Sunday 8 November 2020

A castle update!

My apologies one and all for it has been far too long since I have posted here.  I am pleased to report all is well, but such is the pace and involvement of working with the new procedures and protocols that hobby time has been in short supply of late.  I have found that I miss, terribly, the interaction with those of you that pass by these pages and so have looked to Facebook as a means of maintaining an online presence.  If truth be told, I haven't quite got to grips with it yet, but hope that this might serve as a creative outlet in the months to come; do please seek me out, I promise no pictures of kittens!

The main purpose of posting today was to give the briefest of updates regarding the Battle of Schloss Itter project. A couple of weeks ago James and I finally managed to assembly the four boards for the first time in the front hall of my school. It was a wonderful to see the layout as planned and although some elements were not as finished as we had envisaged, we were looking forward to taking some photographs and video. Unfortunately the second lockdown has curtailed our plans again and we are faced with the inevitability that the castle will need to be quietly dismantled and stored away. In the brief time that it was available to the pupils, parents and staff we were heartened by the interest it garnered and so felt that we needed to commemorate the achievement in some small way. To that end James and I have recorded a Zoom conversation to share our thoughts about the concept and construction of the project.  The link to which is at the bottom of this post.

Regular reading of this most humble of weblog will remember that my good friend and colleague, James Walters was the creative genius behind the architectural modelling of Schloss Itter. During the lockdown period James has kept himself busy creating much of his beloved Bexhill West railway station and sharing many of the techniques employed in the castle design in a series of informative tutorials. This channel has gone from strength to strength and any you that may harbour a desire to create your own laser cut terrain pieces will surely find something of interest.

With regards to our conversation, I warn you now that speaking on camera is not something I find comes naturally to me, but I hope that those who have persevered with our journey will enjoy sharing some of our memories with us. Given today is Remembrance Sunday it seemed a fitting day to reflect on the broader purpose of the project, which was to celebrate the end of hostilities in Europe seventy five years ago.

I hope that you are all remain safe and healthy,


We Will Remember Them

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Jungle House Completed

 Following on from the 'Jungle House W.I.P.' I am delighted to present the finished abode as my entry in Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  This is a 'Sarissa Precision' kit and having completed the build in the previous post all that was left to do was to paint and detail it.
I tried to keep this as straightforward as I could and dry brushed colour on to the woodwork in a succession of lighter tones; for the record Vallejo U.S. Olive Drab, Khaki and Stone Grey.  The vines were picked out in a variety of green and then had some fine turf sprinkled along them.
 I was a little nervous about dry brushing the delicate feathers and so started by making a series of passes with the airbrush and then picked out the batons and ropes followed by more fine turf and leaf litter to try and convey the feeling that it had been there for some time.
 Some subtle wash colour under the eaves, a few leafy tufts and more leaf litter and we were there, completed!  Sarissa really do make some lovely little kits and because of their study construction are fun to enhance and personalise.
A big thank you to Dave for giving me the inspiration to get some terrain done this summer, perhaps not what I had originally envisaged but nonetheless a rather fun diversion and a couple of new tricks learnt along the way.  All that was left to do was to get some of the other toys out for a quick photo-shoot!

Sunday 16 August 2020

Jungle House W.I.P.

There is a cruel inevitability to all summer holidays, that realisation that it is coming to an end and the plans and schemes, so carefully considered, have again fallen short.  Last week saw me return to work, preparing for the release of this year's A-Level results and then having to try and make sense of the carnage that was left behind.  Not that I want to get into that here, but suffice to say hobby time was somewhat limited and if truth be told I have found it difficult to get back into the swing of things as the spectre of the new academic year looms into sight.
Fortunately I have one or two items in the bag, so to speak, and plan to share those as I go in search of the illusive mojo.  Some considerable time ago, I expressed an interest to take part in Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  At the time I was mulling over some ideas for pieces for my Tatooine themed Legion Board, but these fell by the wayside when I stumbled across a 'Sarissa Precision' jungle house on stilts.  I have no recollection when this was bought, or why, possibly as a trading post for the Congo board, but decided that it would prove a useful piece to work on, especially given the current project.
As with all Sarissa products it was relatively easy to put together, but all the time I felt a pang of guilt, this not being a building designed and cut by James! Once constructed I couldn't help but feel that it needed a little more love and attention, especially if I was to enter it into a scenery building challenge so set about the base board with the trusty Dremel, bevelling the edges before adding pumice gel for the groundwork and a few decorative pieces for added interest. 
Using an idea that we had employed in the castle build, fur wool or eyelash yarn was used to represent climbing plants festooning the sides of the stilts.  This, base section, was then undercoated in grey primer, before I turned my attention to the roof section.  The kit has a tile design etched into it, which didn't seem quite right for the sweltering jungles of South East Asian, so went in search for a different approach. 
In the end feathers were used, having sourced a cheap bag from Amazon.  Using PVA glue the feathers were assembled to look like palm leaves, one or two having sections removed along their shaft.  To these were added some fibrous bristles that I had lying around and, when dry, were undercoated to match the base.  As I started to add colour to the base section it was clear that the effect was starting to work, but something didn't feel quite right and so I added so off cuts of veneer and florists' wire to hint at the batons and rope that may have been used in the roof construction.
More unifying undercoat and I was ready to finish the painting...

