Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reinforcements, and distractions

This blog wouldn't be titled as it is if I didn't get distracted in my projects.

The local club has been playing a lot of Saga lately. It's a fun game and I enjoy the camaraderie at the club a great deal.  So, I bought up some extra figures from some of the members, and am now in the midst of painting up six points of Irish warriors in 28mm. 

So, while it's a distraction, at least it's a Dark Ages distraction.

The first figure was a test figure of sorts.  I found a really great blog that featured some ECW highlanders (Project Auldearn 1645) and I wanted to try my hand at painting tartans like those before I committed to using them everywhere in the war band.  I was pretty happy with the first tartan, and the second came out even better.  You can see the rest of the war band in the background.  There are about thirty-five more tartans to paint...

It's slow going, as irregular armies always seem to be. Especially irregular armies clad in plaid. 

Meanwhile, reinforcements for my 54 Dark Ages project have arrived. Thirty Conte Normans, Saxons and Vikings, kindly sent by one of the readers of this blog. Thank you, Bill!

I'm looking forward to getting these painted some time between now and Christmas. Or at least some of them. These figures are just loaded with character. They are very soft plastic, however. I anticipate weapon replacements in brass for many of them. Maybe all of them. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Marx Vikings - first batch finished / road trip

This week, I've been on a business trip.  I was at a very engaging convention, and during the day my mind was filled with new software development techniques and pointers on the business of software.  This meant that, after the socializing and networking was done, my mind was in desperate need of a good rest from all things cerebral.

For me, there are a few activities that are truly meditative.  All of them involve something artistic, that requires my total attention.  Painting miniatures is, of course, one of those activities.
So, I packed up a traveling painting studio.

These days, the TSA requirements on air travel impose new challenges on this kind of endeavor.  It used to be that I could throw my paints, brushes, figures, and even Xacto knives into a tackle box and carry it on.  These days a little more thought is required.

I needed brushes and paint for this trip.  All the trimming and other knife-work had been completed.  So, I pulled a selection of browns, tans, muted colors, metallics, a flesh tone and my washes out of the paint rack and slipped them into large ziplock bags.  These bags went into plastic cases I raided years ago from my son's Playmobil sets.  A third case was used to hold the figures, each carefully wrapped in toilet paper.  I was able to fit a dozen Marx Vikings into the case with room to spare for extra padding and my brushes (not shown...I'd already unpacked the figures when I took this).

Over several nights in the hotel, I managed to finish six figures (shown in this article) and start on six more (more on those soon).  As with the Emhar figures, everything started with the flesh and hair.  I also painted any fur areas, then washed them all in W&N Peat Brown ink.  For darker brown hair and dark fur I used a little GW Nuln Oil ink as well, to really make the shadows fill.  After that, I started laying in the colors.  The pictures below show the progress at the end of the first night (assuming I'm remembering brain was full to bursting later in the trip and my recollection is foggy).

Color coats done, it was time for all of the tans and browns for leather and wood.  After than, most areas got a wash of GW Devlan Mud to add shading.  Metals then were painted, and shaded with GW Nuln Oil.  Finally, all areas were highlighted with the original shade (with a couple of exceptions, where an intermediate shade of the base color plus a little brown was needed).  Below are the six finished figures.

The Chieftain of the Marx lot (I need a name for these guys).  I figured a little royal purple would look great with all that mail and mark him as a leader.

One of my favorites of the Marx poses (along with that fur-cloaked berserker swinging a double-bladed axe).  I like his face and his natural pose very much.

Last, but not least...a little distraction has arrived in the mail.  I found a small lot of these 60mm Charben Three Musketeers on eBay and had to have them.  Not only are they chock full of character, but they supplement the Jecsan musketeers set I bought years ago very nicely.  The Jecsan set includes six foot musketeers in cross-embroidered tabards, as two poses of commonly dressed men on foot.  I think they're intended to represent two poses each of Porthos, Athos, Aramis and D'Artagnon before he earned his tabard.  But, that's hardly enough to put together a decent sized skirmish force if one wants his musketeers to go up against a large mass of Cardinal's Guard who duel as well as Stormtroopers shoot.

