Happy New Year!

Thought I’d better get that in before time and tide and such take their toll. Got a busy couple of days ahead – I’m so good it’s a wonder I can’t walk on water.

I’m not going to do a review of the year as lots of bloggers will be doing that and the news and papers are flooded with the real world stuff – like we’d forget: it’ only twelve months ago at most! I have to admit though, the year ended on a note of irony for me: Joan Collins has been made a Dame, presumably for not croaking, and Esther Ratznest has also been made a Dame because, I understand, if the Queen wouldn’t do it, she’d do it herself.  On the up side, John Hurt and some other people who have actually contributed something without waves of self-publicity have also been honoured, so that’s O.K. Strangely I didn’t get a mention (again!).

So that’s it for another 365. I’m off  to do good works/annoy people (delete as appropriate), but I’ll leave you with a piccie or two of gentlemen from the Six Nations:

Painting Flesh

Now, a great number of you will be feeling faint at the thought of me posting something sensible for a change, but I had a couple of conversations over the last few weeks talking about painting flesh. They were prompted by those Woodland Indians I mentioned a short(ish) while ago. While I'm not a master painter, I've found my comfortable method of painting faces and flesh area which I can use to bash out units or take my time and add more character.

I did a post here about washing with oils here, back in March 2012 and, although the principle hasn’t changed much, the materials have. Given that oils washes can take a while to dry and since the advent of decent acrylic inks, I’ve generally, though not always substituted oil for water.

Not being gifted with the best eyesight in the world and also being lazy (probably more this than anything), I’m a great believer in letting the sculptor do the work for you. After all, he/she has a great talent and really does do the lion’s share of the work; we merely do the colouring in. That said, some sculptors aren’t the best and others can be variable, so you do have to apply a bit of effort to make a passable job now and again.

There are many really good painters out there and, first of all, I suggest you scout round and see what they do. It’s all a question of style and you’ll develop your own fairly quickly (if you haven’t already done so). I think the key is to pick what you like best and try to work with the techniques until you find the one you’re happiest with. This will change from time to time and that’s normal, but, if you don’t paint too often, I wouldn’t keep chopping and changing each session. Every technique develops with practice and you will have to put some effort in to developing your own. Don’t expect miracles overnight. (In my case, it’s been a damned long night . . . .)

Right, you’ve not going to become a budding Michael Angelo from reading this, but you should be able to produce passable flesh tones reasonably quickly. There’s nothing earth shattering about anything here, but nobody told me about this sort of thing when I was starting out and I had to pick and choose and practise as new materials became available. Hopefully you won’t have to if you like what you see. 

I’m not going to give a blow by blow description of what the ‘right’ look is for flesh and particularly hands and faces. Similarly, I’m not going into great detail in a blog. It’s not the right vehicle for this (and I’m not an artist), but there are a few points to bear in mind:

Colour intensifies on a small surface and colour (and detail) fades with distance. However, wargamers like distinctive looking units on the tabletop. Once you sort out this conundrum you’ll be well on the way to a Nobel prize. 

The thicker the paint, the more detail it will cover up. The thinner the paint, the harder it is to achieve a solid colour and the easier it will rub off.

You’ll most often be painting figures of troops who spent the majority of their time outdoors and frequently unwashed so they’re going to look more like Farmer Giles than a catwalk model.

You can’t see people’s eyes in any detail much beyond twelve to fifteen feet, but you can still see their expressions.

‘Seven o’clock shadow’ isn’t that obvious at a distance (see the note on eyes above), so don’t overdo it.

Above all, remember that, even holding a figure up close, we’re looking at a person who would be, say, across the street were if you were stood at your front door. Next time you’re in the naughty seat when your partner is in a shop, kill the time by looking at people and try to remember what you can actually see. Don’t stare though because people can get awfully touchy about that . . . .

So, I guess the upshot of all this is to develop a general colourway for the bulk of your armies and then work out variations. There’s a great deal of information on the web about skin tones, so just give Google a whirl. Look at this group from some sci-fi film or other - each one different:

The principle of painting the flesh is quite simple and consists of painting the areas, washing with acrylic ink and then highlighting. You can get as sophisticated as you want and later add rosy cheeks (too much port?) or whatever, but I’m really talking about a general finish for the bulk of your troops. Once you’ve picked or developed your palette, it’s a relatively simple case of painting and washing. You can paint on the base shade and first highlight and then apply a wash or simply paint on the mid tone and then the wash. Once the wash is dry, then you reapply the mid tone which gives a good highlight and, as the sculptor had already done the work for you, it brings out the character of the face.

