28 June 2015

A Few More Doctored Photographs for Your Perusal. . .

 A general view of the 2013 refight of Elbow River from early in the game.

Arguing Austrian/Zichenauer engineers during the same tabletop encounter.  I painted a few different version of the uniform worn by Austrian engineers here -- there was, apparently, a change in uniform regulations between the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War according to my Osprey volume on the subject -- to add some visual interest.

Gawking local gentry along the edge of the battlefield.  The figures come from various manufactures here, including Eureka, Blue Moon, and Minden plus those oblivious frolicking Jacdaw aristocrats in the background.

Minden Austrians painted as Saxon staff.  These would be really nice, but I loaded too much Woodland Scenics fine grass scatter material onto the bases, darn it.  The trick, as I once read in a book I've got on model railway and diorama scenery, is to let some of the ground material below (in this case stained fine sand) show through.  The suggestion of turf is preferable to coating your bases in a veritable golf course-like carpet of the stuff as is the case here.  Sadly, it's easy to get carried away when terraining your vignette bases.  Less is more as they say.

A Minden Austrian Hussar officer and an RSM95 Croat.  This particular vignette is one of my favorites.  Small bases of just two or three figures often suggest some kind of story or other and add a great deal of character to the tabletop even if they don't play a direct part in the miniature battles.  Unlike the photograph above, the more restrained groundwork on this vignette base seems much more convincing I think.

Some of General de Latte's Zichenauers about to wade into the Elbow River to engage the Stollenians on the far side.


-- Stokes

A Few Figures from Fife & Drum. . .

 "General Washington I presume?"  A Fife&Drum staff group.  The figures were painted mostly with oils over a base of white acrylic gesso in late 2013.  A few small details were picked out with Citadel hobby acrylics.

Up too early for a Sunday morning thanks to bright sunlight streaming into the bedroom. So, what better way to wake up than to kill a few hours than with a mug of coffee and some classical music via ABC Classics FM from Australia via the internet?  Exactly.

Fooled around with Photoshop Elements late yesterday afternoon and during the early evening after the Young Master's bedtime, brightening and cropping a number of old photos from the last few years.  Here are a couple of pictures that feature figures from the Fife&Drum line.  The American War of Independence isn't really my thing (not enough cavalry generally), although the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is interesting, but it's hard to resist purchasing and painting a few of these figures for my collection since the Grand Duchy of Stollen campaign is a semi-fictitious venture anyway. 

As a result, I am quite happy to include F&D miniatures with the rest of my figures, and a few have cropped up here and there in a number of my vignettes during the last two years or so.  All tricornered hats are fair game you know.  At some point, I'll simply have to add two or three squadrons of dragoons since these figures are simply too good not to include a full unit of them on the tabletop.  They can pose as some kind of irregular unit of cavalry or other in either the Army of Stollen of the Army of Zichenau without too much trouble I think.

Finally, we take off to Berlin for seven weeks in a couple of days, and I will take advantage of our time there to order a few more suitable mid-18th century goodies from Black Hussar Miniatures, based in Berlin coincidentally, plus a small package of dogs from Westphalia Miniatures in the U.K., and the Suren/Willie fox hunting set from Tradition of London.  And, of course, there will be the obligatory visit or two to Berliner Zinnfiguren, always worth a good browse even if you don't find something to purchase.  

As in previous years, the planned purchases will make the trip home in the carry-on baggage, mine this time instead of the Grand Duchess'.  Once painted and given the usual scenic base treatment, these items will be used to enliven the peripheries of future tabletop encounters in the new Stollenkeller wherever that might be.  The fox hunting set, in particular, should fit in rather well with that large group of frolicking aristocrats from Jackdaw that have shown up here before at the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog.

