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


Friday, 1 July 2022

This and That, but Mostly the Other

 This week I was handed a dose of Real World which has effectively put a stop to much of what I had been hoping to do over the Summer. With luck, I expect to get through this, and in the short term I now have a chance to clear up some odds and ends which have been dragging on a bit while I was indisposed with the Plague.

Topic 1: Another French WSS unit nearing completion

Last night I finished what may be my last refurbishment job for my WSS project. I completed 14 figures for the 18-man Régiment de Languedoc - there are still another 4 figures to be painted from scratch, but that should be very straightforward, and the refurb work is done. This batch has been a bit arduous, to be honest. 

At the start of the French phase of my project, I identified a lot of pre-painted figures from Eric Knowles' collection which could be restored to fill the ranks in my new army. Some of these needed only very light re-touching, so I prioritised those, but as I worked my way through I got to some more battered and re-hashed units, and this last lot was really pretty marginal; I might have been better stripping and starting again, and I think my decision to persevere with restoring them was influenced by a wish to keep Eric's old soldiers on the march as far as possible. Eric might not have recognised some of them now, but I'm pleased with what's been achieved.

The effort required for this batch wasn't helped by a historic decision by someone (many years ago) to improve a nicely-painted regiment by the addition of sawdust, Russian toffee and henhouse-green paint to the bases. Well, in many cases, to the area below the soldiers' knees. Yuck. It's taken me about 2 weeks of soaking and scraping to get it off, but it is now gone.

Anyway, as of this morning, here are the 14 restored fellows, with the glue drying, waiting for a new mounted officer, two ensigns and a drummer to complete them. I'll post a smart photo once they are ready for action.


Topic 2: A Very Old Brush

I've maybe mentioned this brush before, but I was working yesterday with a brush which is certainly the oldest I have, I wonder how long these things last? When my dad died, 14 years ago, I helped my mother to clear out all his old art materials; he had been a keen watercolourist, but hadn't been near the hobby for years.

There were all sorts of solidified paints, and a good number of very old brushes, most of which disintegrated to dust when I rubbed the bristles. However, there were a couple of brushes which he had obviously used, and they still felt OK. I destroyed one a few years ago when I accidentally got superglue on the bristles, but the other is still going strong. Here it is, in the foreground, in action yesterday:


I use this a lot for (for example) applying baseboard-green paint to the bases of my figures, a situation in which I would not choose to involve any of my Series 7 brushes, since the paint is simply latex emulsion paint for interior walls, and they get bunged up.

Things get a bit more sinister if you check the other side of this brush. 


The logo indicates that it comes from HM Stationery Office, was from the 1966 stock, and must have been liberated from the drawing office at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's electrical engineering section at Risley, Lancashire, when my dad worked there as an engineer in the 1970s. I also found a large number of high-quality boxed Beryl pencils - mostly sketching grades like 2B, which is not a lot of use to me - which may have been liberated around the same time. I prefer not to believe that my dad was in the habit of nicking stuff from work, so I'm sure there must be a more comfortable explanation if I could just think of it...

Anyway, my point is that I have a sable brush here which was new in 1966, which my dad must have used for his watercolours from about 1969-1978, and which I have been using regularly for my wargame painting since 2008. I guess the amount of use is probably not as high as you might estimate, but I'm astonished that the sable bristles are still in good shape. It is just one of my "gash" brushes - it gets no special treatment.

Anyone got an older brush which is still in use?

Topic 3: Some Thoughts about Shiny Soldiers

In a convoluted way, this follows on from a conversation I had with Stryker recently, about the implications of applying gloss varnish to miniature soldiers, and what defines an "appropriate" painting style for the Shiny Brigade. Rather famously, he has been doing this for years with his beautiful Napoleonic Hinton Hunts, but it is a new departure for me, starting with my new involvement at the end of 2019 in the Malburian period .

