Friday, October 13, 2017

Terrain making - a new venture.

As you may already know, I have become immersed in Rommel. It is a very challenging and fun game. My friend Steve usually sets up the table and uses his beautiful terrain pieces and buildings. We have been playing eastern front and our plan is to run an event at Historicon 2018. We selected 1943 and the Russian attempts to cross the Dnepr River. This venture would require a number of marsh features and that is the piece missing from our table as we are using carpet remnants for now.

The first test piece. Waiting for the "water effects" to dry thoroughly.

We have most of the figures painted and based and although the pile o' lead is always there, I opted to take a break from painting and try my hand at terrain pieces.

The first step was to watch dozens and dozens of YouTube videos from amateurs and pros alike. One hobbyist I gravitated to is Mel, the Terrain Tutor. Mel is quite a character but what I like most about him is his willingness to share his top secrets and experiments with various materials. He genuinely strives to make us all better at what we love to do.

The next challenge was scale. Most tutorials are based on making terrain for larger scales ranging from 15mm to 32mm figures. We are playing Rommel in 6mm so that clump foliage you use for grass now can represent large bushes or small trees? Conceptualizing these materials and their use was my puzzle.

Next was budget. I had very limited funds so I needed to use what was laying around the basement and buy only the cheapest yet functional materials needed to do the job.

 Test piece #2 awaiting a re-pour of "water effects".

Materials manifest:

0.4 mil plasticard cut to 15cm squares.
3/32" thick (approx. 2mm) cork sheets cut to 15cm squares.
Super glue.
Mod Podge.
Spackle (joint filler compund).
Various flocks, clump foliage, lichen, tuft grass and static grass.
Various paints and washes.
Watered down PVA glue.
Flow aid medium.
"Water Effects". More on this later.

 Step 1 is to cut your plasticard base and cork sheet to size. For Rommel, we are playing on a 6" gridded board, however; rivers run along the borders between the squares and will intrude into the area. I have cut some 4"×6" bases to allow some room.

Step 2 is mapping out your marsh pools where your water effects will be poured. Internet photos of marshes, swamps and bogs gave me some ideas on how to lay them out but feel free to be a little creative here.

Step 3 is to cut out your template. If you can cut them at a 45° angle you will save some time later as you will not have to bevel the interior edges as much. The outside edges around the base should be bevelled to remove the hard edge between the cork and the base. You can do this step now or wait until you have glued the cork to the plasticard (recommended). Use any scraps to add islands to your template. I find it adds a realistic touch to the piece.

Step 3. Glue your cork template to the base. DO NOT USE PVA glue for this step. Mel The Terrain Tutor did a workshop on the adhesive properties of various glues. PVA and plastic do not bond well. Secondly, PVA glue shrinks a lot as it dries and will warp your base. Good old super glue is the ticket. If you haven't bevelled the edges yet, do it now.

Step 4. Cover the entire piece with wall compound remembering to slope your edges around the outside of the cork template. Completely fill the outside edge. For the rest of the template, thin is a win. There will be many layers of material in this project so apply thin coats for each step. Spread the filler with your finger or any sculpting tools you may have. Wet your finger and smooth out the filler especially in the pools. Don't let the filler collect or gob up or your pools may get too shallow for the desired effect.

Step 5. After the filler has completely dried, sand it smooth with fine grit sand paper. I recommend a sanding sponge readily available at your local hardware store of choice. The soft nature of the sanding sponge helps prevent taking chunks out of your filler and allows for more equal pressure across the piece. Don't forget to get into those pools! 

Step 6. Apply a THIN coat of Mod Podge to seal the piece. Again, this is preferred over PVA for the same reason - less shrinkage and less warping. There may be other alternatives such as spray adhesives. These should work fine but I have not tested them out.

Step 7. Add your texture. There are too many personal preferences to say any one is the only way. This is how I prepare my base for paint. I try to match the outside "transitional" part of the base to my figure bases. Apply your adhesive, again, PVA is not recommended, to the base avoiding the pools. Using kitty litter I add some rock features mainly around the outside. Bogs, swamps and marshes are not known for major rock formations typically so less is more. Using your grit of choice, mine is fine ballast, sprinkle, don't dunk, your grit again mainly on the perimeter of your base. Remember, the interior of your marsh will be heavily flocked so adding some interior grit is ok for a few bare spots and texture but don't go heavy. The base on the right is probably more than I want so it will get more foliage cover. Allow to dry thoroughly.

