An army in a day

Gerry Sutcliff © 7th Oct 2019

To Ferret Miniatures Items

Or completing a whole army from scratch in a day… yes only one day. By Gerry Sutcliff.


Most of us have hidden in some curtained off corner a plastic or lead mountain or even both! Despairing of ever completing many of the projects I had started and added to the mountain; I nevertheless decided to complete a whole project in only one day and yes it did mean another addition to my range of mountains but a very short lived one.

This was prompted by demos I had seen of the siege of Portsmouth an English Civil War game in 2mm at a couple of shows. I remember previous articles on such small scales “In praise of hair roller armies” was one and another more recent had ancients made out of Milliput then textured to look like irregular mobs. All good stuff when you are happy with the look of the thing.

Knowing that the final product would not take up much space; I started with a period I had not looked at before and completed a number of 2mm Crimean War armies. This was done on a mass production basis and was a large but nevertheless quick project made possible due to the scale of the figures. I already have a number of fine 28mm armies; including ECW; which I put together using the army painter technique. With this experience and the proposed use of such a small scale; I was reasonably confident I could complete this task in one day. Paying a modest sum via Paypal (other methods are available), I ordered Union and Confederate armies from Irregular Miniatures. A few days later Ian Kay emailed me the order had been despatch and Lo! a package about the size of a large box of matches appeared. Here is a rundown of the process I used.

First: Prepare your figures.

I timed myself in doing all this and started with the Union Army. Being so tiny the odd element might drop to the floor; so clear around you and try to work over a surface which will make them stand out. Irregular’s castings are pretty good when it comes to the small amount of flash, but they still need a little smoothing. You can do this by rubbing their base on a piece of emery paper, one of those board thingy’s for doing your nails; or even a metalwork grinder (health and safety please). Time taken so far: 36 minutes. If you have determined to end up mounting your figures on fairly large bases (eg 60mm x 30mm) you might skip the next bit and mount them direct on those instead which will save you some time at the “de-sprigging” stage. Using blue tack in strips (again other substitutes are available) or double sided tape: attach the figures to old DVDs. I put all the infantry on one, the cavalry on another and everything else on a third. There will be so many infantry elements that putting them on one disc is a bit too tight so put some of them on the Everything Else disc. That’s another 40 minutes. Using ahem! A scalpel or similar; trim both the ends of the elements and between the individual figures of any remaining flash. Say 20 minutes. Spray white primer on the Cavalry and Everything Else Discs. Then spray blue colour primer on the Infantry Disc. If you wish you can mask off and spray prime colour primer on the handful of infantry elements put on the Everything Else Disc. These can be used for say Militia (grey colour primer) or Zouaves (blue colour primer then when dry add red trousers and kepi) or sharpshooters (dark green). That’s another 5 minutes.

Second: Start Guns and Horses.

Once satisfied that all are dry …. another 10 minutes Using a relatively fine brush; paint the bases grass green around the feet, hooves, cannons, limbers and so on. ….. 15 minutes. Paint the limbers, wagons and cannon in either matt natural wood or yellow ochre… it doesn’t matter too much which. 5 minutes. Pick out the horses by painting them all matt white. They will stand out more and make the rest of their painting easier now… 5 Minutes. Looking down on the horses; paint them white, black and brown basically in a downwards dot like fashion front and back. Next swivelling the disc they are on paint the front and rear in small horizontal strokes with finally a thrust between each horse from front to back. Do this until the purely white ones are just a scattered few on each element. I generally use Vallejo or Tamiya acrylics, but it doesn’t really matter as we are not being purists in any of this. 30 minutes. At this point the mounted elements and artillery will look like a load of splodges; don’t panic this will be cleared up later. Give the limbers a second coat with matt natural wood or desert yellow then the cannon barrels and wheel edges gunmetal 8 minutes. As the horses have now had their first coat go onto the humans… paint the skirmishers, artillerymen and then the riders a dot of uniform blue on their front and back…. If you want some of them as sharpshooters use dark green instead of blue for those. For the cavalrymen and skirmishers this is easily done with a stroke from left to right and then right to left on each element; while for the artillerymen, Limber riders, skirmishers and mounted officers it is more of a small blob. 12 minutes. Painting the cavalry seems to be the main consumer of time as you are likely to have to return to them a few times for touching up.


Third: Wash all and second coat horse.

