Making a Spanish village on the cheap

This posting is a combination of two articles that first appeared on the now-defunct Kapiti Fusiliers website in around 2005 and 2007. I am republishing these articles because they describe how I made the Spanish buildings that sit in the background of several of my more recent postings.

Making buildings for wargames

Can’t afford miniature buildings? Fusilier Roly Hermans shows you how he made his own complete 25mm Spanish village for less than $NZ40.

Since I started back into wargaming a few years ago, almost all my hobby finances have gone into miniature figures. So the terrain for them to fight over has been sadly lacking. But no longer – I’ve now made a whole village for myself.

I’d often thought about scratch-building some houses, but never really known where to start. The breakthrough came when I discovered a product called “foamboard”. This is a 5mm-thick sheet of foam, backed on both sides by paper. It can be easily cut with a craft knife, yet is sturdy enough to make a strong model. It also has another neat advantage, which I’ll come to later. Foamboard can be bought in large sheets from stationary shops – I got mine coloured black, which saved a lot of undercoating later on.

The first step in planning to build miniature houses is exactly the same as that for painting miniature soldiers – research. I wanted my terrain to go with my Peninsular War miniatures, so visited the library and got out some landscape books about Spain. I also looked for design ideas in catalogues of commercially made wargames buildings.

From the library books, besides learning about the design of Spanish houses, I was also able to extract some doors and windows from the photos, and scan them in to use on my miniature buildings. The resulting sheet is shown below, for anyone who wishes to use these doors and windows (click on the image to see the fullsize version).

Once I worked out the design of my houses, I drew the shapes of the walls onto the foamboard and cut these out carefully with a craft knife. I also cut out the openings for the doors and windows, all sized to match the windows on the above mentioned sheet.

Now comes the bit where foamboard has a really neat feature: the corner joints can all be easily rabbeted (I think that is the technical term!). I got this idea from Major Tremording’s Colonial Wargaming site [sadly this site is now gone too, but the article concerned can be found on Wayback Machine]. Rather than explain it in detail here, I suggest you look at the illustrated instructions on how to rabbet corners on this page of his site. The technique is surprisingly easy, makes tidy corner joints, and also saves the complicated mathematics of allowing for the thickness of the construction material at the design stage.

If you want to add features such as corner-stones, do so now. I used cardboard from a cereal packet, cut into small strips and folded around the corners of a couple of the houses. Rather painstaking, but worth it for the effect (see the house on the right, above). I also glued on some random patches of brick-paper which would represent where the plaster had fallen off the building.

Once the house is constructed using the rabbeting technique, then comes the exciting part – texturing and painting. I coat the walls with thinned-down PVA glue, then sprinkle them with a mixture of fine and coarse sand. Once dry, another coat of thinned-down PVA is applied to seal the sand onto the walls. They look pretty terrible at this stage, but, never fear, the next step of the process will fix that!

Painting is done with several colours. Firstly I outline the patches of bricks in black. Then I apply a dry-brush of yellow oxide artist’s acrylic to the walls – the sand is very thirsty, so you have to use tons of paint to do this! Next, a dry brush of arylamade yellow, and finally a dry brush of titanium white.

Now the house is ready for its windows and doors. Simply glue these in place behind the respective openings. I then glue some scrap foamboard behind the paper windows to make them stronger (I don’t want anyone poking a finger through them!). I make shutters out of corrugated card, and some windows have foamboard window boxes with scenic flock plants.

The final stage is the roof. I was planning initially to use a technique described by well-known terrain modeller Gary Chalk, in which he uses cordouroy cloth, set with PVA glue, and dry-brushed. However, I found a perfect product in my local hobby shop – a sheet of plasticard that has been pre-moulded into pantiles. This was the costliest part of my project (all of about $NZ20!), but the resulting roofs do look the part.

And there you have it, one complete Spanish village. By using the buildings in different configurations, and using a few freestanding wall pieces to connect them, the layout possibilities are endless. Now I am inspired to set up a scenario game at the next club night, involving the British and French fighting over my village terrain.

And here is the second Kapiti Fusiliers article, which appeared in May 2007.