Enter the Charben musketeers.  Here quite clearly, we have D'Artagnon, Porthos, Athos and Aramis.  Not to mention the Cardinal himself (background).  These will be painted in blue, of course.  And that lets me paint all six of the tabard-wearing figures from the Jecsan set in red Cardinal's Guard livery.

The set I bought had a few duplicates, including D'Artagnon (in pink).  This doppleganger, as well as the "D'Artagnons" from the Jecsan set, will be painted in dark civilian clothes to be used as ruffians, robbers, ne'er-do-wells (i.e. Cardinal's Guard in civilian disguise).

I'll want to add a few more such nondescript ruffian figures to the collection.  Cherilea makes two sets that should do nicely.  Their Elizabethans may be a bit "early" for Three Musketeers games, but painted in dark colors to reflect their dastardly predilections, they should pass nicely.  Similarly, their "Cavaliers and Roundheads" (sometimes seen sold as Conquistadors) have some soft-hatted swordsmen that will fill the role nicely.

Now then.  Never mind this distraction.  Back to the Dark Ages!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Progress update - reinforcements and painting on the road

I write software for a living.  And unlike many software products, ours releases on a strictly annual schedule.  This has it's pros and cons, but one advantage is that the crunch times are very predictable each year.

Well, we're in one now.  So, progress on the Dark Ages project has slowed a bit.  I have managed, through people who have reached out to me through this blog and through the forums at The Miniatures Page, to add some figures to the collection.  A little over a dozen Conte Normans will be joining the throng, as well as about a dozen Conte Vikings.  Both are good matches in scale and detail to the Emhar hard plastic figures.  In addition, I've picked up some 60mm Vikings and Saxons from Cherilea and Jecsan.  These are more fanciful, but charming.  They are also very, very tall, when stood beside the 54mm figures that make up the bulk of the collection.

Several years ago I found the "Legend of Kern" trilogy (by Loren Coleman) in a local used bookstore. This trilogy is set in Robert Howard Hyboria, the home of Conan the Barbarian. Kern is a white-haired, pale-skinned outcast trying to live his life in Cimmeria.  The antagonists in the books are the Vanir to the North of Cimmeria, and especially the children of the frost giant Ymir.  The Ymirrish are huge, white-haired, powerful warriors and cunning sorcerors.  The books are fun, and well worth reading.

My thought, at this point, is to paint up these giant 60mm, fanciful figures as Ymirrish warriors.  It helps that the Vanir, in Hyboria, are distinguished by their horned helmets, which these Cherilea and Jecsan figures have in abundance.

Yes, this will represent a deliberate turn toward the fantastic, in this project.  But I'm very much OK with that.  This project was inspired by the adventures of Prince Valiant, the many tales of Conan, and my early childhood reading of books like Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" and the many novels set in mythical Ireland by Kenneth Flint.  Barely human "half-giant" men of frost and iron fit right into my vision for this project.

I'm heading out on a business trip for a few days.  After much thought (mostly about the TSA and how to get my figures there and back again safely), I've decided to take a dozen Marx Vikings and everything I need to paint in the evenings.  We'll see how this goes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Donald Featherstone, RIP

It's all over our corner of the Internet. Donald Featherstone, the father of wargaming in our time, has passed away. 

I never met the man. I wish I had, so I could shake his hand. Buy the man a drink. Say thank you. 

Thank you for a life full of fun and miniature adventure. And thank you for so generously sharing his passion and his ideas. And for taking a chance and publishing books for which he knew the present audience to be tiny. I think I admired that courage most of all. 

When I was in college in the early 1980's, the university library had a small section of miniature wargaming books, including six of Mr. Featherstone's.  It's no exaggeration to say that I spent more time reading his books and putting them into practice than I did studying anything else during those years. That little collection of books defined wargaming for me then, and now. 

Thank you, sir. May you rest in peace.  May your family find some solace in the positive and inspiring affect you had on so many of us. Godspeed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

First Marx Vikings underway

Painting has slowed a bit, driven onto the back burner by some work deadlines.  The work I do is highly seasonal, and it's the busy season.

