Saturday 18 January 2014

"The Slaver Dhow" - "Unfurling" another naval painting

Part two of this expose of my latest two battle paintings continues on from the posting about  "The Railway Raid".  This one is based on my original ink drawing for Chapter V of the "Tales of the Golden Head" in The Classic Wargamers Journal in 2011. Here is a reminder of that.

The brief from Ian was for an oil matching the "Railway Raid" in size and orientation and again opening out the scope of the scene to give more of the character of his original wargame. Some readers may recall that the hero Wagstaff party was trying to get the Golden Head out of Umpopoland and had got a lift on a small steam boat, "Africa Queen", which had brought them to the estuary mouth to meet up with Arab trader, Sallah, and his impressive dhow which was to ferry them up the coast. As they got on board Sallah's ship they were attacked by canoe-borne natives, shortly followed by the ruthless Zanzibari slaver gang led by Sidi.  I was instructed to take a seagull's eye view of Sidi's dhow and crew, to show the fight on Sallah's dhow in detail, and to give an impression of the vast African hinterland beyond.  This is what I came up wth.

I had to do a serious amount of research for this, even though it is fictitious, in order to give the dhows some plausibility as sailing vessels and to tackle the odd perspective to show lots of activity on both ships. The "pirates" dhow is pretty basic with no below-deck accommodation and just a cargo hold. Part of the unwritten plot is that Sidi wants to capture Sallah's dhow which is large and has some of the luxuries of successful trading such as a deep cargo hold and a "quarter deck" over the captain's and guest cabins. A wooden framework surrounds this deck with canvas curtaining folded back which can be draped over to give shade. All the block and tackle rigging is taken from diagrams and photos off the internet, and much peering down into small sailing ships by me at the fabulous "Tall Ships Festival", practically on my doorstep at Gloucester Docks last Summer. Gloucester Tall Ships Festival 2013

Here are some more detailed views, click to enlarge
Sidi waves his sword to encourage his motley crew to form a firing line to deliver an undiscriminating volley on Sallah's crew, the natives and our heroes alike.
The natives have attacked from two sides. At the bow the crewmen have been quickly disposed of and spear bearing warriors are heading for our heroes. Over the starboard side near the stern another canoe disgorges its load but they are met with some opposition and a ruder greeting awaits across the deck .

Here is a close up of the central section where I grouped all the named characters together

At top left Sallah stands ready with his sword and pistol and Doc Sauvage is at his side with his double pistol rig. Constance mounts the steps to assist them. Lucy Wagstaff stands guard over the Golden Head, still in its travelling box. Lady Penelope Wagstaff is about to fire in defence of her husband, the Professor, who has knelt behind some crates and just felled one attacking native.  These figures in actual size are just about the same as one of your 28-30mm model miniatures.

In the last posting I explained that I modeled all the prominent figures in both paintings. For this one it was Zanzibari type "Arabs" all rendered with a fairly cliched, rather than purely realistic, character. But I wanted to be sure they looked real  and the Duchess photographed me in all sorts of poses and costumes from different heights up our staircase in order to render the varied perspective across the boat deck as the "seagull" looks down and then across.
Here is the nearest point to the viewer showing the tatty paint-peeling stern. A nervous boatman is being lowered and hangs on with trepidation just before the rowing boat hits the water. My idea of the sailors on the ropes (as opposed to hired armed slavers) has given many of them a kind of standard costume including a white headcloth and black waistcoat.

Further up the deck the slavers are already engaging the trader's dhow with rifle fire. Ian envisaged a force equipped with old fashioned weaponry and asked me to include a swivel gun. I was happy to oblige and recalled my photos from my visit to 18th Century Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania.  

Bearing in mind these stories are set in 1920s Africa I was quietly sceptical of  how the White heroes frequently outgunned their native and Arab foes which had usually been limited in Ian's games to low powered 19th century guns. The Colonial wargamers among you might take some consolation from my "revelation" moment last month when on holiday in Morocco - the Marrakech Museum has this antiquated flintlock piece labelled "first half of 20th Century" !

Just an example of the amusement I get from play acting the parts - the artist as model.

And for the landscape fans here is a close up of part of the background

At the risk of being tiresome........for the wargamer who has almost everything.....why not commission an oil painting of one of your games rendered as featuring "real" people? Become insufferable by using it on the wall of your games room to recall a famous victory to your opponents, or show off a favourite regiment performing some great feat, or a panorama of some terrain you are specially fond of?  As you see, nothing is too much trouble, so just get in touch to discuss your ideas email me at Chris Gregg.

Now a related bit on pin-ups
Thank you for getting this far -  those not interested in the pin-up genre can navigate elsewhere now.

If you are not familiar with the "tale" featured here you might wonder at the worried look on the face of the poor man being lowered in the rowing boat. Well, as Sidi's dhow approached Sallah's it slowed down, the slavers delivered an effective volley and half those on the opposing deck went down wounded or dead. The slavers' lowered boat was filled with eager pirates who set off to take their prize, easily as they thought. At that point the unwounded Constance grabbed a tommy gun (anachronistic weapons abound in these tales) and sent the boatload of slavers to the bottom!  My rendition of this scene in CWJ got dubbed by editor Phil as a "CWJ pin-up".  

So with my imagination and Ian's put together that started me on the rocky road to doing pin-up paintings in all sorts of styles since. Constance was then featured in a Golden Head oil painting "Constance! What are you doing?" Here is a detail (pose modelled by the Duchess herself!)