A peaceful little village somewhere on the Peninsula

Recently Fusilier Roly Hermans added a few new Spanish houses to his terrain, and painted some Perry civilians to inhabit them.

A year or two ago, I made some Spanish houses out of foam-core board for my 25mm Peninsular War games, and wrote an article for this website on how the construction was done [i.e. the article above].

Being a regular visitor to Paul Darnell’s beautiful Touching History website [now no longer existing] I snapped up his book on terrain-making, and used it as a guide to make some more buildings to add to my collection.

I was also impressed with a fantastic 40mm game put on by the Durham Chosen Men [yet another defunct website] and liked their half-timbered ‘bodega’ so much that I copied it to give a bit of variety to my otherwise plastered buildings.

Looking at all the resulting buildings, I realised that they looked a bit spartan without any landscape detail, such as streets, courtyards, gardens and so on. So my latest project has been to tie all my buildings together as a fully landscaped village.

I laid out the village as a crossroads with a small plaza in the centre. Each quadrant of the village is a separate small baseboard, so I can break it up into several smaller hamlets if necessary. I’ve made the buildings themselves detachable from their baseboards, so that I can still use them individually.

A view of the churchyard, with the plaza and bodega in the left background. Note that I still need to put plastic tile sheeting onto the roof of the bodega.
A ground-level view of one side of the village. The exposed stonework and the windows are done with textures printed out on the computer, while the shutters are corrugated card.
The cobblestones are also just print-outs of texture images from the internet, jazzed up with a little sand and flock glued on in patches.
The churchyard will work perfectly well as a stand-alone terrain piece.

The village now needed some inhabitants. Just in time Perry Miniatures released a very nice range of Carlist Wars civilians. Although this period is a few years after the Napoleonic Wars, the costumes would not have changed that much, and so they were perfect for my purposes. 

The Earl of Uxbridge, still with two legs

In January I penned a short Quick Fire! article for Wargames Illustrated. Payment was a figure from their ‘Giants In Miniature’ range. I chose a model of the Earl of Uxbridge to add to the general staff of my Napoleonic British army.

This is a very nicely sculpted miniature, depicting the Earl in hussar uniform sitting astride his horse. He is in a casual stance, hand resting on his horse’s hindquarters as he turns to look behind him. Man and mount are a single casting.

The Earl’s horse looks every bit a thoroughbred, rather than the sturdier horses my cavalry are mounted on. I usually paint my horses with oils, which is a messy business. But for this one I tried something simpler. I just painted it with Humbrol red matt enamel, darkened the lower legs with black wash, then coated the whole horse with GW’s ‘Grunta-Fur’ Contrast paint.

I also painted the Earl himself entirely with GW’s Contrast paints. The elaborate gold frogging on his uniform was very simple to do with just one quick coat of Adrodas Dunes. The paint does all the work of shading and highlighting by itself! I am really pleased with Contrast paints, especially their flesh and other lighter colours, and also their red. Darker colours such as blue or green don’t come out quite so well in my opinion, but are fine for the lazy painter that I have become lately!

Most of the buildings in the background of these photos are ones I scratch-built quite a few years ago. They’re made of foamcore board, coated with glue and sand, then dry-brushed with beige, yellow and finally white. The windows and doors are simply printed-out paper fund on the internet, and the roofs are textured plasticard intended for model railway buildings.

Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, KG, GCB, GCH, PC (17 May 1768 – 29 April 1854), was styled Lord Paget between 1784 and 1812 and known as the Earl of Uxbridge between 1812 and 1815. He took part in the Flanders Campaign and then commanded the cavalry for Sir John Moore’s army in Spain during the early part of the Peninsular War. His liaison with Lady Charlotte, the wife of Henry Wellesley, made it impossible for him to serve for the rest of the Peninsular campaign when command passed to Wellington, Wellesley’s brother.

During the Hundred Days campaign, Uxbridge led the charge of the heavy cavalry against Comte d’Erlon’s column at the Battle of Waterloo. The most famous story about Uxbridge was when one of the last cannon shots fired at Waterloo hit his right leg, necessitating its amputation above the knee. According to anecdote he was close to the Duke of Wellington when his leg was hit, and reputedly exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which Wellington replied “By God, sir, so you have!”

