Dark Elf – Ship

Introduction (& disclaimer)
This is a Dark Elf ship I’ve been working on & off on for about 2 months. We’re going to be using the naval warfare rules in GW’s “The General’s Compendium”. Please excuse the horrible photography, playing with toy soldiers is my hobby, not taking photos.

Stage 1: The build
I didn’t have a plan or an exact drawing on paper, just an idea of what it should look like in my head. Normally I would plan it out to the tiniest detail, but it was quite a nice experimental process of simply getting a basic shape and just adding to as it as I went along. I don’t mind where it ended up, but if I were to do it again, I’d spend a bit more time in the drawing phase to get the silhouette looking really gorgeous before breaking out the tools and glue.

First I started with cutting up a plank of wood to get the right sort of shape. It’s a good idea to know which rules you’re going to use before you start so that you can decide how many models you will need to fit on the ship. We are aiming to get about 20-25 models on the decks of the ship and play a skirmish form of Warhammer.

Next I added some flat pieces of MDF with balsa wood edges to make the flat decks. I cut the curved ends off ice-cream sticks and stuck them around the ship to look like planking.

I added more intricate “dark elvish” paneling from cardboard…

After getting the basic shapes of the ship in place, I added extra bits (eg: staircases, ladders and awnings) made from balsa. For the detail around the stern of the ship, I cut wooden clothes pegs and stuck them around the edges.

…Still in the process of adding more detail, I mounted a battering ram (which is going to be painted to look like a steel blade) on the front of the vessel and sorted out the placements for the wooden railings and masts.

Stage 2: The Review
Since my entire process has more or less been haphazardly glue bits of wood offcuts together until it resembled a ship, I had to take a moment to look at the entire thing as a whole and see if it was “working”. I chucked some models onto the deck and made ocean and explosion sounds while I played with the ship in the bath for hours on end. The main construction seemed done, it needed detail though to really bring it to life, it seemed too plain as it was…

Stage 3: The Sculpt
After trying to talk myself out of it… I knew that it needed a huge figurehead at the bow of the ship to give it that evil, elven, raider feel. It had to be: A DRAGON! Yessss. I probably could have gone out and bought a dragon model, cut off the head and glued it on, but:

  • I’m way to cheap for that. Even tho I ended up spending more on green-stuff than the cost of going out and buying a dragon model.
  • I’d never worked with green stuff before this little escapade, but thought to myself: how hard can it be? This would be a great way of forcing myself to try something new.

So I drew a quick sketch (my first for the project so far) of what the dragon head should look like and created a basic cardboard frame which I was going to put the green-stuff onto to keep it’s shape.

Some learnings I picked up while working with green-stuff: > DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert. This is what worked for me, but there are far far more talented people you should listen to for sculpting advice…

  • Get / make some nice tools. I’m not experienced enough to tell how or what, but there is plenty of info out there on what are some good starting kits. Sausage fingers will not cut it.
  • Use water. I used small amounts of water on the tips of my fingers to stop the green-stuff from sticking too much, but not too much that it stops being workable. Also, adding a little bit of water to a surface as you’re smoothing it seems to help a lot.
  • Layer it up. I found that working up the model slowly was far better than trying to make the entire thing in one go (fiddly details and all). Add a little bit – wait for it to set – adding a bit more. rinse & repeat etc…
  • Carve & Sand. I was surprised at how easy it was to carve into the set green-stuff and sand it. If you’re sanding it however, wear a mask, it’s apparently not good for you. Ignore your parent’s voices in your ears telling you to “eat your greens!”.

I had some issues trying to sculpt teeth so I ended up getting rid of the ones I had made and simply cut the ends off some spare Dark Elf Repeater Crossbowmen crossbows which seemed to work much better than anything I could make.

Stage 4: The Rigging
I kept the rigging really simple since it soon became obvious that the more ropes and rope ladders I added to the ship, the more difficult it became to get in there an move models around. So with that reasoning in mind, I pulled off a lot of what I added and decided to keep the sails rolled up instead of open.

Stage 5: The Details
At this point in the design, I literally just went through my bitz box looking for things I could add to the ship to give it more detail and character. I put together some old chests and made a telescope from some old Reaper Bolt thrower parts…

I found that the metal panels on the ship looked really flat and a bit boring and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I was with the wife in a shopping mall where she walked into a haberdashery to pick up some supplies. I reluctantly followed her in and stood around playing on my phone while she browsed around.

Then it I saw them. Wedding invitation stickers. Thin, intricate sticker patterns that felt very elvish. I stood there for a good 5min, oogling over stickers. After noticing the funny looks from the other customers, I snapped out of it and in the deepest masculine voice I could muster, convinced my wife to take these up to the till and buy them for me but to pretend they were her’s… After some eye rolling I got my way…

The stickers would probably suit a High Elf Ship or even Wood Elf log a little more, but they were all I could find and I hoped the paint job would pull it together.

Stage 6: The Paint Job
Once all the details had been added and everything was looking good from a modeling point of view, I decided to lock it in and give the entire ship a spray with a dark / grey brown as an undercoat.

As soon as the undercoat had dried, I gave everything a first coat of colour / metal…

After painting on the first coats of detail and metal, I gave the model a generous coating of Army Painter (which I had also never used before). I found that even tho it suggests applying a thick coat to any model you’re working on (or indeed “dipping” the model) I left it to dry for a few minutes before wiping off a lot of the excess (especially around the metal detail).

The next day the “dip” had dried and set, and I started to dry brush back in the highlights. With the metal, I tried to carefully pick up the patterns and edges since the blotchy-dipped-look gave it a really interesting rusted feel.

Stage 7: The Finished Ship
Here are the photos for the final ship. Thanks for reading, would love to hear your comments.