Wednesday 29 July 2020

"Never get out of the boat."

If there was a plan to this somewhat frivolous diversion of mine then it was to have posted some work in progress shots of a terrain piece that I had been working on as part of Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  Unfortunately I have been diverted from my diversion by this, quite wonderful, 'Empress Miniatures' PBR, which has rather taken over proceedings.  I had seen that this was in the pipeline and decided that it was going to be an end of academic year treat to myself, so as soon as it was available, I ordered up the full kit along with the crew, sculpted by Paul Hicks, all wonderful likenesses for the characters from Apocalypse Now.
I had shown a couple of teaser photographs in earlier posts, but it is probably worth mentioning again here that this is an amazing body of parts, but took an age to assemble.  With no instructions you really are left to make your own decisions, which can be quite daunting, but I was keen to base mine on the boat from the film and so was fortunate that there were plenty of stock images to work with.  This meant dispensing with the 40mm Mk. 18 Grenade Launcher, for example, normally situated on the amidships engine compartment shield.  
Just preparing and siting the eight tiny cleats saw me scrabbling around on hands and needs, muttering the occasional strong word, as I tried to locate the latest escapee that fled for the apparent safety of the carpet pile! Other noteworthy incidents involved me snapping off the 'cast' rope that was to hold one of the tires to the side of the boat. This turned out to be somewhat fortuitous as I realised that the metal rope was too thick to wrap around the aforementioned cleat and so snipped it away from all the other tires and replaced it with some thin wire, which could be affixed as intended.
The kit comes with some wonderful extras such as Lance's surfboard, purloined from the Air Cavalry, even Mr. Clean's boombox.  To these I added some stowage and fuel drums, even a aerial fashioned from the Saintly Mrs. Awdry's dustpan and brush set, the fact that I had to ask where she kept it wasn't lost on her. 
As fiddly as the kit of parts was, I stuck with it and as soon as it received an undercoat of paint was delighted that I had.  Instantly brought together with the green and grey primer, the piece really started to look the part and I couldn't wait to paint it, all previous plans abandoned in a heartbeat.
Given that Lance, the forward gunner, needed to be sited before fixing the guns in place, I decided to paint the crew first.  Again, Paul Hicks has done a superb job with the miniatures, wonderful likenesses and some great touches, like Chef's cigarettes tucked into his T-shirt sleeve.  Captain Willard initially held a greater likeness to the chiselled features of Martin Sheen, but it would appear that in my haste to prepare them, I had run my file across his face, reducing his nose to one any heavyweight boxer would be happy to sport!  With regards to colour it was simply more green, but items like Willard's tiger stripe trousers and the shoulder patches of some of the crew offered a little more variety to the palette.
On to the boat itself and I followed, pretty much, the same process that I used for the WWII Sherman tanks earlier in the year.  A pin wash of Vallejo Cavalry Brown around the metalwork was followed up by a number of washes and dry brushed highlights.  Picking out a few details with the brush helped to lift the overall effect, with some gloss varnish applied to the lamps to hint at the reflective glass.  The lettering looked a lot tidier in real life than it does in these photographs, a sad symptom of my failing eyesight, but it still helps to complete the look.  The crew are pinned, but not glued in place, allowing them to be repositioned or swivelled and similarly, I couldn't bring myself to glue down the canopy, which remains precariously balanced as I write this.
I really couldn't be happier with the finished piece and instantly decided that I needed to set up some terrain to take some photographs, much to the annoyance of the Saintly Mrs. Awdry, whose dining table became an uncharted river for the the craft to patrol.  I stopped short of releasing a smoke grenade, not that I had one to hand you understand,  deciding instead that some subtle use photo editing was the way to go...
Purple Haze?

Monday 27 July 2020

"We've gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over."