Step 8. Basecoat. Again, many preferences here but I opted for spray paint and primer. Color to taste but remember wet soil is darker than dry soil. Let dry thoroughly as the next step is dry brushing.

Step 9. Dry brushing. Again using the palette of your choice dry brush the entire piece picking out your texture and then the rocks. I use a craft paint Golden Brown on my bases and highlight rocks with Jack Bone. Use very soft bristle brushes, as we did not seal this to save layers, so your grit, but especially your rocks, can be easily knocked off with too much pressure. No need to be super careful with the paints as any mistakes can be covered with your foliage. No need to make a mess either! :)

Step 10. Before we begin, I tried another optional step and that is experimenting with really tall grass for this scale. The trick is to take a bundle and tie off one end so it looks like a wisk broom. Well, I am all thumbs so easier said than done. I managed a system where waste was limited. The cut clusters are super glued. Do not press down or your grass will bend and lean sideways. Just hold the cluster in place for about 10 seconds. There is no weight so the glue holds them up nicely.

The real step is to apply some Moss Green, or your green of choice, and paint the top edge and slopes of your pool walls. Break it up. You don't want to paint everything. Pick and choose your murky areas.

Stepp 11. Pool floors. This is another of those preference steps. Paint the pool floors to reflect the depth and the colors you want to show through the water effects. I use artist inks and  Mel's formula of 2 parts green, 2 parts blue and 1 part black. I will probably play around with it but it works for now. Paint the floors only trying to not go too far up the banks. A liitle is fine as we can correct it in a later step.

Step 12. Flocking. Let the fun begin. You can see most everything I use for this step. Use what you have but have fun with it. The key is the variety of colors, textures and heights to add depth and bring your marsh to life. I start with a burnt grass along the ridges where I applied the Moss Green paint and work from there. Static grass is added next leaving bare ground where I may want to place clump foliage (bushes) and flower patches. Lichen is added as "trees" either straight up, fallen or dead. Finally clump foliage as filler. Again, have fun with your piece and let it lead its own life. No two should be exactly the same.

Step 13. Wash. A simple but necessary step to the piece in my opjnion. Go lightly with your wash as you can always add a coat. Too heavy and it will wash down and cover your painted pool floors. Some drip is ok as it will just muddy the shores. Who doesn't love Muddy Waters? ;) You want to tone down the bright moss green along the edges and hit the stalks of your lichen to make them look more like boughs and branches. Wash them completely brown if you have used stalks as driftwood glued to your floors. Apply until you are happy with the effect.

Step 14. Seal the piece. Here is where I use PVA! Any Elmer's type white glue in a 1 part glue, 6 parts water, 1 part flow medium mixed well. I use a $1 spray bottle that sprays a fine mist over the piece. Everything will be reactivated and turn white. It is ok. Everything should dry clear. The key is the flow aid. It will help the glue penetrate the clump foliage and lichen making for a better bond. I use an artist's product but everyday dish detergent will do. ALLOW TO DRY THOROUGHLY!

 Step 15. Water effects. This is the final step that will bring your piece to life. As I said from the beginning, I am on a small budget. My friend Steve recommended Future acrylic floor polish for the water effect. My first test piece resulted in a complete bleeding into the surrounding flock so much so it drained over all sides of the piece. Partly, I believed, was the base was not on a nearly perfect level surface. So, I poured again, and again, and again, and again. I was doing something wrong but could no longer deal with the frustration of so close yet so far. Off to the hobby store I went and purchased Woodland Scenics Water Effects. At $20 a bottle, plus or minus, I dropped the cash down on the counter. Much better results as the liquid is much thicker. There was still some bleed off but the effect worked out nicely. A few tips...

1. Place your base on a level surface.
2. Use a small measuring cup with a sharp spout.
3. Pour slowly. Watch how it levels out. 
4. You can use a skewer or other tool to work it into the corners.
5. Have a small pointed tool (I use a skewer) to pop any bubbles.

If you do you will leave fingerprints. If you need to see if it is dried hard, use that pointy tool in an inconspicous place for your test press.

The product does have minor shrinkage so if your water is more shallow than you want, top it off and follow rules 1-8 again.

The first 2 pieces fully dried.

I hope you have enjoyed my first terrain tutorial and the final result. If you have any questions or comments, please post below in the comments section. Until next time...

...Happy Gaming!!!


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