Wednesday 30 July 2014

Tartan Paint?


The "Black Watch" Tartan

Earlier today, I read the latest update from fellow blogger Clint: Another "Paint Monkey" Day .  One of the things he mentioned was his trepidation at attempting to paint tartan.  Since I was due to write an article of my own today, I thought that I'd share my experiences of attempting to represent such patterns on 28mm models.

What is "Tartan"?

At its simplest, "tartan" is the name for a pattern of coloured horizontal and vertical stripes.  It's commonly associated with Scotland and especially with Highland clothing such as kilts, though the patterns can occur on almost anything (taxis, rugs, tins of shortbread...).  North Americans often call tartan "plaid", though in fact that's really the name of a particular type of Scottish cloak rather than the pattern on the cloth.

There's a considerable amount of folklore around Scottish tartans (such as "4 colours for commoners, 5 for lords and 6 for royalty"), but the reality is that most of this is a modern invention.  Whilst patterned cloths have been used in Scotland and elsewhere for a very long time, the modern notion of tartan and the association of each pattern with a particular clan probably only dates back a couple of hundred years or so.

As I expect that a large number of my readers will be wargamers, tartan is important mainly when it is part of a military uniform.  Typically (but not always) that will be for a Scottish regiment, probably some time between the Napoleonic wars and the end of the Victorian/colonial period.

Painting Tartan

Some of my Dark Age Scots, wearing imaginary "tartan" patterned tunics or plaids
There are several problems with trying to paint a full tartan on a 28mm model.  The pattern will be very fine and would require an immensely steady hand and fine brush, plus a large number of different colours (in tartan cloth, the shade changes where a horizontal and a vertical stripe of the same colour meet).  This would try the patience of a saint and in any case the effect would probably not be visible.

Instead, I have a simple 4-stage recipe that gives an approximation of tartan.  It's good enough for me, anyhow; see what you think...

Step 1

Block fill the area with the predominant colour of the pattern.  For the Black Watch tartan that is illustrated above, that's a dark blue shade.

Step 2

Paint horizontal and vertical lines of the pattern's secondary colour.  These shouldn't be the finest lines you can manage (those are reserved for step 4!), but the tartan will look more realistic if they are reasonably narrow.

Step 3

Paint the intersections of the lines with a different shade of the same colour.  Depending on the tartan, this might be lighter (as shown here), or it might be darker.  If you can paint these intersections as squares then so much the better, though roundish blobs will still work.

Step 4

Paint lines of a highlight colour both horizontally and vertically in the gaps between the earlier, slightly broader lines.  Note that for my "not Black Watch" tartan I have omitted the red highlight altogether and have only shown a single white line instead of a double one.  It's all about giving the impression of the pattern rather than being a perfect reproduction!


Another "tartan" with quite a coarse pattern.  I'm not as good at fine lines as I might wish!
All the normal rules of painting miniatures still apply when attempting tartan, of course.  A thin wash is good for adding some shadows, for example.  Obviously you can attempt a much more complex scheme than my recipe if you feel capable of it, but the 4-step method works for me.

There's just one thing that I can't help you with.  Painting tartan, or indeed any pattern, is straightforward when done onto a flat surface.  However you'll just have to figure out how to cope with the folds and creases in the model's costume for yourself!

Sunday 27 July 2014

More Card Models


After my last post about card vehicles, UrbanWolf and others offered suggestions to address some of the issues that I was having with the models - thanks, guys.  I investigated these ideas and found myself going rather further than I had intended.  The remainder of this post describes all this new activity, at least so far.

Mega Miniatures Hearse

Whilst browsing over the WargamesVault site, I discovered that Mega Miniatures had made some paper models.  Even though Mega Miniatures is now all but defunct, these models are still available to purchase, typically for 50 cents (USD) each.  Many of them are a bit too cartoon-like for my taste, but some are very nice.

This is the hearse from the "Hearse and Mausoleum" set.  As paper vehicles go, it's pretty basic, but it fits together well and is quick and easy to make.

The original kit is really just a hollow shell, so I've filled in the underside with some black mounting board.  As well as stiffening the model, this adds a little substance to an otherwise lightweight model.

