Tiny Terrain Part #1

A little while ago I attended the latest Stoke Rochford Aeronef event at one of the finest venues I’ve ever gamed in. The theme for the game was the invasion of England, with Her Majesty’s Aerial forces attempting to see off all manner of nefarious interlopers.

In a moment of madness (probably during the third bottle of wine after dinner at the previous event) I had volunteered to make some terrain to play the game over. Given that this was over six months before, in theory I had plenty of time and no pressure. But, as is always the case, things get left until the last minute so I spent much of the last couple of weeks beforehand feverishly working away to get this ready (our show schedule at the time didn’t help).

The idea was to produce a piece of coastline based on the Scarborough area in Yorkshire. I rapidly abandoned any thoughts of making a full sized version of the town since it would require a massive number of buildings and not be all that practical to play on, the Aeronef models on their bases wouldn’t have anywhere to stand up. I thus scaled it down to a more rural area of coast with some small villages and hamlets. There were a number of specific features that I wanted to incorporate such as a wide river with bridges, a coastal castle, railway line, pier and small harbour. The terrain was split into several boards for ease of transport. I started by drawing out a plan of the boards on some large sheets of paper (I used cheap lining paper from Homebase) with each of these features planned into the layout. One of the boards was deliberately left featureless with no roads or railway, since I wanted something I could use later for photography purposes.

The basic construction of the boards used 1″ insulation foam on a base of 3mm MDF – the latter stops the edges of the boards from being too fragile but, as I discovered, it has a tendency to warp and made the boards curl slightly (even though I tried putting weights on it while it dried). I kept the surface of the terrain flat apart from at the coast itself, this again was to make the terrain practical to play over – rolling countryside would look better but nothing could stand up on it. The MDF was cut with a jigsaw, the foam with a hot wire cutter and the two glued together with DIY adhesive. The coastline was carved and shaped with the hot wire cutter and a very sharp knife with some areas that gently sloped to the sea and other more vertical cliff faces. The edges of the MDF were thinned with a cylindrical sander in a Dremel where the beaches rolled down to the sea and coated with PVA and sand. The whole thing was then painted with household emulsion – I got lucky and picked up a 2.5l tin of grass green for £2 in an end of line sale at Homebase, but other colours were from tester pots, mostly from Wickes. The beaches were painted sand (obviously), the cliffs in grey drybrushed with off-white and the gentler slopes brown. Various quantities of sand and model railway ballast were used to texture some areas.

With the basecoat on, the railway was glued down. This had been primed in grey car primer first, and once the glue had dried I gave it a good coat of Army Painter quickshade. Once this had been matt varnished, I ran a silver paint pen along the rails. Although not perfect, this gave a reasonable effect which I was pretty happy with, given that hand-painting the sleepers on over fifty pieces of track was never really a sensible option.

The road layout was drawn on in marker pen first to make sure it worked. I then painted over the roads in grey emulsion on which was sprinkled fine railway ballast. A couple of minor tracks were painted sand with similar coloured ballast.

In one area I painted a few fields in brown and sand to indicate a more rural region. At this point I was finally ready to start flocking the boards, for which I used Woodland Scenics’ fine grass green flock for the main areas and sands and browns for the fields. This suddenly made the boards look more like a region of scale terrain, rather than a messy primary school DIY project.

This article has grown rather bigger than expected, so I’ll leave it there for now – next time I’ll deal with the final details of the terrain and the buildings.

A Sticky Lesson

In the last year or so we’ve increased our 15mm range by leaps and bounds, both vehicles and buildings. We’re now casting more and more pieces in resin and learning new lessons about the material, one of which I think it could be very handy to pass on.

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At the centre of our Salute stand was the 15mm colony base, a model with which I was extremely pleased. The display model was only finished in the last days leading up to the show. What’s not obvious from the photos is that the top surface of the building modules are a little shiny and somewhat sticky. I’d made the mistake of leaving the model in its box in direct sunlight for several hours and it had got a bit warm – the day was not all that hot, maybe low to mid 20s centrigrade, although the temperature in the corner where the colony base sat probably got into the 30s in the sunshine. This somehow affected the resin and made it ooze through the layers of primer, paint and varnish. The garage module, which I’d painted as a separate piece, suffered really badly, and the paint came off in one or two places when I touched it.

