Well, the bike is done--now what? Actually, this would be a poor time to consider my options for display, if I had not already done so. The idea from the beginning was to use the Clyno in a small diorama; I have a multitude of Scale Link 1/32 figures I purchased long, long ago and they have been waiting for a good opportunity to arise. And here it was.
I'd like to take you through the mental development of this diorama before looking at the physical building, because a diorama that starts with a finished model is probably doomed to failure. Shep Paine, in his classic "How to Build Dioramas", suggests that the modeler "...try to come up with something that shows your subject 'doing its thing'...". I've seen several photos of machine-gun equipped motorcycles firing up into the sky and thought that would make a good little scene. This was the basic 'snapshot' I envisaged of a moment in time.
Imagining the bike plopped in the middle of a grassy field firing at the sky, I thought "Dull--needs some action". OK, what do motorcycles do? They ride along a road, they crash--here we go! A 'pre-snapshot' action could be implied by including a little bit of road and the bike crashed along it. A modeling friend suggested that the bike could beup the side of an embankment, rather than in a ditch like everyone else does it. Good, good, I thought: this adds some different height levels to the scene, too. So we have the 'past action' of the crash, and the 'present' of the machine gun being fired. But why did the bike run off the road? Obviously trying to get away from something. Aha! The road has just been strafed by that nasty enemy airplane that the gunner is firing at. Great! Imply that by including a few teensy bullet holes in the road.
Up to this point, I was planning to put the figures and the bike into a wet, muddy environment--all that nice grunge on the wheels and frame and the gunner up to his ears lying in the muck. But bullet holes won't show up in soft mud. So the day of the event became a dry one, after the rainy season on the Western Front. Now we have the driver and passenger toodling along a sunny road enjoying an hour's break from the battles; suddenly a plane dives from the sky and strafes the road in front of them. They, in their desire to live another day, end up running the bike into an eroded embankment, jumping out, and wreaking their vengeance on the disappearing enemy.
Pretty cool, so far; needs a bit more activity on the part of the two figures. The passenger is now the gunner, firing at the airplane; the driver would ordinarily be feeding the cartridge belt to him. The story idea is nearly complete now; all that's left is to imply the 'future action' of the scene. Although this element is not absolutely necessary for a story-type diorama, it suddenly came together. I had some nice running figures--could I make the driver running? Add a little more movement? But WHY would the driver be running away from his buddy? That's not a very nice thing to do. He must have had a good reason. And the light bulb lit above my head: of course, he's running away: after the crash the...but wait, see if YOU can figure out why the driver is hotfooting it back down the road.
Needless to say, this all didn't come to me in one brilliant revelation; the story line developed as I was building the motorcycle. It affected the bike in that I turned the front wheel and left several pieces unglued so they could be repositioned after last month's photos. So the Clyno was indeed built with the scene in mind. All that's left is to do the figures and groundwork. Hah!
As stated above, I selected a running figure for the driver, then found a kneeling figure for the gunner. These are both cast metal Scale Link figures with interchangeable arms and heads. The figures are a bit rough with a number of small surface pits and mold flash. The cleanup stage was long and tedious, progressing from files to sandpaper in finer and finer grits and finally to jeweler's crocus cloth (actually more of a polishing than a sanding material). Along the way, I inserted a thin nail into the bottom of each figure to provide a handle to hold and a secure way to attach them to the future base. I did some orthopedic surgery on the driver's right leg by sawing wedges out of the hip and knee so I could extend the leg into a better running position. The gunner's left arm had a similar surgery at the elbow. The other three arms were bent slightly into more convincing positions, and the hands and fingers were rotated and bent correctly for what each hand was doing. I selected a head for the driver that was wearing goggles, but I didn't like the mouth and jaw on it; so I found another head with an open shouting mouth and did a jaw transplant on the goggled head.
