Wednesday 20 February 2013

Reviving 15mm vintage Napoleonics

As part of the normal cycle of a wargamer's life I often found my display cabinets getting full and new units beckoning me to give them shelf space. Decisions have to be made and, pretty though they may be, if an army isn't "earning it's keep" by regular appearances on the tabletop it either has to be boxed or sold .  So it was a couple of years ago when my 28mm Seven Years War and 10mm American War of Independence armies were blossoming I felt the decades-old 15mm Napoleonic armies had to go. Most of them were very old Minifigs which I'd ceased to like anyway, and also home cast from my own masters, but a couple of hundred were original late 1980s Anthony Barton designed Battle Honours miniatures, somewhat larger than the early Minifigs. I always loved these as they were anatomically perfect and had great detail and many were full of character. It was sad to get rid of them, but a friend had the artillery and generals so I still get to play with them occasionally, however, most went to the quick fix of being sold off rather cheaply at a Bring and Buy.

Just to remind me here are some photos, but I find I have very few

French staff officers and a home cast battalion in a Peninsular village I scratch built.

Battle Honours French officers and infantry show off a card cottage by  Brian Collins of Cheltenham
See Brian's website for interesting card models alternate realms.

Casualty figures fresh from their coating of Army Painter Quickshade
but not yet with finished bases. These BH castings are full of character.

Well, these have all gone now but imagine my surprise when, trawling eBay, as one does, while getting rid of my World War Two 20mms, and AK47 15mms I stumbled upon a large collection of original and unpainted AB/BH miniatures being auctioned off in manageable lots. These items went on sale over several weeks during the Christmas and New Year period and I was lucky enough to win quite a few of them, and make the email  acquaintance of the seller who is a one-time professional figure painter and a talented jewelry designer.

Now the real point of this blog is that I'm not reviving my 15mm Napoleonic armies as such but I am intending to paint these to a very nice standard, because I think they are worth the effort, and sell them at a small profit. They include a couple of Napoleon figures and dozens of marshals, generals and aides as well as Imperial Guard Grenadiers, Young Guard Mounted Chasseurs, Cuirassiers, Polish Infantry, British Light Dragoons in helmets, as well as bog standard French line infantry in greatcoats. My initial aim is to create useful command groups and individual Generals and ADCs that will be generic enough to fit with most rules. The first of these is Marshal Davout, and here is just one photo:
I hope you will want to see more as there are lots of close ups on the eBay advert, where you can also bid for it, if so inclined. Marshal Davout on eBay

I'm interested in advice from 15mm Napoleonic collectors as to how best to present them for sale. My idea is that infantry will be 4 figures in two ranks, and cavalry two figures side by side, on a 1 inch square base. Please add a comment here or email me. And if you'd like me to notify you personally when I do more for sale please let me know.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Francine et Francoise de la Legion Etrangere de la Marine

I promised in my last posting  Hussarettes a new model that I would reveal the latest painting in the Hussarettes series and so here it is, or, here they are.

The client for this one is pretty keen on light blue uniforms and particularly Lauzun's Legion in the French contingent in the American War of Independence (aka Revolution, for American readers!). Originally he wanted a Hussarette of the First Legion Etrangere de la Marine to go with his existing painting, Lucille, who represents Lauzun's (Second) Legion, but when I showed him a selection of photos of my model, Ella, he wanted two, one from each Legion,  and he made up a background scenario in which to set them.

The Hussarettes project, of course, is more Fantasy Art than History and we can take it anywhere we choose, but the historical military theme is compelling for gentlemen like some of my supporters who love the concept of combining gorgeous uniforms with pretty women. And for me also who likes those two elements but with the added challenge of coming up with decorative art in a plausible setting.
So Francine of the First, and Francoise of the Second, are twin daughters of a French Noble family, who have joined a prestigious organisation for foreign adventures. They are from rich families and natural officer material, and sibling rivalry such as it is, have decided to ply their military trade with different, but related, regiments. Besides which,  Francine's favourite colour is yellow, and her twin sister's red!   So my client, wondering how to get them in the same place at the same time, wrote:

"I’m thinking that the two have visited a painter to have a studio portrait painted while taking a break from occupation duties in a town that is unscarred by the ongoing war. They have met up in a tavern while their respective sections are detached from their parent Legions for an escort duty or some such. Perhaps the artist met them in the tavern and suggested the idea?"

Can't imagine where he got the idea of an artist persuading random women to pose :-).....but at least it gave me the basis for the composition. Two wine goblets stand drained on the bar of the's so hot in America that naturally the ladies don't wear full hussar uniform of shirt, waistcoat, dolman, and pelisse, but their own comfortable, yet flamboyant, combinations. Inhibitions lessened by the wine, and naturally confident in their status, they loosen their clothing and are determined to give our artist the benefit of their best assets for his art.

Sadly the photographic medium just can't do justice to Francine and Francoise, and only the owner of their painting, and his guests, will get the full lustre of the oil paint rendering the gold and silver officers' lace. But for you, dear blog follower, here are some close ups which might give a better idea.

Now a bit more information about the painting itself. It is on stretched, gessoed canvas, 20 inches x 16 inches and I used a limited palette of 9 Winsor and Newton Artisan water-based oil colours plus Titanium White, they were:
Paynes Grey (my "secret" ingredient for sympathetic shading)
Cerulean Blue
Cobalt Blue
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Naples yellow Hue (a basis for skin tones and gold lace)
Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue
Cadmium Red Hue
After the underpainting is done with thin paint I use an awful lot of Artisan Quick Drying medium which is very rich and glossy and allows juicy effects with good detail. The background was done in a sketchy style though with very little medium and is deliberately muted in tone and detail in order not to fight with the gorgeous uniforms. When it's properly dry it will receive several coats of varnish which will unify the surface sheen.

