Saturday, 1 October 2022

You Can't Have Too Many Woods

Work In Progress report: painting of the baroque chateau is only a little forward of where it had reached when I last posted, a week ago. I spent four hours painting the base colour of the stonework in what I wanted to be a beige colour. Don't let anyone, not even an online chart of equivalents between the old and new Games Workshop paint colours, tell you that the modern equivalent of "Bleached Bone" is "Ushabti Bone". It actually comes out not so much beige as the sinister yellow-grey of late WWII German tanks. So four hours wasted. After a repaint it's starting to look nice though, and we modelmakers know that our efforts only begin to look good when they are 95% complete, so not long now! Time for some other stuff...

This post completes my record of the woods project I carried out in 2021. My previous approach to wargames woodlands was shown in a post "The Woods and the Trees", which you can find if you click on the Terrain label in the right-hand column. That method was to build "wood units" with a rigid base and a perimeter of bushes and small trees. That looks good and gives an impression of defending troops being under cover, but disadvantages made me rethink it. There were several issues. The wood units couldn't practically be put together to form a larger wood, never mind overlapped to give a different shape. You were stuck if you wanted a wood to go up the side of a hill, as they very often do in reality. Being about an inch thick, the perimeter of bushes formed a slightly irritating no-man's land in play terms: should you measure ranges from the edge of the wood or where a defending unit stood, a certain distance behind that? It was awkward if a unit's bases straddled the edge of the wood. And fiddlesome to reach down behind trees on the perimeter to get at a unit within. So I decided to make some perimeter-free wood bases, using the flexible felt approach.

Here's the result. One big advantage is that this kind of wood base will lie flat on the board, whatever hills are underneath it. They can go on top of a hill, along the side or part on the flat, part on a hillside, as you see here. In real life, woods are situated disproportionately on hills, because the flat land is where you want to grow your crops. The tree models are a mixture of based ones and pin-fixed, as described in my last post.  The pinned ones can be placed on the very edge of the base, where they are out of the way of figure bases and usefully serve to fix the wood in place. 

If a unit of figures moves into the wood you just move any trees out of the way.It is still completely clear where the edge of the wood is in the game. A unit of figures which is partly in the wood and partly not presents no problem at all in play terms. I should have taken some photos with figures to illustrate this, shouldn't I? 

I made twenty-odd wood bases like this, of all shapes and sizes. Some only fit one or two trees, more copses than woods, which you sometimes need to create a historical battlefield. All these bases easily store in a single shallow fruit-tray, because they all quite thin in section. A useful feature when laying out a game is that the bases can easily be overlapped to get a wood of a specific shape. Because they are thin, the overlap looks acceptable. Again I should have photographed an example of this, but you can see it with the based trees on top of the woodland surface.

Most of the wood bases are covered in patches of grass and patches of leaf litter, which is what the interiors of woods are most commonly like. I made some of the bases with areas of weeds and/ or non-lurid flowers-see the tree bases below. The grass is fairly tall static grass, applied with my applicator. Leaf litter is a "witches' brew" of materials, stuck down with thin PVA. The main components are suitably coloured cork granules and the little leaf things you get from autumnal birch catkins, reduced in size by chopping with a rotary cutter. But the mix also includes sand, tea-leaves and chopped-up plant roots.

Lastly here's acouple of features used on some of the tree and wood bases. First come ivy, which uses foliage material from ModellNatur (left) and MIG (right). Both give a good impression from a normal distance but up close the fibrous material which supports the leaves is a little too prominent. 

These two bases are covered in bushes and foliage serving as weeds. Both are from the Czech firm Polak, who make some really nice scenic stuff, although their UK agent's website is problem-ridden at the moment, so I'm not adding it to my Links section. 

Friday, 23 September 2022

You Can't have Too Many Trees

Work In Progress update: the baroque Chateau is all made now and about 2/3 painted, so it should be ready to show you in a week or so. I would venture to suggest you will like it, as it's one of the most elaborate models I've ever done.

Meanwhile, last year a Franco-Prussian War scenario (the action of Poupry) prompted a major increase in the number of trees I needed, and of wood bases to put them on. We'll look at the wood bases next time, but here's some of the trees. I realised my old wood units ( see The Woods and the Trees under the "Terrain" label) were past their best after 20-odd years of being bashed around, so retrieved those individual trees which could be salvaged. Between those and the new ones, I ended up doing over 50 trees for the gaming table in one go. There's not much point showing you all of them, but here's some of the interesting ones. I've explained how I make trees pretty much before, and will do a proper tutorial at some point, so won't explain the basic method again here. 

