Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Coming out of hibernation

Posted by Martin on April 20, 2014

Newark Irregulars' incredible scenic  display game of the Battle of Keren.

Newark Irregulars’ incredible scenic display game of the Battle of Keren.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of hibernate in my little dictionary. It said: “to pass the winter in sleep or seclusion”. That seems about right!

Sometimes a winter isn’t just literal, in the sense of pertaining to only those months of the year when hours of daylight are in short supply. In my case, it was hours of free time for hobby activities that have been in extremely short supply since last September. It can all easily be summed up as real life getting in the way. Those of you with partners, children, other animals and full-time jobs will know precisely what I mean. In my case, this has been exasperated by the fact that my day job has involved a lengthy project working with a software development company based in Ukraine. I spent a week visiting and working with them back in October when all was quiet on the Eastern front. Needless to say that, since then, things have become somewhat more, er, interesting!

So what better way to herald hobby spring time than with the annual pilgrimage to our nation’s fair capital to attend Salute? The organisers have a happy knack of almost always scheduling sunny weather for the day, and last weekend was no exception as I enjoyed my front window view of the last stage of the journey from the comfort of a seat on the Docklands Light Railway.

My cursory reading of other reports about Salute 2014 are peppered with whining about the queue to get in. As a veteran of every Salute at the current venue, I have evolved a relaxing and yet simple tactic to cope with the queue: don’t join it! Instead, I joined a far shorter queue to buy a decent cup of coffee and a Danish pastry, parked my behind on a chair near the entrance to the exhibition hall and waited for all the fuss to die down. I did, I confess, succumb to timing how long it took for the queue to fully file it from the moment the doors opened promptly at 10am. And, yes, it was about 90 minutes before the last knockings. At that point, I gathered myself and dived into the throng. I don’t really understand why people subject themselves to the queue – everything was still there despite getting in a little late and the supposedly limited edition goody bags with the Salute 2014 figure were still in plentiful supply.

C-Day: Caesar's invasion of Britain by WSS Magazine and Simon Miller.

C-Day: Caesar’s invasion of Britain by WSS Magazine and Simon Miller.

And what of the show itself? Yes, I know people struggle with the atmosphere – though you can make your own really by getting involved and talking to people – but I appreciate the nice wide aisles where you don’t get reversed into by a certain sort of notorious backpack wielding gamer. For me, there were only two disappointments with the show itself (and a third but slightly different disappointment that’ll I’ll come to in due course). Number one, there was a distinct shortage of Napoleonic demo games. That’s not to say there weren’t any, just that you had to really work hard to find them and allow yourself a little flexibility with the definition. Number two, the painting competition left me cold this year. The inexorable drift away from historical figures to fantasy, sci-fi, horror and other genres continues apace and I didn’t feel the quality of previous years was there. Maybe more varied and better entries materialized in the display cases later in the day?

15mm armour on a rolling Russian landscape by Loughton Strike Force.

15mm armour on a rolling Russian landscape by Loughton Strike Force.

Instead of dwelling on a couple of minor gripes, let’s celebrate all that was good about this year’s Salute. And for me, more than any previous year, my overwhelming positive memory is the standard on the terrain on the demo games. Quite often one game per year will stand out in this regard but, this year, game after game drew my attention for their imaginative tables that broke away East Anglian flatness with the odd building or misshapen hill plonked on top. Honourable mentions to to chalk cliffs on WSS Magazine’s Roman invasion of Britain game, rolling steppes on Loughton Strike Force’s WWII Eastern Front Game and a wooded ridge on South London Warlord’s Carlist War game (more of that one later).

But the biscuit was taken and well and truly crumbled by a terrific layout for a WWII East African battle. I speak of Newark Irregulars’ amazing mountainous 1941 Battle of Keren which pitched Italians and their colonial allies against the forces of the Commonwealth. Not only was the terrain fantastic but I really enjoyed perusing the accompanying “making of” table which showed the group’s research and how the scenery was put together. I’ve always had a soft spot for WWII Italians in the African theatre. I think it’s something to do with that British empathy for the underdog plus the selection of unusual vehicles the Italians fielded in the desert. Don’t worry, though, my resolve to stick to one period has not been broken regardless of this inspiring display!