I wanted the appearance of soldiers ready for anything that might come their way, but not carrying all their earthly possessions with them. So both figures wound up wearing Scale Link cartridge belts across their chests and draped with canteens and scratchbuilt small packs. Both figures also have (SL) metal helmets; the gunner's with an added cloth cover and the driver's with complete interior. Additionally, the driver has grabbed his (SL) rifle and wears a (SL) bayonet. The gunner received a (SL) holstered pistol. All the belts and straps were scratched from thin cloth, paper, and masking tape; and the assorted buckles and such are Reheat photo-etched brass accessories. I didn't care for the appearance of the puttees, so I wrapped thin cloth around the lower legs. About half of these items were attached with CA glue before painting . The arms and heads were also attached with CA and the joints were filled with Milliput and sanded to shape. Now we're ready for the painting stage. Finally!
Before the real fun started, the figures were spot primed on the areas which still appeared to be a little rough or scratched. Then a final sanding and polishing of those areas, and we're ready for the final primer. After a good warm bath in plain soap and water, I used Floquil grey primer, a lacquer-based railroad paint which goes on very easily, dries quickly, and provides a dead flat surface. Naturally, two or three more dings and scratches appeared and they were taken care of with Squadron White Putty (see photo A). All the added straps and buckles were also primed, except the ends which would need to be glued later to canteens, etc.
The next step is to apply the base colors; these are applied without blending or shading--just the basic color for each major surface area. I'll usually select a medium dark tone of a hue for the base color because I find it easier to work the shadows and highlights from a middle tone. From this point to completion, all the paints used were Testor's Model Master enamels. The shirts are US Navy Blue Gray, the suspenders (braces) are Faded Olive Drab, and all leather straps and such are Rust. The small pack and strap are Gulf Armor Sand; and the trousers, puttees, hat, and helmets are Dark Earth and various "drab" colors: Olive, Field, and Dark. The wooden parts of the rifle began with Leather and the shoes are Italian Dark Brown. All the skin areas were covered with Burnt Sienna--this looks very dark at first, but it forms a good basic reddish tone for later lightening. The figure now looks kind of cartoonish, but it's starting to take on the appearance of a real person (see photo B).
After a light coat of Testor's Dullcote, the major work of painting shadowed areas begins with mixing a slightly darker tone of each base color (except the skin) and applying it as a wash. It's really nothing more than dirty thinner--but with a specifically colored dirt. Two or three successively darker tones of each base color are added in this way with light layers of Dullcote in between as needed to 'set' the colors. These washes serve to create shadows in the grooves and folds as well as a weathered effect. Dullcote again, and the highlighting can begin. Two or three mixes of lightened base color are applied, but drybrushed lightly instead of as washes--the lighter tones need to stay on the upper, raised surfaces and washes tend to flow downhill into the valleys. The skin areas are lightened this way as well. This is the step which starts to add life to the figures (see photo C).
Then the additional separate pieces of equipment were glued in place and individually toned. All that's left to do is the really delicate work of adjusting small areas which need to be lighter or darker, darkening the edges with thinned black (I use Aircraft Interior Black instead of solid Flat Black which I find too dense), and picking out teensy details like eyes, lips, brass buckles and studs, etc. For these very tiny lines and dots, I use a toothpick sharpened to a point instead of a brush. OK, while the paint is drying, let's look at the place where these two figures and the motorcycle will find themselves.
The basic form of the groundwork is carved from florists' dry foam: a green, very dense styrofoam which is easily carvable with a kitchen knife. It's quite strong and porous enough to allow surface coatings to sink in a bit. And the price is right--six brick-sized blocks for US$2.00 at your local artsy-craftsy shop. To start with, I glued two blocks together with white glue and started hacking at it with my knife. I wasn't sure if I wanted a rectangular or oval outline for this diorama, so I carved out a rectangle first, then dry-fitted the figures and the bike--which led me to change it into an oval. Then the shape of the 'embankment' and the rutted surface of the 'road' were roughly carved into the foam. Testing it with the figures and bike is essential to be certain everything fits and looks right for the idea.
