The Waving Flag: 15 mm Hellenistic Generals (Donnington 'Originals')

Wednesday 31 January 2024

15 mm Hellenistic Generals (Donnington 'Originals')

This year I will be taking a Hellenistic army to the King in the North competition in October. As I've mentioned, I'll be using borrowed troops for the bulk of the army but to complete the list I will need to paint half a dozen units or so of Thracians.

Before embarking on this mini project, I decided to paint some generals for the army for a number of reasons:

  1. Having my "own" generals will make the army feel more like one of mine.  I've never played with a borrowed army before.
  2. I've not painted figures from the classical period for over thirty years and I needed some practice.
  3. To experiment with, and settle on, a suitable colour palette & associated recipes.  The period demands bronze, brass & gold as well as some rich reds and purples.
  4. To put as many of the samples I've bought to good use.  I want to avoid "wasting" as few as possible.

Figure choice
I spent hours perusing catalogues online: one of the joys of the hobby.   I ruled out Forged in Battle fairly early on, due to their large pack sizes but mainly because they didn't have Thracians armed as I required.  I will probably use them when I've finished the units I must paint.

Eventually, I bought samples from Lancer Miniatures, Ancient & Modern and a lot of second hand pike from Essex Miniatures.

The Lancer figures are nicely sculpted but the phalangites are "large 18 mm" figures with separate shields (one of my pet hates).  On the plus side they are cast open-handed so adding brass pikes is easy.  I decided against using these.  If you'd like these get in touch.

Next I ordered enough samples from Donnington to do 2 mounted and 2 foot generals plus a unit of cataphracts (why not?).  Sampling with a purpose I suppose.  The figures are all from their "Originals" range.  My idea was to do a pair of early generals and a pair of later (Seleucid?) generals.

Old school approach
The Donnington "Originals" moulds are known not to be in the best shape and are advertised as such.  So I wasn't expecting top quality figures but I hoped for some "old school" charm.  I've bought many Donnington figures in the past (Mongols, TYW mainly) and really enjoyed painting them.

In part, I was inspired by this late Roman army which features some amazing results using old style figures, brass rod and Milliput; well worth a look.

I knew I'd be doing some remedial work with the figures but I wanted to see what I could do with really "old school" figures and a bit of modelling.  Overall, I'm pleased with how they turned out especially the officer figures:

Later Generals (Seleucid?)

It's worth noting that the later geral figure is alot smaller than the other riders; hence the use of a piece of slate to raise the figure up to hide the difference in size.

Early Generals (Not Alexander?)

All the cloaks have been remodelled expect that on the later mounted general which was superbly sculpted.

Figure review
I'd hoped the Donnington foot & riders would be quick to prepare and paint, but they weren't.  However the horses were superb; so much better that their riders.

I pride myself in being able to tackle almost anything, but these figures tested both my technique and patience.  They will serve me well come October but I won't be using them to form the bulk of my new Hellenistic army.

The preparation involved a lot of work.  To give you an idea of how much I had to do here's a list of the preparatory steps for the late foot general.  I ended up:

  • Removing a fair amount of flash.  Nothing horrendous but not minor either.  Even after this, some of the edges (around the arms, shoulder pads, skirt armour etc) were still rough, so sometimes getting a clean edge seemed nigh on impossible.
  • Making pikes from brass rod, compressing the end with pliers and creating a point with some diamond files.
  • Using greenstuff to create a proper right (lower) hands as the pike figures don't have a proper set of fingers.
  • Remodelling the officer's cloak with greenstuff.  As cast the cloak had too many sharp creases and would have been a swine to paint well.
  • Filing down the shields to get a smooth enough surface to take a shield transfer.
  • Buying some Micro Set and decal paper for my laser printer to print my own transfers: all the commercial ones were too small.  The Macedonian star designs came from the internet.

The four figures in the unit only cost £1.60 but I bought what seemed industrial quantities of brass rod, greenstuff, Micro Set and decal paper.  They'll all come in handy as this project progresses but it seemed a lot.

When painting these, the main problem I had was my inability to compensate for the sculpting (or lack of it) where necessary.  My usual approach in these circumstances is to create as clean a shape as possible for the details against a black undercoat which can improve things very quickly.  Then I highlight where possible.

This approach requires decent and consistent edges.  However, the details on many of the figures was there but not incised enough making "shaping" tricky.  In some instances there was something sculpted that I didn't understand: one edge of the infantry baldrics was particularly bad (lumpy) and seemed to "disappear" well before the waist of the front of the figure.

Decision made
I decided to stick to the "Old School" approach but to use Essex Miniatures for my Hellenistic Thracian infantry.  Not least because I've already bought enough Essex pikemen for my chosen army

I've now received my order from Essex Miniatures for the half dozen Thracian units I need to paint plus a few extras.  When they been painted I'll tackle the pike or maybe do some cavalry.

List of all the project posts

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