Bases, groundwork and scenics



Creating effective bases and groundwork

This is a selection of tutorials I found online that I have found particulatly interesting or helpful. Some are simply linked to other pages on the web, others are so useful I have transcribed their basic content.

With all these tutorials, you can click on the link embedded in each title to go to the original source material – or, if you wish, in some cases, download a PDF backup of the page they are on.

(I created these backups as an insurance because I have been disappointed to find in the past that some of my favourite tutorials suddenly disappeared from the web. Also a few of the backups have been translated (with varying degrees of success) into English from their original language – saving you the trouble of doing it).

How to make a simple base – Arbal, Coloured Dust

This is one of those ideas that is so simple and obvious you wonder why it never occurred to you.


(Download PDF backup)

A Base with leaves – by Michael Fictenmayer,

I love doing groundwork and scenery. Of course I love modeling in general, but this is one of the areas where experimentation and ingenuity really pays off. Case in point, leaf litter, moss, and fallen leaves.

First up, the leaf litter. This is basically plain dead leaves that I scavenged from my yard. It’s the end of summer so a few of the trees are starting to yellow and I always have leaves saved from past autumns for things such as this. Get a good variety of colors, but mostly brown for simulating prior years dead fall. Crush these (when dry, otherwise dry in 250 degree oven for 5-10 minutes if needed) with the back of a screwdriver as fine as you need. What I did in this case was to sponge on a mixture of Burnt Umber acrylic and Matte Acrylic Paste (a mud color similar to the basework) and sprinkled the leaves onto that. Then after a few moments I shook off the excess and repeated as needed.

Now for the moss. Moss at this scale is really fun and you can get some nice effects with only 4 materials. Fine Green Turf, Fine “Earth” Turf, White Glue and Water. That’s it! You’ll need to make two batches, the first is a mixture of mostly green with a little earth turf, plus enough glue and water (40:60 glue:water) to make it into a light squishy dough. Scoop out small bits of this and place as needed, then sprinkle a little of the green on top for the “fuzz” growth.Blow a little earth turf underneath for the roots/dead moss.

Next mix up another batch that’s mostly the Earth turf with a little green. This is for the deader portions. Add this next to the green the sprinkle green closer to the fresh moss and earth onto the dead to make for nice transitional blends between the two areas.


Finally the leaves. This part is fun and you can get some great effects. Takes some time to do, but well worth the trouble. For these I sponged some yellows and tan acrylics onto some gold copy paper. Make the back lighter than the front. Then I lightly sponged on some tan and greens for mottled portions. Use a leaf punch from the scrapbook section of your local craft store (in a close scale to your project) and punch out what you need. Next you’ll want to sponge some brown/tan acrylics around the edges for more dead leaf effects. Lastly you place the leaves onto a layer of 4 paper towels (or 1 folded into 4) and using implements emboss the front of the leaves veins and crinkles. Add some stems if you want from jute fibers. Glue onto the base with white glue as naturally and randomly as possible.


It’s amazing what you can do with some old green sprue and paper scraps. I’m waiting on some laser-cut plants to finish this up, but meanwhile I’ve been making some saplings and such. For these I first stretches some green sprue over a flame, then used the portions near the ends with the thicker base. I crinkled the sprue a bit because nature abhors a straight line. I used leaves that I cut using wavy design scissors then sponge-painted with acrylics.



I painted the stems with a sponge using the same green as the leaves all over, then using brown near the bottom to simulate a woody stalk. I glued the leaves to the stalks with a mixture of white glue and the leaf-green paint. I also dabbed this on in spots to simulate buds.




After reading this tutorial, I managed to procure some leaf punches but I haven’t yet tried them out properly. The three larger ones would probably work for larger scale garage kits but I then found a useful multi-punch from Greenstuffworld (see below) for smaller scales

Creating Realistic Dioramas: Getting Started With Foam

by Phil Lister (from The Clubhouse Forum and Gremlins)

One of the most interesting aspects of figure modeling, is creating a diorama or realistic setting for them. While there are many different techniques and materials to use, I have found that Styrofoam insulating material works great. It’s easy to cut into different sizes and shapes and even comes in different thicknesses. I go to my neighborhood home improvement center and buy the long 24″ X 8′ X 3/4″ sections and that usually will last me for several good size projects.

The stuff I buy is pink, but sometimes it’s blue. This corresponds to the “R” or insulating value, and it does come in different densities. The denser the better. Foam works great for stone walls and floors. It’s also ideal for rocky terrain and cave walls. You simply cut the foam to whatever size you may need and using a hot wire cutter, Dremel tool or soldering iron carve or cut irregular patterns, grooves or mortar lines into it.

Say you want to create a stone wall and floor for your latest Dracula figure:

STEP 1: First, determine the size and shape of your base. Then, cut the foam to the desired size.

STEP 2: Using 5 minute epoxy or Elmer’s white glue, attach both the floor and wall section together.

STEP 3: When the glue is dry, begin by first carving or cutting the horizontal mortar lines. This is the easiest way to start, since the line pattern is consistent. Next, carve or cut the vertical lines, but stagger or alternate them into a stone pattern.

