Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Grey and interesting

Posted by Martin on October 2, 2011

Calpe eagle guard work-in-progress.

Calpe eagle guard work-in-progress.

A picture paints a thousand words. And, in the case of the picture on the right, this is certainly true. Those words cover three topics: first, yes, it’s a figure from the the new(ish) Calpe “Route March” French infantry regimental command pack; second, it shows the state of my current experiment with switching from black primer to grey; lastly, there’s a whole lot of uniformology going on with this little chap. Let’s try to take things in that order then…

What you see here is one of the two eagle guard figures from Pack F10. I’ve previously shown photos of greens of two of the other figures in this pack (drummer, officer and sappeur) and at that time I mentioned that it was a six figure pack. The remainder comprises this eagle guard, another eagle guard in a different pose and an eagle bearer carrying an eagle wrapped up in an oilskin cover to protect it form the elements while on the march. You can see from this picture that the pennant on eagle guard’s halberd is similarly covered. Other points to note include the covered shako, buttoned back greatcoat and the bucket holding two pistols. This particular eagle guard is drawn from a fusilier company (more of that below) while the other one in the pack is from the grenadier company.

Until recently, I’ve always followed the black primer school of painting and it’s served me well. It was especially useful when I first returned to figure painting and was very rusty because it meant that I didn’t have to worry about missing bits in those hard to reach recesses. But now that I flatter myself that I’m a much improved painter, I’ve started to worry about the limitations of black primer: it impacts coverage/brightness for lighter colours (in particular my personal bete noir, white); it actually makes it hard to achieve depth with dark colours for some reason; and there are times when a black primer actually makes it tough to see details of the figure clearly enough to paint them because you can’t see the shadows that provide definition.

I’m not keen on going to the opposite extreme of a white primer but, for a long time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of a grey primer. This figure marks my first experiment with this approach and it’s a case of so far so good.

While the actual application of paint for this figure over the grey primer has been a pleasant experience, the research to get the uniformology accurate has caused me some headaches. As ever, English language sources have proved inaccurate or, to be more precise, incomplete and ambiguous. For example, take the simple matter of how eagle guards were selected. Lots of English references blithely state that they were the regiment’s senior NCOs. But what does that mean? It was only by going to French sources, courtesy of Peter F. and Paul Meganck, that I was able to get some clarity on the matter. It turns out that the NCOs of the regiment would elect two from their own ranks for these prestigious roles.

That means that the eagle guards could come from any company – fusilier, grenadier or voltigeur – which goes some way to explaining some of the lentille/pompom variants I’ve seen in illustrations in English language books. This lentille/pompom business caused me problems because, on the basis of my early research using English sources, I’d errantly assumed that the whole eagle party was part of the regimental command and thus the lentilles/pompoms of the eagle guards should be white and that’s how I initially painted it on this figure. My subsequent French sources put me right on that: the eagle guards typically retained their company distinctions, so I opted to give this chap a green lentille. The two reasons for doing this were that I wanted to have a nice contrast with with canvas shako colour I’d already painted and I wanted to try out a particular triad of green paints (when I finish a few of the command figures, I’ll produce a little painting guide to the paints I used).

Another area that caused me to scratch my head was the insignia on the sleeves of the figure. Here Peter has sculpted what look like rank insignia and long service chevrons but this is a miniature minefield for the unwary! The bars on the forearms are indeed conventional rank markings but watch out for those chevrons on the upper left arm – they aren’t the typical red long-service chevrons. Oh no! I was in for another bout of repainting when I examined French sources. To be specific, Rigo (Le Plumet) Plate 116 which covers the eagle party of the 46th line regiment. Here I learned that a decree of 25th December 1811 ordered the wearing of four gold chevrons on the right sleeve and the two gold stripes of the rank of sergeant major. Rigo, however, as befits such a note expert, acknowledges that things weren’t always so clear cut and mentions a plate in the Hamburg Collection that shows an eagle guard wearing three gold chevrons on each arm! Notice how Peter F. has sculpted these chevrons on the left sleeve, just for even more confusion, because many sources show them there rather than in the regulation position on the right. And don’t get me started on the correct colouring for the epaulettes…

Still, the rest of the figure is fairly conventional and campaign dress gives me some welcome latitude on colour choices for shako covers, greatcoats and trousers. And, as if that isn’t enough, I can confirm that Pack F11 will be a head variant version of the F10 regimental command pack including figures with bicornes, uncovered shakos and so on.


