Thursday, 8 September 2011

Imperial Infantry Reforms (or A Touch of Gilder)

There was a time when painting white uniforms was an occasion of pure joy. You slapped on an undercoat of black and then dry brushed with white (enthusiasts could use varying intermediate shades of grey). Flesh, facings, and various accoutrements were then added and one held up the result for the approbation of ones friends and started writing an acceptance speech for the inevitable Turner Prize.

Those were the happy days when we used Humbrol enamels. The pigments in those paints would separate from the spirit that contained them and settle at the bottom of their tins; where they could be scooped up and readily applied using dry brushing. Nowadays I use acrylics, and while I am grateful that neither I nor my house any longer smells like an oil refinery, my dry brushing has suffered as a result. I simply cannot dry brush properly using acrylics.

Left Side Treated, Right Side Untreated

The result of this is that my Imperial Infantry, sporting a uniform of the most brilliant white, look like an advert for washing powder. This might not matter if the figure I was using was of the finest quality, but it only serves to highlight the defects of my sculpting. As I am currently concluding the painting of the first company of my second Imperial infantry regiment, I have decided it is time to act.

There is a technique that is worth trying here; something I was told by an artist friend some years ago, although I have never had occasion to try it until now. My friend has since disappeared off to Canada where he no doubt spends his time fighting grizzly bears; chopping off one's ear being considered terribly passée among contemporary artists. But fortunately the technique is a simple one and can be used by normal people unaffected by such sinister places as Art Colleges. Indeed, my friend told me that it originated with none other than Peter Gilder.

The method uses a touch of Humbrol gloss black mixed into a pot of Humbrol clear gloss polyurethane varnish (and yes I do appreciate the irony in the choice of saviour). The quantity of gloss black used is left to the user's discretion: I simply plunged a thin piece of bamboo into the gloss black and then mixed that into the pot of gloss varnish. I suppose the correct prescription would be 'add to taste', the key being that you can always add more, but cannot take it back out. I would also add the advice that you paint the pot's lid with some black, so that you don't use it on other tasks where normal, untreated varnish is intended.

The resultant concoction is used in place of normal varnish: as it dries it will tend to pool in places where shadows are supposed to form, creating subtle effects for no real effort. In my case the figure does not give many opportunities for that to occur, but it does at least tone down the brilliant white to a more acceptable shade. I am not sure yet if I have added sufficient black to have as great an impact as I want: but this is a decision that is worth taking time over.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Good Company

Progress on the Croats stutters along: I have one company complete (hence the usual corny title) and the second company is cast, cleaned up, and awaiting its muskets.  The photos show the extant company in a rather Napoleonic pose (it really should be lurking off to the side in some woods) in front of IR Furstemburg.  The latter regiment has seen the addition of two officers.

As the photos indicate, I have made at least some progress in my sculpting and the newer Croats rather put the older line infantry to shame.  The new infantry officer isn't quite as good.  When stood next to the Stadden Prussian infantry officer, he looks like a pigeon chested, knock-kneeded evolutionary throwback who could never expect to receive an invitation into polite Viennese society.  Needless to say, I shall be avoiding any chance of such comparisons being made.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sunshine And Light

"Ti-ra-la-la-i-tu! I gloat! Hear me!" So crows Beetle and his friends in Stalky and Co. It's clear that while Kipling's characters received a fair number of beatings, as were routinely applied to erring children of his times, they might well have both merited and benefited from a few more. For all that, I am pleased with current events and my glee is exhibited in excesses only a degree less exaggerated than those of the obnoxious Beetle. At the age of 50+ this is I accept, albeit with no great consternation, rather sad.

The cause for all this celebration is that I have finally produced a mold for Croats, and the figures emerging from said article are - to my mind - highly satisfactory. The accompanying photo shows the first three figures at the stage before varnishing and applying metallics.

Croats At Last

Setting aside the unhappy instance of the 'mold' that turned out to be a solid block of rubber, my attempts at mold making are improving. The detail on the figure has come through well; even the moustache is being cast intact.

