Want to make some cheap terrain? Want to do it by the end of this weekend? Want to make some good looking, possibly professional quality, pieces that you can feel proud playing with and brag to your friends about?
A frequently asked question in the terrain section is “How can I make some cheap terrain that is easy to make and paint?” If you have been asking yourself the same question continue to read….
Prologue: Credit should be given to A. Luna from Eclipse Painting. This is based off of a tutorial he has made on the MWG home page. I have added a lot of my own experiences, techniques and recommendations. I never claim myself to be at a professional level or any level close to A. Luna’s. My only hope is to pass the information along to as many war gamers out there so they can get the most out of their games.
Section 1: Materials-------------------- (Expenses)
Pink foam board ------------------------ (3X6 foot 1 inch thick = $7.00)
Cutting utensil--------------------------- (Pen knife/razor blade/serrated blade
Craft glue (white/pva/tacky/wood) --- (On average = $2.00)
Small rocks------------------------------- (free)
Cheap brush --------------------------------- ($2.00)
---(I recommend a smaller brush for glue and a larger 1 inch brush for painting)
Paint--------------------------------------- ($6.00 in craft paints)
Krylon H20 Spray paint---------------- ($5.00)
Large terrain set =============== ($22.00)
Section 2: Thinking.
So we have all of our materials prepped and ready to go. Before we start measuring and cutting we need to think first.
How big do we want our pieces to be?
How game functional should they be?
How big are they compared to our gaming table?
- You don’t want to make a hill that overlaps your table edges and also don’t want to make it so you can’t fit a nice balanced terrain set on the table and play a good game with it.
For instance: I’m making this terrain for a friend of mine who plays on a 4X4 table. I maybe want to make my biggest terrain piece 24 inches maximum to allow it and other pieces to fit on the board as well as minis when time comes for a battle.
In this section I would also like you to take into consideration the following. Many people do not realize how toxic and dangerous certain everyday items can be. Before you start any terrain project please read through this thread for very important safety warnings. One specifically pertaining to this build is
You'll probably end up working with knives often, and a key thing to remember is always cut away from yourself. No, you probably won't commit seppuku, but fingers and hands can get some pretty nasty gashes, and these things are your hobbying livelihood. Try to always put anything sharp back in a regular spot, so you're aware of where things are. A knife set will come with a bunch of blades, and usually a safe way to store them. (Like magnets inside a case)
Section 3: Designing and making the basic shape.
Take a pencil (I recommend a pencil because the ink from pens can be a pain to cover properly with paint) and draw out the desired shape for the lowest level (Or biggest piece). Don’t push too hard or you might cut grooves and other unwanted markings into the foam.
Next draw another smaller level that will go on top of the largest. You will want this to be at least one inch smaller than the piece to go beneath it. I say one inch because that is a minis average base size and you want to make this piece game functional.
Now take something to cut the pieces out with. I use a hack saw blade with very fine teeth but a sharp razor blade or a kitchen knife could do the trick just as easily. I do recommend using a serrated blade for this step as well as using a careful sawing motion.
Trace the shapes you have made in the board and cut them out completely. You don’t have to be perfect and can cut ‘out of the lines’. Trim away any excess you do not want. (You can always trim away more when doing the rocky texture so leave extra if you want to be safe).
*Warning*: When cutting the foam it releases small pieces, sort of resembling a powder at times, which may irritate your skin, eyes, throat and/or nose. I always do my cutting outdoors to be extra safe and clean. Try not to rub your eyes and touch your mouth until you have thoroughly washed your hands and arms using cold water. You could also wear gloves, a long sleeve shirt and a particulate mask to be extra careful.
Section 4: Making ramps and rocks.
You should now have two pieces of the foam that fit on top of each other nicely.
Ramp: A ramp for your minis is completely optional. Place the pieces together (do not glue yet) as if they were going to be assembled. Find a good open spot to make a ramp or two. Simply cut out the ramp at a 45 degree angle. It’s not too important to make it perfect.
