Saturday, 22 October 2016

Distractions, distractions...

Whilst on holiday on Normandy at the end of July, I almost but not quite completed the second batch of aventurier crossbowmen then got distracted by work, holidays, climbing and some other painting and wargaming.

A big interest of mine is warship design and models. After a childhood of 1/600 Airfix plastic models and some 1/1200 original Triangs, given to me by a favourite uncle, this lapsed for many years then I realised I could afford the definitive reference books (Friedman; Raven and Roberts; Burt; Grove...) and discovered the world of 1/1200 and 1/1250 waterline models. Since then I have built up a bit of a collection, mostly focussing on Royal Navy ships of WW2 and after. 

One I recently bought on Ebay was a Delphin model of a Type 81 frigate. I carelessly broke the mast off and one bit of restoration led to another so I ended up completely stripping it, remodelling the 4.5" guns, adding a lot of detail and repainting. Bear in mind this is 88 mm long.

The one part that is very unsatisfactory on this (and all other late WW2-1960s RN) ship is the mast - a solid casting just doesn't represent the characteristic scaffold-like masts very well. My longer term plan is to design some photo-etch brass but for the moment, I have just painted the original cast mast.

Another long-standing interest is WW2 land wargaming, especially Normandy. I have tried a few different rules over the years without ever quite finding what I was looking for: a battalion-scale game with good balance of simulation and playability. A couple of weeks ago we tried 'Iron Cross' from Great Escape Games

First impressions were good for playability but less so for accuracy of simulation and (especially) the possibility of scaling up to a full battalion and squadron of tanks. We are playing around with some ideas for house rules to meet these objectives. 

Another obvious deficiency from the game was that I don't have enough buildings and those I do have don't look much like Normandy. Thankfully Tiger Terrain have some excellent resin models so I have bought some of those. I was very impressed with the quality and efficiency of their service and the models look fantastic - much the best I have ever seen. If they did models suitable for 16th Century Italy, I could have saved a lot of time and trouble with tiny cardboard rectangles! 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Good news for Venexia fans!

In the gap between me stopping collecting and painting 16th C war-games figures, Venexia came onto the market and disappeared from it. Whilst I have managed to buy a few of these fantastically detailed figures second hand, it has been very frustrating to think of what might have been.

The master figures were bought by Sgt Major Miniatures in the USA and there has been a lot of speculation and anticipation about when and whether they would be brought back into production.

A few weeks ago I wrote to them asking and have just had a very welcome and encouraging reply:

Subject: Venezia Italian Wars range 
Sorry for the delay, I have been having some issues with the web site eating messages, and failing to alert me as they come in, cleaning up many old messages this morning... 
I am slowly working on getting the line back into production.  I have issues with the master figures they supplied when I bought the company, they melt in the mold maker, I think they must have some solder or something in the metal, its completely ridiculous! Anyway, the process to fix this is incredibly slow unfortunately.  I have gotten the Ottomans back into production, and the Italian Wars should be back in the next couple of months.  The Louis line is currently being re-done, and the rest of the lines will follow that.  Its been 4 years since I bought this line, and I want it back in production as much as everyone else, probably more, I haven't been able to make any sort of return on my investment thus far...  
Sincerely,Sgt Major Miniatures

Good news - the wait should soon be over and I'll be at the front of the queue for some gendarmes!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A small barn

I started this a while ago but was sidetracked by my French crossbowmen and distracted by work so made little progress. Another cause of delay was finding some suitably thick card for the steps - I started off doubling the mounting card I use for the walls but that was a huge faff and left an obvious line half-way up each step. Then I found an out of date catalogue about to go in the paper recycling with just the right thickness and in half an hour had my steps.

The idea was to make a small barn with space upstairs for one of the farm hands to live. The design is based a little on one of the out-buildings of a place we have stayed on holiday in France.

The method is the same as the other buildings I made - a basic structure from picture mounting card and bricks /stones made from cut up old business cards stuck together with wood working PVA glue. Once the basic structure is together, I give it a wash with dilute PVA and ready-mixed filler for strength, texture and to soften the edges.

I painted it with DecoArt Crafter's Acrylic - Country Maple as a base coat and inside then dry brushed with lots of Tan  and a little bit of Antique Gold (looked like yellow ochre to me) to break it up. To give a bit of variety I then picked out individual 'stones' in different browns, ochres, greens and greys. My first go used much too strong colours and after a massive amount of dry brushing with Tan paint, the effect was like a photo with way too much grain and contrast so I flattened everything down again with a wet dry-brushing of tan, reinstated some shadows and colour variation and re-did the colour picking out with more toned down colours.

After a more careful dry-brushing with slightly diluted Tan and then Tan-white, the rather vivid colours toned down and it all came together.

One thing I did very differently this time was the doors and shutters. Rather than using cardboard and using paint in lieu of texture, I tried to follow the techniques in this amazing building blog making buildings in foam board and used plasticard scored and shaped with a knife and textured with a suede brush. I think the overall effect is much better - more natural and easier but it does mean I have three buildings with very different woodwork.

Even so, the effect of the whole little village / hamlet is what I was looking for with a small jumble of mission tiled roofs and sun-bleached walls. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

French Crossbowmen - Aventuriers (3) first group finished

I have finally finished the first batch of crossbowmen.

I think replacing the crossbows and so having the weapons all more or less the same size allows these originally very different figures to work together well, apart from the very chunky Black Hat figures which are marginal - two of Sebastien Chabal's ancestors playing their part in the Italian Wars.