An artillery base from the South London Warlord's Carlist War game.

An artillery battery from the South London Warlord’s Carlist War game.

A second artillery base from the same game. Both show careful use of both Carlist and Napoleonic figure from the Perry ranges.

A second artillery battery from the same game. Both show careful use of both Carlist and Napoleonic figure from the Perry ranges.

Finding a genuine 28mm Napoleonic display was tough. Yes, there was a 1798 game set in Ireland – not quite right. And yes, there was a Battle of Albuera – but in 18mm, so still not quite right for me. So my vote had to go to the aforementioned South London Warlords Battle of Barbastro. I know, it’s a Carlist War battle and thus 20 years too late. But I was taken by the well-thought out modular terrain, especially a ridge that subtly dominated one side of the battlefield. And the quality of the figure painting and basing was superb and remarkably consistent. Of course, the vast majority of the figures were from the Perry Carlist War range but imaginative use had also been made of figures from the same manufacturer’s Napoleonic range.

In terms of new products, I didn’t find much to get excited about – but, then, I wasn’t really expecting to for my period. I think if you were into other periods, things like the Perrys’ plastic American War of Independence figures (with nice samples painted by Andrew Taylor on display) or the new Italeri 1/56th WWII plastic armour kits tie-in with Bolt Action/Warlord Games could easily prove tempting. I did find, however, some items of interest in the Warlord Games display cabinet: alongside their French infantry casualties pack (four figures for a tenner), there was a nice-looking group of skirmishing voltigeurs and a very energetic party of French engineers. These haven’t yet been released and I couldn’t inspect the figures that closely through the glass, so I’ll have to remember to check again at another show later in the year. I have my fingers crossed that these figures show a dramatic improvement of the woeful Prussian Landwehr they produced a couple of years back.

Through a glass darkly: these Warlord French engineers look full of energy but it was hard to validate the quality.

Through a glass darkly: these Warlord French engineers look full of energy but it was hard to validate the quality.

I’ve saved the third disappointment for last: it is traditional for Peter F. and I to meet up at Salute. Indeed, that had been the plan right up to the very last minute. However, the fates took control and Peter had to cry off so that he could deal with a marquee related emergency that was part of the preparations for his son’s 18th birthday party. An ironic example of real life getting in the way of hobby time yet again! So, the bad news is that I don’t have any insider updates from Calpe Towers at present. The good news is that it gives me the ideal excuse to pester Peter for an exclusive report on behalf of all you BfKers. So watch this pace, because I’m on the case!

In the coming weeks, I hope to offer you a variety of posting topics including finishing up some overdue items on the painting bench, a proper review of Vallejo’s acrylic surface primer (clue: I love it!), examination of a different approach to varnishing and my early adventures with airbrushing.


Posted in Clubs and Shows | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Paint-in #6: finishing the Marie Louise

Posted by Martin on September 1, 2013

All around views of the completed Marie Louise from the BfK 2012 Limited Edition set.

All around views of the completed Marie Louise from the BfK 2012 Limited Edition set.

It’s been a long time since the last posting in this paint-in series and rather than spread things thinly by discussing progress across all four figures, I’ve decided to use this posting to discuss the steps I took to complete the Marie Louse infantry figure in the set. The main reason for doing this is that, after a disrupted Summer, I felt in need of the morale boost of getting least one of the figures over the finishing line – painted, varnished, based – the works!

