For Wargames Illustrated 333 Simon Macdowall provided us with four great articles on Alexander the Great, space didn’t allow for his fifth – a painting guide for Alexander’s companions – so we include that here on the website for your browsing pleasure. Over to Simon….
To get Alexander’s miniature army ready for Hydaspes I needed Companion Cavalry and rather a lot of them. Most of my Macedonian cavalry were collected over the years to go with Successor armies to fight the Romans. Few of these were suitable as Alexander’s Companions since the former have light spears and shields, or are encased in armour, while the latter needed to be more lightly armoured carrying lances without shields.
The Companions were mostly Macedonian aristocrats who by the time of Hydaspes were expanded to include some Iranians as Alexander wanted to integrate his conquered Persian subjects into his army.
After many years of campaigning it is unlikely that there would have been much uniformity of dress. Already relatively wealthy at the start of Alexander’s campaigns these men now had riches beyond their wildest imagination. They could afford lavish equipment and contemporary descriptions give the impression that the Companions were decked out in gold, silver and purple.
Under Alexander’s influence many probably adopted some form of Persian dress while others still clung to Macedonian styles. As Plutarch describes, Alexander “wore a composite dress adapted from both Persian and Macedonian fashion.” He apparently provided his men with purple bordered cloaks and tunics but not all of his Companions were happy to wear what they saw as an ostentatious style. Instead they preferred to keep to more simple Macedonian fashions. Again Plutarch makes a comment on this.
“It is the mark of an unwise and vainglorious mind to admire greatly a cloak of uniform colour and to be displeased by a tunic with a purple border, or again to disdain those things and to be struck with admiration for these, holding stubbornly, in the manner of an unreasoning child, to the raiment in which the custom of his country, like a nurse, had attired him.”
I decided, therefore to paint my Companions in a non-uniform style. Some would have long sleeved tunics, others short sleeves. Some would be in relatively traditional dress while others would have brightly coloured Persian-influenced clothing. To tie the unit together I would give them all a uniform yellow-tan cloak with a purple border which is fairly widely attested as being worn by the Companions.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that individual Companions made their own decisions about what armour to wear and when to wear it. Iron or bronze breastplates, linen cuirasses and composite armour were all worn by Companion cavalrymen. Alexander is recorded on several occasions as going without a cuirass and in the Indian heat many others may also have chosen not to wear body armour. Helmets too were the individual aristocrat’s personal choice. Boeotian, Attic and Thracian styles were all worn, some were iron and others bronze. Some were painted, others gilded or silvered.
White seems to have been the colour of choice for those Companions whose helmets sported plumes and feathers. As with the purple bordered tunic I decided to make this the one other concession to uniformity. Not all the miniatures I would use had plumed helmets and the plume styles varied. However I felt that the visual look of mostly white plumes and all with yellow and purple cloaks would tie the miniatures together while still retaining the look of individualistic aristocrats.
My classical ancient armies are 25mm or small scale 28mm. The newer large chunky style 28mm miniatures simply do not fit in with what I have collected over the years and personally I find some of them rather grotesque with dwarfish features and over proportioned detail. After some searching I decided to go for a combination of old school RAFM (Canada) and Ral Partha (US through Iron Wind Metals). They are wonderful figures and RAFM has the added advantage of a wide variety of excellent separate heads. Unfortunately the horses of both manufacturers leave quite a bit to be desired. Fortunately, with a bit of preparation the men fit rather well on smaller Relic and Foundry horses — from the Late Roman range in the latter case as they are considerably smaller than those from other ranges.
Before painting I always plan how the finished unit should look, experimenting by placing the various miniatures in different positions on the eventual base. The unit would have 6 figures arranged in a classic Macedonian wedge shape and I wanted to remember which man fitted on which horse and what position he would take in the formation. I find this especially important when painting a small unit in non uniform style as I did not want the same colours and styles to be bunched together. Therefore when I stick the individual miniatures onto their painting bases I write their formation position on the bases so I can ensure that the colour schemes work as I paint the men and horses separately.
Stage 1 Undercoat
The fashion these days is for a black undercoat. Although I have tried this a few times I have never taken to it. I find a white undercoat works much better for my painting style, taking advantage of the translucent properties of acrylic paint and allowing the miniature to do much of the work for me. Applying a relatively thin coat of paint over white creates a natural shading as the paint pools into the grooves while letting the white show through the raised parts to create a natural highlight. The code CF on the base of the figure to the right indicates his position of ‘centre front’ in the formation.
