I Have No Idea What I’m Doing


As a modeler, I primarily stick to military vehicles, with the occasional detour into ridiculously OP city maintenance mechs.

For 2020, I’m looking to branch way outside of my comfort zone and tackle something completely different.



In large part because my interest in history extends well beyond 20th and 21st century military vehicles. In college, I majored in history, with a focus on classical and early medieval Europe. And outside of some artillery and siege contraptions, you’re not going to find many military vehicles among the Romans, Byzantines, Visigoths, Franks and Normans.

What you will find are some pretty impressive-looking figures.

This won’t be my first time tackling figures. I did a few Verlinden jobs as a kid and…they were about as good as I could do at the time, which wasn’t very. Since my return to modeling, I’ve avoided them for a few reasons.

First, intimidation. Painting eyes, shield artwork, and other intricate shit has brought me up short.

Second, ignorance (see post title).

Third, I’m just not a fan of the prevailing painting style of hyper-accentuated, almost clownish highlights, shadows, rosy cheeks, and all that. While I have no idea what I’m doing, I do have a pretty good idea of what I don’t want to do.

Why come back to it now? A bit of a change of pace. A bit of a challenge. And a way to really develop my brush skills, particularly with painting small, intricate details. If nothing else, I figure I’ll be able to bring some of that back to my other work.

Let’s begin

The best advice I’ve received so far has come from Ian Candler: “honestly just start one up…pick something you actually want to do and for the love of god pick a good sculpt”.

With that in mind, I went hunting, and came back with this snazzy 75mm Byzantine skoutatos from Altores.

The Byzatines had a very interesting sort of evolution from the Roman legion. With the legion, the focus was the legionnaires. Cavalry, skirmishers, archers, all more or less played supporting and harassing roles. But facing off with the Persians (and later various Islamic states) and their highly mobile fighting style, legions wouldn’t cut it. Just ask Crassus. Oh, wait…

In time, Byzantine tactics came to focus on the heavy cavalry, the cataphracts. Infantry acted in a supporting role, and was organized into chiliarchiai, units of 1000 containing roughly a third toxotai (archers and skirmishers), and two thirds skoutatoi, named for their shields (skouton). Unlike earlier Roman legions, these were truly mixed formations that used combined arms to operate effectively, and typically as an anchor and support for the cavalry.

This dude represents an 10th century skoutatos. Obviously armored in a chainmail tunic. He’s lofting a spathion, basically an evolution of the Roman spatha (the long cavalry sword – Maximus used one in Gladiator) that came to more resemble a European arming sword. Just one problem.

The sword was warped all to fuck. Now…I did manage to straighten it in some hot water. But it kept bending back, so I ultimately trapped it between two metal rulers (using the cork backsides) in a vice to let it set up. Then I fucked it all up with a butterfingers move while releasing the vice, and the sword snapped.

Yeah…fuck that noise.

Rather than trying to fix the sword, which I was kinda bummed about anyway, I decided to go a different route. Skoutatoi carried spathions, sure, but their main weapon was a long spear called a kontarion. Like, 12-14 feet long. I figured that would look rather striking, so I lopped off the sword, drilled out the hand, and readied a piece of 1mm brass rod as the shaft. The spearhead is another story for a later time.

To deal with the sword, I scratchbuilt the crossguard and hilt, added the original pommel, and stuck them onto the scabbard. The result looks pretty awesome so far:

Now primed and with those modifications made, I got my start blocking in the various colors. From what I can gather, colors could vary and were usually coordinated at a unit level for quick identification. So I guess one unit might be in blues, another in greens, and so on. I opted for blue, with plans to do several variations between the tunic, shield, and horsehair plume stuck to the helmet.

For the chainmail, I’ve used Ammo’s Steel. The blue tunic is Vallejo pale gray blue, and the pants and boots are AK and Vallejo paints. My initial skintone base was a mix of MRP Tan and Pale Roundel Red.

Next, I hit the various leather torso bits and the straps hanging from the helmet with MRP figure acrylic Brown Leather and Scale75 Arabic Shadow. The face got a mix of Scale75 Basic Flesh and Pink Flesh which to my eyes looks way better than my shitty MRP mix.

