Matilda, Queen of the Desert

No, this isn't a post about drag queens taking a bus across the Australian outback, but notice that I've tackled and finished another 1:76 scale tank model. In this case it is an Airfix model of a Matilda Mk II Infantry Tank, which during the early years of the desert war during World War Two was a stalwart of the British Army in Africa and briefly earned the nickname 'Queen of the Desert' before being overtaken by faster and more powerful vehicles.
I've always thought that the Matilda was probably the handsomest looking British tank of the war, many of our other tanks having a rather Meccano-ish look to them compared to the muscle tanks of the US and Soviet armies and the blocky Teutonic swagger of German armoured vehicles. Of course, more formidable British tanks like the Comet came in at the very end of the war and the fearsome-looking Centurion was even then on the drawing board, but in the meantime, British tanks looked rather-down-at-heel compared to the competition.

A number of years ago I did attempt to build a 1:35 Matilda, but as is often the case with me and vehicles I got bored, it got shoved aside when an interesting figure or sci-fi project came along and so never got finished. This little effort though was easy enough to build – just two days – and then I painted it up in the appropriate desert camouflage, an interesting mix of Sand (Humbrol 63) Aircraft Blue (Humbrol 65) and Light Olive (Humbrol 86). Brick Red (Humbrol 70) was recommended for the exhaust, but I made do with GW Dark Flesh, which is about the same colour.
As the camouflage was to be painted on in wedge-shaped blocks, the easiest way of doing this was to mask off areas with tape. Because of the curved or detailed areas on the tank hull, sometimes I had to cut the masking tape into thinner strips for ease of use, but once in place it was easy to paint the space, though a couple of layers were required with the blue and green to cover the base coat of sand. Using tape in this way does however sometimes leave a 'seam' where the two colours meet, which became a problem when I applied the decals, so the seam needs flattening or carving back. This probably wouldn't be so marked a problem on larger models, but at this scale the seams do stand out rather.

The decals went on easy enough, being given a coat of Decal Soft to make them conform better to the lumps and bumps of the hull, the tank was then dirtied-down from its rather fresh-from-the-showroom look. Black patches simulating exposed metal were blobbed onto the model and given a more 3D effect with a lighter camo colour painted in a thin line just underneath them. I avoided applying too much rust and instead opted for a rather grimy albeit sand-blasted look, more appropriate for a tank working in dry desert conditions. Army Painter Soft Tone was painted all over the tank to give it the grubby look, then when this was dry Citadel Terminatus Stone was dry-brushed over the raised surfaces.
Normally, as mentioned in other posts I would mount models like this on a base made from an old blank mains socket cover, but I couldn't get into town for a few days, so opted for a thin strip of wood that I had lying about. This I coated with a thick layer of filler, which I sculpted into shallow waves like ripples in the sand. I placed the tank into this while the filler was still wet, making a line of tracks. I didn't fit the tank in place just yet, but let the filler dry then painted it up with the same sand colour that was used on the tank, finishing it off with a thin layer of Soft Tone ink. The tank was finally fitted in place with super glue.

So, yet again another nice little model for my collection. The model also offered the chance to decorate the Matilda in the colours of an Australia tank unit fighting the Japanese in the Far East. Modelling the tank in those colours and in a jungle environment might make for an interesting vignette if I buy another of these kits.

Perry Miniatures 28mm French Napoleonic Line Infantry

Though by no means an expert on the period, I do enjoy painting Napoleonic figures and when I first saw a set of Perry Miniatures figures I had a Scarlett O'Hara moment. 'As God is my witness, as God is my witness,' I said, shaking my fist at the sky, '… someday I will get myself a set.' I have now taken the plunge, buying this set of their 28mm French Napoleonic infantry from a supplier on eBay for just under £20. I don't war-game myself, being a maker and painter, (getting my arse kicked 100% of the time on the few occasions I did venture onto a gaming table soon cured me of any thoughts that I might be a budding Napoleon or Wellington) but I know a few people who do, so should I decide not to keep it I know some good homes that this set can go to.
At first blush out of the box it seems to be a very well modelled and interesting set of figures, there being 42 in all, the majority are in set poses representing a battalion on the march, but the kit includes numerous separate items such as backpacks, drums, muskets and extra arms and heads to add a little variety. The figures are all made in hard plastic (hurrah!) which will enable me to easily clean the figures up and glue the added accoutrements in place without any difficulty. The kit also comes with a sprue of stands ready for the figures. These can be assembled and painted up to represent the various sections of a French battalion, the skirmishers, fusiliers, grenadiers, etc.

