Reacquainting myself with Sharpe and Harper

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The Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell seem to get a lot of stick from some wargamers. But I’ve been re-reading the series over the last few weeks, and it has brought back to me just how much I enjoy his stories featuring the eponymous rifles officer Richard Sharpe.

If I want a light story with some wonderful descriptions of life in the British Army, a pack of larger-than-life characters to cheer for or hiss at, and battle scenes where I can almost  see, hear, feel and smell the action, then Sharpie’s my man.

To me, Cornwell is the master storyteller of land-based Napoleonic derring-do.  I’ve tried other authors who write fiction about soldiers of this period, but most of them I find don’t have the deft touch that turns a painstaking Napoleonic military procedural into a dramatic story.  Cornwell even gives the well-known naval authors a good run for their money in some of the Sharpe stories where our hero finds himself on the ocean wave.

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I still recall coming across my first Sharpe novel in an airport book shop many years ago.  This was Cornwell’s first story, Sharpe’s Eagle, in which Sharpe and his trusty companion Sgt Patrick Harper strive to capture a French eagle during the Battle of Talavera.  I was instantly captured by the story, which brought to life a wargaming period I loved.  My enjoyment of the book was tinged with a slight bit of jealousy though, as I had always fancied writing a novel about a soldier in an historic setting (to be true, a rather unlikely dream with my lack of fiction-writing ability).

I’ll be the first to admit that the Sharpe novels aren’t ‘real’ literature, but then they don’t purport to be.  If I want something more high-brow, I also enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s sea-going novels featuring Captain Jack Aubrey, which are written in an erudite and almost Jane Austen-ish style.  But if I want to be entertained by a simple well-told yarn I’ll turn to Cornwell, who to me is like the written form of an ancient storyteller seated at a campfire, enthralling his eager listeners with each dramatic cliffhanger in his tall tale.

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Cornwell writes knowledgeably enough about the period.  Despite some occasional minor clangers, you’ll learn a lot about Napoleonic warfare – and not only how it took place, but what it actually felt like for the soldier on the ground, whether trudging on campaign, charging into battle, victorious or defeated.

If I was to try to distill what it is I like most about the books, I think it is the Dickensian characters. They don’t generally develop much through the stories, but I’m not a  stickler for a novel only being able to be classified as good if the characters change during the course of the story.  In the Sharpe books, in most cases what you see is what you get.  Villains are utterly evil, inept, treasonous or … gasp … they’re lawyers (Cornwell obviously has a bee in his bonnet about the legal profession).   The heroes are generally good chaps, though sometimes rather morally suspect in their use of ‘the means justifies the end’ – I’ve lost count of how many baddies Sharpe has despatched without recourse to trial.

Despite the lack of development, Cornwell’s characters never seem one-dimensional. They’re fully fleshed out with superb descriptions, armed with idiosyncratic traits, and given language that gives itself expression and accent in your head as you read.

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I’ve also got the Sharpe videos.  Again, it is the wonderfully-drawn and well-acted characters who make these special.  Who can forget the ugly one-eyed, bewigged, false-toothed but faithful Captain Frederickson; the pompous blow-hard Colonel Henry Simmerson;  the smarmy, twitchy-eyed and utterly evil Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill; the French spymaster Pierre Ducos with his reptilian eyes; or the youthful, brash and foolhardy Prince of Orange?

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As a fan of Sharpe and Harper, I’ve of course had to incorporate this dynamic duo into my Napoleonic armies.  Below are my 40mm versions, made by Sash and Sabre. Sgt Harper is carrying his heavy multi-barrelled Nock gun.  Sharpe is modelled on Sean Bean from the videos, with his trademark blonde mullet – in the books, Sharpe is a much leaner character with jet-black hair.

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And here they are again, this time in 28mm made by Chiltern Miniatures.  Harper’s menacing Nock gun is again evident.  Sharpe is wearing the tatty raincoat he is depicted with in the Sharpe’s Waterloo video.

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The skirmishing officer and riflemen in the picture below aren’t specifically Sharpe and his Chosen Men, but they could be.  These are my 28mm 95th Rifles by Front Rank .  (If you click to enlarge the picture, please excuse the goggle eyes – these were painted in the old days, before I learned it was better to merely  hint at eyes with a dark wash rather than trying to try to paint them in detail.)

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Finally, Perhaps the picture below is a Napoleonic fellowship of the ring, with men and hobbits?!