I’d also had a similar problem before when priming some advanced buildings – it was a chilly evening at the workshop so I used a small fan heater to help them dry. This ended up making them ‘sweat’ and some of the primer (Halford’s car primer, which usually sticks to anything) came off.

So the lesson is – don’t let your resin get hot! And especially don’t let resin items sit in direct sunlight for any length of time. They could end up sweating and oozing, even through multiple layers of paint and varnish.

E6912_240701_00_PP_300Wx300HThe situation isn’t necessarily fatal, though. In the case of the colony base I gave it a coat of undiluted PVA glue. This dries clear, if a little shiny, so it had to be revarnished, but it looks ok. Obviously the PVA is quite gloopy and is like putting a very thick coat of varnish on, but it did dry clear and, in the end, it’s better than having a sticky, ruined, unusable model. I used a PVA from a DIY store (Wickes) designed for mixing into plaster and also sealing dusty walls, it’s probably a slightly different formulation from the type you buy in hobby shops and so better suited to stopping seepage.

It’s a Small World

I’ve been painting up some of our Small Scale Scenery range in the past week or two, ready for use in some upcoming games. I’ve started with some small factory and farm units, basing a mixture of buildings on 0.5mm plasticard bases.

The factory units are based on textured plasticard that looks like cobblestones – OK, I realise that in scale these cobbles would be about 10 feet long, but I prefer the look to a flat surface ! I made a surrounding wall from 2mm plastic strip and I’m going to add a sign over the large factory gate. I’ve mixed and matched a bit, the loading bay in the large unit is from the railway buildings set.

The windmills, from the Agricultural Buildings pack, were both based with a house from the English Village set. I Googled images of windmills to get ideas for the layouts and colours..

The rest of the farms are very much South-East England in style, with Oast Houses and barns around a yard. The bases are painted green then flocked with Woodland Scenics fine turf. The trees/bushes are Woodland Scenics clump foliage attached with a hot glue gun. It looks from the photos that I need to be a bit neater when painting round the edges of the bases !

I have more modules in progress, including some villages, so I’ll post details of those when they’re finished.

Painting 15mm Germans

Following on from the post I wrote about painting the 15mm Brits in two-colour camouflage, I’ve been asked to do the same for the Germans in their three-colour ambush-style scheme.

Whereas the blutack masked scheme can be achieved with spray cans, this one does require an airbrush – you just can’t get the same level of control or accuracy with a spray can.

So here we go, a dozen (or so) steps to a three-colour camo’ scheme. Before I start, please excuse some of the photography – it was done over several days in varying weather and lighting conditions on a phone camera, so consistency in the photos wasn’t easy to achieve.

The first stage, after washing and drying the parts to remove any residue, is of course to assemble the models with superglue (I use a gel glue bought in packs of ten tiny tubes from the pound store).

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Next is the primer stage. Nowadays I use a slightly more expensive primer than I used to, it’s important to get good adhesion and provide a base for the acrylic colours. I use car primer from Halfords in either grey or white – in this case grey.

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I use Tamiya colours for my Germans – Buff for the basecoat, then Nato Green and Nato Brown. I thin the Tamiya colours slightly, not a lot, adding about 10% Tamiya thinner.

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Then the two colours are airbrushed on – I do this freehand, without any masking. This gives a very soft edge to the camouflage areas.

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After this has thoroughly dried, I drybrush the whole model in Citadel Tyrant Skull. This is one of the new Citadel ‘Dry’ paints, which have the consistency of soft putty and are great for drybrushing (although murder on your paint brushes). It’s effectively the same colour as the old Bleached Bone pot, so if you don’t like the dry paints then that makes a good alternative.

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Then the skirts are brush painted Tamiya Dark Grey, which is then drybrushed in Codex Grey (because the only grey paint in the ‘Dry’ range is too light for this).

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I like to add coloured panels to some of my Germans as a base for markings and tac numbers – in the case of the command vehicle, two panels either side were painted in a dark red, made from mixing Tamiya Flat Red and Red Brown.

