18 February 2018

Falling Standards?

The last two Hessian standards 'borrowed' into the Stollenaian Army.  They will take their place at the head of the very first line regiment (Revell 1/72 tall, thin plastic Prussians) completed way back in the late summer of 2006.  These Minden figures will stick out a little less sorely than the single, rather squat MiniFig first assigned to the regiment way back in '06.  The flags are also certainly more colorful than the original.

Well, despite the coffee catastrophe yesterday morning, and the trip out to replace the keyboard, I managed to have a fairly balanced day.  Balanced in terms of mostly hobby tinkering with rules and plowing through the remaining half dozen papers for one of my classes this semester yesterday afternoon.  Mercifully, the latter were pretty good to, in the case of two, excellent, so I was left with time for other things.  The Young Master even managed to prepare most of his science fair project on the Space Shuttle unsupervised.  Happy sigh.

All of that meant that I had about 90 minutes following The Young Master's evening routine, which lately also includes one or another of the Geronimo Stilton novels, the current favorite, for bedtime reading.  Once back down here in Zum Stollenkeller at about 8:35pm, I got to work on the flags picture above.  I had no orange handy, so flew by the seat of my pants and mixed my own using a GW/Citadel red, yellow, and then some white for highlighting plus a later blue and green for the central details around the Hessian lion.  

Not too bad if I might be permitted to say so.  As with the last pair of Hessian flags, I've painted over the areas of main color but will leave the detailed wreath and crown alone.  Simply too complicated for me to attempt, but by painting in the main colors and then adding a few highlight washes here and there, the style now matches my figure painting a bit better than if I had simply printed out the flags, attached them to the poles, and left them as is.  

Only a few minor touch-ups left to do, but I'm pleased with the 90 minutes' work overall.  I did mess up one blue corner ray on the flag at right, obliterating the smaller wreath and crown in a corner of the flag almost entirely, but is is just about made invisible by a furl near the flagpole, so I'm not going to mess with it any further.  C'est la guerre as they say!

The next step is to reexamine all of these replacement infantry standards and bearers for any final and necessary (??!!) touch-ups, and then slap two or three coats of Liquitex acrylic gloss over everything.  I can then attach the standard bearers themselves to those nifty replacement Litko bases onto which I stuck everything else last September to make the appearance of my armies a bit more consistent given the various figures used thus far and minor differences in size and sculpting style.  

From this point forward, however, anything that might be added to the existing combat forces will be either RSM95, Minden, Fife&Drum, Crann Tara, or Eureka, with, just maybe, another unit of Holger Eriksson dragoons at some point.  But that is putting the cart before the, ahem, horse.

Next up, I must add a few standard and guidon bearers to my existing cavalry regiments, and then I can return, in good conscience, to all of those unpainted cavalry castings purchased in the run up to and just after my half-century mark in the fall of 2016.  In the meantime, another dozen student papers this afternoon as well as some lesson planning for Monday morning's class.  Happy Sunday everyone!

-- Stokes

17 February 2018

Coffee and Keyboards: Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet. . .

Not my own image, but you immediately grasp the point of today's post.

So there I was.  Saturday morning about 11am.  Still in my pajamas and back down here in Zum Stollenkeller after breakfast upstairs at the dining room table with the Young Master.  I returned to my chair here at the computer, second large mug of fresh French press coffee in hand, meaning to return to typing into my ever evolving mid-18th century rules a revised version of Mark Clayton's morale rules from Miniature Wargames issue #7.

I was about two minutes back into this activity when I reached for said mug of coffee, without really looking at what I was doing, and, of course, it slipped from my grasp.  The contents spilled all over my keyboard, some papers nearby, a box of paperclips, and my non-functioning Swiss pocket watch that I've been meaning to take to the jeweler for repairs.  Needless to say, I turned the air momentarily blue with muttered curses, took the steps upstairs two at a time to retrieve a roll of paper towels from the kitchen, so I could return asap to start my own version of The Pepsi Syndrome clean-up.  

