Sunday, February 18, 2018

Minimalism Versus Perfection and the Use of Color

One of the most common remarks I hear when I show my work or Matt's in other forums is: "Oh that is too much time and work to make my own miniatures. I would rather spend my time painting than making my own." Have you seen the multi-part plastic models that are so popular these days? For these Roman Legionaries you have to glue on the head, left and right arms, shield and weapons to the main body figure.

"Well I buy pewter figures" you may reply. "I don't have to assemble anything." Uh huh. Pewter figures often have flash and mold lines that need removal. And it is not like when I was a kid when miniatures were made with softer lead.

The fact is, this hobby requires some work before you get to the painting part. Metal and single-piece plastics may require less time prepping than with wood (multi-part plastics often require more), but generally speaking, painting wooden figures requires less time than with metals and plastics.

Even so, it is possible to take a pretty minimalist approach to wooden figure building. Here are the parts to a minimalist WWII soldier.

It is not hard to see that when you have the basic pieces glued together, you can really see it take shape.

Maybe if you are not a WWII fan, the following figure would not be clear to you. Is it a English soldier? It is a Soviet?

Most looking at the next figure can guess: it is a German soldier. Grey helmet and trousers with green-grey jacket.

Sometimes I want to build a small force – say for a skirmish game that I want to try out – and what usually blocks me from completing the project is my quest for "perfection". Looking at the figures below sort of shows that. You start with a simple build, you make a viable gaming figure, then you keep adding details and the next thing you know the project seems both overwhelming in the time it will take to complete, and underwhelming in your attempt at perfection.

As you can see, the right two figures look somewhat the same. I have always maintained that the most iconic part of the figure is the hat or helmet. You cannot use the figure on the left as a French Napoleonic infantry man wearing a shako. It just doesn't register in the mind, no matter what colors they are painted in. But for a WWII British helmet? It looks pretty good.

What it lacks, of course, is the flared out rim. Now, I have turned a button plug into this style of helmet before, in a smaller scale. A little dimensional adhesive paint on the rim does the job.

In this larger scale, it would take a little more effort and a little more time, but is it worth it? Okay, so you might give the British helmet a pass, but what about the German helmet?

Clearly the shape is vastly different and the unmodified button plug fails. Or does it? Going back to my earlier statement, that the most iconic part of a miniature figure is the hat or helmet – because that is what we the player see the most, given our God-like position above and behind our wooden warriors – is it not the color of the two helmet that really signals to us which troops belong on which side?

Mind you, this rant is about when you want to get a project up and running quickly, because you have an idea you want to try out or an inch to scratch, but you actually want to complete the project. Just because you cannot find the perfect wooden piece to represent the helmet exactly, and your modification process to get it "just so" takes too much time and effort, does not mean you should give up. You just need to realize that sometime using color, rather than shape, is "good enough".

From our commanding position on high, would I really be able to tell that the flared sides of the two helmets is not accurate?

By the way, if you were wondering why the German figure had eyes, ears, and hair painted, but the British figure did not, the above picture also illustrates that point. They are details that matter when you are showing off your figure, when displaying it, but it has no bearing on identifying the figure or even, from a gaming viewpoint, which direction the figure is facing.

Some details are easily painted on the figure at a later time (as these are singly based figures), after you have the project "completed" and the figures are on the gaming table.

Otyugh 2.0

I really like the first Otyugh I did a while ago, but with all the different wooden pieces glued together to make the arms, I have been feeling that it might be a bit on the brittle side and not be able to stand up to being transported and used in some game location other than my basement where it "lives."  So I decided to give another go at making a more sturdy Otyugh.

I will admit it, unlike Dale and some of the really good fantasy rpg crafters out there like DM Scotty or DMG, I suck at using a hot glue gun.  I find it messy, I can't control it, and the style of product it produces in my hands anyway is not as neat and "clean" as I like in a crafted figure.  But, the one point that I cannot argue is that when used in large quantities more like as a sculpting medium, hot glue figures are very strong and durable.  The Otyugh is sort of a "blob" of a monster, so I thought it would be the perfect figure to try to do a hot glue inspired version of.  Here is the end result.

I painted him and posed him more or less like the first one I did.  I also used exactly the same pieces as I did before, except I used more beads on the arms rather than the plugs.  But essentially wooden construction wise, this figure is identical to the first figure with lots of wooden bits glued onto the large lady bug precut wooden shape serving as the body and head.  But as you can see, after gluing all the normal beads and such to make the arms and everything with white glue, I went back over the whole figure with hot glue to make the creases in the skin and to strengthen the arms, sort of like what I did with the tentacles for the Lord of the Rings project about a month back.  After the hot glue dried, this figure is quite strong and I am sure very durable.  I even used the hot glue to strengthen the toothpick spines and the tile spacer "teeth" on the two arms.

Here it is from a couple of other angles.

It isn't as "neat" looking as my other figures, but it is far, far sturdier than the original version of the Otyugh I did a while ago.  I also put this guy on a larger circular base so that it would be even less likely that during play it will bang up against other figures.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saxon Fyrd!

Been very busy with work of late, haven't got to do much painting.  But I did finally get my first unit of Saxon Fyrd finished.  Here they are.

They are similar to the Normans, except that I wanted them to have beards and hair visible so I just used the rounded top as the helmet.  Also, obviously, they have round shields.  The shields are a little too big for my taste, but I'm going to stick with them.  The heads and shields are the most interesting part of these figures, so they should be the most prominent features when viewing them from on the table top.