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The panel edges were highlighted in Citadel Blood Red and then (more lightly) in a very old pot of Blazing Orange.

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That’s it for the main painting stages. Next is the Army Painter Strong Tone dip, which I’ve mentioned in the past. This is brushed on, making sure it gets in every crack and crevice. This is the ‘oh my god, what have I done ?’ stage, since it doesn’t look good at this point …

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Give it 24 hours to dry (unless it’s a really hot day, I once left some models in the sun and they were done in 3-4 hours – and the metal bits were too hot to touch !). A tip is to put some sort of cover over them – the dip is very sticky and seems to attract dust, grass, small insects etc – and once it starts to go off, you won’t get any foreign objects out of it without marring the finish. So I put an old plastic tub over them to keep off the worst of the bits floating around.

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Once it’s dry (same time next day), it’s time for decals. The AP dip is a good surface for decals, being nice and shiny, so I gave it some old-style Maltese crosses and numbers from the excellent Dom’s Decals range. The crosses are 1/300th aircraft markings, the numbers are 10mm vehicle numbers.

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Make sure the decals are dry, then the last stage is to give them a quick blow over with Tamiya Flat Clear varnish (airbrushed again), which makes the whole model look completely different.

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And that’s it – I hope a few of you find this useful.

The Linton Lancers

The Linton Lancers are a small mercenary force I created for a game at my club’s recent Open Day. The name came about simply because Linton is the name of village where the club meets, and since I was using British kit for the force, ‘Lancers’ seemed a suitably alliterative moniker.

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The force is a 12-element unit of four vehicles, four Power Armour teams and four infantry teams. The infantry ride in two Artemis APCs.

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The vehicles were dealt with recently in my post about masking with blu-tack so I won’t say much more about those.

The Power Armour were painted the same way as the vehicles – they looked rather odd swaddled in the blu-tack !

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However, I used a cheaper blu-tack substitute for these called Power Tack. It was rather stickier than the proper stuff, and unfortunately on a warm day got very messy and was a nightmare to remove – it was like trying to peel off fresh bubblegum and it pulled away a few small areas of paint that needed to be touched up afterwards. I even tried putting them in the freezer for a bit to try and harden it up, but it didn’t help a great deal. In the end I might as well have brush painted them, the time taken to apply the masks, set up the airbrush and remove the power tack again took far longer than a simple brushed camo scheme would have. However, the results are decent enough.

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The infantry are Keith Armstrong’s excellent Armies Army Commonwealth – these figures are full of character and go well with the British armour. They were basecoated with a Plastic Soldier Company ‘Russian Green’ spray and then the details picked out – I tend to try not to use too many colours on 15mm figures, so I limited it to boots (rubber black), weapons and helmet sights (grey), faces (various flesh tones), helmet (dark green) and webbing (khaki). Then Army Painter dip, Tamiya flat clear top coat and we’re done.

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I’ve even knocked together a simple, unofficial play sheet for them so we could use them in a Hammers’s Slammers game – there are no points, just basic stats for each vehicle so we could use them in the game. Nothing fancy, but it worked for the game – you can download it here if you want it.

Civilian Runabouts

This weekend just gone I ran a Hammers’ Slammers game at my club’s Open Day (more of the game in a later post).

To provide a bit of scenery and colour, I painted up some of our Raeside grav utility vehicles in civilian colours. I went for a pallette of industrial orange-yellows, since the vehicles were placed as part of the colony base. I started by assembling them as normal, then dressed them up with various stowage items – jerricans, crates, boxes, tool lockers etc. One even got a Soviet external fuel tank bolted to the back (I wasn’t sure if the superglued join would be strong enough, but it’s holding up so far !).

After a coat of grey car primer (which annoyingly went a bit grainy – it was a warm day), they were airbrushed in Tamiya paints – two in yellow with a touch of red added, the other in an orange shade I mixed up specially.