I always appreciate model kits that give you detailed painting instructions and pictures are always good and the instructions sheet though only small, carries plenty of info on how to paint up your troops as either French Light infantry or a Swiss regiment in French service, while the reverse of the box has pictures showing French Line infantry. The instructions sheet also has two small flags that can be cut out to use with the figures.
© Perry Miniatures
Project, project ..! I already have three models on the go at the moment, so I may regret buying this kit, as I'm sure it will distract me from them, even though I know that I'm a real sluggard when it comes to doing multi-figure kits. Ah well, it can be an ongoing work-in-progress, it'll keep me off the streets.

Tamiya 1:35 German Anti-Tank Gun and Crew

Just recently I counted the number of unfinished, half-finished and yet-to-be-started kits sitting around in various cupboards and it came to the grand total of sixteen. Not a lot, admittedly, when you see photos of some people's collections, but a fair few. Admittedly, some of these I'll probably never get to starting never mind finishing, but others I have made a serious start on. One kit, of a Gloster Meteor jet (which I mentioned in my first ever post on this blog) I recently gave to my brother and he has presented me with a kit of a German WW2 motorbike and side car which is my current project.

This particular kit of a WW2 German Pak 35/36 anti-tank gun and crew, plus ammo boxes and shells, was one I had sitting around at home for goodness knows how long before I got working on it seriously in February this year, finally finishing it a few months back. As I've said in a previous post I have trouble finishing groups of figures, but a gun without its crew is particularly cruel, so I knuckled down and got it done, though I did keep the decoration of the figures rather basic, concentrating mostly on the uniforms, paying scant attention to the faces, which I simply shaded with some GW Ogryn Flesh. I gave the uniforms a good coating of Soft Tone Army Painter ink, then used the uniform colours to highlight the raised areas.

When I started painting model figures I was surprised to find that there was so much variation in the uniforms used by the German army, I had previously thought it was a combination of grey/field grey, but it seems that later uniforms were predominantly pale green, especially when most of their material started being imported from Italy. The instructions on the box had the gun crew in the green uniforms, but I decided to go with the earlier colour combo, which is more pleasing to the eye. The gun itself was used from the late 1930s and was quickly superseded by more powerful artillery as the war went on, so was a perfect choice for troops in early uniforms.
The colours I used were:

Humbrol 27 (Sea Grey) for the trousers

Humbrol 30 (Dark Green) for the collar and epaulettes

Humbrol 32 (Dark Grey) for the helmet

Humbrol 78 (Cockpit Green) for the jacket

Humbrol 72 (Khaki Drill) for the water bottle

Humbrol 75 (Bronze Green) for the gas mask capsule

Research in the net seems to suggest that Humbrol colours 86 or 102 give the light green shade required for the later uniforms.

Historex Red Lancer

No excuses, (though, I suppose it is an excuse) I've just been too busy at home and at work (the latter especially) over the last month or so to get around to any serious model making, let alone blogging. Hopefully, though, the ongoing staff problems at work will resolve themselves in the next couple of weeks and I'll have a little more spare time to do what I enjoy.

In the meantime, I've been re-photographing some of my older models. I used to have a fine selection of snaps, but most of these were lost when my old computer went bump a few months back and I didn't have a back up. So, here are a few pictures of a Historex Red Lancer that I have in my collection. I don't do Historex models too often, nowadays, having done quite a few when I was younger, but it is occasionally nice to revisit them, which I did with this one a couple of years ago. These models can still be ordered online from the Historex Agents website here,

When painting Historex figures I always try to keep them 'clean', so too speak, leaving the weathering to a minimum, as the real joy with them is the brilliancy of the uniforms. The Red Lancers have always been a favourite of mine and Historex do them proud. My only major gripe with Historex kits is that the assembly instructions can sometimes be something of a pain to interpret; working out which fiddly bit fits where, is often a case of taking your best guess. I'm sure that any real expert on the Napoleonic period would pick innumerable faults with my figures.


'Old Stoney Face': the 1:6 Halcyon Judge Dredd

Any British lad who grew up in the '70s and 80s would have probably read that seminal comic 2000AD, which first came out back in 1977, and there they would have encountered Judge Joe Dredd patrolling the mean streets of Mega City One. British comics never seem to have gone wholeheartedly down the superhero route of US comics, or warmed overly to the mad mecha of Japanese Manga, but in the Dredd stories we got a taste of them all mixed together, spiced up with a good dollop of deliciously out of place humour. The humour is for the most part ironic in that the story is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic USA, and Dredd is an almost humourless fascist future cop. According to one story I've read, which may or may not be true, the director Paul Verhoeven wanted to make a Judge Dredd film, but finding himself thwarted created the equally fascist, humourless but (conversely) grimly amusing world of Robocop instead. Personally I believe he is the only director that could have successfully carried the character onto the big screen with the bravura he deserves. The Stallone/Danny Cannon effort was pretty to look at, but downright embarrassing, while the latest attempt to bring Dredd to the big screen, though much better in depicting the character (nice one Karl!), and blessed with a much better story, suffered from a lower budget. Sorry lads, but a slightly pepped-up version of Johannesburg is not the Big Meg!

