Sunday, 10 July 2016

Roundwood Recommends - Number 6: Holiday Painting



Like everyone I know in the hobby, I really struggle to maintain a consistent painting schedule. Work, family, travelling, doing stuff around the house and garden … everything seems to get neatly coordinated to prevent me sitting in front a table a picking up a paintbrush until 11pm at night. Yes, I know that you know that feeling.

One of the best things about holidays is taking a paintbrush and some paints and figures. Tricky, but not impossible, if flying, but certainly possible if you’re heading anywhere by car. Part of the trick is getting prepared in advance.

I picked up a sturdy deep box from Paperchase, and kitted it out with an off-cut of blue Styrofoam to hold the Vallejo paints downwards with. I blu-tacked the brushes to the lid of the box and added a few other bits and pieces like a palette and brush cleaner. 


A while back I’d picked up a Foldi Daylight lamp which gives out a great daylight LED light to paint with and is powered by AA batteries (and cost about £60). OK, not cheap, but a pretty good investment if you’re painting on the go a lot. A long time back I’d also picked up a magnifying glass which you can dismantle and fold away and can be easily packed away in the painting box.


I fitted a handful of 28mm figures into a separate box – more late 17th Century militia – and I’m all set. I’ve no idea how many I’ll get through, but I’ll let you know!


When I can’t manage to carry paints – such as on an overnight business trip – I try and carry a notebook, some pens and pencils. I’ve loved making and drawing maps for years. Some of them historical, some not. I like dreaming up scenarios, battles and campaigns – some of them even get played! Just as with a blog, I write down the games we’ve played, the ideas that come to you at odd times of the day, and the plans that just about every wargamer enjoys making. Notebooks are a great way to stay in touch with the hobby, even if you have zero time. 

Just five minutes colouring in a map takes you to a 17th Century Italian valley, the Free City of Bravos, the Acheron IV meteor cluster – or wherever, or whatever, you enjoy.



They’re fun to look back through. Not as polished as a computerised map. A lot less printable. But a lot more personal. 

Holiday painting. Very strongly recommended, whichever world you’re visiting this summer.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Painting tips for 2mm figures and armies


I’ve briefly covered painting 2mm figures in a previous blog post. Although I don’t want to go over old ground, I thought it was worthwhile giving a couple of additional thoughts now that I’ve finished both the Imperial and the Swedish 2mm armies for the Lützen game three weeks back, and have now started on a smaller pair of French and Spanish armies for the 1630s Italian campaign around Mantua (more of that in a later blog post).

I’ve set out these thoughts in seven handy sections, below:

***

(1) 2mm painting is MASS painting
In painting both the Imperial and Swedish armies for the Lützen game, I approached the project en masse. I cleaned the figures together. I based them in one setting. I undercoated each army in a single setting. I base-coated and painted the groundwork in one go. Here are some images, this time from my 2mm Swedish army, of doing things an “army-level”. 



Put simply, doing each stage in one go made me “feel” I was getting somewhere. I might be only painting 50 bases, but (I would think), “that’s the Imperial army based”, or the Swedish Army’s groundwork “done”.

Of course, this manner of thinking is a bit of a cheat – it’s no more laudable to do a whole army than a single figure. But , after years of building 25mm/28mm forces, it was a good feeling to be painting a whole army and visibly getting somewhere.

(2) Bring the Army to life
2mm figures are tiny. (“Tell me something I don’t know, Sidney!”). OK, let me put it another way …

With 2mm figures, you have to do more than just paint the figures. A beautiful paint job isn’t really possible. The figures are too small for that. You need to be thinking of a collection of units, and of those units existing in a world they inhabit. You’re trying to bring that army to life, and recreate the army in the field.

That’s why I think it is worth bothering with standards and flags and pennants. 



And that’s why it’s worth spending time on the figure bases.

(3) 2mm basing – a neutral frame
You’re going to have to exaggerate colour in the 2mm figure and figure blocks. Your bases can help with this. I’m not talking about having a flat, empty base without groundwork. Far from it. The approach I took was to try for as neutral as possible a basing technique. This would frame the figures on a neutral coloured base, with minimal scatter. 


