Thursday, 22 November 2012

Workbench: Basic Groundwork

Greetings one and all and welcome to another one of my workbench articles. Today the theme is groundwork. Groundwork is essentially basing writ large for dioramas or terrain bases and needs a litte more effort than normal basing. First though, I ought to mention that this was something that I spontaneously decided to turn into a workbench article later in the process than normal. As a result we start in media res so to speak. I'll try to explain the early stages as best as I can!

Righto, to give a sense of scale this base is 15cm across and that is one of GW's plastic trees in the middle. Firstly - as this diorama is going under glass and is really a complicated way of suspending a Griffon - I needed to position the tree so that the model would fit in the dome. This done I started supergluing some slabs of slate around the tree to give the groundwork a bit of height and interest. Incidently we use slate a lot in modelling because it is "scale ambiguous". It looks the same whether it is massive or tiny, same layers and texture. As a result we can paint a small lump of slate and make it appear massive in scale. Not all rocks do this and you can really kill the look of a diorama with a rock that looks out of scale. I also glued a dried root to the base - a roughly circular disc of thick plasticard - to help the tree look more in place. Then it was sand time. Lots of it.

I have a trick for sanding large areas like this that helps to build up layers and height quickly: Use cheap pound-store superglue. The reason for this is that it is simultaneously dirt cheap (2 10g bottles for £1) and thin as water. Useless for glueing figures together but awesome for flowing around a base. I worked in patches, pouring superglue on then sanding the pool. This stuff is so thin that you can even just dump dry sand where you want it and then use capillary action to draw the superglue through the pile of sand. I finished the whole thing off with a wash of diluted PVA to help seal the surface as otherwise you might strip the sand off with drybrushing. With the groundwork solid as concrete (as let's face it, that's what we've made) I moved on to painting. It's all fairly basic so instead of taking you through each individual colour I'll tell you some principles. First, make the top highlight of your soil and rocks the same colour. Soil is made of the broken up local rocks mixed with organic matter and thus looks better if there is some of the rock colour in it. Trees are more grey than brown so use greys as your highlight colours and then give it a very thin wash of Athonian Camoshade - khaki/brown/green - to give it a mossy feel. It was around this point I decided to turn this into a workbench so... picture!

Glue isn't dry in any of these shots so ignore any white bits.

Though the tree is autmnal it won't be completely dead. I used canopy glue (a very thick, clear-drying PVA) to attach strands of ivy basing material up one side of the tree.

Even the rocks aren't dead, these are little moss tufts, essentially very, very short cropped static grass blobs that I PVA'd onto the stone to be lichen/moss.

Next came grass, now normally I would recommend only about 1/3 of a miniature's base to be covered in static grass. When doing groundwork it is pretty much the other way around! The base is the model and needs to have impact. Care needs to be taken with placement. If you just do blobs of grass it will look like a fresian cow. Think about where the grass will be growing most healthily and apply your glue there. Also, when flocking (I said flock) a larger area work in smaller patches - I worked on about a sixth at a time - and overload it with grass. Really tip it on, press it down and leave it a while before you tip it off and blow off the excess. This gives the grass time to adhere and create that clumpiness (totally a word) that we are after.

We could have left it there, it looked fine, but like most jobs in modelling it can be taken another step forward. In this case I used tufts of clump foliage (check out Tooltime - part III for a roundup of these products) to create... a shrubbery! Sorry, couldn't help it! When using this stuff, it helps to soak some dilute PVA into it (I use a glass eye-dropper) and squeeze it through the material. This stops it from falling apart. Now, this is almost finished but looks a little neat and tidy. Is there a gardener that is raking this forest?

Ding! There you go. Leaf litter simply glued down with dilute PVA. Now, there will be some of you who are currently yelling "BASIC groundwork?" at the screen. Let me assure you, none of this is difficult. It's just involved and needs some practice and reference (oh no, don't make me walk out in the countryside where the pretty scenery is...) to get right. Believe me, the groundwork experts are astonishing. I have seen dioramas where I had to be convinced that it wasn't a 1:1 photograph. Stunning. I'm happy with this sort of level though! Well, next time you see this it will have a griffon mounted on that tree and under glass so until then.


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