Jetsam and Flotsam of War – Parte the Fifth

I really do find that doing research in preparation for painting as much fun as painting. I find painting a relaxing and fun way to spend the evening after the kiddies go to bed – and – in the end, I have something cool to show for my efforts. It is a win-win situation in my eyes.

Once the main body of troops was painted, we realized that we needed a lot of extra “stuff” to line the road, representing the detritus of the retreat – discarded supplies, broken down wagons and dead soldiers and horses. This part was probably the most fun because it allowed our imaginations to run wild, we got to convert figures and more quickly paint the figures using block painting (as most of the uniform would be covered in a dusting of snow!) I paint fairly slowly so anything that speeds the process is welcomed!

Midway through my main project, I realized that I needed to do a test figure first. Though this is out of sequence, I will discuss it here first because the procedure is just so easy. Alan Perry (Perry Miniatures) graciously donated several boxes of wounded Frenchmen and Infantry “Hired help” for moving guns for our project. I took one face down “dead” figure, cut off his canteen (I would use it in the primary project and it opened up more room between his arm and body to make the addition of snow easier) and glued him to a rectangular base. The stand looked like it was missing something so I scratch-built the remnants of a broken wagon using Plastruct and a spare wagon wheel I purchased at Enfilade (NHMGS annual convention) from Monday Knight Productions. I block painted the figure in the appropriate uniform colors and did a simple paint job to the damaged wagon. The part I worried most about – the dry brushing process – was really trouble free! While my partner in this project, Bruce Meyer, favors using a shade of off white/eggshell white, I prefer using a two shade approach starting with a slightly darker shade and completing highlights in the final color I want shown off. My experience has shown that using 2-3  shades helps cover the figure more uniformly and the successive lighter shades cover up any initial drybrush errors. I started with a light gray and liberally dry brushed the stand, highlighting the more prominent areas with white. I was really pleased with the results. As described in Parte the Third, I used Liquitex Resin Sand to texture the base and build up the “ground” to the sides of the figure and wagon. I placed the final top coat of Aleene’s True Snow to the sides of the dead soldier to include bits strategically placed on his pack and uniform; the wheel spokes were detailed to show where show would rest following a heavy snow. The entire process was very simple and helped build my confidence to finish my primary project.

My test piece before and after snow was added. While I was pretty comfortable with the conversion process, my photo taking skills obviously needed some work.

The photo is a little blurry but you can see the Liquitex Resin Sand, painted white on the left and the final coat of Aleene’s True Snow on the right.

When it comes to preparing figures for this general project, the simplest figure to paint is one that is already cast as a wounded figure. Things to consider include: removing any weapons as these would already have been taken by the French or locals and removing some equipment for the same reason. This can be done to make the figure unique and to provide an extra supply of spare equipment for other vignettes. Bedrolls above or on top of the standard backpack, canteens, cartridge boxes, muskets and swords are easily removed without the need to major plastic surgery to repair the figure. Even shakos come off nicely; the hair is easily replaced with two part sculpting putty. I prefer ProCreate using a #5 sculpting tool, X-Acto, straight pin and a saliva soaked finger (to smooth edges). I got my #5 tool from Brigade Games years ago.

Two identical figures showing the shako, sword and base removed.

The top musket was removed from a figure in two pieces. Like a head swap, the ends were drilled and a pin placed in between the two ends. A thin strip of plastic was added for a sling. The musket at the bottom shows the correct length. This can be added to a base with the missing musket part covered with “snow” to hide missing part.

A more time intensive option includes head or extremity swapping. While straight pins are very useful for securing the swapped body part, paper clips are probably even better as they are strong enough to hold the part in place, yet easy to cut and are just pliable enough to allow easy last minute corrections if the support holes are just a bit off. Arms and legs can be repositioned, too – cutting into the joint ( I prefer a slow rocking motion with a dull blade in an X-Acto until about halfway through the joint and then testing if I can move the limb) without going through the joint allows the extremity to be straightened or extended; cutting a V shaped wedge into the joint, taking care not to go through the extremity, allow the joint to be bent or flexed. Gaps can be filled with ProCreate. Other options at this skill level include adding putty scarves, cloaks and blankets. I noted an “incidental finding” that when adding layers in stages helped add an additional set of folds to blankets for added realism and to aid the painting process. Yes, using the advice of Chris Hughes (Sash and Saber), saliva is an excellent medium on fingers or utensils to help smooth edges and remove fingerprint marks. It is a gross sounding but very effective technique. Blankets and scarves are very easy ways to cover up large cut areas or joints or repositioned limbs; it is really easier than it looks.

Murawski Miniatures Polish figure with blankets, jacket and other clothing bits added with ProCreate. The holes in the clothes are best sculpted when the ProCreate is still moist.

The most difficult task is re-sculpting entire limbs or sculpting entirely new figures. With the time I had (or, better said, did NOT have) this was not an option for me. I might consider doing something in the future for this project but that would have to remain a State secret at the moment.