And that question I always get asked - "How long did it take?" The answer is about 6 hours in the planning and computer mock up stages and another 30 hours in the execution, over about 10 days. And because I'm cheap (at the moment!!) it cost my patron less than half the price of one of Phil Olley's 28mm 18th Century infantry battalions.  So it's not just a rich man's obsession to commission your own Hussarette painting. Just email me for a quote without obligation Chris Gregg

It seems appropriate to give some credit to an artist who has been a great influence on me over  the last couple of years, James Gurney. In particular Gurney's book "Imaginative Realism" gives great insight into how to concoct artificial scenes and characters and then put them in an imaginative situation for a painting. If you think my methods, costumes and use of amateur models seems a bit "cheap", then take a look at this book which is honest and practical and you'll see that even the "greats" do it that way.
Just a final smile from Ella, and if you've liked this posting please give her some supportive comments and she might model for me again :-) ....but keep it clean, chaps!

Saturday 2 February 2013

Hussarettes: a new model

What with all  the packing, selling on EBay and moving house it's been some time since I've been able to do any oil painting. Additionally, I had a big and  complicated commission to do illustrating a scene from one of Ian Allen's "Chronicles of Umpopoland", and that took me about a month last Autumn. That's now safely framed and up on his wall and you can see a picture of it at my website chris gregg paintings. If you want to know the background to it please comment and Ian or I will reply.  So the Hussarette project took a back seat after my "historical research" before Summer had faded away last year; here's a reminder   can-blackpowder-era-cavalry-really-fire-mounted.

But when I least expected it along came a commission for a Hussarette to be a companion piece for Lucille of Lauzun's Legion. Since these posts have become my most popular over the months I thought the least I could do was to bring you the story of how I found and employed my latest model, whom I will call Ella.

It was on a sunny day last Summer when I was stewarding at an art exhibition. Exhibitors at this show have to volunteer to steward in pairs and the artist colleague on my session was having trouble to commit to the whole 4 hours. So she persuaded her sister, Ella, to do an hour's duty. And what a pleasant and helpful companion she turned out to be. Ella is Ukrainian and just happened to be over in England to stay with her sister. Not only is she pretty but intelligent too, and studying for a post graduate scientific qualification in France.  I always tend to have my camera with me as an artist never knows when inspiration will strike, and I had been collecting photos of likely ladies for handmaidens in the Umpopoland commission mentioned above. Eventually I plucked up the courage to ask Ella if I could take some photos of her, and she willingly agreed. She had to go back to France that day but left with the thought that she would be back at Christmas and would like to earn some money modelling for a photo-shoot for paintings.

After the exhibition I had shown her photos to one of my patrons who said, as she was Ukrainian, I should ask her to pose as a female Cossack. This seemed like a good idea and I kept it "up my sleeve". However, not long before Christmas I got the next commission in the shape of a request to do a Hussarette emulating a pose from an existing miniature of a futuristic or steam punk female fighter in tight breeches. When Ella got in touch on her return to England I just knew she'd be great in that guise.

So it was that on a very wet day shortly after Christmas I found myself in a light and airy conservatory in a southern suburb of Gloucester having to spend 3 hours with Ella and her sister while she got made up and dressed, and then undressed, for the camera. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it for the sake of our European cultural heritage :-) 

Her artist sister was a marvellous help, organising all sorts of outfits, jewelry and hairstyles for my various ideas. The commissioned Hussarette was the main item on my agenda since the client would be subsidising her fee. But I had also asked for any "authentic looking" Ukrainian gear, and among the leading items was a superb fur lined jacket just right to do duty as a Hussar's pelisse but without all the lace.  In addition Ella had high boots, which although they had stiletto heels, gave a very sexy edge to the idea of hussar riding boots. Also equipped with my cobbled together belts, sabretache, ammo pouch, and fur colback we applied the French Napoleonic-style weaponry in various combinations.  So, hundreds of photos later I had a great variety of poses to choose from for my commission and many more options for other paintings. Here are some examples:

I had a vision for the tough "Cossack lady" with a floppy fur hat but we did not have one between us, instead what I got was a sexy version of a sweet Ukrainian traditional maiden, with addition of weaponry - like this:

Cossack bandit girl?

I had to try to get Ella to laugh - with a sabre dance.
As I said, it's a hard life directing females!

Not only flowers in her hair but a bunch of them too - very chaste.
And just for variety - one of the bi-products of the Ukrainian culture was evidently the black clad secret police! There were quite a few leather-look coats and boots to choose from in the dress-up box so we made full use of them.

A focus group I tested last year for pin-up subjects suggested posing ladies with classic cars and motor bikes, and so the leather gear seemed perfect. I've got lots of reference material for Harley-Davidsons but just needed the girl, so my Ukrainian beauty posed for them too - but,  like acting for CGI with a blue screen, we had to imagine the motorbike!

Within a week or two I'll show you the finished result of the Hussarette painting, and the best news on that is the client loved Ella so much he wanted two of her in one painting, and in the gorgeous combinations of colours of  the French Legion Etrangere in the American War of Independence. So look out for that soon.

I hope you've enjoyed this taster of one side of my work but carrying it on depends on the support I get. So please comment on this blog, or email me Chris Gregg if you have ideas or want to commission me with a painting yourself. Complete discretion guaranteed.