Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum – Painting Update

One of the things which always interests me is the way in which wargamers go about painting figures. Not just what they are painting, but how. I’m a great believer that you’re never too old to learn new methods, techniques and tricks-of-the-trade. 

For years (perhaps since 1981, when I started wargaming) I’ve been painting figures stuck onto a sliver of thick cardboard. It’s been tried and tested over hundreds and (I guess) probably thousands of figures. But I’ve never been happy with it. The cardboard worked so that the figure was at the end of the strip – fine when I was painting the front of the figure, but not as easy to paint (for a right handed person) when painting the figure’s back. Also painting underneath the figure was a pain – the cardboard always got in the way of just that place my brush needed to get to. But it was familiar, and it kind of worked, and for years I persevered.

Looking on a few blogs over the summer, I realised that people were painting figures stuck to all kinds of paint pots, bottles and nails. And then the penny finally dropped. There was an easier way to hold the figures while painting. 

I found a couple of old wooden curtain poles discarded in my garage, and cut then to 24 short lengths each about 3 inches long. I then mounted my latest battalion of Laarden militia on the ends of the shorten pole lengths, fixing each in place with a blob of PVA. And bingo – once the glue was dry, the figures were easy to hold while painting.

I know this must have a few of you smiling. Or thinking I’m nuts. Or just laughing in astonishment. “Oh wow…. He’s been doing this for over 30 years and he’s only figured that out now? Sheesh – what a numbskull!” I confess, I do feel that I’ve been a bit slow on getting with the plan on this, dear Readers! Yet it goes to show, in this great hobby of ours, there are so many things to learn from each other in the community, even when it’s something I should have learned years ago!

Of course, nothing is quite perfect in the world of wargames figure painting. I’ve found that the pole lengths are pretty unstable – they can knock over easily, a bit like skittles – but I have tried to help with this problem using a box lid to keep all of the pole lengths in and bunched together. That seems to work well. No doubt there are other more elaborate solutions such as drilling out a plywood/ MDF board to the diameter of the curtain poles.

However, the good news is that with this handy improvement in my painting method, I’ve been powering through the third regiment of Laarden’s finest militia this week. I’ve been helped immeasurably by Dave Docherty’s great suggestion of “paint and chat” sessions on Google+ in the Analogue Hobbies painting community. For anyone wanting to give this a go, it’s been a great innovation. Here’s the Google= Community LINK – simply click on the posted link for the Google Hangout, and set up your PC or portable device and off you go.

I find painting a solitary activity. Very relaxing, it’s true, but also the sort of thing that you can slip away from for a few minutes and loose the motivation. The “paint and chat” sessions help keep the painting focus – and also have allowed me to connect with great painters from the Challenge – big hellos to Dave, Edwin, Martin, Stefan, Ian and others!

One of the topics which came up last night in the chat was flags. What we use, which units have them, how we do them, what works best for what we’re painting? Just like maps, flags are something I adore. I confess that I’m currently troubled about the best way to do them. 

I have always painted my own, often when the flags have been glued and shaped onto the standard pole of the unit concerned. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with painting the flags while “flat”, as you can see from the work in progress shots below.

Looking at the lovely flags produced by GMB ,  Flags of War and Warfare Miniatures, as well as the many flags posted online by generous folk such as Ray, I’m wondering whether the day for me to start purchasing ready-printed flags might have arrived. 

For this currently unit of the Laarden militia on the painting table, I’m sticking with my paintbrushes and painted flags – but will this be the final Indian Summer for painted flags at Roundwood Towers. 

The end of an era, perhaps?

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum - Spanish Flanders, 1688

One of the things I love about wargaming is the freedom it gives us to create a wargame in a particular time and place. This summer, I’ve enjoyed painting 28mm figures from late 17th century Spanish Flanders.

As periods of military history stand, it’s not really high on your list of memorable historical moments. We are not talking about the Battle of the Bulge. Nor Rorke’s Drift, or Hastings, or Waterloo, or Gettysburg. The military world of Spanish Flanders in the late seventeenth century has long since passed in the shadows of history. I can barely even point you in the direction of a good book on the subject (but more on that in another post!)