Perry vignette of Wellington and his staff

I love vignettes. When I see a well-presented game, my eyes are initially drawn to the terrain, and then to any vignettes. The actual fighting forces only come third!

So my last few painting projects have been a series of vignettes depicting British camp life during the Napoleonic Wars produced by Perry Miniatures, culminating in this wonderful portrayal of Wellington and his generals studying a set of maps spread across a table.

Seated at the rear, Sir Thomas Picton leans forward with his right arm on the table, his civilian hat and stick lying discarded on the table beside him. He is intent in conversation with Sir Edward Pakenham, resplendent in full uniform, and perching with his foot up on the bench.

Bald-headed Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole sits with his back to us, taking something from his pocket, whilst the Spanish liaison officer Brigadier Miguel Ricardo de Alava leans forward in his chair. An aide-de-camp stands nearby, arms crossed nonchalantly behind his back.

General the Earl of Wellington himself is instantly recognisable, not only from his simple attire and ‘Wellington’ boots, but right down to his distinctive hooked nose.

Considering the subject matter is a fairly static group of standing and sitting figures, the animation sculpted into them is surprisingly dynamic. The poses are all so natural and unforced.

Meanwhile Sir Stapleton Cotton, gorgeously uniformed in hussar full dress, has just arrived. He hurries over to the table, having handed the reins of his mount to a passing private, who is no doubt admiring the tiger-skin shabraque draped across the horse’s back.

These figures were painted almost entirely with GW Contrast paints. I love the way the lighter colours work really well in providing instant shading and highlights. But I do sometimes find that darker colours such as blue and black can turn out a bit blotchy. This is exacerbated in these pictures, as blue is a notoriously difficult colour to photograph properly.

The Spanish buildings, by the way, were scratch-built by me many years ago. The windows, doors and exposed stonework are printed paper. The shutters are corrugated card, and the roofs are cut from a plastic sheet intended for model railway buildings. The wall texture is just sand that has been spray-painted black, then dry-bushed with ochre, yellow and finally white.

WW2 French anti-tank gun and tractor

The latest additions to my WW2 colonial French army are the Canon de 47 mm Semi-Automatique Mle1937 and Laffly S20TL truck, both made by Warlord Games.

Before the development of the 47mm anti-tank gun, French artillery had used the venerable 75mm Mle1897 field gun in an anti-tank role. But they really needed a more specialised gun that would be ready to fire very quickly, with a good traverse to follow its targets, and that would also be small and lightweight enough to be hidden and moved easily by its crew.

The development of the 47mm anti-tank gun offered them all of these features. The traverse and elevation as well as the speed and precision at which the gun could be aimed were excellent. These features, combined with its outstanding accuracy, offered a gun able to engage and penetrate all German tanks at 1,000 meters.

The 47mm antitank gun was easier for the crew to move alone than a 75mm field gun, and was even able to fire from its towed/moving configuration.

The tow vehicle for my gun is the rather ugly Laffly S20TL (TL being short for “tracteur, châssis long”). This particular model of the Laffly truck was intended primarily to transport men of the light mechanised dragoon regiments. I would probably have been more correct to have a Laffly W15T, which was the low-profile version specially built for towing the 47mm anti-tank gun.

Laffly trucks were characterised by the excellent off-road capabilities and specific trench-crossing features provided by extra rollers at the front and underneath the chassis, uncommon for military vehicles at that time.

I have painted my models to represent (very loosely) the 1st Artillery Regiment of the Free French Army, who had seven 47mm anti-tank guns at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in May-June 1942. Unfortunately for me, the gunners supplied by Warlord Games for their 47mm anti-tank gun are in European theatre uniforms – but they will just have to suffice for now!

Info from:

Chunuk Bair diorama to mark Anzac Day

This Sunday marks Anzac Day, celebrated in Australia and New Zealand on 25th April every year. I was approached recently by my local library here in Paraparaumu, New Zealand if I had any model soldiers I could put into their Anzac Day display.