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Then it was just down to brush painting the details – black skirts for one, black details for the other two, and various colours for the stowage items. Next was the infamous Army Painter Strong Tone dip – applied with a brush, I don’t go for dunking the model in the tin! Decals were applied on the still shiny dip, before a final airbrushed matt coat to flatten everything down. Decals came from various sources in my copious spares box – there are GW Tau and Imperial Guard markings, a few warning signs from a large Rafale aircraft kit and a number plate from a 1/76th German truck. What I really wanted was a decal that said ‘Survey’ for the orange one, but I couldn’t find anything suitable.

The end results are pretty effective and add nicely to the clutter on the table.

Pimp My Shaman

With the release of a number of add-on packs for our 15mm range recently, I thought I’d have some fun upgrading one of our vehicles with some of them. I chose a Shaman hover tank which I’d decided to paint up as part of an as-yet-unnamed Belgian mercenary unit that I’m planning to raise as and when we release more vehicles for the mercs.

I wanted to make a command vehicle so I replaced the remote gun mount with a Neo-Soviet sensor unit and fitted a pair of aerials to the turret roof. The sensor unit was just glued over the top of the mounting hole for the gun, while the aerials were attached to the flat of the turret roof – I drilled and pinned them for a bit of extra strength. The turret bin was filled up with a selection of stowage items – jerricans and a storage box – and a crewman in helmet was put in the open hatch. The last addition was one of our forthcoming pintel weapons, a 6-barrel gatling, although I cheated here and used a spare plastic 3D print since we haven’t made a mould of them yet! I mounted this in a short piece of plastic tubing first to bring it up to the right height for the commander.

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The colour scheme echoes that of the Belgian army in 1940. I gave it an overall coat of Citadel Bestial Brown, drybrushed in a lighter shade. The crewman was painted before being glued in place, the stowage painted on the vehicle, then everything was brushed in Army Painter strong tone dip. Decals came from Dom’s Decals and my spares box, with the final coat being Tamiya flat clear (don’t use AP’s aerosol varnish, it reacts with the dip and can ruin all your hard work).

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I had a lot of fun with this little project, and I’m looking forward to creating an entire mercenary unit in the same style (so yes, keep an eye out for new models in that range soon).

Painting 6mm Desert Buildings

I was asked about how I painted my 6mm desert buildings on our Facebook page recently. It’s a pretty simple method, and I thought I’d share how it was done using some of the new models I previewed last Monday. My method is aimed at creating battered, weather-beaten structures – it’s not for pristine city buildings !

Stage 1 – the obvious one, which is to thoroughly clean the castings in washing-up liquid (dish soap on the other side of the Atlantic). Leave them to completely dry.

Stage 2 – the base coat. For this stage I’m using Army Painter Bone primer from a spray can since it’s easy. If you wanted to paint them using acrylics, either by brush or airbrush, you’d best undercoat them white first, but with the AP spray can I can skip this since it’s designed to be sprayed straight onto bare models.

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Stage 3 – shading. I cover them in a GW wash, it used to be Devlan mud but nowadays it’s Agrax Earthshade from the new paint range. A good alternative is Army Painter’s Strong Tone wash (the small bottle, not the big metal can of dip). Make sure you get this into every nook and cranny, you might need to go back and cover up any spots you missed once it’s dry. A good tip is to do a second coat over the bottom 1/4″ inch or so of the models once the first coat has dried, this makes the bottom half of the buildings darker and adds to the shadow effect. I also went round with a small brush, darkening some of the corners and creating shadows under windows after the first wash coat had dried.

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Stage 4 – drybrush. I used GW Tyrant skull, one of their ‘dry’ paints. But whatever shade of tan/buff you prefer is good

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Stage 5 – details. There aren’t many on these models, but this is the time to pick out details such as doors, windows, vents and aircon units in whatever range of colours you see fit. This might include shading, highlighting and/or drybrushing.

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Stage 6 – varnish. Army painter matt anti-shine for this stage, although again whatever brand suits you.

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Stage 7 – put on the table and game with them !

And finally…

Completely off-topic – a fond farewell to Rik Mayall, a comic genius who, along with Ade Edmondson, made me cry with laughter during a performance of the Bottom stage show many years ago.

Behind the Mask

With the arrival of the new 15mm British vehicles, I needed to paint some ready for release (next week, in case you were wondering). I thought I’d try out a technique I’d read about (notably on the Hammer’s Slammers site) but had yet to give a go to. This involves using Blu-tack (other brands of ‘reusable putty-like pressure-sensitive adhesive’ are available) to mask off camouflage patterns for spraying.