I've also built up some wheels using components from other kits; the original just had the outer wheel silhouette and that would have had very little strength on its own.  Mind you, the added wheels alone probably took as much build time as the rest of the model.

The back window has some sort of "ghoul" peering out; I'm not sure that I like this.  I might eventually build this model again, but edit the source to remove the creature!

Note that this hearse has wing mirrors!  I've never seen another paper vehicle kit that had such a feature; it shows the different emphasis that the kit designer has used: wing mirrors, but no underbody or wheels. That's just an observation on my part and shouldn't be taken as a criticism, mind you.

Warm Acre: White Van

Here's a model from another publisher of paper vehicles who is probably better known for their metal miniature range.  This time it's a white van from Warm Acre's catchy-named "Vehicles for Modern 28mm Wargaming" set.  As well as this box van, the set also includes another type of white van and red and blue versions of a small car.

This time, the designer has gone for a complex body shape on the cab, with curves in 3 dimensions (most paper vehicles have slab sides/flat faces, for simplicity).  The truck also has a complex way of positioning the wheels; again I felt it necessary to build these up considerably with components from other kits.  Between the cab and the wheels, this has to be one of the most complex paper/card kits that I have undertaken in a long while, so I wouldn't recommend it for beginners.

You might expect that the more realistic shape of the cab and wheel positioning would lead to a much better end result.  In this case, I think that the publisher has pretty much ignored any attempt at texturing the surfaces, so the vehicle shows no signs of rust, splashes of dirt, reflections or anything like that.  Additionally, the dashed fold marks are very obvious; these could have been disguised better.   In my view this lack of detail drags the Warm Acre models down a long way, especially compared with texturing experts such as WorldWorks Games.

Note that Warm Acre also make a British police car, police van and ambulance, as well as a number of buildings.  These are subjects that are difficult to find elsewhere, so if you want them as paper models then this may be the way to go.

WorldWorks Trucks

For a long time, I've regretted not buying the Mayhem Industrial set from WorldWorks Games whilst it was still in their catalogue.  However, after my last post I was informed that it was still available from .  Although it was rather more expensive than the other kits described above, I wanted some big rigs for my games and this was the best way to get them, I thought.

With my newly-purchased download, I set to work.  So far I've completed a single tractor unit: the red "cab over".  Note that most of the shapes in this model are simple cuboids or cylinders; from that point of view its an easy kit to build.  Of course, the truck is composed from quite a lot of different such pieces, so it may be straightforward but it takes longer than some other paper kits!

The truck models from Mayhem Industrial don't have a coupling between the tractor and trailer.  I suppose that the model-maker is expected to either glue them together or to just rest one piece on the other.  That wasn't good enough for me, so I've built a socket into the back of the tractor - the insert I used came from the end of a cheap felt-tip pen that had recently expired.  When I finish a trailer unit, I'll add a spigot in the right location on the underside (probably made from a Hama bead, as we have thousands of those around the house and my kids aren't likely to miss a few).  The trailer will then just plug loosely into the tractor and allow the 2 parts to be positioned at any angle whilst not falling apart easily.

As you can see, I haven't got as far with my first trailer.  Most of the sub-assemblies have been completed, but there is still a little way to go before this container body is finished.

I plan to make at least one more tractor (probably a "long nose") and several trailers.  In particular, I'd like a flatbed trailer and a tanker, though the latter will require some kitbashing as this WorldWorks kit doesn't include such an option.

Light Bar for "Echo 1"

One of the things that I mentioned in my last post was a desire to add a light bar to Stoelzel's Structures "Echo 1", to see if the vehicle might resemble more closely that used by the Ghostbusters in the film of that name.  I've taken the police car light bar from Mayhem Police and used GIMP to change it from red-white-blue to blue-white-blue.  Note that for now, the light bar is just placed roughly in the right position - it's not glued on yet.  This is really because I want to know what my readers think: does it improve the vehicle?  The original "Ecto 1" had a whole lot of other clutter on the roof as well, but I don't feel up to emulating that.  What do you think?

