|20 days later, the finished army|
Question: how long does it really take to paint an army?
When I was last at the Wargames Club (Wycombe Warband - link) I was asked by someone who was watching my game and admiring my figures how long it took to paint them. And to tell the truth I didn't really know - except that it was a long time. My Anglo-Danes and to be honest most of my armies were bought over a year before they were completed and used in their first game. Now while this sort of situation is by no means unusual for me (and, I am sure, many other wargamers) it struck me that it really wasn't good enough.
Looking back on it I have no idea why it should take me over a year to paint an army, but it almost always does. The initial enthusiasm after first getting the figures wears off pretty quickly as the process of preparing them for painting gets underway and I think by the time I have got the figures ready to be painted I'm starting to get more interested in doing something else. I am certainly someone who has a lot of different projects going at the same time, the majority of them half-finished. It strikes me that this also is just not good enough.
So (ignoring my half-finished Rus Princes undercoated and ready to paint, and half of my Norse-Gaels half painted and just needing their shields done, and all the undercoated Dux Brit figures, the Gladiators, the half-finished terrain and the trays of unfinished 15mm WW2 figures (I am very good at half-finishing things) - I set my mind to the challenge of seeing just how quickly I could paint a six-point Saga army to a decent standard when I set my mind to the task.
With the recent publication of The Crescent and the Cross now is also a very good time to get an army for the Crusades painted. So the first decision was what army to choose. I chose Mutatawwi'a, mainly because their battleboard looks challenging (and likely to make for quick games), and also because an army that could quite appropriately be considered assassins or cultists sounded fun.
The starting point would be the army list. I chose:
1 Warlord on foot
2 x 4 Hearthguard
4 x 8 Warriors
To give some more flexibility with the troops I might field I also chose to add 4 x mounted warriors and a mounted warlord figure, and one foot figure carrying a banner. This came to a total of 51 figures (including 5 mounted) to assemble and paint.
With no figures at all to use for this army, after surfing the web for a bit I chose to buy the following:
1 x box of Gripping Beast plastic Arabs GBP04 (to make the warriors and the banner man)
2 x packs (8 figures) of Gripping Beast Ben Yusef's Black Guard figures MOR12 and MOR13 from their El Cid and the Moors range. These are the figures shown (beautifully painted) in the rule book standing on the left in the main image of the Mutatawwi'a army (page 84). I particularly like the figures with the teardrop shields.
1 x pack of Gripping Beast Moorish Commanders MOR16, to use one figure as the Warlord on foot.
1 x pack of Perry Miniatures Bedouin Cavalry MA16, to use as mounted warriors.
1 x pack of Perry Miniatures Bedouin Command MA15, to use one of these figures as the fourth mounted warrior, one as the mounted Warlord and not use the musician.
The figures took four days (Perry actually only took three) from placing the order to arrival. Very impressive!
Day 1: Assembly
The plan for the first day was to clean, assemble and base all the figures.
This is a very nice figure with very little flash, with shield and sword cast on the model. I chose an appropriate horse for him and stuck the rider to horse with superglue, and attached him to a Renedra 40mm round base. Once the glue had dried I carefully filled the gaps between rider and horse with Milliput and textured accordingly.
Again these are nice figures with little flash. They don't have shields (which is fine) and have open hands for spears (again which is good as I wanted to arm them with javelins anyway). As with the mounted warrior I attached figures to horses but this time to Renedra 50mm x 20mm rectangular bases. Again when they had dried I used Milliput to fill the gaps so that they sat more comfortably.
Their javelins were made from 1mm brass rod. To make each javelin I flatten the end of a length of rod with a swift hammer blow, then trim it to a point with wire cutters, and finally file the edges of the point down so that it forms a leaf-shaped spear head. The javelin is then cut to the desired length. It's a very quick process and makes spears that are in my opinion better looking and more consistently sized than cast spears, and that don't easily bend. For this small extra effort now the overall effect is substantially better. Having tried several different wire sizes I think 1mm looks better for 28mm figures than other sizes and, though this is just my opinion, much better than the ready-made wire spears that you can buy separately. Javelins were attached to the open hands of the warriors using super glue and the hand grip of the model lightly tightened with fine pliers to prevent the javelin easily snapping off.
|Brass rod spears in progress (L-R) 1. brass rod 2. flattened tip 3. clipped to a point 4. filed to shape|
I like the look of the figures in this army having their headgear wrapped across their faces, with only their eyes showing. This may be wholly unrealistic but I think it is a great look for Mutatawwi'a. So where the figures didn't come with this detail ready-cast I used a small amount of green stuff to add this detail to them.
These figures come with open hands for spears (not provided) and cast-on shields (and headgear masking their faces). Some flash needed to be removed with a modelling knife and file.