STEP 4: Next, take a ball of aluminum foil and roll this all over the “stone”. I also use a Dremel fitted with sanding drum or a cone-shaped grinding bit and bounce it all over the foam to create irregularities in the surface. Make these irregularities rather deep.

STEP 5: Now for the messy part! You’re going to need some DURHAM’S WATER PUTTY. This stuff is sold at most home centers and hardware stores. It comes in a 1lb can, a 5lb can and a 55 gallon drum! No kidding! It’s a fine yellowish powder that when mixed with water, hardens into a kind of plastic which is as the label says “Rock Hard”! You’ll find it where they have the plaster and joint compound. Mix according to directions, except, I will usually mix it a little on the thin side, but not too thin! This makes it easier to brush it on.

STEP 6: Using a 1 ½” or 2″ paintbrush, apply the mixture over the stone. Cover the entire area thoroughly. Now this stuff sets up fast, so work carefully but work as fast as you can! If it starts to thicken in the bowl, I will wash it out in the toilet bowl to make sure I don’t clog the narrow sink drains! Be sure to mix plenty of water with it to dilute it good! You don’t want a clogged toilet drain! While the coating on the foam is still damp, sprinkle some powdered Durham’s onto the stone surface for texture. Before the Durham’s sets up completely, go back and re-carve any mortar lines that may have been filled in when you applied the mixture. Let the whole thing dry good overnight.

STEP 7: Determine your color choices and go nuts painting!

As I said, while there are many different ways of creating stone or rock, this method provides you with a very convincing look. Best of all, it’s very lightweight yet rather strong!


1. When cutting, rub some paraffin wax onto the saw or knife blade. This keeps the foam from jamming and crumbling.

2. For gray stone, begin by basing it in black or dark gray. Then dry-brush using a lighter shade of gray working up to an off white. Air-brush some dark lines tracing the mortar lines. This adds a very interesting look and makes the mortar lines look darker.

3. If you can’t find DURHAM’S WATER PUTTY, you can use gesso, or acrylic modeling paste. Both items are available at most art and craft stores.

4. I use a Dremel machining bit or a soldering iron to cut mortar lines. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation when melting it with a soldering iron.

5. When assembling sections of foam together, use round toothpicks. These work great to reinforce the joints and help hold the parts together until dry.

Railway scenics adapted

I’ve been popping into Modelzone quite a lot these last weeks to pick through their end of sale stuff. There’s not much of interest to a figure modeler except for their paints and glues and of course some of the scenic stuff.

I haven’t painted a lot of 28 and 32 mm stuff for quite a while (though I might be getting back into it again) but when I did I found the some of the plastic railway texture sheets really useful as time-savers for creating textured bases.

The cobblestones, paving stones and wooden boards can easily be cut down to fit small bases and if you hack around the edges, they look quite realistic.


The other items I’ve used before are the rubber moulds for creating rocks (again, they’re 000 scale but it doesn’t matter). Don’t know about you but I’m always mixing up more putty than I need when I’m building or fixing a figure and end up rolling the leftovers into little balls.

I used to keep these as ‘stones’ but I’m such a crap sculptor that even my rocks aren’t convincing. Not no more though! I just press them into one of my rock moulds. The great thing is that you can spread the putty out to make ‘hollow rocks’; making it go further and still look nicely textured on the outside. (It helps if you rub some vaseline in the mould first – or talcum powder – so you can release the cast easily)


Texture Rollers

These perspex rollers made by GreenStuff World ( produce wonderful textures for base work, including cobblestones, planks, paving, cracked ice, metal grids and steel plates. There are also ones for Celtic type symbols and arcane runes. You can use them with any kind of putty or clay that hardens and there are detailed video tutorials on their website. For workable imprinting, they suggest adding plasticine to Epoxy putty, something I never knew was possible to do – so something useful learned.

Although they are really intended for gamers, I found the idea so irresistible I bought two sets of these. I hope to get some use out of them making bases for 54mm and 80mm figures.



After reading something on the web, I tried using the rollers on styrofoam board. I had to press pretty hard but I did manage to imprint them. Here are some examples with colour washes. I had planned to just do simple ink washes to pick out the detail but found it impossible to wipe them down without also removing the wash in the indents because the texture was so shallow. It was better after coating them with acrylics but I got my best results (see the two below) using white and black gesso.

You’d probably get much crisper detail using putty spreads as they suggest but the appeal of styrofoam is it’s clean and quick and you don’t clog up the rollers. Possibly a softer foam would give a better impression – products like Foamcote would protect it afterwards. I used something similar on these samples.

I’ve only shown a few of the range here. The sci-fi ones – hexagonal grids, herring bone etc – only have limited appeal to me but I like the idea. In my opinion, the brick walls and cobblestone textures worked best with the wood planks being the least successful.





Using photo-etched plants-

Some useful tips on working with photo-etched foliage and plants that covers painting them, arranging them, and cutting them from a sprue.

Download PDF backup

Making trees from plastic sprue

I recently bought one of these flame guns from Maplins. They are powered by disposable lighters and although mine came with an empty one that had no flint, I bought a pack of eight for one pound. They do work quite well.