Deciding which bottle of varnish to use to finish your soldiers seems like a mere detail, though there are practical considerations, such as the common trick of using gloss varnish followed by matte, to give a hard-wearing coat. I'm concerned in this note mainly with the "look" of the soldiers, and with some things I have learned about my reaction to my own shiny armies. This will all be extremely personal - what I like and what I'm trying to achieve with my collection will certainly be regarded as strange, or even unacceptable, to others. Some things which I hadn't really thought about became apparent when I started working on the armies. I developed some preferences and some definite views which I hadn't considered previously.

First thing, which came as a bit of a surprise, is that I find that what I'm putting together is not a museum of perfect historic miniatures, or a miniature facsimile of a real army, but is just a collection of toy soldiers. Yes - toys. It's OK - I enjoy, nay, celebrate the fact that they are toys!

Last week I watched the first of the later, colour episodes of Callan, from UK TV back in 1970. Illustrative point. It turns out, you see, that Callan has been moved into a different apartment after his spell in hospital, and his colleague, Cross (Patrick Mower - I hope you're taking notes here), teases him about his box of "toys". Callan gets very scratchy about this, and insists that they are "model soldiers". This is where Callan and I part company; I would have been quite happy that they be regarded as toys. In any case, Patrick Mower spent his later career stuck in some ghastly UK TV Soap [Emmerdale], so in the long run he is in no position to make fun of Callan's toys. [Bastard].

 
Callan keeps his entire collection of model soldiers in a single "Banner" shirt box. Even in 1970, that makes him a dabbler in my book...


Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.

* If I were to paint up a beautiful little model of a WW1 machine-gun team for wargaming, complete with basing involving mud, wire and sandbags, I would never think of giving it a shiny finish. Without pondering too hard about it, it just feels wrong.

* So, if my WSS collection are toys, why? What's the difference?

* I read an article somewhere which suggested that maybe it makes the dreadful idea of conflict and slaughter more acceptable as an entertainment, if the participants are toy-like, and the game is abstracted to the point where there are no dead men or horses cluttering up the field? - Interesting, and possible, but that's not my chief driver, I think.

* A lot must be to do with my figure supplier. I go on rather a lot about the old Les Higgins castings I use - probably rather more than general levels of interest might justify. In the past I've had appreciative comments from John Ray and from David (of the Not By Appointment blog), both men of refined tastes,  about the realistic human proportions of my toys, and the elegance of the sculpture. Cue a round of applause for the late Les Higgins. But there is something more here: the stylised poses, the delicacy of the little men, their strangely androgynous appeal, the bobbed hair, the shapely calves in stockings...

 
Joli Tambour. You may join me in observing that this picture from an ancient children's book seems to show a drummer wearing the French King's Livery  [Lee will especially appreciate this] 

Nailed it.

These guys are straight out of the French nursery-rhyme books of my childhood, when pretty drummer boys caught the eye of the King's daughter, and all that. They do not have smelly feet, or buck teeth, or outsized, garden-gnome hands; they do not relieve themselves behind your hedge, or burn down your barn - they are just lovely toys, of a very old-fashioned style. Thus it suits me to paint and present them as such, with appropriate overtones of a bygone age, and toy soldiers have to be shiny; it's as natural as, well, something or other that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment. 

There are implications, some of them not obvious, for painting, and I have to thank Lee and Goya and a couple of other kind souls who have generously suppressed some elements of their natural painting styles in support of this idiosyncrasy of mine; if the painting is too impressionistic or too layered then gloss varnish can produce bizarre results. A simple, colourful style lends itself well to the presentation, and the toy units will then move around the field in colourful, rigid formations. They can fight Schellenberg if you wish, but it will be Toy Schellenberg - as my brain ages, I find that my rules are becoming more toy-like, as well.

When I started on this, I had very little idea what I was aiming for, other than clues I could get from what Eric and others had done before me, but what is evolving is a little, personal subculture and some better developed guidelines on how I like things done. This is not based on any series of decrees; I have rarely said, "this is how it will be", but I have frequently said, "Gosh, I really like that", and very occasionally I have said (of my own work), "oops...".