I said before that I like the figures with teardrop shields, and on closer inspection I definitely didn't like the figures that don't have them - so some surgery was undertaken using a pair of heavy duty cutters and a file. Trimming off their cast shields, I replaced these with teardrop shields from the plastic arabs box and made good the detail round the edges using Milliput.
The figures were attached to Renedra 25mm round bases and given spears made from 1mm brass rod in the same way as the javelins for the mounted warriors, but slightly longer.
|Hearthguard - shield replaced on three figures|
The best figure from the Moorish command pack in my view was the unarmoured chap with raised open hand and open book. He looks like he is proclaiming to the troops, possibly from the Koran. So I decided to enhance this look by adding a rock to his base which he could stand on to address the army. I had a handy stone that was just the right size (I believe it is a small piece of slate). To do this properly I cut the figure from his base, drilled holes in his feet and the stone, and used a small length of wire to pin the figure and stone together. I first tested the stone to make sure that it could successfully be drilled, before cutting the figure from its base and drilling up through both feet and down into the stone at the point where the figure would stand. That done, I used two very short lengths of 1mm brass rod as pins and attached the figure to the stone with super glue.
I equipped him with a spear in his open hand rather than a sword or a standard, and stuck the stone to a 40mm round Renedra plastic base.
|Foot warlord figure attached to a stone|
The bulk of the army were to be Warriors, so I assembled three groups of twelve figures. I cut off the plastic spears provided and drilled their hands and gave each figure a new spear made from 1mm brass rod. Each was given a round shield, and because there weren't enough round shields in the box to go around I equipped one unit of 12 with surplus round shields from the Gripping Beast Dark Age Warriors plastic box set which I owned. The rationale behind this is that I wanted my units of foot Warriors and foot Hearthguard to be easily distinguished, and different shield shapes and designs would do the trick.
I used green stuff to ensure that all warriors had headgear that covered their faces except for a slit for their eyes.
|Plastic Arabs with spears replaced and robes enhanced|
Plastic warriors were assembled using Humbrol Liquid Poly and, where greater strength was required, superglue.
Previously I have attached plastic figures to 25mm round Renedra plastic bases but I find this leaves the finished figures very light and thus less stable on the table. After toying for a while with using 2p pieces (which are just a bit too large), after a eureka moment I went to the local DIY store and bought some 25mm repair washers to use as bases instead. They are exactly the right size (identical to the Renedra bases) and around 1mm deep, though a much better weight because they're made of metal. The central hole in them is too small to be a problem and can anyway be easily filled with Milliput if you like, and even better if you buy them from the right place they're almost exactly the same price as the plastic Renedra bases.
After basing the figures, small holes such as those between arms and shoulders were filled with a little Milliput and the figures were set aside to dry.
Overall a long day spent doing all of this, probably about ten hours work altogether.
Day 2: Base Texture
In an old margarine tub I put about 1tbs Polyfilla powder, 4 tbs builder's ballast, 2 tbs PVA glue and a little water, and mixed it all together thoroughly. Using an old and reasonably large paintbrush I then applied this to the base of each figure. When each base was finished I used a smaller old paintbrush with some water to spread the mixture more evenly over the base and wash it from any parts of the model it has accidentally touched. I then sprinkled a small pinch of very small stones (I picked up a handful of gravel from the edge of a road about a year ago and still have plenty left) followed by a more generous pinch of Chinchilla dust across the whole base.
Then I set the figure aside to dry, moving it occasionally so that it doesn't become attached to the newspaper covering my working area.
This process was repeated for every figure until they were all done.
|Base texture added|
A much shorter day, overall about 2.5 hours work. Unfortunately in my experience it takes at least 24 hours, and better still several days to dry fully, so Day 3 of army preparation would have to wait.
Days 3 & 4: Undercoat and base
There are two phases to this: priming the figure to be painted, and painting the base. It doesn't really matter which way round you do this but on this occasion I undercoated the figures first.
Figures were undercoated using a light grey primer. I use a matt emulsion bought as a tester pot from the local DIY shop. The colour isn't very important but mine is a light grey that makes the detail on the figure very obvious for later painting stages and does not leave the finished figure as dark as if you use a black primer.
I painted each figure, being careful not to paint the bases (this is just to ensure that chinchilla dust does not spread onto the figure as will tend to happen if you undercoat the base at the same time).
Once this was dry I painted the bases. For desert bases such as these I used a base coat of Crown Brown Sugar (again I use tester paints of matt emulsion bought cheaply from the local DIY shop) which I dry brushed when dry with Crown Biscuit.
|Undercoated with bases painted|
It takes at least six hours for each colour to thoroughly dry, which meant I completed the three colours over two days, taking in total about 2.5 hours painting time.