But, I managed to get started on my first batch of six Marx Vikings.  I started with a coat of Liquitex white gesso.  I've heard that this creates a flexible undercoat which will help prevent flaking later.  This may be, but there is a downside.  The gesso went on fairly streaky, and covered poorly.  I think it would have taken two more coats to get a good white base coat, and I worried that the thick gesso would obscure the fine textures on the Marx castings, especially the mail.

So, I left it at one coat of gesso, and brush painted on a coat of Ceramcoat white (one of several inexpensive lines of acrylics available at home crafting stores such as Michaels).  This paint covers well, and in my experience remains fairly flexible when dry.

As you can see, the detail on these Marx figures is quite fine.  The faces are all very realistic, and I look forward to seeing what these look like all finished up.

Next step was the flesh, laid in quickly using more craft store acrylic paint.  There's no need to be careful with it, as the edges and borders will be tuned up as the cloth and leather gets painted.  I use a large #2 brush for these early steps.

I picked out some likely browns and yellows for hair and fur, and laid those in using a finer brush (a #1 with a good point, I believe).  All of the flesh and hair was given a layer of Windsor & Newton Peat Brown ink, as I had with the Emhar figures.  The swordsman with the round shield is destined to have red hair, but this first attempt doesn't thrill me.  I started with a yellow base coat, then used an orange ink wash before the Peat Brown ink went on.  It's too bright.  I'll try something else and we'll see.

These Marx figures have a very distinctive style.  Fairly realistic proportions, and bare knees all around.  I considered painting some of their legs as if wearing trews, but the anatomy is so well sculpted they'd have looked at though they were wearing tights.  So, these "Vikings" are clearly summer raiders, well inland from the coast and feeling the need for a little breeze between the knees.

Next steps: I've picked out a collection of muted colors and off-whites that will go onto the cloth bits.  The two-handed axeman's fur cloak will be a gray wolf's pelt.  After that, the wood and leather will get various shades of brown, and the metal bits will be painted.  Ink washes and highlights to follow.  Anyone who read my previous posts about the Emhar Vikings will recognize the process described there.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Hope you're enjoying this series of posts.

Oh, and this last shot was taken on the "work in progress" shelf.  The front edge of a shelf otherwise populated by my collection of inks.  I wouldn't be able to paint without an assortment of good acrylic inks.  I have Game Workshop, Windsor and Newton, Reaper, Secret Weapon, and Vallejo inks.  I'll buy new ones whenever I come across them, just to try them out.  If you're not familiar with painting with inks, I highly recommend some experimentation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Painted Warriors

The painting has gone well, I think.  Though it's only been a day since my last post, truthfully this project is proceeding more slowly than that.  The work I showed you last time (cleaned figures, with conversion and glued to their washers) took about a calendar week, twenty minutes at a time when I could grab a moment.  The painting was done at a similar pace.  A short spurt at a time in off moments.

And it will continue that way.  My hobby time is constrained (who's isn't?) but I get along as I can.

My process goes something like this: over a white undercoat, I block in the flesh and hair first. I apply a stain using my favorite Windsor and Newton Peat Brown ink, then block in all of the other colors. The W&N ink gives a nice warm shading tone to the flesh and hair.

I picked out three or four off-white colors, four or five browns, and a half dozen muted, earthy colors. Each figure got a random assortment of browns for leather and wood parts, one piece of clothing in an off-white tone, and another in a relatively muted color. Then I picked a few bright colors and painted the shields, cloth trim, and one pair of pants (a salute to Ross Macfarlane's character "Redlegs"). 

All of those colored bits got an undiluted wash of GW Devlan Mud for shading. I like the dirty brown weathering I get from this ink very much for this kind of subject.  It's not great for bright paint jobs like Napoleonics, ACW, the Crimea, etc., but for many ancient and modern figures it yields a nice grubby shading.

Next all the metal parts were painted a dark steel color, with a few small accents picked out in brass. All of the metal got a wash of GW Nuln Oil (a black ink, essentially).

I drew in the pupils and upper lash line with a black radiograph pen, then set to highlighting. I'm about half way through with the highlights now. Generally I apply two highlight steps. The first is the base color with a little dark brown added, to get it just a shade lighter than the result of color + Devlan Mud already on the piece. The second step is the original base color. Both steps go on pretty thinned out, to aid in blending. Flesh gets a single highlight in the original base color, concentrated on cheek bones and fingers/knuckles.

I plan to do a little more highlighting. Not all parts will get that treatment, but some of the lighter and brighter areas will really benefit from a little sprucing up.

I'll also go back at some point and add more detail and color to the trim on the tunics.  Those little details can make a big difference to the perceived individuality and character associated with a figure.

Below are shots of each, as they stand today. 

The Warlord. The brass replacement blade worked very nicely. The pants and shield face will get more highlighting. Possible the beard as well.

The archer. The flights on the arrows need highlighting for sure. His tunic has already been highlighted, and I'm pleased with the result.  The brass replacement bow looks pretty good, but lacks a convincing taper.  Still, it's better than tossing this figure into the bits bin.

"Redlegs" himself. The pants will get a final highlight to bring more attention there. Probably the highest points on the fur cloak as well.  And the beard/hair.  Choosing all earth tones from the waist up wasn't such a good idea.  It leaves him feeling bottom-heavy and a bit bland.

The spearman. One of my favorite poses. The tunic has been highlighted. I'll probably touch up the beard and braids. I forgot to mention that the steel bits on all of the figures have been highlighted as well, with a careful drybrushing of the original steel tone.  I might hit the highest points with a really bright silver, to emulate sun glints.

This guy really ought to be more impressive with that great Dane Axe of his. But the pose is very two-dimensional, the axe haft was cast a bit bent/curved, and his head is tiny. Also there's a hunk of undetailed plastic between his arms...a casualty of the two-part mold.  He's destined for the rear rank in the shieldwall, I'm afraid. 

Swapping this figure's original (and damaged) upraised seax for a spear made all the difference. The tunic and beard need a highlight, but this is another of my favorites.

The faces on almost all of the Ehmar figures are really something. Nicely sculpted and full of character. A joy to paint.

As you can see, the bases are in progress. They've had a layer of sand applied, then a coat of medium brown paint and a stain of W&N Peat Brown ink. I'll flock them and call them done. More pics as these get finished.

On another note, I stopped by the local game store on the way home tonight for a few minutes, and found some old friends playing SAGA, from Gripping Beast.  It looked like quite a fun rule set, but I noticed a distinct lack of shieldwall tactics, despite there being Vikings on the field.  Still, it's a very popular set and probably for good reason.  I may well pick up a set when I can.

Next up, the first six Marx Vikings, and news of some new acquisitions for the project.

Monday, August 26, 2013

New, short term project

Over the past little while, Ross MacFarlane has been posting again about his long-running, infrequently occurring skirmish games based loosely on the Prince Valiant comic strip of our youth.

He also posted a short and sweet set of semi-skirmish rules called Stout Hearts and Willing Swords.  Now there is nothing like the combination of evocative photos of nicely painted figures and a fun looking set of rules to get me sidetracked into a new project. 

So away I go. 

Last year some time I bought a set of Emhar's 54mm hard plastic Vikings on a whim. And somewhere in the depths of my garage lurked some Marx 54mm Vikings in bright red plastic. A little spelunking and I had a collection of figures I could get going with.

The Emhar Vikings are quite nice. They are, to my eye, historically accurate.  And the detail on these figures is quite nice.  There are fewer shields in the kit these warriors carry than I'd prefer, but they'll work for skirmish games for sure.

Emhar 1/32 Vikings, with minor conversions and weapon replacements
The Emhar plastic is quite hard.  The figures cleaned up quickly with a sharp blade, but there were a few problems worth noting.  First, several of the weapons were either broken or badly distorted, out of the box.  The archer (back right) had a mangled bow and broken bowstring.  I replaced the bow with 1/16" brass (perhaps a little thick) and carefully trimmed away the bowstring where it crossed his face and body.  That was easier than I feared it would be.

Two of the figures had flimsy and bent swords.  I replaced these by hammering and filing that 1/16" brass rod into replacement blades (the figure I think of as "The Warlord" in the front right, and the guy in the front with the club and sword).  In this photo, the swords are just slipped into the holes I drilled in the hands, so one is drooping a bit...

