Sunday 17 February 2013

Dark Ages Cattle

OK, first things first. As far as we can establish, the cattle around in the Dark Ages in the British Isles were more like this:

 White Park Cattle. Note sexually dimorphic horns!

Than this:
Highland Cattle. A more modern breed!

These miniatures cost a princely five pounds for the five from Irregular Miniatures, at this year's Vapnartak show. Their stand is always worth having a root around over. There's all sorts of weird and wonderful things to be had that are great for adding colour and interest to the table.

Good starting material

As you can see, the general shape and form of the bodies is close enough to White Park cattle to be convincing, and the horn shapes, while not exactly right are actually pretty close for the cows (upturned) and easily convertible for oxen or bulls (forward pointing).

After a quick cleanup, tidy and fettle the models were ready for the minimal conversion needed. The flash, although it looks pretty bad, more or less fell off. With care, patience and a decent pair of pliers, I bent the horns on two of the animals to more closely match White Park cows. These two then got udders modelled with greenstuff. Well, with horns like that they aren't going to be maiden heifers, are they?

The other three had their horns bent so they point forward (where they are more useful in attacking head-on...). This was more tricky than for the cows but I managed it without having to rebuild any. Since these are oxen and not bulls, I didn't have to model any additional "equipment"...

Painting was simple: white undercoat / primer, followed by a coat of light grey into all hollows and dips. I drybrushed heavily with Vallejo deck tan (to blend the shading a bit) and then drybrushed with white. Finally I blocked in some highlights with more white. Ears (insides only!), noses, eyes, hooves and odd bits of the lower legs were painted black and the horns a pale greyish brown, with panzer grey on the tips. The udders on the cows were flesh tones, shaded and highlighted. Well, here they are - Dark Age burgers on the hoof. The Pictish horseman attempting to keep them going is from Newline Design for comparison. This side view gives a good idea of the build and form of the beasties.

Head 'em up! Move 'em out!

If plain black and white is a bit dull for you, there is another surviving strain, which has "red" (russet) ears. These would seem to be the subject of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, so how's that for a reference! The "red" genes are recessive and now only seen in isolated herds, exemplified by the Chillingham Castle cattle.

I based them on large washers to allow the beasties to be easily scattered across the table top. These would be ideal as booty in "raid" games, could serve as draft animals for the many carts that are now on the market or simply as a mobile hazard wandering randomly across the game table to make life hard for both sides! Like this...

Rollin' rollin' rollin'!

Pity the poor Pictish horseman trying to keep order among this lot!


Wednesday 6 February 2013

Blue Polystyrene Foam

Blue polystyrene foam - extruded foam, that is, is a bit of a holy grail for model making and terrain building. It isn't always easy to find, and can be expensive, but its properties make it the go-to material for some seriously good terrain builders.

I'm a newbie with the stuff. At the moment, I'm playing around, but I'm learning a lot as I do.

A bit of research and I had the plan for what a section of the sort of drystone wall I want to build would look like. I got my bit of blue foam and went at it with my ballpoint in the suggested style.

I found a couple of things. Firstly, using Gorilla Glue to stick the stuff to other substrates was a find for me. Secondly, the stuff seems to drink paint. It's like MDF with a raging thirst.

First off, I gave my wall a coat of gesso, followed by Vallejo stone grey, a sepia wash and some drybrushing. And the whole lot sank in and almost vanished! So, I gave the panel two coats of sand coloured craft acrylic, followed by the sepia wash. Even then, I was surprised by how much wash it needed. I'm using Daler-Rowney acrylic ink, with just a touch of flow improver, and it still needed two coats to get a decent depth of colour. I think next time I might try priming with thinned PVA, as per MDF, before showing it any paint.

If you haven't come across them, these acrylic inks are a revelation. I've been using Winsor and Newton shellac based inks for nearly thirty years for art and modelling, but these acrylic inks from people like Daler-Rowney and Liquitex allow you to do things I had thought impossible. The pigment loading is enormous and hence also the staining power - which was why the need to use two wash coats was a surprise.

Finally, repeated drybrushings with shades of the base colour, grey, off-white and ochre as per normal to bring out a sense of depth and texture.