Stage 2 First Wash
I don’t always do this on larger scale miniatures but in 15 or 6mm scale I find it a great help. Applying a very thin wash of Liquitex Transparent Raw Umber helps to pick out the detail and fills in the deep undercuts.
Stage 3 Black Wash
A black wash over the metal parts allows me to use a dry brush technique which gives the best effect for metals. Even with fully armoured miniatures such as Wars of the Roses knights I find a black wash over white is a better base than a spray black undercoat. The problem with spray black is that the highlights get the most coverage while the undercuts get less paint. With a wash of black over white the opposite occurs and the black pools more deeply in the undercuts while leaving the highlights lighter.
Stage 4 Metal base.
I usually paint from the inside out, starting with skin and then each stage of clothing with the innermost first. Metals are the exception to this as I use a dry brush technique which inevitably affects the surrounding areas. By painting the metal areas first this will not ruin areas already painted. I use a darkish metal base with Games Workshop Balthazar Gold Base for bronze and Bolt Gun for iron. I wanted a mix of iron and bronze for armour while spear points would all be iron with bronze butt spikes.
Stage 5 Metal highlights
A dry brush of a brighter tone, silver for iron and various gold shades for bronze, brings out the highlights. Some of the men will have painted helmets. At this stage I also paint the base colour and give it a very thin black over-wash to pick out the details.
Stage 6 Flesh base.
After a white touch-up of any flesh parts that have been stained by the metal work, I apply a base coat of pale flesh. I have never yet found a satisfactory flesh base tone. At the moment I use Cote d’Arms Flesh to which I add some Cote d’Arms Wood Brown to make it a little less pale.
Stage 7 Flesh wash
A wash of Games Workshop Flesh Shade turns the flesh base into a realistic skin colour and brings out most of the features.
Stage 8 Facial highlights
Once this flesh wash is dry I apply highlights with the base colour mixed with a bit of white to the nose, cheek bones and chin. Those figures without cheek pieces on their helmets also get a very pale flesh mixed with red on their cheeks. Lips are picked out in a brownish red and if the eyes are not obscured by the brim of their helmets I place a tiny drop of dark brown into the socket. I never paint the whites of the eyes. No matter how careful you are you always end up with a ghostly stare. We view our miniatures on the table top from a distance and when you look at a man from a distance his eyes are dark and you do not see the whites of the eyes until you are much closer. Many years ago I did paint the whites, adding a bit of blue and tan to make them less white, but I find the effort simply not worth it.
Stage 9 Tunics
Painting the tunics is the bit I like the most. Here I can experiment with colour and once it is applied the figure starts to come to life. An analysis of tunic colours for Macedonian cavalry shows that various shades of red were the most common with blue and white following up behind. Red and blue was a popular Macedonian combination and some shades of red varied from crimson to pale pink. The more ostentatious of Alexander’s Companions may have worn purple and there is one tomb painting which shows a man in a multi-coloured grey, pink and yellow tunic. I decided that I would have variations of all of these in the unit I was building. As I am painting over a white undercoat I use a slightly darker shade than the final colour I am looking for. I apply it thinly to allow the depth of colour to pool in the undercuts and to thin out over the highlights. Once the main tunic colour is done I add in contrasting borders at the cuffs and hems to give a rich appearance to Alexander’s aristocratic followers.
Stage 10 Touch up
I am not overly careful when I paint. Over time I have learned that it is better to not worry about spilling over other parts that will be painted later. All it needs is a little touch-up with white which is much easier to do than agonising over paint that overflows the borders. As my painting style involves splashing thinned down colour to allow highlights to naturally show up, over painting is inevitable. Therefore once I have painted the tunics I touch up the belts and other parts I have overpainted with white
Stage 11 Cloaks
To get the shade I was looking for in this one uniform piece of dress, I mixed yellow ochre and tan in equal parts. Too much yellow did not look realistic and plain tan seemed too dull. By combining the two colours I felt that I achieved a shade that looked very pleasing with the purple border. As with the tunics I applied the yellow-tan colour thinned down with water to give a natural shading.