Miraculously, the two old issues of Miniature Wargames sitting to my right (#6 and #7) managed to escape the caffeinated carnage inflicted on so much of the rest of my desktop.  I don't know how.

At any rate, shortly after mopping up everything, my keyboard, into which I had just installed a fresh battery earlier this morning, stopped responding.  Nothing.  Nada.  No way.  Now how.  Of course, that meant an unplanned trip out to find a replacement was called for.  Sigh.  Back upstairs to shower quickly, dress, brush my teeth, and head out

However, there are those rare days when the stars line up, and things go more rapidly that you fear they might.  I was in and out of Best Buy in under ten minutes with a new Logitec wireless keyboard-mouse combo, for a very reasonable price.  I even managed on the way home to fill the car with gas at a good price, drop a pair of pants off at the dry-cleaners, and pick up a few items at the supermarket (remarkably quite for late on a Saturday morning).  In under an hour, I was home again and setting up the new keyboard-mouse combo.  As Peggy Lee once sang, "Yes it's a good day. . ."

Now, if only I can get through a short stack of five or six student papers, I might actually be able to return to the painting table for some actual work on infantry standards for the first time in a couple of weeks.   Still cold, but we had a thaw midweek, so the remaining snow is icy, crunchy, and not, according to the Grand Duchess, good for skiing.  So, we're staying in today to combine a bit of work with a bit of leisure while the Young Master works on a Space Shuttle science fair project for school.

-- Stokes

12 February 2018

Gone Skiin'. . .

The Young Master and Dad having hot cocoa in the warming hut (with woodstove) of a local ski area Sunday afternoon.

Not much time at the painting table the last week or so I'm afraid.  We have accrued a rather impressive amount of snow on the ground here in Mid-Michigan, and so any free time has been taken up with cross-country skiing.  Yesterday, Sunday, afternoon we suited up and hit the trails in the woods around Lake Lansing, and it was amazing.  Great traction, fantastic glide, ideal temperatures (about 20 degrees Fahrenheit), and quite a few other skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts out enjoying the day.  

The Young Master has really come into his own on skis this winter and has become quite a daredevil on hills (he takes after his mother, who was part of an alpine skiing club when she went to high school in Reno, Navada).  These family outings on skis are always, in my view, some of the nicest times the three of us have together.  Very special hours together doing something that all three of us enjoy.  What more could you ask for?

-- Stokes

03 February 2018

Thank Goodness Someone Worries about Keeping up Standards!

The latest batch of replacement infantry standards.  I figured the Hessian flags at front right had details large enough that I could risk letting them show and have a crack at actually painting them.  Seemed to work reasonably well.  

Plugging away this (Saturday) afternoon and late into the evening here with another two pairs of replacement infantry standards.  Some obvious touching up tomorrow to clean up a few lines as well as a few remaining brass buttons and neck stocks to add on the ensigns (in light blue coats) destined to join shortly Stollen's Leib (Grand Duchess Sonja's Own) Grenadiers, but we're getting there.  Not perfect, by any stretch, but rather pleasing to the eye in any case.  Only one final pair remaining after these, but I need to pick up some orange paint before tackling those.  It's after Midnight here, so it's time to hit the sack.  Nighty night!

-- Stokes

Sunday Morning. . .

For those who might be interested, I am using synthetic #2 and #3 rounds (with good points) to apply my thinned colors, washes almost.  The white areas are first given a light gray undercoat and then highlighted several times (until everything looks right) with successive washes of white to facilitate better blending.  Other thinned colors (reds, blues, etc.) are then carefully applied, and a thinned highlight is added later.  I apply metallic colors and leave them as is. 

The complicated wreath and crown designs on the Hessian standards, which will be presented to the Grand Duchess Sonja's Own, look good enough without any further dabbling from me, so I have decided to leave well enough alone there.  The gilt finials and cords get an undercoat of dark brown and are then damp-brushed with gold, the usual Citadel hobby acrylics.