The first two strategies discussed above will help make all the figures, trash and wreckage look just a little different. All the paintings from the period show lots and lots of dead soldiers, discarded equipment, disabled wagons and general junk along the path of the retreating army. Having 20 identical wounded figures lining the road is pretty boring and unrealistic. Unique figures are cool and will enhance the look of the game.

Bruce Meyer’s Retreat from Moscow game vignettes. Beautiful. You can see where parts of several figures can be combined into a stand that adds real flavor to the scenario.

Bruce did a LOT of cool vignettes – all beautifully painted and appropriately frozen looking. He chose to paint the faces of his dead figures gray; I mixed medium gray to my Foundry flesh triad using a small amount with the B shade for the recesses, more for the standard skin tone and a similar mix with the C shade for highlights. Instead of using brown in between fingers and for the eyes/mouth, I used medium gray. Skin does take on a grayish shade when frozen – anywhere from a fleshy gray to pale gray so either technique is appropriate. Getting back to the topic of vignettes to be left alongside the road, I always liked the look of the broken down wagon from the movie “The Duellists.” It is an excellent movie to watch for fun; on YouTube, the wagon in question can be seen from the start of the “Missed Duel” scene in the movie. This was to be my major contribution to the game and the primary focus of this article. (Editor: as an aside, the Cossack in the movie scene is taunting Feraud by asking if he is hungry and showing him some food.)

The “Broken Wagon” from the “Missed Duel” on the retreat from Moscow. Bits of the wagon cover are blowing in the bitter wind.

My first steps included looking at the “Missed Duel” video clip and printing off a collage of various views of the wagon for reference. The movie wagon has about 3 soldiers in the wagon, one by the front wheel on the ground and lots of trees lying about. My initial thoughts were that I could fit two figures in my wagon without it looking cramped or having to do a serious re-work of the wounded figures; the trees and branches would be something to easily break or lose and would also detract from seeing the figures in the wagon so they were omitted. I used two of the dead/wounded figures from the FN16 Line Casualties pack – one is intended to be face down but the sculpting detail is so good he looked fine on his back.

As always, I tested the approximate size of the base for the figures and the figures in the wagon on cardboard before measuring the plastic from which the wagon base would be cut. 3×5 cards are inexpensive and very useful for this purpose. After cutting the bottom from pre-scored Plastruct that looked like wide “planks” I reinforced it with thicker plastic for support. A square piece of plastic was glued to the inner rear of the wagon so I could glue the rear and sides on, keeping 90o angles to the base. This worked out really well and a veneer of more thinly spaced “planks” were glued to the outside of the wagon. Vertical supports were glued to the sides for added effect.

Once the basic wagon was built, I retested the wounded figures I wanted to use. To make the figures fit better both had and cuts made behind the knees to straighten or extend them the legs. This resulted in the figure on the left having his left foot on the side board of the wagon, a nice accidental effect; the figure also had the bedroll removed from his backpack so it would fit better fit in the wagon. I placed it into my box of extras for use in another vignette.

I did MULTIPLE test fittings for the figures and wagon throughout the project to double and triple check that what I had intended could still be produced with every added detail. The “straight ahead” initial version was quickly abandoned because it looked boring and staged. The horse was another Enfilade purchase from Monday Knight Productions, however, the ACW baggage was taken off with a Dremel and then hand filed.

Top: Original, pre-project figure test. Bottom: Horse and wagon test on a 3×5″ card – I use these because they are inexpensive and are easy to write on and alter.

More dumb luck helped when I placed the support wires for the wagon “canvas.” The extra planks on the sides, added for effect and detail for painting, provided some depth for drilling the holes for the wire. The wire was manually bent around the neck of Polly S paint jars until the desired shape was obtained and was glued in place with Crazy Glue. I wanted something substantial to hold the “canvas”; I only later noted the actual wagon canvas supports were flat, not round – more dumb luck as the metal wires would be covered and the difference unlikely to be noted. Adding the flat supports involved drilling two small holes in the sides and digging out the plastic between them; altering the ends of the plastic made the fit more snug, as well. These supports were delicate and fragile, FYI.

Using more 3×5 cards I was able to determine the dimensions of the tissue paper (similar to the paper used to pack birthday bags) for the canvas. I initially used Crazy Glue to try to put it into place but quickly learned that the paper preferred to stick to my fingers instead of the metal. Extra paper was available at the rear of the cart and folded over inside the wire. For some unknown reason, this extra did not show after the final painting. I learned later the watered down Gorilla Glue was a better adhesive. A template was made for the canvas flaps at the rear of the wagon were made from a tracing of the wire support. Double thickness paper (with the fold at the edge of what would be the center of the flap) was cut to the appropriate size and glued inside the canvas. Note the sectioned blocks that would be the glued surface did not extend all the way down the sides – this was intentional to allow more flapping due to the wind. The glued seams also did not show on the front flap – perhaps it was due to how thin the paper is but luck remained on my side. A thick square piece of plastic was glued to the bottom of the wagon as a support for the wheel spokes. A hand drill was used to make the hole to accept the circular plastic for the spokes.

