Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lewes and Evesham 1264-65: A Partial Review

Lewes And Evesham 1264-65 (Simon de Montfort and the Barons' War) by Richard Brooks and illustrated by Graham Turner is recently released (2015) Osprey Publishing account of these campaigns and battles, referenced as Campaign 285.

Eagerly awaited and immediately consumed (the Lewes part) I can now report on what it is and what it is not. Running to 96 printed pages, 40 of those pages are devoted to the Lewes campaign of 1264. Accompanied by 3 bespoke maps, two 3-dimensional 'bird's-eye-view' map illustrations and two of Turner's illustrations Including the cover above) it is a concise, detailed synopsis of events. This is also an invaluable must-have first stop. I say first stop because it many ways it is an updated rehash of much which is already known about this battle, limited to the confines of the Osprey Publishing approach.

Once the preceding events of the capture of Northhampton and the siege of Rochester are dispensed with, the Lewes narrative is reduced to 26 pages (graphics and text). What follows then are treatments on Lewes and it's Surroundings, Prelude to Battle, The Battlefield, Numbers and Dispositions and then a 14 page description of The Wretched Battle of Lewes which runs to only just over four pages of text - wretched indeed (sorry ... couldn't help it). If I might get my criticisms out of the way: Turner's two illustrations are nice depictions of soldiers of the period but they add nothing to any graphic depiction of the battle or how it may have looked or unfolded. I do not find them particularly useful.

What this edition is not is a detailed analysis or discussion of key events in the battle. Some brief comment is contained to be sure, but several important questions are not posed - even if answers are not to be found. The immediacy of the collapse of the London rebel left flank before Prince Edward's cavalry charge is uncritically repeated. On this particular aspect as well as other matters, the biased or inexpert medieval chronicler's are unevenly relied upon throughout as far as I can see.

Some time (as always) is dedicated to placement of this battle with attention paid to the naming and location of Snelling's Mill as a key reference point. Nevertheless, Brooks regrettably has no more access to a comprehensive geological battlefield survey than the authors which come before him as to date, none exists. Until that time it remains an academic exercise regardless of how compelling some of his arguments might be. The divergent propositions on this particular point made previously also have merit and are put forward with equal confidence.

For elevating this incredibly significant battle into a more general awareness care of the Osprey reach, I applaud Richard Brooks for attending to the second Barons' War and I'm glad to have added this volume to my collection.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Finalised Field

Well I've chipped away at this terrain project for more time than I care to reflect on but thanks to some school holiday leave with my daring daughters, I got 'some' downtime and put the finishing touches to the marshland for my Lewes table-top. This first shot was an indulgent one but just goes to show how realistic natural light in all its forms can render a model at the right time.
 The next shot is the completely finished marshland. As you might make out, I edged some of my bogs with foam foliage and put a few dots of static grass at the extreme shallows. I'm not happy with the acrylic lacquer but am satisfied they look wet enough - less pools and more wet mud. This feature of the ground has in fact caused far more effort on my part than it may ever justify but if we play the game enough times, some units are bound to get driven into it.
Here's what the Royalists will be looking at as they form up to advance up the slope of the Downs - rather them than me. Excuse my head shadow - nothing to be done I'm afraid. The white patch to the right is where the edge of the town will feature - at this time I'm thinking two modest houses, a yard or two and a cabbage patch.
And finally, the complete vista looking from Lewes over the Downs. Essentially, it's game ready now but I'll edge the boards with white and I have to construct some scratch-built buildings - the first of which will be the windmill. Then I can get on with painting the other half of my rebel army. Anyone who follows my generic wargame blog 'Unlucky General' will know I have already started on my next terrain project for Waterloo:Papelotte which will also feature six 900x900 millimeter boards and synthetic fur. But for today, I'm painting Charlotte's bedroom.   