It isn’t easy to reconstruct the intricate network of alliances, armies, bloodlines and fortifications which dominated the strategic existence of Spanish Flanders during the 1670s and 1680s. There are painfully few history books (in any language, and certainly not English) which deal with the conflicts of the War of Devolution, or the Dutch War of 1672. Things get easier to research for the Nine Years War, but the forty years or so between 1643 and 1688 are far from accessible.

Recreating the orders of battles of Spanish, Flemish and Walloon troops who fought over Flanders and Brabant for the Hapsburgs is therefore a rather thankless task. A snippet here, a cast-away remark there - usually in history books focused primarily on Louis XIV, or one of his remarkable marshals such as Turenne or the Great Condé - is just about as good as you get.

The leading Flemish, Spanish and Walloon soldiers of the time are known by name, but only just. The hundreds of men who served under the Hapsburg banners in those wars have long since followed the drum into the mists and heavy clay soil of Flanders, as forgotten as the names of their battles – Seneffe, Cassel, Valenciennes and Cambrai.

No doubt, somewhere in the dusty libraries of Bruges, Antwerp and Madrid the definitive military history of the Flemish aristocracy from the 1670s and 1680s awaits its greatest chronicler. But no one has stepped forward in over three hundred years, and my guess is that no one is likely to do so any century soon.

Of course, this is all a bit romantic and pessimistic, isn’t it? The culture and physical history of the 17th Century Flemish world is very much alive, and evident for anyone to see in the magnificent and cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, the jewel of the Spanish Netherlands.

And to my mind, the lack of accessible history can help a wargamer who enjoys being creative with history. One of the real pleasures of wargaming is taking what we can glimpse imperfectly in the past, and attempting to recreate that world in miniature on a wargames table. Like any recreation in miniature, it will not be perfect or definitive. And that’s part of the attraction. With few visible footsteps to follow, once you have discovered the few historical facts you can, the rest is down to your own intuition and insight. And, of course, the final result is influenced by your imagination, respectfully applied.

With this is mind, I’ve been painting up the regiments of a fictitious Flemish 17th Century town this year. I’ve called it Laarden, but I could have called it Antwerp or Ghent. 

I’d have had no greater idea what the colour of the Antwerp or Ghent civic militias' uniforms were, or what was depicted on their standards. For me, it’s been fun finding out what I could about the real world of 1670s and 1680s Flanders, and then filling in the gaps.  I don’t quite know what you call that. Not quite “imagi-nations”, beloved of so many great wargamers from the past and present. Not quite pure history, either; I freely confess a lot is made up.  What I'm aiming for is to recreate something which appears and “feels” real. Verisimilitude, if you like – something which looks real, or could plausibly be real.

So, as some of you might remember, here are some of the pike blocks of the Laarden civic militia, being memorialised in the oil and canvas by one of the city’s famous painters.

Here’s one of the town landmarks, a fine sculpture of a Satyr, perhaps close to one the city’s bathing houses or less reputable taverns ... 

... a collection of townsfolk administer refreshments to the assembling troops … 

… while a local cavalier makes a marriage proposal before leaving for the war …

… soon to be joined by another pike-block of civic militia and some engineers.

You might have seen these before.  I posted them in Curt’s Annual Painting Challenge last winter.  This summer I’ve been making plans to add to the Laarden contingent with some more organised companies of musketeers, with regiments of Horse to follow. I’ve been enjoying building up these forces a great deal and, who knows, there may even be some terrain boards they can march over in the next few months. 

One thing I would certainly like to offer here on the Blog, and which hopefully dovetails with my 2mm Thirty Years War project, is some thoughts on recreating campaigns in Northern Europe in the late seventeenth century on the wargames table. I’m aware this is a (horrifically) narrow topic, but over the years I’ve struggled to find a useful guide on the subject.  Perhaps the various bits and pieces of information about late seventeenth century campaigning I've collected through the years in my notebook might be helpful to someone somewhere! So, hopefully, I can offer you all that over the new few months and into the Autumn.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Roundwood Recommends - Number 6: Holiday Painting

Like everyone I know in the hobby, I really struggle to maintain a consistent painting schedule. Work, family, travelling, doing stuff around the house and garden … everything seems to get neatly coordinated to prevent me sitting in front a table a picking up a paintbrush until 11pm at night. Yes, I know that you know that feeling.

