Friday, 6 June 2014

Saga Anglo-Danes

I bought these figures at Warfare 2012 at the same time as the Vikings from my earlier blog post. At the time my intention had been to but the Anglo-Danes as my army – the Vikings were cheap opposition (hence the plastic box set), but for some reason in the end the Vikings got painted first. As with the Vikings these figures have been painted for a while but it's taken me ages to put their pictures up here.

My Anglo-Danes were a 4-point Saga box set from Gripping Beast which I supplemented with the Harold Godwinson blister and (though bought a year later) eight metal hearthguard with spears from Crusader Miniatures.
My Anglo-Danish army (minus Harold and his brothers)
Not exactly the best of army lists – some levy would be handy - but quite pretty anyway!
Anglo-Danish hearthguard with Dane Axes
On the painting table immediately after my Viking berserkers, these four Dane axe armed hearthguard were some of the earliest 28mm figures I painted, probably because of some trepidation about facing shield designs. They’re not the best paint job in the world, but they’ll do.
Anglo-Danish warriors (1)
Next up were the two lots of eight warriors. I reasoned that these would give me some good practice at basic shield designs, but wouldn’t need to be particularly detailed (reserving that for the hearthguard).
Anglo-Danish warriors (2)
If I did these again I would replace the lead spears provided by Gripping Beast with ones made from brass wire – which looks a bit less like they’re armed with telegraph poles.
Gripping Beast Anglo-Danish hearthguard with spears
 The four Gripping Beast hearthguard with spears were next. Nice figures and I managed to get some reasonable detail on them. Again, I’d replace their spears if I were to do them again, but I’m pretty happy with them anyway.
Crusader Miniatures Saxon Huscarls with spears (1) – used here as Anglo-Danish hearthguard
Crusader Miniatures Saxon Huscarls with spears (2)
Though completed a few months later, I’ve put the Crusader Miniatures hearthguard here so that they’re alongside the others. My painting has definitely improved! But the big difference is that these chaps are armed with spears made from brass wire. After detailed comparison of different wires (as you do) I settled on 0.8mm brass rod, which is about half way between the cast lead spears that come with the figures, and the pre-made brass spears that you can by separately. There’s no satisfying some people! These were cut to the length of the Gripping Beast spears (although this is too long when you think about it), then one end is flattened by hitting it with a hammer and the tip is then filed to shape. It sounds fiddly but only takes a few minutes and is well worth the effort as I think you will agree.
Anglo-Danish warlord
I had a bit of an issue with the Anglo-Danish warlord because his open hand was miscast – so it was amputated and replaced with a plastic one which I think actually works a little better with the Dane Axe. I doubt if anyone will notice. This chap not having a shield to tart up, I tried to get some good detail on the rest of the figure, in particular the hem of his cloak and his stripey trousers.
Harold Godwinson and his brothers
Harold and his brothers ended up being a work in progress for a long time. The brothers were completed pretty early, as was most of Harold to be honest – hence the paint job is not the best, but I was really unhappy with Harold’s base for a long time. Finally I bit the bullet and converted one of the few spare plastic Vikings into a dead body for him to gloat over, and that seems to have sorted it out.
Harold gloating over a dead Viking

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Saga Gall-Gaedhil: The Sons of Death

After I started my Saga Vikings, but before I had finished them, I painted a blister of Gripping Beast’s Sons of Death. I’ve put them in this article partly because as Swords for Hire they aren’t strictly a part of the Viking army, and partly the sequence in which I painted them demonstrates my learning process in painting 28mm figures.

Along with the Vikings of my previous blog post these were the first 28mm figures I have painted in years, the last being a handful of fantasy figures for role-playing, ages ago. I’ve painted quite a few 15mm armies since that time but there’s a massive difference between painting 28mm and 15mm. With 15mm you can get away with a lot, especially when it comes to doing the detail – the increased size and better casting detail at 28mm means many of the same tricks just don’t work, so it was time for me to learn again.
Sons of Death
The Gripping Beast Sons of Death are eight distinctly different and very characterful figures dressed in different ways and armed with a variety of different weapons. Overall they’re a group of very good looking figures in active poses. The figures were well cast with negligible flash and mould lines, certainly nothing that a sharp scalpel and a file couldn’t deal with quickly.

The Sons of Death are Swords for Hire that can be added to your Saga warband for two points. They’re quite expensive but they are tough fighters, there are eight of them, and they don’t eat up your Saga dice at all. I’m not going to repeat the rules for these chaps here but if you want to read them you can find them on the Saga Tapestry website.

Incidentally, Gall-Gaedhil actually means “Norse Gaels”, so you ought to be able to use these chaps in a Norse Gael Saga force without objection.

