Thursday, August 9, 2012

A skirmish in the making, a painting test

A couple of months ago, I tired of organizing the large units for my campaign's army-level games, and instead shifted gears.  I looked through the individual "character" figures in my collection, and decided to paint a few of them first.

I had three reasons for this change.  First, I wanted to get something painted for this project.  I wasn't quite ready to commit on the sizes and composition of the units for my mass battles.  I was still fiddling with basing, number of figures, how many command figures, etc.  Second, the character figures I possessed immediately suggested a mini-campaign of small skirmish games, and I was keen to play them.  Finally, this small project gave me a chance to test an assumption I'd been making.

One of the things that got this project started at all was an interest in recreating the toy soldier look and feel that was so attractive when I first read about this hobby.  I'd decided on 15mm figures, because they paint quickly and take up so much less storage space than the more traditional 25mm and 40mm figures so common for 18th century Imagi-Nation projects.  But would the toy soldier painting style translate onto the smaller figures?

So, I gathered up a small collection of figures, primed them all black, and started painting.

My eyes aren't what they used to be.  I found that, though I planned to paint these figures in simple, unshaded, unhighlighted block colors, I couldn't see the detail on the figures well enough when they were solid black.  So, a very sparse, very light drybrushing of white went onto the figures.  That helped a great deal.  The block painting covered up all the white, but I could see what I was doing.

Block painting goes very, very quickly.  Especially when painting a few (or many) figures in the same uniforms and in just a few poses.  I quickly banged out the Formulgalan militia in their greys and their better-uniformed Regulars.  Basing, in particular, is normally very time consuming and tedious for me.  I found tremendous freedom in being able to just paint the bases green.

Formulgalan Regulars (front) and Militia (rear)

Regulars from Jeff Valent/Washington's Wars
Militia from Old Glory

Before I go on, a word of apology about these pictures.  They were quickly taken in poor light.  I'll replace them with better ones as I have time.

Next up, I tried my hand at yellow coats.  This was a real test.  Painting yellow vexes me.  But the GW Foundation paint I used covered well, and quickly, and looked good when I was done.  The Baden-Hundsheim Regulars were quickly completed.

When I painted the two female characters, I tried using block colors again.  But I found that these unique figures really needed more detail to look good.  I tried hard to keep the highlighting subtle, and I retained the black lined borders between blocks, all in an attempt to make them pop while retaining their fit with the block-painted infantry.

The Ambassador's wife, daughter and guard of
Baden-Hundsheim Regulars

All figures from Blue Moon Manufacturing

I'm of two minds about this block-painting style, still.  On the one hand, it's fast.  And I think it evokes the toy soldier feel to an extent.  But part of the toy soldier feel also comes from the relative simplicity in detail characteristic of most of the figures from those early books.  I think the simple figures lend themselves to clean, simple painting styles.  These figures, though smaller, are much more intricate than those from Prince August molds, for example.  And so the block painting looks too simple.  More like I didn't know how to paint the detail in the figures than an intentional choice.

It seems likely to me that in large units of twenty-four or thirty figures, the mass effect will be important to the look.  The simple painting style will bring a certain orderliness to the unit.  I think it'll look better.  I wish these smaller experiments had helped me decide one way or the other, however.

A word about the characters, and the skirmish campaign.  Blue Moon Manufacturing makes outstanding eighteenth-century character figures.  Look to their Sleepy Hollow set, their FIW Colonial Civilians and the civilians in their Pirates line for some gems.  Among them are a portly man in spectacles, carrying a case, a younger page with scrolls beneath his arm, a bookish lad and several women from various classes.  Immediately upon seeing them, I imagined an Ambassador, his family and staff, attempting to flee a brewing diplomatic incident.  They would be escorted by their armed retainers and a bodyguard of regulars, and pursued by the local militia and regulars.

Work in progress: The Ambassador, his son, secretary,
servants and personal bodyguard

Guards from Old Glory
All other from Blue Moon Manufacturing

I set the scene in Formulgala, where a member of the Baden-Hundsheim Ambassadorial mission is suspected (rightly?) of providing arms to rebellious factions within a port city.  The opening scene has him fleeing his mansion with his family.  They must escape the tightening circle of Formulgalan troops, come to arrest him.  They may be relieved by guards from the Baden-Hundsheim brig Victoire in the harbor.  Where will that first encounter lead?  Much depends on the outcome.  Should they escape the closing noose, my minds eye pictures a sea battle between Victoire and pursuing privateers or Formulgalan naval forces.  We shall see.

Captain of the Victoire, and three able seamen

All figures from Blue Moon Manufacturing

Painting these first figures was great fun.  I'm looking forward to finishing off this small collection.

More as the project progresses.


  1. Nice crop of miniatures. I've always been partial to Blue Moon for the civilians in my imagi-nation as they have a lot of character and appear a bit stocky to act as representatives of the underfed fighting men of St. Maurice. As far as your painting dilema goes, my own philosophy has always been, if you can see it, paint it. Nice job with these so far. - Mike

  2. Thanks very much, Mike.

    And I agree with you on painting philosophy in general. It's always been my practice to paint in a detailed/realistic style. But there is something very nostalgic and appropriate about the block painting, in this particular genre. If I were using simpler figures...old style Minifigs for dilemma would be non-existant. But these figures have details that cry to be painted.

    We'll see.

  3. Nice. I particually like the Ambassador's wife, daughter and guards.

  4. Thanks very much, Abdul and Paul. Paul, I'm glad to hear you like them. They do remind me of the very characterful figures that populate your outstanding blog.

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