Thursday, 31 July 2014

15mm Stalingrad building

It's been a long time since my last post! I've had very little time since March to do anything related to wargaming, so I spent most of that time embellishing a 15mm MDF ‘Potzdammer Platz’ building from Commission Figurines. I took lots of photos and, for once, most of them were in focus so hopefully this long post won't be too text-heavy. 

Although the Commission Figurines kit is based on a building in Berlin, it's a style common across Europe so I decided to model it as a Stalingrad building to use in games of Rapid Fire!. I posted a review of the kit back in February but here is a repeat picture of the assembled building, just to show you the starting point:

Because Rapid Fire! is a battalion-level game, I resisted adding too much extra detail to the building. I added a dividing wall to the interior using pieces from my box of offcuts and a couple of matchsticks: 

Finally, I added a layer to sand to the broken edge of the wall. Here is the wall in situ:

At this stage I glued most of the kit together except for one wall and floor section, so that I could easily work on the interior. The exterior of the building looks fantastic but the interior was bare so the next stage was to add some detail. I added a thin strip of PVA glue between each floor...

...flocked the glue with sand...

...then neatened the lines of sand-coated glue with a ruler:

When the glue has set, the interior looks (at a glance, at least) like it has those unfinished spaces between floors that you only see when a building is being demolished:

I added more matchsticks across the short walls to represent joists:

The next stage was digital. I researched 1930s wallpapers on the interwebz to create some 15mm scale wallpaper patterns. It was tough to find usable soviet wallpaper designs so in the end two of the four patterns ended up being west European patterns. I'm pretty certain nobody will realise...

At this point, things went on hiatus for about a month as I pondered how best to print the patterns and weather the building afterwards. I was hoping for a matt finish for the wallpaper but the designs were blurred on plain paper and only looked good on photo paper which looked too shiny, even when I used the matt types. My usual painting method is to block in the colours, wash them with inks or thinned paint, then add drybrushed highlights. However, my printer ink isn't waterproof so the wash would just ruin the wallpapers. I discovered there were waterproof inks available for my printer but, since I'd already just changed the ink cartridges (all six of them!), this wasn't going to work. What to do?

In the end, I had success printing the designs on to self-adhesive gloss photo paper from Poundland, of all places, and dulling the finish with Humbrol matt spray varnish. The varnish also sealed the prints, making them waterproof. In the end I didn't use washes on the paper anyway, but it was useful to learn that the option is available to me on future projects. So, on went the wallpapers:

I cut out the windows and various holes after applying the wallpaper. I think it would have been too difficult to try cutting sections out of the paper beforehand.

I used continuous strips of paper on the assembled kit:

However, I had to apply the wallpaper separately to the removable section. You can see the join on the finished building but at a glance it is not too noticable.

I wasn't quite sure what to do with the floor at this point, or whether to include the floor section that came with the kit:

Here is the interior, with some wallpapered walls and some painted walls, ready to be weathered. I threw some matchsticks in the bottom again as another test:

Another advantage of spraying the wallpaper is that it made its glossy surface more able to accept weathering pigments. I made the weathering pigments myself using tempera powders and plaster of paris. You can read how I did that in my last blog post. Below is the weathered interior:

I resisted the urge to make window frames from plasticard. Instead I just painted the edges of some of the windows with Raw Umber. I wasn't sure about doing that but it came out surprisingly well and looks just fine at a glance.

After spray varnishing the interior to fix the pigments, I left the building for a few days until I could muster up the courage to glue the final wall into position. Once I did that, working on the interior wall would be too difficult, so I didn't want to rush into it.

Annoyingly, just after I had finished the walls and finally glued the pieces of the kit together, I found a great book of Russian textile patterns in a London bookshop. I bought it anyway.

To make the floors. I cut two pieces of parquet-patterned Slator's Plastikard and glued them over the MDF floor, and added some plaster, tinted with red tempera powder, to form the bulk underneath a layer of rubble.

Next, I poured some PVA glue over the floor, taking care to leave a little of the patterned plasticard visible underneath:

Finally, I threw in some sand, railway ballast and matchsticks. I dyed the various materials in advance so no painting was required! You can see how I dyed the sand and wood in my last blog post.

I would have preferred to use more rubble to make it more realistic, but I wanted to keep the rubble fairly level so it would be easy to place miniatures on top of it all without them getting snagged on anything. Unfortunately, I don't have a photograph of the finished floor. The shot below is almost the finished item, but you can see a few patches of white where the glue was still setting:

At this point I took another month off! I just couldn't decide what colour to paint the exterior of the building. I wanted to avoid an unrealistic mid-grey so I did some interwebz picture research for colour photos of Stalingrad and took plenty of photos of various old buildings in the towns close to me. In the end I settled on FolkArt's Linen for the exterior's base colour, Americana's Burnt Orange for the bricks and the ubiquitous FolkArt Medium Gray for the weathering washes.