Finally, we seem to have picked up a few new followers the last several days, so welcome to each of you.  Please feel free to leave the occasional comment, observation, or suggestion and join in the fray that is the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog. . .  A blog about nothing.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The GREAT Battlegames Lives Once Again!!!

Forgive my fanboy ravings, and I am getting to this a bit late, but, like a phoenix from the flames,  the much missed Battlegames magazine with noted wargaming author and hobby personality Henry Hyde at the helm is poised to make a return.  The late magazine rises again as a digital venture of sorts with the help of a growing list of patrons around the globe.  Perhaps, I'd best let Henry explain in more detail though.  Visit Battlegames on Patreon forthwith and become part of this exciting development in the hobby virtual press.  Henry has also retooled his blog to reflect this venture, and you can read all about that by visiting the Battlegames Blog.

-- Stokes

02 February 2018

Useful Tools for Making Tabletop Buildings. . .

 A magnetic gluing jig available from Micromark.com.  Micromark. . .  The small tool specialists!

A quick post this Friday morning, before I begin the great sport of playing telephone tag with several area contractors. . .  to line up someone to take care of a few home improvements for us here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold this summer.  Hopefully.  

If there is anything more mind numbing than work-related meetings, similar gatherings at your child's school now and then, or time spent in the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists, it surely must be transmissions into that vast black void, otherwise known as voicemail.  So many waking hours in our terminally "wired" and connected era seem to be taken up with calling and leaving messages on people's phones never to hear back from them.  Without three or four follow-up calls on your part over the next several days that is.  Ground control to Major Tom?  Major Tom?  Major Tom?  It doesn't strike me as the way for service providers of any kind to do business.  But what do I know?  

I always think of Cybil Fawlty's nemesis Mr. O'Reilly in an early episode of Fawlty Towers (The Builders?) whenever I must go through the machinations involved with trying to line up a plumber, furnace man, electrician, etc., etc., etc.  If you find someone who is at all conscientious about getting back to you, who provides rapid, quality work, and who is reasonably priced, be sure to give that man -- for they are almost all still men in 2018 in my experience -- ALL of your future business.  The trick, of course, is in sorting the fine grains of wheat from all of the chaff.   

The garage for occasional work on the car, on the other hand, seems to be of a different breed.  More like Mako Sharks in a way.  They always get back to you quickly with a day/time to take the car in to look things over.  Cah-ching, cah-ching, cah-ching. . .  The old sound manual cash registers with their bells and change-filled drawers used to make before going digital in the late 1970s-early 80s.  Remember when?

Anyway,  today's post is an addendum to last week's showcase of several recent Baltic German town buildings.  On further reflection, it seems like a good idea to share  some information that might make others' tabletop construction efforts easier.  Here are a few specialist tools I like.  

The first is a magnetic gluing jig for getting your walls assembled at precise right angles.  A circle cutter is very handy for those times when a cardboard toilet paper tube just won't do, and you need to produce either cylinders or rounded parts for church towers, smokestacks, water wheels on the sides of old mills, and the like.  A metal protractor with a ruler attached helps immeasurably -- Groan! -- with getting the angles on gable end walls just right.  And, of course,  a small, self-standing machinist's square has all sorts of uses and applications. A plastic burnishing tool, available in many big box arts and crafts stores, helps with burnishing the edges of your cut-out pieces before assembly begins.  Doing so makes everything look a bit more nicely finished even before painting takes place.

Along with the usual photographic references, heavy cardboard (aka chipboard) or foamcore, balsa and basswood strips, hobby and craft knives (with sharp new blades), a metal ruler, a cutting mat, glue, and some assorted bottles of acrylic craft paint, these items are extremely helpful in the construction of your own tabletop real estate.  Their use makes the process relatively easy and relatively quick while also minimizing wasted materials and frustration.