Most of the trees are individually based, but some have pins fitted into the trunk instead. The pins go through a wood base or whatever, through a cloth and into a blue foam hill or underlying foam sheet. It takes no longer to push them in than to place a based tree in position.

This tree starts from a twig supplied in bulk by Diorama Presepe of Italy, who are in my Links list. I am a bit of a connoisseur of tree-twigs; this one has a lovely branching and re-branching structure, which is what you want.

Another Diorama Presepe twig, but what I wanted to show you here was the nice foliage on the base, which comes from MIG, the military modelling suppliers. Not cheap, but I think it has a lovely fresh look to it.

Several of the new trees used sagebrush twigs as the basis. Sagebrush grows wild in some very dry parts of the world and gives a great branching structure, bark texture and natural colour for our puposes. It's a bit fragile, but a spot of superglue fixes any breakages. The biggest problem is sourcing it, at least in the UK. In the US people gather it themselves, or buy it easily from model railway suppliers. I think the same applies in Australia(?) But us Brits really struggle to get hold of the stuff. I got a small batch from my fellow terrain-builder Herb Gundt of Indiana long ago, in exchange for some of my own treemaking supplies, and have had it in a bag for many years. It seemed high time to make use of it.

This sagebrush job is pin mounted. A nice upright shape.This is as tall as I like to go with wargames trees, because they have to fit in my storage system of fruit boxes. Long ago I learned to think about storage as part of the planning stage of a model (and of my wargames figures) rather than just making something and then worrying where it's going to go afterwards. I just don't have the space for a more happy-go-lucky approach. 

And this last one shows what a good, twisted, knarly, complex shape you can get with this material. One issue is that some twigs need working on to get a reasonably balanced shape, and you may have to start with the trunk at something of an angle to balance the canopy of the tree. In this case too much of the bulk was still on one side, so I think I brass-rodded a smaller twig on to one point to help balance the thing. But the upshot is one of my favourite tree models. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Basic Earthworks

I'd like to keep up a rhythm of something like weekly posts, so here's something simple I made earlier this year. These earthworks were made to a specific shape for a Franco Prussian war refight of the action at Villers Brettoneux in 1870, but the method will work for any shape or number of basic works, useable for games from the 16th to 19th centuries. 

Earth would be dug out and piled to a sloping profile behind the trench, usually supported, "revetted" by wicker panels, planking or gabions, ie earth-filled tubes of wickerwork. Most soldiers of those times were from an agricultural background and would be familiar with knocking up fences and so forth out of wicker. Short swords or sword-bayonets would be adequate for cutting the necessary shoots from bushes and trees nearby. The only other tools required were shovels for digging the earth. These might be supplied from the engineers' tool wagons, or given time could be collected from the local peasantry.

I wondered whether these earthworks would be wholly or partially covered in grass. Eventually they would, I'm sure, but how long that would take must have depended on the time of year and the weather. During a rainy spring or summer, greenery must have sprouted up within days, but this wouldn't happen during either dry weather or winter. I didn't have any pictorial reference for a partially grassed over look so decided to leave these ones bare. 

The materials used are just triangular-profile strips of blue foam, and Renedra wattle fencing panels glued to the rear. You could use white expanded polystyrene foam, although it's a bit delicate and a card base underneath would be a good idea. In this case I made the revetments with a slight forward slope, but that slowed the process, and isn't really necessary. The fronts are textured with PVA and household filler with sand chucked on top. Paint the earth a colour compatible with your terrain and figure bases. I went to town colouring the revetments, but a couple of drybrushes and a dark wash would give almost the same result. 

The troops defending the works below were painted by my friend Garry Broom. They are French second-line troops of 1870/71. Gardes Mobiles are seen in their usual blue and red, and there's an unusual unit of the Garde Nationale Mobilisee, the 1st Regiment of the Legion du Rhone, the "Defenders of Lyons" dressed in black with red piping. This unit fought respectably enough at a couple of actions, but the 2nd Regiment raised was a bit awful. There were even a 3rd and a 4th Regiments who didn't see combat. Which was perhaps just as well.


Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Work In Progress: Baroque Chateau

I haven't posted anything for a few weeks because I've been concentrating on building my second French chateau, the Baroque one. I've still got some unphotographed models to do blog posts on, but I thought I'd post some pictures of where I'm up to with this quite elaborate model. There's no intention of showing a particular stage or anything, it's just the point I happen to have reached. 