One of the best things about holidays is taking a paintbrush and some paints and figures. Tricky, but not impossible, if flying, but certainly possible if you’re heading anywhere by car. Part of the trick is getting prepared in advance.

I picked up a sturdy deep box from Paperchase, and kitted it out with an off-cut of blue Styrofoam to hold the Vallejo paints downwards with. I blu-tacked the brushes to the lid of the box and added a few other bits and pieces like a palette and brush cleaner. 

A while back I’d picked up a Foldi Daylight lamp which gives out a great daylight LED light to paint with and is powered by AA batteries (and cost about £60). OK, not cheap, but a pretty good investment if you’re painting on the go a lot. A long time back I’d also picked up a magnifying glass which you can dismantle and fold away and can be easily packed away in the painting box.

I fitted a handful of 28mm figures into a separate box – more late 17th Century militia – and I’m all set. I’ve no idea how many I’ll get through, but I’ll let you know!

When I can’t manage to carry paints – such as on an overnight business trip – I try and carry a notebook, some pens and pencils. I’ve loved making and drawing maps for years. Some of them historical, some not. I like dreaming up scenarios, battles and campaigns – some of them even get played! Just as with a blog, I write down the games we’ve played, the ideas that come to you at odd times of the day, and the plans that just about every wargamer enjoys making. Notebooks are a great way to stay in touch with the hobby, even if you have zero time. 

Just five minutes colouring in a map takes you to a 17th Century Italian valley, the Free City of Bravos, the Acheron IV meteor cluster – or wherever, or whatever, you enjoy.

They’re fun to look back through. Not as polished as a computerised map. A lot less printable. But a lot more personal. 

Holiday painting. Very strongly recommended, whichever world you’re visiting this summer.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Painting tips for 2mm figures and armies

I’ve briefly covered painting 2mm figures in a previous blog post. Although I don’t want to go over old ground, I thought it was worthwhile giving a couple of additional thoughts now that I’ve finished both the Imperial and the Swedish 2mm armies for the Lützen game three weeks back, and have now started on a smaller pair of French and Spanish armies for the 1630s Italian campaign around Mantua (more of that in a later blog post).

I’ve set out these thoughts in seven handy sections, below:


(1) 2mm painting is MASS painting
In painting both the Imperial and Swedish armies for the Lützen game, I approached the project en masse. I cleaned the figures together. I based them in one setting. I undercoated each army in a single setting. I base-coated and painted the groundwork in one go. Here are some images, this time from my 2mm Swedish army, of doing things an “army-level”. 

Put simply, doing each stage in one go made me “feel” I was getting somewhere. I might be only painting 50 bases, but (I would think), “that’s the Imperial army based”, or the Swedish Army’s groundwork “done”.

Of course, this manner of thinking is a bit of a cheat – it’s no more laudable to do a whole army than a single figure. But , after years of building 25mm/28mm forces, it was a good feeling to be painting a whole army and visibly getting somewhere.

(2) Bring the Army to life
2mm figures are tiny. (“Tell me something I don’t know, Sidney!”). OK, let me put it another way …

With 2mm figures, you have to do more than just paint the figures. A beautiful paint job isn’t really possible. The figures are too small for that. You need to be thinking of a collection of units, and of those units existing in a world they inhabit. You’re trying to bring that army to life, and recreate the army in the field.

That’s why I think it is worth bothering with standards and flags and pennants. 

And that’s why it’s worth spending time on the figure bases.

(3) 2mm basing – a neutral frame
You’re going to have to exaggerate colour in the 2mm figure and figure blocks. Your bases can help with this. I’m not talking about having a flat, empty base without groundwork. Far from it. The approach I took was to try for as neutral as possible a basing technique. This would frame the figures on a neutral coloured base, with minimal scatter. 

