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Friday, January 29, 2016

Bolt Action - Creative Composition for Miniatures

By John Brader

The saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, if that’s true, then a well composed miniature can convey a whole story. Composition, or the way the elements of a piece relate to one-another, can often take a mediocre painted miniature and make it grand or ruin the effect of a stellar painting project. The techniques demonstrated here are subtle but intended to give you ideas about how to use “story” and composition to take your figures to the next level.  

The mortar and crew pictured here has a purposeful composition and the elements tie together to tell a story. Often, the eye cannot see what makes something work, but it can surely see when something is askew. Notice how the two figures on the left are looking in the same direction. Both are holding binoculars, one is pointing, and together, it’s clear they are attempting to spot their target. If the two figures wouldn’t have been positioned to appear to be looking the same direction, the viewer would sense something is not right with the story.  

The piece also includes one soldier with a shovel in place of his rifle. He’s clearing the snow and prepping a dug-in position. Finally, the last soldier is bringing up a heavy crate of ammunition. Combined, this piece captures a moment in time of a Soviet mortar crew preparing their position and planning their attack.  

This piece uses height changes to increase its visual effectiveness. One figure prone, one figure crouching, and one figure standing gives three different visual planes. More important than technical composition, the machine gun crew gives a true sense of bitter cold. In addition to the snow basing, some Green Stuff was used to sculpt blankets to keep the men warm. The standing figure is pulling the blanket onto the gunner. Again, this is done in an attempt to create story and emotion. In this case, the composition was done to demonstrate some humanity and concern for fellow soldiers in the freezing temperatures of the Russian winters.  

In the end, it’s still an effective gaming piece, but a little focus on composition makes it stand out.  

None of this is new information or techniques. Scale model makers and model railroaders have been perfecting dioramas and static displays for decades. Many of the same techniques translate directly to wargaming miniatures.  

One example of exploiting a model railroad technique is using basing or ground cover to help convey part of the story.  

Notice the dirt path leading from the edge of the base to the back of the 88. This gun crew has been here for some time, so much so, the path between the ammunition storage and the gun has been trampled to dirt.  

As mentioned previously, the eye can pick up when something about the composition isn’t quite right. Even if at first, it’s not obvious, there always was something about this Nebelwerfer piece that was bothersome.  

Notice the figure pulling the rocket out of the container is near the Nebelwerfer, but the figure carrying the rocket (already removed from the container tube) is walking toward the launcher, but from farther away. These figures should be swapped, because their positioning is reversed. The current position does not produce a cohesive story; instead, it creates confusion to the “timeline” or process of removing ammunition from its container, carrying it to the weapon and loading it.  

Composition and story can be created with a single figure too. The running soldier shown here has a scarf added, which was made from Green Stuff. It was purposefully sculpted to be whipping behind him. This gives the whole figure a greater sense of motion and speed.  

A great place to start experimenting with composition and story telling is with objective markers. Notice the knocked over chair, binoculars, and maps left on the table in the objective marker above; this conveys a story of a quickly abandoned position. 

This is just an overview of composition, but it may pique your interest to investigate how composition and story can enhance your model making. A little bit of planning can help create fantastic scenes.  

A few basic ideas to consider when creating your next miniature are...
  • Figure position: does the position of each of the figures make sense as they relate to one another?
  • Figure orientation: are figures looking the right direction to appear to be interacting naturally?
  • Basing choices: can the “ground” help tell the story?
  • Motion: is motion captured correctly; can the movement demonstrated by the figure be enhanced or highlighted?
  • Story: does the composition tell a story; would it be a plausible photograph of that moment in time?

Hopefully, this introduction to composition inspires you to add an element of story to your figures. Doing so will greatly enhance their appearance on the table and provide more depth to your model making.  

John is a painter and wargamer out of Virginia, USA who has been focused on WWII miniatures for the last few years. He’s a self-proclaimed “history geek” and shares his painting studio with his talking cat, Hanomag. 


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