Painting bases is one of those painting jobs which I think it works best to do in bulk. You’re really looking to create a theme which unifies the unit you’re working on, and draws a number of different figures and base sizes together.
In an ideal world, you’d probably base your whole army together in one go. I know some people who have done this, but they tend to be the exceptions and not the rule. For mere mortals like me, it’s enough of a job to paint the bases on one unit and make sure they tie in to the others which have been done before and which come after. in other words, when it comes to painting bases, I'm a "painting in batches" kind of guy.
With that in mind, I found it helpful to keep a note of the paints and techniques used to try and achieve some sort of consistency. I tend to think “macro” when it comes to basing, relying on cheaper general-use acrylic paints than specific hobby paints like Vallejo or Foundry (at least for the groundwork). I’ve been using a mixture of Louvre and Plaka acrylic paints for a while now, and I really like the effect they give. The main Louvre colours I’ve worked with are black, white, light ochre and burnt umber, accompanied with a range of Plaka paints but in particular grau (grey), ziegelrot (a dusty brick-red/pink), gelb-braun (a wonderful muddy brown which is now, very sadly, discontinued) and dunkelbraun (a nutty dark brown about the colour of mahogany).
I tend to paint bases after priming and undercoating but before anything else, mainly because it’s easier to repaint over the areas (particularly on the boots and legs) which the bigger basing brushes accidentally cover. That being said, for some reason I can’t remember, I’d painted some of the figures in the pictures below with a base of flesh. Sometimes I have random days like that!
So, here's the Roundwood method of painting figure bases. What I try and look for is two contrasting, strong colours for basing. I try and make sure they correspond with the terrain I'm using with the figures (whether terrain boards, or terrain pieces). For the Great War, and for other modern periods, I've gone for grey and brown - these seemed to be good contrasting, realistic colours which you can find in lots of settings, whether in a trench system, open country or in an urban or village setting.
It doesn't matter what you start with, but for some reason I start with brown. So, first paint dark brown irregular shape (or shapes) on the base. Then lighten the dark brown shape with some yellow-brown and light ochre. I cover about half the base with these colours, trying to make the area covered irregular and patchy. I then cover the other half of the base in dark and lighter grey. I’m not too worried if I paint over feet, boots, equipment, as these will be painted properly later.
I tend to paint the glued-down floor matting in dark brown and progressively lighter brown. There are lots of other vegetation you can stuck on bases, like Siflor tufts, but I quite like the very cheap and very durable tough matting. Once you have hacked it up a bit with scissors, flattened it, and generally duffed it up a bit, it makes (to my eyes) a pretty decent impression of coarse, untamed grasses. I love the Siflor tufts, but my addiction to coarse matting seems to have died hard. Leopards and spots, I guess.
At this point, the bricks and corrugated iron are getting completely ignored. In a pretty short time, you’ll have a rough paint coverage on all the base, like these figures below.
I normally add some highlighting at this point, generally adding white to grey or yellow-brown and trying to bring out the gravel, sand and any contours on the base.
The bricks are then picked out with a combination of dark brown and brick red. I like to paint around the bricks, trying to create an impression of dust, broken bricks and general rubble surrounding the brick work.
At this point you may wonder why on earth I bothered with bricks in the first place – after all, aren’t these troops supposed to be in the trenches? It’s a very good question. I wanted to try and add features to the base which were distinctive - such as brick work, corrugated iron, old barbed wire posts – but which were historically accurate. There was more fighting near buildings on the Western Front than I had first thought when I started wargaming the First World War a couple of years ago, including the Somme villages, actions in Bourlon and Fontaine near Cambrai in 1917, the mining villages around Loos, the infamous “brickstacks” near Loos at the La Bassee brickworks, and so on. Enough, in other words, for me to justify the bases as looking right on those particular parts of the front line. It’s difficult to produce bases which are historically accurate in absolutely every setting you might think of to game in (unless you're in the Western Desert!), and I find it’s more a case of justifying why something looks right for most of the time, rather than all the time.
The brick base colours then get progressively lightened with a little Plaka or Vallejo orange and finally white, highlighting the base colours. I generally do this with a smaller, more controlled brush.
The corrugated iron is painted in a similar way, starting from a dark grey or dark green, and lightened along the corrugations. I usually add some Vallejo rust-coloured paint and (once the figure is painted and before varnishing) weathering powders to make the corrugated iron look more distressed. Hopefully the picture below of the Renegade 77 mm gun crew gives you and idea of the basing and painting, and shows the areas of “brickdust” around the bricks themselves.
I finish the basing when all of the rest of the painting is done on the figure with a brush of Louvre black around the edge of the base. I like the sharp contrast that makes between the base and the terrain, but I know some prefer to have base edging in a more natural tone.
None of this advice on painting bases is in anyway rocket-science, and it’s fairly simple to do. There are far, far better examples of basing on the internet and on people’s Blogs, but (as they say) this is what works for me!
Up next time....terrain making challenges and disasters on the Flanders Front as I try and finish the "Dead Marshes". See you for that soon!