Rather than fight MDF's natural tendency to suck up all the paint and leave the surface looking patchy, I applied several layers of slightly thinned colour to the short walls to make it look like undercoated plaster that had never been finished. I worried that the Burnt Orange would be too bright and strong but the MDF did its thing again and toned down the colour naturally without me having to darken it. Here is one of the short walls after a wash of Dark Gray but before weathering with my home-made powders:

And here is the wall after the weathering:

When I was working on the floors inside the building I also added some rubble to the pavement outside:

There ought to be more rubble outside but I didn't want this to turn into a full-on diorama. One day I hope to make some patches of rubble that I can place between buildings, but that's a project for another time. Anyhoo, I applied the paint straight out of the pot on the long walls of the building to cover up the burnt wood left by the etching process...

...before applying a second layer of paint to cover the whole of the walls:

Here is the back of the building, painted and with two washes of Mid Gray to bring out the details:

And the back of the building again, after weathering:

It was the same process on the front of the building:

Base colour...

...two washes of Mid Gray (and the addition of a door step!)...

...and weathering:

Although I've shown you each stage of my painting process one side at a time, I actually painted all four sides of the building at the same time, blocking in the colours first, then adding the washes, then weathering all but one side of the building. Below is the final side of the building, washed but unweathered:

At this point I spray varnished the whole building to fix the weathering powders. I left one side unweathered because I wanted to try something I'd never done before – adding a decal to the side of the building to create a mural:

The mural is an image I found on the interwebz. There are many styles of Soviet-era posters to choose from but I wanted one with a postmodern aesthetic. I have no idea if there were murals in Stalingrad at this time, and I don't care!

I've avoided decals and transfers for my entire adult life because I always used to make a hash of applying them when I was a kid. I thought that if I was going to fail at it again, I might as well fail with style so I decided to 'go large' and bought a sample pack of various A4 decal, waterside and other adhesive papers from eBay.

So far I have only tried the decal paper, so I can't comment on the other types, but I won't give you the name of the retailer because I wasn't very happy with the decal paper and I hesitate to recommend their product. The paper goes through an inkjet printer easily and takes the ink well, with the detail staying sharp and the colours remaining vibrant. Note that you have to print any images in reverse, especially if they have text on them, to ensure they are the right way around when the decal is applied. The problems start when you try to apply the decals. The decal film is sandwiched between two backing sheets, and you should peel away the front sheet to reveal the sticky side of the film, apply the decal, then peel away the reverse sheet. That's the theory anyway! In practice, more often than not the reverse sheet peels away far more easily than the first and won't go back on again, leaving you with the sticky side of film stuck to the front sheet. If you try to peel away the front sheet, the film curls up on itself without the reverse sheet to keep it straight. Out of a full sheet of A4, I managed to use less than a third of it successfully, so it was poor value for money.

I took the photo below halfway through the process of applying the transfer:

It should have been one complete transfer but what you see above is actually a composite of three different prints! Left with only a day to finish this project, and unwilling to ditch the mural idea, I decided the only way I could make it work was to scratch away parts of it with a knife to make the gaps between the transfers look like damaged plaster. Fortunately, it worked!

With that ordeal over, all that remained was to weather this final wall and spray varnish it:

Here is the finished building from the back:

And from the front:

Decals aside, I quite enjoyed making this building. I've found in the past that my usual way of painting miniatures doesn't scale up well for large projects, so I used this building to try out different ways of painting and I think they were successful. I've not given up on the idea of using large decals for posters and murals because (when it works!) the results are impressive, but I'm going to try again with a different brand.

I'll leave you with a preview of my next project, a HO scale church I picked up from eBay that I'm currently turning into a 15mm Lutheran church for Stalingrad. Compared with the last project, this one should be pretty straightforwad...


  1. Thanks for the very detailed run through.

    1. Ta! It's a shame I couldn't get it finished before you got halfway through the one you bought.

  2. Amazing work! For all the trouble the mural still turned out great and really makes the building pop.

    1. Thanks! I think I've conquered my fear of decals now. If you want to see another one of these buildings on the go, check out Abwehrschlact's blog:

  3. hi, lovely work, on both blogs, would it be possible to get a copy of the wallpaper jpg? neil"at"

  4. Hi Neil. I've been too busy to blog recently so Abwehrschlact has posted it on his blog instead.

  5. Excellent, thanks to the both of you, inspirational work!


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