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Card Models from Summer 2014


I've mentioned this before (here, for example) that I like to take paper models on holiday with me.  They're light and easy to transport, don't require a whole box full of tools or paints and can be built in small increments.  For these reasons, they're useful for filling some of those small periods of otherwise dead time that always occur when away from home.  Of course, I could just as easily have watched television or read a book and I did a little of that too.

It should be fairly obvious from the pictures below that I'm talking about small items here: vehicles and furniture rather than entire buildings.  These smaller pieces are often a chore when built in long bursts, but fit very well into the odd 10 or 15 minute period.

So, what did I make during this year's summer fortnight away?  Read on...


Most of the cardboard vehicles I have come from various WorldWorks kits (and I'm deeply regretting that I never bought the warehouse model with the 18-wheel trucks before they withdrew it!).  However, this pair come from Stoelzel's Structures instead.  They can be found in the Auto Park Playset, which has dozens and dozens of vehicles with it.  Admittedly many of these are repaints, but even so there are enough basic body shapes to populate a large freeway or two!

I already have many cars, so I only took 2 more such models to build on holiday.  The rusty saloon will be useful for games with gangers or as decoration for a slightly unsavoury part of town.  I really like the station wagon, though I can't help feeling that it needs some flashing lights on top.  Maybe I'll find a light-bar from another kit and add it to this one?

Incidentally, the Stoelzel's vehicles are very nice, but I have some issues with the curves where the windscreen meets the bonnet (for those readers in the USA, where the windshield meets the hood).  I can't get this joint to work smoothly; it always seems to end up as nearly a straight line, so maybe the kit would have been better just made that way in the first place?

The SWAT armoured personnel carrier and the police motorcycle are WorldWorks kits, from the Mayhem Police set.  This is one of their older sets, but I prefer these over the more recent kits for the buildings.  All the newer WorldWorks structures use the TerrainLinX modular system, which is much more labour-intensive to build; it doesn't suit me at all.  Of course, props and vehicles aren't affected by this anyway (just buildings).

Despite the relative sizes, the SWAT truck was rather easier to build than the motorbike.  They're both more complex kits than a basic saloon or estate car, but the bike has a lot of components and they're mostly quite fiddly as well.


I've mentioned recently (here) that I am working on a hospital in which to set games of All Things Zombie.  Well, the shell of Ward 1 is about 80% finished (so only another 3 wards, canteens or operating theatres to go, plus entrance lobby, corridors, roofs, fire escapes and so on).  The Grekwood hospital kit provides the fabric of the building, (exterior and interior walls), but no furniture.  I could have bought the Grekwood bed models as well (they're very nice indeed), but I figured that the quantity I'd need would be rather extravagant.

Instead, I've started to build beds from the old Ebbles Miniatures Derelict 2 Megaset.  Ebbles Miniatures closed down some years ago, but I believe the kit can still be found in the archive section of the Genet Models catalogue.  Derelict 2 is really a collection of components for a SciFi spaceship or outpost, but the beds from the barracks will just about work for my hospital.  I'll still need to find some compatible models for a bedside locker and a visitor chair though.

As an afterthought, I also built one of the conference room tables from Derelict 2.  For a table, this is a surprisingly complex model but it fits together well and is quite robust.  I'm not sure that I'll need it in the hospital, though...

The Bar

The final picture shows the fittings for Germy's bar.  I've had the printouts for this free model for a long time, but somehow it never made it to the head of the model-making queue.  I figured that if I built the furniture then maybe I'd find enough enthusiasm to produce the building to house it on my return from holiday.  So far that plan hasn't worked; the exceptionally hot weather has reduced my modelling mojo considerably!

Right, I've got to go and watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games now, so see you all later...

Sunday 20 July 2014

Arran: Prehistory to Vikings


Once again it's the summertime and my family and I have been on our holidays.  This time we decided to go to the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde.  Although this island is quite close to my home (30 miles/50 Km, as the crow flies?) and to the city of Glasgow, it is a very different place.  Culturally and physically it's much closer to the Hebridean islands than it is to the big city or to the rolling farmlands of Ayrshire on the mainland just to the east.  Instead, Arran has rugged hills, woodlands and deer-infested moors.

