Blog-Con 2013

In possibly a record time, James Brewerton ("GI James' to the cognoscenti/cruel) has organised a gathering of bloggers to be held over the weekend of 9th/10th November at the premises of (and with the backing of) Wargames Foundry .

Ought to be a great event, given the talent and the interesting personalities in the blogosphere and, if I can make it, you can all buy me lots of nice stuff cos it's my birthday on the 12th!

So, I can't think of a reason not to attend. I can, like intercontinental travel, a prison sentence and such, but that's not the sort of thing to put into a promo posting . . .

It's a big one and it's probably offensive!

Because I've been otherwise engaged for the past while, I've neglected to promote some good ideas from other blogs. Not unusual for me, but it's about time I caught up - and a word of warning: if you're a mard arse, don't read the last two paragraphs.

I'll pause here while some of you scroll down to read them. O.K.? Off we go . . . .

First off James Brewerton wants to know if anyone would be interested in a blogger convention. I think it's a great idea, but so far only another fifteen others seem to agree. So, GET YOUR FINGER OUT and shoot over to:

There's a short questionnaire to complete and that's it. If nothing comes of it, then so be it, but I think it's innovative and ought to do a lot for the hobby if it develops to its potential.

Sharing the kudos around a bit, Andrew Saunders (and James 'Great Idea' Brewerton) came up with the suggestion of developing a Blogger Community Currencey scheme. For details see:

Looks good to me, but what do I know? Have a think about it yourself and then support it.

Now, on the same blog Andrew asked what people thought of blogging and what they'd got out of it prompted by comments he'd read elsewhere. Several people responded and I've included my response in the following few paragraphs.

Way back in May 2001 a Yahoo group was formed (spawned from an existing site) called Wargames Mongrel. It's pretty much moribund now, but over the years it ran three internet based wargame campaigns, painting 'swaps', group painting schemes, innumerable figure trades, a couple of demo games at Partizan and even a live wargame between two teams from England and Australia (England won, naturally!). This was all underpinned by an unending stream of advice and discussion on all aspects of wargaming and painting and even historical information. At its height, membership moved towards to 200 mark with people drawn from the UK, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, Holland and a couple of other places I can't remember. Five members started their own wargames based companies (three of which still operate) and it included several modellers and sculptors in its ranks. It gained a bit of a reputation (not always good) and it certainly wasn't a group for sissies, but it was a genuine community which offered support and encouragement and very sound advice (and some cracking jokes and leg pulls!).

These days it's been eclipsed by the blogosphere, but the blogosphere doesn't seem to have found its feet yet. There are countless thousands, probably millions of people with infinite amounts of knowledge banging out billions of words and photos, but with little (probably no) central focus or unified aim. We're all in it for ourselves, be it ego or whatever, yet the opportunities to capitalise on this energy to produce something worthwhile seems almost unlimited.

There's no question about it; I get far more out of the blogosphere than I put in and that's just fine by me. I get entertainment, ideas, advice etc., combined with the luxury to pick and choose. Why do I blog? Hmmm . . . not sure to be honest. I think it's probably a cathartic exercise at its core which also gives me the boost to progress projects as well as pose questions / discuss issues. What makes a good blog thankfully still seems to be up to the individual until some association or other decides to tell us what to think and do. For example (this'll set a few hares running), I regularly read on blog by a chap who's so far up himself he could wear himself as a hat. His painting style verges on the outlandish (and is, in my opinion, overrated) and his opinion exceeds his skill level, but I like reading his blog. I also read blogs which are painfully dull or badly written, but they often contain nuggets of information worth knowing. There are other blogs I look forward to reading because they're funny or very well written or well illustrated or whatever. The day some clown starts to formulate the best way to produce a blog is the time I think most of us will head for the hills.

O.K., what have the Romans done for us? Well, I get a good deal of entertainment from the blogosphere and sometimes a degree of irritation too. I get far more out of it than I put in and that's just nuts to me as Flashman would say. I've learnt new things and picked up new ideas; discussed all sorts of things and, as David Bromley says, I've saved on books simply by consulting the encyclopaedia of the blogosphere. It's a medium that hasn't realised its full potential (barely any of it really) and the very few exceptions like the Bloggers for Charity scheme are really only a foretaste of what could be achieved. I have made friends through blogging, but I don't think we'll ever marry.

Has it changed my life? Er . . . no. It's certainly added another facet to it, but if the blogosphere collapsed tomorrow I certainly wouldn't be reaching for a rope.

Painting. I've painted leads for forty five years or so (I was oil wiping horses while I was still at school) and I've used each medium as it's appeared. I freely mix media just as I mix painting styles and relish the diktats of the painting Nazis, revelling in the thought that they simply could not conceive the enormity of the toss I do not give. I get satisfaction if I improve my skill (ANYONE can improve their skill) or even just the 'look' of a figure or unit, but I have limits as to what effort I'll put into various types of figure. For example, I'll put the work in on my 15mm Napoleonic staff figures and tart'em up like a King's Cross whore, but block painting and staining is all the rank and file will get. My advice? Paint the way you're comfortable with and don't let someone else dictate to you. However, if you do like trying new or different techniques and/or just feel driven to turn out an army of masterpieces, then that's great; get on with it. Ignore those who say it's not worth it. It might not be for them, but it's your hobby and they're your figures. The crunch comes though when you have to decide what your driver is. Are you primarily a gamer (and what kind of gamer) or a painter or something else. It's going to be a challenge churning out large armies of museum standard figures.