With this in mind, I PVA-glued the figures to 2mm depth MDF bases from Warbases in the UK. I then created a mixture of 50% polyfilla and 50% PVA in a porridge like mix and painted than on the bases to give a little texture to each base and conceal the metal bases of the figure blocks. I think the addition of Polyfilla helps “set” the figure blocks on the base better – they look like they are part of the base, not just standing on it. I added fine gravel and sand before PVA/Polyfilla mixture was dry. The gravel just gives enough texture to create an irregular surface, and help dry brushing. 

I also added some foliage on the bases for the baggage trains, t try and create the impression that the Provost-Marshal has halted the waggons by the shade of a well-placed copse.  Woods and trees are easy enough to recreate in 2mm, simply being the addition of clump foliage, "painted" with white PVA for strength.  The white PVA dries completely clear, leaving the foliage rigid and perfect for dry-brushing.





(4) Go for a matt black undercoat and a matt black base-coat.

I undercoated all of the figures and the bases with black Humbrol enamel. Drying time was speeded up by placing the figure bases on a tin tray in the cupboard where our hot water tank lives – something we call the “airing cupboard in the UK.

I then painted each base with a base colour of Vallejo Neutral Grey, and then dry brushed progressively through a light grey and near white. (I tried experimenting with a tiny amount of French Mirage Blue in the Neutral Grey, but it didn’t look right). I felt that the monochrome, neutral palette for the figure bases worked well enough on its own.


The next stage was to base-coat paint all of the figures in Vallejo Black. Why on earth would I do that? Didn’t I just undercoat the figures in black enamel? Correct, but the undercoat is just a “key” for the paint – and the Vallejo Matt Black base-coat is (for me) an essential stage in getting the later painting “right” . Give it a try, perhaps, on a few figures if not a whole army.


(5) Figure Painting – give “two colour” painting a try

Then you’ve arrived at the figure painting itself. This part is quite fun, and surprised me how much I could get done. I did find a good magnifying glass invaluable (I’ve blogged about it HERE), and I had lots of good light – natural and artificial. Once you have those, you need a reasonably steady hand and a small brush. I used a size “1” for the figure block horses, bodies and hats, and I used a size “0” for the figure block faces, highlights, pikes and standards.

Most of the horses were painted using two colours – a base colour and a highlight. I also used that same combination – base colour and highlight – for the individual soldiers in the figure blocks for their torso/trousers, hats, metallics and standards. 


You might think that using two shades of paint for 2mm blocks is excessive. I think that’s a fair comment, but looking at the figures, I did feel that the blocks looked more animated and vivid when there was a greater variety of paint colours on each block. As ever, I used Pieter Snayers’ paintings as a guide. Have a look at his incredible painting of the Siege of Preswitz – his cavalry blocks are a mixture of complementary colours, and the painting is not flat and slab like. They’re impressionistic, giving a feel of movement and variety. That was what I was trying to aim for.



I probably spent more time on horses than riders, as a general rule. The Irregular horses are one of the strengths of 2mm sculpts – well moulded and easy to paint. I also tried to vary the Imperial coat colours in a variety of natural tones (browns, beige/ buff, dark reds) to a greater extent than the Swedish regiments. 