I didn’t have any WW1 figures myself. But a few years ago the Kapiti Wargames Club (of which I have been an itinerant member) played a leading role in painting figures for a massive diorama in Sir Peter Jackson’s Great War Exhibition in Wellington that ran from 2015 to 2019. Over 5,000 of these specially commissioned 54mm Perry Miniatures figurines were painted by 100 volunteers from wargaming clubs all over New Zealand.

Although the Great War Exhibition is now closed down and its diorama in storage, I knew that the club had a number of left-over and reject figures on loan. I managed to borrow a couple of dozen of these miniatures, and decided to build a small diorama to show them off.

My diorama takes centre-stage in the library’s lobby. A wall hanging of scarlet knitted poppies makes the perfect backdrop.

My diorama loosely represents one of the Turkish counter-attacks during the Battle of Chunuk Bair. Before dawn on 8 August 1915 the Wellington Infantry Battalion took the crest of a hill called Chunuk Bair at Gallipoli, the Turkish defenders having retired during an artillery bombardment. 

Hundreds of the Wellingtons would be killed during the next few hours in a gallant but forlorn attempt to hold the crest against determined Turkish counter-attacks. Of the 760 New Zealand soldiers who had made it to the summit, only 70 were still standing by the end of the day when they were relieved by other units.

Their victory was short-lived though, as two days later the Turks recaptured Chunuk Bair for good.

Now, I’m no Weta Workshop (the famous film effects company that constructed the terrain for the Great War Exhibition). My diorama is just a simple piece of polystyrene foam shaped to depict a trench.

My ground-cover isn’t any fancy scenic product either. It is just dirt and stones scrapped up from a paddock outside my house! The plants are plastic Christmas wreath decorations, given a dusting of light beige spray-paint. The sandbags were part of the Great War Exhibition stuff that I was loaned.

The figures were in a bit of a state when I got them, and many needed some touching up. They are on the whole not the best-painted of the figures from the crowd-painting project, but they look adequate enough from a distance.

I had quite a few Turkish casualties, but no firearms for them. So a friend from the club, Fern Campbell, 3D-printed some rifles for me to scatter about on the ground. She made an excellent job of these.

Here’s an overhead view of the entire diorama. I quite like the way the trench cuts through on a diagonal, which makes the composition more interesting than if it had been parallel to the edge of the diorama.

The diorama will remain in the Paraparaumu Public Library for the next week or so. After that I will have to disassemble it and return the figures. Maybe one day they will take their place in a restored version of the entire 5,000-figure Great War Exhibition diorama!

Miniature miniatures – the American Civil War in 13.5mm

A recent issue of Wargames Illustrated came with a free sprue of Warlord Games’ new range of 13.5mm plastic American Civil War figures. I couldn’t resist painting them up as an experiment, as I had never before tried working with miniatures this small.

The free sprue contains 100 (yes, 100!) tiny infantry figures, a mounted officer and an artillery piece with four crew. The infantry come attached in ranks of ten.

I painted the figures with Games Workshop Contrast paints. This made the job pretty fast, as the shading and highlighting happens by itself. But the fine details were still a little finnicky at times. I also had to be careful that I painted the rear of each figure the same colour as the front!

Just to give you an impression if the diminutive size of these little figures, here they are posed alongside a base of 28mm Redoubt infantry.

After removing the supplied bases from the sprue, I textured them with sand and static grass. The flags came from an image I found on the web. The whole regiment looks splendid with all five bases lined up.

The artillery piece is quite cleverly designed. It consists of three pieces: the carriage complete with its barrel, and the two wheels, each with two figures attached.

Just for fun, I tried a little forced perspective. I photographed the line of Warlord figures butted up against some stands of 28mm Redoubt figures. Then I used my graphics program to merge the bases. The four-inches deep set-up now looks like a wide battlefield!

Overall, these are really nice little figures. Whilst I don’t think I will turn this into an actual project for myself, if you are after an army or two of some very nice 13.5mm figures, I believe this Warlord Games range will indeed do the job.

Irish contingent joins the Barryat of Lyndonia’s army

Meet the Regiment di Balibari, the latest foreign unit to join the forces of my 18th century ‘imagi-nation’, the Barryat of Lyndonia.

Back when I was a schoolboy, one of the first wargaming books I ever read was ‘Charge! Or How to Play Wargames’ by Brigadier Peter Young and Lieutenant-Colonel J Lawford.

