Monday, September 23, 2013

Something New from Something Old

For over a year I have been sitting on a stagnant pile of gorgeously sculpted lead for my United Provinces army. I have come to realise that this is unlikely to alter in the foreseeable future - perhaps even my lifetime - unless something is done.

The limitation is uniform and colour information. This has largely been the case due to a vacuum of research and certainty surrounding uniforms and colours for the Dutch Wars of the 1670s - less so for the French but drastically so for the Dutch. I also realize there's not a lot I can do about that.

I have previously flagged a willingness to co-fund a grant but have not pushed it past this Blog as yet. I have dreamt of learning Dutch, living in the Netherlands for a year and doing it myself but it's not possible - not in this life. So until the void is at least partly filled - what to do?

My options are to speculate that the earliest reference to regimental uniforms (those of 1688 as published by Sapherson) might be consistent with the uniforms of the same regiments 14 years earlier. I say 14 years because I want to concentrate on the battle of Seneffe in 1674 - that's the army I want to recreate. But the evidence is simply against me and I know it.

Even within the much reduced time frame covered by Sapherson's work for William's army in the Nine Years War, individual regiments change their uniform colours with alarming regularity. The chances of a previous period being more consistent seems unlikely in the extreme and to suggest it could also stretch over a 14 year period is not just improbable, it's fanciful.

So I have come to a curious option and one inspired by the following image.

Actually, it didn't have to be this image in particular. I'm talking about the time honoured portrayal of warfare in this period by the artists' engraving. Replacing the woodcut, the artist's engraving recorded visual impressions of the characters and events of the age for a rapidly increasing number of increasingly literate people thanks to the exponential proliferation of the printing press. Unlike the periods which followed, this was predominately in our century of interest a form without colour and it is this lack of colour which has caught my imagination.

If I can't discern the uniform colours of my army, then why not dispense with colour entirely? I've always sought to push the boundaries of conventional wargaming and try something new. This may be it.

Here I'd like to acknowledge the work of a fellow Blogger and one of the many I follow: Carmen's Fun Painty Time. Some time ago he created a vignette for a 1930's American gangster mob, all in 'black & white' to capture a feel for the period. As he paid homage to the age of B&W film, might I not think about wargaming in the age of the 17th century engraving?

In a world without colour; light, shade and form become more evident. The eye will be drawn to the sculpting and the modelling without distraction from how well or not I have painted them. Have you ever thought how pure and statuesque some of the superior figures available today look at the undercoated stage - when undercoated white that is?

When asked, "What's all this wargaming about?", have many of us not likened wargaming to a more dynamic chess-like game but with toy soldiers? Well, a table-top without colour gets closer still. More of the game and less of the craft or artistic side of the hobby, yet perhaps not entirely.

Whilst the game comes more to the fore in this option (as I see it) I'm not talking about simply spray-painted figures moved across a bed-sheet. I'm talking about bringing those well known sketches to the third dimension. Unlike B&W photography, where all colour is represented by subtle shades, the engravings of this time are predominately detailed white sketches with an emphasis on shade or more precisely, shadow. I envisage at this time white-sprayed undercoated figures, perhaps inked or 'washed' and a dusting or dry brushed finish. I'd want the finish figures to be like marbled masses; subtle, delicate and worth holding up to the eye.

Perhaps subtler shades of coloured hues for the priming or undercoating for different nationalities. Imagine a light or mid-grey blue for the French, more layered dry-brushing with white which should still render the units essentially white to reflect the artists sketch but with a consistent permeation of subtle colour in the creases and folds, telling our eyes and brain that this unit differs from that of it's opponent. Alternatively, heavier shading will allow for one side to be identified from another but only where there is a need or desire to tell the difference between two distinct sides. Otherwise, coloured undercoats might be a faded brown/orange for the United Provinces, a russet for the British, a dark grey/blue for the Prussians and so on. 

The landscape will be sculpted foam, contoured and sanded with roads and rivulets properly represented in actual depth but all coated white with the depths further indicated with shades of grey. In such a landscape the buildings and the natural features of trees, shrubs and hedgerows might well be best modelled from card stock and foam-core, simplified and made to a series of generic templates in imitation of the artists style for repetition.

It's not a simple fix and much careful consideration needs to be entered into before proceeding. Regardless of the care and application I may make, it would nevertheless result in a significantly faster build time for my first wargaming project in this period. Just think, purchasing the figures might seriously be half the time it takes to get my new armies on the table and playing games.

If in time my knowledge gap is filled with new research and publication: if someone out there colours my world, I will revisit this period in technicolour but for now I am finding this idea almost irresistible.

What do you think?