 The templates were made from good ol’ 3×5 cards.

Taking a pencil, I outlined the area where I wanted to cut the paper. Small cuticle scissors worked nicely for this. I might have had more control had I done this before the paper was affixed to the wagon, however, I anticipate that the gluing process would have been significantly more complex and, perhaps, unworkable. For example, one small strip of torn canvas stuck better to my finger than the wagon and tore off; a replacement strip was added and was, fortunately, not noticeable. Holes in the semi-damaged side were made with an X-Acto knife and stretched/expanded. When some of the flaps were given a windswept look, the two layers of paper came apart. This unintended accident made the damage look more striking and I left it alone. To keep the weathered and windswept look, I covered the entire canvas with a coat of Crazy Glue and two coats of thinned Gorilla Glue. This stiffened the paper and made the flowing canvas shapes permanent. At this stage I did recognize one potential problem – gluing the wheels in advance of the painting helped with the placement of the final model but made painting and weathering more challenging.

Top: A front flap was added to the plastic frame. Bottom: The windswept wagon canvas after cutting and stiffening. Pencil lines showed where I wanted final placement for figures. 

The basic design had both the horse and wagon an angles to each other. The seated figure is actually kneeling on his right leg/foot (see the right most figure in the FN20 “Hired help” set). It seemed more natural for a frozen man to be sitting on the ground. To reproduce this a spare shin/foot used from a WWII Japanese figure added and placed under the bent knee of the left leg. The original foot and surgically placed prosthetic leg were strategically covered with the soldier’s blanket sculpted from ProCreate in 2 or 3 sections. The blanket damage and worn edges were cut out later (this is always better done during the sculpting process). The extra stages of sculpting had a neat effect of adding extra folds to the blanket – this adds character and helps with the painting process. As with the seated figure, ProCreate was used to build the blankets covering the bodies. One of the blankets had lots of holes and damage to it. The folds on the blanket were made individually using imagination and whim. The curved surfaces look more realistic and offers detail for painting. The rein of the horse was cut off the body and extended with a thin! ribbon of ProCreate flattened with the non-knifelike edge of the #5 tool.

White blocks showed me where three of the wagon wheels were to be placed; orange marks show where the left front wheel and the wagon poles would touch the base. Some of the pictures show the figures in the wagon with their blankets in place. The two wheels of the wagon required it to be coming “downhill” with two wheels at level 1 and one at level 2 (the height of coffee stirrers). The ground terrain was built up using spare/scrap coffee stirrers built around the white blocks; this makes putting down the basing material easier, too. The standard basing material used was Liquitex Resin Sand and was drawn up to the edges of figures, the white/orange marks and to cover up items (the tail of the horse is too short for my liking, the missing middle of the scratch built musket, the cut right rein and the terminal end of the left rein required hiding).

The plastic and wood helped provide a lopsided look to the broken down wagon. The repaired musket, discussed previously, is used next to the seated casualty.

The base/horse/seated figure, the wagon and individual dead figures were painted with the standard 2-3 shade painting technique, however, block painting is very reasonable as most of the detail will be covered with dry brushing. The dry brushing technique included a first layer of light gray, highlighted in white before gluing anything in the final position. Using Aleene’s True Snow I worked from the middle of the area under the cart outwards, around the seated figure and around the horse slowly working towards the orange/white marked areas. The snow dries fairly quickly so I could replace the wagon, see how much more snow I needed to add and then continue the process until the snow was at the edge of the wheels and wagon poles. Before gluing the wagon in place, I placed snow on the wheel spokes (especially important behind the seated figure). When this dried I glued the wheels and poles in place – I will admit this was a little scary as any errors could permanently ruin all my work – and then I finished adding snow to the outside of the wagon and base. 

Before I did one final test fit of the figures I lined many of the horizontal edges of the wagon and wheels with snow. I bend a piece of metal to allow better access and placed snow over the edge of the back of the wagon (covering up the extra plastic used) and along the sides of the wagon. I initially glued the first figure with Gorilla Glue but this did not set quickly so, while holding the figure in place, I poured some Crazy Glue under the backpack of the figure to hold him in place. Any extra glue on the wagon was covered with snow to hide errors. The sides of the wagon between the two dead figures were further lined with snow before the second figure was glued into place. Some snow was placed on all the figures randomly for effect (obviously, the figures should have been as heavily covered as the wagon but detail would have been lost – a nod of the hat to Hollywood and not realism, but, it looked better). The bedroll on the horse was covered to make sure the ACW details are covered. Extra details were added: the reworked musket behind the seated figure, another musket in the wagon, a shako cut from another wounded figure and the gourd canteen from the test figure with a scratch built strap. All were dry brushed and some snow added for neat detail.

All in all, this project took me about a week to complete, working in pieces after the kiddies went to sleep. The entire process was really interesting from research to finding just the right figures to seeing the wagon slowly come together. While I truly enjoy painting miniatures, building this wagon based on the scene in a movie, was really a ton of fun to do. I now have something unique to place and show off on my gaming table.

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