I still vividly remember being entranced by the picture on the back cover showing a close-up view of a line of red-coated soldiers. Behind them stood an elegant officer carrying what appeared to my untutored eye to be a green Union Jack. To one side waited a drummer, resplendent in his green and gold coat.

Ever since, this little group has represented to me the ultimate in 18th century sartorial military fashion. It is only a wonder that it has taken me nigh on half a century to finally replicate these childhood heroes in miniature!

Crann Tara Miniatures do a beautiful range of charging French infantry. I thought their action pose would be great to represent the fighting élan of an Irish regiment. So in went my order, which arrived in New Zealand from the UK quite quickly despite COVID.

This shot of the first few figures I painted shows the incredible detail, anatomy and posing of this range. Even un-based, they look amazing.

As with most of my more recent units, I used Games Workshop’s Contrast paints for this project. I love the way these paints flow, and the automatic shadows and highlights they provide.

In my previous style of painting, I would have started with the basic uniform colour first, and then built up the detail and clothing. However, I have now reversed this, and after a undercoat of Wraithbone, I now paint all the equipment in first, as you can see with the two figures on the left of the picture above. I leave the main uniform colour (in this case, red) till almost the last step. The Contrast paint flows into the gaps beautifully, and disguises any overflows from painting the equipment.

The flag that I thought was a green Union Jack was actually the flag of a real Irish regiment in French service, the Regiment de Berwick. However, instead of the straight lines of the diagonal St Andrew’s cross depicted on the book cover, most versions I have seen of this regiment’s flag have a wavy cross.

Also, the real Berwick had black cuffs and facings, whereas the figures in the picture appeared to have green.

So in true imagi-nation style, I decided my regiment would be fictional. And thus was born the Regiment di Balibari. This name comes from the Chevalier de Balibari, who in the novel and movie ‘Barry Lyndon’ is an itinerant professional gambler whom the Prussians suspect is an Irish spy in the service of the Austrians. He uses the Italian name ‘Balibari’ instead of his true Irish family name ‘Ballybarry’.

To represent that all-important ‘green Union Jack’, I bought a set of paper Berwick flags from Flags of War. I did think about trying to amend the St Andrews cross to match the cover photo from ‘Charge!’, but in the end I decided this was too difficult and stuck with the wavy cross on the Flags of War products.

I painted the drummers in green coats with gold trim, as per the book cover image. I think in the real Irish regiments in French service the drummers actually wore red like the men. But this is an imaginary unit, so I can follow my own rules!

Here’s a back-view of the regiment. You can see two of my four NCOs following the line to make sure no-one falls behind.

I really like the simple style of coats that haven’t been turned back. And they make painting so much easier too!

The regiment consists of 54 rank-and-file, divided into three companies of 18 figures, each company having two ranks of 9. This is fewer companies than a real regiment would have had, but matches the organisation in ‘Charge!’.

Each company has a frontage of 12cms. This does mean the figures are packed in quite tightly, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. But I think this looks more realistic than widely-spaced figures.

Click on the image above to get an impression of what the regiment’s full 36cms of frontage looks like – and that isn’t even counting the three drummers to the side!

So, what’s next for the Barryat of Lyndonia? Well, surely any imagi-nation gamer worth their salt would want to have the unit on the front cover of Charge! – the Erbprinz Regiment in their Prussian grenadier-style mitres, resplendent in light-blue and scarlet uniforms. Watch this space!

Simple display case lighting

My main model display case is situated in our hallway, where it doesn’t get much natural light. So I have always had my eye out for a way of lighting the display to better show off my models!

The display case itself is an old piece of furniture with no fitting for lights. In addition, there is no wall socket nearby so any wired-in lighting would be complicated and require the expensive services of an electrician.

So I was really pleased when this week I spotted a range of Nouveau LED Strip Lights at my local Mitre 10 store (a New Zealand big-box hardware store – you’ll probably find similar products in overseas stores). I snapped up three of them to see if they would do the trick.

Each strip is one metre long, and contains a line of tiny LEDs. The strip has a self adhesive backing so that you can just stick it above the shelf.

