Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Eleventh Hour

The Great War terrain project is nearing completion - at least of stage one. Stage two will involve constructing inserts like gun emplacements, pill boxes, ruined buildings, and the like.

As you'll see from an earlier post, I began building back in early December, 2011 so its taken me almost two months to do the basic modeling of nine modular terrain boards. The total playing area is 36 square feet, with a number of different set ups possible. The most common layout would be 6 ft x 6 ft.

The boards at this stage are certainly "playable" but like any DIY project there's potential here for plenty of fine tuning and additional detailing. I've also made a few mistakes along the way. In general the boards fit together well, but there are a few unsightly gaps between some. Unfortunately the tools I was using were not up to cutting precise and clean lines in styrofoam. I wish I'd made one of those large styrofoam cutters you can find online, with the capacity to cut big pieces cleanly. The other mistake was that of making some of the trenches too narrow. I had originally wanted to produce trenches that could accomodated double-mounted figures, but somehow I didn't follow through on that with the result that some of the trenches will only allow the passage of one miniature at a time.

Anyway, on to the last stages in producing the boards. I added corrugated iron and other simulated reinforcing to the revetments in the communications trench and command positions, and then painted on the elastomeric roof coating, making sure that it filled any gaps between the tops of the trench reinforcement and the adjacent Styrofoam. Then, in a method I'd used for the other boards, I sprinkled on a mix of play sand and aquarium gravel. The board was left to dry for 24 hours and then the loose materials were shaken free.

I brushed on the usual combination of earth pigments, leaving the first coat to dry over a twenty-four hour period, and then waiting a couple of hours between drybrushed coats of lighter terrain color.

Next it was on to the fine details. I had to go back to the now hardened sandbags and fill in any gaps and holes that had developed as a result of the shrinkage that occurred during the drying process. Once these were filled and dry, I painted on a layer of Woodlands Scenics scenic cement that dries clear and should hold the sandbags together. I base coasted the sandbags with Delta Creamcoat Antique White, followed by a wash of Vallejo German WWII Beige Camouflage. I highlighted this with Antique White again, and finally with a basic white.

While I was waiting for that to dry, I applied a thin layer of roof coating to the bases of the trenches and also to any gaps that were visible along the edges of the revetments. Next I stuck down pieces of cut up card and wood to represent duckboards. This part of the process is a little messy as you have to get your fingers right down into the trenches, and the roof coating has a tendency to stick like glue to anything that touches it. While the roof coating was still wet on the base of the trenches, I also sprinkled on a layer of sand. Once again, all this was left to dry and cure for a day or so.

After lightly shaking off the excess texturing material, it was on to the task of detailing the trenches. I laid down the foundation earth color, and then the highlighting. I also applied pieces of wood to the now dry corrugated iron and planking revetments to represent buttressing. With all previous stages dry, I proceeded with base coating and drybrushing the duckboards and revetments. For the corrugated iron I used a base coat of Craft Smart Dark Grey, highlighted with Craft Smart Grey and then white. For rust patches I brushed on Vallejo Orange Brown # 981. I pre-painted the wooden upright supports for the corrugated iron before gluing them in place. For the woodwork on the interor of the trenches I used a base coat of dark Burnt Umber highlighted with Vallejo Orange Brown, followed by Delta Creamcoat Antique White. This was a very time consuming process, but the results have really brought the terrain features to life. There's much more that could be done to add details and fine touches, but at this point I'd rather move on to painting the opposing forces that will one day inhabit the battlefield

The last step involved something of a decision - should I add some grass or not? I first laid out the entire set of terrain boards to see the impression that would be gained by a vast expanse of churned up earth. It was, as I expected somewhat monotonous and depressing - probably not far from the realities faced by all who spent time in the trenches.

I then proceeded to add touches of greenery. I started tentatively at first, realizing that less might eventually mean more. Overdoing it at this stage would mean laying down another layer of roof coating, texture, and paint to cover the mistake. I wanted to avoid doing that if possible.
I decided on an selection of static grasses from Woodlands Scenics. The results you can see for yourself below.

One of the last steps was almost accidental. I'd wanted to create a varied color to the terrain boards already dominated by a reddish brown. I chose burnt umber and mixed it was Future Floor Finish and then painted a wash on the interior of the shell holes. Looking at the boards the next day I realized that the wash had dried with a glossy finish and that the Future had pooled in the deepest recesses of the shell holes. It produced an effect close to wet mud.

So there you have it. Two months more or less from start to finish. I will eventually create a few more boards and also add some detailed inserts. But for now I've had enough of terrain making, and I'm looking forward to painting up some figures to go with the battlefield. More on that next time.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Back to the Trenches

A very Happy New Year to all my visitors here at Digger's Rest. Plans and resolutions for the new year include finishing this Great War terrain project and painting up some figures to go with it. As well, I'd like to share more of my gaming interests. Its an eclectic mix that includes the Seven Years' War in 15mm, opposing forces of Christian and Turkish galleys in 1:1,200 scale, a couple of Warhammer Historical armies (Macedonians for Ancient Battles and Medieval Portuguese for El Cid, both in 25mm), a Flames of War Fallschirmjager force in 15mm, and a ton of 15mm medieval Germans based for DBX. This is not to mention the mountains of unpainted lead squirreled away in various old shoe boxes and other containers.

I had hoped to have things nearer to completion by now, but a succession of visitors over the holidays, together with catching the inevitable winter cold, put a damper on my terrain making. You'll see in the picture below, how some of the simpler boards have shaped up.

The two squares, each about 10" x 10" are designed to be interchanged with other inserts that I will manufacture at a later date, e.g. gun emplacements, shattered woods, or pill boxes. I decided on a simplified approach at this stage to keep the project moving. Incidentally, on the wall is one of my favorite photographs: 11th Battalion, Royal Western Australia Regiment , 3rd Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, posing at the Great Pyramid, Giza, on 10th January, 1915. Within a few weeks, the battalion would land at Gallipoli and lose more than a third of its men as casualties. The photograph is of such high quality that the individual faces of each Digger can be clearly seen.

I'm thinking of modeling one of my units on the 11th Battalion, which fought not only at Gallipoli but also in France. Its my way of remembering a seminal moment in Australian history. You can find a short history of the unit here.

But back to the Trenches. Looking online, I've found a variety of sources for inspiration:

Perhaps the biggest lesson from these images is that there is really no one correct way to model a trench system. The "proper" way, depicted in field engineers' manuals was, I'm sure, frequently adapted to the circumstances of life at the front.

I'm moving ahead with shoring up the sides of the styrofoam trenches with various materials simulating wooden boards, corrugated iron and sandbags. The boards and corrugated iron are quick and easy to reproduce. Corrugated carboard cut to size and glued is a very fast fix. As I've mentioned in a previous blog, the protective cardboard packaging for light bulbs and florescent tubes is just the right scale. The boards take a little more time and involve first tacking them together with superglue and a squirt of instant cure, and then arranging them along the sides of the trenches and gluing them in place with wood glue. However the sandbags are proving more troublesome. As you can see from the picture below, at first I seem to have achieved something more akin to a stone wall.

My next attempts resulted in a more "orderly" appearance.

Unfortunately you'll notice that the drying process has resulted in shrinkage and separation between some of the bags. I'll need to go back and fill in the gaps.

The image below shows the communications trench, waiting for the application of corrugated iron reinforcing.

Finally, how do I get them to work on my lead mountain?