Wednesday 29 May 2013

The Verdun Project: Painting Late War French Infantry – Part 2

This is the second part of my short series on painting late Great War French 28mm infantry figures.

I finished last time with having completed the faces and hands of the figures and having made a start on the base colours of the Horizon Bleu greatcoats, tunics, trousers and puttees.

The next stages of painting the figures are fairly unexciting, and consist of adding the base colours to all areas of each figure. I tend to work in a “three stage colour” system of the type pioneered by Kevin Dallimore and friends in the late 1990s. The hobby owes a huge amount to great painters like Kevin and, as I have said elsewhere, I am only too happy to stand on the shoulders of giants!  If you ever read this Kevin - thank you so much!

I like to block in the base colours for the pack, canvas bedroll, leather pouches and webbing, rifle and helmet as mechanically as possible. 

I make a note of the three colours used for each part of the figure on a paper template grid. I’ve posted a copy on the Blog on the right hand side under “Play-Aids” with the other documents. I’ve done something similar for each of the armies I’ve painted over the years. On the template grid, I try and reduce the painting of the base colours and mid-colours to as mechanical a formula as possible. This helps with continuity over the course of painting an army or force, and also makes sure I don’t forget which colour to use for, say, the chinstraps on a helmet or the colour of the waist-belts. 

In building up the template grid I try and refer back to resources, such as colour photos from museums, artwork or photographs from the period and, of course, the very helpful Osprey (and similar) publications on the period in question. As regards the French army, I was very well served with a large amount of images on line, photos sent to me by friends (thank you Curt!) as well as the two Osprey books below which were very helpful in showing images of troops and their equipment.

Having blocked in all the base areas of the figures, I gradually build up the mid-colours (with one exception, as mentioned below). Sometimes, when the mid-colour involves adding white, I move onto the highlight immediately after applying the mid-colour. However, as I try to use white as a highlight colour as sparingly as possible, I generally prefer to try to do all the separate mid-colours together, blending the tones of the figure where necessary.

I then get to stage of the figure looking about “75% done”, but without any of the vibrancy or highlights which bring the figure to life. I then add the highlights, trying to keep these as selective as possible so as not to drench the mid-colours. You’ll see in this regard that not all colours have highlights in the template grid – sometimes its not necessary to highlight absolutely every colour, especially when the item being painted is comparatively small on what is a 28mm model figure which is going to be viewed on a wargames table from a few feet away. As mentioned before, I try to use a different shade or tone for contrast instead of just adding white to the mid-colour. Hopefully the template grid helps give an idea of this. An example of this is the three shades used on the field packs …

I also like to do some of the detailing at this stage to try and bring the figures to life. So – moustaches, wood-grain on rifles and revolver handles, buckles and webbing get finished at this point. I think of this stage as a reward for working through the duller mid-colour tones …

That leaves me the figure looking finished apart from a couple of final items. The main one, as you’ll see from the figures below is the mid-tone and highlight for Horizon Bleu. I’ve decided on all the figures to paint only the base coat of Horizon Bleu (plus some deep shade) until right at the end. This allows me to ensure that the key colour – what you might call the colour of the late Great War French infantry – is done as the final item and is allowed to frame and dominate the figure.

Leaving the Horizon Bleu until the end also gives me the chance to adjust the tone and shade on the figures to make sure looks right. Somehow, it seems to work, as hopefully you’ll see in the next Blog post, along with the super detailing for the base and for the figure.

I'll try to post the final part of this short series in a couple of day’s time. Hope you can join me for that.

Monday 20 May 2013

A Huge Thank You: 400 followers and future plans

I noticed a few days ago that the number of followers of this Blog has ticked around to just over 400. I just wanted to take the time to say a huge thank you to every single follower, commenter and reader who's supported the Blog over the years. 

I really am very grateful indeed to every one of you for sharing the hobby with me.  When I started blogging in 2010 I thought it might be a bit of a solitary pastime. But not at all. It's been a gateway to a terrific community, full of ideas and friendship - thank you all for making it such fun!   I'm not sure I offer anything new at all - I think every idea I've posted on the Blog has been adapted and modified from things that other people have pioneered.  But I have really enjoyed jumbling those ideas about and coming up with gaming ideas which have been fun wargame with, and which are (fingers crossed!) also enjoyable to read!  

And hopefully you can continue to enjoy the hobby with me going forward in the future.

And any mention of "The Future" for a wargamer tends to lead to thoughts of elaborate and ambitious plans. As I rule, I really don't really like predicting or announcing what I'm going to do. One of my favourite quotes comes from something Tears of Envy posted a while back on her blog from Victorian philanthropist Henry Wellcome: "Never tell anyone what you propose to do until you have done it". Sound, prudent advice. Which I am about to ignore (no doubt at my peril).

I like reading wargamers' plans and targets, not least because they always seem to have that feel of excitement and expectation about them. So, with that backdrop, here's mine for the next 3 or 4 months:

As you know, I'm still working through a series of posts on painting French late war infantry, with a few more Verdun-related and French-Great-War book reviews to come. After that, I'll post the French support weapons and artillery (some very nice models to model and paint from Brigade Games and Scarab), with some "hardened" veteran infantry and Tirailleurs Sénégalese bringing up the rear.  I'll also try and find a more Gallic-ised banner for this Blog (something I've been meaning to do for what seems like forever!)

That probably takes me up until July, at which point I'm looking forward to modelling and painting a French armoured Escadre from the Groupe D'Artillerie Spéciale at Berry-au-Bac, at the opening of the Nivelle Offensive in April 1917. It's been a while since I tackled tanks on the painting table, and I'm keen to get back to weathering oil stains and rust! 

Alongside the front line troops, I'm hoping to do some French command stands and a short series of French vignettes, including a couple of well-known wartime personalities, a distinctive Parisian air and some French Trench Loot (matching the British Trench Loot I did a while back).

On the writing side I shall be posting some more Verdun and French related book reviews, which I think people seem to have enjoyed (at least they've told me so!). There's a couple of Verdun scenarios for "Through the Mud & the Blood" (which are written but not play-tested), and also a feature to be posted on creating French "Grandes Hommes" for "Through the Mud and the Blood" which is half-written but also needs play-testing. Finally on the writing front, and to accompany the Escadre from the Groupe D'Artillerie Spéciale, there's something I'd like to post this summer about recreating French Great War tank tactics on the tabletop - this would be a short article, pretty much along the lines of the "Rolling Into Action" article I prepared for the TooFatLardies Christmas Special in 2011.

I'm hoping to round-off the Verdun Project with a few game reports and AARs, together with an AAR of the "Verdun: A Lost Generation" boardgame from Against the Odds - probably in the summer when I can get my boardgaming chums over for a weekend. 

I think doing much more than finishing the French in 2013 may be a tall order. But once I've finished the French, I'll hopefully make a start on Lord Strathcona's Horse from Moreuil Wood in 1918.

Hopefully you can join me some, or even all, of these! Best regards and thanks until then, mes braves!

Saturday 18 May 2013

The Verdun Project: Painting Late War French Infantry – Part 1

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 !

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