Sometimes it isn’t necessary to reapply the mid tome to the highlights and other times you need to do this and actually apply a final highlight shade; it usually depends on the sculpt, but it can also depend on taste and what kind of character you want to portray. However, occasionally it’s necessary to paint the whole face with three shades and then apply the wash to get a decent effect, particularly if the sculptor has only managed a ‘Cyberman’ look. The benefit of taking this approach is that the ink wash tones down the variation in highlighting shades and pulls it all together.

The colours I normally use are pretty standard. Reaper Miniatures do several triads of flesh tones, but, although I have a couple, they have their Vallejo or craft paint equivalents. The trick, if there is a trick, is to look at the colour, not the name on the bottle. So, for general purpose European flesh, my base colour is anything akin to Vallejo Cork Brown, the mid tone their Game Colour Bronze Flestone and just  about any beige shade graduating up to, say Game Colour Bone White for highlights before or after the ink wash. Not at all scientific and generally not related to any ‘flesh’ colours.

For all that, the key is in the ink, which gives the overall tone to the finish. I use three types, more because they’re what I’ve accumulated than from any artistic quality.

Windsor & Newton: Peat Brown, Nut brown and Sepia

Games Workshop: have changed the names over the years, but they produce three ‘browns’ of which the two best were once known as ‘Gryphin Sepia’ (which I think is now ‘Seraphym Sepia’ ) and ‘Ogryn flesh’ (which might now be ‘Reikland Fleshshade’)

Army Painter: Warpaints Soft Tone and StrongTone inks

These can be thinned with water to vary the depth of colour and I usually add a dab of Windsor & Newton Acrylic Flow Improver which breaks surface tension and aids the flow of the ink into recesses. This is really only a commercial version of thinned washing up liquid, but it’s relatively cheap, lasts years and saves messing around. 

The benefit of using the inks is that, even using the same paint triad on all the figures, different ink shades can produce variations in flesh tone. While I tend to use the Army Painter Soft Tone ink more than the rest, I often use the others just to give variation.

That’s it more or less. Judicious use of Google will give you plenty of illustrations of bone and muscle structure for faces, hand and other parts of the body so you shouldn’t have to guess where to put the highlights, although with some figures your guess is as good as mine!

I’ve put some photos of figures below to give you some idea of what I’m talking about, but the only real way to get the hang of it is to give it a try.

Oh what the hell, let's have another picture of Princess Leia . . .

OK, stand easy. That’s it for another year.

As I’ve had my chestnuts roasted on an open fire before for not mentioning Christmas, this is a sort of Christmas report. We had a really nice Christmas and mine was certainly one to be chalked up as enjoyable. Food and drink were both good and even the food bank got their share, thanks to the Red Cross parcel. I did the driving on the Eve and the Day so I didn’t imbibe until Boxing Day. Moderation in all things and my speech wasn’t slurred even as I was slamming the neighbour’s head against the wall.

I had an excellent collection of presents, but without a single hobby related item, save for my Secret Santa gifts. One highlight was tickets to see Count Arthur Strong in February.  If you don’t know who he is then see what you can find on YouTube or BBC iPlayer or, God forbid, Pirate Bay. The radio shows are, I think, better than thte TV series, but both are good.

However, the star attractions (and the only ones you’re interested in) were the Secret Santa presents, of which more below, but first a sincere thanks to Ian and Cath Willey and Chris Stoesen who masterminded the scheme and did the organisation. You did a hell of a job. There were two schemes running in parallel, each with a slightly different name, but I’m damned if I can remember which was which so I’ll keep it simple.

Painted Secret Santa

Being something of a butterfly, I tend to flutter from project to project and there’s no saying what I’ll be up to from one month to the next. Cath instructed me to put some ideas on the blog to give the ‘Unpainted Secret Santa’ some idea of what to aim at, which was fair enough, but then I wondered about the painted present: what would he/she come up with, having to trawl through all the guff on this blog for ideas?

The result was an absolute cracker of a vignette which I wouldn’t have dreamt up at all:

We have an apparently abandoned supply cart which is being protected by three Pike and Shot infantrymen. Naturally enough, they’ve had to make sure the contents of the cart were in good order, but have become a little the worse for wear in doing so. More importantly, they have made sure a goodly part of the contents won’t fall into enemy hands should things go awry.

I’m just a little bit pleased with this. The work is very good and the piece is certainly not something you’d stick in the back of a cupboard and forget about. It’s a high quality vignette which has had plenty of skill and imagination devoted to it. A really useful acquisition and certainly not something just thrown together. 

I have no idea who produced it, but they certainly trawled though the blog and they’ve got a good idea of my interests and sense of humour. Whoever you are (and I’ve got an idea) very many thanks. It’s really appreciated.