I painted these figures individually, in sequence. This is very unusual for me – usually I set out a batch of figures (more than most people would fine sensible) to paint at the same time and get on with them all at once. I’m getting there now with 28mm but at the time of painting these I had no idea whether that would be practical or not, and I wanted to convince myself that I could do a reasonable paint job first before giving myself a lot of work.

Once the figures were cleaned up, washed and dried (this is often a good idea as it removes grease that is sometimes present after the casting process), I assembled each one as I saw fit - the variety of weapons and shields provided means you can mix things up quite a bit - and glued each figure to a Renedra 20mm circular base. When dry, I added the base texture. I prefer to base figures before they are painted, because I’m going to paint the base anyway, and because if I do it that way round the base texture can be arranged nicely against the feet of the figure with no chance of the metal base showing through. The base texture is a mixture of polyfilla, water, PVA glue and builder’s sand. I mix it all together to what I consider to be the right consistency and spread it over the base. I immediately add a fraction of a pinch of gravel (simulating small rocks) and then a more generous pinch of Chinchilla dust (for fine texture). The gravel I use was very fine – almost dust - collected from the side of an unpaved road; Chinchilla dust is finer than sand, and can be obtained from pet shops in absurdly large quantities (for the wargamer’s use, at least) for negligible cost. I believe my lifetime’s supply of this cost me 50p about twenty years ago.

Before the base sets I gently wash down the model’s feet with clean water using a paintbrush so that none of the filler sets on the figure. Then leave it to set. Once the base texture is dry, I paint the base entirely in a dark brown colour, and when that’s dry, dry brush highlight with a lighter colour. Then undercoat the actual figure in a light grey. Because I don’t believe in spending a lot of money on undercoats, and I like to be consistent, the base colours I use are Crown Matt Emulsion Cafetiere (dark) and Crown Matt Emulsion Brown Sugar (dry brush). The grey is whatever grey I have to hand and is not important. So, figures based and undercoated and ready to go. 
Armoured axeman
The first of the Sons of Death that I painted was an armoured chap with an axe and no shield and not a lot of scope for fine detail painting compared to the others. Ideal to get my hand in. Because he is wearing a helmet and has little face visible, I didn’t put a lot of effort into facial detail and it doesn’t stand out. I've improved my technique with armour since, now doing a much finer dry brush of gunmetal over a black basecoat - this chap's armour was painted gunmetal and then shaded with a wash. Nothing special overall but good enough to give me the confidence to get on with the next figure.
Bald warrior with sword and shield
A bald chap with sword and shield wearing a chain shirt. This was my first serious attempt at painting facial features – not something I would even attempt at 15mm, and a bit of a cheat as he has no hair. The first thing was to get his eyes right - very unfamiliar territory indeed. I started with a couple of blobs of white with black pupil blobs in, and shaped the eye outline with a dark flesh colour. This is the method used for all the Sons of Death and to be honest it's given them a bit of a cartoony look. I have since changed my approach to define the eye outline using Leather Brown, then applying flesh colours to the face around that. This works a lot better, but as I said this article is about showing my learning practice. I wasn’t sure what I was doing with this chap’s shield at all, so made it up as I went along, and I think it shows (though it’s not bad enough to warrant starting again). Shading and highlighting the folds on his cloak also involved a lot of guesswork (and repainting) but worked out OK in the end.

Since finishing the Sons of Death I have found that you end up with a better finish if certain things are planned beforehand. This is particularly the case with shield designs which I now set out basic designs for at the unit level before I start painting them. I now sketch all the shields of a unit on paper to get an idea of what I am trying to achieve before I start any of them and this definitely produces better results in the end.
Bald spearman
With added confidence about painting facial details on bald warriors I moved on to this spear-armed chap. His armour worked out a lot better than before and his shield design, whike simple, works well because of the contrasting colours used, though again, the overall impression would have been improved considerably if I had planned the design in advance rather than done it on the hoof.

