The 29th Regiment finished – and a little on white uniforms and flags
Well, I finally finished painting this unit more than a fortnight ago, but only got around to basing them last week (the distractions of ‘normal’ life in the Plaza-Toro household you understand). Anyway, here they are – the 1st Battalion of the French 29th Régiment de Ligne c.1792-93: all ready to do the Duke’s bidding (command and morale dice scores allowing) on the tabletop of war.
I chose the 29th, from all the other French regiments that I could have selected, because I wanted to paint a unit associated with the Armée du Nord and the great early battles of the French Revolutionary Wars fought in Flanders and Northern France. The French Orders of Battle during these first campaigns are fragmentary and contradictory (a reflection of the chaos that gripped the French army during the early 1790’s), but the 29th are one of the few units that I could establish who probably played a part in most of the major actions. It also has to be said I could not resist painting a regiment that had pink facing colours! As I mentioned in my previous post, the eventual aim is to represent the 29th in its entirety by adding the regiment’s second battalion. Work will begin on this next unit shortly; they will look much the same as these chaps, but the flag the second battalions carried were of a very different pattern from the one unfurled here – and it will be nice to show that difference in my collection. (More on flags later in this post…) I am not sure how many more of these exclusively white uniformed French infantry battalions I shall do because they survived only briefly. From the beginning of 1794 onwards the great reorganisation of the French army (the Amalgame) merges the white uniforms of the old regular army with the blue of the National Guard, and the blue uniforms then steadily gain ascendency.
Painting White Uniforms
A few people around the internet forums have been very kind and expressed an interest in how I paint white uniforms. This is of course a matter of personal taste. You can get a very crisp look to whites employing something like a silver grey or bluish grey base colour, then worked up to bright white on top of that, but I prefer a dusty, somewhat grubby look to my whites – so I start with a murkier set of colours. The picture below is not the best, but it broadly illustrates the process –
My base colour of choice for most whites is Vallejo Paint’s “German Camouflage Beige” (821) in their Model Colour range – a decidedly earthy looking beige-grey. I should probably mention at this point that I usually paint on top of a white undercoat to try and get the best vibrancy out of my colours. After painting the faces (I always do faces first), I carefully block in all my main shade colours, so here – the figure on the left – I have painted in the base beige and the darker shade for the pink facing colours. (Normally I would not have painted much of the black at this stage, but I did here so as to help with the picture contrast). This first stage is in many ways the trickiest because you have to paint accurately – up to all the edges and colour boundaries. The next two highlighting stages are slightly easier because the idea is to leave some of the underlying colours showing around everything so, in effect, the zone you are painting for each highlight shrinks inwards a little away from the boundary edges, and your brush work does not have to be quite so precisely.
For the intermediate ‘mid-shade’ I turn to Vallejo’s Game Colour range and “Bonewhite” (34). The Game Colour paints have a thinner consistency from those of Vallejo’s Model Colour range – a near translucent, sometimes even blotchy covering (I think they are intended for the very subtle multi-layer colour building techniques favoured by the best fantasy miniatures painters), however this quality suits my purpose well. I don’t want to lose the murky base shade entirely so if the coverage is patchy, so much the better. I apply “Bonewhite” fairly liberally to all the appropriate areas, but carefully leaving a little of the darker base shade around all colour boundaries, straps, buttons, pocket flaps and so on – and also in the deeper creases in the ‘cloth’ of the uniform. The middle figure in the above picture shows the result of this.
The final phase simply involves adding white paint to the “Bonewhite” – but never so much that I get too close to pure white. I often do this in two goes: firstly a little white just to increase the opacity of the “Bonewhite” and then I paint in all the same bits I’ve just done with the mid-shade but leaving a hint of the original wishy-washy “Bonewhite” here and there, and then secondly I add more white for a final brighter highlight. This final highlight is reserved for particular parts of the figure I want to deliberately emphasise, such as white belts and straps, the more pronounced folds (ridges) in the uniform, and areas such as outer arms / elbows, the tops of shoulders, knees – anything that ‘sticks out’ really. The figure on the right gives a reasonable impression of the final effect, although if I’m being a bit self critical looking at the picture as I write this I think I was a bit heavy handed with my final highlight on that particular example! But hopefully you get the idea. The next stage is to highlight the pink and then get on with painting the rest of the figure.
I use this method for most of my whites on figures of this size (28mm) – across all historical periods. The whites parts on my blue uniformed French National Guard battalion were done the same way –
I like to paint my own flags. Some might think this a little masochistic as there is such a ready supply of very fine looking colour printed flags available commercially, and even for free from various generous souls around the internet. I admit I have my limits. When it comes to needing numerous Austrian Hapsburg double headed eagle flags, for example, I head off to the excellent offerings available from GMB Designs. But I am quite happy to tackle relatively straight forward geometric flag patterns with a paint brush. I was first tempted to have a go at this by Barry Hilton’s article in the ‘Warchest’ section of the League of Augsburg website (second PDF on the list).
The flags are painted on linen which I try to cut as square to the weave of the fabric as I can. For a neat result I think Barry recommends a very sharp knife and a steel ruler for this but I have been known to cheat and use a good quality pair of sharp dressmaker’s scissors (The Duchess hasn’t noticed me borrowing these yet…). Either way, I am not too bothered if I get a little fraying – it all adds character. When sizing the flag you need to allow a couple of extra millimetres for wrapping around the flag pole. For the pole you can try brass rod (soft, and easy to cut and grind) but in the event of an accident it bends too easily for my liking and you can never quite get it absolutely straight again. Like Barry, I use steel ‘piano wire’ (available from most good model shops in various grades) because I prefer its strength – but be warned – it is tough stuff to work with (so remember that when you start cursing me!) The ferrule point is created by flattening the tip of the wire with a hammer on a mini anvil (or the flat side of another hammer acting as an anvil) and then ground into shape using my trusty Dremel hobby tool (For goodness sake – wear safety glasses!) The flag is then glued to the pole using a contact adhesive like Bostick or UHU (don’t use Superglue – it makes the linen fibres brittle).