Anyhow, enough navel-gazing, onto the model itself. Halcyon brought out three models in this series: Dredd, curvy Psi-Judge Anderson and creepy super-villain Judge Death. Dredd, of course is the iconic figure and is depicted in a typically comic-book action pose, sculpted in the style of the artist Brian Bolland. Moreover, this is old school JD, armed with the original slimline Lawgiver pistol as opposed to the rather lumpen gun that the character now carries. According to the copyright blurb the figure came out in 1994. I can well believe it, as I've probably had this model since the late '90s, during which time it has undergone several repaints, several scrapings back and had all sorts of indignities done to it; I imagine it has as many scars as the character it represents. Anyone who read my first post on this blog will have already seen a picture of this figure, but I lost all of the others when my old computer crashed and I've therefore had another photo shoot. I had to give it a good dusting down this morning, though, as JD was seriously covered in fluff.

I made the model so long ago that I now have only a very vague recollection of the build. It's a resin figure, so it was a mixture of superglue, pins and screws to get it to stay together and as it was hollow to provide rigidity I also filled the model with plaster and after it had dried had lots of fun chipping off and sanding back the plaster that had oozed through the gaps in between the model pieces. This had the added advantage of filling those self same gaps and giving me a solid figure that could be screwed onto its base.

I originally painted the figure up in Humbrol and Revell enamels, but these gave largely unspectacular results, certainly not the eye-popping colours I have always associated with comic art. As I noted earlier this was only the first of a number of attempts to get the colours I was after. About five years ago I did thoroughly clean the model back and undercoated it before leaving it untouched for a few years in a cupboard, having been seduced away by other projects; I am a fickle model maker as well as a nervous one. I then repainted the figure, using oil paints for the face, the one it still has. It's definitely my favourite part of the model, showing Bolland's version of 'Old Stoney Face's' trademark scowl and lantern jaw really well. I'm particularly fond of Dredd's five o'clock shadow; a bloke with his level of testosterone must have major beard problems. I also used oil paints to paint the reflective effect on the Judge's helmet visor. I doing so I tried to give a little indication of the face behind the glass. Of course, we should never see Dredd's face, he is faceless justice and its always been a no-no to take the helmet off and see what lies beneath. I'm still fairly pleased with the results of my painting, which even now still stands up to my increasingly critical scrutiny. Of course to make it look more like glass I then needed to give the visor a couple of coats of gloss varnish.

The colour of Dredd's uniform is dark blue, not black, despite what some interpretations would have you believe and for this I used Humbrol 198, a satin dark blue enamel. The great breakthrough, though, colour-wise was my change over to Games Workshop golds for the eagle, shoulder pad and belt buckle/chain/badge/zip/et al, which have really brought the model to life. The gloves, boots, elbow and knee pads were done in GW Snot Green and the red trim to helmet was GW Blood Red covered in some gloss varnish.

Every model has its down sides and this one was no exception. The most noticeable one was Dredd's Lawgiver, which from the moment I assembled it had a pronounced droop to the barrel that no amount of corrective bending, immersions in hot water and so, could cure. So, I simply rebuilt the gun using a few salvaged bits from the original – the semicircular dial and scope from the back of the gun and the end of the barrel and its magazine. The rest of the gun I constructed from some old plastic rod, a piece of thick wire and an old plastic lollipop stick – Blue Peter would have been proud of me. The other major problem with the model was the base, which was slightly warped and I have only decorated this half-heartedly as sometime in the future I may (I only say 'may') get around to replacing it with something better.

Those niggles aside, though, I now have a model of one of my childhood anti-heroes that I can feel fairly pleased with. I'm not too bothered about the Judge Anderson figure, I always regarded Psi-division as a bit of a cop-out in the Dredd stories - 'Ooooh, we can read your minds...' blah, blah, blah, but some day I would love to get the Halcyon Judge Death model to pit against Dredd. Every hero deserves one decent villain to keep him company.