Days 5 to 14: Figure Painting
I find the easiest way to speed up my painting is to have a plan and stick to it. For each figure type I list the colours that will be used, in order, and go through them one by one, leaving appropriate drying time where required. The plan I set out for this army is shown below.
My intent was to keep the painting as simple as possible. The only figures with particular detail would be the Warlords. Other special detail would only be required for the horses and the shield designs, but the majority of the troops would be simple, dressed in dark (near-black) robes with only their eyes showing.
1. Horse colours (Day 5)
I painted the horses in four phases as follows:
- base colour
- contrast and highlight colours
- white bits
To do this I prepared a palette with five or so horse colours. I typically use black, white, a light brown, a mid brown and a chestnut brown. I then painted each horse in turn the base colour I wanted, mixing on the palette to increase the variety as I went. With only four horses, though, I didn't need to worry too much this time.
I gave it a couple of hours between each of the stages for the paint to dry.
Contrast and highlight
Using the palette (the paint would not have dried completely) for bays and chestnuts I painted manes, tails and the lower parts of the legs with a darker shade than the main colour. This can be almost black. I like to apply this almost as a wash (say a thick wash?) so that it fades into the main colour better. Once that was done I highlighted exposed areas with a slightly lightened shade of the main colour.
Again I left this to dry for an hour or two before continuing.
Socks and face markings. I applied the paint almost as a dry brush as it does not look right if it is too runny or too thick.
Finally I painted the reins, bridle and finished off with the saddle.
Most of this was painted in a leather brown colour, highlighted with a lighter contrasting colour and spotted black where there are metal fittings (I paint metallic colours later though).
I painted the saddles and tassles (the Perry horses have these around the horses necks) in dark red, highlighted in vermillion.
On and off, about 2 hours altogether, over one day allowing for drying time.
2. Faces (Days 6-7)
I use a simple but very effective way of painting faces on 28mm figures. It gives a slightly cartoony look, but I quite like that and for this army it seemed quite appropriate somehow.
I've shown the steps below one by one for the Warlord on foot figure.
First, I painted two lines across the eye area in white. There's no need to be particularly accurate. When that was dry, I painted a very thin vertical line in black downwards across the centre of the eye area. I dif this carefully so that both lines were pretty much the same width and position on the eye. I recommend using a very small brush! When that was dry, again using a very small brush and this time being even more careful, I painted around each eye in leather brown to get it to the right shape and size. I started across the top, then painted the nose, then beneath. I made sure to refer back to the other eye frequently because if the eyes don't match the figure will look very strange indeed!
I painted the remaining face area in this colour as well, and then painted the hands too so that this colour fills the indentations between fingers.
I wanted my Arabs to have a generally suntanned look, so when the figures were dry, I painted the main areas of the face, hands and fingers using a dark fleshtone mixed using about three parts Vallejo Medium Fleshtone to one part Vallejo Leather Brown.
I highlighted the raised features of the faces - the bridge of the nose, forehead and cheek bones - with a lighter fleshtone, again mixed using about 6:1 Medium Fleshtone to Leather Brown.
Finally, I painted some very small further highlights using Medium Fleshtone and, on the Warlord a little fine brushwork to bring out detail around the mouth.
About 5 hours work altogether spread over two days.
3. Clothing (Days 8-9)
With hindsight, this stage would have been quicker (although possible less effective) had I earlier undercoated the figures in black. The idea was to have all of my troops bar the Warlord wholly dressed in black, painting this using a black base coat highlighted in shades of grey. Painting black on the figures was fairly time consuming though because I had to be careful not only around the eyes but also where feet and base meet, and around the hands. Not difficult but definitely time-consuming. At the same time, I painted black at the edge between hands and spears, and about 5mm of the tip of each spear. Overall, this stage took about 4.5 hours, just for the one colour, and a day allowing for drying time.
Once dry, I painted raised folds of the robes using Vallejo Black Grey, highlighting this with a faint dry brush with Vallejo London Grey.
|Robes painted and highlighted|
I painted the turbans of both Warlords in Vallejo London Grey, highlighting when dry with white, and the lining of the foot Warlord's cloak in Vallejo Dark Red, highlighting when dry with Vallejo Flat Red. I also highlighted the turbans of the Hearthguard with small spots of white.
Belts of the Warriors were then painted in Vallejo Black Grey, and the sword scabbards and attached straps of the mounted Warriors in Vallejo Leather Brown. Finally I part-painted the knives of the Warriors with Vallejo Leather Brown, leaving some parts black so that I could paint them later with metallics. I finished these by highlighting with very small amounts of Vallejo German Camo Beige.
Finally I painted small details with metallics, including brass on dagger pommels and scabbards, gunmetal on a few helmets, in particular the Hearthguard, and the mounted Warlord's shield.