-- Stokes

Skulkers!  A few recalcitrant continentals in various uniforms creep away from the main firing line under the cover of powder smoke.  Once again, F&D miniatures painted in much the same way as the staff vignette above during late 2013.  The groundwork in both cases is a combination of fine sand stained dark brown with an acrylic wash.  Woodland Scenics materials were then tacked down with artist's acrylic matte medium although a dot or two of superglue was necessary to keep the tufts and clumps of weeds firmly in place.

27 June 2015

General de Latte. . .

"Who cares about the tortuous Stollenian artillery bombardment of our center!  It's time for some coffee and a pastry or a cookie."  De Latte and di Biscotti confer during my 2013 refight of David Barnes' Battle of the Elbow River.

Here's photograph especially for Tony.  It's General Phillipe de Latte (at left) and his lickspittle of an ADC Major Paolo di Biscotti (at right).  Once we are in a house again, and a new Zum Stollenkeller has been set up, these RSM95 figures will be replaced by a couple of Minden castings that currently reside in one of the packing cases lining the rear wall of my bedroom closet.

-- Stokes

26 June 2015

De Latte's Positions. . .

General Phillipe de Latte's lines take shape early during the 2012 refight of Sittangbad that took place in the former Zum Stollenkeller. 

Here are a few cropped and brightened photographs that shows General de Latte's front lines and my own fairly early during the partial refight of Sittangbad, aka Neu Sittangbad, in early 2012.  I took the part of Stollen's General von Tschatschke, of course, and the part of Zichenau's evil, conniving, and tactically more astute General de Latte was played by the mysterious Mr. Horne in Australia (the man behind the Duchy of Alzheim, one of my painting, collecting, and blogging inspirations).  

De Latte's army outside Neu Sittangbad bears down on isolated Stollenian jaegers in village.

The figures pictured above include a slew of RSM95s plus some Revell Plastics, metal Spencer Smiths, a few by Garrison, plus a MiniFig or three, and a regiment of blue-coated infantry figures that were a shot-lived brand known as Huzzah! Miniatures.  These were marketed as 30mm "old school" at pretty reasonable prices, but, sadly, they never quite took off after initial promising releases.  I seem to recall that there was a serious family illness or something similar that interrupted the proprietor's efforts to establish his brand firmly within the marketplace (understandably so), and he simply disappeared after that.

The retreating Stollenians, scattered within and around Neu Sittangbad, await the coming onslaught.

At any rate, we conducted our game via email until new, rambunctious, and extremely naughty kittens on my end caused a bad case of Felinus Interruptus one night, and things had to be cleared up.  Sadly, that meant we were never able to fight the game to a natural conclusion, but I believe General de Latte gave me a pretty hard pounding up to that point.  Tabletop generalship does not seem to be one of my particular fortes.

-- Stokes

General de Latte attacks!

 And here is a photo bonus, this time a picture from the conclusion of the Action at Picklehaubewicz, fought via e-mail between yours truly and Jonathan Broadus between the end of November 2008 and early January 2009.  Here, my defeated Colonel von Grundig quits the field and exists stage left (or is that stage right?) under the watchful eyes of  Major von Hirschbiegel's troops.

Initial Stollenian positions during the Sawmill Village refight, fought via email between Jeff Huddleson and myself, during late April and May 2009.

25 June 2015

'Action!' Refight Mid-August 2008. . .

The opening positions in my refight of Charles Grant's 'Action!' in mid-August 2008.  The Army of Zichenau, commanded by the ill-tempered General Phillipe de Latte, is in the foreground while the Army of Stollen, commanded by General von Drosselmaier (or perhaps General von Tschtschke?), is just visible in the distance to the east of Pelznikkel Village.

Here come a couple of golden oldie photographs that have been given a little editing help in Photoshop Elements.  This was the inaugural action fought on my then just completed wargaming table in mid-August 2008, using the figures I had on hand at that time.  Enjoy!

-- Stokes

A closer in shot of the initial Zichenauer positions just to the west of Pelznikkel VIllage.

23 June 2015

Stollenian Command Vignettes. . .