When I can post images of the completed model, I will give my customary ramblings about the Baroque look and the typical styles of French chateaus. For now I'll just say a little about how this is being made. The basis of the brick- and tile-work is the good old Wills sheets. There are a lot of cast bits where I modelled a master and made silicone moulds, and a (hell of a) lot of parts cut and shaped from styrene sheet and strip. The fourth significant material is wooden mouldings that are sold for dolls house work. The walls, windows and doors of the model are complete and I have started on the roof now. You can see the cast parts for dormer windows and chimneys, to be incorporated in the three-part roof, one bit of which is started. There are over 600 styrene parts making up just the quoins (corner stones), and I reckon there must easily be over a thousand parts in the whole structure. 
Hopefully construction on this will be finished in about a week's time, then it will take a couple of weeks more to paint. With a bit of luck it should repay the work that's gone into this model.


Tuesday, 9 August 2022

A Mini Chateau

Having posted images now of most of the terrain I built years ago, here is my most recent effort, completed only a couple of weeks ago. It is part of a project to provide terrain for games set in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. A sub-project within that greater one is to build several small chateau-type buildings. Most FPW battlefields had one or two such places, and they feature in the accounts as strongpoints being stormed at bayonet point. One battle (Coulmiers) actually had no less than six chateaus on it, but some of them were subsumed within villages so don't necessarily need modelling specifically. I decided three chateaus would cover things. Here's the first and I'm currently hard at work on the second.

I have long fancied making something in the French chateau line, as they are such nice buildings, deliberately intended to be pleasing and varied in appearance and in the larger cases impressive, with elaborate and stylish architectural features. Things being what they are of course, this desire rather clashes with the ground scale I tend to use, whereby a whole large battlefield is compressed onto a medium sized wargames table. For example in my FPW rules one inch equals a hundred metres, so a single building, even a big one, might scarcely be one inch square on its own! 

But where there's a will there's a way. Studying the layout of these places I find they come in successive layers. You have the actual chateau building, but that's surrounded by an area of stables and courtyards, which in turn is enclosed within a "zone" of walled orchards and gardens several hundred metres in area. The whole thing was fought over in reality. (An example most wargamers will be familiar with is the chateau/ farm of Hougoumont at Waterloo.) I decided that I could make a nice building in my usual "condensed" style, representing the whole zone without doing too much violence to strict ground scales. 

So off I went, starting with the smallest and simplest of the three chateaus planned, as something of a warm-up for the other two, which will be more elaborate. This one is in a gently neo-classical style, inspired by the Chateau of Duerckheim which stood in the village of Froeschwiller on the battlefield of that name (the one called Woerth by the Germans).  

The model has come out pleasantly enough, I hope, considering how small it is. It's made from all sorts of materials: sheet card and styrene, dolls' house mouldings, scratch-built details and parts that have been lurking in my bits box for decades.  It would take forever to describe how everything was made, but please feel free to ask about any of the aspects you are wondering about. 

In this second photo I have included a figure to show the scale. Not having any singly based Franco-Prussian figures at this point, it's had to be a 1940 one. The building is suitable for the late seventeenth century up to WWII, although the elaborate balcony railings suggest the nineteenth century onwards. Incidentally those railings are styrene 1/48 model railway details from the American firm of Grandt Line, now San Tuan Details. I reinforced the delicate castings with styrene rails on top and behind, and I think it should stand up to normal gaming use.

In terms of colour I decided to break away from my customary grey-brown stonework, and go for a pinky-brown sandstone. I used dark brown paint, highlighting up to a dark flesh colour. It makes a change at any rate, and goes nicely with the cream rendered walls.

From the back you can see the scratch-built doors more clearly. Front and back doors are identical, and it would have been a good idea to build just one and take castings. But I didn't have anything to make a mould with at the time I did this model, something that's had to be addressed for the next model. 

I painted a lichen effect on the tiles, which has come out OK if a bit understated. I'm going to go for a more drastic overgrown effect on at least one of the other chateau models.

Here we see just how small this model is, when placed next to the improved-MDF equivalent featured a few months ago. Of course both are strictly speaking more what the French would call a "maison bourgoise", or a "maison de maitre" rather than a chateau in size terms. But these are the compromises we have to make for wargaming purposes. The bigger one here is aimed at skirmish gaming, where a somewhat more "literal" scale of scenery is called for. 

And finally, the size contrast is shown fully here. If you look at the previous picture you will see that the height difference is quite small, in order for both to look acceptable with the figures used. But the ground area is very different. The mini chateau is just 90mm by 70mm so the area taken up is only a third of the larger version. In fact if you take account of the projecting areas the contrast is still greater. 

