dispatches from terra incognita

Month: February 2015

Jumping the Queue

Paint Table Saturday features flagrant queue jumpers. Looking back yesterday at A) the Major General’s page and 2) my aged stage-set mountains, rendered me nostalgic for VSF and afflicted with remorse for my long-suffering 15mm figures. As things stand, I can muster a respectable force of British. In the back of my mind, however, I was certain that somewhere there existed some Irregular Miniatures Pathans, neatly stored but inexcusably denude of paint. A brief ruffle through the boxes and my quarry was in hand.


Reaper Bones have fallen into heavy rotation ’round these parts, and thus many moons have passed since I’ve tackled 15mm metal. First off, I was grateful that Irregular parted with so much lead for my dollars. Too bad for me that only about half of it was in the shape of figures and the balance was a nuisance known as “flash.” A solid 30 minutes with an Xacto knife cleared up that condition. A dollop of 2-part epoxy and they were firmly grounded on a washer. 3 packs of 10 men, three poses: firing while standing, firing while kneeling, and runnin’ at ya with a big sword. My new-found painting courage will soon render these chaps “ready for battle.”

However, the Afghanis were superseded in ill manners by a ragtag band from Mordheim. I bought the box set years and years ago, snipped everything off sprue, and stored it with customary anal retentiveness. The major barrier to their progress was the fact that they were all in little pieces. If you haven’t yet encountered that vintage of plastic figure, you get a bunch of legs, torsos, arms, heads, and weapons; Games Workshop awards one the privilege of cobbling them together using malodorous cement. While I had already suffered through assembling the Skaven, the human fellows remained in pieces.

Just behind my brush-washing jar in the paint table picture one might spy a nifty Testors Model Master Liquid Cement Applicator which, quite truly, is the bee’s knees. (Another of my hobbies is beekeeping and I don’t know what that really means…). When I discovered that cool glue bottle at Michael’s, I resolved that I could finish those fellows. And so, assembled is a band of what I think are called “Marienbergers.” I don’t think I’ll paint them just yet, but who knows?

Finally, below you see a shot of the stalwarts who were leaped over in line. I think what’s holding me back with the Woodland Warriors is that most animals are grayish-brown so I’m afraid that they’ll all look the same. Mixed in are a couple of Bones I lasses (Henceforth I’ll have to distinguish Bones I and II, as my box arrives Monday) and a Night Goblin from the Battle of Skull Pass set (which I also bought and which is largely naked…).

Gaming Table

Building a gaming table is a daunting endeavor. If one has yet to accumulate a lot of wargaming experience, he has to imagine what “features” a table should have in order to make gaming more enjoyable. Lumber and time are both valuable these days. I didn’t want to expend too much of either to create something that wouldn’t work for me.

I embarked upon the project in the usual manner, by poking about the internet to see what others had done. I uncovered a few intriguing possibilities. The one to the left (which I unearthed here) boasted the benefit of being simple, sturdy, and a bit of storage as a bonus. The castors are a nice touch, though in the location I have available, there won’t be much wiggle room. Two-by-fours and plywood are easily obtainable and I had my eye on that shelf for the plethora of banker’s boxes filled with the terrain I have constructed through the years.

66940_sm-table design_1

I thought a lot about this theoretical one (I didn’t find evidence that it was ever built), discovered  here. It looked very sturdy (it would also likely weight a ton), had storage, and was expandable, which would be a big plus in my limited space. I already had modifications envisioned (I think you’d need two fold out legs on each side to keep the extension wings from sagging at the corners, for example). I may come back to this design at some point.

The final contender (found here) had the most to recommend it. First off, the builder provided a nifty tutorial, complete with a list of materials and shots of construction in process. The design was simple and didn’t use too much lumber. Storage could be created by attaching a couple of shelves to the legs (which would also make it sturdier). The best part was that the top was customizable one could swap out the boards. So, I could have a flat surface and place a game mat over it; use painted and/or flocked boards, or create custom, modular terrain. Plus also, the little slide out tables were adorable…

It’s also usual for me not to stop and take pictures, so I don’t have a single shot of my building process. You’ll have to settle for the table, more or less complete.