A bunch of figures completed during 2006-2010 and given the vignette treatment during Spring 2013.  Mostly RSM95 figures with a couple of vintage plastic Spencer Smith figures and three by Miniature Figurines.

Thought some of you might enjoy revisiting a few old favorites, who have been brightened up and better defined with Photoshop Elements.  This photograph was taken before I began using a lightbox for my photography, so the illumination isn't the greatest.  Still, they don't look all that bad after a few minor digital adjustments.

-- Stokes

Report from Michigan. . .

The third and fourth companies of that monster 80-figure regiment I began last winter.  Mostly RSM95 figures with a couple of Minden Austrian standard bearers at right.  Now, if I could just find my paintbrushes and the rest of my (acrylic hobby) paints.

A bright, cool and breezy morning outside today after heavy rains yesterday afternoon and late last night.  Feels like Northern Europe if I you'll allow me to be so bold.  Good thing too as the trip to Berlin is fast approaching.  I've already got Deutschlandradio Kultur on the computer to begin brushing up on my German.  I can understand (in speech and reading) quite a lot actually thanks to years of studying other languages in the same family plus three semesters of German for Reading knowledge.  I always laugh and say Norwegian is like Low German but with easier grammar and a sing-song accent, but my speaking vocabulary in Standard German is still kind of limited.  Ah, well.  Nothing that seven weeks won't help a bit.  "Poco a poco" (little by little) as they say in the Yucatan in Mexico.

The most necessary unpacking and apartment arranging is just about done, and things kind of resemble an antiseptic version of home.  We have, however, made the decision NOT to unpack our books, furnishings, and so forth since we are very limited on space, and we want to reduce what must be repacked once we find a house.  Amazing what you can store in the garage when everything is packed in boxes and neatly stacked around the walls.  So, our living space feels more like a large hotel sweet with some of our furniture, kitchen, bathroom, and clothing items, but still generic and lacking in personal touches if you know what I mean.

On the soldier front, I managed to find and unpack just a few things yesterday afternoon, which should help keep things moving forward somewhat once I find the wooden box containing my paintbrushes and Citadel hobby acrylics plus the front rank finials and brass rods which will eventually become flagpoles.  It might just be easier right now to purchase new things rather than try to find this stuff though since I have no clue where the particular box is that holds it all.  Probably at the back of my clothes closet beneath the still sealed boxes holding the various Styrofoam peanut filled plastic tubs of painted soldiers.  I also located my tubes of oils and the box containing my various paint cleaners and mediums plus my cutting mat though.  

Finally, one of my folding tables from Zum Stollenkeller has been covered with a large batik tablecloth, brought to me 20+ years ago from Indonesia by good ol' Mom, and now resides in one corner of our bedroom as a makeshift (computer) desk/painting table/photography area.  Hopefully, I will be able to resume a bit of painting during the evenings once we return in mid-August.

-- Stokes

21 June 2015

A Few Old Photographs. . .

 Three squadrons of the Anspach-Bayreuth Curassiers.  The figures are RSM95.

 The Action at Zollamtstadt Bridge, fought in late December 2007.

The commander of Stollen's cavalry arm, Count Pavel Petrovich von Butinski, who always has a piece of unsolicited advice whether those around him want it, or not.

 A close-up of two Holger Eriksson figures, painted as, more or less, Von Trumbach Dragoons.

The surrender of the odious General de Latte (in dark blue at left) to Stollen's rather flamboyant General von Tschatschke (wearing pink) at the conclusion of the epic Battle of Theodorstal Valley, fought in August 2010.

A nicely done map of my campaign area, done for me by Tyler Provich in late 2006.  The green 'Disputed Territory' is the long contested Duchy of Schleiz, an area rich in game, timber, and other natural resources.