And…that’s where things stand now. Since I’m getting out of the blocking phase, I’m going to have to start playing with shadows and highlights and different tones, and to be honest it scares the shit out of me. But there’s no better way to learn than by doing, so…stay tuned!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. John Everett says:

    Looks legit, so far. One thing I’ve found with brass is that it will probably never remain straight, as even the gentlest of contact can leave it curved. You may want to consider steel music wire instead. It holds up better but has the downside of not being able to solder anything to it.

  2. Axel says:

    Great feature from you. And I’m glad you show it on your blog.
    The solution for the sword “issue” is outstanding.

    And thanks for the quick history lesson tossed into the mix. You obviously know your history. I really like the background you provide.
    Looking forward to the next post.

  3. Paul Moore says:

    Well Doog, I don’t know how you do it, but you made this whole sculpture painting thing interesting. Good luck with it and I always like it when someone wants to get out of their comfort zone and learn.

  4. Bohdan says:

    Good for you !!! I only build 1/35 armor, 1/32 aircraft WHEN I can put a figure beside it. E.G. An Ace beside his aircraft. Wittman with his tank, Niki Lauda beside his 312T and so on. No figure then it might as well be any other scale. Figures bring a story to the display. Moreover, as I work on figures it stretches my hobby so that I can apply techniques (shadows, Highlights in cockpits) and so on. All the best. BG

  5. Larry Charbonneau says:

    This looks really good so far. I’m looking forward to what you do with the shadowing. Though I’m trying to resist attaching a cartoon bubble to your last photo saying “It’s just a flesh wound!”

  6. bstarr3nd says:

    Nice work, Doog. Look forward to seeing how this progresses, and appreciate the built-in history lesson. Any airbrush there, or all hand painted? How do you like the MRP and AK acrylics? I’ve only used Vallejo model color for figure painting with acrylics.

  7. Whitey says:

    Figures are intriguing and terrifying all at once. Fine details can make a huge difference, but sometimes a seemingly-major “aw shit” turns out looking okay afterwards.

    I’m doing a 1/35 scene set in the “Red Dawn +20”-verse of regular Army tankers with militia-sworn-into-the-NG mech infantry. The active-duty guys are pretty easy: Desert Storm-era crew figures in woodland BDU with cav patches on an M60A1.

    The militia dudes are a mix&match deal of Vietnam figures armed with M1 Garands and Carbines riding an M3 halftrack with DIY spaced armor and a TOW launcher. While all figures give the opportunity to put some personality into them by how they’re posed, what gear they wear, etc, I put a little extra into these ones with things like civvie t-shirts and MLB team logos.

    I’ve found that a finely-sharpened black artist’s pencil is great for picking out little details. A slight wipe of your thumb will smudge it just enough to make it look natural. Not sure how well that works on a bigger scale, but it’s an idea.

  8. ericbergerud says:

    You ever read “Count Belisarius” by Robert Graves? (Most famous for the Claudius books and “Good Bye to All That” – one of the greatest WWI memoirs). Brilliant fiction and very heavy on operational matters – Graves was a chum of TE Lawrence – and a veteran of the trenches – so he took his warfare seriously. Belisarius was Justinian’s greatest general – so we’re talking five hundred years before your Varagian Guard type gent there. As far as figure painting goes, best of luck – one bad figure in a dio and it’s curtains. I’d guess you’re 100% right on “less is more” when it comes to facial detail. I use a lot of Vallejo products, but prefer Golden Fluid Acrylics – very like Model Color. All artist colors, but that includes the powerful mixing brews like Plathalo Blue (Green Shade) or Quinacridone Red – you can make any color with that stuff. (Very neat Oxides – both green and yellow.) Metalics are not so hot but rest of the line is good and huge scale – the company pioneered quality artist acrylics forty years ago and are now an empire in the art world. (That’s how Vallejo got started – and they still have a large artist market. Don’t know if Golden is missing an opportunity with modelers or if we’re still a relatively small market.)

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