5 Responses to “Grey and interesting”

  1. A nice post Martin … not that they aren’t normally!! 8O)

    The uniformology bit was very interesting and useful. No doubt it preempts many questions that would have arisen when I finally paint some of my own eagle guards.

    As a matter of interest, if the eagle guard was sourced from a voltigeur company would he still wear red epaulettes? Any idea? Six of one, half a dozen of the other?!

    Also interesting to hear about pack F11. Any more snippets?

    von Peter himself

  2. Burkhard said

    Very nice! Those should make for fine additions to any french army.

    Regarding the grey primer. I have been using that for ages. I switched from a white primer. Always used white, since I felt it brought out the colours.

    The grey I use is a lighter colour then yours though. I use an industrial primer these days… About a third of tze price of normal primer and gives a thougher base coat.

  3. kris said

    I have been using white primer since I started painting again just over a year ago but found it hard not to miss some of the recesses though did like how lot of the brighter colours game out.

    I was only painting some blood bowl teams and recently took the leap and bought some wargaming figures.

    As I was starting to paint some WW2 minis I thought I’d switch to black as I thought it would suit the military colours and have enjoyed not having to worry about getting paint in every single recess. I am looking to start painting my first ever Napoleonic miniatures soon (I picked up a battalion from Calpe a couple of months ago) and was considering switching back to white because I also found it hard to see some of the detail when undercoating with black which is more of a consideration for Naps than WW2 and also think the brighter colours would suit the white primer. It looks like grey could be the best compromise!.

  4. Robert said

    I went the other direction. After years and years of using white and grey primer, for my Napoleonics I have finally settled on a very light spray of grey primer as a key, followed by a brushed-on undercoat of black.

    For bright colours such as yellow, or red, I usually apply a thin basecoat of white or red-brown, and have had no problem with those colours coming out too dark.

    The black undercoat does obscure some detail when painting, but I find myself thinking that if I cannot see these details when I’m holding the miniature right in from of my nose, what chance of seeing it when it is painted and based with its other 35 comrades and sitting on the tabletop (as opposed to a close up shot for a blog posting)?

    I have to be honest with myself; I have close to five hundred miniatures I want to get painted while I still have the eyesight to see them. And on top of this I fully intend getting a few battalions worth of Peter’s wonderful French for myself as a Christmas pressie!

    If I insist on painting every little detail on each figure, at the speed it would take me I would be looking at getting them all finished in, say, 2075 if all goes well. So for me, I need to compromise somewhere, or the whole issue of how best to paint wargaming figures is an academic one, with boxes and boxes of miniatures destined to be unpainted till the inevitable day I shuffle off this mortal coil.

    Up until recently I’ve always belonged to the camp that says if the detail is there, it should be painted. But while it’s all well and good me thinking that I want every single miniature to be an individual work of art, I also want to game with the damn things! Using a black undercoat means going some small way towards achieving this, and any time saved also means more time to work on a terrain layout that will do the finished miniatures justice.

  5. Very interesting post! Thanks for that gem of information regarding the French colour party – I’ve always wondered if they did something like ‘electing’ the NCOs for the honour and know I know!

    I am a firmly in the black priming camp, but how I work around the issues of colour depth and effectively using brighter shades is that I drybrush all of my black-primed figures with a mid-grey tone. This way all of the recesses and hard-to-hit areas are still black, but raised areas have a base of grey for playing with bright colours and more nuanced shading. It works quite well and as a bonus when you drybrush the grey over the black it picks out all the detail in high-contrast for you to work on.



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