After a hiatus of some eight months – the Duke is back!
His Grace has asked me to pass on his apologises for his enforced absence while he has been “distracted by sensitive affairs of State” (usually his code for keeping a low profile due to tax reasons). For my own part, too much of the last twelve months or so have been blighted by the slings and arrows of ‘real life’ and by the end of last year my miniatures painting had ground to a complete halt. I have barely picked up a brush since then, but in recent times a degree of normality has returned (including new employment) and I have started to paint again. So it’s time to re-boot the Blog.
I’m breaking myself back in gradually (and you – gentle reader!) with a few small steps. Here is the first of them – a test run on four of Eureka Miniatures’ Austrian Dragoons for the Wars of the French Revolution, in advance of what will eventually be a larger unit of perhaps 12 or 16 figures.
It has been a long time since I last painted any 28mm cavalry figures and I had forgotten how fiddly they can be. Each figure comprises two separate pieces: horse and rider – with the saddle and most of the horse furniture incorporated into the rider half of the miniature. The techniques employed to paint the rider (my usual approach of white undercoat and acrylic paint) and the horse flesh (an oil paint ‘wash and wipe’ method) are very different and the latter is rather messy, which encourages painting the two halves of the figure separately before gluing everything together near the end.
The dilemma here is that while the horse can be simply attached by its base to a temporary handle for ease of painting, the rider (with no standing base of its own) is difficult to attach to anything. Holding the figure in your fingers while attempting to paint can make life difficult. Some figure painters use narrow, domed topped pegs as painting handles that are custom made to be temporarily glued snugly into the u-shaped ‘tunnel’ under the rider’s saddle cloth, but I have yet to develop a system I’m comfortable with.
Well, for now, I just decided to plunge in and get on with it! The horses were mounted on my usual painting pegs – no problems there (and more on the horse painting technique a little later), but for the riders I resolved to paint just the lower half of the figure and their horse furniture (saddle cloth etc) while carefully grasping the casting by the head. The intention was then to attach the half painted rider to the (by then) completed horse and then paint the rest of him (head, shoulders etc) in situ on his mount. For the most part this worked out OK, aside from some major issues with finger cramp! My principal concern was how much finger grease I was getting on to the top half of the rider figures while I was clutching them in my hot, sweaty paws. Acrylic paint does not like grease of any kind, and I don’t like wearing plastic/rubber gloves. So once I had the half painted riders mounted on their finished horses I took some time to carefully clean up the parts of the figure I’d been holding using a cotton bud dipped in isopropyl alcohol before undercoating with my usual thinned white enamel paint. Incidentally, the thinned enamel undercoat can spray around a bit if you are too enthusiastic with the brush, so I cut out some little newspaper ‘aprons’ to wrap-around and cover the painted horse and the rider’s lower extremities to shield them from any accidental splashes.
But enough of the tiresome logistics! What am I painting here? These are Austrian Dragoons roughly for the period 1792 – 1799, but principally they are meant to represent the 37th Cavalry Regiment, Coburg Dragoons, at the Battle of Neerwinden in 1793. Anyone who has ever dipped into the subject of Austrian cavalry during the Revolutionary and early Napoleonic Wars will know it is a near impenetrable mire of revised organisations, shifting regimental identities and changing uniform details – worthy of a entire Blog post in its own right to try and make sense of it all. For example, those readers more familiar with the sequential regimental numbering system of the later periods should note that prior to 1798 the Austrian army numbered its regiments without recourse to the type of cavalry regiment. Hence the army’s six Dragoon regiments in 1793 were not numbered 1 to 6 (as they were later), but 3, 9, 26, 37, 38 and 39! The 37th Cavalry Regiment would briefly become the 6th Light Dragoon Regiment in 1798, and then the 6th Dragoon Regiment in 1801. Other units had even more chequered progressions: the 9th Cavalry Regiment (Dragoons) was renumbered the 15th Light Dragoons in 1798 before changing to the 5th Dragoons in 1801. Confused? We are just scratching the surface here folks! It is sometimes easier to keep track of regiments by the names of their Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) and in the case of the 37th (6th) they remain the Coburg Dragoons throughout the period, but other regimental names switched with a change of Inhaber to add to the confusion.
It is also hard to be absolutely certain about the uniform facing colours. Depending on the source consulted the 37th Cavalry Regiment, Coburg Dragoons wore white uniforms with “Pompadour”, or perhaps “Ponceau” (sometimes called “Poppy Red”) coloured facings. The interpretation of these colours is problematic, but I have gone with Pompadour and based the shade on the research of Dave Hollins, Michael MacGillivray, and Terry Webb. Iannick Martin’s website “Clash of Empires” hosts Terry Webb’s and Dave Hollins’ interpretation of the colours here http://www.clashofempires.ca/austrianfacingcolors.htm (with useful Vallejo Paint match suggestions) and Michael MacGillivray’s interpretation of the various Austrian shades of red (again in conjunction with Dave Hollins) can be seen here at http://deepfriedhappymice.com/html/ref_sy_aus_colors_red.html. Pompadour appears to have been a distinctly magenta shade of red and I have painted accordingly. The rest of the uniform colours and equipment appearance are well established.