Three final tips that might be of some assistance.  One, keep your hands clean, which prevents annoying fingerprints (in the glue and/or paint) and smears as you assemble and later paint/finish your buildings.  You may occasionally need to wash your hands halfway through a workbench session.  

Two, have a look at one or more books on the design and construction of architectural models and theatrical scenery.  Both are fascinating subject areas in their own right, and from which you are bound to glean lots of interesting ideas, tips, and tricks not necessarily found in the pages of books on the construction of tabletop scenery for wargaming and model railroad use.  

Last of all, and as with so much else, when you get tired and/or make a mistake, stop.  Clean up your work area, and put things away.  Come back to your project the next evening with a fresh mind, hands, and eyes that aren't quite so tired.  You'll thank yourself later.  

Now, what are you waiting for?  Time to get started building your own Tuileries Palace in 28mm.  Selectively compressed of course.

-- Stokes

A heavy duty circle cutter, which can handle, among other materials, cardboard and leather.  Available from Amazon.

A special protractor with a ruler attached, perfect for getting the angles on those gables, and subsequently roof lines, just right.  Also available from Amazon.

 A 4" or 5" steel machinist's square is very helpful for ensuring that everything is squared up as you glue the various sections of your outer walls together and stands at 90 degrees relative to your table surface.  Available from both Micromark and Amazon among other suppliers

28 January 2018

A Vastly Improved Depth of Field. . .

 The slightly better of the two latest photographs.

The slightly less good (a wee bit too overexposed and bright) photo.

Monkeying around yet again with the large Sony A100 again just now between finishing a homework session with The Young Master and returning for a bit to the painting table.  I think I have it worked out now with the two test shots above: 50mm lens, tripod, f22, ISO 400, and a shutter speed of between 1/8th and 1/16th of a second plus the 10-second self-timer to prevent camera shake.  

This complex brew of settings seems to produce nice, bright images in which (almost) everything is in sharp focus.  Just have to figure out how to adjust the white balance, and then I think we're there with markedly improved close-up photography here at Stollen Central.  

What I am after is photographs of my painted vignettes, units, and occasional games where everything within the frame is in focus (depth of field. . .  hence the small f-stop setting), something that is beyond the capability of my tiny point and shoot Sony Cybershot.  The photographs accompanying my recent article in the 2018 Wargamer's Annual are not good, and the fault is mine.  Poor Lighting + Incorrect Camera Settings = Less Than Stellar Pictures for Publication.  

So, time to get this sorted out to avoid similar issues the next time I submit an article and photographs somewhere, or just to share here on the GD o S blog.  Now, you can read all about close-up and miniature photography and how to do it in books and online, but there is still a fair amount of experimentation necessary dependent on one's precise equipment and set-up.  As steep as the learning curve seems to be, I am, however, enjoying the journey so far.

Further experimenting will, unfortunately, have to wait until next Friday evening I fear, however, as another busy week is coming, and I'll be lucky to find a spare hour most evenings even to venture down here to the painting table, much less experiment with the camera and light tent.  I know, I know.  Poor me!  Poor, wretched me!  Woe is I, tiny violins, and all of that.

-- Stokes

A Replacement Infantry Standards Update. . .

One exposure taken with my trusty little Sony Cybershot DSC TX-20 on, I think, the 'beach' setting oddly enough.

Just a quick update this early Sunday afternoon to  share my plodding work on the replacement infantry standards.  Here is what is (almost) finished at this point, the final weekend in January.  The two Hanseatic flags that I shared last week, a pair of historic standards in the background that are destined for my own Ermland Garde (one of thse very early regiments made up of Revell plastic SYW Austrian grenadiers), and the colonel's standard of W├╝rttemberg's Garde zu Fuss, consisting of 30mm figures by Huzzah!, which was given the red regimental standard at the time painting was completed in 2010 or 2011.  