To paint the flag use exclusively acyclic paint as the process depends on the paint’s ‘plastic’ qualities and the application of heat. Start by undercoating the whole thing with a generous soaking of paint. I go for a base colour relevant to the majority colour on the finished flag – in this case white – so here I have once more opted for Vallejo “German Camouflage Beige”.
Once well and truly dry I set about marking on the basic design lightly in pencil. I sometimes find the drying undercoat pulls and distorts the linen a little (as it did here) so things go out of square. If this happens and things look odd, I slew the design a little to conform with the flag’s newly adopted shape. This can be fiddly but so long as your principal vertical and horizontal lines are parallel to their corresponding flag edges the illusion should be maintained. In this case I leaned the vertical arm of the main cross very slightly in towards the flag pole.
Now we start painting in earnest. A dark blue and a strong red-brown provide the base colours for the blue and red elements and a pale grey/buff-white goes over the beige base – but leaving thin lines of the latter to demarcate the white on white parts of the design. With the main base colours done (above – right) I then start painting on all the detail like motifs, numbers, and lettering. There is no short cut to this part – just a lot of patience and trail and error (and you have to repeat the process on both sides!) I make lots of mistakes, but always have the base colours handy on my palette so I can quickly ‘erase’ any errors and keep going. I usually ‘draw’ these details in a neutral colour like a pale, watery dark grey to begin with and once I’m happy I’ve got everything where I want it I then start to add some colour and contrast.
For lettering (which is often gold, or at least yellow, on many military flags) I first try to paint the word shape in a dark brown. Unless you are dealing with especially large lettering on a flag, I would not worry too much about making it all readable. I try, if I can (and on this particular flag the lettering is so small there was a limit as to how far I could go with the following procedure), to make the first letter legible, and then get the principal upward and downward letter stokes in something like the right place – the rest is then tiny hieroglyphics and squiggles! I then select a nice rich yellow or a bright pale yellow and very sparingly pick out elements of the brown squiggles to give a vague impression of the letters that are supposed to be there. I focus again (if the letter size allows it) on trying to highlight the shape of the first letter of each word (especially capitals), then I pick out some of the long verticals on ‘h’s, ‘b’s and ‘d’s in the same yellow, and things like the crossbars on ‘t’s, and the top curls on ‘f’s. I also dot the insides of ‘o’s, and some of the closed loops in ‘p’s, ‘b’s and ‘d’s. Do not try to do every letter. Sometimes just picking out a few prominent letters in the word shape is enough to trick the eye.
Now at this point I must apologise. I had intended to take a photograph of the still flat flag, with its dark base colours and the basic finer details painted on, prior to folding and highlighting – but I got so carried away I completely forgot to take the shot! I was some way into the folding and highlighting stage before I remembered (sorry!) Anyway, the next step is to fold the flag and for this you need a heat source like a radiator, column heater or even perhaps a hair dryer. The idea is to soften the acrylic paint you have permeated the linen with, but not melt it, so the heat source needs to be indirect. Once softened the flag can be quickly folded and eased into a natural looking wind blown shape. Rolling the heated flag around a paint brush handle can create good rounded folds for example. Then, maintaining the shape while the flag cools, (simply blowing on it can help), should lock in the new shape. I do find this process a little hit or miss depending on the heat source and things like ambient temperature, and sometimes several goes are required to get the desired shape to stay put without the flag slowly flattening out again, but perseverance usually pays off. Incidentally, if you are unhappy with the way the design painting has gone so far you can always scrunch up the flag really tightly to hide some of the failings!
Once the folding is complete it’s back to painting. The aim now is to progressively highlight the ridges of the fabric folds you have just created – while leaving the base shade colours in the bottom of the fabric ‘valleys’. I selected an off-white, a strong red and a mid blue and began blocking out almost all their associated shade colours – working down each raised fabric fold and across the ‘flatter’ areas of the flag, but leaving the shade colours uncovered in the bottom of the deeper fabric folds. The flag on the left above has reached this first highlight stage. As I continue to increase the highlighting (described below) this first highlight colour becomes the darker shade colour for the bottom of any less pronounced folds in the flag’s fabric. Now is a good point to finish the detailing, such as the green leaves of the central wreath which started life in mid-green and are finished with a spot of quite vivid bright green to bring them to life.
I now highlight the ridges again and again, and sometimes again, using a brighter shade with each ‘step up’ and each time painting a slightly smaller area to leave a band of the previous shade showing. The final highlight will be little more than a narrow band running along the crest of each fabric ridge – a bright blue; an orange scarlet; and white respectively. (As flags were prized and cared for I am not looking for quite the same grubby look to the white as I was on the uniforms of the figures, so here I am quite prepared to have a final highlight very close to pure white). The end result is shown above, on the right. There are certainly much better flag painters around than me, but I think it works reasonably well. Finally I give the flag a thin coat of matt varnish to protect it and to help stiffen the fabric a little more. It is then glued into the hands of its bearer and I paint the flag staff last of all. You can add further decoration like streamers and tassels to the top of the flag pole, but I have not had the courage to attempt that yet.
I hope that all made some sense, in spite of my disjointed photographic record of the process!
Until next time – Salutations!