Three squadrons of the von Trumbach Dragoons.  The figures are from Holger Eriksson, purchased while we were in Berlin during the summer of 2009 (before the Young Master arrived).  Their journey was circuitous.  I placed the order with Spencer Smith Miniatures in the U.K.  They were next sent from Stockholm to us in Berlin, and then carried home to the U.S. in our carry-on baggage at the conclusion of our visit.  German airport personnel are never suspicious of miniature soldiers and always have a smile and a few interested words for model soldier collectors. . .  quite unlike U.S. customs and gate agents.

-- Stokes

19 June 2015

Back in the Saddle and a Few Questions. . .

A Fife&Drum Hessian general on horseback with a Minden Prussian hussar officer on foot.  I painted this particular vignette a couple of three years ago during an especially productive stretch of painting.

Back in action, more or less, here on the northern edge of East Lansing , Michigan today, a bright, sunny, breezy day of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Grand Duchess and Young Master have just arrived back from half an hour or so at the swimming pool for a break from our slow progress through unpacking some of our stuff, repacking what we don't need right now, and deciding which boxes simply to leave sealed up until we move from here into a house once our former home in Bloomington, Illinois sells, and we have the funds necessary for serious house shopping and a down payment.  

The apartment community -- apparently the word "complex" is no longer in vogue -- is right along the edge of East Lansing and rural Bath Township, so it is very quiet here.  Just other young families and professional types, who keep themselves to themselves and seem to turn in by 9pm each evening, which is fine by me.  Both the Grand Duchess and I have remarked to each  other several times how absolutely quiet it is here after dark.  We aren't even aware of the other residents here coming and going to work, which is kind of nice.  So, with the exception of not having space to set up my toy soldiers and wargaming table for now, it could be much worse.  It's actually not bad, all things considered, and we are only about 25 minutes, by car or bus, from the Michigan State University campus, so I really cannot in good conscience, complain.


The Best Mid-18th Century Figures 
There was a question posed recently over on The Miniatures Page by a guy asking about which ones might be the most suitable figures to use for a SYW-era French army operating in the European Theater of that particular conflict.  Here are my thoughts, which will come as no surprise to those of you who drop by the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog routinely.

RSM95 figures in a heartbeat!  Economical, nice size (marketed as "True 30mm" back in the days when Steve Hezzlewood designed and sold them as Pax Britannica), and not too much excessive detail to paint but just the right amount, so your finished figures look like actual fighting men from the mid-1700s rather than brightly painted clothes pins.

Then, there are Minden Miniatures, Fife & Drum, and Crann Tara Miniatures, all of which are sculpted by the same person, Richard Ansell.  Although a bit more expensive, these delightfully well-sculpted 1/56 figures are remarkably similar in height and proportion to those by RSM95, meaning the four lines work well together.  And, you can supplement the more limited RSM range with numerous command, personality, and specialty figures from Minden, F&D, and CT.  For my money, these four ranges are THE ONES to use for mid-18th century European tabletop warfare given how well they work together.  You can see many photographic examples of this here if you dig around a bit in the Grand Duchy of Stollen archives. 

Now that I think about it, though, the RSM95 and Minden ranges can also be augmented rather nicely by figures from the 28mm Eureka range and, in some instances, the Jackdaw and Suren (Willie) ranges too.  RSM95 are by far the least pricy these days for those of us in North America.  But even if you are budget-minded, there is no reason why you can't add some special command figures or other special vignettes of a few figures each now and then, using the more expensive figures from Minden/Fife&Drum, Crann Tara, Eureka, Jackdaw, and/or Willie as and when the mood strikes you. 

So, that's my tuppence on the issue of figures.  There are lots of other serviceable ranges out there that are period appropriate for the mid-18th century, but those I've mentioned strike me as the best available.


"Just how large IS the Grand Duchy of Stollen collection?" 

One of you regular visitors -- Steve, I think -- inquired a few days ago how large my armies have become since I began working to approximate the orders of battle laid out for the Battle of Sittangbad in Young and Lawford's Charge!  Or How to Play War Games (1967) way back in late July or early August of 2006 shortly after the Grand Duchess and I returned home from our honeymoon tent camping tour around the Upper Midwest.