Monday, 1 August 2022

A Basque Town and Farm

A couple of weeks back I showed a not-very-good picture I had stumbled across of buildings from the Basque provinces of Spain. Those models were amongst the "ones that got way" as I lamented back in December, ie the models I'd made but hadn't photographed and no longer had access to. Since then I had kindly been sent some lovely photographs of the nice German village done for Jonathon Marcus. And now I have some decent pictures of the Basque models, so the only thing still missing from the record at this stage is the Trojan setup once made for Mark Sturmey.

The new photographs came initially from my friend Simon Chick, who had photographed them during a demo game at Salute 2014. But knowing now what show it was, I was able to search for other photos of the game. And I found them on two different blogs, called History in 1/72nd and The Lost and the Damned. (I tried to contact the owners of both blogs to check they didn't mind me reposting their pictures, but got no response in either case, from which I conclude there's no reason anyone would be bothered. Of course if I hear differently I will act as appropriate).  Right, here we go.

My late friend Mark had eclectic interests in terms of wargames periods, one of them being the Carlist War of the 1830's, largely fought in the Basque provinces of Spain. Mark used to pay people to paint his figures, but was keen on building scenery, a skill he was learning quickly before Motor Neurone Disease sadly halted him. This town was therefore perhaps half my work and the rest by Mark or made and painted between us. A couple of rendered buildings to fill out the town were taken from my earlier generic Spanish buildings.

The centrepiece church was one element that Mark paid me to make on a commission basis. It is modelled on a Jesuit church of around 1700 which stands in one fought-over Basque town. As you can see it has the unusual combination of a rendered structure with an elaborate but slightly grim stone fa├žade.
In the north of Spain the typical rendered buildings largely give way to bare stone or half-timbered ones, sometimes infilled with brick. The roofs are still low-pitched pantiles in the Mediterranean style however. You can see all these elements in the model.

I built this cross to go with appropriate figures that Mark had sought out. Such vignettes add to a battle painting or a demo game. 

And here's another one, based on a typical local pattern of well.

As a present I made Mark this Basque farmhouse or baserri. It has the typical recessed portal, creating a work area useable on rainy days. Sadly you can't see them in the photo, but there are little scratch-built tools hanging up within!

Another present was this granary building in the local style, standing on stone "mushroom" legs to protect the contents from damp and vermin. A pigsty and muck-heap complete the farm.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Cobbled Roads

This post wraps up what I want to show in terms of the wargames road. This time we are looking at commercially bought latex roads, although I have improved them somewhat. I have got nothing against just laying out a bit of cash and buying terrain products when they are as good as I could do (or better), and will save me time. I did consider methods of making cobbled roads myself, and flattered myself I could have made masters, moulded them and "cast" latex roads in the same way as the commercial suppliers, but why bother when I only needed about 16 feet of them. So these are based on cobbled road sections produced by Early War Miniatures, which I chose because I liked the texture, but there are doubtless other makes equally good if you look around. 

OK, it's time for another of my historical digressions I'm afraid. When I made the tarmac roads for the gangster era a few years back I researched the history of road surfaces, so to speak, because it seemed something that could be got right or got wrong, and because I do enjoy arcane knowledge sometimes. Obviously the "default" road up to the twentieth century was the unpaved, earth or "dirt" road, where the grass, etc was simply worn away by human and animal feet, plus the wheels of carts and carriages. Famously the Romans built many paved roads across their empire, which removed mud, puddles and the dust of summer. There were different systems, but all involved carved blocks of stone, so were extremely labour-intensive, often built by slave labour. Hence very few such roads were built again until something like the eighteenth century, and even then "chaussees" were few and far between, prestigious royal projects such as the "Kaiserstrasse" at the Battle of Kolin. 

Around 1820 a British engineer called McAdam developed a method of building roads that was at least as good but much easier to build. It comprised basically layers of stone chippings, sometimes smoothed off with sand, and rollered smooth - it was what all those steamrollers were for. These "macadamised" roads spread rapidly across Britain and America, then other developed countries. So by the time of World War One, they were the main roads you would see, both in town and country. But motor vehicles forced another change, because their wheels sucked clouds of dust out of this type of road. So tar was spread on top, then very soon was mixed in with the sand and chippings to produce "tar-macadam", the "tarmac" roads that we see ever since the 1920's. The change was so sudden and complete that you can use it to date old photographs of your town or whatever: if the road surfaces are pale and dusty it's a macadam surface, so before about 1920, if it's dark and smooth it will be tarmac, so after that time.

Hence in terms of wargames scenery, you want mostly dirt roads with a few cobbled ones up to the Napoleonic wars. After that and up to WWI the main roads were macadamised, so would have a gritty texture and be pale grey or beige in colour. From the 1920's, tarmac is what you want. Knowing all this, I chose to ignore it for my Franco-Prussian War setup, because cobbled roads are much more widely useable for other wargaming periods! I might make some macadamed roads one day...

