Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ready for Prime Time

Ah, the serried ranks of primed figures!

Clausewitz said, "Everything in strategy is simple, but that does not mean that everything is easy." Every step of the way we've had simple tasks but all have called for decisions and some detailed follow-through. Fortunately, in the priming step our only decision is which primer to use. A metal primer, obviously. Tamiya, the Armory, Floquil and I'm sure many others make fine primers that you can find at the hobby or crafts store. Auto paint makers also make primers that you can find in the auto parts store. They all have the right colors: be concerned about the fineness of the pigment and how well it adheres.

Priming is essential because 1) you want to prevent "lead rot" and 2) to help the paint adhere to the metal. Plain old spray paint won't cut it. Invest in a nice can of primer--you're about to spend a lot of time and energy on a great paint job so lay the right foundation.

What color? There's a shaft of light coming in from the left of the photo above making it look like there's three colors, but in fact there are only two that I use these days. I can't see the detail if I use black (although a lot of people like it) and white is just too hard to cover up. (You'll see when I get to painting that I avoid black and white there, too.) Use light grey and dark grey.

If the figures are in a light-colored uniform, I use light grey primer. In this batch, the Turcos and Legion in whites are primed light grey. (I also prime all the figures I photograph for the Askari website in light grey--it shows off the detail best. If I go on to paint those figures I may well coat them again in dark grey paint or primer.) All the Berbers and the Foreign Legion in their blue overcoats are primed dark grey, as are the mules and donkeys.

The French general was a bit of a compromise: normally I'd prime all the horses dark grey but I wanted the general "bright" so I primed them light. Maybe I'll make the horse a grey.

This is all, of course, a matter of judgment and experience. I just don't like dull blues and reds and yellows and if I use a dark primer, then I'm going to spend a lot of extra time adding a light grey or white undercoat to the uniform parts. On the other hand, the Berbers wore white and off-white cotton and woolen clothes yet I primed them dark. We'll see why later in the painting phase, but for now let's just say there's a difference between pipe-clayed white and Berber crawling-around-in-the-dirt white.

When you see them all in a mass like the photo, the task of painting them doesn't seem too daunting.

Friday, December 26, 2008


The idea here is to disguise the figure's base and make the whole stand look a little like a mini-diorama. Caution: it is possible to go overboard here.

I like the grey pumice from Vallejo because it's pre-mixed with glue, goes on nicely and dries hard as a rock with a nice, sandy grain to it. The one thing I don't like is the tendency to form annoying pinholes around the edge of the base. If these are a problem, it requires a second pass to cover them up. This usually happens the deeper you pile the pumice on--but remember, you don't have to cover every square inch of the stand and you don't want an even coat.

I applied it with a Starbucks wooden stirring stick I sharpened a bit. It was plenty long, so when the tip got encrusted with dried pumice, I just cut it off and carried on. You can buy a whole bagful of these sticks at Hobby Lobby...but then you wouldn't get any coffee.

If you don't want to spend the money on the pumice, you can always use sand, cat litter, model railroad scatter or grass, sawdust, dried coffee grounds...I use all of these plus acrylic patching plaster. Experiment and find a glue that works well on the metal surface.

Once the pumice is on and dry, it's time to prime.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cleaning and basing

Here's a sample of the figures cleaned and based.

In the cleaning process I remove the mold lines, flatten the bases and straighten out rifles, bayonets and such. I work hard to make the mold lines invisible or, failing that, to make them easy to find and clean up. The metal flows into the cavity through the base, so there's always a bit to clean off where the figure attached to the sprue. These were all clean and it didn't take long to touch up the lot of them.

Now it's time to execute the process I described in the previous post about basing. Natives and French command figures go on round Game Crafter's bases. French infantry go on #19 3/4" square bases from Wargame Accessories and the animals go on their 3/4" by 1 1/2" bases (or their 20x40mm bases, which are essentially the same size). Some people use round bases for all their Colonials; many use 1" fender washers with a hole in the middle. I don't like those because of having to fill the hole. Also, they're too big and too thick for my taste.

I use a variety of glues. Mostly I use "Heavy Duty Welder Contact Adhesive" I found at Walmart. It holds well and takes some time to dry so that you can re-position the figure if needed. I've also used something called E6000, billed as an "Industrial Strength Craft Adhesive." It dries faster but in both cases at least overnight--the the tubes say 24 hours or more for maximum strength. For the loads on the donkeys and mules I used a two-part epoxy. This dries in 4 minutes--no need for the long cure here.

Usually I paint horse and rider separately and then glue the rider on with PVA glue (Elmer's in the US). A couple of reasons for this: in case of dropping, the rider pops off instead of having the sword or rifle broken off. I also find it easier to paint each piece separately. Recently, for example, I had a Chasseur d'Afrique lose his sword after three trips to Historicon, one to ConQuest in LA, one to MilleniumCon in Austin and numerous treks to Denver. Just popped him off, painted another figure and mounted him on the still-good horse. Painting horses is a chore. This time, though, there was only the one mounted figure and he has no breakable appendages so I thought I'd try the glued-on method.

