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2 - Experimenting with Sumerians

6mm Sumerian Army Pack
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Suggested Retail Price
£9.00 GBP


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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian writes:

Ian Kay at Irregular tells me: "The mystery strip is B27." Which is Martu or Guti Javelinmen.

Revision Log
19 September 2005page first published

4,093 hits since 19 Sep 2005
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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I thought I'd better give a brief update on this project, since I took some pictures over the weekend. (Unfortunately, however, I have lost my earlier pictures...)


To begin with, I did some experimentation on the Sumerian spearmen - since they are really the heart of this army, both in terms of numbers and in the charm of their unique historical appearance.

When I've painted 6mm scale figures before, I've used both white and black priming (on different projects) and was happy with both. My first experiments were with white priming (to keep the colors bright), and using washes and drybrushing to bring out some of the fine texture (such as the tassles on the rear-ranker's skirts).

This didn't work. I found that I couldn't drybrush light enough to keep the highlight color from straying into the recesses - and it was a lot of work to drybrush very tiny areas without getting the neighboring areas as well. Maybe it was my technique, maybe it was my brushes...

Almost in an act of desperation, I tried throwing a heavy black ink wash on my test strip - and I really liked some of what I got. The black ink in the recesses really accented the colors and made things "pop out" - however, it also darkened even the highlights.

So I reversed my thinking. I tried a black priming, then drybrushing with white - both so I could see the details, and to brighten the subsequent colors. Then I painted the primary colors: flesh on the faces, arms, chests and legs; white on the kilts and shields; and golden brown on the cloaks. Then came the ink wash. Finally, I painted some colors that I wanted un-darkened: maple sugar tan on the spears (to make them stand out - I originally tried dark brown, and they blended in with everything else), and bronze on the helmets and spear tips.

Rear-rank spearmen (front)
Rear-rank spearmen (back)

And now, the same figures in extreme close-up so you can see how the details look:

Close-up of rear-rank spearmen (front)
Close-up of rear-rank spearmen (back)

It was about this time when the lights came on - mentally speaking - and I began to understand what people meant when they said talked about "paint the unit, not the figures." The key for the Sumerian spearmen is to make their spears, their cloaks, and their helmets stand out - nothing else really matters. The individual figures can be rather impressionistic in style, because what matters is the look of the figures en masse.

(By the way, note that Sumerians apparently have two right legs and no left legs. Or maybe I've misinterpreted the figures. Oh well, works for me...)

Also, note that I've left seams on the spears not from laziness, but from the fragility of the spears (I've already lost two, and a few others are hanging on for dear life...). Fortunately, the seams aren't visible at normal viewing ranges.

Now, here is the same painting technique applied to the chariot animals:

Primed-and-drybrushed (left) and painted (right)

The painting scheme was taken from a documentary that conveniently aired the night before I painted these - Wild Persian Asses. Yes, they really do have black stripes down the back. However, I almost certainly have painted too much black on their heads!

Close-up of the chariot animals

And again, on a strip of Unarmoured Slingmen:

Unarmoured slingmen, painted

While I feel I still have lots of room for improvement, one area where I'm still struggling is with the front-rank spearmen and their shields.

Front-rank spearmen

The shield as depicted on these figures is a large rectangular shield with nine small bosses (or nubs), which is a not unreasonable interpretation of the historical evidence. Alternately, there's a theory that the Sumerians were trying to express the idea of "nine shields" and that their shields actually only had one boss in the center (like "normal" shields). As far as I can tell, no one knows what the shields looked like in terms of colors or markings.

My original idea was to follow the Angus McBride art from one of the Ospreys, so I tried a buff-colored shield, with washes and highlights to bring out the detail. Didn't work. So I tried a white shield, with an ink wash and drybrushed highlights. Too stark. So then I tried a plain white shield, with bronze bosses. Then I thought I could be more accurate with a gold paint pen, so I used it to dot the bosses (at this size, you can't see the difference between bronze and dark gold).

Front-rank spearmen close-up

The problem is that the gold dots are hard (impossible!) to paint accurately, and the errors are too noticeable (at least, to me). The trick here, I think, is to touch up with white paint to "unpaint" the errors. It will take patience, but there are only 3 front-rank strips per stand...


After playing around with the strips and with different sizes of bases, I've decided to mount the figures on DBx-sized bases using the sizes recommended for 25mm scale figures. As Robert Brown showed us previously, 6mm figures look impressive when displayed in great numbers.

Robert went with thin bases when he based his 6mm scale armies, but I'm going to give thick bases a try. Working with the Sumerian spearmen has given me advance notice of the fragility of the spears, so I want to use a basing which encourages players (including myself!) to handle these figures by their bases.

Specifically, the bases I'll be using are Litko 3mm plywood "thick" bases, with Flex Steel adhesive bases applied to the bottom. (The Flex Steel bases are quite similar to adhesive magnetic bases, except they are the opposite - impregnated with metal, they stick to magnets.)

At first, I wanted to crowd the 6mm spearmen onto the appropriate base, and found I could crowd four ranks of spearmen onto the stand:

Four ranks of spearmen

However, some testing showed that with my thick fingers, I was unable to pick up the stand without pinching the figures. So I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that I need to go with 3 ranks, and leave margins at the front and rear.

(Also, while the spearmen strips are supposed to be 20mm wide, they are actually 21mm wide... which means that on a 60mm stand, you end up with one spearmen sticking off the end. I'm going to try clipping one figure off the end of some strips, to see if I can't make an "end strip.")

Another consideration was whether to do standard-sized chariot bases or not. The problem is that the DBA base size for chariots is deep to allow for the size of the models (in 25mm scale). In 6mm scale, it is possible to use a basing for chariots that has a more realistic depth (reflecting the formation).

I'd like to say that I decided to go with the standard-sized base for the sake of compatibility with other armies, and the lack of a 6mm convention. The truth, however, is that I'm going with the bigger base because I can put more chariots on it, which looks too cool to pass up.

What's Next

So at this point in the project, I have a good idea of how I'm going to paint the figures - although I'm still going to experiment some more. My figures seem a little dark still, so maybe if I try white priming again, and use a weaker ink wash...

I've also played with the bases enough to know how many strips I think I need to build an all-options DBA Book I Sumerian 1c army:

  • Eight stands of Sumerian spearmen, with each having 3 strips of front-rank and 6 strips of rear-rank spearmen. I need 12 more front-rank strips, 36 rear-rank strips.
  • Two stands of Sumerian chariots, with each having about 9 chariots. I need 5 more chariots.
  • Three stands of skirmishers - I need 7 more strips of slingers.
  • One stand of "Auxilia" (mercenaries? javelinmen?) - 4 more strips of javelinmen would probably do me.
  • One stand of Sumerian "Blade" (axemen? nobles?). I figure I need 6 more strips of whatever these guys are (I'm hoping Irregular can help me identify them):
Mystery strip - primed and drybrushed

To save money, I may order another Sumerian Army Pack - which would give me almost everything I need, except for a few more slingers, nobles, and two dozen rear-rank spearmen.

So - looks like I need to place another order...