The last time I wrote a paint-in posting, this chap at least had his head, trousers and shoes completed. When I re-commenced work, the first thing that happened was that I decided I wasn’t completely satisfied with the work I’d previously done on the pokalem, so I did some reworking of the blues to make me happier and to get back into the swing of things. Then I moved on to the greatcoat which I decided to paint brown given the amount of grey and blue across the set as a whole. The basecoat was Vallejo German Camo Black Brown (VMC822), first highlight was Vallejo Flat Brown (VMC984) and the the second highlight was Andrea Medium Brown (NAC-46).

After than, it was on to a lot of details, many of which are unexciting so I’ll simply list the paints as follows:

  • White strapping and shako rosette: basecoat – Second Shade (Andrea White Set), first highlight – Base (Andrea White Set), second highlight – Vallejo White (VMC951). For these colours, two thin coats rather than one thicker coat will give a smoother finish.
  • Black for cartridge case and shako: basecoat – Vallejo Black (VMC950), first highlight – Vallejo Dark Grey (VMC994), second highlight – Vallejo Neutral Grey (VMC992), third highlight – Vallejo Light Grey (VMC990). Go sparingly with the final highlight.
  • Brown for the musket and potatoes (!): basecoat – Vallejo Burnt Umber (VMC941), first highlight – Vallejo Beige Brown (VMC875), second highlight – Vallejo Cork Brown (VMC843).
  • Canvas for sack and cloth wrapped round musket lock: basecoat – Vallejo Flat Earth (VMC983), first highlight – Vallejo Ochre Brown (VMC856), second highlight – Vallejo Yellow Ochre (VMC913), third highlight – Vallejo Buff (VMC976), fourth highlight – Vallejo Ivory (VMC918).
  • Brown for backpack and leather strap on water bottle: basecoat – Vallejo Burnt Umber (VMC941), first highlight – Vallejo Cavalry Brown (VMC982), second hightlight – Vallejo Red Leather (VMC818). The piping was done with Vallejo Ivory (VMC918).
  • Brass for shako plate, “N” on cartridge case and musket bands: Vallejo Gold (VMC996) with several pin washes of Vallejo German Camo Black Brown (VMC822). This is one of the rare occasions that I use washing as a technique and the key is the patience to go for multiple very thin washes rather than one or two more opaque ones.
  • Gunmeatal for musket: basecoat – Vallejo Dark Grey (VMC994), first highlight – Vallejo Natural Steel (VMC864).

All the above is pretty regulation stuff. The painting I want to devote some commentary to is the lentille pompom. You can choose different colours according to which fusilier company of a battalion you wish to represent – dark green for the first, sky blue for the second, aurore for the third and violet for the fourth. Normally the lentilles of the first battalion would be solid colour but it was common for those of the other battalions of the regiment to have white centres with the battalion number inscribed on them. For the purposes of the paint-in, I thought it would be instructive for me to tackle the notorious aurore colour because I have seen so many bizarre interpretations of this over the years. Of course, it’s impossible to be prescriptive about this (or any other historical colour) but I took my cue from the meaning of the word – dawn. To my mind that implies that the colour was intended to be the pinky orange of the sky at dawn. With that in mind I used the following paints: base coat – Vallejo Orange Red (VMC910), first highlight – Andrea French Orange (NAC-35), second highlight – Vallejo Sunny Skintone (VMC845).

When you’ve finished all the painting, leave the figure overnight to dry completely before varnishing. There’s a lot written about varnishing and everybody will have a recipe that works for them and gives the desired outcome. I aim for two things: rock solid protection of the paint finish and as matt a finish as possible. With that in mind, I currently follow a three step process, leaving the figure to dry overnight between in each step hidden under a plastic cup to prevent dust and hairs settling on the figure:

First, I paint the figure with Humbrol Enamel Clear Gloss 35 for protection. Second step is to paint with Winsor and Newton Galleria Matt Acrylic Varnish. The reason I do this is not to provide the final matt finish but rather to help me when I apply the final coat of matt varnish which is shiny when wet and I can’t see the spots I’ve missed when painting over the Humbrol gloss finish. The third step is to paint with Revell Enamel Color (sic) Matt 2. For all these products I can’t stress enough the need to follow the manufacturers instructions – especially when it comes to stirring them thoroughly.

