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:

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(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.

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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.


31 comments:

  1. You're insane Roundwood... but it's already looking brilliant!

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    1. Thanks Sander! It is a little insane - but fun. Heaven only knows where I'm heading with this!

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  2. Invaluable info Sidney!! But highlighting 2mm........

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    1. I know, I know. Daft, isn't it. But the horses did look better with a highlight on them - honest!! :)

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  3. Excellent guide but frankly, I will stay with my 28mm

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    1. And, Benito, my dear friend, anyone in their right mind would do so along with you!!

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  4. I was initially wondering why you'd done the basing grey through white then realised - Lutzen = snow!

    nice guide Sidney :)

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    1. Thanks Tamsin. There was some method in my basing madness. Not much, but some !

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  5. A fascinating insight into the mind of a madman! In all seriousness wonderful stuff Sir, just seeing the detail of Snayers' painting helped to make sense of it all.

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    1. The "insight into the mind of a madman". A lovely blog header, Michael. I shall be sure to use that! The Snayers paintings are a million times better - they really are brilliant if you see one up close.

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  6. Brilliant work Sid (LOVE the baggage trains). After working on quite a few Picco 3mm Napoleonics I heartily agree with you regarding using more neutral-coloured basework to help the figures 'pop'. One question though: What base sizes did you use for your armies? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

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    1. Thanks Curt! The baggage trains will be a lot of fun to do. When you count the wagons, and think how long it would take to do them in 28mm.... The basing is as follows (and sorry for not mentioning this earlier):

      Cavalry (reiters, horse, etc)- 30mm x 30mm
      Foot regiments - 60mm x x30mm
      Imperial tercio (old-style) - 60mm x 60mm
      Commanded Shot - 30mm x 30mm
      Light Horse (Croats, Crabats, Finns) - 60mm x 30mm
      Caracoling Spanish/ Imperial horse - 60mm x 30mm
      Army Generals - 40mm round base
      Brigade or allied commanders - 25mm round base
      Baggage Trayne - 60mm x 60mm

      ... more detail on the base sizes and the units depicted when we get on to the rules!

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  7. Brilliant work Sid (LOVE the baggage trains). After working on quite a few Picco 3mm Napoleonics I heartily agree with you regarding using more neutral-coloured basework to help the figures 'pop'. One question though: What base sizes did you use for your armies? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

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  8. Great guide....I'm almost tempted by 2mm.

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    1. You should Lee. It's ... different ... but (1) fun (2) portable (3) addictive and (4) relatively inexpensive. Hopefully a winner all round.

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  9. Having just ventured into 6mm recently I found this blog post extremely interesting. Highlighting 2mm figures is impressive above and beyond a mere lesser mortal such as I. I take my hat off to you sir!

    Cheers, Ross

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    1. Thanks Ross! The "highlighting" isn't as precise as you'd do for 28mm or 15mm. It's just a different tone, an accent of colour. I'll try and give a couple of examples in my next blog post!

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  10. "Insane", "madman" I can't argue with them! I can't even paint the eyes on 28's! I would probably struggle just to see the fig's. Well done Sidney.

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    1. I don't believe a word of it, Rodger! You're being far too modest!! You'd see them fine! But, the best thing about our wonderful hobby is that you give all kinds of mad things a go a few times!

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  11. Really, really interesting post Sidney. As you'd guess I concur with pretty much everything here, in particular the focus given to the bases. In 28mm they're usually done as an afterthought, but with 2mm they can offset the lack of detail really well.

    Quick question - do you use any brigade markers? I usually have one stand with an Irregular miniatures mounted 2mm officer, and paint half the base with an appropriate flag, perhaps giving him a name as well. How do you distinguish between different units? I noticed the black spaces and some had white writing on them - is this 'write-on' stuff that can be changed, or permenantly painted on?

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks Ed! So, far, and I've only got the troops out for a handful of games, we're still working out the best way of marking troops and leaders. But here's a bit of an early disclosure:

      = In the rules, we have the idea of "Commanders" (named, historical leaders) and a single "General" for each side. Each Commander can control a brigade - which we have described in the rules as a collection of regiments , but something considerably less rigid than a Napoleonic brigade. The General can also control a brigade, or the Army's Reserve, as well as several other actions befitting the army's leader.

      = I've left a space on the leader bases for a purpose designed plate with the leader's name and Army standard/ coat of arms. I didn't get these done in time for the Lutzen game, but they're just about read now. More to come on this.

      = how we decided on depicting each army is a subject in itself (and a fun one at that). More to come on this - but I can mention now that it's a colour coded system.

      Hope that helps!

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  12. That is some truly stunning work, sir.

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  13. Some nice 2mm painting tips Sid. Looking forward to rules ideas for the TYW-ECW army level.

    I've played around with TYW army level rules but not satisfied with most of my efforts. One idea showed promise but never got back to it for lack of time.

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    1. Thanks so much, Charles!! Stay tuned for more TYW action and (hopefully) insight here shortly! It'll be really interesting to get your views on what's coming soon...

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  14. Blimey 2mm... Great job Sid.. Not sure I could see the blighters !

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  15. Highlighting in 2mm , insane but overall look great, too small for me to see let alone paint but each to their own good luck!
    Best Iain

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