Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Touching & Retouching - Sows' Ears & Silk Purses

There are a few real life distractions going on at present, and I’m recovering from a major refurb effort on some bought-in ECW figures. As a result I have been doing very little painting for a few weeks, and have only just started on another retouching job, which I can pick up or put down as time permits in the evenings.

This time it is a French Napoleonic light infantry battalion. I didn’t need or expect to have another of these, but they were on eBay, and they looked quite nice…

I should have them finished in a few days, but at present they are progressing more slowly than I had hoped, and – a recurring theme for the past 15 years or so – yet again I find that I am surprised by the manner in which simple refurb jobs never turn out to be what you thought they were going to be. You would think I would get the hang of this – it isn’t a problem, but constantly being surprised by the same phenomenon is worth thinking about, at least. My grandmother used to maintain that every day you learn something, but that it is not good if it is always the same thing.

The starting point for buying old figures always involves the same decision point – the figures are suitable, and either

(A) they are cheap enough – or rare enough – to justify a full strip-and-start-again job, or

(B) they are nice enough as they are to fit in with just a little touch-up and some new bases

...and it goes wrong immediately from that point.

I am the man who once bought some really pretty Nassau infantry from eBay, and had them in the Nitromors within a day when I saw what the paint job was really like close up. I am also the man who stripped and repainted a fairly expensive pre-owned cavalry unit when I realized that the paint had been “professionally” applied to castings which still had the original flash on them. There are many tales like this – in fact almost all of my repainted units involved a post-delivery reclassification from (B) to (A) to some extent or other.

The present battalion of Frenchies are typical. They looked super on eBay – Les Higgins figures, painted in a plain, old-fashioned style similar to mine own – they would fit right in. A bit of an indulgence to add yet another unit of lights, but hey. There was an early setback when it came to light that the seller had counted them incorrectly, and the batch was 3 figures smaller than advertised. OK – we sorted that out. So I had 15 chasseurs (they even had their bayonets) plus an officer, all painted. My bold friend and ally Iain came up with another 3 unpainted figures to provide some carabiniers, I added a charging officer and a hornist (both by Qualiticast) from the spares box, a mounted colonel by Kennington and an improvised eagle bearer, really a Falcata Spaniard. Bingo – a battalion, as defined by the house standards. More painting than I had had in mind, but fine.

And then you sit down with the painting glasses and the bright lights, and line up the selected paint pots in the right order, and get fresh water pots, and a good coffee, and put on the music (Debussy and Sarah Vaughan and Steely Dan, this week…) and take a deep breath, and then the truth starts to filter through.

It’s pointless to analyze absolutely everything, but I think I retouch things for a number of reasons:

(1) The paint is damaged
(2) The uniform details are incorrect
(3) The paintwork does not please me, for any reason at all (it’s easier to change them now than live for years with the wish that I had changed them)
(4) Wow – now that I get a good look, that white paint is pretty yellow – better sort that out
(5) …and those red plumes have faded very badly…
(6) …and any combination of the above…

These Vallejo paints are much better...
This particular batch have failed on points (2) to (4), and it is now clear that they were once expertly painted, but subsequently touched up by a less skilled artist. In the list of ouches there is a classic bad decision – the later painter decided to improve things by applying white piping to the edges of the dark blue turnbacks (on dark blue coats). Mistake. Inaccurate contrasting piping sticks out like a sore thumb – spoils the whole thing. I probably could not have done any better myself, but I wouldn’t have attempted it. I firmly believe that no piping at all looks superior to bad piping – I shall ensure that the prominent piping around the lapels is done as well as I can, but in an inconspicuous spot such as the turnbacks (and these are 20mm figures, in modern terms) it is better not to bother. I have now obliterated the piping – anyone who knows it should be there will see it anyway…

They’ll be ready soon – I’m so unprepared that I’ll have to find a suitable identity for them, so they can have a proper flag. Great stuff, but will I have learned anything? – probably not.


  1. Hi Tony, you're probably not surprised to hear that I suffer from the same dilemma with 'pre-loved' figures. It makes me think of the Father Ted episode where Ted decides to tap out a tiny dent in his new car and ends up wrecking it! In my experience it's always better to strip the old paint and start again...

    1. Hi Ian - the problem is that on occasions I have obtained used figures which were really very good - including part of a collection of Pete Welsh's, and a good number of things from Clive and others - and the recollection of these distorts my better judgement…

      I hadn't seen the Father Ted episode, so I looked it up - if anyone else wants a squint it's at

  2. Ebay's always a dodgy bet. I rarely buy any painted figures from there anymore. I've had far too many things like this happen, the only difference is mine are all still sitting in the box they arrived in!!!

    1. Ray - you speak the words of wisdom - I shall really be more selective in future. Oh - if i could have my time all over again, how different things would be (I'd have done 15mm, for a start…)

  3. It is simply that I am a slow learner! - in fact, this situation repeats so often that I suspect that I quite enjoy this kind of fiddling about, but it is neither time nor cost efficient in the long run!