This geographical distinctiveness, together with its strategic location in the middle of the Firth of Clyde, has made Arran important over many millennia.  As tourists, we spent a lot of time hillwalking (though we did have time to visit the distillery as well :-) ) and everywhere we went there were traces of past generations.  So, in the hopes that some of these will be of interest to my (mostly wargamer) readership, here are a few moments from history.


It's hard to step out of doors in Arran without treading on a hut circle, chambered cairn or standing stone!  Before our visit I didn't know much about the island and it was a big surprise to discover just how important it is as a location for prehistoric monuments.  Actually I suspect that the hut circles are the traces of Iron Age dwellings rather than Neolithic, but all of these were pretty much invisible to an amateur like me anyway, so let's just ignore them.

The "Giant's Grave" chambered cairn
Here's the remains of one of the chambered cairns; this probably dates from around 4,000BC .  That's over 6,000 years old, or perhaps 1,500 years older than the oldest of the famous Egyptian pyramids at Giza.  I don't know about you, but I find that very impressive!

The stones that remain form the walls of one of the chambers in the tomb.  Originally the whole structure would have been covered with a huge mound of soil.  It's not obvious from the picture, but this is a "Clyde pattern" cairn: it would have had a large courtyard with entrances to a number of chambers that were built into the mound.

Above are a couple stone circles that can be found on Machrie moor. While they may not be individually as large as Stonehenge, they're part of a group of ancient remains that includes at least 5 circles within a few hundred metres of each other.  And you can get right up to the stones to study or play with them, or just gawp in wonder.  Eat your heart out, Salisbury Plain!

A very rough date for the stone circles would be 2,000BC - so maybe 2,000 years later than the burial cairns.

Dark Ages

Pictish snake carvings inside King's Cave.  Move your mouse over this to see the outlines more clearly
On the west coast of Arran there are many small caves.  The largest of these is known as "King's Cave", after a (Victorian?) association with Robert the Bruce.  Apparently it was known as "Fingal's Cave" before that.

Inside King's Cave there are a number of carvings from (loosely) around 1,000 years ago.  I saw a line of Irish Ogham writing as well as what looked like early Christian crosses.  I don't know how to read Ogham, but I suspect that it would have read "Máedóc was here" or something like that!

There are a number of Pictish animals in the cave as well; the picture above is of an area where someone had been practising his snakes.


Lamlash Bay from the north.  Note the steep-sided Holy Isle at the mouth of the bay.  The building on Holy Isle is a Tibetan Buddist retreat, I kid you not!
This is Lamlash bay, on the east coast of Arran.  It is particularly associated in my mind with the Vikings.  In 1263, the elderly King Hakon IV of Norway led a fleet to enforce his claim to large parts of western Scotland.  Lamlash was used as a harbour by the Norsemen whilst they stripped Arran of food and supplies, so at that time this harbour would have been full of Viking ships.

Eventually, an autumn gale drove part of the Norwegian fleet onto the shore of the mainland at Largs.  When the Scots army of King Alexander III tried to capture or destroy the stranded ships, this precipitated the Battle of Largs.  I was brought up to believe that this was a very significant Scottish victory that sent the Vikings packing, but it seems that the modern opinion regards it as an inconclusive skirmish.  Instead, it was the death of Hakon later in the year that caused the Norwegians to retreat; his successor wasn't as interested in the Scottish isles and basically sold them to Alexander III in the Treaty of Perth (1266).

Lamlash bay was also used by the Royal Navy during World War II.  Amongst other things, it was the location for the "Lily" experimental floating airfield.  I haven't been able to find out anything much about this, though it sounds interesting!

Lochranza castle
At the far north-west tip of Arran is the small town of Lochranza.  As well as being home to the island's only whisky distillery, it also has the remains of Lochranza castle.  Like many such ruins, what you see today is the last phase of development (in the late middle ages, so maybe 1500 to 1600 AD).  However there are still traces of the earlier versions, if you know how to interpret the evidence.  I was particularly struck by how many times the main entrance to the castle had been moved and the earlier doorways blocked up.  From memory, the first entrance was on the north side and in an upper level that would have required a (wooden?) stair or ladder.  The current door is on the south side and at ground level.  I think there was also an intermediate entrance in the east wall?