Well, here's the result. The panel is 40x35mm, so this is larger than life-size. This follows roughly the size of the drystone areas between the timber framings on the post-Roman rampart at South Cadbury.

First bit of blue foam!

 After a closer inspection of the reference photos, I realised that the size of the stone, except perhaps in the very bottom course, is much too small. Below is a scan from Lesley Alcock's "By South Cadbury That Is Camelot", plate 81. You can see what I mean!

Buy the book! It's indispensible!

Notice the wall, compared to mine, is made of biggish stones (the rods are 1m), laid in courses on top of VERY big stones. Oh well, always next time. Ironically it will be quicker and easier to make the panels representing big stones!

Still, that's an authenticity problem, not a technical issue, and I'm sure the panel in question will "come in handy for something" as my late father would have said. I intend to be using this stuff quite a lot. As I live and learn I'll post a few things with ideas, experiences and hints that hopefully will be useful.


Monday 4 February 2013

Vapnartak 2013

Spent Sunday at York Racecourse enjoying Vapnartak 2013.

I arrived at about 10:30, had to queue to get in, and found it was absolutely heaving! It continued to get more and more crowded until about 13:00 when it started to thin out a bit. It felt much busier than last year, when heavy snow the night before impacted on both visitors and traders, and this was confirmed by a colleague who is a member of the club. Nearly 1400 people came through the doors! The organisers had gone out of their way to guide visitors coming by car into the drier sections of the carpark, which is notorious for ending up looking like Paschendale and being nearly as easy to get in and out of! Much appreciated.

Traders included the usual suspects (Gripping Beast, Caliver Books, Dave Thomas etc) and some new faces to me at least, such as Minibits, Warbases, Treemendus and Sarissa Precision.

 I was parted from my money for Gripping Beast Picts and Saxons, Crusader Scots spearmen, model trees from Minibits, terrain consumables (flock, texture and building bits) from Warbases and Treemendus, steel paper from Coritani and a copy of Dux Bellorum.

My only "fail" was trying to get a scale cattle or even buffalo skull to make up a Pictish standard, but while searching I found a set of cattle models from Irregular Miniatures (always worth a rummage around their stall!), which will be super-handy for raiding scenarios and were superb value for money.

One noticeable thing was the increase in companies making and selling laser cut MDF buildings, terrain and accessories. Obviously, as a dyed in the wool scratchbuilder of terrain I have to register a conflict of interest with this sort of thing. To my eye, the range and quality seems to be ever-increasing. There were buildings from all eras and genres, useful (and hard to make!) general accessories like ladders, and wonderful accent pieces like carts and sheds. To anyone lacking the time or confidence to make their own, there are some superb products around at, in most cases, quite reasonable prices.

The Impetus tournament was a treat to watch, with superb armies. I'm not qualified to comment on the WH40K stuff, but as usual it looks great and is a treat to the eye.

Something I hadn't seen before was the Malifaux tournament. I have been periferally aware of the game and the minis, but this was the first time I had seen it in the flesh. The players were having a high old time, so from that point of view it looks like a great success, and visually its a real attention grabber with the superb miniatures and bright pictures on the cards used to drive play. My impression had been that the production values for the game were very high and in the flesh this is confirmed.

The demonstration and participation games were of an extremely high standard I thought. I tried to get some photos with my phone but the pictures I got were so monumentally bloody awful I can't bring myself to post them.

The League of Extraordinary Kreigspielers' Back of Beyond game in Tibet was a real eye catcher, and all involved seemed to be having great fun, while North Hull Wargamers  early WW2 game came complete with heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe! The Lance and Longbow Society were putting on a fantastic, colourful battle with hordes of beautifully painted minis. York Wargames Society were of course represented. Their Pegasus Bridge participation game didn't seem to ever lack people wanting to have a go. A superb standard of figures and terrain here. Finally, Darren from Gripping Beast, guiding people through a 4 point Saga game played comfortably in an area 2 feet by four feet. After the way this was catching peoples' enthusiasm if they took any copies of Saga home with them I'd be surprised.