Highlighting and clothing details added about 2.5 hours and another day to allow for drying.
4. Shields and Standard (Days 10-12)
I base coated the face and rim of the shields of the Warriors in Vallejo Leather Brown and the Hearthguard shields in Black. One hour's work and an overnight wait to dry.
To better enable identification of units, I decided to paint three different shield designs on the warriors (12 of each) and a different design again for the Hearthguard (the latter intended to be a shameless copy of the excellent shields and paint jobs of the same figures in the rulebook). The warrior shield designs are broadly based on images of Arab and Moosish shield designs known from the time of the Crusades.
The designs I settled on and the approach to painting each are set out below.
Design #1 (Warriors)
This was applied to the 12 Warriors with shields taken from the Gripping beast Dark Age Warriors box. The original design (above right) is based on the shield (above left) which is that of an allegedly Moorish buckler that had been up for sale on eBay. I've retained the three crescents and central boss but added a painted rim. Colours would be bronze detail on a leather brown base. The detail is outlined in black to help it stand out. This was painted by painting the base coat with a black boss, black rim and three black circles where the crescents would be, then infilling these with Vallejo Brass (a better colour for bronze than bronze!). The crescents were made by adding smaller, slightly offset discs of black, then tidying them and the rest of the shield face with Vallejo Leather Brown. Finally, this colour was highlighted lightly with Vallejo Saddle Brown.
|(L-R) stages of painting warrior shield design #1|
Design #2 (Warriors)
The original model for this (above left) comes from a site about medieval weapons. The design I derived (above right) has drawn from the concept of a spoked wheel at the shield edge, but has less metal on the shield face. I painted the shield boss black and added a broad circle of black around the main body of the shield close to the rim, then painted inside this in Vallejo Brass, adding broad spokes across this in black and then infilling these and tidying up the edges with Vallejo Leather Brown. Again, this colour was highlighted with Vallejo Saddle Brown to finish.
|(L-R) stages of painting warrior shield design #2|
Design #3 (Warriors)
This design is one I made up in similiar style to design #2 but with an inner and outer ring. Shield boss and rings were painted in black, then painted inside in Vallejo Brass, adding spokes across this in black. The shield face was tidied up with Vallejo Leather Brown and finall highlighted with Vallejo Saddle Brown.
|(L-R) stages of painting warrior shield design #3|
Design #4 (Hearthguard)
This is pretty much a straight rip-off of the design painted on the same figures in the Crescent and the Cross rulebook. I did a little research, though, in an attempt to ensure that the script I was adding was vaguely relevant (this despite my owning a Chinese army that fly flags with characters copied from a Chinese Restaurant menu).
I know no Arabic whatsoever, so WikiIslam (www.wikiislam.net) did not seem too unreasonable a source of appropriate slogan material. The design shown above shows my attempt to write "Allah is great" in Arabic (any errors are entirely mine for which, if necessary, I apologise wholeheartedly). Painted the slogan in white on the back base coat and then very lightly highlighted the main body of the shield in a dark shade of Vallejo Black Grey.
|Allah is great (or at least that's what it's supposed to say)|
I used the same slogan on the flag, painted in white in exactly the same way as the Hearthguard shields above.
Painting shield designs and the standard was spread over two days and was slow work because of the fine detail - about 10 hours altogether.
5. Weapons (Day 13-14)
I painted the shafts of spears in Vallejo German Camo Beige as in my view this looks appropriate for untreated wood. I repainted spear tips in black and, when dry, applied silver around the top of the spear shafts and to the spear tip, and the mounted Warlord's sword. About 2.5 hours altogether.
After drying overnight, I went over all the figures to touch-up minor errors that had unfortunately occurred throughout the painting process. This took about 2 hours.
Days 15-16: Varnishing
Again I left the whole army to dry overnight, then varnished all figures, especially areas where I had used metallic paint, with Vallejo Gloss Varnish. This is an important step as it not only protects and strengthens the paint job, it also prevents any later risk of colours (especially metallics, that sometimes will do this) of bleeding when the final matt varnish is applied.
About 3 hours work altogether, with another overnight to dry.
Once dry, I gave the whole army a thorough spray with Testors Dullcote, to adds strength to the figures and give a uniform matt finish. No more than half an hour's work. Dry overnight and they are ready to take the field - on Day 17.
A total of 20 days then from ordering the figures to having them ready to use on the table top.
Breakdown of time actually spent as follows:
Preparation time: 15 hrs over 4 days (average 18 mins/figure)
Painting and varnishing: 32 hours over 11 days (average about 38.5 mins/figure)
For a total of 47 hours over 20 days (including time for order to arrive and final drying, averaging just under an hour per figure altogether). This is certainly a record for me, and is not a pace I am likely to keep up in future!
The Finished Army