Here’s the “skeleton.” The legs are standard 2×4 pine from Home Depot. I used two boards joined at right angles for each leg (unlike the original) to make them appear a bit more finished, and perhaps to to make them more sturdy (Hirst Arts buildings are dense). I also added a storage shelf below. There were originally two, but a corner tore out of the upper one. (I was so inspired after taking these pictures that I repaired the upper shelf). The top is made with pine 1×6 boards around the outer edge and 1×4 boards for the internal bracing.

The table top is 4 by 6 feet. The bracing is recessed about two inches so that I could use 2″ pink foam and carve rivers, canyons, trenches, pit traps, and whatnot. I haven’t done any of that yet; I currently use three 2 by 4 foot pieces of 1/2 inch MDF to make the table top. Here’s plain grey for dungeon delving and urban set ups. I plan to paint the backs of these black for asphalt. I have another set of boards that are tan for colonial combat and Lost World exploration. The reverse is blue for watery warfare. I have a piece of 1 inch foam beneath the boards now, which raises the surface closer to the table edge.

This is a thrown-together set up of Pirates of the Spanish Main terrain, including some closeups of some islands. The top of the lighthouse is in need of repair.

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Here we have the table with my homemade grass mat, which is an unholy union of a bed sheet, copious tubes of caulk, and much, much flock. That beast has been a botheration and will likely need to be redone. I followed a tutorial I found on the internet, but didn’t “roll” the flock into the caulk, and so it sheds worse than my cat. I made it large so that I could place “hills” underneath. Here it is untucked and tucked. The slide-out “tables” (as per the original) are intended for rule books, record sheets, beverages, &c. The wrinkles are exceedingly difficult to disperse, thus annoying me to no end.


Finally, here’s a little tableau starring my first-ever Hirst Arts building (the “Wizard’s Tower”) with some allied Reaper and Warhammer skeletons facing off against the Reaper goblins I painted earlier this year. The observant will notice honest-to-goodness Major General Tremorden Rederring stage-set mountains in the distance. Comprised of cardboard with crumpled up brown paper shopping bags glued to the front. There are little platforms on the back so that snipers can perch amongst the rocky crags. These were among the first terrain I scratch-built, round about a dozen years in the past. The “sky” is the actual wall of the room (the color is called “Cerulean” which, I believe, means, “looks just like a nice, blue sky in pictures”). I may have to paint some clouds on it…

Paint Table Saturday

In the name of conjugal concord, I decommissioned my expansive paint table. As is the rule with all horizontal surfaces, it collected bits and bobs that only reduced its utility. Additionally, the higher purpose of my humble hobby space is to be a guest room. Though we don’t host guests frequently, I suppose those who do stay won’t want to bunk alongside a dusty profusion of hobbying detritus.

A dormer of his own

So, pressed back into service is a small oak table with two drawers, which does possess the distinction of being the only piece of furniture that my father has ever made for me. It’s positioned in a window dormer and thus features a nice view of our cul-de-sac. Immortalized squeaky-clean here, but that won’t last. And, it’s a a bit of a cheat really, as we shall see anon. The only apparent miniatures are a few of my Splintered Light “Faithful” Woodland Warriors.

I dulled the pain of disappointment over the diminution of digs by constructing a larger rack for my craft paints. This one holds the current inventory, including stray 4 and 8 ounce bottles, as well as a smattering of GW pots that persist. I actually broke out router and jig so that it has dovetail joints in the corners (!)

Here you behold the neat cheat. The continued health of my marriage also depended upon me moving the wargames table out of my sons’ room and, for the moment, it is a mound of wargames creations. I am haunted by the comment of a hobbyist years ago (which I likely read on the Miniature Page) who asserted that the critical first step of every project should be ascertaining where it will be stored. Well, I always trust that one to the angels, and like me, they get distracted before the job is finished… So, all my hobbying stuff is piled atop my wargames table, thoroughly defeating the goal of a tranquil guest room.

My current “project,” therefore, is to relocate the boxes of scratch building materials (which are some of the banker’s boxes beneath the table), box up newer projects currently homeless (and put them under the table), and create an attractive set-up on the tabletop, all before our next guest arrives in round-about a month’s time. Buena suerte, my friend, buena suerte.

