Saturday, 23 August 2008

Some exciting developments here at Chez Stavka.

"Move over Sharpie, I'll take the adventures of this guy any day!"

1) Positive reinforcement...

We all need a reward for success, and this will be mine! I came across this on, and one "click" and a week's delivery time later, it's at my doorstep.

I have long been a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard short stories. I first come across Brigadier Gerard and his regiment, the Hussars de Conflans, in my school library when I was in Grade 8, and ever since I have been hooked on the tales of this flamboyant- and totally immodest- light cavalryman serving in Napoleon's Grand Armee.

I have only read the stories either individually as selections in other books, or more recently as selected uploads on the Internet. I had never been able to find them in print as a complete collection anywhere; although there are more versions of Sir Arthur's Sherlock Holmes stories available than you can shake a sabre at, his other works have not nearly been so widely available. It is the detective in the deerstalker who rakes in the money!

Imagine my excitement, therefore, when quite by accident I came across the book you can see here. Not merely just a collection of all eighteen of the Brigadier Gerard short stories, but one that is in hardcover, fully annotated, and which includes the illustrations that accompanied the stories when they first appeared in Strand magazine back in the 1890's.

As writers go, I'll take Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over Bernard Cornwell any day of the week. He created Brigadier Gerard as a result of having become bored with his Sherlock Holmes character, and these stories are in quite a different vein- lots more humour for a start. While granted that they are short stories rather than novels, the Brigadier Gerard stories have a literary flair about them that I find missing in the Sharpe novels.

At my own request, my wife has "custody" of the book for now. Once I get the pictures of the finished and based figures I've been working on up on this website, she will then hand over the book to me, and then I'll settle immediately into my armchair with a glass of cognac and immerse myself in the tales of the Good Soldier. No doubt I'll find some inspiration within its pages for a few Sharpe Practice scenarios!

Inspiration indeed for persuading me to slave away like a madman at the painting table.

2) Bases on the way!

More good news. I checked my email this morning to find a message from Litko telling me that my order for bases has been shipped. Past experience tells me that they should be here by next Friday or Saturday at the latest, and once they arrive out will come the glue and sand for some mass basing.

This means that the 28e legere will make its pictorial debut way past the original deadline, but it cannot be helped given my change of course on base sizes. It will have been worth the wait, I'm sure.

3) Napoleonic decals? Yes!!

Alban Miniatures
out of England produce a very nice range of British riflemen for the Peninsular War designed by Richard Ansell. They also intend on doing French, starting with light infantry. Unfortunately while the figures seem to be very nice and well-proportioned, they don't really suit my painting style and what is even more important, are absolutely incompatible with my collection of Front Rank miniatures.

However, Alban caught my attention big-time recently as they have announced a range of decals for Napoleonics. Created by Dom Skelton, these are to be used for things like regimental backpack numbers and canteen markings. So far these are just for the British, but they plan on introducing decals for French light and line infantry as well.

I think this is really exciting news, as it should speed up the painting time and also allow for much nicer looking touches such as markings for the French covered shakos, company markings on the cartridge cases, and hopefully at some point in the future we will see shabraque and portmanteau markings for French cavalry, all of which can be a pain to do freehand (as I am discovering...).

I look forward to these new releases from Alban, and even if I cannot use their miniatures I will definitely be springing for the decals.

Wonderful stuff. With all the new and innovative releases coming out these days from a number of manufacturers, this is a simply a great time to be a wargamer with any interest in 28mm Napoleonics.

4) Finally: "Hey, man, WAY cool!"

Literally. The weather in Tokyo this summer has been really unpredictable. It has been so hot and humid these past two weeks- 35 C. give or take a degree or two- with a lot of thunderstorms. This has made painting a real chore. Not only was it physically uncomfortable working in my upstairs room under a hot light- I had to take a break every twenty minutes or so-, but my acrylic paints were drying out on the palette far too quickly- a real hassle when trying to work on faces and horses when I needed to blend colours.

But today the temperature has really dropped down, to 23 C. While for Tokyo this is really unseasonable weather for late August, at a time of year which is usually pretty much unbearably hot until the middle of September, it does make my painting progress much faster. Which is lucky, as I'm really running out of time for those chasseurs!

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Sands of Time...

"No sign of that wretched Sharpe fellow anywhere, mon ami..."

Time for a quickie update as I really want to get back to the painting table. The 28e legere are now being brush-varnished with a protective coating, after which I'll give them all a spray of artist's matte finish. I found a brand that sprays evenly and lightly, and dries matte with only a slight sheen. It seems to bring out the colours nicely.

While waiting for my bases to arrive from Litko, here is a skirmisher stand that I made up using one of the bases that I do already have. These are 50mm by 25mm pill-shaped bases that will do just fine for the voltigeurs.

The voltigeurs have now had their bases textured with fine sand, but I will paint the bases all in one go after the whole battalion has been based and textured, so that the paintwork will be consistent.