As promised I present for your delectation these rather splendid sculpts from 'Empress Miniatures', undoubtedly the catalyst for this recent sojourn in country.  The work of Paul Hicks Esq. they represent four of the characters from Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket, Joker, Cowboy, 8-Ball and Animal Mother.
This episodic, seemingly two part, retelling of the Vietnam War details the cruel debasement of the raw recruits at the hands of their Drill Instructor giving way to the ferocious street fighting in the wake of the Tet offensive and remains oddly compelling to this day. 

Likenesses aside, the miniatures are top quality with stacks of little details and fully equipped with web gear and armaments appropriate to the Corps at the time.  It has certainly helped cutting my teeth with the earlier miniatures as I now feel a little more comfortable at recognising the different elements, making painting a lot more enjoyable.
With regards to painting, green is once again the order of the day with the occasion highlight or shadows created with some 'Games Workshop' washes.  Where possible I would indulge in the odd detail or two, but ultimately the goal was to keep it simple and clean. 
Joker, Cowboy, 8-Ball and Animal Mother have certainly helped to swell the ranks of the Free World forces and cemented my desire to continue with this diversion a little longer.  Coming up I have some North Vietnamese Army, again from 'Empress Miniatures' to act as opposition and I have also made a start on a piece of terrain as part of Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  Then, of course there is the PBR, which I spent assembling and detailing the other day.  Last count there were at least 50 separate elements and that didn't include the crew!  

Monday 20 July 2020

"I'm still only in Saigon."

Having hinted that this post might have reference to Stanley Kubrick's work, I am acutely aware that I have served up a helping of Francis Ford Coppola instead!   Rest assured, gentle reader that the likes of Joker, Cowboy and Animal Mother are inbound, but first a collection of miniatures reminiscent of characters from, Apocalypse Now.
Young, Master Awdry was left confused and bewildered after his first viewing of the widely acclaimed masterpiece.  Now more aware of the subtle nuances, there is a greater appreciation of the Director's vision, one that seemingly increases with age.  Not to get bogged down in a hackneyed review here, I shall move, swiftly on to the miniatures themselves.  Three character pieces from three different manufactures, the first from 'Wargames Illustrated', Giants in Miniature range.  Listed as Lieutenant Colonel Will Killmore, there is no mistaking the likeness for the surfing aficionado, Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore.  One of the more memorable characters from the film, with his often misquoted monologue ending with the immortal line...
Smelled like victory.
Next up a manic American photojournalist, portrayed in the film by Dennis Hopper, with this version available through 'The Assault Group'.  It is interesting to see the development of sculpting and casting in comparison to the other, more recent efforts, but that doesn't make this offering any less enjoyable.  In fact of the three, this proved my favourite to paint, not least because of the opportunity to try and replicate the tiger stripe camouflage effect.
Finally a sculpt available from 'Studio Miniatures' listed as Abel Kane, a possible leader for their Street Gangs range.  On closer examination this is a wonderful likeness of the infamous Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, as portrayed by Marlon Brando.
Kurtz being the target of the operation as a Special Forces officer that goes rogue, running his own unit based in Cambodia and feared as much by the U.S. military as by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
Purely as an aside, I have treated myself to the rather wonderful PBR from 'Empress Miniatures'.  Pure indulgence, but I included the crew, so expect more Apocalypse Now, before the end of the summer! 

Thursday 16 July 2020

"I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy;

we fought ourselves. And the enemy... was in us."
A huge thank you to all those that suggested ideas for rules systems for the 'In Country' project.  At the moment, I am looking at Fistful of Lead, which looks as if it will meet many of the initial requirements, certainly from the point of view of fewer miniatures and quick, intuitive play.  I will keep you posted as I start to roll dice in anger. 
In the interim, I have been enjoying some painting time as a way of relaxing into the summer holiday and have managed to complete a number of movie related miniatures, the first of which I present here.
Bearing a striking resemblance to Staff Sergeant Barnes and Chris Taylor from Oliver Stone's Oscar winning film Platoon, Sgt. Burns & PFC Noble are from the 'Wargames Illustrated' Giants in Miniature range.  Added to the group is a character miniature from the 'Assault Group', completing the unholy trinity as a stand in for Sergeant Elias.  It's interesting seeing the three together and the discrepancies in scale, not something that seems to worry me unduly anymore. 
Given that these were my first foray in to 'Nam, the realisation suddenly dawned with regards to just how little, I actually knew about the era, uniforms and combatants.  Falling back on the idea that this was to be a flavour of the cinematic world of the Vietnam conflict, as opposed to a historic representation, I brushed aside the often crippling considerations to palette and reached for the green, lashings of it!  Washes were employed for shadows and an occasional highlight helped to pick out a detail or two and before I knew it the first three were done.
Expect more in due course, perhaps something inspired by Stanley Kubrick's work?
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