The short answer is not that huge by many standards.  By my reckoning -- and remember,  everything is still packed carefully away in Styrofoam peanut filled plastic tubs which were then packed into moving boxes and padded with loads of packing paper by the packers, so I cannot give you a precise answer at the moment -- maybe a dozen large units of infantry that range in strength from 32-80 figures, six or perhaps seven units of cavalry at 30 figures apiece, and six or seven two-gun batteries of cannon and crew plus a slew of mounted officers mounted singly and quite a few vignettes of two-four figures.  That's my best guess, but there might be a few additional units and special one-offs that have escaped my attention this afternoon.

For the last few years, I've concentrated less on the fighting end of things and more of the various rear echelon you-know-whats, assembling and painting a rather extensive supply and pontoon train, consisting of many carts, wagons, horse teams, oxen, mules, and associated human personnel along with small two-company battalions of pontoniers and pioneers, and some sutleresses.  At some point, I also added a large group of frolicking aristocrats enjoying a picnic and attended to by their servants, which are produced by Jackdaw.  I've also got a string quartet from, if memory serves me correctly, Eureka, and a number of other bits and pieces that strike me as suitable peripheral scenery for a mid-18th century set-up.  

Once I manage to dig them out, there are enough unpainted figures for a few more infantry units, a regiment or two of cavalry, and some other vignette-y type stuff like the Lutheran pastor I purchased from Black Hussar Miniatures a year ago, who will attempt to save the Naughty Lola and her associated 'business ladies' (by Suren/Willie) from an unchaste life.  And then, of course, it seems like there are all sorts of new goodies that regularly appear from Minden/Fife&Drum, which will need to be added to the collection at some point.  So, while there are other historical periods that interest me, I'll stick with the mid-18th century, in a semi-fictitious sense, for the foreseeable future.  While my actual games are few and far between, my painting, collecting, and assembly of fighting units, vignettes, and various related bits bring me great pleasure.


Building and Using a Makeshift Lightbox  

Speaking of our friend Der Alte Fritz, I was asked by him via a comment on this blog a few days ago, after the last couple of pictures of those recently completed Minden pioneers, about a tutorial on creating a quick 'n' dirty lightbox for photographing miniatures.  Here is what I suggest, and there is a photograph of my old lightbox, from December 2014, below so you get some idea of what the end product looks like.  Feel free to play around and experiment with the exact dimensions to get something that works best for you.  Anyway, here we go:

Six sheets of 1/4"white foamcore board
Masking tape
18"-24" sheet or heavy craft paper in mid- to light blue or putty green
3-4 "daylight" lightbulbs
3-4 articulated desk lamps
A digital camera with a macro setting, a zoom feature, and a timer
A small tripod for the camera.

1) Using the masking tape to hold everything together, assemble the foamcore board into a hollow cube.  One side of the cube should be open,enabling you to place your seamless blue or green background and finished figures inside the lightbox.  See the photograph below for some idea of how the finished product might appear in use.

This was an early version of my lightbox from December 2013.  I later added the sixth piece to the front of it, to reflect more diffused light back onto the figures, with the middle cut out and about 5-6" remaining around all four sides.  I also found, after a few weeks of experimenting, that three-four sources of light work even better. You can also get a clear idea of how to place your seamless background beneath and behind your figures.  The next lightbox will be half the size, for easier use.  This one was a behemoth. . .  but nevertheless very light.  Forgive the inadvertent play on words here.

2) Replace the normal "green" or florescent lightbulbs in your three or four desk lamps with daylight bulbs -- available from any large DIY store like Lowe's here in the U.S. -- so that your camera produces truer colors.

3) Place you neutral blue or green seamless background into the lightbox.