World War One Tank Finished

As the sun came out gloriously this afternoon I took these few snaps to put online. This is the finished model of a World War One 'male' Mk. I tank as was used in the first attack mounted by such vehicles against the village of Flers in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. I've placed the model on an appropriately shell-blasted base, depicting the conditions endured by the first men in tanks, which weren't at all pleasant.
 These early tanks were designed to pierce the German line, rolling over banks of barbed wire, crossing trenches and generally putting the wind up the German defenders. They did the first well enough when they reached the German lines, but the German soldiers were about as impressed with them as their opposite numbers were in the British lines, which wasn't much. Used in  a piecemeal fashion over badly shelled ground, they were prone to breakdowns, and prey to shells, mines and armour-piercing bullets. Even ordinary machine gun fire caused havoc inside the tanks producing clouds of 'splash' - tiny blobs of molten metal that broke off under the impact of the bullets, forcing later tankers to wear chain mail coifs and masks for protection. This was on top of the cramped surroundings and the stifling heat and choking fumes from the engine. No, service in early tanks was not nice.
The Germans took them on with grenades and rifles at close quarters and British infantry loathed fighting alongside them, regarding tanks as 'shell-magnets', as they became instant targets for enemy artillery. For over a year they lumbered on useless and unloved through several appalling battles, notably the morass of Passchendaele, but then the tanks were finally able to show what they could do when they were used successfully at the Battle of Cambrai. Though the tanks pierced the German line the follow up was mishandled by the generals, the German defence stiffened, the advance faltered and gains were lost; but the tanks had finally proven their worth and earned their place in modern warfare.
As already noted this tank is a Mk. I tank, notable for having the steering wheels set at the back of the tank. This model is based on a surviving example at the Tank Museum at Bovington, though according to some of the online blurb there are a few inconsistences with it, notably the tube-like exhaust on top of the tank, which was a later addition. Not being overly bothered by this, though, I've let it be and just got on with decorating the tank as per instructions. It's an Airfix kit and if Airfix do one thing well (actually they do a lot of things well) it is painting instructions. I therefore spent a pleasant afternoon painting brown, green and pale yellow blobs, broken occasionally with black lines all over the surface of the vehicle.
The tracks were painted a suitably rusty colour as was the anachronistic exhaust pipe, but the tracks would soon vanish under a mixed layer of muddy-coloured Citadel paint. 'Stirland Mud' is one of Citadel's textured paints, impregnated with microscopic plastic beads (paint with grit in it, in other words) which gives a very realistic looking soil effect. Games Workshop and Citadel stuff is pricey, but they supply some good stuff and I'm a definite convert to their washes and technical paints.
The 'Stirland Mud' would also feature heavily in the base. This I again constructed on a blank mains socket base, a double one in this case. This I coated in a heavy layer of filler which I then proceeded to sculpt, poke and generally mess about with until it looked like the German guns had given it a good pounding. I produced the biggest shell crater by using the rounded top of the 'Stirland Mud' container. I then pressed the tank tracks into the soft filler to give me a layer of tracks before finally pressing the tank itself into the filler where it has stayed, no glue required. The base took two days to dry when I started to coat it in the textured paint, plus some 'Lustrian Undergrowth' textured paint. I fashioned a small roll of barbed wire out of some fine grade beading wire bought at a craft shop, which I coiled around a pencil. This I stuck under one of the forward tracks of the tank, giving it a good coating with the textured paint, which helps to give it a 'barbed' look. This I later coated with rust-coloured paint.
The last jobs were simple weathering, dry-brushing a paler brown onto some of the raised soil and the tank itself. I also gave the tank a water or oil-streaked appearance with some thinned Citadel washes. The last job was to paint the white base black and all is done. Easy peasy, a very pleasing, trouble-free model to build. Not normally a vehicle man, I was so chuffed with the results that I have bought myself another 1:76 tank to try my hand with, a WW2 Matilda. Watch this space.
One last thing, I thought I'd see how the pictures held up in old-fashioned black and white, or sepia. Pretty good, I think, they look very much of the period.


World War One Tank

My brother has asked me to make him a model of a World War One tank, which I'm happy to do in this small 1:76 scale. The major problem that I have with tanks, ships and other military vehicles is that they can get a little monotonous with all the wheels, piping and related paraphernalia. This small-scale kit, though was a breeze to make up and once I have the paints should be a snap to decorate. I feel a nice muddy, shell blasted diorama coming up too.
I am wondering if there will be an increase in World War One kits over the next few years, it being the centenary of that devastating conflict. If so, we should start seeing a few interesting new kits coming onto the modelling scene. Miniart  are already producing a series of WW1 German flyers as part of their 1:16 figure range. I'm not sure though, that I want to make plastic miniatures of two future Nazis, so will give those a miss.