The Cavalry and Everything else disc elements could use a touch up in green on the base at this point. Do this to all elements in horizontal strokes across the base but not going over the foot of each miniature. Miraculous; all those naff splodges disappear, and the elements look more like military units. 15 Minutes. Next put a thin black wash over the artillery and limbers then to the lower half of the infantry figures then return to the Cavalry and everything else discs and black wash under the horses, guns and limbers. 16 Minutes. Once dry paint the horses again. White, black and brown but this time just quick horizontal strokes over the rump, main and horse front. 20 minutes.

Fourth: Touches and standards.

Due to the wash; you should be able to tell which are the front and the rear of the foot elements. You can reposition some, so they all face in the same direction which will make the touching up easier. Use a very light touch with burnt flesh to add faces to some figures. This is easiest on the infantry strips as a fine horizontal stroke along the top front of each element. You do not need to be perfect with this. For cavalry, artillery and skirmishers use just a tiny blob. Add the infantry packs in black or dark grey with a simple horizontal paint stroke. For muskets use dark brown diagonal bottom to top strokes or don’t even bother. 25 minutes.


Fifth: Flags.

For all standards and guidons paint white then it is a matter of choice. You can try for the national flags by adding a thin red stripe at top and bottom then a tiny blue dot in the top corner nearest the flagpole… Another method is to group your figures together in regiments of several elements or companies in which case you can paint 1 elements flag in the national colours then the remainder of the elements in a group colour. For example; 6th Regiment have red, 5 yellow, 7 blue, 6 green and whatever else you want. For Union cavalry guidons I painted white then a fine touch of yellow at the very top. For confederate guidons I just painted them red. 15 minutes.


Sixth: Making good

Go over any figures which still need making good due to any accidental overpainting. For example, mounted figures are likely to need a second uniform blue coat, headwear is still bound to need a touch up to hide any superfluous flesh and the odd musket will have splodged and need covering up on the infantry jackets. Tidy up the infantry and artillerymen with uniform blue. Use thin front to back strokes which will change the stripe of flesh you could see on some overpainted elements into a series of dots. Add some black headwear here and there. Horses may need the odd touch in brown, white or black. 25 minutes.


Seventh: De-sprig, green bases again and varnish. Job Done!.

Carefully remove the elements on a disk one type at a time and take off any Blu-tack still sticking to them. 1 hour. Yet again touch up the bases with a single stroke along each tiny base with intermediate green and put them to one side with gaps between them all. 1 hour. Spray anti shine matt varnish the whole army with a few thin passes from all four directions plus downwards and wait to dry. JOB DONE!. As the rest is a matter of choice. Total time taken just over 7 hours or 1 working day. Ok you may want to add in more breaks! I am going to do a few more to see if I can cut the time down further; consider using thin strips of double-sided tape rather than the sticky stuff or glue them straight onto bases instead of tacking them on CDs, maybe even forget adding flesh.

What next… Basing: a matter of choice.

Even though we have got to the “Job done!” stage there are still questions about what next. Basing, rules, scenarios, army composition, terrain, playing aids. I do not intend to adress all these points in one go but some thoughts on basing…. Your choice of base size and composition is likely to be influenced by available rulesets or what level of unit you want the infantry elements to represent.


Irregular Miniatures supply the “Warring Empires” rules. This lists base sizes as…. Generals 1x1cm. Infantry 20x15mm. Skirmishers 20x10mm. Cavalry 20x15mm. Guns 15x15mm. Limber and wagon 10x20mm.


There are some 5mm and 6mm rules that could be pressed into use. 5mm Navwar Heroics and Ross has sizes of… Light (2) and heavy (3) cavalry 15x15mm. Heavy infantry (4) 15x6mm. Light infantry (2) 15x8mm. The numbers in Parenthesis being the number of figures on a base. Other elements 15x(upto) 40mm as required. Another ruleset 5mm Rebel Yell uses… Infantry (5) 20x7mm. Cavalry (4) 30x15mm. Skirmishers (2-3) 20x10mm. Guns 15x15mm. Unmounted horses (4+1) 20x20mm. Limbers and wagons 10mm x as necessary. Polymos uses a standard 60x30mm base; a size which crops up in a number of scales and rules such as Armati, Field of Glory or Dux Bellorum.