A Parable…

This is a parable concerning craft paints, real guitars, and pretend pianos. I wrote a bit in my essay on the GULP that I paint both terrain and miniatures with inexpensive craft paints. This wasn’t always the case.

When I was new to the hobby of collecting and painting miniatures, I did a lot lot of research online. Rather than serving as inspiration, all those meticulously painted miniatures served as intimidation and generally hindered the process. I started out buying Testors acrylics (because those were available at my local hobby shop, Hungates) but soon fell under the spell of Æheric fiends asserting that only Games Workshop pigments were worthy. But nothing I painted with those expensive paints looked like those I saw online.

I eventually stopped painting miniatures entirely, focussing instead on terrain, which, of course, I daubed with craft paint from Walmart, Michael’s, and A.C. Moore. When I embarked upon the Square Pegs project, it seemed obvious to use craft paints, as those cylindrical warriors boast a lot of surface area. Plus, for awhile there, GW kept changing around their paint names, pot types, and generally confused me. When the big box o’ Reaper Bones arrived all bendy-plasticy, craft paint kept flowing.

Now, if you’re wondering, or just bored, this is when I get to the parable part with musical instruments.

For way longer than I’ve collected miniatures — about 30 years, in fact — I’ve played guitar. Or rather, I’ve attempted to play guitar;— I am an auto didact, not a particularly perspicacious one, and it took me about 26 years of making noise to realize that it’s difficult to teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to do…

So, I carried my son for guitar lessons for a year or so, and worked up the nerve to take some myself. My teacher was a professional musician who had been involved in jangle-pop music in the 80’s North Carolina music scene, contemporaneous with rise of R.E.M. His band wasn’t similarly successful, but he loved to play guitar, so he made a life of working in the studio, teaching guitar, and playing in local bands. His especial gift is a connection between ears, brain, and fingers. In addition to the encyclopedia of songs he knows, he can simply listen to a song, figure out what the guitarist is playing, and transcribe it for the student.

Back in the 80’s, I had a serviceable guitar purchased by my parents. But I too was under the spell of the young R.E.M. and decided that an expensive electric guitar would certainly improve my playing. I got a bank loan (!) to purchase a Rickenbacker 330, which cost the equivalent of $3700 in today’s dollars (!). The short and obvious conclusion to this part of my tale is that this dear beauty didn’t bring me any closer to Buck. I was just a lousy guitarist with an expensive axe. I’ve collected a few more here and there, and as recently as a few years ago bought a Squier Telecaster (at least I didn’t bite for the real deal) because I thought that would make me better… [Since writing this, I traded up the Squier for a made in Mexico tele.]

The main guitar I practice on to this day is that serviceable Yamaha dreadnought bought for me by my parents circa 1984. One afternoon, my teacher Brad was adeptly unravelling some tune for me on his beat up, Willy Nelson-looking classical guitar, and I fumbled along behind pathetically. Bothered by some sort of string buzz emanating from my guitar, he asked if he could play it for a moment. Music erupted like you hear on the radio. There was still some sort of buzz owing to the vagaries of 30 year-old frets, but he could minimize it by how he held his fingers.

Some days later, while painting clothespins to look like 19th century Victorian soldiers, I was visited by epiphany. Brad sounded great on his old practice guitar, he sounded great on my middling Yamaha, and he sounded great on his expensive Les Paul; he is a gifted musician and would sound great on a tissue box with rubber bands stretched across it. He is a living equivalent of Schroeder in Peanuts, who can coax classical music out of a piano with the black keys painted on.

Great miniature painters can go on for as long as they like about the necessity of expensive paints, but I’m fairly certain they could knock out superb work with daubs of mud and a stick. I’m not saying that only a gifted few can do great work;— rather, that the amount of practice one puts in trumps the quality of the tools.

So, I plan to plod on with craft paints and an inclination to improve my technique. I won’t try anything too hard; I’m satisfied with a base coat and shading with future wash. After 20-odd years and a modest accumulation of guitars, I have learned to Travis pick and can sound like a coffee house folk singer should I want to. In all of my hobbying, I attend to people who have practiced more than I (and are likely more talented than I), incorporating what I can.

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