but all the cutting can be done with scissors and once you get into a rhythm it goes quite quickly. The lines of the model’s original ’tiles’ on the MDF roof beneath act as a convenient guide to align your tile rows by, but accuracy isn’t paramount. The effect is best achieved by cutting your tiles to slightly irregular sizes and gluing them on in a slightly haphazard fashion. ‘Distressing’ some of the tiles by clipping off corners all adds to the rustic charm. The ridge tiles were cut from a single ‘wave’ of corrugated cardboard and the whole lot was given a coat of textured paint. I also added my own chimney as another feature to set this building apart from the first one – just a couple of pieces of cork floor tile, cut to fit the angle of the roof and glued together in a sandwich – then more textured paint. The chimney pots are roughly cut plastic drinking straw (and, yes, even more textured paint!) The door is another of my design, but again a different appearance to differentiate it from the previous building.
For completeness, I should also mention the internal alterations I made to this model – if nothing else because it illustrates just how obsessive we wargamers can get about our little preferences! Allow me to explain… With the previous building I had already discovered that it was difficult putting figures inside it on the ground floor, if they had upright muskets or similar protuberances – because the ceiling is too low! Now, this did not matter as they did fit under the higher angled roof of the first floor. (Stay with me here – don’t nod off now…) However, my decision to permanently glue the two upper sections of this version of the building together (because of gluing on the tile roof) essentially sealed off access to the first floor (Shock! Horror!) So I carefully cut out a square in the base of the combined upper section (with hole and jig saw) so the ground floor can now accommodate figures – bayonets and all (as above). Of course, none of this will be of the slightest interest to you if you are the sort of wargamer who could not care less about sticking figures inside buildings – but I’m afraid the Duke just loves this sort of thing.
Anyway – here is the finished building –
I went for a terracotta tile roof colour – yet again just to set this building apart from its twin – although in truth, big square tiles like this should probably be slate. Small details like the door handle’s different design and location are also done for variety. You can judge for yourselve if this all works by taking a look at the two models side by side –
As mentioned earlier, I had another go at faking some 3D effect on to the flat blue slate roof as shown here, using a much more stylised painting technique. It is a bit bold and I am not sure it works (although I should add the lights I took the photograph under make it look bluer than it actually is).
Well, that’s it! I am really impressed with these models. They are not expensive (certainly not the Silhouette versions), assemble really easily, hold their own very well straight ‘out of the box’, and with a little extra effort can be turn into very respectable models. I just scratched the surface really, and better modellers than me could really go to town on these. A downside? None to mention apart from the finished sections falling off each other all the time (which can be fixed easily enough) and perhaps the rather bland appearance of the tiled roof as supplied – but for the purpose these models are intended (and the price) it’s good enough. I would offer only one minor note of caution to those potential buyers who have smaller gaming tables who do not want many large buildings dominating too much of their gaming space. Although the footprint of these models is not especially large (90mm X 80mm) they do stand quite tall (130mm to the top of the gable end), and if many of your existing model buildings are deliberately under-scaled (as many ‘big battle’ gamers tend to favour) these will stand out in the crowd somewhat. Mind you, if you are looking to quickly turn your whole gaming table into an urban landscape you should probably consider buying these in bulk. Highly recommended. Check out the 4Ground website http://www.4ground.co.uk/ for the full range (including now 15mm / 1:100 scale buildings). Local Australian customers can order some of the range from Eureka Miniatures and War & Peace Games (see my links).