Stage 11 Fine details
This is the part I like the least. Fortunately these miniatures do not have too many belts and bits of leather so painting them is not too much of a chore. I decided to use red leather for belts and sword scabbards and a combination of red and natural leather for the boots. I prevaricated for some time over what colour to paint the spear shafts. The Issus mosaic shows most shafts natural wood, others with a darker patina and one is black. The spear shafts on the Agios Athanasios tomb paintings are mostly a shade of reddish brown which, if accurate, would indicate some sort of preservative treatment or paint. In the end I went for natural untreated wood for no better reason that I thought it would look better. Most of the miniatures had ptreuges, strips of leather or linen which gave protection to the shoulders and thighs. These I painted in white or various leather shades, adding gold details for the fringes at the bottom for those miniatures who had them.
Stage 12 The final wash.
Once all of the fine details are done and the men are mounted on their horses, I wash the entire figure with a very thin application of Liquitex Transparent Raw Umber. I thin it down so much that it is little more than muddy water and I apply it with a large soft brush. The effect of this is to slightly stain the base colours, giving a realistic and pleasing patina. It also gives a natural shading which picks out the details on the castings so that they stand out at a distance when you view them on the wargames table. The raw umber stains white, turning it to a pale linen colour so if you want natural linen then this is great. If you want a purer white, as I did with the helmet plumes, then you need to dry brush them with white once the wash is dry. Blue shades can also be affected by the yellow notes of the raw umber and if this is a problem it can be fixed by a light dry brush of a paler blue shade over the highlights. Bronze benefits from the umber wash but silver will be stained. If you want a rusty looking armour this is no problem but in the case of the wealthy Companions a silver dry brush brings it back up to a shinny polished metal. At the very end I painted in the white laurel leaf decoration around the red painted helmet as I wanted it to stand out and not be stained by the umber wash.
Stage 1 Undercoat
After spraying with a white undercoat I apply a thin wash of Liquitex Transparent Raw Umber to bring out the details and create a natural underlining.
Stage 2 Base Coat.
I paint the whole horse in either red brown, yellow brown or dark brown. The colour is applied relatively thinly to allow the highlights of the white undercoat to show through. With these three base colours I can create a much wider variety of coats ranging from black, bay and chestnut to dun.
Stage 3 Top Coat.
Here I apply a darker wash. Black over a dark brown base for a black horse, brown over both dark and red browns for bays, chestnut over both red and dark browns for chestnuts and roans. For duns and more lightly coloured horses I use either a light brown or flesh wash. I find the Cote d’Arms ink washes ideal for this stage as they have good shades which apply evenly and give a slightly gloss sheen to the matt undercoat.
Stage 4 Touch up
As I have slopped over the reins and saddle cloths in the previous stages I now touch them up with white. This is less necessary with lighter coloured horses where the mess can be painted over but it is essential for darker ones.
Stage 5 Details
I decided to go for a mix of red and natural leather for the reins. I was tempted to go for a uniform yellow and purple saddle cloth for which there is some evidence in Alexander’s earlier years. However in the end I decided to go for individual rich colours of crimson, blue and purple. At this stage I also paint the manes and tails. For black I apply a relatively thin coat over the base brown which brings out the highlights. Chestnuts and roans are done by dry-brushing a lighter shade over the base coat. After a dab of black wash over the bits and metal accoutrements I painted the metalwork in various gold and silver combinations.
Stage 6. Finishing touches
Most horses have at least one white leg marking, most two or three and sometimes all four. Once these last details are painted in I give the whole horse a very thin wash of Liquitex Transparent Raw Umber to bring our the details.
The Finished unit.
Once the men are glued to their horses with super glue I protect each model with Liquitex matt varnish, applied with a large soft brush. This not only protects the figure but it brings out the brightness in the colours. Once this is dry I add some Liquitex satin varnish to bits that I want to have an extra sheen such as metal work and helmets, including those that are painted as well as the bare metal.
All that remains now is to fix the models to the base. Before doing so I paint the bases of the horses as well as the overall base card with Cote d’Arms Goblin Green, not forgetting the edges. Later I will build it up with Ronseal natural multi-purpose wood filler which can be thinned with water. Then after a raw umber wash I will add a few rocks, bits of lichen, and green flocking.