Foundry and Perry Napoleonics

A break from Britains! Some Foundry and Perry Miniatures 28mm Napoleonics. Foundry figures are great, the Perry castings are amazing. The depth and angles they’re able to get in their casting – it’s astounding.

The downside to Perry, I’ve found, is that their detail is so fine and so small it can be hard to pick out with a brush. They sculpt three times larger than the finished product, allowing them to get all that detail. As with those beautifully detailed 1/72 plastics, the details are there but sometimes so small you can barely get a highlight on them.

Some French voltigeurs taking pot shots at an advancing Austrian squad.

The scruffy French veteran in the back, still wearing his 1806 issue white uniform, slew several Brits and an English officer in a skirmish game several years ago. I was glad he lived up to his looks!

Painting Britains

In the course of repairs, and a total repaint in one case, I’ve been working on achieving the Britains painting style. A few things have helped along the way.

Firstly, London Bridge, the company casting replacement parts for Britains figures, has some great painting advice. They recommend Humbrol paints, many of which match Britains colors and come in gloss. Picking up a good selection of Humbrol glosses is the first step.

Colors are just the start, though. To really match the style of a Britains, it’s helpful to understand how they were painted and which colors were put down in what order.

Videos of the Britains factory during the 1950’s show women painting hundreds of figures in a batch after they were spray undercoated. It’s fascinating to look at the strokes of paint and think that someone nearly 100 years ago worked on this very figure. You can’t be too sad the job went away though – fumes, eye strain, repetitive motion, tedium after your 2,000th Life Guard – its amazing the figures are painted as well as they are!

So to really reproduce the style of a Britains you’ve got to paint it as if you were painting 10,000 of them. That means fairly thick coats of paint and that details are really just one swipe of paint. I can’t imagine these painters were going back over their work and touching things up. You get one pass and it’s on to the next one.

It helps to study examples of what you’re trying to reproduce as well. That can tell you a lot about which colors were put down in what order. Look at your classic Guard infantry. There’s usually flesh color on the face and underneath the lip of the bearskin. We can deduce that the flesh color was one big swipe, encompassing the face and a portion of the headgear. The black for the bearskin came after since there’s still flesh on the underside – they weren’t too concerned about tidying up the overpainted flesh.

This sort of reverse engineering can be done on most figures. Here’s an example where I didn’t get it quite right, although I’m not unhappy with the overall result.

I foolishly stripped the original paint off this Belgian cavalry officer (set 190) and had the bare metal figure sitting around for years. I recently repainted him, starting with a white spray for an undercoat.

The jacket and saddle are dark blue. Photos of original figures show that the light blue pants weren’t painted all the way around the figure as I did, they’re mostly just painted on the sides and much of the underlying dark blue remains.

Nice and tidy, but doesn’t really match what was originally done.

Other paint work has been more straightforward – for horse legs is either just painting gloss black over an undercoat or working to match the brown. White has been tricky – even using Humbrol’s ivory which better matches the Britains white it’s still a little too much. It helps to cut the ivory with some tan to better match an aged, worn white.

The best paint to me, though, remains the original factory paint. Other than replacing missing parts, I haven’t repainted any figures or done any touching up. The dings, scratches and wear marks are what make these figures unique and interesting!

Some Johillco repairs

So that eBay lot of “Britains” figures turned out to be one or two Britains and a bunch of Johillco figures, a copycat company started by a former Britains employee. That’s my mistake, I’m not good enough yet at recognizing Britains from knockoffs in photos.

The Johillco guys aren’t bad figures and I’m not one to turn down a toy soldier in need so I built some new legs for the horses and reattached heads where needed. Here’s some mid-surgery shots.

I’m not sure about the figure below. Maybe it’s another Britains knockoff, but doesn’t seem to be Britains or Johillco. With Britains, the presence of a mustache and painted reins on the horse shows its pre-war. So this figure is probably pretty old and I didn’t have any other similar figures to model new legs. For now, he’s in the repair drawer until I can find out more.

Britains LTD repair project: Prelude

After an Ebay deal, I found myself with a box of Britains mounted and foot toy soldiers of various conditions. I’m not proficient enough to know exactly what I’ve got, but one figure that looks like a British Life Guards cavalryman has a mount that’s missing its right left lower leg.