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Filed under Books, Chiltern Miniatures, HLBS, Napoleonics, Sash and Saber

Painted Eureka NZ Wars figures for sale on TradeMe

As foretold in my earlier article, I’ve now put my painted Eureka Miniatures Maori and colonial figures for sale on TradeMe (the New Zealand version of eBay):

http://www.trademe.co.nz/Browse/Listing.aspx?id=795629732

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Filed under Colonial New Zealand Wars, Eureka Miniatures

The secret of black undercoating

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I have used black undercoat on my figures for years. But I often read that people don’t like black undercoats because they make it hard to:

  • see the details you’re painting
  • paint bright colours on top of the black undercoat.

I have neither problem, but that is because of a ‘secret’ step I add to the process, which I’m now about to spill the beans on …

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I’m currently working on some Perry Miniatures British infantry for my 1860s New Zealand Wars project.  My aim is that the finished figures will be coloured as per the above painting from of the The Waikato War Driving Tour website.  But before I get anywhere near that stage, I have to undercoat the figures.

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As mentioned in my previous post, I start by spraying the figures with black automotive primer.  This makes the figures a deep coal black, which if I left it at that, would indeed have the two disadvantages I listed at the start.  In fact, the lighting in my photo above has brightened the black, making it is easier to see the detail than in real life.

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Now comes the secret step.  Once the black is completely dry, I lightly dry-brush it with a medium grey acrylic paint.  This highlights all the details, making them much easier to pick out.  And because the grey has lightened the black, it also makes it easier to paint bright colours over the top.

In the above picture, the figure on the left has had this treatment, whilst the one on the right hasn’t (and also looks brighter in this photo than it does in real life).

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These officers have both had the grey dry-brush treatment.   As you can see, the intricate frogging now really stands out.  In fact as this frogging will be black, if I can carefully paint the dark blue uniform colour between the cords, I won’t have to paint the frogging at all, because the grey has perfectly highlighted the black.  The same applies to boots, cartridge boxes, scabbards or anything else that needs to stay black.

So there it is.  Add a quick grey dry-brush, and you solve any problems that a  jet black undercoat might cause.  And it’s actually a very enjoyable part of the painting process as the figures really ‘pop’ when you apply the grey.

If you’re interested to see how these figures turn our, keep watching this blog …

 

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Filed under Colonial New Zealand Wars, Perry Miniatures

Underway again – painting the 1860s New Zealand Wars

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Just in the nick of time as I was finding myself with no more figures to paint, along came Perry Miniatures with their ‘British Intervention Force‘, a what-if range portraying British soldiers as they would likely have appeared had they intervened in the American Civil War.  What attracted me to this range was that they are perfect for British troops in the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.

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Above: Modern reenactors of the 65th Regiment.  Photo source:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/eastern-courier/2959183/March-to-Howick-village

My existing colonial New Zealand Wars armies have all been for the 1840s conflict, when the British were still dressed in red shell jackets. But by the 1860s, the British soldier in New Zealand wore a simple blue smock or ‘jumper’, and a pork-pie shaped cap. And this is exactly the uniform that some of the Perry figures are sculpted wearing.

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OK, here I go again, at the start of a new painting project. Firstly, I spray my figures with matt black automotive primer.  As cars are made of metal, I presume that automotive primer is good for lead figures – well, it certainly has never let me down after using it for many years on my figures.

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For the spray-painting process, I attach my figures with blu-tac to a couple of long sticks. This makes it easy to hold the figures and turn them around so the spray finds most of the nooks and crannies – though I must admit it never finds them all, as I always have to touch up the undercoat with a brush in the end.

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I leave the sticks in the sun so the primer dries hard before doing anything else. I love this stage where the shiny raw metal now looks like black ebony, and the figures start coming to life.

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The next stage is attaching the figures to individual bases. I use 19mm diameter galvanised iron washers. First I spray the washers with the same black primer.  Then when they’re dry, I put a piece of sellotape on the bottom of each washer, and then turn them over and fill the hole to overflowing with Liquid Nails. Finally, I press a figure onto the Liquid Nails, and leave to dry. Later I’ll pull the sellotape off the bottom.

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Of course, something goes wrong with any plan.   In this case, I’m six washers short, and can’t get to the hardware shop to buy more till next weekend!  Ah well, c’est la vie!

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The figures are really starting to ‘pop’ now, with all the detail becoming crisp and clear.  For example, check out the exquisite frogging on this officer’s patrol jacket.  Once the Liquid Nails is completely set, I’ll dry-brush each figure with light grey, which will highlight the detail even more, and make it easier to paint than a jet black surface.

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The main source I’ll be using for this project is The Colonial New Zealand Wars by Tim Ryan and Bill Parham.  It’s a simply superb book with loads of information and pictures to stir the hearts and fulfill the needs of any wargamer.