As Groucho Marx said, these are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others.

Have I mentioned I found some ECW figures I'd forgotten I had​? Well, I hadn't actually forgotten as such, but they would never feature in any stream of consciousness thing. Anyway, I've always been interested in the ECW and I can even tell you when this interest was first piqued: hot afternoon in a history lesson during the early summer of '66; teacher was Andy Clarke. He was describing the Battle of Edgehill and used the park opposite as a visual aid. I was sold.

Of course a lot of things have changed since then, not least my knowledge of the period and the assimilation of more modern research and interpretations. Quote from Martyn Bennett in The History Review (2003):

“The enduring symbol of the crisis which gripped the British Isles during the middle of the seventeenth century is the name given to it, 'The English Civil War'. Yet this symbol is itself problematic and can even act as a barrier to a clear understanding of what happened in that turbulent century. It may be argued that calling the conflict the English Civil War limits the scope of our perceptions. By labelling it an English event, we can marginalise Scotland and Ireland and perhaps even ignore Wales altogether. Yet all four nations were involved in the rebellions, wars and revolutions that made up the period.”

You bet the most precious piece of your anatomy it can! It's a hugely important period in the history of the British Isles where even just a snapshot of England shows the establishment of a national, professional standing army (which evolved into the English and then the British Army) controlled solely by the government (which was really a military dictatorship). This in turn is deposed in a coup by the very army it created and a king put on the throne by the same force that brought about the execution of his father. George Lucas couldn't write this stuff!

Anyway, I've knocked out a dozen cavalry (phew!), ordered some more figures and I'm drafting some rules which I think give me the feel of the period (or my take on it). The rules are being cobbled together from Clarence Harrison's 'Victory Without Quarter' Pete Berry and Ben Wilkins' 'Forlorn Hope', and MS Foy's home brew adaptations:

( ) – it's O.K. I'll send him the result and they're not for publication anyway.

So, you've got the message that this is one of my interests, but at this point I think I'll indulge myself and have a pop at those re-enactor types. I was at Warkworth Castle once when the place had been infested with people pretending to be medieval villagers and the like. My kids just looked puzzled. I've suffered enforced jollity from bloody Vikings, a variety of Napoleonic wannabees (the 21e Leger originated just the other side of the metropolis to here), ACW-ists and Second World War enthusiasts, including those bleedin' SS weirdos. I swear one day I'll turn up in a pair of striped pyjamas. What's this got to do with my ECW project? Why, The Sealed Knot of course. They've produced an enormous amount of research information and their members have written authoritative books, but I fail to see what spending weekends mincing about in costumes has to do with it. The 'living history' argument is pretty thin. How many times do you have to don a pikeman's armour to realise it's heavy? Fire is hot; you don't have to repeatedly stick your hand in it to confirm that, you can take it as read. I support the need for proper empirical evidence to give an informed view, even though we've just been subjected to virtual cookery courses in Tudor cuisine on the BBC, but I'm not sure what these re-enactors contribute. Driving (not walking) for a couple of days away running about in the open air and sleeping rough (with a guarantee of food and a McDonalds within striking distance), before returning to your double glazed, centrally heated, fully carpeted residence with clean running water (hot and cold), well stocked larder and freezer and microwave bears little relation to the lives of the poor sods you're claiming to be representing. And they're mostly overweight, some verging on the obese. Now, as a professional fat git, I speak with some authority here and I maintain that the only weight problems suffered by the soldiers of yesteryear were the result of regular exercise, poor food and too little of it anyway. 

If you want to play a variation of Cowboys and Indians, just say so. Man up! In the meantime, if you approach a sour faced old sod who is obviously not interested and tells you he can operate modern automatic and semi-automatic weapons, knows how to load a musket, but has no desire to and really doesn't want to hold your sword, just back off! Oh yeah and you WWII types GET A BLEEDIN' HAIRCUT!!!

See? I told you not to read the last bit!

Ruminant Painter . . .

My knee's playing up again, which means little sleep and periods of feeling sorry for myself. It's also an opportunity to do some of the 'housekeeping' jobs I'm normally too busy (read 'lazy') to get around to. Consequently, I've just come across a note I did for a mate (still one of two left) on painting horses with oils. Now, I know this has just about been done to death on the blogs recently, but I thought I'd include it here as it might be useful to anyone who still needs this sort of information or has been living on Mars for the past year or so. Message begins . . . .

The oil wash technique is straight forward and pretty much idiot proof. It's very fashionable now, but I picked up the idea from Peter Gilder in the early 70's, although he originally only used Humbrol enamels in his washes. It's been used since this time by lots of gamers I know and it has the benefit of being fast and adaptable. You can't really make a bugger of things because there are two easy ways of dealing with 'mistakes' or 'bad' finishes.