Once the final coat of varnish is finished, I now take precautions to avoid handling the figure directly because oils from your fingers will start to add a sheen to the matt finish. So, for the basing steps, I handle figures using a paper towel and then only pick up based figures by their bases (people visiting my house get very dirty looks if they pick up figures by any other method).

For the figures in this set, I promised to sign the bases, so I fortunately remembered to do that before gluing on the figure. The lucky recipients will see the flourish of my initials with the year (2013) in permanent black Sharpie pen on the underside of the base. Having glued the figure to the base and let it set, I built up a thin layer of epoxy putty ( a 50-50 mix of green stuff and Sylmasta A+B putty). When that had set, I applied a diluted coat of PVA glue and dipped the figure in a tray of N-gauge model railway ballast. When dry, I repeated for a second coat of ballast to ensure good coverage and then glued on some individual larger stones. When all the PVA had dried out completely and I was satisfied that there were no loose particles I applied a final light drybrushing of Vallejo Buff (VMC976). And voila, the figure was complete!

Now I’m bracing myself to tackle completion of the second figure. This should be a little more challenging because it’s the drummer with all his Bardin uniform Imperial lace.

Posted in BfK Limited Edition Figures, On the Workbench, Paint and Equipment | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Summer silence ends

Posted by Martin on August 26, 2013

Example pack from the new Perry Retreat from Moscow releases.

Example pack from the new Perry Retreat from Moscow releases.

I’ve had such a busy Summer with “real life” that posting to BfK has taken a back seat. Thank you to those of you who have been kind enough to enquire after my well-being during this period of silence. I’m delighted to say that there’s been nothing wrong. It’s simply been a case of having so many other things to attend to that I’ve been rushed off my feet for ages. I’m not going to bore you with it all but it’s a combination of the day job, my role as Chair of Governors at the local secondary school and having to keep up with the demands of a wife, two teenage daughters (one of whom is about to head off to university), two dogs and two cats. Not to mention an ageing mother-in-law with health issues who lives 400 miles away.

So what have I missed? Well, there’s been a lot happening on the hobby front that has passed me by and many of these things occurred long enough ago not to be fresh enough to mention here. However, a couple of things to stick out for me…

I see the Perry twins have been as industrious as ever and have been working to extend their Napoleonic range into more theatres. One of the most notable avenues under exploration is the arrival of some lovely Retreat from Moscow packs that I confidently predict will lead to snowy skirmish games on many a club and exhibition gaming table over the coming months. And why not? It doesn’t need too many figures or much painting effort to put together enough collateral for a few games that will offer a pleasing diversion from the staple diet of big battalions. The other furrow being ploughed by Alan and Michael is an extensive delve into the rarer Confederation of the Rhine units. This looks like a concerted effort to cover all the options needed for the so-called German division that served in the Peninsular. Eventually, I might take a closer look at the range to see if any of them are suitable for my preferred Autumn 1813 campaign.

A Retreat of Moscow game might fit the bill for my favourite discussion forum thread of the Summer. Over at WD3, they’ve been toying with suggestions for “Come Wargame With Me”, a hobby version of the Channel 4 television extravaganza that is “Come Dine With Me”. It’s a fun thought experiment: given a budget of £100, what kind of evening game could you put on for three wargaming guests? That’s £100 for everything mind – figures, terrain, rules and refreshments with a one month time limit to get everything painted and prepared.