A few words on painting horses… As mentioned early I employ the enamel/oil paint based wash-and-wipe method I mentioned earlier. This popular horse painting technique is well known to many figure painters and has a long and noble tradition championed by current painting superstars like Kevin Dallimore and has origins stretching back to the late-great Peter Gilder and other godfathers of early 1970’s wargaming. In essence it involves first undercoating the horse in a selection of strong pigmented matt enamel paint colours (reds, browns and yellows to achieve most horse colours), and once this is thoroughly dry, the whole horse is then ‘stained’ with a generous coat of slightly thinned artist’s oil paint – Burnt Umber is a common choice. Then comes the clever bit. While the oil paint is still wet you take a soft rag and gently wipe off the oil paint from the horse’s extremities – leaving the oil paint where you want shade, such as lower legs and around the larger muscles. There is something about this method that nicely recreates the subtle changes of shade and sheen you see on real horse flesh. The key to it is selecting the right enamel undercoat base colours that show through the oil paint: these need to be strong – bright even – as the oil stain darkens and mutes everything down so much. Over the years of reading various magazine and internet articles on the technique it is interesting how various painters have independently gravitated towards much the same base colours. Humbrol “Red Brown” enamel (number 100) is a reoccurring choice for chestnut browns for example. A dark blue can work well for black horses (an old Peter Gilder recommendation I think). I could go into a lot more detail here, but I will save myself a lot of typing by simply recommending http://themetalmountain.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/painting-horses.html – with some good pictures – on the excellent Metal Mountain Blog by “olddorg”. I think his horses look great!
As an aside, this is the first time I have used Windsor & Newton “Galeria” Matt Varnish (as recommended by various painters around the internet, such as Barry Hilton) for finishing and protecting the figures – and I’m pleased with the results. Varnishing figures and the choice of varnish is a subject frequently debated adinfinitum across the miniatures forums and Blogs, to the point that it has become something of an in-joke. I have no wish to add to the great volumes written on the subject here, apart from to say that I have been pursuing an acrylic varnish solution in an attempt to avoid the dangers of age induced ‘yellowing’ that can affect traditional oil based / enamel varnishes (I have some old figures afflicted with this condition). The downside is that acrylic varnishes seldom dry absolutely matt. Well, I can report that Windsor & Newton “Galeria” Matt Varnish (not to be confused with their other acrylic artist varnishes) works very well: not totally matt, but not far off it. The key seems to be to use thin coats, don’t over-work it with the brush, and really let it dry (like a day or two) – it gets more matt as it hardens. Anyway, I intend to persevere with it.
And not forgetting the “Poor, Bloody Infantry”…
The Duke’s Austrian infantry regiment (1792-1798) will be very familiar to some readers as they have featured in a couple of Eureka Miniatures adverts in the distant past and I have hawked pictures of the first battalion around a few of the miniatures forums over the last couple of years. So a bit ‘old hat’, but they have not had an official introduction on World Crisis in Miniature and this is the first time I have photographed both battalions together – primarily because I only finally got around to finishing the basing on the second battalion a couple of months ago. (It must be 18 months at least since I painted the figures!)
Still not quite finished yet though, as they need someone to command them. The Duke likes his regiments to be led by mounted officers on separate bases, so I will be adding something suitable in the near future. I have decided I like the look of 32 figure battalions (arranged in two ranks) for 28mm figures. Some wargamers play with quite small infantry units (perhaps as little as 12 figures) which I sometimes find a bit visually unsatisfying, while other table top generals are well heeled enough – and have the space – to command much larger battalions of 48 or even 60 figures. I am blessed with a near-permanent gaming table set up, but at seven feet by five it is not the largest and 32 figures seems to be a good balance between the visual aesthetic I want and not having units that are so big I can only get a limited number of them on the table.
So hopefully that has got the Duke back into the swing of things and it will not be another eight months before World Crisis in Miniature returns. And to keep things ticking along I intend to follow this post up with a few more regular, shorter updates on a variety of things I’ll be working on in the coming weeks. The Coburg Dragoons will need expanding and more French infantry are required, but it’s also about time that I properly introduced everyone to the Duke’s other passions – namely his plastic figure based 1/72 – 1/76 (20mm) World War Two project and his 1/3000 Great War dreadnought fleets.
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!