I am pleased with the detail of the replacement crossbows, all the fiddly work making the bows, strings and bolts seems worth it now. I was in Venice ago few weeks ago, looking round the Doge's palace armoury and the modified crossbows with a relatively slender, metal bow with a simple curve seem a better match for the 16th Century crossbows I saw there than were the disparate cast metal crossbows the figures originally came with.

I have another 12 of these to finish now, two more guns, another general and some mounted arquebusiers (which will also need a lot of Milliput modification to make them look like they are from the 1520s). After that, Gendarmes and Archers (the mounted lancers)...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Jacques II de Chabannes - Seigneur de La Palice

I have been rather busy recently with work and building some book shelves so had little time for painting. I have almost finished my first group of French crossbowmen but first, here is another general - this time a multi-purpose group, distinguished only by the banner as Jacques II de Chabannes, maybe better known as La Palice, one of the principal French commanders in the Italian Wars until his capture and execution by Imperial Landsknechts at Pavia.

I actually finished the figures a while ago but couldn't decide what flag to use. Some French leaders certainly used swallow tailed standards - those of Gaston de Foix and Louis de la Tremoille as well as those used by royal guard gendarmes are recorded in contemporary pictures but I haven't been able to find any others. Instead (and thanks to Stuart M and Olicana for the information and advise) I just used his arms as a banner. 

I found a suitably posed lion on the internet and printed off the outline of the flag about 1/2 inch high then overpainted it with my usual Vallejo paints to get a look that would be more consistent with the figure. 

As with my Swiss and Landsknechts, the flag is mounted on brass tube which fits on a protruding steel core so it can be removed and swapped for a different flag if I want a different selection of generals or a different nationality.

I plan to do one more multi-purpose general and a Francis I to complete my French commanders.

Monday, 8 February 2016

French Crossbowmen - Aventuriers (2)

The preparation and modification work is coming along. I have the first twenty figures (four each of five different castings) done.

The old TTG figures had enormously long crossbows compared with the others so I cut these down in length first. I cut the (rather Landsknechty) hats off the Old Glory figures and made new hats or helmets from Milliput. I also modified the sleeves and tunics on the Roundway and Venexia figures to make them look less medieval / like Swiss or Landsknechts respectively.

In most cases, I made new bows from 0.7 mm brass rod, flattened with a hammer and then filed and bent to shape.

I don't like the as-supplied Old Glory crossbows with their fat strings (about 3" diameter, scaled up) and solid metal between the bow and string. After removing the first two bows and making new ones, as described above, for the others I just drilled out the filled-in portion and did a lot of filing to make the bow and string as thin as possible.

With some figures having strung bows, I decided (slightly reluctantly) that I would have to string the others. This didn't prove as difficult and fiddly as I had expected. I cut suitable lengths of wire, pre-bent it by pressing the middle against my cutting mat and trimmed to length. I put a small blob of epoxy on the ends of the bows and another in the middle of the 'string', placed them roughly in place with tweezers then nudged them into place with the tip of a needle in a pin vise. The strings and bolts are from the wire on a bottle of Rioja and about 0.25 mm diameter - well over-scale but still much thinner than the cast ones. For those without a stirrup on the end, I made a U-shaped piece from offcuts and glued them on.

I'm not sure which figures to use for the last four. I have changed my mind on this a few times but I think I'll probably use the Black Hat / Gladiator Games figures - these are rather bulkier than the others but people vary in build and, as long as the crossbows match, I think it will be OK. We will see.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Scenery - another building

I finished this building a while ago but it has taken until now to get some photos of the finished thing. I tried to make this look as though the buildings had grown together over time in a slightly haphazard way, as often seems the way with old residential buildings. This was a much more complicated structure than the first one but I am much happier with the effect and think it looks more believable for a 16th Century village.

As I mentioned in the first write-up, I wanted a much less regular effect for the stone work so used different sizes of stick-on blocks. I did this by cutting three or four different width strips of card at a time and then chopping varying lengths off as I worked. I left one section without block work to represent rendering - partly for variety and partly because I was getting rather bored of tiny card rectangles.

I broke the construction down into several sections and only stuck it all together towards the end. Again the roof tiles were from sheets of Wills pantiles - not quite right and too big but I think the overall effect is OK. Once all the little pieces of card were in place, I gave the stone work a way over with a mix of PVA and filler to strengthen it and bring everything together by softening the sharp edges and adding texture.

The ridge tiles were made from bamboo skewers sanded to shape and then with razor saw cuts to represent the joins between tiles. To break things up a bit more, I painted individual blocks in for or five different shades of brown, grey and green with quite a high contrast before a lot of dry-brushing with lightened shades of the original stone colour to bring it all back together. I quite like the effect although I accept it isn't especially true to life.

Shutters and other woodwork were painted next, with the roofs and doors stuck on and the three modules stuck together last of all. 

As an aside, I'm not so sure about these external shutters. A lot of the photos I have seen don't have visible shutters so they may have been internal - certainly that would be a lot easier. 

I have only made one village area piece so far but I'll probably do another. As with my other FoG-R terrain, the idea is that only the area really matters for the game and everything must be able to be moved around to make space for figures. This seems to work less well for built up areas than for other scenery because buildings are so much larger and don't tend to be randomly distributed. It would be nice to have some walls, cottage gardens, carts, water troughs, carts, middens and the other paraphernalia of village life but I can't attach these to the buildings because that would make them too big to move out of the way during the game. I'll try to do these as stand-alone pieces but I'm not happy about the hard shadow line around the bottom of the buildings and it may need a bit of experimentation to find the right balance of game practicality/flexibility and appearance.

I'm making a small barn to add to these. I would like to have a church or tower of some sort too although the FoG-R terrain sizes don't give much space for such large buildings.