(6) Time your painting

I also found the following timings useful in planning painting sessions:
  • painting a squadron of cavalry (about 20-30 cavalry figures): 15-20 minutes. Armoured Reiters were quicker than Swedish Horse in buff coats.
  • painting a regiment of foot (4 figure blocks, often with a small unit of commanded shot): 30 minutes
  • painting a detachment of commanded shot (2 small units on a 30mm x 30mm base): 5 to 8 minutes. In other words, very quick. (I did 8 of the Swedish commanded shot units in one hour, and I’m not a quick painter.)
  • Spanish/ Imperial Tercio of foot (4 central units of pike and between 4 to 6 commanded shot mangas, of varying size): about one hour for the whole Tercio. (Purists will immediately know that there were no “classic” Tercios at Lützen. Quite true. I fielded several Tercios with very deep ranks on the Imperial side, but gave the Imperial player the option of recruiting allied forces, some of which I reasoned would have marched to German along The Spanish Road (as happened before Nordlingen in 1634). Only a harsh umpire would have denied the Imperial player the chance to must such forces in a classic Tercio formation on the field). 
  • artillery and baggage (4 guns and wagons for the artillery; between 6 and 10 wagons and tents for the baggage): about 20 minutes for each base. The wagons are very easy to paint.
Hopefully, from this list of timings, you can see that you can start to amass attractive armies in a short time. If, like me, you like to feel you’re getting somewhere with painting, 2mm figures are rewarding.  Just half an hour can see you finish a couple of regiments of Reiters or Horse. In a couple of hours, you could easily crank through a brigade of foot. I felt I was making progress before getting stale.

(7)  Varnish, but don’t get stressed about it

I varnished the figures with an artist’s matt varnish, but I doubt I needed too. 2mm figures are very resilient. They don’t seem to “paint-chip” or flake when playing. And they are too small to pick up – players instinctively pick up the bases. The varnish is to seal the paint and give some protection, but it does not seem as essential as with larger scale figures.

***

Hopefully all that helps. The next post will be on making 2mm terrain, after which, I’ll move on to rules and scenarios. Hope you can join me for those.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Thirty Years War in 2mm - Update


One of the things about taking on board a new hobby project is that it takes on a life it its own. Especially if you have a deadline. And things (like this blog for example) get forgotten - at least for a short while. Can it really be late March since I last posted here?

Although I promised to keep you all updated on the progress of my 2mm Thirty Years War project, actually undertaking the project has taken a great deal of my available hobby time over the last couple of months. The weeks since the end of March have been a whirlwind of figure and block basing, painting, terrain making and rule designing. Oh, and of course actually putting on the game and playing it.

But, I’m pleased to report that I got there. I took the Lützen 1632 game over to Evesham for the Operation Marker Larden get-together last Saturday (4th June). Now that the dust has settled, it's time to blog more about where the 2mm project has headed to, and where it might be going in the future.

Before I start, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who's helped so far. You know who you are, but particularly to Curt, Mark, Simon, Paul, Ed, Kieran, Nick and Rich. Thanks guys!



***

Where I left things in March was the bare-bones of an idea of staging one of the iconic battles of the Thirty Years War in 2mm scale. I blogged about the idea HERE, but as a reminder I had the focus of trying to recreate the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield as contemporaries had painted, or engraved, it. Over the past two months, filled with painting, modelling and terrain-building, I have tried to keep that aim in mind in creating the Lützen 1632 game.


Alongside this aim has been the intention to try and create a wargame which was focused on re-creating iconic battles in a modern (2016), manageable, compressed time period. I remember the 1980s, when every game took about four or five hours to fight to a conclusion. I want to try and avoid that, fitting in the 2mm battles in a period of at most three hours, from deployment to conclusion. This is going to take some play-testing and experimenting – the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend was a little way off that timing aim, but its early days yet.

Although the figures and terrain are finished, at least for the Lützen 1632 game, the next challenge is the rules themselves. Curt Campbell (from Analogue Hobbies) and myself have been working on a 2mm set of rules for the Thirty Years War (which should be eminently suitable for extension to the English Civil War), of which more in a later blog post. There is a lot of work to be done, although I hope we’re heading in the right direction. The intention is to make the rules emphasise the themes we’re looking for: grand tactical iconic battles, famous commanders, and a definite 17th Century “feel”. As far as possible, we’re hoping that the rule mechanics support and reinforce these themes.



In the next blog posts, I'll be looking at the things I've learned from creating and delivering the Thirty Years War 2mm project from scratch. I’ll be blogging about basing and painting 2mm armies, and the colour schemes I’ve used. I’ll cover terrain making for 2mm battles. I’m also hoping to blog about the rules we are writing, and how play-testing is going, including a look at the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend. 