From the side.

You can see the hair and beards a bit better here.  Also, few of them are wearing armor, but you can see that even better from the rear shot.

It takes a while longer to paint this many different colors on them, but it's worth it.  Let's be honest, guys with the same helmet wearing the same basic tunic need some help to look interesting and different from one another, and color of the tunic and hair color is the easiest way to do that.

I've got a unit of Saxon slingers, and another unit of Saxon Fyrd unpainted on my painting table, as well as a test Norman cavalry figure.  I need to make another Norman cavalry figure or two so I can put them on a base and do a whole base of test figures.  Not sure what I will do next, but probably not another unit of Fyrd.  I need to paint something different.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Norman Infantry Unit!

Got a little sidetracked with work towards the end of last week, so this unit was completed about 3 days later than I planned.  But it's done.  Norman infantry in a shield wall.  Four bases of 4 figures each.  Here they are being screened by a skirmish line of Norman archers.
And a close up.
From the right side.
Left side.
And rear.
These three new bases are identical to the "test base" I did a couple of weeks ago except that for two of the bases, the ones that make up the rear ranks of the unit, I put three spear men and one guy with an two-handed axe just for variety and because it looks cool.

Given the total number of units I'm going to need for a Hastings game, this is going to be my historical 2018 project, and here is hoping that I can finish it by November for Fall In.  I'm not terribly confident about that, but I may surprise myself.

I'm going to do a fantasy figure next, but after that, I'll do a unit of Norman cavalry.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Norman Archer Unit!

Finished 3 more stands of Norman archers yesterday, completing the four-stand unit.  Here they are skirmishing from the wood line.
Again, I tried to make them look at least a little "un-uniform" with some with helmets (one with a leather helmet!), some bare headed, some with hoods, some with mail armor, some with leather armor, etc.  Evidently there was a cap that was popular (the guy with the orange head wear) that I just made with a strip of paper in a circle around the head and a small bead split in half.  I think he looks a little "Baltic Sea area" in appearance, but that's okay with me.

Here are a couple of close ups of all the stands.
And finally here is a shot of a 2 x 2 stand configuration which would be used in many rule sets, including Neil Thomas's Ancient and Medieval Warfare rules.
With simpler figures like these, they always look better to me en-mass than individually.

Next up, three more stands of Norman infantry to complete that unit!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Watcher in the Water Tentacles

I finally got a copy of the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game The Fellowship of the Ring campaign book on ebay for a reasonable price.  First tough part was the title.  It is somewhat generic and when you search on the title you get a zillion listings for the core rule book.  Not what I wanted.  I wanted the campaign book because it allows you to play the entire campaign of mini adventures for the Fellowship of the Ring movie and novel.  This is actually something I can do in my basement with only one other player, but I do plan to run at least some of these at my gaming club.  Second tough part was when I did find it, getting it for a reasonable amount of money.  Some of the prices for this old GW LotR stuff is really staggering for some reason.  Some books they are giving away, others, like this one, are usually really expensive!

What I really want to run for the club is the Mines of Moria section, which is made up of four mini games/adventures, specifically The Watcher in the Water, Balin's Tomb, The Escape from Dwarrowdelf, and finally The Bridge of Khazad-Dum.  Already having the Fellowship figures and goblins and cave troll done, and having done a test run of the Balin's Tomb game, I decided to try and tackle the rest of the figures I would need to do all these games in order.

For The Watcher in the Water game, in addition to the Fellowship figure wise all you need in addition are 6 of the Watcher's tentacles.  So I decided to have a go at making my own Craftee version of the tentacles.  I only need the tentacles for the game, but I'm sure I am going to make a head sticking out of the water as well, just because it looks cool.  But at this point, I've just got the tentacles.

All they are made of is beads of various sizes, from larger on the bottom towards smaller at the top, that are glued together with PVA for strength.  After they are dry, I took a hot glue gun and wrapped bands of hot glue first in the space between each bead, then around the center of the bead itself.  Finally, I used hot glue to make ripples of water on the base (I believe these are 1.25" round precut thin wooden bases).  Then, I just painted them up to taste.  At first I tried to do it all with the hot glue gun, but when you start adding the bands of glue around the beads and in between the beads, the new hot glue heats up the old hot glue that is holding the beads together, and it just kept falling apart in my hands.  So this took longer to glue the beads together with PVA before adding the hot glue final touches, but it was much easier in the long run.

Here is what they look like with some of the Fellowship figures I finished a while ago.  You get a better sense for the scale.  What I don't like about the ones from GW is that relative to the Fellowship figures, although the tentacles are very tall, they look a little thin and wimpy.  I wanted mine to look very thick and scary, clearly capable of taking poor Frodo down into the murky depths.
The four hobbits as well as Gandalf, Legolas, and of course Aragorn.
Closer up just with Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn.

I'm pretty happy with them, I think they'll look good on the table top when I get the rest of the terrain done for the game.  And honestly, they were a piece of cake.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Finally got around to painting the trees I bought at Michael's a while ago.  Nothing fancy, but I did base them.  Even though each tree has its own built in base piece, I glued each one to a thin round precut 2" piece that comes in a bag of different sized circles.  Especially if I am going to use these in wargaming, I think I need more stability than the built in base provides.



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