Saturday, 22 May 2021

Making trees; and more on the 18th century post lockdown games

 This post follows on directly from my previous Back to the 18th Century post lockdown and in it I'll be showing how I made the wintry trees for Brampton and then a bit more on the upcoming two SYW battles on this terrain, with a few pointers on my Summer/Autumn trees.

Wintry trees entertain Prussians and Austrians for a skirmish

On cardboard terrain boards
But first I wanted to correct any misunderstanding created by the previous post. My normal table has a flat slightly textured green surface and some games I just "add-on" terrain features as most wargamers do. However, when I have more time or something special coming up I like to sculpt a terrain specially and after a few games generally just cut it up and reuse what I can and dump the rest. Morally I don't like putting this stuff into landfill but it's only once or twice a year at most. Like everyone I have limited storage space and my garage is pretty full since the Waterloo terrains of 2015! So this, and all my papier mache surfaces, has wrinkles where the paper dries in an irregular way. I don't care about that and try to use it by dry brushing or partially covering with scatter. I don't recommend this for your permanent table if you require flat surfaces on which to rest your hills, buildings and woods etc. unless you are prepared to work at it quite a bit and add texture to even things up.  But I'm just a bit mad as 55 years of wargaming has made me rather dissatisfied with ordinary, or too much temporary looking, terrain, sorry.

On to the Winter Trees
I'll start with giving a link that I originally showed on my blog in 2015, which is for Supertrees. This is a natural product from the USA and takes all the hard work out of making armatures for natural looking trees. Removing the hard work means its quicker to do mass woods and forests and some may recall I showed how I made about 150 for our Cotswold Waterloos back then here, But as always the pictures tell it better than mere words

First I cut lots of bases from hardboard or old canvas board from my painting. Then I passed through a strong map pin for each tree trunk. These were secured with glue. My "working area" is a big piece of polystyrene covered with paper (the same ones I used in 2015 in fact) so the pinned structures are held firm during the process

The pins are not essential but for me it means I can push them into my cardboard and plaster terrain for a secure fit which can easily be moved deliberately (but harder by accident) during the game to facilitate figures; and they also give a fixing place for the trunk

Here I've used a glue gun to fasten a sprig of natural "Supertree" to each pin. The dense nature of gun glue helps disguise the pin profile and you can be artistic with it too if you wish! Also it dries quickly which is a great help

Above and below; Small sprigs of Supertree waste bits
 are stuck over the pins which will look like ground level growth

Although you could keep them natural and move on to the bases I feel they need strengthening and painting. This was done by making up a bowl of PVA glue, dark brown acrylic paint, and water, well stirred together. It's a messy job - I suggest you use rubber gloves and have a plastic or paper sheet. The pin and poly work surface enabled me to dip them throughly and then hang them upside down to drip till the mixture dried (a couple of hours in warm air outdoors).

When dry they can be spray painted with various shades of compatible wintry tones of grey/brown cream/off white, whatever your taste.

When the trunks, branches and twiggy bits are dry it's time to deal with bases. I used PVA with a brown acrylic paint mixture and then sprinkled scatter while very wet 

I used a mixture of commercial dead leaf, or "forest floor" scatter and sawdust of different sizes with the occasional twiggy bits for variety

And here are some pressed in situ on my sculpted board in one of the spots I had prepared (see previous post) by the marshy beck

Above and below: Just for a photo opportunity I pushed some into a hill on the table and arranged the
light troops skirmishing to give a better idea of scale.  Freikorps by Foundry Miniatures from my collection; Grenzers are Front Rank I believe formerly in Phil Olley's collection and originally painted by John Preece I'm told.

Battle of the River Mur
Now for the second battle. After Guy had approved my original plan for the Brampton table Ken knew the limitations of hills, rivers and some roads for his game as we wanted to have the minimum of work to do to make an overnight change of scene. He came up with a lovely sketch which I turned into a Photoshop version based on the actual table and then we negotiated over the correct footprint sizes of BUAs etc . I was able to choose some appropriate buildings from my collection and this is a top-down photo map and a couple of photos of the table so you can see it ready.  Whether it is an Imagi-nations or historical game I have yet to find out, Ken is full of surprises...........

Photo map for Battle of the River Mur

Town of Stadl an der Mur in the foreground

Polsbach bridge and St Georgen are the nearest points of interest in this view

Making the Summer trees
To be fair I did not "make" these. I found some time ago that you can now buy on Ebay really respectable looking trees for model railways from China. They come in packs of different sizes and this size seems to be 50p to a pound or so each tree. The only trouble is they are rather garish green and don't have bases as I presume they are intended to be glued in permanent spots on a railway layout. So for my purposes I have to put them on single and multiple bases and make the leaves look nicer. 

The original colour green with grey-brown plastic trunks

I gouged a hole large enough in my hardboard bases and stuck them
 in initially with UHU glue and then later with glue gun to make them
 firm and blend in the trunk shape to the ground

Time now to use whatever commercial leaf style scatter or small tree/bush foliage you like. I used Woodland Scenics "scenic glue"  this time as it has a tackiness that holds most of the foliage in place till it is dry. PVA is not very advisable as it is prone to drip with gravity

I often mix my own blends and here i have literally thrown on some of the lighter yellow/orange tones on top to get random colour effects. 
I call on my art training and remember the theories of Georges Seurat and the Pointilist School - that if you put enough different tiny points of colour together you can create a whole different effect from standard viewing range. So they look better at a distance.