 
Its been a busy couple of months, but it’s going to be fun coming back to blog about what’s been happening. I hope you all can forgive my absence, and join me for what’s coming soon.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Roundwood Recommends - Number 5: Daylight Magnifying Lamp


If you've been following my series of posts on my 2mm Thirty Years War project, you might have spotted a number of thoughful commenters worrying about the impact on eyesight when painting 2mm figures.

There's quite a bit of very helpful information about painting and eyesight online, both for wargamers and modellers in general.  Quite a lot of the information discusses good quality lighting as being helpful, with other articles and forums dicussing the merits of magnifying lamps.

In painting 2mm figures and figure blocks, Ihave found using a couple of daylight lamps invaluable. In particular, I've been using a large magnifying lamp from The Daylight Company for almost all of the 2mm figure painting (although the snowy/frosty groundwork I've been painting normally).

The magnifying lamp lends (15cm across) is large enough to easily view the whole of the bases I have been using for my 2mm figures (being either 60mm x 30mm for pike and shot foot or croat cavalry, or 30mm x 30mm bases for other cavalry and commanded shot).  The magnfication is pretty significant, and there's little eyestrain. The main challenge is then brush control and a steady hand.

The Daylight Magnifying Lamp I purchased wasn't cheap.  I ordered mine mail-order about 5 years ago for just under £100.  I also have a large Daylight Company desk lamp (with two Daylight tube bulbs) which cost me about £85 in 2007.  While expensive, both have, in my view, repaid my initial expense and I can't imgine painting without either.  Both lamps have also been very reliable.  I have had to replace the tube bulbs on the 2007 lamp once since 2007 (for £32).  Considering the great pleasure painting and modelling have given me over the years, I think both lamps were money well spent.


So, The Daylight Magnifying Lamp has more than earned its place in my "Roundwood Recommends" list of things which make our hobby even better.  Very warmly recommended.  Great for any figure painting, but almost indispensible for 2mm figures.  


Sunday, 27 March 2016

Thirty Years War – 2mm Imperial formations


Following on from my last post, I thought I’d set out how I’ve been getting on with painting the 2mm battalions, batteries and squadrons for the Thirty Years War.

Searching around on the internet, I found a number of very useful guides to painting 2mm figures. Quite a lot of these focused on dry-brushing or washing the figure blocks. I’ve tried something a little different, which is more of a selective “impression” of how the massed troop formations would have looked. 

Taking as my guide the paintings (of Pieter Snayers and Sebastian Vrancx, mentioned last time), I have tried to et he impression of a lot of troops, keeping the contrasts – between black shade and highlight – very pronounced.



I kept with a solid black undercoat for all of the figure blocks, touching up the undercoat where my frost/ snow groundwork had strayed onto the figures. It’s almost impossible to dry-brush the groundwork in this scale precisely, so I found some degree of going over the figures with a second, selective undercoat after the groundwork was painted in snow/frosty tones to be essential.

I added a few 2mm scaled flags to some of the pike blocks. This was mainly a bit of an experiment, and to just vary up the pike blocks a little. I cut the flags from the thin foil of a wine bottle – a reasonably decent Rioja, for that Spanish/Imperial feel, if you’re curious! 




After cutting the flags, I glued each of them with epoxy resin to the back of the pike blocks. Probably a little unrealistic, as I think the flags were often, for the Imperials, carried in the centre of the pike block, but they add a bit of depth and colour when painted. You don’t need much glue – just enough to fix the flag on. If you choose foil, you can bend the flag to fit or fold with tweezers later.


For painting I chose a neutral palette. I’ll post the paints in a “2mm Painting Table” in the Resources side-bar of this blog shortly, but generally what I was looking for was a contrasting set of grey, brown and deep red. I added the occasional lighter ochre for cavalry buff-coats, and some deeper dark grey occasionally for the odd pikeman. Again, I was trying to replicate the Snayers and Vrancx paintings, and trying to get a feel for the look of a massed army. I tried to paint a face on most of the figures with a tiny drop of medium flesh, and added a grey or brown hat (or hair) covering on the infantry. For the cavalry, I’ve added a dab of dark gunmetal for a helmet (the more authentic blackened armour I want to save for the Imperial cuirassier regiments).