The spear used on this chap is the one provided with the figure. I have since decided that I don't like these and if I was doing this figure now would have replaced it with one made from brass rod. I'll come back to that in a future post about my Anglo-Danes.
Unarmoured swordsman
The fourth of the Sons of Death to get my attention was this chap with no armour, armed with a sword and shield held high. This gave me a real challenge at highlighting (hair and clothing) at this scale and while it turned out OK in the end was a bit of a painful learning process. Shadow and highlight colours need to be distinctly different to the main colour to achieve the right effect, although they can be blended in in places to avoid lines of contrast. Needless to say a lot of repainting was required, but I think I was reasonably successful here. I was happy with the shields of the previous figures so tried to be a bit more ambitious with this one, which I just about got away with but the knotwork design I cobbled together (another case for planning ahead) doesn’t stand out as well as it might because there isn’t enough contrast between the base colour of the shield and the background colour to the design – I make sure I get this right with the shield designs I do now. 
Helmeted swordsman
Starting to get a bit more ambitious now, paying more attention to facial hear and cloth folds, and attempting a very simple border to his tunic. The sort of wicker-work design on his shield is a lot easier than it looks and is a great effect which I have used a lot since. It's a base colour with a simple grid painted on top in black, then with the criss-cross work added last, and touched up to correct errors afterwards. The snakes on the shield look a bit silly but increased my confidence in doing very fine detail a lot more.
Twin beweaponed axeman
This chap, without a shield, and with a helmet that hid his facial features, posed a challenge. I wanted to attempt as much detail as some of the other figures, so rather rashly decided to paint the hem of his cloak with an appropriate design. In the event this was nothing like as hard as I had expected – just required a steady hand and a good quality fine brush (I had a 10 0 Windsor & Newton handy and this proved perfect for the job). With this sort of detail you don’t get it perfect first time round. You do the best you can, then when it’s dry you come back with the same colours in turn to correct minor errors, and the whole thing improves immeasurably. I like this figure a lot.
Hairy spearman
So after feeling very confident about achieving detailed work I went to town on the next figure, giving him a hem to his cloak, a fairly complicated shield design, and a lot of unnecessary detail on his tunic. This was my first attempt at painting plaid, ever, and may well be my last, for the sake of my eyesight if nothing else. It definitely worked, but has convinced me never to attempt to paint 28mm Gauls. 
And finally...
Finally, and pleased that this was the last figure, Son of Death no.8 got special treatment with a much more challenging hem on his tunic and a slightly overambitious shield (though I have got better at this sort of thing since). The Sons of Death are essentially Celtic so I had to attempt some actual Celtic knotwork on one of them, didn't I. Anyway, the finished shield of this chap ended up much better than I had expected while I was painting it – repeatedly going back with detail in the background colour correcting mistakes and giving the knotwork its three-dimensional appearance was essential, but did work. The main lesson here is to have a plan, persist with it, and correct errors over and again until they disappear, and the end result is definitely worth it.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Saga Vikings

I’ve been neglecting my blog for a while but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. I finally did the finishing touches to my Anglo-Danes for Saga, and so thought it was a sensible time to put up some pictures of the Vikings I completed some time before up as well. So here are my Vikings.
6 points of Viking warband
The figures are mostly plastic models from the Wargames Factory Viking Huscarls box, supplemented by a few metal miniatures by Gripping Beast. These were the first 28mm figures I have painted in years – which is the reason why they get better the more I do, and in my opinion the first of them that I completed are, well,  a bit ropey.
So the first Vikings I did were four berserkers (Gripping Beast).  I wasn’t happy with the weapons provided with the models so I replaced them with surplus plastic axes from the Wargames Factory box. A pretty straightforward paint job without much detail, but I reckon they look OK.
The bulk of my Viking force are plastic figures from Wargames Factory. For the most part these are nice figures with some movement about them and reasonable detail. The challenge is to assemble them into sensible poses – this seems to have worked reasonably well for the most part! You need to be a bit careful with the arms as well as not all of the armour detail on sleeves matches or corresponds well to the detail on the bodies. I increased the variety by adding details like pouches, cloaks and suchlike with green stuff, and a few scabbards from plastic card. Some of these worked very well indeed. I gave one chap a fur cloak made from Milliput as well.

I started painting eye details with this lot – some of them have slightly strange expressions as a result – and improved my painting on their shields. Good shield designs definitely make all the difference. I  know that you can make shields look really nice with transfers, but I just don’t like them (and I do like a challenge!)

They’ve come out with a slightly dark look. While this is growing on me, it wasn’t the original intention. Unfortunately I used Humbrol acrylic spray matt varnish and will not do this again as it was cloudy when applied and nearly ruined them. They were saved by an immediate re-varnish with Vallejo satin and matt - I was very lucky. Note to self:  always use Dullcote in future.
Dane axe men
Not strictly Vikings but as they are made from the same box set I’ve included them here. I wanted a few extra Dane Axe armed hearthguard for my Anglo-Danes so converted eight Vikings to do the job. The box set comes with four pairs of arms ready for double-handed weapons; the other ones are conversions. So are a few of the axes as there weren’t enough in the box! These figures in particular have a lot of movement about them and some of them look really good with the scratch-built cloaks.
Viking warlord
Finally, the big man himself. After honing my 28mm skills on the rest of the army I went to town a bit more on this chap, especially his shield, which I am particularly pleased with.