In any case, both of those particular flagpoles still require the careful addition of Front Rank tassels, cords, and finials before the two figures are ready for glossing and to join their regiment.  I've also decided, on that note, to wait until all of the replacement standards and ensigns carrying them are done before applying a couple of coats of acrylic gloss to everything in one fell swoop.  Still a few touch-ups here and there on these, but the flags themselves are largely done.

Now,  some of you might be thinking to yourselves at this moment, "Stokes, old boy, what's with the use of historic flags for your fictitious formations?"  

A fair question.  Frankly, the historic flags of the mid-18th century are so fantastic, wondrous, and even beautiful in their way, that they are far better than anything I might possibly be able dream up on my own.  I am nothing if not vexillologically challenged, so with these limitations in mind, it made sense to take the following approach (if I might be so bold to call it that).  A year or so ago, I dug around through many books and examined lots of websites, picking and choosing at random the most colorful, eye-catching standards and guidons I could find for the envisioned re-flagging of my existing line infantry (and some cavalry) regiments.

As I explained in a previous post, I copy what I like into MS Word, resize, and print out everything first.  Next, I carefully cut out and attach said flags to poles using nothing more exotic than plain, old white Elmer's glue, taking care to furl the flags a bit and hold them gently in place until the glue sets.  Later on -- Almost a year in my sad case.  Definitely not the way to pursue a hobby! -- I return and carefully paint in my own colors.  Much more time consuming than, perhaps, purchasing some  of the wonderful ready-made flags on paper and even cloth (Maverick Models) that are now available, but I prefer for my flags to fit in with my general minimalist-impressionist painting style.  Blame my Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec fantasies!
As far painting the flags themselves is concerned, I find that washes of the basic colors with very subtle washes of highlight colors seem to blend nicely and help avoid the overwrought, in my view, look of the Foundry and Dallimore three-layered methods of  figure painting.  Not that those are bad, or wrong, mind you, but the results have always appeared kind of "off" to me.  I think the problem is in the lack of color blending to yield a smoother, more finished look.  But that's just me.

But back to my replacement flags.  In the case of really complex central heraldic devices, I try to furl flags in such a way that one or both sides are obscured, reducing the amount of things that need coloring in with paint, to say nothing of the time and frustration factors respectively.

So, the finished flags do not necessarily stand up to the same degree of close scrutiny as professionally made flags might.  And they are certainly not up to the standards (Paul Weller & The Jam pun intended) of, say John Ray's or Mark Allen's work, but they look pretty good at arm's length and give a reasonable impression of mid-18th century military flags.  I can live with that.   By the way, for brushes, I use a synthetic #3 round, synthetic #2 round, and an 000 sable to do this kind of work plus my usual thinned Citadel and Ral Partha hobby acrylics.

Ok, time for me to do something here that might actually help pay the bills!  As Vera Lynn once sang, we'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when. . .

-- Stokes

A second, this time taken on the high definition setting.  These were the best two exposures of six quick shots before putting away the light tent and mini-spots for the week.  I can hardly have distractions nearby here in Zum Stollenkeller when I'm supposed to be doing "real" work, can I?

27 January 2018

A Random Selection of Village and Rural Buildings. . .

The tollhouse

These better lighted photographs of a few of my scratch-built buildings are for Pat, who has asked about them in an inquiry he posted about "Grantian" building models over on Jim Perky's Fife and Drum Miniatures Forum.  

All of these have appeared previously in two of Charles Grant's Wargamer's Annuals.  The first four structures shown are in the most recent 2018 edition accompanying my article on how to build a Baltic German town center, while the large farmhouse and barn at the bottom of the post were, I believe, part of a shorter piece several years back on how to build an East Prussian farmstead.  

Any of the buildings shown should work in a Mollwitz-Lobositz context as far as providing the right kind of tabletop window dressing.  In any case, I've included our usual runway model pals Frederick II and von Seydlitz to provide an idea of the various building dimensions.