Power for each strip comes from a battery pack that contains four AAA batteries. These packs have both a manual on-off button and a motion-sensor – though the sensor only works when it is dark.

I stuck the three battery packs just inside the sliding door of my display case, as you can see above. This way I can easily access the on/off buttons just inside the door. I may later paint the battery packs black to make them a little less obtrusive.

The effect when the three light strips are switched on is incredible. They produce a lot of light, so the miniatures look as if they are in a museum display.

Here are a few pictures showing some of the units in the display case, demonstrating how well they come up under the lighting. First are some 18th century British. The lighting shows off their red coats extremely well, giving the figures a jewel-like quality.

My landsknechts look really brilliant under the lights. The multiple hues of their clothing just pops out! All that colour would be wasted without proper lighting!

Even the dull camouflage colours of World War Two come to life under effective lighting, as you can see here with my 1940 Dutch forces.

And my miniature navies look better under lighting, too. As a serendipitous side-effect, the light from the shelf below gleams up through the translucent blue plastic to make the sea sparkle.

I also bought some LED lights for my other display case. This time I didn’t use strip lights, but individual LED lights. The effect isn’t nearly as spectacular, but still much better than no lighting at all (see the unlit case below).

One neat feature these lights have that the strip lights don’t is a remote on/off switch. So you don’t have to open the doors to turn the lights on. Just like magic!

All in all, I am really pleased with the massive improvement that some cheap battery-powered lighting has made to my display cases.

I can now sit and gaze at my miniatures for hours. And every visitor to our house who wants to use the loo must pass by the display case, so the lighting should attract some attention!

On parade! The Barryat of Lyndonia’s artillery contingents

In Part 8 of this series of postings in which I am reviewing the armies of my ‘imagi-nation’, the Barryat of Lyndonia, it’s time to take a look at the artillery contingents.

As described in Part 1, rather than having its own army, this imaginary eighteenth century state contracts its troops from real-life European countries of the time.

The artillery contingents come from Britain and France – which has no doubt led to many a fisticuffs argument in local hostelries when carousing gunners from these two habitual enemies run into each other!

The French gun and limber are made by Fife and Drum Miniatures (also available from UK company Crann Tara Miniatures).

Apart from the horses, they are all painted with GW’s wonderful Contrast paints (which have truly revolutionised my style and speed of painting).

I’ve chosen to paint the guns red, which means they are from the mid-part of the eighteenth century, as the French later converted to blue. I reckon the red looks more dramatic!

Whilst the gun crew are all glued onto the base, I’ve kept the gun itself removable so it can be attached to the limber if I wish to portray the piece on the move.

The number of horses is really just representative, as I think this would be far too much a load for just two horses to haul!

And here’s the British Royal Artillery contingent. This model also comes from Crann Tara Miniatures.

Gunners normally wore quite subdued uniforms (maybe due to how they could get so worn and dirty working the guns). But the British bucked this trend, and festooned their Royal Artillery’s uniforms with lashings of lace and piping.

I thought all this decoration would be quite hard to paint, but the Contrast paints almost did the job by themselves, with just the barest modicum of precision on my part!

I particularly like the British officer with his crimson sash, whom you can see on the left of the above photo.

Note the civilian driver on the right. During his period armies hired civilians to lug their guns about. Once in battle, I bet many drivers would’ve scarpered off, leaving the guns pretty well fixed in place.

Again, the gun can be attached to its limber.

British guns were painted a grey-blue. I must admit I didn’t get the shade quite right on the gun, compared to the limber. Maybe the gun is older and has faded in the sun!

Whilst painting the big guns, I also took the opportunity to re-base the smaller battalion guns that I had painted several years ago.

Battalion guns were the small-calibre cannon that formed integral parts of some individual infantry units.

Here we see the battalion gun of Gale’s Regiment of Foot, supporting the advance of the company of grenadiers.

These figures are by Minden Miniatures.

And here’s the battalion gun of le Régiment des Royal-Cravates.

Battalion guns were often manned by infantrymen from the regiment, rather than actual artillerists, which is why these gunners are in white rather than French Artillerie blue.

Go back to Part 7 of this series: the Truchseß Dragoons.