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Completing the Marshes

Back to my boards after a frustrating absence and a brief stint in the Pacific. I re-read over my previous posting and there have been a few 'u-turns' in my approach to these marshes. You may see the results of my attempts at brushing colour into the synthetic fur. Not at all what I had in mind but it left the terrain with that sodden, well-trodden look like a wet cow paddock. I'm actually happy with the results where I had them but ended up returning to the spray gun to colour the remainder.
The reeds have been sewn into the pools by cutting crosses into the paper and foam beneath and pushing the ends through blobs of Selley's Liquid Nails. The reeds are taken from picking apart a brown fiber door mat. I just love this stuff for clumped grass, crops and reeds. Once unraveled, the fibers are bunched and double over and can be either glued as a double-clump or adjusted to an alternate length. Once glued, they paint up easily and so I gave them an uneven dark green coating. After the glue set, I painted the pools various mixed greens, browns and black working for a colour-depth effect at the lower points.

I read up and looked at a few water effect lessons on YouTube (what a great how-to tool site it is) but in the end I opted for applying several coats of varnish. I find that water effects and epoxy resins are all very well and good but I'll achieve the same result for my terrain pieces with what I had to hand - and for considerably less cost. I might say here, there's a conscious limit to how far I am going to go with this terrain. This is meant to be a practical wargaming table-top and not a static display diorama or model railway layout. Even though I want this to be the best I can make it, there are limits. After what I hope is an initial WOW moment, anyone seeing it will move on to the miniature battle which rages across it - not stand about adoring it.
Once the paint had dried overnight, I fixed the clumped and painted reeds with a good squirt of white wood glue. Then it will be the first of three resin coats minimum. I will fixed spots of static grass in the shallows and potential crossing points. Fixing clump foliage at the pool edges will complete the pools themselves and then I moved onto fixing bushes and shrubs about the landscape to break up the pastureland.
I puzzled over the clear line left between the main boards and the synthetic fur I added later for the marsh edges. Whilst I have fixed some shrubs along that line, I was going to break it up with extensive foliage to better merge the marsh with the grassland but I have decided to leave it. The obvious line will now clearly mark the edge of the marshy ground as a wargamer's aid; a sacrifice of aesthetics for practicality.

What I am happy with so far is the blend of green into faded grasses as the marsh land creeps toward the river Ouse. This may not in fact be correct - perhaps the grasses and scrub would be greener but I enjoy the effect and it helps marking out the bad ground. The fur-lines will be somewhat softened with some bushes and gluing them where there has been some lift.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

To the Marshes

I decided back when first carpetting the boards with synthetic fur to leave the low ground or marsh edge of the river Ouse for a different surface. I thought this becasue I wanted the 'grass level' much lower than the pastureland and the heights. After staring at it for the past two weeks and a failed experiment in dying a toweling bath-mat I came to the realisation I should have covered the entire surface and worked the pile down. Well, I've been learning as I go.
The sink points have been painted in a dark undercoat which I will later wash over with browns for a muddy effect before adding the water effect using a product I have yet to determine. They will be sown with reeds. I then carpeted around the bog holes with more synthetic fur using Selley's Quick Grip.
I'll be trimming the entire area quite low, particularly about the bogs. As the pile will be lower and thin, I plan to attempt painting in the same greens as the rest of the boards but rubbing or painting them by hand. The browns will smear into the greens and become darker toward the outer edge. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Synthetic Fur Completed & A Figure Test

Well, all of the synthetic covered tiles are now completely painted. The first shot shows the beaten ground on which I will feature the town edge. Some sparing white is intended to indicate the chalk coming through the thin topsoil.
The fully worn chalk tracks are fully painted with a generous dry-brushing of cream over which I dry-brushed stark white (two coats). I was happy to dust off to either side of the track onto the fur. This shot also includes the worn ground up to and about the windmill site. You may also note the broad bands of colour better represented in the next shot.
 After posting my reference photos, I decided to hit the fields with swathes of flowers after all. Centre/left directly above the track junction you can make out the expanse of purple flowers achieved simply with a generous dry brush with a house brush. I wasn't worried about how much paint I used as any drops forming I hope will serve as representing flower heads. To the right of the last bend before the mill sight is a patch of pale yellow/cream to represent those flowers in evidence at Lewes on the high ground. They appear to cluster in smaller groups than the purple. I think they help further in breaking up the colour scape.
I am now turning my attention to the flats and marsh edge and have already experimented with dyeing a bathroom mat of fawn coloured toweling - it hangs on the line as I type.