-- Stokes 

The village inn and pub. . .   The Duke of Brunswick

A half-timbered house 

 Another half-timbered house

 A large farmhouse

 With internal ruins for reference

Its large companion barn

Assorted smaller farm buildings and a few lean-tos to vary external appearances.

The village church

The village church from another angle.  I plan to construct a second red brick North German church this summer based on an existing structure in the town of Boizenberg, with a rather different tower and spire, plus several additional half-timbered, or fachwerk, houses and warehouses based on now crumbling edifices across the north of Poland, coastal Lithuania, and Riga, Latvia.  All just cry out to be constructed in miniature.

26 January 2018

Friday Evening Camera and Light Tent Experiments. . .

This particular photograph, one of many, was taken with an old Sony A100 DSLR using a 50mm lens and settings of, I beleive,  f18 or f20 and ISO400 (I should have kept better track of these.).  I used the 10-second timer setting to avoid camera shake.  Despite all of the diffused light bounding around the light tent, this photograph (and most others taken with the A100) still required quite a bit of brightening later, leading me to suspect that I need to slow the shutter speed, so the shutter is open for longer, which will permit more light to pass through.  Maddeningly, very few pictures taken with this camera tonight were in sharp focus once I transferred them from the camera to my computer and enlarged them.

Monkeying around with cameras, the light tent, mini daylight spots with diffusers, and a light blue backdrop which I prefer, this Friday evening.  Mixed results at best, but we're getting there.  In all cases, I use Pixlr, and online photo editing application, to adjust auto levels, brighten, denoise, and crop those less terrible photos to share here.

-- Stokes

A Saturday Afternoon P.S.

For anyone else out there who occasionally tinkers/struggles with miniature photography, the Tale of Painters blog has a straightforward tutorial on taking better photographs of your figures.  Check it out!  I also read somewhere in the last few weeks that, if you are using a fairly simple point and shoot camera or your phone to shoot your miniatures, try the panoramic or wide angle setting, if there is one, which will keep more of the subject(s) in better focus.  You can always crop the photos you want to keep and display later to remove unwanted objects from the picture.  In a nutshell, the lessons I am learning: 

1) Avoid macro setting and/or too much zooming in.
2) Back up your camera just a bit more.  More than you think is necessary.
3) Use the manual mode on your camera for best control over everything.
4) High f-stop numbers, ie. f18, f20, f22, etc.
5) ISO of 400 or below.
6) Fairly slow shutter speeds.
7) Mount the camera on some kind of small tripod.
8) Use the camera's built in timer (I like the 10-second setting, but 2- will do) to avoid shake.
9) Plenty of diffused light from daylight bulbs
11) I prefer a light box or light tent, but some argue that these are not entirely necessary.  For our sort of photography, however, I disagree unless you are taking photographs of full tabletop battles of course.
12)  White balance will need to be set up at  some point BEFORE taking the pictures.
13) It's best to get this all sorted out so that you take reasonably good photographs to begin with. . .  BEFORE any editing/cropping takes place.  
14) As I find with my own ongoing experimentation, Photoshop Elements, Pixlr, or other editing software can make already good shots into great shots, but they yield lackluster results (at best) if  the initial photographs exhibit problems with focus, sharpness, brightness, or color balance.

Another shot of The Heroes of Boucharde, this time taken with my inexpensive little Sony Cybershot point and shoot camera, which is five or six years old at this point, mounted on a small tripod.  Sadly, I still feel this still gives me the best results of the two cameras although not everything is in sharp focus since you cannot manipulate the aperture, shutter speed, etc. for improved depth of field.  It does, however, feature a timer setting to reduce camera shake.  I also zoomed in a bit, but not so much that the macro setting would kick in, which introduces another layer of complications where focus and sharpness are concerned.  As my artist-sculptor-photographer mother pointed out to me on the telephone earlier in the week, taking pictures of 25-30mm wargaming figures is more close-up photography than it is macro photography.  Still quite a learning curve whatever kind of equipment you use though.


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