Citadel’s Astra Militarum Taurox: Old And New Toys

Treasure comes in many forms, I suppose. Certainly it varies from person to person. Money, fame, happiness, or a good grilled cheese sandwich… each person has their own definition of treasure. And of course we likely all treasure more than one thing. While some money might be nice, quite often lack of debt may be equally treasured. Or simply spending peaceful time with family.

One of the things I treasure are memories. If you’ve read this blog more than a few times, it’s rather obvious that I think often of past times. Though my memory is not always what it used to be, as I think of my youth, it seems that the process of rummaging about the treasure chest always unlocks new things.

However, I do have a literal treasure chest… one that I can put my hands on. Tucked underneath my bed, in a large plastic bin with a blue lid, is my childhood treasure chest.

Opening it up, you’d immediately see hundreds of small, plastic soldiers, toy tanks and other assorted vehicles, a wooden GI Joe footlocker, and about two dozens Star Wars figures from the late 70s and early 80s.

I don’t pull it out often, mind you. Most of the year it sits quietly, waiting for the next appearance. The piles of Airfix HO scale figures, standard green plastic Army men, toy vehicles of various scales… all sit in mute testimony to simpler days gone by.

Being a somewhat nostalgic person, I do enjoy sliding it out from under the bed, pulling open the lid, and looking at my toys of old. I’m immediately transported back to the days of imagination, of Kool-Aid and cookies, and hours spent playing in the yard, fighting battles with my armies.

Making Connections

I think that is part of the appeal when it comes to building Warhammer 40K kits. Though I’m not a gamer, I have fallen in love with these models. Certainly from a modeling standpoint, there is much to like. Easy to build, fun to paint, and simply begging for imagination to be applied. The oversized details makes the weathering process really stand out. And the fact that it’s all made up nonsense means no one but the most diehard gamer will cry foul if liberties are taken with the lore.

Yet there is an appeal on another level that has become very clear to me. These figures and vehicles – especially the Imperial Guard (or Astra Militarum as they are now known), would have fit in perfectly well on the battlefields of my childhood.

Soldiers stand in action poses, shooting towards the enemy, pointing at some object, always yelling and growling. The tanks are big and bulky, with gun barrels adorning the exterior in almost ridiculous abundance at times. If these same men and machines would have been available in a 50 count bag on the shelf of the local Woolworths, I’m quite sure I’d have spent my lawn mowing and birthday money on more than a few.

Building The Body

After getting the interior finished, I next assembled the body of the model. The side and rear panels were glued in place, each fitting almost perfectly. Because only the interior had been painted, I was able to glue everything together from the outside using Tamiya Extra Thin Cement, my preferred tool for joining parts. I’d already glued the forward pieces in places, so everything came together very quickly.

The roof was not glued , however. I wanted to leave it loose, so the eventual buyer would be able to pop it off and examine the interior. It will leave a small bit of a gap that I’d otherwise fill if it were glued, but I thin the tradeoff is worthwhile. I’d also left off the small, circular doors that make up the rear hatch, to see if I wanted those in an open position. Because I decided the roof would be removable, I opted to close the hatch up. It fit mostly well, but there were a few cracks. Small as they were, I saw that some light would shine through when viewed from the inside.

My standard procedure would be to apply some Mr. Surfacer to the outside, and wipe away the excess. That would nicely seal up the gap. However, in this case, I was concerned that the grey of the Mr. Surfacer might show through also. The solution, thankfully, was simple.

I plopped a few dabs of Mr. Surfacer to my palette, and then added several drops of Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black. I chose that color because it was the closest solvent-based paint I could reach from where I sat. 🙂

I dabbed the mixture on to the outside of the doors, checking the inside several times to make sure no light was bleeding through. When it all was sealed, a drying time of about 5 minutes was allowed, and then the excess removed from the exterior with a cotton bud moistened with alcohol.

The result was exactly as I’d hoped – the gaps were solid black, appearing as deep shadow, and no light was shining through.

A few other gaps along joins were treated to the Mr. Surfacer “trick”, though the plain gray was used for everything else. Swiping all the excess away with more alcohol, the body was ready for priming and painting.

Alright… Stop. Modulate, And Listen….

Bits of masking tape were applied inside the crew area to block off the vision ports, and the turret opening was likewise sealed off. I’d also left off the four tracked subassemblies, as I felt this would make detailing and weathering everything easier. All parts were primed with Badger’s Stynylrez Black Primer.