Osprey has gradually been slipping out announcements about its forthcoming publication programme. There are only a few Napoleonic titles but of more interest is the company’s planned open day on 14th September. It sounds as though a lot of old, rare editions will be on sale at bargain prices and I daresay there will also be the chance to meet and chat with Osprey staff. Despite the relative close proximity of Oxford to BfK HQ, I may have to miss this opportunity because it clashes with the weekend that my elder daughter starts at university 😦

Meanwhile, closer to home, the drawbridge is up at Calpe Towers for the Summer holiday until the end of August. But the interest levels have been maintained by releases of some of the French infantry march attack packs along with the availability of some French and Saxon artillery pieces. And even closer to home, I have actually been doing a little painting, mainly with the aim of completing work on the sample BfK Limited Edition figure set. I’ll save details of that (plus some photos) for a separate posting. The other area of activity for me is that I’ve been researching the darkly mysterious subject of airbrushes. I’ve got some specific uses in mind for an airbrush where I can save time and get high quality results, not to mention learn a new skill for my modelling armoury. I’ve got a fair idea of which airbrush I’ll eventually go for but the choice of compressor is more complicated. I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences with airbrushes and how you’ve got on with pushing various brands of acrylic paint, primer and varnish through them.

Posted in Calpe Towers, Forward Patrol, Paint and Equipment | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Paint-in #5: below the waist

Posted by Martin on April 28, 2013

A variety of white, grey and blue trousers plus boots and shoes weathered with mud.

A variety of white, grey and blue trousers plus boots and shoes weathered with mud.

Sorry, I’ve fallen behind with posting paint-ins, so some of you may have already completed painting yours. Let’s see if I can start to catch up. This session covers painting trousers and footwear with the added fun of painting on my favourite battlefield mud for that grubby campaign look.

Soldiers of the artillery train often wore grey cavalry overalls though there were variations with red stripes on the outer seam. Grey was not the only colour used for overalls: others include cream and a beige shade commonly referred to as Paris Mud. For both my artillery train figures, I kept it simple with the grey. This is built up from a basecoat of Vallejo Dark Grey (VMC994), followed by a first highlight of Vallejo Neutral Grey (VMC992) and a second highlight of Vallejo Light Grey (VMC990).

By 1813, shortages meant that Marie Louises were equipped with trousers in a huge variety of colours from white through to many shades of linen, brown, grey and even blue. In this case I opted for white, mainly because I already intended to use those other colours across the set of figures. The base coat is the Second Shadow from the Andrea White Set and the first highlight is the Base from the same set. Both these paints benefit from being applied in two thin coats and make sure you leave adequate drying time between each coat. The second highlight is Vallejo White (VMC951) which can be an awkward paint to work with but gives a nice bright result for which I have a weakness. A few tips for using this paint are shake it really thoroughly, be prepared to use more than one coat to build up coverage, don’t overwork the paint and let it dry completely between coats to avoid the risk of a chalky finish.

Lastly, we come to the drummer. It’s important to remember that he’s an artillery drummer, so white trousers are not really appropriate. Most reliable illustrators show artillery drummers wearing blue trousers though one of Rousselot’s plates (Planche 55, Artillerie a Pied, 1805-1815 (II)) shows a drummer in Imperial Livery wearing green trousers, so that would make a nice variation for you to consider. I painted my drummer’s trousers blue using the same paints that I used for the Marie Louise’s pokalem. Drum aprons were white leather, so I used the same paints as described for the white trousers above.

After all that work it may seem odd to choose to obscure it by painting over mud effects but I always try the represent soldiers as they would have appeared on campaign. I know of several other painters who also apply mud effects and most of them seem to go for random relatively uncontrolled techniques like flicking a loaded paint brush to splatter the figures with brown paint. That way of doing things isn’t for me – I like to know precisely where the paint is going to be placed on my figures. So I actually paint on areas of mud very deliberately. I use a Vallejo Burnt Umber (VMC941) base coat, followed by Vallejo Beige (VMC875) and finally Vallejo Cork Brown (VMC843) which is one of my favourite colours in the whole range. The effect I aim for is one of mud starting to lighten as it dries out.

So that’s it for this time. In the next paint-in, I’ll turn attention to coats and jackets.

Posted in BfK Limited Edition Figures, On the Workbench, Paint and Equipment, Tutorials | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »