Saturday 18 July 2015

Tony Runkee, master figure painter and gentleman.

Last year following a throwaway comment by Andy Copestake of Old Glory fame about being offered some ex Peter Gilder figures I was lucky enough to be introduced by Andy to Tony Runkee.
 Tony had been a member of the old Hull Wargames group and had been a painter for the late great Peter Gilder.
 I think its fair to say that Peter Gilder was probably the one wargamer I always wanted to emulate, and the one whose figure painting style I wanted to copy. Sadly I never met him, and only attended the Wargames Centre after he had sold it.
 Anyway, Tony very kindly sold me some ex Wargames Holiday Centre gendarmes and then completed a small commission for me. From there I was able to afford another commission, and using the excuse of collecting the completed unit [ Spahis of the Porte ] I drove down to Hull on Tuesday to collect the figures and pick the brains of one of Gilder's painters.
 Basically I thought it would make for an interesting post by talking to Tony who knew Peter Gilder well, and picking his brains about his painting techniques.
                                                                The man himself;

Q,   So Tony can you tell me how you started painting wargames figures.
 R,   I started like most wargamers from the late 1960's by building Airfix kits and painting them. Being an electrician by trade I was always handy with things, and found I was pretty good at putting the kits together and painting them.
 Over the next few years, after making everything that Airfix had producded, I progressed onto the larger but more expensive models of soldiers.
  There used to be a local hobby shop in Hull, and I was able to get a lot of kits from there, but because money was tight I couldnt afford the wonderful large models being sold by Hinchliffe so had to settle for the cheaper plastic kits. Anyway to cut a long story short, I finally bought and painted a Ray Lamb 75mm figure which when I had completed it, I was really pleased about,

Q,  So what happened.
R,  I took this figure that I thought was the bees knees down to the local wargames club in Hull, I wasnt a big wargamer but I knew some of the people there and wanted to show it off.
Anyway one of the members said that the person I should speak to about the figure and other similar figures was sat in the corner of the club, and that's how I met Peter.
  Peter and I talked about the figure and he gave me some advice about various ways to paint metal figures.From that chance meeting Peter and I became good friends.

Q, What was Peter Gilder like.
R, After that first meeting Peter and I would meet at the club, and after a couple of meetings Peter invited me around to his house, to show me some of the figures he'd been working on.
 This was before Milliput, so Peter made his figures from a wire armature, and solder. I remember watching him making one Napoleonic soldier in a greatcoat, and he built the coat, which was loose and open using a piece of wire and solder, for its time it looked great.
 Some people thought Peter was standoffish, but actually he was a very shy person, and a very good friend. As I got to know him better we used to go out socially frequently.

Q, So how did he come to work for Frank Hinchliffe.
R, Frank Hinchliffe was an engineer by trade, and was making some wonderful artillery pieces. Because of his training Frank only needed a set of scale drawings and from them he could create some first class models. Anyway Frank couldnt make figures, whereas Peter was just a very talented person who had an eye for such things. Anyway Peter got in touch with Frank and showed him some of his work, he was obviously impressed because Peter began making wargames figures for Frank Hinchliffe, and Hinchliffe wargames figures came about. I think Peter was making about five figures a week for Frank Hinchliffe, and soon they built up a large range of figures which I got to paint.

Q, So how did things progress from there.
 R, I used to go to the modelling shows with Peter and Frank and would work on the stall for them. As I had a young family and money was tight I would get figures in exchange for working with them.
I just picked up tips from Peter and developed my style of painting which Peter clearly liked.
 I often used to attend Northern Militare with the stall, and began entering the various categories of the painting competitions Frank ran.

Q, I remember thinking that the Hull club in the 70's and 80's had some pretty good painters as members and I remember the great photographs that used to be in the Miniature Wargames magazine by the various members.
R, At the time, there was some really talented blokes at the club, and with Peter also being a member it was a great place to go to. Harry Harrison was a member, Dennis Coleman, John Tilson, Keith Rotherham, Peter and of course Phil Robinson. They were a very talented bunch and it was a good place to learn painting techniques. It was at Hull that I was introduced to John Braithwaite who ran Garrison Miniatures. I painted a lot of the large models that Garrison used to stock.

Q, It was also about this time that Battleground the television programme was made.
 R, I remember the programmes. Peter asked if I wanted to take part, but I was busy with work so I couldn't attend. However if you watch the start of the Battleground programmes you will see on a table near Edward Woodward a painted Stug model, that was one of mine. I also painted about 50% of the figures for Peter's re enactment of Gettysberg on the show.

Q, What else did you paint for Peter.
 R, All sorts. I painted him a Sassanid army, a lot of Napoleonics which he later used at his centre, loads of Second World War, tanks etc which I think went to Dave Thomas. Also his Italian war stuff, red Indians, oh and I painted up a Norman army that ended up with Peter.
 I also painted myself a Bavarian Napoleonic army which I ended giving to Peter.
  I used to get figures in exchange for my work.
 Peter had a few talented people to paint figures for him, including Doug Mason, Phil,and me, it was quite a collection that he put together at the centre.

 Q, I remember the Normans, from the Miniature Wargames, they were a colourful bunch.

Q, You mentioned the Wargames Holiday Centre of Peter Gilder's.
 R, Peter bought a place at Thornton le Dale, and I helped him set up his wargames room, doing the electric wiring and the like. I then helped Peter make his terrain boards, we didnt have the Pink insulation board material then, so Peter and I would cut up big sheets of fibre board, and carve them up to make the hills. Thats when I was introduced to the rubberised hair  method of making trees and hedges. A lot of the buildings were made from solid blocks of wood, with roofs and windows added, the centre was a great place. I remember that I brought Peter the rubber gaskets from  the Leyland A68 engines which we used as hedges that were fixed to the boards, cheap but effective. We also used the wooden corner supports from fruit boxes to make the bockage for the World War two games, in fact Im making some more at the moment.