"The Warlord" with replaced sword blade
All the way in the back is a figure carrying an axe and a javelin (or short spear).  He originally held a dagger/saex in that upraised hand, but he look under-armed and I wanted more spearmen, so I drilled out his hand and hammered/filed a spearhead onto another length of wire.

Three of the figure have pre-drilled hands to take long and thin-hafted axes.  Very nice, but those axe hafts are relatively thin, brittle plastic.  I used them anyway, but nearly snapped one when I dropped the figure.  I worry about their longevity, but I can probably swap out the hafts for thinner wire if I need to. For now, I'll handle them more gently.

A long deep dive into my garage yielded the Marx 54mm Vikings I remembered buying years ago.  There are nine unique poses, most of which are (mostly) historically accurate.  I'm not too worried about historical accuracy for this project really, but I did decide to remove the horns from various helmets, and to trim the heads of various axes from "meat cleaver" shape to something more Dark Ages.

The assembled Marx Viking horde
In order to get a few more poses out of the collection, I did a few weapon swaps.  One figure carries two axe (note the trimmed axe head) and an oddly leaf-bladed sword.  I decided to leave the sword alone rather than swap the blade, but I may revisit that decision.  Swapping both weapons for javelins added another light warrior to the tribe.

Sword/axe pose, converted by swapping both weapons for javelins
This figure has a quasi-Norman's really more appropriate to the Hundred Years War...but I have yet to find a glue that will hold pieces of this slippery Marx plastic together securely, and I lack any replacement round shields, so I've left them.  Again...I'm not too worried about historical accuracy for this project.  I'm looking for a fast and furious "Dark Ages" bash more inspired by Hyboria and Prince Valiant than strict history.  This figure, curiously, comes with a stumpy dagger.  I swapped it out for a great big thrusting spear to get an alternate pose.  Eventually, after this pic was taken, I replaced the dagger blade with a brass longsword blade.

"Norman" shield and dagger man, and his spearmen alternate.
The figure on the right is the stock chieftain pose from the Marx set.  All in all, a very nice figure.  The variant has had his helmet wings removes, and a long spear swapped in for the sword.  The left hand resting on the scabbard hides enough of the top to let me convince myself he's got a sword in there if I don't look too closely.

This spear is deliberately long.  I may make him a standard bearer before painting begins.

Marx Chieftain and his spearman alternate
The whole collection is going to be based for skirmish games.  I prefer round steel bases for this, and use fender washers almost exclusively.  They're inexpensive, and ferrous enough to stick reasonably well to adhesive sheet magnet.  I found these boxes at The Container Store some years ago, and use them to store my figures whenever I can.  I'll line the box with sheet magnet and they'll have a secure home.

The collected horde, on their fender washer bases, and in their storage box.

Painting began right after all of the mold line trimming, weapon swaps and basing was finished.  I decided to do this collection six figures at a time.  That's a meaningful chunk of the twenty-four figures I have, and still not overwhelming.

At the advice of Rob Dean (of The Sharp End of the Brush), I bought Liquitex white gesso and their flexible brush-on matte varnish.  Starting with the gesso, painting in acrylics, then finishing with their varnish yields a tough, flexible paint job that will resist cracking and peeling over soft plastic figures, according to Rob.  He's painted hundred of such figures so I trust his advice.  I'll let you know how that goes.

But...even after washing my figures carefully with dish soap, rinsing well and letting them dry thoroughly...the gesso refused to stick to the Emhar plastic.  It beaded up and wouldn't cover.  Oh well. These figures are hard plastic.  I'm not worried about flexible paint on them.  A quick coat of spray primer stuck very nicely (thank goodness...I thought I might be doomed to toss these very nice figures).

Painting is underway.  Lots of muted colors, lots of off-whites for cotton cloth, lots of different browns for wood and leather.  And soon, lots and lots of chain mail.

I'll post much better pictures as the painting progresses.

First steps toward a painted collection.  I'll get better photos up soon.
Until then, I hope this was a fun read.  If you have any questions about these figures, conversions, or whatever, please feel free to ask in the comments.