Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Fat And The Thin

I took the following from a BBC Radio4 program, In Our Time. A site I'd recommend to any history buff who wants something to listen to while he paints figures.

In the mid 18th century the social commentator, George Coleman, decried the great fashion of his time: "Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world…The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; critics read with Taste; and in short, fiddlers, players, singers, dancers, and mechanics themselves, are all the sons and daughters of Taste. Yet in this amazing super-abundancy of Taste, few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies."

Prussian Infantry On The March (Detail from a Carl Rochling Print)

The jpeg above shows a detail from a print by Carl Rochling depicting Prussian infantry on the march. It's not here for decoration but to illustrate a point: what human beings generally looked like in the days before fast food and the motor car. Frederick's infantry marched great distances to confront Austrians, French and Russians. It seems reasonable to me that the figures that we use to depict them should look capable of doing the same, that they should be at least an approximate representation of the men who marched between Rossbach and Leuthen in the winter of 1757.

So it is surprising to me how many modern ranges of figures fail to satisfy what seems to be an obvious requirement. I do understand the argument that distortion of human physique makes painting far easier. I know this for a fact, having painted large numbers of frankly porcine figures in the past. But I have discovered that chunkily proportioned figures, no matter how beautifully detailed and shaded, have no great charm for me.

My figures are all either 30mm Stadden or Willies, available from Tradition of London and from Spencer Smith Miniatures. These featured prominently in the 'Charge' rules and so I'm fulfilling a childhood dream by collecting them. The cost of Staddens/Willies is not particularly high these days, indeed some modern ranges cost more. And their cost is not a significant problem if, like me, you paint so slowly that you will not be buying them at too great a rate. The key factor in keeping costs under control is to buy only the figures you can realistically expect to paint in the next few months, and avoid accumulating a metal mountain.

These figures are more difficult to paint than 'modern' figures. Perhaps that difference is less critical for a someone like me than it is for really gifted painters. I have found that you use a lot less shading and more black lining on these figures. The painting has to be more stylistic and less natural if there isn't a great bulk of metal replete with folds to hold highlights. But Frederick was notoriously stingy in the cut of his uniforms - so there really should not be that many folds.

I am not alone on this. There even seems to be a trend in this direction, at least amongst Old Schoolers. So I raise my glass at this point to my fellow believers, even while I offer my apologies to those who hold to the contrary view. It is, after all, nothing more than a matter of taste.


Bluebear Jeff said...


Since I'm in North America, it is much more economical for me to purchase RSM figures . . . but they too are elegantly shaped.

The "porcine" look of many lines is not to my taste either (there's that "taste" word again -- guess I'm a proper 18th century gamer).

-- Jeff

johnpreece said...

What could be a more pleasant project to follow in retirement than building armies with the figures that one could not afford in youth. I dont think people appreciate what a bargain they represent nowadays.

I completely echo your views on human anatomy, the last year has eemed to see one or two better ranges appearing. Could it finally be that the Emperors New Clothes are being seen for what they are.

A tremendously enjoyable blog, I look forward to more in the same vein. Congratulations.

Stokes Schwartz said...

Aha, a kindred spirit. And I raise my glass back at you, sir!

Best Regards,