Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Archive for the ‘Conversions’ Category

Mould-making and sculpting masterclass

Posted by Martin on November 16, 2009

Peter F's von Rechten battalion

Peter F's von Rechten battalion

I spent most of this last weekend at Calpe Towers as Peter F’s guest. It was the long-planned opportunity for me to learn the basics of mould making and pick up some sculpting tips in readiness for my forthcoming venture into Frankenstien monster-like conversions of some Calpe Saxons. We covered so much ground that it’s hsrd to know where to start. So let’s just dive in.

On the Saturday, Peter demonstrated the art of mould making. The creation of a successful mould is indeed an art. Anybody can make a mould but it takes considerable skill and thought to make a mould that captures all the detail of the master figures and can survive repeated use without degradation or damage. I’ve learnt that the orientation of the figures in the mould, the way they’re sculpted in first place, the type of rubber, temperature, pressure and the duration of “cooking” time all make a contribution to the quality of the result. Even how you pre-warm the rubber beforehand makes a difference.

On top of all that, you need a bit of physics knowledge to understand how the forces affect the flow of molten metal into the mould while its in the spin casting machine. Plus, you need to bear in mind that the air displaced from the mould cavities by the metal needs somewhere to go otherwise you end up with trapped air bubbles. Hence the need to cut and drill vent holes in the mould after its been made.

While waiting for the mould to “cook” we started on my sculpting tutorial. Rather than actually embarrass myself, I was content to watch Peter work and listen to him as he described the tools and techniques he uses. He also took the time to explain how he designs figures carefully with minimum risk of gaps and unsupported parts that would result in easily torn rubber in the moulds. Peter also showed me the ingredients and proportions he uses for his mixture of sculpting putty and I ended up mixing up several batches as work progressed on several figures over the weekend. Mostly we focussed on an NCO for the new set of Saxon line grenadiers but we also did some work on some greatcoat wearing figures that will emerge in an exciting release some time next year (once some minor problems with production mould quality have been resolved).

In particular I learnt how to get a smooth surface finish on putty, add fine details of various sorts, add buttons, make shoulder swallows for musicians, create wire armatures for limbs and bulk them out with putty, create folds in clothing and make blanket rolls worn bandolier style. Phew, what a lot to absorb! Now I’ve got to go away and practice. If I do a good enough job, Peter’s offered to make up a mould so that I can cast off a few of my own diabolical creations. No pressure there then 🙂

The other job we managed to get done was a short photography session (you can see a glimpse of the output above) and hopefully some of the other shots will be of good enough quality to be used by Dan with my Wargames Illustrated Prussian article. If so, I hope that the article will appear in the next issue.

Posted in Calpe Towers, Conversions, Forward Patrol | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

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?

Posted in Conversions, On the Workbench, Saxon Musketeers | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »