The goal of this post is to do a do a little tour of a recent terrain project. I have been on a bit of a terrain binge in recent weeks, including the purchase and painting of some commercial models from JR Miniatures 15mm European range, the conversion of one of these models and the construction of a couple of scratch-built buildings. All of this effort comes from a decision to improve my townscapes and rural landscapes for my Syldavia/SYW project. The impulse for this upgrade comes from a trip to Paris I made on business last August, where I stole the time to revisit Les Invalides and the Musée des plans-reliefs, the astonishing collection of 18th century dioramas of important fortifications and fortified towns. It is an amazing and underappreciated collection; the dioramas were commissioned by Louis XIV and later kings and studied by the likes of Vauban and Napoleon. The collection has been subdivided since I first saw it in 1980, but the half still on exhibit in Paris (consisting of models pertinent to southern France and the Atlantic Coast, the rest are now in Lille) has been expertly restored and is now beautifully housed and light to great advantage. The skill of the original craftsmen who worked on these models is to be seen to be believed and it is both inspiring and humbling to see what they accomplished with hand tools and excellent but unprocessed raw materials (for example, raw silk was dyed, chopped and sorted to make foliage). My first visit spurred me to attempt my first terrain boards, buildings and fortifications, to actually attempt paint my Airfix HO scale Napoleonics and to play a wargame with actual rules (Voltigeur, if I recall). One could say that it put me on the path to wargames before I knew such a thing existed and well before I knew anyone who undertook this hobby. So, it should come as no surprise that my second visit sparked a new attempt to reproduce the AHH! effect I had in the museum. A noble quest though utterly vain of course! I’m still well off the mark but I’m pleased enough with some of what I have done recently and have learned how I might do some things better.
Chateau Trompette, Bordeaux
Fortification at Marseilles, I ve lost track of its name.
The gallery was dramatically light, but too dimly so for my little camera
Anyhow, on to the Syldavia project. Syldavian architecture as depicted in Hergé’s book consists largely of fairly humble structures (excepting the King’s medieval/Romanesque castle and Baroque palace) with raw or plastered masonry and clay tile roofs. Many buildings seem to be artifacts of the Middle Ages or at least could pass as such. Also, there are a conspicuous number of towers illustrated in the book, including fortifications, some church towers and most notably mosques’ minarets. I already have a number of buildings from JR miniatures 15mm Italy range (the old Architectural Heritage line, probably my favourite line of 15mm buildings), and several more of my own scratch-built buildings which were intended to pass for Italian farm and rural town buildings. These are perfect for Syldavia’s coast and southern regions. However, I have something different in my minds’ eye for Syldavia’s highland interior. There, the use of more wood and a gothic rather than Italian look seems more in keeping with the alpine context and Slav and German-influenced cultural setting. I also wanted to have some fortifications, both to dress up the town and for use in games.
My first building is a tower, built with masonry-texture blocks cast from LINKA moulds, glued to a wood dowel about 1.5 inches in diameter. Ideally, the tower should be quite a bit thinner than that as a 1.25 inch wide tower in 15mm is a very substantial structure, but this size proved to be a sort of physical limit. LINKA moulds are vey flexible and can be bent and taped around something to impart a desired curve to one’s blocks, normally cast in hydrocal cement. A 1.25 inch diameter circle appears to about the smallest one can effectively make with a LINKA mould; the rubber began to noticeably pucker and deform with the stress this curve produced. At this curve, it also proved very difficult to retain wet hydrocal in the mould so I made the blocks with white hardware-variety epoxy putty and green Milliput. Both of these materials worked well in the moulds; the white epoxy putty set quickly and retained a degree of elasticity if it was removed from the mould a little early. This flexibility helped me fit the blocks to the dowel. The Milliput also worked well though it is much slower to set. Its longer period of malleability also helped me tailor certain pieces to fit, as needed. The LINKA blocks fit together admirably well but the circumference of the dowel did not fit the pre-determined size of blocks precisely. I had to fill gaps with small LINKA bricks and with Milliput which I then gave a suitable texture. Painted, the gaps aren’t so obvious and, in fact, the small irregularities in the Milliput patches help break up the uniformity of the blocks’ texture.
The unfinished tower - I see here that I shoud have filled some joints with plaster a little more rigorously!
I added some buttresses at the tower’s base, and a ring of rampart blocks glued around the top, with some added Milliput details. This work was rather easy. I finished it off with a tiled roof made quickly from card, the eight identical roof panels were erected in pairs over a base which later served as the eaves, and were crazy-glued in place. This step was somewhat delicate but adding card shingles over top hides the inevitable imperfect corners. It is also much easier to model the tiles in card than in putty. Once dry and solid, and sealed with thinned white glue, I solidified the roof by filling it with hydrocal cement.
Tower with roof attached
The roof is attached by a nail which fits into a hole drilled into the dowel at the top of the tower; it is detachable. The roof isn’t exactly symmetrical but it works and I’m not going to fuss with it any longer! Finally, in the attempt to obtain a second and different roof line, I built a smaller watch tower for the tower top with a second very steep roof, also made of card. This detachable spire is also affixed by a nail. It is a bit roughly finished but does give a much different looking tower, one that evokes to some degree the profile of a minaret. A better model of a minaret should be taller and/or thinner than this model however and I will have to put aside the LINKA moulds and go with a simpler method to model one.
Alternative roof: watch tower and spire
Building models by this method (LINKA blocks, epoxy putty) is quite a bit slower and fussier than the very nice and efficient card buildings Stokes Schwartz discussed some weeks ago at his blog here.
However, I’m largely happy with the results I have obtained, even with the greater investment of work, as I like the masonry texture which paints up easily and I can have three different buildings with the core of the tower I made by swapping roofs or leaving it off entirely. I can make another different roof if the mood strikes me one day. Being constructed of epoxy putty, wood and hydrocal cement, the tower is solid, very durable and has a bit of heft. It ought to last for years and years, even through Bordurian sieges.
That is it for the tower. Next up – fortifications!