The foam then is covered with Amaco Sculptamold, a material similar to Celluclay, but white in color, and (I believe) harder. This stuff sticks to itself, can be mixed to any consistency from a liquid to a thick paste, can be modeled by hand or with tools, smoothed with water, and sawn and sanded when dry. It also has a working time of about an hour. One evening's work was enough to get the final surface nearly completed. Since the idea was to run the bike up an embankment, I decided to liven up this sloping surface by adding the exposed roots of a tree (or maybe the fact that I had just dug up an unwanted small tree in my yard and found wonderfully gnarled roots under it had something to do with it...); so selected pieces of spruce rootlets were incorporated into the embankment surface. But if there's roots, there must be a tree, right? A thunderstorm dropped some nice branches from my trees, so I cracked and split them until I got just the right appearance of a shell-shattered tree--and onto the top of the embankment it went. The goldfish in my aquarium contributed a few pebbles which found their way into thegroundwork, and I also sprinkled some railroad model 'ballast' stones on the surface. One doesn't have to spend a fortune at Verlinden to get the right materials.
I had decided that I wanted to try something different for the outside surface of the groundwork and a particularly well-timed gift of some leftover walnut veneer seemed to do the trick. I cut a 3 inch strip the length of the circumference of the oval, bent it into a kitchen pot of the right size, and filled the pot with water. After sitting overnight, the strip was a nice nearly-circular shape. Trimming it roughly to the contour of the groundwork, I put a strip of paper masking tape on the inside surface and wrapped it around the foam base. After the surface was completed, I unwound the veneer and removed the paper tape, then re-wrapped it around the base and glued it from the bottom with several applications of white glue flowed into the spaces between the foam and the veneer. Lastly, I trimmed the veneer edge to exactly the height and contour of the base with a Dremel rotary file. The trickiest part was getting the two ends to lie flat and stay attached to the foam. Looks great--like it's carved from walnut!
I started to put a little grass and a few plants on the upper surface but then decided it looked more like 1917 if it was bare of life. All the colors of the groundwork were done with acrylic washes. This is a magic part of the process: it's pretty ugly all white; but when a thin dark wash is brushed over it, all the cracks and crevices pop out and it looks like...dirt!
With both the groundwork and the figure group finished, the final assembly is almost anticlimactic. Drop the two figures into their support holes, prop the bike on a convenient root, put the machine gun into the hands of the gunner, and let him fire away at the Hun in the Sun.
The British Army 1914-1918, S.S.V. Fosten and R.J. Marrion, Osprey Pub., London, 1978 Army Uniforms of World War I, A. Mollo and P. Turner, Blandford Press, Dorset, 1977
Many WWI-modeling listees contributed suggestions for this undertaking, and I am particularly indebted to Eric Hight and Andrei Koribanics for sharing their knowledge of motorcycles, British uniforms, and dioramas in general.
I thought it would be fun to try to do a WWI era 'postcard from the front' using digital magic. So first I scanned a photograph I had taken at Aerodrome '92 of three reproduction Pfalz D.III fighters flying off into the clouds. Then I scanned an old postcard from my grandmother's collection--this only for the beat-up edge. And lastly, I photographed the diorama from 'ground level' with my Olympus E-10 digital camera. The three images were opened in Photoshop 6 and resized to be identical. The Aerodrome photo had two of the three Pfalzen removed and it was flipped horizontally. The edge of the diorama in its photo were selected, feathered, and then pasted on top of the Aerodrome photo. Both of these were full color images, so they were desaturated and a color overlay of a dull tan hue was added; with this and a little blurring and added 'noise', they took on the appearance of an old faded photograph. Finally, the picture on granny's postcard was removed, leaving only the tattered edge and a black outline; this 'frame' was placed over the other photos and the lettering was added to make the new 'old' postcard.