With this in mind, I PVA-glued the figures to 2mm depth MDF bases from Warbases in the UK. I then created a mixture of 50% polyfilla and 50% PVA in a porridge like mix and painted than on the bases to give a little texture to each base and conceal the metal bases of the figure blocks. I think the addition of Polyfilla helps “set” the figure blocks on the base better – they look like they are part of the base, not just standing on it. I added fine gravel and sand before PVA/Polyfilla mixture was dry. The gravel just gives enough texture to create an irregular surface, and help dry brushing. 

I also added some foliage on the bases for the baggage trains, t try and create the impression that the Provost-Marshal has halted the waggons by the shade of a well-placed copse.  Woods and trees are easy enough to recreate in 2mm, simply being the addition of clump foliage, "painted" with white PVA for strength.  The white PVA dries completely clear, leaving the foliage rigid and perfect for dry-brushing.

(4) Go for a matt black undercoat and a matt black base-coat.

I undercoated all of the figures and the bases with black Humbrol enamel. Drying time was speeded up by placing the figure bases on a tin tray in the cupboard where our hot water tank lives – something we call the “airing cupboard in the UK.

I then painted each base with a base colour of Vallejo Neutral Grey, and then dry brushed progressively through a light grey and near white. (I tried experimenting with a tiny amount of French Mirage Blue in the Neutral Grey, but it didn’t look right). I felt that the monochrome, neutral palette for the figure bases worked well enough on its own.

The next stage was to base-coat paint all of the figures in Vallejo Black. Why on earth would I do that? Didn’t I just undercoat the figures in black enamel? Correct, but the undercoat is just a “key” for the paint – and the Vallejo Matt Black base-coat is (for me) an essential stage in getting the later painting “right” . Give it a try, perhaps, on a few figures if not a whole army.

(5) Figure Painting – give “two colour” painting a try

Then you’ve arrived at the figure painting itself. This part is quite fun, and surprised me how much I could get done. I did find a good magnifying glass invaluable (I’ve blogged about it HERE), and I had lots of good light – natural and artificial. Once you have those, you need a reasonably steady hand and a small brush. I used a size “1” for the figure block horses, bodies and hats, and I used a size “0” for the figure block faces, highlights, pikes and standards.

Most of the horses were painted using two colours – a base colour and a highlight. I also used that same combination – base colour and highlight – for the individual soldiers in the figure blocks for their torso/trousers, hats, metallics and standards. 

You might think that using two shades of paint for 2mm blocks is excessive. I think that’s a fair comment, but looking at the figures, I did feel that the blocks looked more animated and vivid when there was a greater variety of paint colours on each block. As ever, I used Pieter Snayers’ paintings as a guide. Have a look at his incredible painting of the Siege of Preswitz – his cavalry blocks are a mixture of complementary colours, and the painting is not flat and slab like. They’re impressionistic, giving a feel of movement and variety. That was what I was trying to aim for.

I probably spent more time on horses than riders, as a general rule. The Irregular horses are one of the strengths of 2mm sculpts – well moulded and easy to paint. I also tried to vary the Imperial coat colours in a variety of natural tones (browns, beige/ buff, dark reds) to a greater extent than the Swedish regiments. 

(6) Time your painting

I also found the following timings useful in planning painting sessions:
  • painting a squadron of cavalry (about 20-30 cavalry figures): 15-20 minutes. Armoured Reiters were quicker than Swedish Horse in buff coats.
  • painting a regiment of foot (4 figure blocks, often with a small unit of commanded shot): 30 minutes
  • painting a detachment of commanded shot (2 small units on a 30mm x 30mm base): 5 to 8 minutes. In other words, very quick. (I did 8 of the Swedish commanded shot units in one hour, and I’m not a quick painter.)
  • Spanish/ Imperial Tercio of foot (4 central units of pike and between 4 to 6 commanded shot mangas, of varying size): about one hour for the whole Tercio. (Purists will immediately know that there were no “classic” Tercios at Lützen. Quite true. I fielded several Tercios with very deep ranks on the Imperial side, but gave the Imperial player the option of recruiting allied forces, some of which I reasoned would have marched to German along The Spanish Road (as happened before Nordlingen in 1634). Only a harsh umpire would have denied the Imperial player the chance to must such forces in a classic Tercio formation on the field). 
  • artillery and baggage (4 guns and wagons for the artillery; between 6 and 10 wagons and tents for the baggage): about 20 minutes for each base. The wagons are very easy to paint.
Hopefully, from this list of timings, you can see that you can start to amass attractive armies in a short time. If, like me, you like to feel you’re getting somewhere with painting, 2mm figures are rewarding.  Just half an hour can see you finish a couple of regiments of Reiters or Horse. In a couple of hours, you could easily crank through a brigade of foot. I felt I was making progress before getting stale.