Quite soon, when my WSS Phase 1 is complete (the delay is likely to be associated with non-appearance of staff figures, but I'm working on that), I'll produce full team photos and pay tribute to the heroes who have helped me so much over the last couple of years, but I haven't quite got there yet. I'm constantly amazed by how much I have learned along the way.

 


 


35 comments:

  1. A very entertaining and diverting post Tony. From your father's, erm, brush with the law (sorry) to androgynous drummers via Callan. Monsieur Marlbrouk va t'en guerre tra la laa.

    I think my own journey was started with pictures in a compendium of 'fairy stories'. They set my template for what 'soldiers' were.

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    1. It's weird how the kids' books get hard-wired into our perceptions. We didn't have French nursery rhymes because we were pretentious swine, by the way (well - not entirely) - my mother spent much of her childhood in France, and her French books were rather better than most of the British ones. Better pictures, mostly, for a start.

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  2. My oldest brush is about 4 years old and is now little more than five or six hairs on a stick. Comes in very useful for painting belts and such like on my teeny tiny stuff. I’ve though of chucking it out a dozen times but it’s still there. Be a shame to get rid of it really. My miniatures are not shiny (though I do understand the attraction and the aesthetic) but they are usually satin varnished so I’m not sure where that stands. Semi shiny? Anyhow, whatever they are classed as, they are definitely TOYS…that I enjoy playing with!

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    1. These brushes must have been through Hell. I find that my favourite Series 7 '000' is getting even more bald than I am, which is not good, so must do something about this. Good man on the TOYS front - semi shiny is fine. My earliest dalliances with gloss finishes were when the matte stuff went wonky.

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  3. As a devotee of that other old school favourite, the Spencer Smith marching C18th musketeer and grenadier, gloss varnish was never in doubt....
    Way back when, I acquired some from Ronald Spencer Smith himself (little did I realise I was buying essentially pirated SAE figures* - of course as they were unobtainable he can be forgiven) which were painted in enamels. Due to an unfortunate experiment, some unlucky Austrian grenadiers received a coat of matt varnish. Lets just say even with gloss varnish a single flat coat of paint doesn't suit them.....matt kills what little depth there is.....
    When it came time for the new project, I studied Charles Grant's figures and realised they were black lined....
    I don't have the steady hands for that, but realised a black undercoat would produce the same effect. The "toy soldier" style suits them and is finished off by a nice gloss varnish finish . I cannot think of them as anything but toys.....
    *As can be seen from the rediscovery of Holger Erikson designed figures made for South African Engineers the moulds for which were recently found in either the Canaries or Balearics - see Tradition Scandinavia
    Neil

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    1. Entertaining comment Neil - thanks for this. I confess that the earliest wargaming books I read had such dreadful illustrations that varnish was well beyond the things I could see or think about. I hadn't thought about Spencer Smith chaps being shiny, but it is obvious really. The role of varnish gradually evolved for me into something to do with protecting the paint jobs; this was sufficient years into my hobby involvement for the paint jobs to have become worth protecting!

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    2. The worst are Donald Featherstone's; Charge is pretty naff, but The Wargame has some close-up photography. One photo in particular shows the gaiter buttons visible on the marching musketeers - responsible for the same look on my own figures. Interestingly I have a special brush for just such work (old brushes are relegated to rough work) in this case an old 000 or maybe 0000 reduced to a small remnant of stubby bristles. After much trial and error, I've found it ideal for depositing the correct size blob of brass paint for a gaiter button.
      Neil

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  4. Enjoyed reading your insights Tony and obviously, I agree they are toys that we play with, in the same way beautifully crafted model railway layouts are still toys railway enthusiasts play with! Model soldiers are akin to your description of the WWI MG team - and personally I would want them to be 40mm scale AT LEAST, 1/32 or 54mm is better! They are painted as realistically as possible and posed in believable scenes with ancillary scenery on a base - and then displayed. There is nothing interactive about them, once the painting and construction phase is completed. I must admit, the tendency of some manufacturers/retailors to use the phrase "toy soldiers" on the customs declaration is one reason I don't have items sent to me at work! Some of my colleagues have a vague idea about my hobby but its not something I advertise - even though I will enter my sixth decade shortly, its still something I find mildly embarrassing in general company! Personally, I don't subscribe to the glossy soldier look - I try to paint my toys as "realistically" as possible - but as one of my collections is an army comprised entirely of female Vikings/Valkyries, realistic is a relative term! (This also applies to my current interest in Pulp gaming too, obviously), To me, the emphasis in the name of the hobby is certainly on the "gaming" rather than the "war" ... and I agree with your comment on rules too - nowadays, simpler is better in my view .....too much consideration of the % reduction in a movement based on whether a unit is wheeling as a column or as a line etc etc just irritates me and gets in the way of me moving my toys where and how I like :) Thats another attraction about skirmish level, character driven games like Pulp or Border Reivers or western gunfighters etc...!

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    1. Thanks Keith - I wouldn't disagree with any of that. I emphasise that I'm not suggesting that the toys should all be shiny - it's just something that chimed with me for this particular period and these particular sculpts, and, I suspect, the quirks of my own upbringing. I have far more matte-varnished Napoleonics than I have shiny 18th Century soldiers, and don't intend to change them.

      There is something about "realism" which I can't quite get the hang of; railway modellers, when taking a photo of their work, will wish it to look as close to the real scene as possible, so anything shiny will be something which is shiny in real railways. That's the objective and the tradition. They may or may not be regarded as toys, as you suggest - it's up to the creator and the owner. In the same Callan episode I mentioned, one of the stored models turns out to be broken, and Cross twists the bayonet by suggesting that "Daddy will fix it".

      What is all that about? Growing up is a peculiar process - the labels attached and what is contemptible are influenced by fashion and the age one lives in as much as anything else. Accusing someone (me) of playing with toys as an insult is lost on me because it carries little weight. I know a good few fellows - all fine chaps - who spend their Saturdays spraying golf balls around the Scottish countryside, all expensively equipped and dressed, and returning scores of 20 over par for a round, frustrated as hell. If they enjoy it, that's terrific - it doesn't rock my boat, but it's good for them and it's great. If they were regarded as playing at something other than sport, with the fancy kit and the membership of clubs which lesser mortals could not afford, it might get edgy. At work I had a successful career, worked very hard, have raised two families (that wasn't such a great idea, maybe) and am completely relaxed about my toy soldiers - I will even join in the laughter. Callan's defensive behaviour about his hobby suggests that he and UK society in 1970s had rather deeper issues.

      Let's not go there! My WSS collection has been one personal self indulgence (folly!) beyond what I had intended in my wargaming career, and it seemed appropriate to go the whole hog and make the beggars shiny - I'd never done that before!

      I have no experience of skirmish games - I'd like to sit in on someone else's game. I bought "A Song of Drums & Shakos" a few years ago, and it looks interesting, but I would need some differently-based soldiers to try it, and I've not done anything more. I've seen exhibition games where Sharpe Practice was used for quite large games, which seemed a bit overwhelming for my taste, but still very interesting.

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  5. A wonderful and interesting read, I tend to matt varnish my figures. However I do love the look of shinny wargame figures and am tempted to do a project of shinny figures. The Les Higgins figures are so tempting. Thought with over a 1000 Spencer Smith miniatures on the paint desk, that project is on the back burner.

    Willz.

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    1. Thank you Willz - I have (I think!) seen examples of your soldiers carrying David's SYW flags on his blog (if it wasn't you then humble apols) and they are super - love them. It's all to do with context, maybe - if an entire collection is matte varnished, then that is how the world looks; if a glossy unit arrives, then you have some choices to consider: (a) ignore the difference; (b) give the new arrivals a coat of matte - regulations, you see; (c) re-varnish the entire collection to match...

      This is where house standards come from; might even be where the King's Regulations came from?