Unpainted Secret Santa

As I mentioned above, the unsinkable Cathy Willey suggested that I put a few ideas on the blog to give the secret Santa(s) something to go at. I did this and ended up with a two part gift: something I’d flagged up and something Santa had sent on his/her own initiative. The mounted crossbowmen were off my list and so were to be expected and very welcome – another step towards my Renaissance Italian army(ies).

The other part of my gift was a stroke of genius, maybe even evidennce of psychic ability. It’s a set of the Renedra/Perry gabions which, although I already have one set, it dawned on me a  couple of weeks ago that I certainly needed another set to achieve my engineering ambitions.

Now that’s what I call a stroke of luck, so another big thank you, this time to the ‘Unpainted Sectret Santa’.

So, I’m well pleased with the SS scheme as it certainly worked out for me. The gifts were as near to ‘just what I always wanted’ as you can get. Thanks again to Cath and Ian and Chris and to both Santas.

No bananas for three days!!!!

(Note to readers
This is your Christmas message from the Politburo. 
This post has no pictures of toy soldiers and only a tenuous link to wargaming. Those who are unable to read more than a short paragraph without illustrations should repair to their nearest book shop where 2014 Beano Annuals are available.

May contain nuts.)

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the Christian world goes into hyper-drive and insanity rises to nuclear levels. We’ve gone through the American virus known as ‘Black Friday’ with only an occasional dent to national pride and now it’s time for the Christmas hysteria “Peace on earth and get to the back of the effin’ queue!”

At half past seven this morning, I was in Sainsbury’s on the hunt for sausage meat (none to be had in Tesco’s yesterday) and some other stuff, including bananas. Nery a bent yellow thing to be seen. Egad, none are expected until (maybe) Saturday. What will we do?  You can’t get Bailey’s miniatures either! That means we’ll have nothing to forget about until next Christmas when we remember them, but they’ve gone off.

Never mind. Pull up a comfy chair; we’ll sit by the fireside and I’ll tell you a bit of a Christmas story. Each year we get a food parcel from the elder of Chris’ brothers. It was usually cleverly disguised as a hamper in a wicker basket, but we couldn’t decide whether he was showing off or taking the Michael. Full of inedible goodies from Fortnum & Mason and other impressive emporia, much of which ended up in the bin – we couldn’t even give it away! After a short exchange earlier last year, we’ve now been demoted to an assortment of comestibles from Morrisons and Aldi and the wicker basket has been relegated to a cardboard box. Much of it is still given away though: I’ve just given a large tin of dry roasted peanuts to the lads at the tip towards the secret Christmas party they have after closing on Christmas Eve. But for a small selection, the rest is off to the food bank shortly.

The presents as such have gone down in value and usefulness too. The usual champagne was a bottle or Prosecco this year and we’ve been given a sort of metal and glass miniature fish tank thingy with tea lights in it. We’re going to have a ‘Guess what it’s used for’ game after Christmas dinner tomorrow. (This clown has money to burn.)

In contrast, Chris’ younger brother is the exact opposite in just about every way. His is the birthday and Christmas card everybody looks for and smiles about and his presents are highly valued because they’re always something people want and have taken him time and money to get, neither of which he has a lot of.

I’m sure Charles Dickens would be familiar with this . . . .

Anyway, yesterday, while Chris was busy making the things Chris makes at this time of year, safely ensconced in the kitchen with carols and Christmas music blaring out, I passed the time in reverie rather than painting leads as I should have been. During this time of intense industry I knocked up a parody of a song from that hellish film ‘The Sound of Muzak’, the almost-but-not-quite story of the Shutyer Trapp Family Singers which spawned such classics as ‘Idleswine’, Do-Ray-Mears’ and ‘I Am Legal, Going on Seventeen’.  It’s the song ‘My Favourite Things’ sung by the eternal virgin Julie Andrews to a bunch of squeaky clean kitsch brats, but twisted out of shape for us wargamers.

My Favourite Things

Rules which are complex or simply a riddle,

Tables so big that you can’t reach to the middle,

Card driven wargames and casualty rings,

These aren’t a few of my favourite things.

But cavalry batteries, hussars and grenzers,

Grand dukes and emperors, kings and electors,

Prussians and Saxons, Imperial Rings,

These are a few of my favourite things.

When the charge fails,

When morale breaks,

When the dice are bad,

I simply remember my favourite things,

And then I don’t feel so sad.


The Song of the Dodo

Yes, nice to see you too. Where have I been? Nowhere really, but I've been reading and ruminating and the like. Been cautious about wha...