(7)  Varnish, but don’t get stressed about it

I varnished the figures with an artist’s matt varnish, but I doubt I needed too. 2mm figures are very resilient. They don’t seem to “paint-chip” or flake when playing. And they are too small to pick up – players instinctively pick up the bases. The varnish is to seal the paint and give some protection, but it does not seem as essential as with larger scale figures.


Hopefully all that helps. The next post will be on making 2mm terrain, after which, I’ll move on to rules and scenarios. Hope you can join me for those.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Thirty Years War in 2mm - Update

One of the things about taking on board a new hobby project is that it takes on a life it its own. Especially if you have a deadline. And things (like this blog for example) get forgotten - at least for a short while. Can it really be late March since I last posted here?

Although I promised to keep you all updated on the progress of my 2mm Thirty Years War project, actually undertaking the project has taken a great deal of my available hobby time over the last couple of months. The weeks since the end of March have been a whirlwind of figure and block basing, painting, terrain making and rule designing. Oh, and of course actually putting on the game and playing it.

But, I’m pleased to report that I got there. I took the Lützen 1632 game over to Evesham for the Operation Marker Larden get-together last Saturday (4th June). Now that the dust has settled, it's time to blog more about where the 2mm project has headed to, and where it might be going in the future.

Before I start, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who's helped so far. You know who you are, but particularly to Curt, Mark, Simon, Paul, Ed, Kieran, Nick and Rich. Thanks guys!


Where I left things in March was the bare-bones of an idea of staging one of the iconic battles of the Thirty Years War in 2mm scale. I blogged about the idea HERE, but as a reminder I had the focus of trying to recreate the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield as contemporaries had painted, or engraved, it. Over the past two months, filled with painting, modelling and terrain-building, I have tried to keep that aim in mind in creating the Lützen 1632 game.

Alongside this aim has been the intention to try and create a wargame which was focused on re-creating iconic battles in a modern (2016), manageable, compressed time period. I remember the 1980s, when every game took about four or five hours to fight to a conclusion. I want to try and avoid that, fitting in the 2mm battles in a period of at most three hours, from deployment to conclusion. This is going to take some play-testing and experimenting – the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend was a little way off that timing aim, but its early days yet.

Although the figures and terrain are finished, at least for the Lützen 1632 game, the next challenge is the rules themselves. Curt Campbell (from Analogue Hobbies) and myself have been working on a 2mm set of rules for the Thirty Years War (which should be eminently suitable for extension to the English Civil War), of which more in a later blog post. There is a lot of work to be done, although I hope we’re heading in the right direction. The intention is to make the rules emphasise the themes we’re looking for: grand tactical iconic battles, famous commanders, and a definite 17th Century “feel”. As far as possible, we’re hoping that the rule mechanics support and reinforce these themes.

In the next blog posts, I'll be looking at the things I've learned from creating and delivering the Thirty Years War 2mm project from scratch. I’ll be blogging about basing and painting 2mm armies, and the colour schemes I’ve used. I’ll cover terrain making for 2mm battles. I’m also hoping to blog about the rules we are writing, and how play-testing is going, including a look at the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend. 

Its been a busy couple of months, but it’s going to be fun coming back to blog about what’s been happening. I hope you all can forgive my absence, and join me for what’s coming soon.

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