Friday, February 1, 2019

Survey Crew

18th Century Surveying Crew
For the past several months, I've had a minor fascination with surveying in the 18th century.  I've been reading a few books from the time period, teaching myself the techniques, and I made a short research trip to see some original survey documents.

A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing miniatures online, and realized that some of the artillery crews looked a bit like surveyors.  Remembering that I had an unpainted artillery unit, I dug out the figures and looked them over.  Sure enough, they fit the bill.  I decided to put together a vignette.

Before I get into the process, I'll walk through the final result.

Continental Surveyors.
Continental Surveyors.
First up, we have a couple of surveyors.  I painted these to be in the uniform of the Continental Department of the Geographer, based on images of the reenactment group that portrays those soldiers.  One is taking a sighting through his theodolite, while the other looks on, taking field notes.

Civilian Chainmen.

Civilian Chainmen.

Next are the chainmen.  I've portrayed them in civilian clothes, as if they had been hired from the local population.  The job of the chainmen was to measure distances using a Gunter's Chain.  In scale, a full chain would have been over a foot long, so I've severely compressed the length, but it still gives the impression.

Civilian Flagman.
Finally, there's the flagman.  His job was to mark locations that the surveyors could site to, and that the chainmen would measure to.

Perry Miniatures Artillery Men
I started off with a couple of figures from Perry Miniature's Continental Artillery aiming 6 pounder (AW102).  These had the poses that I was looking for for the main surveyors, but could use some small detail changes.  Namely, after stripping off their old paint, I sculped a small bit of paper into the standing figure's right hand, and I cut away the cannon adjustment lever thingy from the crouching figure (Artillery friends, does that tool have an actual name?).

Perry Miniatures British Infantry

Perry Miniatures Command Standard Bearer
For the chain and flag men, I had a couple of sprues of figures left from a box of Perry's American War of Independence British Infantry 1775-1783 (AW200), that I thought that I could customize.

Scraping Off the Cartridge Box.

Adding Hats and Changing Coats.
The civilians took a bit more work than the surveyors.  Since I was using uniformed miniatures for my base, the first thing I had to do was to scrape off the regimental lace from the lapels and cuffs of their coats.  Both figures featured bayonet scabbards, which I cut down to make into chaining arrow quivers, which would hold the markers used by the chainmen to mark out distances longer than their chain.  Since these men are civilians, and not soldiers, I next carved off their cartridge boxes and straps, then resculpted the backs of their coats to add in some folds.  I opted to leave their canteens.  They likely wouldn't have carried military canteens, but I wanted the workers to stay well hydrated.  The final step was to add their caps.  The Perry sprues come with riflemen's caps that are cocked up on the side.  For one figure, I turned the cocked flap to the rear, carving the interior a bit to fit the head.  I also scraped off the bit of decor that was attached to the flap.  For the second figure, I cut two of the riflemen's hats in half, then glued them together and resculpted a bit to make a single round cap.  The arms of both figures were originally carrying muskets, which had to be cut away and the hands reshaped a tiny bit.

The flagman received a similar treatment.  His lace was removed, and a civilian hat was added.  Since he had started out as a standard bearer, his arm position was perfect.  I cut away the top of the flag pole, adding it to the bottom of the figure's hands to create the staff.  A small target orb was added to the top.

The theodolite was scratch built from bits of sprue and toothpicks.  Being more than a bit fiddly, this went through a few iterations before the final version.

Here's the final modified crew before painting:

Raw Survey Crew.
After priming and painting the miniatures, the final step was to build a base.  Originally I laid out a flat base with the intention of adding some scatter terrain to fill in the empty spaces.  After priming the ground, I had the after-thought of adding a couple of small hilly mounds.  In retrospect, I'm glad that I went with this direction, as I think it makes the scene look more nature.

Crew Primed and Ready for Painting.

Initial Base Layout.

Let's Add Some Hills!

For comparison of the figures, here are some up close (occasionally fuzzy) images of each miniature

Crouching Surveyor - As Found, Before Priming, Finished.
Standing Surveyor - As Found, Before Priming, Finished.
Trailing Chainman - Before Priming, Finished.
Leading Chainman - Before Priming, Finished.
Flagman - Before Priming, Finished.

Scratch-Built Theodolite.
And here's the finished result, sitting proudly above my desk.

Nice Decor for My Desk.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Working the Fields

Farmer's Field, ready for planting.
As part of the Lead Adventure Forum 2019 Build Something Challenge, I've decided to work on some period appropriate fields and crops.  I worked on my first test piece today, a small patch of land ready for planting.  It looked a bit plain at first, but after surrounding it with fencing and trees, I like the look.

Base cut from plastic "For Sale" sign with corrugated cardboard glued on top.
Base coated with a muddy brown craft paint.
Mixture of model railway grey ballast and green flock added over wet paint.
After shaking off the excess ground cover.
A dry-brush of brown over the furrows.
Finished off with a border of finely chopped sheet moss.
Good old rocky New England soil ready to be worked.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

`Twas the Weeks After Christmas

It's been mentioned on a couple of different forums that the days after Christmas are a great time to pick up bits to make wargaming terrain.  Many decorative items for the season are discounted, and are many times the perfect scale for modeling.

In my case, I happened across some Christmas trees at 75% off.  For about $6 and a little work, I was able to add to my tiny but growing forest terrain.

Improving the Base
The first photo shows the tree as purchased, right out of the bag.  Each one is a basic bottle-brush tree with a bit of white speckle to make them look Christmassy.  The first step to moving them from decor to terrain was to add a larger base in order to keep them from toppling over.  Next, I added some air dry clay to blend the plastic tree base into the new wooden base.

Improving the Tree
In the second photo, I've given the trees a coating of brown craft paint to eliminate the white snow look.  I didn't have a rattle can of brown handy, so I used a brush, stuffing the paint into the needles.  This actually worked pretty well, as it pushed the needles different ways, roughing up the uniform cone into something a little more natural.

For the base, I added some more brown paint.  While the paint was still wet, I dipped the base into a bowl of flocking/ballast mix.  Once this was dry, I again used paint as a sort of wet glue, and added some crushed leaves and green flocking to simulate fallen pine needles.  The leaves are from a batch I made using autumn leaves from my yard a couple of years ago.  Added to a blender, then sifted into different sizes, dry leaves make a great natural ground cover.

To add the greenery, I dunked the trees into a mix of PVA glue and water, then rolled them in clump foliage.  This bit was messy, and I had to force the the foliage into the needles with my fingers.  In the end, however, I liked the look.

The final step, once everything was dry, was to dunk the entire piece in another batch of watereddown PVA.  This helped seal everything together, and make them quite a bit sturdier for wargaming.  I've had no problem picking them up, moving them, or even tossing them in a box without more than a couple of loose bits falling off.

For my first attempt at trying this sort of process, I'm happy with how they turned out.  The scale is good, and they look much less artificial than they had originally.  In fact, I liked them well enough that I returned to the store to pick up another size to add some variation to my little forest.