I wanted to modify the figure as little as possible, but it doesn’t even stand as it is and a missing leg is a pretty major defect. I decided on a wire glued into the stump with a remade leg of greenstuff. With the other legs intact, it was easy to get the shape and length correct.

I then painted it with oil-based black and varnished only the portion I’d reconstructed. The principal is taken from historical architectural restoration – if you add or modify something you want to make it obvious what’s original and what’s not. Here the restored leg is clearly in better shape than the rest of the figure but doesn’t stand out too badly.

From a little bit of research, I believe this figure was made before World War II based on the painted reins. To save money, the company ditched this detail after returning to toy production in 1948. There was further damage to the figure – signs of the weakness of a hollow casting by the crack on the front saddle seen below – but I didn’t see a reason to mess with it. A new leg is all the repair this fellow gets.

So, what’s this a prelude to? There’s another Ebay shipment headed my way with 19 cavalry figures in rough shape. Very rough shape – no legs, missing heads, horrific stuff.

I’ve found a few resources, though. Most encouraging is a company, London Bridge Collector’s Toys, that sells spare parts for Britains figures, including horse legs. I’d considered casting my own but this is much easier, and saves my mold putty for other things. They’ve even got painting tips for correct Humbrol colors. Check them out here.

In case of lead rot, or maybe as a preventative measure, George R. R. Martin (surprise, surprise, he’s a toy soldier nerd) has an excellent article on a mixture that’ll take care of that bane of old figures, as long as you’ve caught it early enough. That’s here.

Next up is a collector’s guide to Britains toy soldiers to figure out what I’ve got and what it’s supposed to look like. I haven’t been able to find very much online that’s comprehensive – if you know of anything drop me a line!

Cast and painted Vlad

Vlad the Impaler sure cast up easy! I don’t have much experience with home casting 28mm figures, but this one didn’t even need any venting. There’s almost always problem areas – sword tips, hands – where air pockets block the flow of metal. Not in this, for whatever reason. It was a great cast the first time.

Almost as if… he wanted to be cast! Spooky!

After a little bit of cleanup, on to painting.

I’m planning a snow base for him, but more on that later. Next up are finding some opponents and allies, plus making some suitable terrain for skirmish games in 15th century Wallachia.

Vlad III Dracul

Back to the sculpting bench after a hiatus to focus on painting. I’ve had the idea to sculpt the Wallachian warlord Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) for some time now.

Besides the spooky factor, there’s lots of inspiration for wargaming in 15th century Eastern Europe. The Ottomans are finishing off the Byzantine Empire, taking Constantinople (1453) and the “Empire” of Trebizond (1461). The Italians are carving out an empire amidst the wreckage, there’s Catholic-Orthodox friction plus a whole host of ethnic warriors with their own distinct looks.

There’s some nice 28mm Vlad figures on the market, such as a mounted figure from Old Glory and foot figures from Citadel/Wargames Foundry and The Assault Group, but all have him in full plate armor. Certainly what he would have worn for battle, but I wanted him in clothes since the region and period had such distinctive dress.

First, the face. After a bit of fleshing out I finished the face first. I’m hoping to capture those arching eyebrows, long nose and large eyes from this picture:

Here’s the completed face, without hair.

The wire dropping down from his arm will support a Turkish-style sleeve similar to the one on the archer figure below. Vlad’s arm will be through the hole and the sleeve will hang down.

Plenty more work, the right arm, sword, hat details, but Vlad is moving right along. I’m not sure if I’ll try to cast him or just paint the green, but I’m sculpting him with casting in mind just in case.

Off to Indochina

If watching The 317th Platoon doesn’t get you intrigued about the Indochina War, I don’t know what will. While there’s certainly scope for major battles, the setting strikes me as one for small-unit actions. A handful of troops trying to make it to safety, a small fort holding out against a Viet Minh attack, French commandos turning the tables on the enemy and waging their own guerilla war. Black-clad partisans, French Foreign Legion, American WWII tanks, North African colonial troops – plenty of variety for painting even in a small engagement.

Eureka Miniatures make a great line of 15mm Indochina War figures. My only quibble is the Viet Minh are depicted as mostly regulars. I would have liked a few sets of partisan and local forces types – no gear, just a weapon and civilian clothes.

That aside, the figures are excellent. The detail takes washes very well which is how I plan to build up a good number on both sides for a skirmish game. Here’s the first batch – French colonial infantry getting ambushed outside a village.