As promised, if not quite as early as I’d hoped, I’ve posted here the first of a short series of posts on painting late Great War French infantry. I’ve done the same in the past for British and German late war infantry, and thought that I should at least do the same for the French.
As before, I started with the bases, worked on the faces and then progressed to blocking out the key colours of the Poilu. I’ve covered base construction in previous blog posts, and I like to work on painting the base texture first, mainly because it needs a broader brush and less accuracy – it doesn’t therefore matter at all if the paint gets splashed on the boots and puttees of the undercoated figures.
The paints I use for the base are a mixture of Plaka acrylic, Louvre acrylic and Vallejo. The Louvre acrylics are really fantastic paints; wonderfully creamy and very easy to dilute, they are a perfect terrain paint. The Plaka paints are slightly trickier to work with, and I found they often separate in their smallest pots into a base gloop and a suspension floating on the top. They are, however, really excellent matt paints for terrain and bases, and can be very effective for dry-brushing. The Vallejo paints are used for fine terrain details, mainly on the brickwork I like to sprinkle on the bases to add a little colour, and for the brass-fret barbed wire and the stakes which the barbed wire gets wrapped around.
I also added some more of the “lichen” on the side of the fallen logs – very fine sand and PVA glue! – and tried to paint them so as to add a little colour.
The bases get built up with a mix of Louvre Raw Umber and Plaka Grey and finishing the bases on a platoon took about an evening, although doing 72 at once seemed to go on forever!
After the bases, I worked on the faces for the figures. All of the paints used were Vallejo Model Colour, with the base being Green Brown, mid-tone being Sunny Skintone and the highlight being Basic Skintone. Sometimes I wonder if I really need to have a three-colour base on the faces and hands of the figures – probably not, but that’s just how I’ve got used to doing it.
I then added some extra highlights of Vallejo White blended with Basic Skintone to emphasise parts of the face and hands catching the light – noses, fingertips, cheek bones or scars, whatever comes to mind when I look at the figure, really. Its an enjoyable part of painting the face, very much a reward for working slowly through the mass of faces on the figures.
I added most of the moustaches in black or dark brown, with a couple of lighter tones, and with that the faces were finished.
Next, I worked through the base tones on the figures, starting with the Horizon Blue base (a mix of Vallejo Mirage Blue and Vallejo Dark Bluegrey, in a 50/50 blend). I’ve been using an acrylic flow improver from Windsor & Newton for a while now, and it’s perfect dipping the brush in a small palette of flow improver when painting the basecoat colours, but especially the Horizon Bleu, which covers a large area of the greatcoats, vests, trousers and puttees on the French infantry.
I added the helmets in a base colour of Vallejo German Grey (…I know, what irony…), and that was the first stage done.
In the next post, I’ll cover the other base colours with highlighting and super-detailing to follow.
And, as an added extra, I’ll add a slightly random figure in the shape of a French war reporter. A couple of these crop up, unannounced, in Henri Barbusse’s “Under Fire”:
“Two Somebodies come up; two Somebodies with overcoats and canes. Another is dressed in a sporting suit, adorned with a plush hat and binoculars. Pale blue tunics, with shining belts of fawn color or patent leather, follow and steer the civilians.
Some heads in the group are now turned our way. One gentleman who detaches himself and comes up wears a soft hat and a loose tie. He has a white billy-goat beard, and might be an artiste. Another follows him, wearing a black overcoat, a black bowler hat, a black beard, a white tie and an eyeglass.
"Ah, ah! There are some poilus," says the first gentleman. "These are real poilus, indeed."
He comes up to our party a little timidly, as though in the Zoological Gardens, and offers his hand to the one who is nearest to him—not without awkwardness, as one offers a piece of bread to the elephant.
"He, he! They are drinking coffee," he remarks….
The assemblage, with its neutral shades of civilian cloth and its sprinkling of bright military hues—like geraniums and hortensias in the dark soil of a flowerbed—oscillates, then passes, and moves off the opposite way it came. One of the officers was heard to say, "We have yet much to see, messieurs les journalistes."
When the radiant spectacle has faded away, we look at each other. Those who had fled into the funk-holes now gradually and head first disinter themselves. The group recovers itself and shrugs its shoulders.
"They're journalists," says Tirette.
The figure is from the War Reporters range from Bicorne Miniatures. Sadly, there isn’t a specific Great War reporter figure, but the Rudyard Kipling inspired figure does almost as well. I’ve depicted him here with an attempt at a Louis Vuitton trunk, Mont Blanc pen and a copy of the morning’s Le Figaro. Definitely a gentlemanly way of waging war, although one not shared by the Poilu !