I didn't find an el Krim figure lying around, so I used one of the new Berber command figures. You can see him in the center foreground of the picture, in front of the mounted French officer and just to the right of the Algerian native officer.

Next step: apply the pumice.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Lead Pile

Here's Ed's Army in all it's unpainted glory.

I pulled one pack off the pegboard, but for the rest I cast them special for him. (Don't you feel special, Ed?) Actually, I didn't see the point in packaging them only to rip them apart again...

It took me a little time to finish casting as I had to renew one of my early molds. Over time, molds wear out--especially if you abuse them as I did at the beginning. Running them too hot makes them especially vulnerable to tearing. And now, four years later with 120 molds behind me, I'm making better molds that are less likely to tear. So on the 500th spin you get the same quality figure as the first spin. Or I'll have remade the mold.

Here's what in the pile:

FR-4 Tirailleurs Algerien
FR-8 Foreign Legion in white bourgeron
FR-9 Foreign Legion in blue overcoats (capote)
M-1 Pack Mules
D-1 Donkeys
B-1 Berbers in djellabah (two packs)
B-10 Berbers in gandoura and burnous

Not a bad start for opposing armies. The B-10 set is a 12-figure pack, so I bumped it up to 20 figures so all the units would be the same size. (I've got some Berber leaders in gandoura in development--when they're ready I'll update the B-10 set on the web store.)

Sacre bleu! I just noticed--no army leaders! In Colonial Adventures, the rating (or as we might say in Morocco--the baraka) of each leader figure is important. I'll have to go find an Abd el Krim figure and a mounted French Officer--who bears a striking resemblance to Marshall Lyautey--to add to the pile.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Basing often bedevils gamers, including me. One of the things I like about Colonial games, including Colonial Adventures, is the individual basing. No re-basing, ever. But it still does tend to be a bother, mostly left to the end when it seems like a chore to overcome before the finished figure can actually be used. I've tried many methods; here's my current favorite.

I mount all my native figures on round bases from Game Crafter's. (I like them so much I'm selling them on the Askari web store.) The European infantry usually go on square bases, although I'm mounting some on round ones as well. European command and auxiliary figures go on round bases. Both round and square are 20mm or 3/4"(19mm) size. When I mounted my natives on square bases, players tried to line them up in formation like Napoleonic line--so now only troops who could form line have square bases. The bases stick well to magnetic sheet for transport.

The figures are glued to the bases with epoxy. The disc and the base are blended with Grey Pumice from Vallejo. Thanks to Bob Bowling of RLBPS for that tip! It comes pre-mixed with glue. Just dab it on with a toothpick and Bingo!, you're done.

The trick is to do that first, then prime the figure. That way, the tedious part of basing is done up front and the painting of the bases becomes part of the artistry of painting the whole figure. I undercoat the whole base with black, burnt umber, or some other dark brown like Howard Hues Nubian. I didn't really like Nubian as a color for Negroid flesh but it's found a good use as base undercoat. Drybrush a lighter shade (figure at right of photo) and you could be done. But it's really awesome if you drybrush a third color over that (figure at left).

I've really started at the end of the painting process. The next post will take Ed's Army from the beginning.

A Clean Slate

These Pathans are almost done. Not a part of Ed's Army actually, but I have to clean off the painting board before I can get started. These are the Pathans on guard and (far right) the Pathans command. They're almost done. Illinois Dan is on the left. He's slightly outnumbered.

I do all my painting on a plywood board I had as a cut-off from a shelving project many, many years ago. You can almost see some paint bottles in the background: Model Color and Game Color in the little tubes, Howard Hues in the "tubs." But what I really like are the larger tubes of acrylic paint that you get in the crafts stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby. Only 98 cents normally and sometimes on sale for half price, they last forever.

The figures are mounted on some wooden blocks I picked up years ago from a scrap pile. They're beech (yes, I'm a woodworker) and just needed a little sanding at the ends to make perfect hold-ons. I used to stick the figures to the blocks with double-stick tape but a hot glue gun is a lot faster.

The Pathans have been on my board for a very long time. They got pushed out of the way for some Tuareg I did for a game with Ed at MilleniumCon in Austin last month. Time to wipe the slate clean.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This blog is about Ed's Army

Ed Texiera of Two Hour Wargames needed an army to demonstrate his new Colonial Adventures rules (and great rules they are, too!).

So he invested in what I would call a starter army from Askari Miniatures. One problem: Ed says he can't paint. I have to take him at his word since I've never seen anything he's painted. Come to think of it, that could be related to the "I can't paint" thing. Or it could just be a "Would you paint them for me?" con. Either way, I bit. Just after Thanksgiving. I might have been on a turkey high or something, who knows.

I am the owner and operator of Askari Miniatures so--as Ed cleverly pointed out to me--it's in my interest to make sure the figures look good on the table top.

So that's my challenge. Paint up this lead pile by sometime in January. Two months. No sweat.