Once your done cutting it out it may require some sanding so your minis won’t fall over. I would recommend 220 grit but really any grit could be used. Just pass it lightly over the area until it is smooth.
Rocks: Take some of the cutouts from the main shapes and fit them to see if they would work as a large rock or boulder sticking out of the ground.
Trim down the excess to make a good solid looking form.
Section 5: Don’t eat the glue.
So we have the basic shape down with a ramp and some raised boulders sticking out of the ground. Time to glue it all together.
First glue the two base pieces together.
Make sure to have a solid line of glue all the way around the seam where the two pieces meet. This will help hide any ‘gaps’ that may appear when making the rocky texture.
Now add on the boulders/rocks and do the same.
At this time you want the glue to set for a short while so you can handle it without fear of the pieces shifting. I would say approximately 30 minutes. Maybe longer depending on your climate.
Section 6: Carving out the rocky texture.
This may seem like a challenge but really this is a very extremely easy task. Remember that at this point the glue is still pretty wet and the pieces may shift here and there. Handle the piece carefully so this doesn’t happen. Start by taking your pen knife and placing the dull side of the blade perpendicular to the foam’s edge. You can really use any dull straight blade. The backside of a butter knife would work just as well!
Now simply run the blade along the edge to make small pieces of the foam pop out. It helps to change the angle of the blade.
The harder you push the deeper and less grooves there will be. This may take some time to get to a standard that you like. I recommend to practice on some of the scrap pieces first. Don’t overdo it here for fear of taking away too much. Remember; you can always take away more but can never put more back on! Try pushing hard in some spots and very soft in others to get a good variance in texture. Sometimes I use the very tip of the knife to get some deep grooves cut in.
You can also stick your knife straight down into the foam and pry pieces out this way.
Mix the two above techniques for a good organic look.
Once the entire rocky texture is done. Run your fingers over the edge to remove any loose pieces that can pop out when painting. Usually a few passes back and forth is required.
Now move on and continue to make the same texture on the boulders. Don’t worry about digging down into the layers of foam beneath these boulders (flat areas) as you can always cover it up with dirt.
Section 7: Adding the dirt texture and small rocks.
Another easy step, here we will simply glue on sand to all of the flat areas. You can use any type of craft glue for this. You will also want to thin down the glue just a bit. I use a lid from a jar and add a bunch of glue. Then I add maybe 5 drops of water. The water will help thin the glue down enough so that you can ‘paint’ it on with a brush more easily.
Next is to prepare your sand. I like to use a mixture to achieve a very organic look and feel. Here I will mix fine modeling/craft sand, Woodland Scenics: Ballast fine red iron ore, and very course aquarium sand.
Using a mixture will give a more natural look. Using one type may give a very clean kept feel.
Start by brushing on your glue/water mixture liberally.
I usually cover a small area then add some sand on top of it.
Wait about 2 minutes to allow the sand to fully absorb the glue. After 2 minutes turn the piece on its side to allow all of the extra sand to fall off.
Continue by doing the above steps until all of the flat surfaces are completely covered with sand.
Allow at least 30 minutes to set before moving on.
Now we want to take our small rocks we have collected and glue them down. It makes sense that the majority of rocks would be at the base of the rocky edges. You can also spread them around the base if desired but I would keep it to a minimum.
Take your craft glue and run a nice thick line of it along the base of the rock edge. Do not water this glue down at all. It may run into the sandy texture and not give a good bond to the rocks.
Next place some small rocks into the glue and press firm enough to make sure they will not move or shift. Placement is crucial here depending on how many and what type/size of rocks you used. The rocks may want to move so play around with them a bit and make sure they have a solid footing.
Now you may be left with some gaps in the rocks where you may see some glue sticking out. You can leave this alone and paint over it later or you can add some sand on top of the rocks to set into the glue.
