A chance remark on Olicanalad’s blog about the crowded appearance of his tabletop for a desert battle set me to thinking about desert colours. John Sandars’ battles were famous for masses of vehicles and figures dotting the desert landscape. Sometimes he used real sand, sometimes just a bare sheet. He didn’t base his vehicles or figures and to my eye, the aesthetic looked “about right”. Of course, his surviving pictures are in black and white.
Olicanalad bases his beautifully painted and finished vehicles on textured dun-coloured bases that are in detail, slightly darker and less saturated than his golden sand coloured terrain boards. I hypothesised that the eye is drawn to the base/board contrast, which bulks out the apparent size of the figures and vehicles to give a crowded look. In the foreground the base texture is visible, but in the background far less so, showing that overall the tone is well matched, but that the eye is picking up the extra detail work on the bases.
Compare the photo above with the one below to see what a proper car park looks like. Note also that the lighter French bases are far less intrusive against the light cloth than the darker Italian ones.
Might this effect disappear if the base and board matched, I wondered? My toys are mostly based with a colour called Dulux ‘calm’, so I quickly repainted one of my preformed cowboy terrain squares to match and had a quick photoshoot. Adopting a military trick of half closing your eyes kills surface detail and brings out bulk tonal differences underneath. Try it with the two photos below to see that the bases are more prominent in the second shot (actually, you don’t need to narrow your eyes to see that!). Trebian adopts this approach with his stuff. :
Having a ‘busy’ board reduces the visual impact of the toys too. I wouldn’t die in a ditch for this opinion though, as the appearance of wargaming is about personal aesthetics (and also, whisper it quietly, painting fashions*). Judge for yourself with this 54mm Crossfire game and another shot of a Sandars game below :
Finally, just when you think that you have a handle on the problem, you realise that the desert changes colour throughout the day, and depending on the underlying rock. Khaki, black, orange, tan, blinding white and coral pink could all be seen!
*I’m not immune to painting fashion myself – witness the painted ‘wear’ on theturrets.
** Now that I’ve corrected the spelling the tank crews are much grumpier. They were happier when they had found a lager!