Forward Observer 19

Up the Garden Path

I am going to take you back more than thirty years, to hot summers spent riding our Choppers, sitting in the park, sucking jubblies and ice pops, arguing over armour ratings for KV1s so that they could be added to our WWII rules. We were a small but devoted group of gamers. I started it all off with another chap from the Chingford club, and it grew, at peak, to a dozen or more schoolmates – admittedly of varying commitment levels. I think I am one of two or three still active. Anyway. We started in Napoleonics, and moved happily and smoothly onto WWII. These were solid periods, set in stone, which we all liked. Where we struggled was the tricky third period. We became factionalised and crucially we were all butterflies, although we didn’t know it at the time.

Some wanted to go to ancients, some to the Western Desert in 1/300th, and others to Naval or even Moderns – strangely topical at the time with the Cold War still very much in the news. The problem was that no-one could decide, so we started branching out on our own. Someone with teenage leadership skills (or more pocket money) might buy and paint a unit of Goth cavalry and that was the ancients movement underway. Some followed, some didn’t. Those that followed got distinctly annoyed when the leader (“follow the shoe!”) got bored and switched to T55s and Saggers. The follower had a forlorn unit of Byzantine archers or Sassanids on their shelf, now useless. May still have them in some cases! Pocket money spent, denied buying the latest Abba album, passions understandably ran high. This practice became known as being Lead Up The Garden Path. Not sure why, but it did.

I thought I had left this far behind, but it has made a fighting come back. In a way it was my fault, as I feel my enthusiasm for figure gaming can rub off on others. The problem was that those others are butterflies par excellence, leaving my flitting efforts in the dust, so that their tastes and latest projects could and did change frequently. In one memorable week one of them changed tack three times, and ended up with WWII projects started in four different scales! Wanting to fit in and be supportive, like a lemon, I went along with some of these ventures. I bought and even painted figures to show support. It was costing me a fortune trailing the latest fads. In the end I was scared to answer the phone.

I don’t think I am a thick person, but I do sometimes take an awful long time to spot the blindingly obvious. You wouldn’t believe the change in my attitude to Foundry figures over the years… In this case, it took me best part of two years to realise that I was following signs from others, being a chameleon: Woody Allen’s Zelig came immediately to mind. Now, finally enlightened, I am happy doing my own thing, even if that means building both sides of the forces. I am also waiting to see what others come up with as a firm prospect – as in, “Mike, I have now finished figures, rules and terrain for the War of the Finnish Succession. Would you like to come over Thursday for a game?”

Unrestrained Shinyness

I have been moved and inspired. Doesn’t happen very often these days, so I have been making the most of it. On the 2nd of July, Doug Crowther at Unfashionably Shiny (see BG 17) posted details of his painting technique. I went straight home and tried it, using acrylics instead of enamels, on my unpainted Hinchliffe and Connoisseur Napoleonics. I loved the results. I was genuinely excited by what I could achieve. So much so that I am still painting this way in August, and after a very long break I can see a point where my long stalled British army may be completed. Gasp.

I am sure a shrink would have a field day, because essentially I am reverting to type. It is 2009, but I am revelling in a late ‘70’s painting style. I am into bold colours, dark lining and gloss varnish. Considering I have always railed against varnishing at all, I am now convinced. On gloss, not yet matt. I love the way that the colours are enhanced, that I am happier handling and using the figures, and most of all I love the sealed, smooth, uniform feel of the surface. I am impressed all over again at the animation of these elderly figures, and the fact that I can paint and admire distinctly odd looking horses despite having spent my whole hobby career looking for the perfect mounts. The zeal of the convert!

Interestingly, I needed a few extra horses and command figures so sent off small orders to Bicorne (Connoisseur) and Hinds Figures (Hinchliffe). Unfairly, considering their age, I was expecting the figures to need some work on flash and missing bits. Not true. The mouldings arrived in great shape, much as I remember buying them when they came out. The service was also exemplary. You can guess that I will be going back for more.

Workbench Disasters

When I started these occasional items, I really didn’t expect them to be a regular feature. I have got through 35 years of modelling without major issues, but these days I am suffering more and more. One minor, one major this time.