Do not tip the piece on its side this time. Let the sand and rocks sit and dry overnight. Over night may be a bit long but it does help. This long of a wait will allow the glue to fully set so the sand/rocks don’t start to shift when you go to paint it.
Any drying times above can be lessoned by placing a hot lamp or a fan nearby to help the glue set quicker. Use both if you so choose. I would recommend at least a three hour wait for the rocks. They are heavy and will easily outweigh the glue bond unless fully set. Tomorrow morning tip it on its side once again and give small taps with the tips of your fingers to the underside of the piece. This will help shake off all of the extra sand and rocks that did not set.
Section 8: Painting
You should now have finished the build part of the piece and need to paint it.
Start off by basing it with black Krylon H2O spray paint. From my experiences this spray paint is very thick and blobby. Always spray in short bursts while moving your arm in a side to side sweeping motion. This will give you a thin solid base coat to work on. Most spray paints will melt the foam so make sure you have one that will not (Krylon H2O). You could also use any brush on paint but be warned! It will take a while and you will use a ton of paint.
It may take two or more coats to achieve a solid base tone. It may also be necessary to brush on some black paint in the hard to reach spots.
You will want to paint the dirt first so you can cover up any mistakes when painting the rocky edge. Take a dark brown paint (I use Folk Art Real Brown 231). Thin the paint down just a little (no real ratio, just a few drops of water) and begin to paint it onto all of the sanded areas. Make sure to get a good solid basecoat so the least bit of black is showing through. This may take a few coats. Don’t be scared to get some paint on the small rocks or the rocky texture. It will help to give them a dirty look.
Next take a lighter brown (I use Americana Mississippi Mud) and drybrush this onto the brown layer. You can also do another layer of this but be selective as to where you put it. This will give you a variance in the tone of your dirt.
Now for the rocky edges. Start by thinning a very dark green (Americana Hauser dark green) and liberally applying this wash to the rocky texture. Allow this to absorb into the foam and basecoat.
Next is to make a similar wash using a medium gray. (Folk Art 425 Medium Gray)
Apply this wash avoiding the majority of the deepest recesses. The point of this thinned wash is so the green and black base tones show though. In this step do not wash it like normal but instead randomly spread it here and there to get a good varied base tone to start off with. This layer does not need to be solid or look pretty. Actually, it will look better to do a sloppy random job here. We’re just trying to get some various base tones to build our grays on. This will give us a mid-tone between the black and gray and also mix in with some of the green to give an organic dirty look.
Now take the medium gray and drybrush it onto the rocky texture. Do not thin the gray this time.
Now take some bleached bone (I use Folk Art Parchment 450) and mix it about 2:1 Gray to Bleached bone. Drybrush this color onto the rocky texture.
Next will be another highlight on the rocky texture. Do another mix this time 1:2 Gray to Bleached bone. Drybrush this color on there avoiding most of the recesses. Remember these steps are highlights so you only want to hit the raised areas.
Next go back to the dirt and mix a 2:1 mix of the light brown and Parchment and drybrush this onto the dirt.
Finally take some bleach bone and drybrush it straight onto the rocky texture. Do this step very lightly and don’t go overboard. You just want to pick out the most raised edges and sharp peaks of the rocks.
Section 9: Flock it if you got it!
Take some flock or static grass and add small patchy amounts of it here and there. Try not to cover the base entirely with flock as it doesn’t look very realistic. It also helps to mix your flocks and static grasses for a variance in color and textures.
You are done!
Now you have a nice terrain set for practically any table top war game. Feel free to add other things to this design as well. You could always add an old building, some trees, a crashed vehicle or some bones.
As an example>>> Here is the terrain set in its entirety. You can see how I used this design as a base of sorts for the full structure. The possibilities with the foam are endless.
If there are any questions pertaining to this build, or others you may be working on, please feel free to ask.
Have Fun and Happy War Gaming!