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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