In the last couple of weeks I’ve been tinkering with something that I can best describe as a ‘side project’. I have a long-standing love of the Early Medieval era, AKA ‘the Dark Ages’, and especially the 7th century in Britain. This period saw a host of colourful leaders emerge from the melting pot of Saxon, British, Irish and Pictish cultures to create the beginnings of medieval Britain. Thanks to the venerable Bede and other chroniclers, we have the skeleton of a timeline and a description of events, which have received attention from a host of talented historians to help to bring this period to life.
In deference to the great Father Ted, I’ve entitled this piece Small, Far Away. If you are reading outside the British Isles, or have yet to encounter this, I can only recommend that you watch this clip. )
Anyway, I hear you cry, let’s see some toy soldiers! Despite having collected armies for this period in 28mm, the impending release of Wiglaf Miniatures’ new Saxon range somehow got me started thinking about 15mm. I enjoyed reading Dan Mersey’s newly-released Age of Penda rules and was also thinking about creating a few units for my own Midgard rules in smaller scales. One thing led to another and, while waiting for the Wiglaf Miniatures to be released, I had a look at the Forged in Battle website and impulse-bought a couple of packs. I have a number of Andy Cooper’s characterful sculpts in 28mm in my Celtic myth, Arthurian and Wars of the Roses collections and was interested to see what he could do in this smaller scale.
A very quick turn-around saw a small jiffy bag of minis drop through my post box just a few days later. The figures (from packs 3 and 5, Welsh Teulu infantry & Welsh Skirmishers) are a pleasing 18mm tall and only required minimal clean up before undercoating. True to form with Andy’s previous work, they are highly detailed with a lot of character – the folded cloaks and moustaches are very nicely done. All the Welsh nobles are mailed, although I would have liked to have seen a few with helmets (but to be fair, we have no surviving ‘British’ helmets from this period – there’s nothing stopping me mixing in some helmeted Saxons in the future). The figures have a distinct Celtic feel to them and would probably serve perfectly well as the Scots-Irish of Dal Riada as well.
In the dim and distant past, I collected large armies of 15mm figures, and spent much too long trying to paint them with multiple washes and highlights. One of the drivers for buying these little fellas was that I was curious to see how GW’s Contrast paints would speed up the process.
After a simple spray undercoat of Halfords White Primer, I set to with the Contrasts. Following a couple of experimental models, I gave the whole batch a thinned-down coat of Wyldwood with a large brush, all over. This picked out the detail and provided the base coat for any white areas such as undyed woollen tunics. Contrasts do take a little bit of time to dry and it is important not to get impatient so that wet areas don’t bleed into each other, so I went off and tidied the loft for a bit.
Returning to the painting table, it was time for the skin tones. Guilliman Flesh is an absolute godsend for these chaps, quickly picking out the facial and hand detail in seconds as long as it is applied fairly liberally. Following this, I used a mixture of greens and browns for the clothing, leaving some white. GW Camo Green, Dark Angels Green and a drop of Warp Lightning all featured here, along with Wyldwood and Snakebite Leather.
Spears were done with a base coat of Snakebite Leather and shield backs with Gore Grunta Fur. The final basecoat stage was to touch in belts, pouches, shoes and hair with either Cygor Brown or Wyldwood. The Cygor Brown is so dark that it can serve as a base for metal work, so I also outlined the spear heads and shield bosses while I was about it.
This would have been quite adequate for a tabletop paint job, but, like many others, I have found that Contrasts are improved immeasurably by the addition of a quick highlight or dry brush. The clothing areas received a very light dry brush of Vallejo Iraqi Sand and I added a top layer of Foundry Buff Leather 7b to make the spear shafts stand out. I also used a thin line of yellow-brown to create a few suggestions of stripes on some of the cloaks for that Celtic vibe.
I’ve always felt that the bulk of Welsh shields for this period should be white (following the descriptions of ‘icy-hued’ shields in the British epic poem Y Gododdin) so I gave most of them a base coat of Foundry Canvas 6a followed by a streaky highlight of Vallejo Off-White. Some were simply brown (GW Contrast Gore-Grunta Fur with a drybrush of Vallejo Iraqi Sand), but I chose to identify the nobles with a few red shields (Miniature Paints Chestnut Brown followed by a highlight of Army Painter Pure Red). I didn’t bother with the rather fanciful spirals that I’d adorned my 28mm figures with, but I did add some rivets for interest, mostly just by neatly dotting spots of black paint in appropriate positions.
All the metal work (mail, weapons and shield bosses) was given a coat of Army Painter Gunmetal, then, when dry, the whole batch of minis was sprayed down with a can of matt varnish from my stash of Testors Dullcote. I’ve always hated the way that matt varnish kills the shine on metallics, so I tend to add a top coat of metal when the varnish is dry – in this case, a quick dab of AP Shining Silver on the edges of mail, shield bosses and spear blades.
Basing was part of the fun for this mini-project: while 40mm elements are standard for 15mm models, I fancied creating a bit more of a ‘unit’ feel and decided to go for a larger unit on a 80 x 40mm 2mm thick MDF base. Warbases delivered me some of these in their usual record time along with some frames for micro-dice which I intended to use for damage purposes (the Age of Penda rules record a ‘battle rating’ of 6 or less, my own Midgard rules need to record up to four points of ‘stamina’).
I had initially planned to use magnetic tape to magnetise the units for storage and transport, but with these small figures, I was reluctant to add the height to the base, so I drilled a 2mm hole in all four corners of the base and glued in a tiny 2 x 1.5mm rare earth magnet. I also had a plan to create a removable base for the leader model (just for flexibility) – therefore the warriors’ base also received two further magnets positioned at the top that would stick to a 20mm disc (in this case, a 1p coin). The dice tray was bevelled off with a scalpel before gluing to the base, then the whole thing had a coat of Halfords Camo Brown.
The figures had their bases painted a very dark brown to match the MDF before I fiddled around with possible arrangements of minis, creating a random scattering of skirmishers (6 models) and then a wall of Welsh teulu huddled around their leader (13 models). The Welsh hero went on a rock to look heroic, with his standard bearer squeezed on at his feet. I expect that lesser warrior units would look fine with 10-12 models per base, but I wanted to play with the visual impact of this one.
The unit base then had a thin layer of my regular basing mix – a decent dose of Burnt Umber and Black craft acrylics with a little filler and chinchilla sand added. When dry, I gave this a dry brush of AP Leather Brown and then Vallejo Iraqui Sand. The real fun was adding small amounts pf scatter, flock and tufts to build up an impression of moorland (I left off my favourite 12mm tufts this time to avoid the appearance of marching through elephant grass!)
Well, there you go. Two little units. Just a dabble or the first of many? Who knows.