The first was pure stupidity. Despite all the warnings, and usually being diligent with this due to allergies, an unexpected phone call meant that I forgot to wash my hands after using epoxy putty. Time passed, I was painting, but at some point I must have rubbed my eyes. Not a good idea, Mr Siggins. Fortunately earlier that week I had bought some eye wash (premonition!) and that and copious amounts of water got me out of trouble. Not nice.

The second one was not so easy. One day, in the middle of the recent heatwave (aka Summer), I came home to find the house stinking with some chemical smell. So strong was this that I actually felt woozy. I opened the windows and doors, and turned on my trusty Cinni fan that could probably launch a Spitfire. I started the search, my workbench being the prime suspect.  Two days later the smell was still there and moving around (!), the source undetected, and my nerves were in tatters. After a week of sleeping downstairs, thankfully it started to ease and one joyous day it became clearer where the smell was coming from. I burrowed down behind my desk and found a spray can of clear lacquer that had exploded. The lacquer had seeped out and soaked into the carpet. Impressively smelly, and this stuff was not going to quit. So I now have a hole in the carpet, and have to buy a rug. I am also much more respectful of warnings to keep pressurized cans cool at all times.


Another batch of figures arrives from Eureka. Looking at their prolific release schedule, and my interest areas, I am starting to think I may as well be resigned to it! But it is not exactly a hardship opening these small, dense packages that seem to get from Australia faster than most UK post. This time we have two significant new 28mm ranges, which have hit the spot for me, and an addition to the excellent Age of Reason range in the shape of two cannons and crew for the Continentals.

First up is a mix and match range of Gendarmes. There are several horse, body and head variants, and each one can be armed with the characteristic lance or hand weapons. The website indicates that there are about a couple of thousand variations possible, while I have stuck at sixteen. Detail is excellent and they look the part; these are the extravagantly dressed gentlemen we know and love. For those wondering, these figures are slightly smaller than the Foundry range but are otherwise compatible. I intend to keep them in separate units, but they will happily mix. They may also see service as Dol Amroth knights.

Secondly, we have the perfectly timed Beowulf collection. These were launched almost immediately after I watched the excellent Beowulf & Grendel movie (this is the Skarsgard/Butler version, not the Winstone/Hopkins), and finished work on a related boardgame project. The collection contains the man himself, and a selection of likely dark age suspects. There is even an Arabian looking gentleman who could perhaps serve as the 13th Warrior. The sculptor has nailed the visored helmets, shields and the chain mail, and every one of the fifteen different figures is a minor masterpiece.

More Pigments

Most of you know me as an unrepentant Vallejo fan. They have revolutionised my hobby, and my painting style, and I cannot praise them enough. Predictably when they bring out a new paint, or related product, I want to be there testing it and seeing how I can improve my techniques. This month I am blessed. Thanks to Doug at Em4 Miniatures I got a very early set of the new pigments, along with a medium to use with them, and a new texture paste. Let’s look at the latter first.

Sandy Paste follows the existing pumice gels as a way of adding texture to paints or pigments, or, in our case, there are obvious uses in figure basing. While the pumice option gives us a grainy, quite coarse result, the new Sandy Paste is super fine. In fact, when you paint it on, it almost seems not to be there. But with a spot of subtle dry brushing, or a flood of wash or pigment, the fine texture emerges. I don’t know how, but the grain, such as it is, seems to settle randomly. The overall result is superb and a valuable addition to your basing tray.

The pigments are also very welcome. Not only are most of the colours ‘new’ in terms of what we can buy in the hobby, but they also come in bigger pots and are cheaper than the main rivals. Yes, I realise one can combine pigments but despite steeling myself to mix more colours, I seldom do. Naturally lazy! There are sixteen initial shades in the range, and in most cases one is set to thinking of applications for each. This means I have had to play safe and stick with the oxides for review purposes, as they are relatively predictable!

At this point I am left to wonder what I am buying. One can go to Green & Stone, or Cornelissen, and buy small pots of artists’ pigment in any colour under the sun. The likes of MiG and Bragdon claim that their pigments have special qualities, specifically adhesion related. Vallejo are, infamously, backwards in coming forward when describing their products, which often leaves us mystified on usage. In reality these pigments simply work, like their excellent acrylics, so perhaps we can just take them at face value. Highly recommended.

Mike Siggins