4) The trick here is to eliminate shadows and bounce as much diffused light as possible onto your models.  So, aim your three or four desk onto the top and sides of your lightbox to diffuse (soften) the light and do away with any and all shadows.  You want the inside of your lightbox filled with light.  Do not aim any lights directly onto your models, which will cause glare and blitz certain figure details.  Remember to disable your camera's flash function.  Use only the diffused light from your three-four desk lamps.

5) Place the figures you want to photograph onto your seamless background.  You might shift your three-four light sources around a bit, at this point, to reflect as much light as possible onto your subject.  Remember, you also want to eliminate as much shadow as possible.

6) Attach your small tripod to your camera and set it up about 5"-7" from your figures.  You might not always need to use your macro setting (and some of what I have read online says not to depend on it) but if you do, engage the macro setting if necessary at this point to bring everything into focus.  If your camera enables you to adjust your depth of field by manipulating its f-stop settings (read the manual closely), do that so EVERYTHING within the frame is in clear focus before you shoot the picture (I don't always do so myself when using my tiny Sony Cybershot).  You'll need to experiment a bit to find the best distances, settings, etc. depending on your particular brand/model of camera and its specific features.

7) Zoom in as much as possible, so your figures fill the frame.

8) Set your timer for ten seconds, press the shutter, take your hand away, and wait for the camera to snap the picture before touching it again.  This eliminates camera shake since very few people can hold the camera still enough with their bare hands for this kind of photography.  Certainly, we coffee drinkers cannot!  I also like to make minor adjustments to the camera between shots and take three or four pictures of the same subject to get at least one good shot that I can use.

9) Experiment, experiment, experiment to find what works best for you.  These are just suggestions to get you started on the road to improved blog photography.


Editing the Photographs of Your Models

In Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (I use a version of the latter, Photoshop Elements 7 I think, which is easier for my addled brain to comprehend and use), do the following to edit your raw photographs:

1) Import and highlight the photograph you want to edit.  

2) Go to 'Enhance' along the pull-down bar at the top left of your computer screen.

3) Choose 'Auto Smart Fix'

4) Next, choose 'Auto Sharpen'

5) Choose 'Adjust Lighting' and go for a setting between 10-20, depending on how bright the original raw photograph is.  Print publications seems to darken electronically transmitted photos dramatically, and you cannot always depend on the editor(s) to adjust things before the publication goes to print (not a problem though with Battlegames or the current Miniature Wargames, by the way, whose editor takes great pains to ensure quality photographs accompany quality writing), so I prefer to make my pictures really bright for the most part.

6) Then, chose 'Adjust Color Cast' to fix any strange shades of color that might have crept in early during the pre-editing process.

7) Finally, 'Crop' your photograph, so that any superfluous clutter, of one sort or another, is removed, and your figures are front and center in big, bold, beautiful color within the center of your picture.

8) Save your edited photograph(s) as a JPEG file(s), and post to your blog, website, or share with the publisher of the book or magazine to which you are contributing.


There!  That's the quick and dirty approach to producing reasonably good photographs of your own figures.  You can read more about this fascinating process in Henry Hyde's The Wargaming Compendium, and there is lots else to learn and try when it comes to miniature photography, but these points will help get you started along the road to improved photography results.  Without doubt, I have much more to learn myself, but if you go all the way back to late 2006 when I first began adding photographs of my figures to the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog, it becomes clear that my photography skills have improved ten-fold during the last nine years.  Still room for improvement, of course, but the journey is more than half of the fun.

-- Stokes

18 June 2015

Waterloo Day 2015!!!

'Scotland Forever' -- the charge of the Royal North British Dragoons -- by Lady Elizabeth Butler.

In the midst of unpacking and setting up our temporary digs here in our new city of East Lansing, Michigan this morning.  The model soldiers seem to have come through the move pretty well.  However, I could hardly let the day go by without some small commemoration to the thousands of officers and men in those three armies who marched, fought, and (in many cases) fell on this day two centuries ago.

-- Stokes


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