I thought to stand a base of six foot figures on several sections of the deepest pile in the synthetic fur terrain. Whilst I believe the visual result of this terrain technique is the best I have seen, the fur once painted does not collapse. The behaviour or characteristics of the fur changes completely with painting - at least in the way I have done. Even the largest bases of the heaviest figures will sit on top of the 'shag' like they do on crops made of door-mats. I have no issue with this but it does remove one reason I had for basing other armies of mine on 5mm rather than 3mm MDF. It was not as I imagined it would be.

It will also affect how I paint my bases and I know now to get a better blend of figure base to terrain, I'll be painting the edges of my bases using the same colour green as I used in spraying the fur. I normally paint my bases in earth tones after texturing and let the static grasses to the 'greening'. As the Downs are heavily grassed, I will have little earth showing on my army bases. As it happens, my Rebel Lewes army is entirely based thus far on 3mm MDF anyway and by painting them in matching green hues, I hope to get a better fit to the battlefield.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Battlefield Photo References

Rummaging through my boxes yesterday, I found by old back-up discs with my shots of Lewes when I walked the Downs in 2005. Could it have truly been that long ago? I took these photos with my old Canon Powershot S70 which is stitch-enabled to take panoramic shots. I copied them into my new computer drive and using Autostitch (instead of Canon Photostitch) found I got decent results. These photos are achieved by merging two photos only - one of my central shots is too misaligned to enable a proper match - I didn't use a tripod.

The first image is a view about half way up the Downs from Lewes toward the top where de Montefort's army formed up. As I interpret the battlefield to my left is the rise up which the centre and left wards of the Royal army ascended. The entire span of the approach is divided by a spine along which runs the track I walked, separating the left to wards from the Royal right flank both physically and visually.

Turning to my left, we see where the King and his brother took their troops from the town which most likely would not have sprawled into this view at the time of the battle. These are great colour references for my terrain. Just when I start to think my boards are too green or bright, I can look at these and calm down. Note the mid-point smear of grey/purple flowers and the white flowers on the high ground.
The main path straight up the Downs has been sealed but the colour scheme is very like the natural tracks elsewhere. Above is a shot taken when I explored past the top of the downs and to the side where I envisage much of the Baronial army made their way to the battle. It could very well be the same routes across which the broken Londoners were chased by Prince Henry's cavalry.
More of the woods to the Baronial rear. I have yet to decide if they will feature on my table-top. If at all, I'll represent them at the corner where the tracks leave at the top of the rise. It's all useful foliage references for me.
This last shot is not mine put taken from the web. It's another useful colour guide for the tracks and you may see why I started with a base coat of brown. The low shrubs are also handy. What beautiful country.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Moving Along the Downs

Third tone: a dry brush of lighter green.

Talk about momentum. Got home and whilst the light was good in my back room (Autumn now) I got a three-finger width house brush and took to the boards with the third and final green 'coat'. At this stage I soon discovered not to be prissy and feel free to work the paint into the pile. Also, fingers are very good in a brisk, rubbing action to blend accidental excess into the overall green smear.
Straight into it, I hit the tracks with a base coat of mid-earth brown, smearing it at first with a thick craft brush then worked it into the fabric with plenty of water. The paints reactivated with the water and I got a very pleasing ochre effect in the main. I didn't care about being too finicky as I expect the grasses to the sides will be slightly dusty in high summer. In any event the next step is a generous dry brushing of light cream and then a highlighting dry brush of white in keeping with the chalk surface.

The top two shots are using my wide angle zoom lens on a macro setting (not my macro lens) assisted by what was left of the sunlight with some assistance with the overhead lights. The next shot is using the automatic setting (not macro).
The above is the four-sixths layout (arrayed for painting) and now that it's coming together one thing stands out to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased with the results thus far but the contours are pronounced because I never 'filled in' between the foam levels. I suspect for wargaming purposes it might be useful but my next terrain build will benefit from this oversight. Beause the sun is setting to the rear of the shot, the shadows cast a disticly terraced aspect to my eye. Anyway, other than the tracks, worn patches were similarly browned-up for the windmill site and the town edge (foreground).
Using the flash, you get a better idea of the relative brightness and colour in line with its appearance in daylight. The keen eyed will notice some lift at the edges which require Selley's Quick Grip for a permanent solution. After painting, I'll  sow a scattering of permanent shrubs at the base of some of the contours to break it up further, being sure to fix them with a strong bond. I'll have to wait a couple of days before finishing the tracks and heavy traffic areas and then I have to sort out the flat and the marsh edge.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Progress on the Table-top