The 2mm infantry blocks are a little fiddly to even see the heads on all the figures to paint the face and hat on, but look nice once done. By contrast, the cavalry are lovely (if tiny) figures. Painting the horses, and then the riders, was the way I tackled the dense blocks of Imperial pistoleers.

The last stage was to add the silver for the pike points, and then a fine brush to try and approximate some details for the Imperial standards, I struggled to do anything more than a Hapsburg crossed wood staves, stripes or an Imperial eagle on yellow. Any thought of an elaborate Virgin Mary of the Catholic League is going to be just impossible in this scale. Stick to 28mm for that kind of thing!

A thin coat of varnish on the top, and you’re done. Each block takes about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how far one wants to detail the figures and their flags. One of the nice things about the scale is having a feel of assembling a force without trying too hard. Oh, and storage. Storage is pretty easy as well …


Next time, I’ll be tackling the Imperial cavalry, some cuirassier regiments and Croats. After that, I’ll be doing the artillery, the Swedes, and then some terrain for a re-fight of the battle of Lützen, 1632 in early June. 

Thanks very much to everyone who has comments or been intrigued so far! I hope you can join me as I blog the run up to the game; I’ll be blogging more on the rules and a mini-campaign as the big day approaches.



Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Easter Project 2016 - The Thirty Years War in 2mm


I’m not much of a philosopher. My “Seventeen Secrets of Happy Wargaming” and the “Book of Wargaming Mindfulness” are never likely to be best-sellers. But in my view, one of the secrets of a great wargame is where there is a really good interaction and blend of figure scale, history and rules. These are games when the ideas behind the rules, or the rule-writer’s purpose, is reinforced by the figure scale chosen.

Keep that rambling thought in mind, dear readers, while I tell you about a project I’ve wanted to work on for some time. I’ve always been very interested in the Thirty Years War between 1618-1648. It’s a turbulent, violent, battle-strewn period of European history with some memorable and dramatic commanders. Some of the key engagements are huge, iconic battles which rattle like a drum roll through the 17th Century – Lützen, Brietenfeld, Rocroi, Lutter am Bamberg, Jankau and Nordlingen. 

 
It’s also a fascinating period of military transition, both tactically and strategically. We have fascinating tactical differences between the opposing forces – the different battle-drills of the Swedish, German and Dutch Schools; caracoling pistol-armed reiters against looser, more aggressive cavalry formations; the decline of deeper ranked Spanish Tercios against smaller, more manoeuvrable French and Swedish battalions. The commanders include some of the Great Captains of history: Tilly, Gustavus Adophus, Turenne, Wallenstein, the Cardinal Infante, Pappenheim, the Great Condé, often with characteristics which are dramatic, colourful, occasionally terrifying and often mercurial. 



And for those interested in how armies were raised and sustained, this is the age of the military enterpriser in all his guises - looter, mercenary, entrepreneur, proto-capitalist, and (infrequently) loyal subject.

It’s a fantastically rich, vivid period. Perfect for wargaming. Which leads back to my question – where to get started?

I’m enjoying 25/28mm wargaming at present – gaming when I can (sadly not often), and painting when possible (a bit more frequently than last year).  As some of you might know, I've been doing quite a bit of 28mm painting since New Year as part of Curt's Sixth Painting Challenge.  This has just finished (thanks again, Curt!) and while I want to keep painting my late seventeenth century armies, I really don’t want to start another period in 28mm.  The time it would take me collect armies for the Thirty Years War would mean that I’d risk losing interest before I finally have enough troops for a game.

I did think seriously about 10mm for a while. There are some amazing 10mm pike & shot armies out there, painted by hands far more skilful and patient than mine. Although I love the Pendraken figures for the period, my brushwork on 10mm figures seems to take me almost as long as painting 15mm figures does. And to have the kind of scale I’m looking for, I would have to do a great deal of painting in 10mm (which, being honest, I would prefer to spend on painting 25mm figures).