So here's the EWM cobbled road sections, their well-modelled texture brought out by multiple drybrushes. The "grass" texture moulded on the edges wasn't very good in my opinion, so I cut that down and also cut the roads to the same width as my dirt ones. The thick, rubbery material is really quite hard to cut. I found the best method was really sharp scissors, a tool that's worth investing in for all sorts of purposes anyway. I recommend Fiskars scissors, which are easily available online. 

Between scissors and scalpel I managed to get  an undulating, chamfered edge, but the surface was unnaturally smooth and hard to paint. To get a better texture, I brushed on decorator's caulk with sand on top. This gave a rough texture which could be painted and have static grass added, plus it's flexible enough to bend with the road. If you bend it hard enough it will crack off in pieces, so don't do that!

Both the latex roads and my felt ones will bend nicely to go up and over hills on the tabletop as you can see here, but they do it in different ways. The latex ones are heavy and soft, so they sort of "flop" into place. The felt ones don't do this but they are flexible. You bend them when you set them out and they will go back flat afterwards. If two sections meet on a hill, the felt roads go together better than the latex ones if anything. 

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Flexible Dirt Roads made of Felt

There's been a bit of a delay in photography and hence blog posting, owing to the monstrous heat here in recent times. Now that we are back to proper British summer weather, real rain and decent cloud cover, I can get on with those tasks that require both hot lighting and constant jigging about the place. As my last-but-one post on flexible tarmac roads sparked some interest, I thought I'd show you the unmetalled roads, "dirt roads" as the Americans say, which I made last year. 

The era of battlefields covered in such roads lasted well into World War Two, at least outside western Europe, but in terms of wargames terrain I hadn't previously bothered with them, on the basis of being sceptical about any significant impact on battlefield movement speeds. Let's face it, they were rutted earth at best and deep mud at worst, so no easier for marching troops than the adjacent open fields of grass or crops. At a strategic or (ahem) operational level they did help because they led you roughly from one identifiable place to the next and they would pass through, around or over the obstacles you might find if you tried to go directly across country. But we found ourselves playing the Franco-Prussian War, where the battlefields were covered in roads and in the rules we were then using they had an impact. After one or two hopeless attempts to "suggest" the edges of roads with rocks and bushes, I thought it was time to try the approach that had worked for tarmac roads a few years earlier. 

A good look at battlefield maps suggested something like forty-five feet of road would do the job, together with a smaller amount of cobbled roads, which I'll discuss another time. About half the total length comprised 12" sections, a quarter was shorter pieces (8", 6", 4" and 2"), the remainder being junctions and curves of various radii. 

So these were strips of felt, broadly as described before. I decided on a width of some 48mm in all: just enough for the bases of most of our troops to march along them, without the board being covered in road. The edges of each section were cut in irregular waves, and I went so far as to chamfer the thickness of the felt at along the edges, using my scalpel in a diagonal chopping motion. This probably didn't make much difference to the final appearance, so feel free to omit it!

Unlike the tarmac roads, earthen ones obviously called for plenty of texture and at least a suggestion of ruts. After experimentation, I decided to do two strips of decorator's caulk, along which ruts were made with the handle of my scalpel. The space between them, and to either side was then covered in PVA  and the whole surface piled high with sand and grit. When dry this was brushed off.

For painting the first coat was a pot of emulsion I had got mixed at the DIY store, a sort of camel colour. Over that went darker washes of different browns to get some colour variation. Then finally a couple of lighter drybrushes. I was aiming for a sort of camel colour, which is what historical paintings mostly show. Perhaps I got over-excited sloshing on my home-brewed washes (none of your Agrax Earthshade here!), because the final result was OK but a bit darker than I'd intended.

Finally, static grass was applied along most of the edges and in strips down the centre. I used fairly short fibres, because I needed them to stand up, but didn't want bases on the road to be "floating" too high in the air. The grass was drybrushed a yellow-green, which I always think improves it. I added patches of flowers and weeds, but somehow I don't think they benefitted the final appearance, so I wouldn't bother another time.

This is what the sections look like underneath. Make sure to keep the undersides clean of debris to help them lay as flat as possible. I used both light brown and dark brown felt, the lighter colour being better because you can mark out the sections with pen, whereas the dark felt needs dressmaker's chalk to show a mark at all. On all the pictures you can see there is a tiny bit of edge-to-edge curling up. To be honest I was a bit disappointed about that, as I'd experimented endlessly with different materials and methods in order to avoid this imperfection. But they'll do certainly, and I am permanently sorted for dirt roads now. Next time we will talk about cobbled roads.