When temporarily basing my Crimean War armies on transparent Perspex; I gave credit to the actual size of the elements and my wish to attach counters underneath. I came up with the following a: Infantry and cavalry elements 20x15mm. b: Skirmishers, dismounted cavalry, unmounted horses, field pieces 20x10mm limbers. c: Limbers and wagons 10x20mm. d: Command figures 15x15mm. e: General in command group the big cheese… 20x15mm although I might change that to a circular base of 20mm. Basing the elements individually 1 to a base in this way would suggest that the level of unit for each element would represent a battalion, regiment, brigade or even a division in its own right. That might end up with some pretty drawn out and complex battles. By “level of unit” I refer to the size of unit the infantry elements are meant to represent. Are they a company, regiment, brigade or division?. Your choice of basing to meet this “level” as the “eye of the beholder” would probably be influenced by the number of “men figures” on an element. Just how realistic in terms of numbers should the unit look?. Irregular Miniature ACW elements are cast as follows…. Infantry: 2 ranks of 10 men. Cavalry: 1 rank of 6 or 3 men. Skirmishers and dismounted cavalry 5 men and their separate unmounted horses in clusters of 6. Artillery: 1 gun plus what looks like 4 gunners. Gun limbers: 4-horse teams with 2 riders and there is 1 limbered cannon on a 4-horse team. Command elements are 2 mounted figures plus 1 stand which has 2 mounted and 2 dismounted officers plus their horses. There are a number of 3 mounted figures which can be used for additional command figures or to create cavalry in a column of 3. In addition, they usually provide a piece or two of terrain such as a church, farm or bridge.


A totally different approach would be to group a number of elements together on 1 larger base; even then a number of such bases could be grouped together to form a brigade or division. I have seen square cards mounting 2 or 4 elements of infantry with plenty of room for an identifying label at front or rear. In the accompanying pictures you can see one example of a flocked base where a small enclosure has been added for the insertion of tiny dice or tokens which could represent various values such as firepower, combat, morale, movement. You could even add a tiny coloured bead which could represent the command to which the unit belongs, it’s fatigue or morale level… whatever. This base has been made out of plasticard the sequence used to make it was… 1 I cut it to size. 2 scored it with a scalpel. 3 painted the base matt earth colour. 4 glued on the infantry elements. 5 PVA glued on the tiny wooden enclosure for the dice. 6 PVA glued on some sand. 6 lightly painted the base medium green. 7 PVA glued on some 1mm scenic grass. I saw an example very similar to this at the Hereward show in Peterborough where an adaptation of to “To the strongest” was used.


This latter approach of putting a number of elements on one stand might help in making a game flow smoother and at the same time be more pleasing to the eye. I also quite like the idea of using standard FOW bases as they are plasticky, bevelled and have rounded corners. You can put a number of elements on for example their medium size; which is 32 x 50mm and represent a decent sized regiment of several companies. (Yes, I know you can also do that on the previously mentioned 60x30mm; and I have seen these at a variety of shows.)


So; there are a multiple of solutions, but you will all continue to scratch your heads in finding an opponent who not only has a compatible army but compatible bases as well. Fear nought… as a temporary and ubiquitous measure…. You can still tack your elements onto clear Perspex bases and later rebase them to another chosen design. Although the sticky stuff has a habit of drying out and becoming less… sticky; I do not know anyone who relishes having to rebase an army and there are other advantages of using this method such as printing off some fighting stats or using a playing counter; which you can tack on the underside of the base so it can show through. If you want to it is relatively simple thing to change the counters underneath when needed for different battles. You could even use ready made counters from any of the many boardgames out there. See the picture showing several alternatives bases.


For terrain there is so much you can DIY it with. Existing 2 foot terrain boards, fabric painted cloth or even maps can be pressed into service. Entire forests can be conjured out of fine lichen or rough wool cut to shape. The small monopoly houses or cut to shape wooden dowel for buildings. Wool or cord for walls and fences. Subjects for future articles no doubt.


There are great advantages in having a few armies in this scale. Low Cost and the small amount of storage required being prime considerations. It would be so easy to have a collection of all the national armies of a particular campaign and still be able to put them in a bottom drawer. In this case while doing the Union Army …. In the background I also was working on the Confederate opposition. I already have a number of Ships of both sides in 1/1200. So no need to worry if I can find an opponent with the right opposition army similarly based.


Wither from here?. Hmmm possibly Napoleonic French, Russian, Austrian and British. Ho-Hum