A couple of points before you start:

  • you need to make sure that all mould lines etc have been removed because this method will show them up like motorways on an OS map;
  • the whole point is taking paint off a figure so you need to make sure you have a solid undercoat.

I don't go in for any fancy (or expensive) stuff. I first spray the horses with Halford's matt white primer. Usual rule applies: two thin coats are better than one thick one. Over the years I've used all sorts of sprays, even so called etching primers and, to be honest, I could never tell the difference other than the price. This dries very quickly, after which I apply a coat of acrylic paint, which is the proper undercoat and the one which will show through as highlights after the oil wash has been completed. This has to be lighter than the oil paint or it defeats the object, so any light brown through to mid brown will do or even yellow ochre, sand, or cream/tan shades will do too. It all depends on the type of horse you want to represent. Again, two thin coats are better than one thick one. I frequently use craft paint for this because it's only a base coat and it's also dirt cheap. Why waste relatively expensive Vallejo paint or such for a basic job as this?

I think this is a key difference to what I've read some others do, in that it's acrylic paint and so can be washed over far sooner than enamels as it dries so quickly and because it's oil resistant so it's impossible for the two paints to leach into each other. They're also stronger colours and there is a far wider variety of shades available.

Next, I mix some Burnt Umber oil paint to the consistency of, say, single cream or sometimes thinner (depends how it turns out to be honest because it's not that critical) and wash this over the whole horse. Thin the oil with white spirit; turpentine is expensive and stinks. Have a play areound with these mixtures because it really is a matter of what suits you. Too thick and it will take longer to dry and obscure detail; too thin and it becomes purely a wash and too thin to work with. (Try different oil colours too - Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Vandyke Brown.)

Once the oil wash is applied, do the 'wipe' You can leave the oil for a while (up to 15/20 minutes or so in cold weather), but I usually do a batch of up to about a dozen horses before I begin wiping if that's any use as a guide. Wipe downwards, top to bottom and don't worry about removing too much of the oil paint. If you take too much off (stark contrast between highlight and shadow) you can:

  • add more paint and wipe off again;
  • let the whole thing dry and apply successive thin oil washes until you reach the desired effect.

You can get selective and wipe harder in certain areas for emphasis such as the rump and the face etc., but I don't usually bother.

The wiping 'tool' can be a piece of old T-shirt, kitchen towel, kleenex or bog roll. Any paper product will leave bits on the horse, particularly around the main/tail/ears etc, anywhere the casting has parts that will catch. Cloth can also leave lint; there's no really 'clean' answer, so don't go cutting up a perfectly good T-shirt. It's also an idea to use a disposable vinyl glove on the hand doing the wiping cos it can get messy. Keep a slimmer piece of the wiping cloth or paper to do the job between the legs and other difficult to reach places.

That's it for the man body of the horse. If you want dark legs, add a wash of thinned black oil paint (or GW Badab Black ink or whatever the new one's called) or a staining agent such as the Army Painter washes (not the varnish). Mains and tails are self evident, but just a note about hooves: they're the horses 'nails' so follow the overall colour theme. Don't go painting them black on a chestnut or whatever. Have a look on the net for horse photographs to get the idea. In fact, have a look on the net for lots of pictures of horses to see what the real thing looks like. Google 'horse colours and markings' – probably horse markings are at least as important, of not more so. By the way, try to get the horse colours you use to match the unit(s) you're trying to represent:

  • Horse and Musket period cavalry units tried to colour match horses within squadrons, if not regiments,
  • later Napoleonic French cavalry regiments would not win the Horse of the Year show,
  • try to curb your enthusiasm for the more exotic horse colours (the bulk of regular military horses were/are bays or chestnuts),
  • same with horse markings. Some horses actually don't have any (!) and those that do tend to have a modest representation.

It's not so evident these days, but wargamers (me included) do lean towards the exotic and seem intent on developing a catalogue of rare breeds rather than 'typical' cavalry horses. O.K., soapbox back in cupboard . . .

The next step is to paint in the rest of the horse: eyes, harness etc. The thing to remember with this method is that it's a pain unless you adopt an assembly line approach. You can quite comfortably do a dozen or more horses at a time and do them in stages while you're painting the riders (or something entirely different). The oil paint dries pretty quickly so there's often no reason to have to leave the figures for a couple of days or whatever. The actual drying time is much less than this, but it can fit in nicely with real life.

Now, if you do make a complete bugger of it you can simply use the result as a guide to over-paint with acrylics like normal. Simply paint over the natural highlights with successive lighter coats. In fact this is a good way to paint horses that have more subtle detail: use the oil wash to give you a painting guide and then bash on with the acrylics. I've inserted two photos below: the ECW officer is on a horse which has had the oil wash and the ACW officer is mounted on a horse I wasn't happy with at all so I over-painted it. You've seen the photographs before, so don't get all excited!

For those not yet comatose, I'll do a catch all entry later today or tomorrow concerning various things which need to be highlighted or vented ;O) 

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