I'm not going to say much about the wildlife we saw on Arran, but this beauty caught my eye.  He's a large dragonfly, perhaps 4" (10cm) long.  One of these flew into the car whilst we were driving - the windows were all down because of the heat - and caused consternation for 5 seconds or so until it found its way out.  Final thought, for pulp or fantasy gaming: imagine if this insect was 4 feet long instead of 4 inches...

I'll be back to more directly-relevant gaming articles soon, but I hope you've enjoyed this interlude as much as I have.

Wednesday 2 July 2014



One of my many gaming interests is Doctor Who, mainly inspired by the free Doctor Who Miniatures Game (DWMG).  As an aside, DWMG is a precursor to Crooked Dice's very popular 7TV and related games, so if you're considering buying 7TV and want a tester first then this is worth a look.

So, within my Doctor Who collection I have a fair number of 28mm U.N.I.T. soldiers (1970s uniforms and weapons, not current) as well as various forces of aliens including Sontarans, Cybermen, Sea Devils and the Family of Blood.  However, I could hardly write my first post on Doctor Who models without showing everyone's favourite adversaries: the Daleks!

Black Tree Design

These 5 models are metal models from Black Tree Design.  Once upon a time, BTD had a very bad reputation for customer service, but by all accounts that has changed dramatically over the past few years and I've never had any problems when ordering from them.  They still have by far the largest range of wargaming-scale Doctor Who models of any manufacturer, though their models are firmly based in on the 1st to 8th Doctors (i.e. up to the Paul McGann movie of 1996, but not including any of the newer BBC TV series).  By all accounts, BTD haven't had a license to cast new models for many years, but they do seem to have a lot of old stock lying around and most of the range is still available!

Micro Universe

In contrast, here are 2 models from the short-lived Micro Universe series; an engineer and a regular dalek.  These were pre-painted soft plastic models (something like Heroclix), but the range was quite small and some of the models in it were a bit obscure.  Still, they did some nice daleks.

Note that I've rebased these; the models originally came on simple black bases with stats for the (very poor) Micro Universe game printed on the underside.  I collected a lot of the Micro Universe models when they were available, though since they came in semi-random packaging I didn't always get enough of some things I really wanted.


Micro Universe on the left, Black Tree Design in the centre and right.
This is a simple comparison shot; it shows that the Micro universe and Black Tree Design models are very close in size.  There are differences in the details, but I'm not at all bothered by those and I'd happily mix these models in the same game.

Also in this shot is my model of Davros, the inventor and sometime leader of the daleks.  He's got to be one of the creepiest Doctor Who villains of all time, I think!


iDalek on the left, "classic" dalek on the right
In some of the most recent Doctor Who episodes, a re-styled Dalek model has appeared; they are known as "iDaleks" to fans.  Hard plastic models of these have been available as "free gifts" with some issues of the British children's magazine "Doctor Who Adventures".  They've appeared more than once, so I suppose that the iDalek models might reappear at any time as long as the magazine is still running...

As you can see from the picture, the iDalek is quite a bit larger than the classic model (and remember that unlike the painted model, the iDalek isn't on a base).  This is appropriate for the TV show, as the newer design was easily the height of a man whereas the older version was rather shorter.


This my collection of spare Doctor Who models, just as they came out of the packets.  None of these are based or painted by me, though some of the pre-paints could be used in a game just as they are.  I think that all of these models are either Micro Universe or have come from Doctor Who Adventures magazine, though some of the latter are very crude and are hardly more than blobs of plastic.

Note the iDaleks in the centre-top and classic Daleks bottom left.  I hope I've got enough!

There is another dalek model available in this scale; some of them can (just) be seen in the top, centre-left compartment, in gold-coloured plastic.  These were also hard plastic toys that came with Doctor Who Adventures, but the detail on them was quite soft and the weapon and "plunger" arms were very thick indeed.  However, the size is quite compatible with the other "classic" dalek models.  I'm still debating whether they're worth painting and basing or not.