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I started by assembling two Apollo tanks and two Artemis APCs and undercoating with Halford’s grey automotive primer. After this had dried (about an hour in the sun) the vehicles were then base-coated with Plastic Soldier’s ‘Russian Uniform’ from a spray can and left to dry. It was a reasonably warm day so the paint was touch dry within five minutes and pretty well set in an hour.

I then set to work with the Blu-tack – just a simple diagonal stripe pattern was what I was after, nothing fancy for my first attempt. I found (after the first couple of vehicles) that the best way was to roll out a sausage of Blu-tack and then flatten it with a thumb to make an irregular shape. I was working outdoors on a glass-top table on a warm day, so the Blu-tack was nice and soft and the glass table was perfect for rolling/flattening it out. I did the vehicles in one piece, with the turrets on. I made sure to push the Blu-tack down into the corners between turret and hull, and wrapped small pieces of Blu-tack right around the gun barrels so they were masked properly.

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Then it was indoors to the airbrush. I sprayed the exposed parts of the models with Vallejo Model Air Black-Green, making sure I hadn’t missed anything (under the bottom of the gun barrels is a favourite spot to miss). At this point things aren’t looking all that promising, but bear with me …

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I peeled the Blu-tack off straightaway, as soon as the paint was touch-dry (which was almost immediately – I was unmasking the first vehicle as soon as I finished spraying the last one). If you leave it any longer you run the risk, however slight, of the paint cracking as the mask is removed. Et voila – two-tone camouflaged tanks. The effect was that of a soft-edge mask, different from using something like masking tape, and I think very effective, much different from what you’d get with a paintbrush.

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The models were then highlighted and detailed using a mix of Tamiya and Citadel paints before getting a coat of Army Painter Strong Tone shade applied with a brush (I don’t hold with the idea of dunking your models in the tin !). This is another process that has you saying to yourself ‘what have I done …’ as the models look terrible with the thick, gunky high-gloss finish …

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… but a coat of Flat Varnish later and all is fine. Incidentally, I don’t know about anyone else but I find that the Army Painter ‘Anti-Shine’ varnish doesn’t agree with their dip at all on large items such as vehicles. I almost wept when the finish on a batch of Ainsty Blower Tanks crazed as soon as the AP varnish hit the dip. Oddly enough it works OK on figures, it just doesn’t like large flat surfaces. This wasn’t a one-off occurrence that I would put down to temperature/humidity/atmospherics, it’s happened every time I ‘ve tried it. So be warned. Instead I use Tamiya XF-86 Flat Clear, slightly diluted (only about 10%) and blown through my airbrush. The AP dip provides a really tough protective coat so the surface only needs to be dulled down.

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I suppose you could recycle the Blu-tack and use it again but it’s gunky and covered in paint, so I didn’t bother. I bought my Blu-tack in a 99p shop and used about half a pack for four vehicles, so I think 12p per model is a price worth paying. I’ll definitely be using this technique again.

Review of the Fleet

One task we’re slowly but steadily working through is to improve the quality of the photos on the website so that all of our models are shown at their best. We have a large and steadily increasing range of 1100+ models so as you can imagine this is a time-consuming exercise. Although we’re doing much of this work ourselves (I like painting, so it’s hardly a chore), some of the painting has been done by various friends who have volunteered their services. One such is Robin Fitton, author of the Gruntz ruleset, talented brush-wielder and all-round good egg. He took on the Herculean task of painting and photographing the whole of our British Aeronef fleet, and has made a cracking job of it.

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I’ve already inserted his photographs into the British pages on the website, but we feel that they’re deserving of a wider audience, so here’s a gallery of highlights. Robin has assembled and painted the models ‘as-is’, without any modifications or super-detailing (that will come later) so you can see what can be achieved with them out of the box.

  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  

There are 170 models in the Nef range already, with scope to expand, so I’m not sure Robin’s quite grasped the task he’s taken on ! However, he’s already working on the next fleet – we look forward to seeing that one as well.