Have been letting my mind wander lately, given the reduced painting activity and number of postings here in recent months, thinking about figure conversion possibilities. Certainly, I observed plenty of lovely examples in the pages of Miniature Wargames, Military Modelling, and Wargames Illustrated back in the 80s. Usually, these were 25mm Napoleonic staff figures along with the occasional unit from the likes of Bill Gaskin and Doug Mason. Impressive stuff, to say the least!
Fastforward 20+ years. . . It strikes me that fewer "everyday" wargamers attempt conversion work like this today because we are so spoiled for choice. There are so many different ranges of figures within the same period on the market now that there no longer seems to be a point in painstakingly converting figures for most of us. At least when we are talking about metal figures. The situation is somewhat different when discussing plastic figures of course. In any case, avoiding occasional conversion work completely is a shame because it permits you to add a few figures to your collection that are not found in others' tabletop armies.
Major surgery on 25-30mm figures, to the same fine degree as Mr. Gaskin's, though, is not an attractive or realistic possibility for me. Mainly, because extensive figure conversion does not seem to be my particular forte. Too many hobby knives and dental picks plunged into unsuspecting hands and fingers (OUCH!), and too much blood squirted haphazardly around Zum Stollenkeller with, typically, disappointing results. You know the kind. Figures that end up looking like they have broken necks and/or broken shoulders because the angle of that new head-swap or doctored arm isn't quite right. And you've ruined a perfectly good figure, or three in the process.
Which brings us back to the title of today's post. What are some simple conversion possibilities that don't involve major surgery, copious amounts of putty, or time? Here are just a few:
1) Painting Conversion -- Mentioned often on the net via various blogs and discussion boards these days, using, for example, Prussian figures of the SYW to represent Hessians, Wurtemburgers, or similar troops from one of the other minor German states simply by virtue of a slightly different painting scheme. I'm doing this right now with those Huzzah Prussian musketeers, which are actually being painted in Wurtemburg uniforms though they will become a fictitious unit in the Army of Stollen when completed shortly.
2) Careful Clipping/Cutting/Filing Away Unwanted Items -- Trimming away a sword or similar to leave a free hand into which you can put something else. I know I've done this at some point in the past, but I can't for the life of me remember where, when, and to whom! The 44th birthday is looming on the horizon, so that might be a possible explanation for my absentmindedness this afternoon.
3) Adding Items to Empty Hands -- Supergluing a spare item, say a sword or flagpole, into an open hand. I've done this to a few figures in the last couple of years, giving a sabre to a mounted Huzzah infantry colonel and turning an RSM Prussian or Austrian cuirassier officer into a standard bearer by attaching a spare flagpole in lieu of a sword for example.
4) Careful Bending of Heads/Torsos/Arms -- Did this to many 15mm MiniFigs Napoleonics years ago, adding variation to the serried ranks of my Waterloo corps-sized forces. I find the larger RSM95 castings, rapidly becoming my mainstay figures these days, are too brittle for this sort of treatment however . Or maybe I haven't found the right way to do it yet? Still, we're talking small, professionally drilled 18th Century forces now, rather than barely trained Napoleonic-era conscripts, so maybe the point is moot. Finding a way to do this successfully with RSM figures would enable greater variation among my generals and ADCs though. A higher lead content in these castings would also help. Sadly, since we've become hysterical about lead here in the United States, figures produced in this country nowadays are less receptive to this kind of manhandling than once was the case. When on earth was the last time you put a Holger Eriksson figure in your mouth??!!
5) Careful Bending of Legs/Figures on Their Bases -- I recall reading in a book on painting and modeling larger military miniatures, by modeler Bill Horan, that this easy method can make a figure appear much more dynamic and life-like. . . less stiff in other words. So, I rarely straighten my men and horses anymore if they arrive bent slightly to the left or right on their bases. Bent muskets and swords? Yes, because these look funny other wise! But not the figures themselves. Seems to make the units into which they are grouped look much more like they are actually in motion instead of static chess pieces. Examine a few books on sketching and drawing the human form, and you'll see what I mean instantly.
6) Adding Items to Headgear or Bodies -- I'm pretty sure Donald Feathestone mentions this point several times in a number of his books. And while I haven't tried it with my current 18th Century figures, I nevertheless added quite a few plumes, and even altered headgear, to my currently inactive and rudderless 15mm Waterloo project during the late 1980s. My more adventurous modeling back then must have had something to do with that unfettered French elan with which I was infused at the time. Certainly the current mid-18th Century figures require a much more conservative approach with regard to poses and conversions. . . As Foghorn Leghorn might say, "That's a joke, Son!"
There is surely lots more that can be said about easy figure conversions, but it's time for me to fix a big Sunday breakfast for the Grand Duchess and myself. In the meantime, drop me a line with your own easy conversion suggestions. It's always fun and, indeed, useful to find out what others are doing in their own Transylvanian laboratories. Igor? My labcoat, please!
My other thought, is that if you are going to tackle metal conversions, a jewelers saw or at least a razor saw and a dremel tool with drill bits are, if not essential, extremely useful.
I can no longer figure out how I used to do drastic conversions on 15mm troops let alone paint them but I still muck about with 25's and 40's.
I have used greenstuff to add mustaches, beards, and other bits. I have added holstered guns and pouches and such to cavalry and infantry, either just glued on if they fit snugly or pinned if not. In my fantasy mini days I changed the tops of weapons, replacing a hammerhead with an axehead or a club with a sword blade, for example. I have removed weapons and added banner poles in their place. I did convert one figure into a femal artillery officer with judicious use of greenstuff to add breasts. I sculpted goggles onto the helmet of a hussar officer using greenstuff.
I don't try to reposition limbs because of the brittleness of lead-free figures and I have yet to try head swaps. So easy to get the latter wrong and possibly ruin 2 or 3 figures, as you pointed out.
Favourite change - swapping heads !
I tend to do more conversions on my 40mm figs (bit trickier on 25/28mm).
I'm too hamfisted really to make it a habit.
That was largely the extent of my adventurousness.