The pose I prefer for light infantry, with the musket held in front of the body, does not lend itself to casting so readily as the usual march attack pose does. There is no obvious plane along which the mold can be split into two halves. Instead, the boundary between its halves has to be shaped to wrap around the figure. The resulting mold has to be flexed slightly to release the casting, but with only 24 figures needed for a light infantry battalion I can hope to get them cast before it breaks up: if this was for multiple battalions of line infantry I'd be making additional molds.

There is just one sour note to add: painting all the lace on these fellows is rather like painting that most trying of personages, the drummer, with all his gaudy plumage. Only now I have no fewer than 24 lace-bestrewn dandies to deal with. I shall console myself with the reflection that intricate detail like this does serve to disguise all manner of sins in the both the sculpting and the painting.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Bleh, Bah and Bum

I would prefer my blogposts to provide a history of my triumphs without any memorials of the accompanying disasters; but this post is perhaps a more useful record of what can go wrong when mould making.

Today, I was supposed to carefully pry my Croat master figure out of its newly made mould. Following that, I'd spend an impatient day or two allowing the silicone rubber to dry out fully before introducing it to hot metal. Shiny new Croats would then have miraculously appeared and all would have been sweetness and light.

Not the Desired Result

It was not to be. Instead of a mould that would split into two halves, I found I had a single block of rubber with a milliput figure somewhere inside it. So I spent an unhappy half hour trying to dig the figure out with a craft knife. That required slow and delicate work to prevent any damage to the figure, requiring a patience that, in the circumstances, was notable only for its absence: my instincts were more along the lines of wanting to punish the offending objects by chucking them against a wall. So the figure was lucky to come away with only the damage visible in the photo.

The disaster was caused by my using insufficient separator (vaseline) to coat the half of the mould that had been made from the first pouring of rubber. In my initial attempts at mould making some time ago I had used pure vaseline, resulting in the figure losing much of its detail due to a thick layer of the stuff. In subsequent molds I had thinned the vaseline with white spirits and the detail had thereby been preserved. But there are clearly limits to how far you can go with this: it appears I would be best using raw vaseline to separate the two halves of the mould, while using thinned vaseline only on the figure itself. Oh well, these lessons have to be learnt. I will repair the figure, and my temper, and then try again.

The Croat Peril

It has been some three years since I was complaining about the difficulty of finding a decent Croat figure that would fit with my Staddens. I should console myself with the reflection that if I am finding it hard to get to grips with these gentlemen, poor old Frederick never really managed to.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Ansbach Dragoons

I have started work on my second Imperial cavalry regiment. My chosen regiment is Dragoon Regiment Ansbach: a decision made on the grounds that the uniform of this regiment looks good and is also easy to paint. As this unit will complete the two regiments that are required to refight Sittangbad, I have decided to save on time and money by using the same mould as I used for KR Hohenzollern and simply painting over any differences. In truth, given the low level of detail that I paint to, this does not require any great effort.

The first three troopers are completed up to the stage of varnishing and metallics. The photo shows them in this state. For all the blue parts of the uniform I have used Coate d'Armes dark blue highlighted with medium blue. This may be a little too light, but the prints I have seen show such variation in shade it's hard to be sure what would be correct. The saddle blanket ought to be 'blue edged with white' but as I have no idea how wide the edging should be I am inclined to use blue alone. In the prints I have seen the saddle cloth has a blue zig zag inside a white edge: this turns out to be easy to simulate as historically correct wobbly lines disguise my wobbly brush work very nicely.

Awaiting the Shiny

I am happy with the finished model. The casting is pretty awful: mostly because I used unthinned vaseline as a separator when mould making and this blurred any detail I had sculpted on the figure. But, fortunately, once the figure is liberally festooned with bits of brass rod, wire, paper, milliput and thread representing musket, sword, reins, saddle cloth and pigtails this doesn't matter so much.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Never Mind The Knees

My latest efforts at sculpting have reached the stage where they are worth photographing: the magnification in a photo can show flaws that I will all too readily miss when handling the figure. Both figures have their knees rather akimbo: but the problem is not, I hope, too pronounced, and will not be visible on a wargames table.