This photo shows the bases covered in my usual gunge of household powder filler, PVA, water, acrylic paint and some sand, grit or sawdust for body texture.

Here is a view of the batch with bases drying.
The different shades of green show up now

Close up pointillism, sorry about the blur! Cool tree photography or just ineptitude with flash
- you decide!

The bases are being textured now with whatever leave and foliage blends you like  stuck down with PVA glue.  Good to leave some of the "earth" showing  and dry brush it (and the tree trunks) with cream highlight. I also added bunches of thicker model foliage as bushes.

Now outside to dry off and then a generous coat of matt spray varnish to keep everything in place

Here are some of them in place on the table

And on parade with some of my RSM95 Hanoverians

The small trees in the middle distance are some of the original ones from Waterloo 2015

Must let some Crann Tara (generic) French try marching past them too.....

The Battle of the Auden Hills

I hope you've enjoyed this post so far but I haven't told you everything yet. Coincidentally while progressing this journey to two really longed-for 18th century games with old mates I came across, by accident on the Wild Geese Wargamers forum, a certain Paul B. of Cheltenham. I couldn't resist getting in touch as my 55 years as a Cheltenham resident up to 2013 made me curious why we had not met before.  Paul B turned out to be a long term wargamer of non competitive bent like me and with very varied tastes in military history and wargaming. We invited him along to Ken's River Mur game as he is keen to try out Honours of War and we are well familiar with them by now and equally keen to proselytise.

But better yet Paul possesses a couple of truly beautiful Austrian and Prussian SYW armies of Minden and Crann Tara Miniatures, and like us, is familiar with the super generous owners of those companies, Jim Purky and Graham Cummings. It was not difficult for me to invite him to try out HoW with his troops on yet another adaptation of the "Brampton" basic terrain. So I'm organising "The Battle of the Auden Hills" in mid June and I've invited some veterans of Battles here at Oakridge, Gloucestershire - Kevin East, Dillon Browne and Martin Gane, to join us.

Here is a Photoshop map version of the battlefield I have planned for us

Can't say much about it in public but, inspired by using Paul's armies I have set this loosely just before the battle of Torgau in early November 1760 and tried to come up with a scenario which will encourage both sides to be bold and we'll be using around 1000 figures in all.

I will leave you with some 18th Century eye candy - some photos taken when Paul brought his Austrian army for a little try out on my table last week.

As ever all comments or questions gratefully received and thank you to those who so graciously commented on the previous part of this double post.


  1. ..its so next level - and then some!!! ...nice figures, too.
    cheers. Paul

    1. Ha ha, wonder which one of the many Pauls in my life this one is? Thank you anyway for reading and commenting. OK here is an article for someone - how many Levels are there in wargaming? And how many more do I have to go in my remaining years?

  2. Another excellent tutorial with lots learned! Lovely looking Austrian army, some super work done by Paul on them.

  3. Fascinating account of how you make trees . Really good tutorial . You have a great gift for taking photos and adding a wonderful narrative, a rare skill these days.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Martin and I'm looking forward to some from you when you start your blog. I'm not a fan of blogs showing "this is how far I got today....." But I do think start to finish how-tos" can be useful.

  4. The trees look like ents marching along with the troops.

    Great overview!

    1. Yeah, see what you mean! Let's call in Gandalf and put a stop to that then, I need them to stay put!

  5. Hi Chris Thanks for another excellent article .Is there no end to your talent ?
    Yes we had to halt naval ops to allow French to land .Having been born in Cheltenham I feel that a move to Devon would be a return to my roots . Yes a 1:1 game later in the year would be great ! And I promise to bring my new hearing aid !

    1. Thank you very much Graham.I think the second part is your reply to my personal email! :-) I guess you mean The West Country in general as contrasting with London, just remember it is a lot wetter in this part of England!

  6. I am really enjoying your step-by-step photos and descriptions Chris. The trees look beaut and one can never have too many for wargames purposes. Then, with troops on the table a delight to behold!
    Regards, James

    1. Thanks James I really appreciate your constant support to the blog and glad you've enjoyed it. The next few posts will hopefully be AARs of these games.

  7. Lots of good stuff to learn from your post about making trees. I like the pointillist effect on the summer trees. It really makes them pop. BTW, Paul has been recruiting new forces lately. 😄

    1. Thanks Jim, glad someone has picked up on the Pointillist point (see what I did there!) and Paul was telling me how good you are over postage to UK. Thanks for all you do for us over here. One friend has already told me the photos of Paul's Minden army is making it hard for him to resist breaking into 28mm SYW himself!

  8. Excellent tutorial an inspiration, thanks Chris.

    Willz Harley.

    1. Thank you Willz, and good to see you now have a handle and are no longer "Anonymous" on Google.