Friday, 25 December 2009

Limits And Renewals

There's only a few figures left in my metal molehill (as opposed to the normal wargamer's metal mountain). I won't be ordering any new material until the new year, so it's time to reflect on what I'm going to do next.

The first decision is that my Croat infantryman isn't up to the standard I want. Rather than waste time on creating a battalion from a figure I'm not happy with, I'm going to try working on the milliput master a bit more to see if I can improve it. The cuirassier, on the other hand, is good enough. I've just used the last of my small pile of unwanted figures (including the Croat rejects) to cast another four cuirassiers: with these painted the regiment will be at half strength. So I'll order some white metal to cast more from, along with silicone rubber for new moulds in the new year.

I really like the idea of building units using my own figures, and it's hard to restrain myself from grandiose ideas about sculpting all the figures for my Reichsarmee. I have learnt a few things from my first attempts and from the mistakes made so far - both on the techniques of sculpting and when making moulds. So it's worth taking time to explore further what I can acheive. This is where working on a solo project is advantageous: I have no schedules to keep to, there's no battle marked on the calendar that I must be ready for. So even if my experiment does not produce anything usuable, there's no harm done and I can enjoy the journey.

If I'm looking at creating multiple figures then I need to use a process that ensures some uniformity in scale and proportions. I shouldn't be trying to sculpt each individual figure totally from scratch. So my next step is to make some dollies - basic human forms without any detail - that can be used to simplify the process that has to be gone through each time I want to create a new figure.

Not Quite Vitruvian Man

As usual with my sculpting efforts, I will cheat like an Member of Parliament filling out his expenses. The trick, I think, is to replace art with a more methodical approach that can be used without any great skill. So this time I will use a 2D template (hence the image, not quite Vitruvian Man), as I did previously with the horse, to improve my chances of creating a figure with acceptable shape and form. I'm going to experiment with laying a wire skeleton on the template and then filling in the figure with milliput. If I leave the areas around the joints bare, the figure can be bent at the joints to pose it.

Friday, 18 December 2009

In my teenage years the only Charge! style units I possessed that were at full strength were artillery batteries and light infantry. The Airfix French Napoleonic Artillery set probably dominated the battlefield wherever Airfix models could be bought by teenagers (their Royal Horse Artillery set was ignored by aspiring European dictators for providing fewer cannon per box). Building a light infantry battalion took a little more effort, but with a single box of Waterloo British Infantry, painted as 95th rifles, you had figures to spare.

Innkeepers Eye View Of Freikorps Le Noble. Stadden Grenadiers With Milliput Hats

So it is something of a surprise to find it has taken me two years in my project before the first unit of light infantry is fully mustered. But, finally, the full complement of officers and musicians has now been added to Freikorps Le Noble. I have to say I do have some qualms about how those drummer boys are going to fare mixed up with such a desperate crew.

More Of The Same

Using the Stadden grenadier for the rand and file does cause some difficulties of scale. Stadden seems to have sized them to fit the Potsdam giants of Frederick the 1st and so they tower over their officers. That reminds me again of the old Airfix days where Highlanders and the Old Guard were both surprisingly puny compared to other troops.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Swirling Mass Of cavalry?

"Now the whole area forward of the Sittangwald was filled by a swirling mass of struggling cavalrymen". This is the description to be found in Charge!, in the opening stages of the Battle of Sittangbad. I will be guilty of hyperbole if I ever use anything like it myself. A more truthful description will be that large numbers of cavalrymen sat on their horses looking at each other. There is a downside to the sedate, parade ground poses that I prefer for my figures.

Cavalry Yes, Swirling No

As the photos show, the first squadron of my Hohenzollern Kurassiere is complete. It's slightly late, as I can happily state is only appropriate for a unit of the Reichsarmee: the only wonder is that they mustered with such useful accessories as a horse for every man.

Not Really A Mass Either

Painting up that squadron was great fun, and I shall use the enthusiasm generated to see me through a few less enjoyable tasks. I have a fair few figures - all in the eye-candy class - that have been waiting to be painted while I got ready the figures that were absolutely necessary for my refight of Action. So while the rank of file of all the units involved were present and correct on the field of battle, a fair number of their officers and drummers (gaudy fellows with overly complex uniforms that I hate painting) remained in barracks.

The first unit to turn to is my battalion of light infantry. I have just one officer to look after 24 men of Le Noble's Freicorps. That's not enough command and control to get a rabble like that out of the nearest Bierkeller, let alone keep them in line when the bullets start flying.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Return of the Prodigal Dilettante

I'd gotten past the hurdle of sculpting the figures. I'd made the moulds. I'd even cast some figures. But there it all stopped, while the sun beckoned and it was good to be outside. But now it's the annoying cold part of the year when the more naive type of goose is getting fat, and there's nothing to be done in the garden except shiver and bolt back inside the house as quickly as possible. All very depressing, but it does at least persuade me to get back to the various modelling projects that have lain unattended for so very long.

The priority job (that's common wargamer parlance for the most enjoyable bit) is to work on the first squadron of my Reichsarmee Cuirassiers. I'd cast a full squadron's worth of these gentlemen before breaking off for the summer. The next task, cleaning up what can fairly be described as very bad castings is quite a lengthy one. But, with commercial cavalry figures, I always had to cut off reins and saddle blankets, so the amount of time involved isn't so very different and there's less damage done to fingers by my clumsy knifework.

One unresolved problem from last winter was what musket to equip the cuirassiers with. I started by looking at the sensible suggestion that has been made of simply buying some muskets. But looking at those available, I can't find any that suit my tastes. Separate muskets by Stadden or Suren - in the slender style I prefer - aren't available, those muskets that I have seen are typical examples of 'cartoon fodder'.

The temptation at this stage was to avoid the problem by not issuing the cuirassiers with any muskets at all. There's some justification for doing this: in the Reichsarmee, where a fair proportion of the infantry would be lacking a properly functioning musket, the cuirassiers would very probably be the last to receive them. But I decided against this easy solution on the non-historical grounds that the more clutter I can add to the figures the less obvious the flaws in the castings are.

So my plan is to make my own. This shouldn't be too difficult: after all, most of an 18th Century musket is the barrel. I can model that in about 5 seconds flat by cutting a length of brass rod. As usual, my intention is to cheat as much as possible and use a paper template as a guide: no relying on that artist's sense of scale and proportion that I don't possess. The Wikipedia article on 'musket' includes a lovely jpeg of the article: this can be suitably scaled and then printed out. As an aside, I'd suggest doing this as a useful exercise for anyone who doesn't understand my criticism of commercial castings: the real thing is very elegant and slender compared to what is on offer from figure manufacturers. But be warned: the revelation may be an uncomfortable one.

The production process is very simple and surprisingly quick: a paper template with lots of muskets on it is printed out. 1/32" brass rod is cut to the length of the barrel with about 7mm extra to be incorporated into the stock (actually as these are for cavalry I have chosen to shorten the barrel considerably). The brass rod is bent where the stock meets the barrel. It is then lain on the template and milliput is used to form the stock. Subsequent applications of milliput can be used to add as much detail as wanted; but the thing to note here is that the need for most detail is illusory because properly scaled it's too thin to be visible. If detail has to be horribly overscale, I'd prefer it to be left out.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

The photo shows the completed figure with a Suren cavalryman on Stadden horse for comparison on the left. My brass rod/milliput musket is clearly visible and is, I think, pretty successful. The figure as a whole is shown to disadvantage when placed next to what I still consider to be a first rate commercial figure. I hope to complete the full squadron within a week and this will show better whether it works as a wargames figure.