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.