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    2. I do have a 100 Spencer Smith Cavalry kindly gifted to me by Stuart Asquith that are gloss painted. He asked me not to matt them, so I may do an army gloss.


      Willz.

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    3. Hmmm - tricky decision. Nice thing to have though!

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  6. I'm impressed by the family heirloom brush!
    I used to be bothered by the 'playing with toy soldiers' comment, but not so now. For one thing I doubt any of us play wargames with figures that are miniature representations of what their real-life counterparts actually looked like, wearing ill-fitting uniforms faded by rain and sunshine, smothered in dust, mud or both and crumpled from being repeatedly slept in in a ditch. We take pleasure in looking at and playing with them, so that makes it difficult to argue that they aren't toys. Strikes me, shiny or not is up to which gives you the most pleasure in your toys, and is no-one else's business.
    I also think that every hobby must look daft to outsiders. I was on the Isle of Lewis a couple of weeks ago and happened to see some blokes surfing. They seemed to have a lot of fancy kit for a hobby which involved paddling out to sea on a plank and sitting on it to wait for a convenient wave to fall off into. I imagine if I'd suggested that they were splashing about in the sea with their toys they might not have been pleased.

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    1. Brilliant! It has been suggested to me that some of this hobby stigma (and paranoia!) thing dates back to Victorian work-ethic and all that. To be seen to be wasting time on a pastime was sinful - if it cost money, even more so. Life had to be seen to be a struggle (unless you were a toff, of course) or else you were a disgrace to the community. People whose lives were made wretched by the family commitments or drudgery they had to cope were regarded as "saints". Good grief.

      When I think about it, my dad used to go on at great length about how much money he was saving by growing his own vegetables, and what a lot of work it was. If someone had suggested he spent so much time in his garden because he enjoyed it then he would have been very offended.

      There was even a weird belief that if you enjoyed (i.e. loved) your work then it couldn't be a proper job. No unnecessary smiling, if you don't mind. Especially on Sundays. Especially if the neighbours are watching.

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    2. If it helps I beat my back on a weekly basis with warhammer 40k figures tied to to a string whip because I enjoy painting 30mm plastic figures🤣.

      Willz.

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    3. I sincerely hope they are on textured bases?

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  7. Count me in the relatively shiny camp. :-)

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  8. Some interesting points of discussion here!

    Generally speaking, I don't varnish my soldiery, but I do go for bright colours. I like the effect. However, I did varnish my BMC Yorktown figures, For some reason, that seemed to be indicated. For the rest, though I like the look of others' gloss finishes, I've never made up my mind to apply the same treatment to mine.

    On the 'toy soldier' thing, I tend to think of the whole range of military figures in terms of genre. There are (as I see it) four:
    Toy Soldiers, Army Men, Model Soldiers, and (Military) Miniatures. Naturally, there will be overlaps.

    Toy Soldiers I think of as the metal collectables, perhaps 54mm tall, that used to come in boxed sets of 6. You can still get these. Occasionally you see them war gamed with.

    Army Men I think of as the 'el cheapo' plastics, often, but not always, similar in scale to Toy Soldiers. My 'Jono's World project uses Army Men. My BMC Yorktowns are more in the way of Army Men than any of the other genres in my view.

    Model soldiers I think of as the assemble and paint figures usually sold in singles.

    Most of my armies I see as (Military) Miniatures, about 20-25mm scale (my mediaevals are nominally15mm). That doesn't stop my playing with them, of course: that's what they are for.

    I guess it all comes down to my wish to create some sort of taxonomy of war games figures. At that, I have forgotten 'flat' figures, but they could easily be slotted into at least two of the genres I've suggested.

    My brushes tend not to last long - I'm terrible with them
    Cheers,
    Ion

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    1. Interesting - just goes to show how arbitrary and personal these classifications are.

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  9. For me, it's simple. If I play with them, they're toys. Glossy? 99% of the figures I paint - harder wearing so the paint doesn't rub off when I play with them!