Constance's companion, Lucy, was originally featured  in the very first Golden Head illustration in CWJ Issue 2 and that later inspired another perspective as she rashly followed Lieutenant Daring RN onto a different slaver dhow in Episode VIII.  Kindly modelled by one of my Hussarettes,"M". This is its first public airing and it is part of a series of about a dozen more "Tales of the Golden Head" drawings commissioned by Ian and completed by me in 2012.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Oil Painting - The Railway Raid

It seems like an age ago, when the sun was warm and I was sweating mowing the lawn (apologies to North American readers with your current minuses off the scale!) but I posted a little piece about my newly acquired sun helmet. That was because it was to be a costume prop to help me with two paintings I mentioned that day.

I'm long overdue telling the internet community about them as young Ian took delivery of them in  late November and was very appreciative. They are now on my regular  military art website which I've just had updated (and for those who like such things click through from that to the main page for various exotic ladies). I'm only able to put small resolution images on there due to bandwidth but now here is the background, and better quality images.

Those of you who subscribed to Classic Wargamer's Journal will remember Ian Allen's games based on his Indiana Jones style "Tales of the Golden Head" set in the fictitious East African country of Umpopoland. During the story, in Episode VII, the hero party led by Professor Wagstaff was escorting the Golden Head on a train using the saloon coach provided by the Imperial Governor and with an escort of "Imperial Troops" in the guard's van. I was lucky enough to be asked to illustrate the "Tales" that were published as wargames in 2011 and this was my ink drawing of that incident.

Around 18 months later Ian decided he'd like two large oil paintings of Golden Head battle scenes and this episode was one of them.  My brief was to enlarge the scope of the original to include a feeling of place, based on how he described his game table set up, and to show more of the "bandits" which I'd imagined as mounted Zanzibari Arab types, plus telegraph poles along the railway line. So this was how I altered the original drawing in the computer to fit a 30 inch by 24 inch canvas and added more figures. It's only subtle but I've made a bit more space between the uncoupled  guard's van and the train in order to spill some of the soldiers out and make a much more interesting composition.
This is the sketch I based the painting on

And here is the final result in oil after about 40 or so hours work.

Here is a detail focusing on the Arab raiders in the left hand half.

The drivers are being held at gunpoint in the engine and the heroes are fighting back from the first carriage. In the nearest carriage an armed passenger attempts to take a pot shot at the bandit on the roof, and at the back the guard's van has just been uncoupled and slows down.

This one is a detail of that part.

The sharp eyed might notice a monogram on the van I designed specially at Ian's request. No it's not VR , but UR for Umpopoland Railways.
I mentioned that I had dressed up and posed for many reference photos for the two paintings, with the Duchess of Porchester kindly acting as photographer. Just for fun here is the final cut of me in some of the roles (including the body). Once I had sorted out size and perspective on the canvas I underpainted the carrages and scenery, photographed it and then cut and pasted and resized each figure in the computer according to position. I could then print out sections as required to draw them in and paint on the canvas. As you can imagine it's quite an involved process with so many figures.

My Napoleonic carbine was a reasonable substitute for what became Lee-Enfields and a Martini-Henry rifle in the painting. Borrowing some of the Duchess' clothing was necessary for Arab robes and we had a lot of laughs!  There will be more of this in the next posting which will feature "The Slaver Dhow Attacks".

Comments welcome, but remember it's fiction! 

Friday 3 January 2014

Waterloo Project: A "broomin' good paint job - 150-strong French battalion

If this isn't enough to get the wargaming juices flowing for Waterloo 2015 I don't know what will!  As promised in the previous Waterloo posting  Kevin East has now finished his first custom-painted French battalion for our 1:3 scale Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte games.

I'll hand over to Kev to tell you more:

"Hot off the painting blocks is my first French battalion- all 150 of them! I include some photos of them at various stages on the broom stick sections that enables me to access all round the figures for painting purposes. I usually use an electric glue gun to stick the metal figures on the broom stick sections and use blutak for plastic ones. The metal figures are easy to prize off using a chisel post varnishing. Then super glue to the plastic bases and watered down wood glued sand for the ground. After painting the sand I use flock for grass. I usually titivate the bases with grass tufts, flowers and rocks to complete a realistic effect. I worked out it takes just under two hours of painting per figure. Hope you like the effect en masse.

The French battalion is all Perry metal figures. it proved expensive! But the good thing about the range is Perry offer the same posed figure with or without greatcoat. This added to the fact that there are 6 slightly different poses to each pack so that means there are a total of 12 different fusilier and 12 different light/grenadier company figures that can be used to make up the battalion. This makes for a more 'random looking' set of figures when put together so adds to the realistic atmosphere. Of course one could always mix in a box or two of the plastic figures that perry do in French infantry march attack pose and then there is an infinite array of possibilities to make the look totally realistic. Perry really have thought of everything!

The flag is a third battalion fanion from Graeme Black of GMB designs. Here is the website French armies
They are great as they provide 2nd(white) 3rd (red), 4th (blue), 5th (green) and 6th (yellow) battalion fanions for line and also have them for the light battalions for the period where all you have to do is paint the regimental number in gold and the job is done! Perry also provide battalion as well as the regimental command packs which makes life easy for the figures. 

I am now on the 180 strong French light infantry battalion I am producing. That should take 3 months! ( although I already have 60 figures from my existing collection)."

Kevin sent me loads of photos so why should I deny you, gentle reader, the chance to enjoy them? The close-ups show his amazing artistic technique, these look more as if they've come out of an oil painting than being bits of sculpted metal covered with pigment

Here are two other views of the whole battalion. Each company is 24 figures strong and you can tell them by the different coloured shako pompoms and the Grenadier and Voltigeur companies are at the back in this attack column formation, representing approximately 450 men.

Some close-ups of Grenadiers and Voltigeurs to finish off


We hope to field about 6 to 8 French battalions like this at any one time in our various Waterloo scenarios.

I'm currently working on a 50-strong Nassau Light Company so hope to show you them in a couple of weeks.