As this would be an Imperial Guard vehicle, the standard color from the Citadel line would be Castellan Green. However, because I’d decided to apply some modulation to the model, I opted for a close cousin, Tamiya XF-58 Olive Green. While certainly not an exact match, I knew that with modulation, shading, additional highlights, chipping, streaking, mud splatters, and other general abuse that would later be applied, the canonicity of the base paint really would not matter. Close would be good enough. And applying modulation with Tamiya would be much, much easier than struggling with Citadel.

The base coat was applied in heavy fashion through my Badger Patriot 105, using a 50/50 ratio with Tamiya’s X-20A thinner. This allowed the paint to go on very smooth, but it also built up very quickly to full opacity.

The first “modulation coat” added two brushfuls of Tamiya’s XF-4 Yellow Green to the color cup, and a few more drops of XF-20A. At this stage, I was not concerned about a precise ratio of paint and thinner, but rather looking for a very thin mix that would allow for nice color graduation to be applied. This was applied at just a slight angle, all around the model, with the “bottom” of the application being right at the top of the track assemblies.

Next, two more brushes of XF-4 were added to the color cup, and more X-20A. This was applied at a higher angle – maybe 45 degrees or so – with the lowest point I allowed the airbrush to be held at being about midway up the sides. This continual process of setting a “floor” for the line I’d not allow the airbrush to slip beneath allowed for a very nice but subtle gradient to be easily formed.

The final modulation coat added – you guessed it – two more brushfuls of XF-4, and a bit more X-20A. The airbrushes lowest point was moved up to the roofline, and the angle of sprayed raised to about 60 degrees. I didn’t mind if the paint went below the “floor”, as the angle, distance, and thinness of the paint simply added to the gradient effect.

I switched from my Patriot 105 and its .5 nozzle, to my Badger Patriot Extreme, armed with a .3 nozzle. Loading that with only XF-4, heavily thinned with X-20A, I focused some very deliberate highlights on the flattest surfaces – the rooftop,, hood, tops of the headlights, turret top, and a few other areas. Again, color was built up so that higher areas had the most intensity.

The Reason For It

The reason behind modulation is simple – to build a base that will maintain depth when later weathering is applied. Small models will appear small if left to form their own shadows and highlights. Adding later weathering will only enhance this, often resulting in a very “flat” looking result. Whatever variation in height and depth along the surface will be disguised.

By adding modulation, the features of the model are “enlarged” so to speak, and thus as later layers are added, they preserve the additional depth that the modulation tricks the eye into seeing. It can be a fine balance, of course. Too much modulation and lighting effects can leave a model looking a bit odd. Too little will simply disappear, and the intended purpose will be lost.

While it takes a few tries to find the right balance for each modeler’s tastes, my own gauge is simple enough. I try to get it to a point that I just cross a line that I think “that’s starting to look ridiculous”. I’ll admit that’s a very subjective gauge. However, it has worked for me. Regardless of the colors, saturation, or any other “artsy” words one can apply, my mind seems to click with such a point. Your mileage may vary, of course. Just realize that the point that works for you will likely be less based on precise shade, and more on feel.

Not That Different At All

Childhood halftrack, meet your modern-day counterpart.

Just for fun, I pulled out one of my old halftracks from my treasure box. Its age is obvious. Front wheels have long ago been lost. The youthful attempts at a painted camo pattern remain evident. The number “5”, applied with a red Sharpie, still shows. And notice that the paint has stuck, even after 40+ years, with no primer. 😉

The best part, one that I have carefully preserved for decades, is that the dirt from the backyard of my childhood still remains. As a kid, I’d often “weather” models in quite real fashion – I’d add mud to the sides, and let it dry. Whenever the occasion was that I put this halftrack away for the last time as a child, I left the dirt on. Years later, when I reopened the box they were in at the time, the caked on mud was as gold to me. Here was a tangible piece of my youth I could touch – the very dirt from the side of my driveway, there in the house in Tallahassee. Such memories are a great treasure to me, especially now as I am likely well beyond the halfway point of my life. The troubles of today melt away, albeit briefly, as I occasionally allow myself to flake off a grain or two of mud, feel that very dirt from a far simpler time, and wander away for a fleeting moment.

I think that’s why I like these Warhammer kits. The other stuff that I build is of course quite fun too. No doubt about it. But I know if I could sneak back in time, and place all those models into my toy soldier box of long ago, 10-year-old Jon would love them all. But I can guarantee you that the one leading the battle would be a boxy green little tracked vehicle.


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