Officer and Croat, Interrupted

The left hand figure is a dismounted officer to help control the companies of Imperial infantry that I have already produced. The figure's right hand is empty. It is easy enough to fit a piece of beaten wire representing a sword, whereas trying to gravity cast something as thin as a sword rarely works.

The right hand figure is the return of my first attempt at a Croat. I put this to one side after my first attempt casting it resulted in little more than a vaguely humanoid blob. The basic proportions were fine, although the details that I had sculpted were very bad. But I have redetailed it to look rather more convincing than before. As usual, the musket barrel is not present, my intention being to add one made from brass rod to each figure after it has been cast.

My desire to get this figure sorted was prompted by the unhappy impact the enemy Frei Corps had upon my army in its recent defeat. My line infantry might be expected to fail me, but an Imperial army should never find itself at a disadvantage in irregular warfare while there are Croats available.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Battle - The Plan Unravels

If you are going to have a plan, it had better be a good plan. In this particular case, my plan was an indifferent one, and its implementation was equally lacking. The key to its chances lay in the performance of the left flank cavalry: Kurassiere Regt Hohenzollern. These worthies had the job of blocking the enemy's right wing when it tried to come to the assistance of its left: against whom the rest of my army was supposed to hurl itself.

Kurassier Regt. Hohenzollern Loses Badly

Unfortunately, van Erp chose the simple remedy of masking the Hohenzollern's by charging them with his own Dragoon regiment. As I had formed my cuirassiers into a single formation this left me with nothing to halt the progress of his remaining right flank units.

With both sides fielding twelve sabres in their front rank, it seemed to me that the melee between the Hohenzollerns and van Erp's dragoons was exactly equal. The dice, however, saw things differently and chose this moment to pass severe judgement on the relative quality of the forces of the Reichsarmee. The result was that I lost seven troopers in one round of melee without inflicting any casualties on the dragoons in return. While I couldn't blame the dice on grounds of historical authenticity I did feel rather let down by this turn of events.

Van Erp's Dragoons repeatedly charged, and although the Hohenzollerns held their own in subsequent rounds, they were finally forced off the field of battle, leaving the Dragoons still in fighting trim and positioned to the left rear of my crumbling battle line.

Preparing To Charge

Meanwhile, on the far right, my Cuirassiers had charged the enemy infantry battalion and had come off worse. It had taken some casualties from musketry as it charged and then failed miserably in the subsequent melee. I had never expected to overcome a full strength line battalion with a cavalry charge, but was hoping to enfeeble it sufficiently for my following line infantry to have little difficulty in overcoming it. In the event, the enemy infantry emerged almost unscathed while my cavalry had taken a serious knock. In subsequent turns I split the cavalry in two, one part charging to red ruin against the same infantry battalion to halt its progress for a moment, while the other part attempted to punish the enemy light infantry company that had advanced without any care for its flanks. Even here the dice throws were indifferent and the enemy light infantry survived.

With my attack plainly failing. My line infantry halted and attempted to make some form of defence. With van Erp's succours arriving from his right this was never going to last long. My artillery did finally show some fighting spirit, with a couple of sixes removing a full company of his grenadiers. But its supporting infantry proved feeble and at last the gun was overrun by a charge by his light infantry company, who took some hurt in the charge but showed the by now customary Hessian superiority in the melee. Having reached half strength, the Freikorps then withdrew taking the sole surviving gunner with them: Jim informed me they had spiked the gun although, with no-one left to man it, this mattered little. No doubt, adding insult to injury, they left behind a rude note too.

A Plan Unravelled

By this time there was no doubt that the battle was a decisive victory for van Erp, and so we halted proceedings. I could feel a little let down by the dice, but there was no doubt that van Erp richly deserved his victory. I shall console myself by reflecting that I had simulated the performance of the Reichsarmee only too well.