I seem to have gotten a move on finally and once started am now under-way once more as you can see from the drive-way production line. These panels have been stacked on a shelf under covers for the past year-and-a-half and now are seeing the light of day. I am learning much as I go with my air-compressor and spray gun but to be honest, it's really quite straight forward though not simple. I am having much more success with this large equipment than I ever had with an air-brush - fiddly bloody things.
One of my first observations is how the synthetic fur alters even after the first coat of acrylic paint. I probably could have gone for house paint - cheaper and with greater volume - but went for the matte fluid acrylic craft paints to be on the safe side for my first attempt. Even with the thinnest of coats, the acrylic tones right down to a khaki and stiffens considerably. Any ideas I might have had about flossy, springy grass has been dispelled. There will be some elasticity and it does tolerate gentle brushing (hair brush) but the silky, smoothness is not able to be retained; only dyes might achieve that. It will pack down and recover with metal figures on it which is all I want it to do but the properties of the fur at the beginning are not those of the end result.
Spraying across a vertical surface

I adopted the recommended, even horizontal spray technique as if I were spraying a wall or a car and kept my nozzle spray pattern set to a vertical line.I held the nozzle only about ten centimetres from the fur and kept a fair pressure up to penetrate the thicker fur areas being sure to moderate my paint flow. It pays to brush the fur or tease it as close to standing or vertical as possible to assist penetrative coverage. I think it better to err on less, rather than more paint in the flow and just go back over the fur a few times to avoid droplets forming. Spraying back and forth I worked from bottom to top and them back down again for the first coat using Jo Sonja's Green Oxide mixed to a milky thickness, thinning with water. Allowing time to dry, I returned to the panels being sure to upend them so as to spray from a different direction, working bottom to top and rotating again before working again from top to bottom. In all, each area of the naked synthetic fur received four passes with the base coat of Green Oxide (darker green).
Green Oxide base coat (left) and the Sap Green top coat (right)
For me, penetration of the fur with sufficient paint is important. The original choice of camel coloured fur is essential to get that brown roots effect. I've seen some attempts at painting fur which failed to properly colour to a sufficient depth which left me cold on the results. Once dry, I got back to them with the top coat of Sap Green. I am going for a high summer, bright green fields effect for the Lewes Downs and I think the texturing in ever lightening levels is essential for a realistic effect with depth. When applying this coat (two actually) I was deliberately less even handed and hit the panels from about a 30 degree angle - much more obliquely. I want the lighter grass to lay on top, with the dark shades beneath and roots at the base. I have a further lighter green to add but will apply that even more sparingly and using a dry brush application.
Hopefully this last image is starting to show what I'm aiming for. Before I even think about applying yellow and blue flower brush strokes (by no means a certainty) I'll colour the tracks and the heavy traffic areas with pale earths and much grey and whites for the chalk. All up, once under way all six 3'x3' panels took me a total of 3-4 hours thus far with the spray gun.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Right Tools for the Job

This has been far too long in the making  or should I say assembling? Bought in December as a Christmas present to myself I just got it out of the box and yes, assembly was required. This 50 litre compressor is just what the doctor ordered and when united with my spray gun and hose, what was taking me hours was taken care of in minutes. WHAT A DELIGHT!
The above is the smaller of a two gun set and once I had read and re-read the instructions, the novice engaged the device and away I went. Given that I am colouring synthetic fur there wasn't much of a technique I needed to master so with only a few seconds to see the gun was spraying satisfactorily, before I knew it I started over my panels.
I am using Jo Sonja acrylic Green Oxide artists paint, which applied particularly well but is getting used up very quickly. In fact, I estimate one tube per tile and after just these two, I am out of paint. Still, whilst I have stalled yet again until I revisit the store to buy up what I can find, the ram has touched the wall. Sometimes you just have to throw money at a project to re-float it. I'm geting very good vibes from all the results thus far and in one form or another, the synthetic fur total terrain solution is definitely the future for me. Lewes Downs is just the beginning.