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The second edition of this book also includes full-colour plates of reenactors in action.  These pictures are incredibly useful as painting guides.

I’ll post more as this project cracks into action.  But for now there’ll be a slight pause as I buy those remaining six washers!

 

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Perry Miniatures colonial New Zealand Wars figures

Ah ha … the risk of my tragic demise by what is known to wargamers as ‘death by loss of lead mountain’ (see my previous post) may have been averted. This is because Perry Miniatures have just announced the release of British infantry who look like they’ll be perfect for the 1860s campaigns of the colonial New Zealand Wars.   Buying a few of these may form the foundations of my replacement lead mountain.

Here are some pics from the Perry website:

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And this is me (in Confederate uniform) with a British infantryman in campaign dress, taken during the British Intervention Force into the American Civil War … well, maybe!

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Filed under Colonial New Zealand Wars, Perry Miniatures

Stunning Battle of Tsushima scenes in Japanese TV series

Here are some scenes from the Japanese NHK TV series Saka no Ue no Kumo (Clouds Above the Hill) depicting the naval Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

The special effects recreating the massive turn-of-the-century battleships in action are stunning – clouds of smoke belching from the funnels, seas crashing over the bows, spears of flame belching from the turrets.

Sarah Brightman singing ‘Stand Alone’ is a rather unexpected soundtrack for the visuals, but actually works really well.

I don’t know if this TV series has ever made it onto DVD, but it looks really interesting …

 

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Filed under Movies, Pre-dreadnought naval

I should be dead …

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There’s a wargaming superstition that if you reach the bottom of your ‘lead mountain’  of unpainted figures, you’ll die.  Well, I’ve been at the bottom of my lead mountain for a few weeks now, and I’m pleased to say that I’m still hale and hearty!

I’ve had several projects on the go over the last few years, but all have now either concluded, or are awaiting the manufacture of new figures.

 

Samurai:  I’ve painted two opposing factions (or ‘buntai’) for 28mm skirmish gaming, and made a lot of terrain.  But I seem to have used up all my enthusiasm for this period in getting this far.  No other possible factions really interest me.  And I have no intention of taking this period beyond skirmish anyway. So I’ve got enough figures and terrain for now.

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Pirates:  This project has been pretty well completed for some time now.  We only play with smallish units anyway, so adding more figures to my already more-than-enough collection would be overkill.

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18th century ‘imagi-nation':  I’ve painted all the units that were in the film ‘Barry Lyndon’, so the next step in this project would be to paint some totally fictional units.  I’ve always fancied the green and red uniforms of the Russians.  Whilst such a unit would be imaginary, it would seem stupid not to paint actual Russian figures rather than simply re-colour the uniforms of some other nation.  However, my manufacturer-of-choice for this project, Minden Miniatures, doesn’t do Russians yet.  So this project is now on hold until they do (in 2015, I’m told).

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Napoleonics:  I’ve got more than enough battalions of British, French, Portuguese and Spanish to play a reasonable Napoleonic game.  Adding more will be just repetitive, and I never use all my units at once anyway.  I’ve also got hordes of individually-based ‘big men’ for leading my troops under the ‘Sharp Practice’ rules – but as most of them haven’t even seen action yet, no more are required.

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Colonial New Zealand Wars:  I’ve now got a couple of sides sufficient for  large skirmish games.  Like my Napoleonics, adding to them at the moment would be just ‘more of the same’, for which I really have no need.  However, this is  period dear to my heart, so if Empress Miniatures ever make anything else for this period, I’ll be in like Flynn!

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Victorian science fiction:  I’ve only painted one unit for this, and it is barely Victorian science fiction, being a French Foreign Legion unit as they appeared during Maximilian’s Mexican Adventure.  But I just can’t drum up any more enthusiasm to continue with this project.

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American Civil War:  I have a couple of miscellaneous units painted up , but this period doesn’t interest me enough to buy any more.

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What about starting a completely new period, then?  Well, I hate being at the start-point of a project.  There is nothing out there that is calling to me sufficiently to overcome the hurdle of starting from scratch.

So, where does that leave me?  Well, I’m seeing his as a holiday from painting.  I think I’ll just wait out until either Minden Miniatures (for my Russians), or Empress Miniatures (for new NZ Wars figures) come through.

Another possibility is to do some vignettes to decorate the battlefield, especially for my Napoleonics.  Perry Miniatures and Westfalia are currently making some very nice wagons and other background stuff, such as this lovely little sutler’s cart.

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So, I aten’t dead yet!

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Filed under Colonial New Zealand Wars, Eighteenth century, Napoleonics, Pirates, Samurai, Victorian Sci-Fi