Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Basing Miniature, Step by Step

This tutorial describes my technique for decorating a model's base, whether it's a metal washer, sheet styrene, wood, or a plastic "slotta" base.

Step the First - Glue to base
At left is a model right out of the package (a Vendel Miniatures orc). You can see how insubstantial the base is. You don't want him falling down at the slightest bump of the table, so you'll need to glue him down. Here I am using a 1 in. (25mm) wide washer from the hardware store. The perfectly round shape looks quite nice for display and the metal adds a good bit of weight to the finished model. I prefer the low profile of the washer to the taller plastic slotta base. (Incidentally, this washer is the same width as the round bases used in GW's rules)

I use super glue for this stage, letting it dry overnight.

Note: You may find it easier to paint the model if you temporarily glue it to a popsicle stick, wine cork, etc. This will keep your fingers away from the wet paint while you work. It's especially useful if your model is destined to share a single base with other models. If that's the route you take, then you won't be gluing the model to it's base until after it has been painted and varnished.

Step 2 - Putty
Next, I add some putty, This is molded around the base of the model, sloping down to the surface of the washer. It hides the otherwise abrupt step formed where the model meets the washer. For the most part I use my finger to flatten it out, but a toothpick works well as a miniature rolling pin. A little bit of water keeps the putty from sticking to you. Although it's quick and easy, I advise against licking your finger or the toothpick. You're bound to get some of the putty in your mouth, and that ain't good. Beyond aesthetics, the putty also help the model to stick to its base.

I use Kneadatite, "green stuff." You can buy little packages of this at your local hobby shop. GamesWorkshop store has little packages, but you can get larger tubes of the stuff from online stores. I bought mine from

Step 3 - Prime and Paint the Model
I brush on black matt enamel paint. Spray-paint is faster... but dangerous! If you spray on a humid day, small gritty bits may form on the surface from the moisture. This isn't too common a problem, but once was more than enough for me.

In the past I glued sand on the base then prime the whole thing at once. Invariably, little grains of sand would stick to the brush and transfer to the model. I wouldn't notice them until I started painting. So, I ended up tearing bits of paint off when I removed the sand grains. Now I prime and paint the model first, glue down sand, and then prime the sand.

Allow the primer to dry overnight, then paint and varnish the model. I won't say too much about my painting style. There are enough sites that give painting tutorials (see Steve Dean's Site).

Step 4 - Sand
A layer of sand adds a nice ground-like texture. Brush on white glue (Elmer's Glue, for instance), then dip into a container of sand. I keep my sand in a wide, shallow tub that once held carry-out guacamole. You can buy sand, but why would you? Two sources for free sand: the beach, or a playground sandbox. If you're concerned about germs soak the sand in water with a tiny cap-full of bleach. A mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide (3:1 ratio) works well too. Remove twigs, pebbles, etc. with sieve (like the kind that comes with a beach shovel and bucket) or a scrap of window screening.

Step 5 - Prime and Paint the Base
It's time to brush on some matt black enamel again. It's annoying to have to bring out the enamel a second time, but acrylic paint doesn't stick to the metal edge of the washer very well. When the primer dries overnight, I then paint the whole base dark brown. I use Citadel acrylic paints. The brand name brown is, "Scorched Earth." I then dry-brush a lighter tan-brown, "Graveyard Earth." This picks out the raised bits of the texture.

Varnish the edge of the base. It's vulnerable to chipping.

Step 6 - Vegetation
I like to glue a couple tiny pebbles (seen in the foreground). I use a pair of tweezers to dip the pebble in glue, then place it on the base. A good place to find alot of appropriately sized pebbles is on the edge of the road or parking lot—where the paved surface meets the dirt.

"Static Grass" is a nice product sold by GamesWorkshop (I imagine other companies make something similar, but I haven't looked into it). These are tiny green plastic hairs. What I have found looks best is to brush on glue in a few scattered areas on the base. I take a pinch of static grass and sprinkle it over the glue.

"Flock" is sawdust dyed in various shades of green or brown. It's easy to find in hobby stores, but I'm not a big fan of that stuff (it looks fake). The company, Woodland Scenics sells some nice fake grass for the model railroad hobbyists. This comes in a length of about 3 inches. To use this stuff I pinch a little bit and snip off the end with scissors. Dip the end in glue and place the clump on the base. Using tweezers helps to get the grass in close to the model. Once the glue is dry you can trim the longer pieces with a small pair of scissors.

Note: I'm using white glue again. Super glue would just be overkill.

I saw an exciting terrain/basing product on another blog recently. Silfor brand Prairie tufts are expensive, but look awesome!

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