That leaves me with 6mm – or with 2mm. I am sure that 6mm would work well for what I have in mind, although there is one problem. I like to see pike-blocks with straight wire pikes. And my experiences with many 6mm pikemen is that their cast-on pikes can bend, sometimes looking a little spaghetti-like. It’s simple enough to drill out a dozen of the pikes and replace with wire, but try doing that with hundreds….? Not very appealing. So, I’m left with 2mm.

And the more I’ve thought about the 2mm-scale for the Thirty Years War, the more I’ve wondered if this actually might be a perfect scale for the period. Here’s some of the thoughts I had when deciding to give this most micro of scales a try for the period:
  • I want to capture the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield. My target in this respect is the wonderful “battle paintings” of Sebastian Vrancx and his pupil, Pieter Snayers. In these painting, which were very much in vogue in the 1630s and 1640s, the battlefield is laid out before the viewer. Units are clearly seen, and their formations, but individual details are often sketched in. The impression is of the formations in the field, not of individual soldiers. This is definitely the image I want to create for a tabletop game.




  • I also love the black and white prints of battles in books such as Theatrum Europaenum. These are works of art in themselves, depicting the actions fought, and stylising the combatants on the field.

  • I want to be able to collect armies quickly. I’d like an alternative to spending 30 minutes or more on a single figure, and I would welcome the feel of painting a full unit at a time. The scale and affordability of 2mm armies make this aim a real possibility.
  • I’d also like to see what I can do with the tiny 2mm blocks. Ian Kay and the great team at Irregular Miniatures have been producing these miniatures for decades, but I’ve not often seen them on the table at a wargames club. Is that because they’re too small? Or have they been overshadowed (literally, and metaphorically) by their larger (and equally lovely) 6mm cousins? I’d like to try and give the 2mm fellows a chance on my wargaming table to find out. 
  • For a long time I’ve wanted to create a dedicated winter terrain landscape, complete with frosted snowy fields, frozen rivers, snow-bound towns, and silent winter woods. The painting below by Pieter Snayers is very much the scene I’d like to try and create. I’ve seen a few such tables around the shows, and I want to try and create one myself. 2mm terrain seems as good a place to start and do this on a grand scale. When I painted up a few test figures last year on verdant grassy bases, the details of the 2mm figures were a little lost. With a plain light grey, frosted, snow covered base for 2mm figures, I’m hoping the details of the 2mm figures might “pop” a little more (or at least as far as a 2mm unit can “pop”).

  • Like so many of you, part of the joy of the hobby comes from recreating historical tactics in miniature. Creating 2mm armies gives me the chance to test out Spanish tercios against Swedish brigades, allows me to add commanded musketeers into the line, and lets me deploy multiple lines of infantry and horse on each side (as at Lützen, Rocroi and many other battles). I’d like to focus on tactical contrasts, and far less on company formations. If I was to try building armies on this scale in 28mm, I’d never finish all the troop types, and even if I did the table would need to be huge and the game would last days. In 2mm, I can create a couple of armies, and test out the tactics on a table of manageable size.
  • Finally, “always stand in the shoes of Giants”. It’s a great motto, and it works for wargaming as well as any other activity. In 2mm, there are already two great pioneers of the scale for all kinds of super-campaigns. If you don’t already know Kieran (from “Do You Have a Flag”) and Ed (from “Colonel Scipio’s Paladian Guard”), you should do. Ed and Kieran have staged many wonderful Super-Campaigns, one of which was set in the English Civil War. Ed has also been incredibly generous in providing me with a host of great information on 2mm campaigning, showing the way forward and inspiring me.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I’ve invested in some Irregular Miniature armies, some 2mm MDF bases and I’ve already started on basing and painting the Imperialists. Here’s the first results, with hopefully more to following over the Easter break. 

I’m hoping you’ll join me for a short series of blog posts about how I get on, from painting to terrain making, from rules development to the actual games themselves. 



And, if anyone has walked the dusty, or ice-bound, 2mm roads of Thirty Years War Germany themselves, be sure to let me know in the comments or by email. I’d love to hear your stories.
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