Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Gilding the lily

Posted by Martin on September 4, 2009

Customized figure with bandage close-up.

Customized figure with bandage close-up.

Here’s a quiet little heresy: even the new Calpe Saxon musketeers with their 50+ different individual figure poses leave me with a hankering for more variety. Alright, they do provide (more than) enough variety but everybody else can have that variety too. I’m after something unique, individual, special…

So I’ve decided to customize some of the figures – Peter F. won’t mind because that’s how he started out on the slippery slope to full-blown figure sculpting. I’ve chosen the word customizing with care because that’s what I see myself as doing rather than converting. All I intend to do is add a few touches here and there that give me distinctive figures or, more precisely, a unit of figures that’ll have a distinctive appearance. And to get the ball rolling, I’ve started with an experimental figure that I intend to use for a very special purpose (which will remain secret for the next few weeks).

If you want to play along at home, there are a few things you’ll need:

  • Extreme patience and an excellent sense of humour because modelling putty has a mind of its own!
  • A figure to butcher. I chose a Calpe Saxon musketeer officer from Pack SM9.
  • Various implements for cutting, pushing and generally bending putty to your will. So far I’ve used a scalpel, cocktail sticks and pins plus a pencil as a rolling pin.
  • A little pot of water to keep your implements wet so that they don’t stick to the putty.
  • Talc which came in hand when I was trying to roll out flat sheets of putty without the pencil sticking to them.
  • A flat surface. I used a cutting matt.
  • A paintbrush. Any old brush will serve so don’t use your best Winsor and Newtons, Da Vincis or Raphaels for this. It’s for positioning bits of putty accurately and brushing it with water to achieve a smooth finish.
  • Good lighting. As good as you use for painting.
  • Last, and by no means least, putty. More of which in a moment.

Next, a disclaimer: I’m a novice sculptor so anything I say here is based on my very limited experience and numerous cock-ups. But hopefully, my schoolboy errors and how I’m learning to cope with them might prove entertaining if not instructive. Peter F. has offered to give me some guidance and encouraged me to give it a go so I thought I’d get stuck in and then have something concrete to take back to the master for critique.

The one really good piece of advice Peter F. did give me was about putty. I’ve messed about with Kneadatite Duro “green stuff” before – mostly as a sort of epoxy adhesive / filler when I’ve drilled and pinned arms and heads on to figures. I learnt from this that I find it awkward stuff to work with. It’s a bit too stiff for my tastes though other people seem to get on with with perfectly well. When I asked Peter F. about this, he let me in on the secret that a lot of sculptors mix different sorts of putty together to get something with a consistency that suits their individual style.

The clues are there when you look at Peter’s greens and compare them with those sculpted by the Perrys. Theirs are a dark green – the colour of pure green stuff; while Peter F.’s are a lighter pea green (for want of a better description). The reason is that Peter F. mixes green stuff with white Sylmasta A+B putty. Both green stuff and A+B are two-part epoxy puttys so if you have sensitive skin you ought to take the precaution of wearing latex gloves when working with them and don’t put the putty in your mouth. I’m not sure of the ratios Peter F. uses for his recipe or how he actually mixed them together but here’s what I did.

First, I rolled out four equal sized small balls of the component parts of the puttys – one of each of the materials, if you see what I mean. Then I thoroughly mixed up the two parts of the green stuff; followed by doing the same for the two parts of the A+B. Lastly I rolled the two piece of putty into sausages, twisted them together and kneaded throughly until I had an even-coloured green mixture. This 50-50 mix was much easier for me to work with and reminded me of the plasticine that I used to play with when I was a nipper.

Once I’d done that, I set about making some embellishments to the figure. I started gently by adding a rectangular repair patch to the shako cover; then I got a bit braver and added piping to the outside seams of the trousers and finally I decided to attempt to add a bandage around the figure’s left knee. I thought that this last challenge was going to be the toughest because I’d struggled to get the piping just right. However, the bandage worked out best of the three. I think that’s partly because I learnt quickly through practice and got the hang of working the material. Also, when it came to the bandage, I realized that I needed a planned approach and made it in four separate stages: the main bandage, a ball for the knot and two “ears” hanging down as the ends of the bandage.

I’m actually rather pleased with this first attempt and I’m certainly motivated to try some more. So my imagination has already turned to other sorts of customization I might attempt: bandages over one eye, rolled up trouser legs, ripped trouser bottoms, various repair patches, neckerchiefs… What sorts of things can you think of?

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6 Responses to “Gilding the lily”

  1. Rob said

    Very interesting article and one that I look forward to continuing (although I will admit to being disappointed initially as when I saw the figure as the page loaded I thought that is was an announcement of the Calpe Grenadiers 🙂

    One request, is there any hope of the gallery being updated soon? The 4 landwehr are rather lonely looking over there.

    Rob

  2. And I can confirm that Martin has done a good job on these adaptations having seen them in the flesh … errr, metal … ummm, modelling putty!

    Perhaps Martin has missed his calling? Kelly Bespoke Wargaming Miniature Modifications perhaps? Given time I’m sure we can help Martin out by coming up with a name that forms an interesting acronym.

    “Roll up, roll up, get yer personalised gaming figures here”

    8O)

    For now I’ll be happy just to get some “out of the box” figures painted.

    Salute
    von Peter himself

  3. Gaz said

    Nicely done! Neat and you won’t see a ‘converted’ figure when it’s painted up. Good job.

    G.

  4. Robert said

    I’ve always used the Tamiya two-part modelling epoxy putty ribbon quite successfully.

    In the days before Front Rank released light infantry figures with colpacks, I added one to a French officer, along with the flamme and a plume swiped from a Russian grenadier. Similarly, I also used it to sculpt a cape for a general officer. I used a selection of sharpened toothpicks and a selection of needles, as well as an old wetted paintbrush, for the actual sculpting.

    I found it takes patience more than any innate skill, and that it helps to break a larger conversion/ addition into manageable stages. The biggest enemy has always been absentmindedly placing my big thumb on recently-added putty as I’m handling the miniature.

  5. de Burgo said

    Great advice! I have done a reasonable amount of customising, with one conversion to-date, and all of the above advice struck home. Thanks for that.

  6. Hussarbob said

    I love a conversion! I use good old Games Workshop greenstuff whenever I do attempt a bit of a go at destroying a perfectly good figure!

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