Computer Modelling: Sketchup and Pepakura (2)

I've now finished constructing the simple basic model that I cooked up in Sketchup and Pepakura and actually it did not give me as much trouble as I thought it would. For the most part I stuck to the patterns provided and had little trouble getting them to fit. I think this may have been helped by the fact that I chose to work with fairly thin plastic sheet, which tends to negate the 'corner' problem that you can have with this kind of project; namely, how do you attach the pieces of plastic to each other? Do you do a simple butt joint (as in woodwork), or attempt something akin to a mitre joint i.e., trying to join the two pieces edge on with no overlap. It may seem a small matter, but it can make a world of difference if you get it wrong, especially with thicker plastic sheet and you could suddenly find large unsightly gaps, or ill-fitting pieces no matter how accurate your cutting.
With thinner plastic this problem becomes a minor matter, but you gain extra problems, namely a lack of strength and rigidity in your model. As indicated in my previous post, though, balsa wood can be used to brace the piece. Another problem is glue, go easy with it on thinner sheet as too much glue simply melts or distorts the plastic. It happened a couple of times on this piece, though it is not very apparent in the pictures, but I have since filled a couple of gaps and hollows with Plasto which I can easily sand back.

Computer Modelling: Sketchup and Pepakura

It's a brave new world and though in my model-making I'm dealing with solid physical objects, I'm increasingly aware that there are many sites and a great deal of software available on the web that can help me in my hobby. This ranges from the numerous online forums where you can get glimpses of other people's skills (and let's face it, hate them with a passion for getting everything so damned perfect with their creations!), sites that provide you with a range of materials, printables and instructions as well as a much wider choice of models and assorted stuff than was available in pre-internet times. No wonder so many high street model shops seem to be closing down.

Modelling in Google Sketchup.
There are also many computer modelling programmes that can be utilised by the model maker and, joy of joys, most of them are free. For instance, take Google Sketchup , a simple-to-use freeware modelling package which can be used to make 3d models of whatever you like. But, I hear you cry, they are but 3d models, pookas, phantoms, glyphs, electronic caprices without form or substance and that is indeed true unless you then upload your model into a wonderful little programme called Pepakura Designer This programme (also free unless you want to build your own models in it, which requires payment) was created with the growing papercraft modelling fraternity in mind and it allows you to literally 'unfold' 3d models into a recognisable paper plan, a bit like the dress-making patterns my mother used to use. These can be printed onto paper or card and then cut out for use. I have tried to make card models, but I find the material too flimsy. However, there is nothing stopping you from cutting out the individual pieces and using them to make plastic models.

I like science fiction and by extension enjoy creating the odd sci-fi model. I find, though that simple science fiction figures often lack a suitably sci-fi looking environment. With Sketchup models, Pepakura patterns and a little patience, though, small bits of sci-fi kit can be created from plastic card, other strip plastics and balsa wood. The model in the picture above was a simple design I came up with that would  look fine in any number of science fiction scenes, so I transferred it into Pepakura as seen below. In Pepakura, though each model comes in at a default size, the scale of the pattern can be altered to make it smaller or larger, though to do the latter you sometimes have to print it onto several sheets of paper, which would then entail an even lengthier process of cutting, fitting and taping the pieces together before getting started. I simply organised my small model to print out on a single sheet of A4 and that seems fine.

Making a pattern in Pepakura.

Before getting stuck in, stop and think about some of the choices Pepakura makes, though, as it can make things more difficult, such as with the front curve of the model seen here, which it thinks would be best created with numerous strips, whereas a single bent piece would work much better. Otherwise, though, crack on. The patterns can be cut out using a sharp knife or scissors, sprayed or smeared with glue (I use either Pritt or occasionally Photomount), stuck to the plastic sheet; the patterns can be peeled off later.  When dry enough I cut the pieces out and then begin to assemble them. Care needs to be taken at this stage to make sure the pieces match and that there are no major gaps or overlaps as these will only have to be sorted out later. Glue lugs in place to secure the pieces of plastic together, but never ignore that time-honoured modeller's resource, balsa wood, which can be used as shown here to add rigidity to what would otherwise be a rather flimsy plastic box. Balsa on balsa would need a good PVA (white glue), but balsa onto plastic needs something more resilient; I use a cheap soft plastic glue that I bought from Wilkinson's.


So far so good, the model is slowly changing from a 3D fantasy into something more tangible. The only word of caution is to be patient, building from scratch does take longer than from kit, let the glue dry thoroughly before moving on to the next stage.