Tony then showed me one of the few figures that he had kept from his long painting career, it was of an Indian chief.
Q, Tony I remember this figure, this was on the front of one of the early Miniature Wargames magazines.
R, I made this figure from scratch,the feathers took a lot of effort to create as they were individual pieces of solder. I also had to spend a lot of time painting them, but it was worth it.
 Somehow I kept this figure, probably because of the amount of effort it took to make and paint.

    I was able to also talk to Tony about his painting tips. He has won many awards over the years at wargame and military modelling events, in fact the only he has never entered and won is Euro Militaire, which he intends to enter. This is the premier military modelling event in Europe and having seen Tony's abilities I can see him achieving this ambition as well.
 Tony uses oils, enamels, acrylics, artist acrylics and cheap acrylic artists paint. Having seen how effective the paint is I am now looking to buy a few tubes of artist acrylics.
 Tony starts from a white undercoat approach to every figure he paints, as it suits his style of painting perfectly. Having seen his painted horses, it is very obvious that he has carefully studied a real horse. He alternates between a wipe off paint effect and a wonderful wet on wet effect. But even that is open to change as he clearly is always experimenting with his painting styles.
 One thing he showed me which is so simple but so effective, is a wet pallet which not only keeps the acrylic paint fresh on the pallet for much longer, it also allows a wet on wet approach on the figure. This is something I have attempted with the medium and failed miserably.
 Tony simply takes a plastic lid, say from a small box of chocolates, places some folded kitchen roll in the bottom, and then carefully pours clean water into the tray, the tray and paper needs to be wet but not totally swamped. He then places a piece of grease proof paper over the kitchen roll, so that it gets fairly damp, but not soaked.The acrylic paint that is to be used is placed on the grease proof paper and used accordingly. I probably haven't described this too well, but having seen this in action, it allows the paint to stay usable and is of a consistency to blend on the figure.
 Tony also showed me how he paints white, which has always caused me problems, he uses an artists acrylic called Davy's Grey which when mixed with water and placed on the figure gives a beautiful effect.
  He also explained about how to highlight black without making the highlights jar. Instead of using greys, he uses khaki colours mixed with black, so effective and better than the harshness of grey. Similarly when painting negroid skin tone, Tony recommended a bottle green or Prussian blue undercoat which was a tip he picked up from the great painter Joe Shaw.
To be fair to Tony I could have sat all day and had a proper painting tutorial such is his knowledge of how to paint figures to a top standard. Tony also gave me a short explanation of how he makes his distinctive bases, which he has improved upon from his days of painting for Peter Gilder, the bases naturally look top notch.
 Hopefully with the other tips he gave me I will be able to improve my style.

Tony is one of many wargamers who have quietly worked away in the hobby producing wonderful figures and providing a lot of inspiration to anyone who has seen his work. I would like to thank Tony and his wife Audrey for putting up with me, and also feeding me. I would recommend anyone who bumps into Tony at various shows to introduce yourselves and then listen to what he has to impart, youre never too old to learn.
 Thanks again Tony.

                               A squadron of the Saxe lancers that Tony very kindly painted for me.
    The Gendarmes and crossbowmen that I was able to buy from Tony, from the Wargames Holiday Centre. Still defying the test of time.

                                                   One of Tony's beautiful large figures.



  1. Really fascinating - thanks for posting!

  2. What an interesting man - great interview ! , Tony

    1. Tony is an absolute gent, like a lot of the older wargaming/ modelling fraternity.

  3. Great piece Robbie, perhaps you've found a good use for you old detective skills. Go hunting out the names from the past and do your roving reporter piece. It's a great read

    1. Thanks Graham,
      Ive been thinking about doing that for awhile Graham, the problem is who do you put on the list. It would be really nice to have a small record of a number of veteran wargamers from the start, just for posterity.

    2. Rob,
      Can start with old guard, Charles Grant, Stuart Asquith, Doug Mason, John et al then I guess there's the young paduans like Duncan Mc etc sure you could pull together an interesting list for history of gaming in the UK 60's to present day.

    3. It sounds like a lot of travelling to me, do you think I could get sponsorship?

    4. A man of your means doesn't need sponsorship :) I'm sure WI will pay you. The treasures you will see would be worth the expense.

    5. Youve got me thinking again Graham, I must admit to sit down with Doug Mason would be of real interest, as would Mark Allen, Duncan Macfarlane, Charles Grant, Stuart Asquith, et al.

  4. This is one of the best Wargame related articles that I have ever read. You should embellish it a little more and submit it to one of the wargame magazines.


    1. Thanks Jim,
      I only had a short time with Tony, who even though he's older than me, is still like a whirlwind, it was hard to keep him pinned down sokeen was he to show me his painting techniques. I hope to sit with him again to get more detail about him and Peter Gilder.

  5. An education! Many thanks for a brilliant post.


My 6mm Napoleonic set up.

My 6mm Napoleonic set up.
Austria 1809.

Austrian Hussars

Austrian Hussars
Hinchliffe figures

Austrian Grenzer

Austrian Grenzer
Austrian Grenzer

Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2013
Smoggycon 2013

Smoggycon 2012

Smoggycon 2012
Smoggycon 2012

Smoogycon 2009

Smoogycon 2009
My French getting another beating