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  10. I hope the 'Real World' stuff is not too grim. Interesting post - you have maybe found your 'Rosebud' moment with those Friench children's illustrations. I do find I refer to them as 'Toy Soldiers' too nowadays, let's not take things too seriously, it is 'only a game'.

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    1. The historic implications of playing with toys when you're supposed to be a man - or aspiring to be a man - are kind of worrying. When I was a kid, the worst put-down I got from my dad was putting doubts on my masculinity - this, you understand, when I was 11. He used to refer loosely to "playing with dolls", which covered everything up to model railways or a tabletop cricket game I invented for myself. I guess it was a supreme insult from his own childhood, when boys had to be tough and girls, presumably, played with dolls.

      The references from "Callan" are along these lines; there must have been a time when little boys were required to man up in the approved manner before they started work down the mines, or joined up for the army, or were sent on National Service. The guys in Callan spend their time snarling and threatening each other. Maybe it was expected; in fact it comes across as all a bit camp nowadays.

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    2. I know enough from your past postings about your Dad to know that he was both a troubled soul and quite the pain in the posterior. I thank God I did NOT have a father like that, although I had a few friends that did.

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    3. Hi Peter, he was, I fear, guilty as charged, but I guess the daft old beggar thought he was doing the right thing!

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    4. Probably true; perhaps he was bullied (or a bullier) as a youth?

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    5. He was certainly bullied at school - it was a pretty rough school, as well! He used to tell me stories about what a roughneck he was when he was a kid, but one Xmas, many years later, encouraged by beer, his elder brother told me that my dad was a rather a weedy, swotty boy, with very few friends. Sad, but you might have guessed that!

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    6. So at least part of his motivation likely was trying to protect you from the same,. especially heading into what in the US would be Middle School years, say ages 12-13-14 especially. Not that it's any easier for girls of similar ages, but being flooded with testosterone at the same time that your brain is developing more long range planning, abstract thinking, combined with self consciousness, well, we all live through those years, and I suspect few of us enjoyed them!

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    7. Maybe - I think that's putting a very favourable spin on it! I think he lived a little lie to himself in later life about how he had been. He also had a major chip on his shoulder about the fact that many of his contemporaries from school and so on were killed in WW2 - he was in a reserved occupation at the Port of Liverpool, and I think his older sister used to hassle him about that; she and her husband, as it happens, had moved out to the English Lake District to avoid the Liverpool blitz. Good for them, you might say. Her husband was a wholesale ironmonger who made a fortune selling corrugated iron to Liverpool Corporation, to help repair bomb-damaged houses and build shelters. The good old English entrepreneural spirit.

      A remarkably silly family, in many ways! Never mind - a few laughs along the way as well.

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  11. I am impressed by the age of you brush Tony…when the bristles do wear out you should prise the ferrule off and replace it all with a nice new Windsor and Newton unit grafted in place…like Triggers Broom it will live on forever….
    As a man who hasn’t had a proper job for decades and who loves the shiny… I wholeheartedly support your Toy Soldier adventures…
    I’ve always followed my own rule that when… in my humble opinion… it looks good shiny… then paint it shiny.
    And when it looks good Matte… then paint it Matte…
    It all a matter of preference really…

    All the best. Aly

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  12. The rule is simple really...your toys, your finish! Personally I'm a fan of satin varnish with a coat of GW Agrax Earthshade over that. The sheen of the satin varnish aids the flow of the Earthshade into the nooks and crannies where I want it. The whole thing then dries reasonably matt. Which works for me..

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    1. I agree entirely - whatever you like, and however you achieve it, it is you who has to enjoy the results. Having said which (just to be difficult, like), I'm surprised how many miniatures gamers follow someone else's direction devoutly. It is not easy to be individual without attracting some "banter". Still, that's fine - following someone else's lead must be some sort of expression of will!

      One noted blogger in particular, who preaches long and loud about the width and rich variety in the hobby, gets very tetchy indeed if anyone disagrees with his viewpoint on anything at all. I try to use him as a yardstick of something or other; if I find I am becoming like that, then I have a laugh at myself.

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