Note picturesque verdant background to photo. I bought some green hobby grass matting from a local craft shop. While at 50cm by 75cm it is too small for a gaming table, I have glued it to a board that I will use for my "studio" shots.

Right now I'm giving my back a break from being hunched over the painting table, and I've been looking at various online horseflesh-painting tutorials for the cavalry.

M. le Capitan's log, supplemental-  I found a couple of good sites here  and here on painting horses- lots of pictures of the actual beasts as well.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Baseless rumours...

...can sometimes be true!

Let me explain, but first a quick update on the painting progress so far.

I have begun what amounts to a week of vacation time, and I have pretty much the whole time for painting, especially as the wife is off to visit her family in Sendai while I stay in Tokyo to babysit the cats- and to chain myself to the painting table. This means that I can -finally- finish the last few figures for the 28e and concentrate on those magnificent Front Rank
chasseurs a cheval. All will be done by the 25th of this month.

As the figures near completion it is time to take a look at basing. My original intent was to go for a 1:30 ratio of figures to actual men, and to base 24 figures on four-figure stands in single rank. Thus a French infantry battalion in line would consist of a long line of figures with a 36 cm frontage all in one rank. The reasoning was that the resulting "footprint" of the unit would be closer to what historically would have been the case than is often portrayed in many wargames rules.

But I have had lots of time to think things over, and as the finished minis take shape I realize that ultimately, what I
really want is that "Peter Gilder" look; large battalions in two ranks, with a figure ratio of 1:20, just like the ones from his Leipzig game at the Wargames Holiday Centre that featured in those very early issues of Miniature Wargames (way back in the 1980's, when Duncan Macfarlane was editor).

The pictures of those games really took my breath away, and served to establish an interest in Napoleonics- particularly the 1813 campaign of Leipzig- that has continued to this present day. They remain my "platonic ideal" of what Napoleonic wargaming is all about. Ultimately, it is the aesthetics of a game which attract me a lot more than does any effort at simulation.  I'm into toy soldiers!

Now, the catch with moving to a 1:20 representation is that it means bigger units and more figures to paint. But I do not want to keep looking over my shoulder later on and wish that I had done things differently.

Cost has always been a factor as well in me not taking the "Gilder" route before, but I do have most if not all the figures I need already, especially for the French. And now that plastic French (and possibly Russian!) Napoleonics are on the horizon from companies like Victrix and Perry Miniatures, expense has become much less an issue. That just leaves the questions of storage space, but as the figures are in close order I do not think that the difference is that significant.

It also means using rules like
In the Grand Manner or General de Brigade- I've opted for the latter, as the command and control rules give them a big edge in my opinion. Furthermore, the rules have a high profile and are widely used so I that will not be limiting my options so much should I ever find myself moving again, as would be the case if I opted for a more idiosyncratic basing system. General de Brigade also has good online support with an active forum
(where I post as GL Z.D. Olsuviev).

Now a full-strength battalion of French infantry at a ratio of 1:20 is 36 figures, while a Russian battalion would be 32 figures strong. Now, it doesn't take a genius to work out that that is is 50% more painting (and expense!) than is the case for a 1:30 figure ratio which gives 24 minis per battalion for the French. That is indeed too much painting, so I am going to go for understrength units on both sides- about 30 give or take one or two for the French and 28 for the Russkis. This will mean fewer figures to paint, but units that still look good! And it would be more historically accurate for 1813- even then, given the debilitating manpower shortages of the time, it is probably being over-generous.

You can see how I intend to base the infantry regiments here. Only a few units will have mounted officers, as by late 1813 horseflesh was getting woefully scarce for the Grande Armee, with cavalry and artillery units getting priority.

Last week I ordered the new bases from
Litko Aerosystems. Once they get here I'm in business! In the meantime, I have to paint up six extra figures for the 28e legere. Think of it as a penalty for me being behind schedule!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Cowardly captain's eye view

Not the best picture, the reds (highlighted in gouache scarlet to stand out on the tabletop) have come out much too orangy/ pink.

Note all the straps, accoutrements, piping, and assorted "doohickeys" which convince me that to be a Nappy buff you've gotta have the patience of Jove, or at least lean towards some interest in masochism...

Better late than never...

You'se talkin' to me, dude?...

Unless you're Marshal Grouchy, I guess. I underestimated just how long it takes to do the details- the musket straps, piping, shako plates all took a lot more time than I anticipated. Nevertheless, I am happy with the results and everything is falling into place.

How the heck Iannick could paint so many, so well, and so quickly is beyond me. I doff my chapeau to him in admiration!

Here is the first instalment- the carabinier company of the 28th legere. These guys were real swine to paint up- lots of fringes and the red chevrons on the shakos took a steady eye and a lot of patience. If the weather co-operates I'll give them a coat of spray varnish and mount them on their bases early next week.

More to come- the
voltigeur company next, and then the centre companies which were a LOT less fiddly!