To start, you need a base.
What exactly you are building dictates what material you need to use for said base. In my experience, cardboard from a shipping box works well if you are going to completely cover it with your building material, like in the case of a hill or some similar structure.
If there is going to be a lot of open or flat areas where the base is still mostly visible (except for texture, like rubble or grass), you need use something a little firmer, like crafting plywood. Since this is more expensive (compared to the 'free' cardboard), I tend to use the wood sparingly and only in cases where warping is likely.
|This uses a cardboard base and, because the base is completely covered by polystyrene, it doesn't warp.|
|Since this piece is not completely covered with polystyrene (it has a little, but too much of the surface is not braced with material), I needed to use a plywood base to keep it from warping.|
Equally important to having a base, is having material to place on the base. My substance of choice is good, old fashioned, polystyrene packaging. It is very easy to shape into realistic looking mounds, hills, and 'stuff', is very cheap (free actually! You just have to go buy several hundred dollars worth of electronics), and it often comes in some very interesting shapes.
If you happen to be like me and possess a rather large amount of this stuff then you're off to a good start! If not, you will have to buy some. A note on that: if you are going to buy building material, then I would recommend looking at some better quality polystyrene; some higher density stuff like what Tiberius is using for this and this. I will say right now... the stuff he is using is much better, less messy, and even easier to work with than the low density polystyrene I use. It is also more expensive. If you are going to be carving high detailed structures, like pillars, statues, etc then you do not want to use the low end stuff. If, however, you are just interested in making a few hills or rock piles, then my way is the way to go!
So lets get started!
I'm just going to build a stone, moundish thing for the sake of illustration.
1). Start with a base (again, choose material by trying to predict the extent of which it may warp)
As is probably becoming quite obvious to you: this does not look like much of a hill. Well, that's the beauty of using this material! All you need to do is pile up a big mass of polystyrene, and voilà! You've got a big mess!
4). Now you just need to carve the piece into an intelligible shape. Surprisingly, just about as easily said as done
When you are working with a bunch of random shapes and surfaces, as with styrofoam packaging, you are bound to run into some situations where this happens:
Smaller holes can be filled in with spackling, or covered up with texture but the larger ones? hmmm... We've got to get creative here.
To start, we need to look through our pile of shavings and try to find a piece that looks to be a bit larger than the hole we are intending to patch.
Once a suitable volunteer is found, carve it out carefully and slowly to try to match the size of the hole. You don't want it too small or it won't help much. Too big? Just keep shaving until it's the right size.
Carve it down to match the rest of the side
We now have a model that is shaping up to be a good terrain piece. Once this stage has been reached, it is time to give it a little character. This phase is entirely up to you! (well... so is every other phase... but this is where you actually make it look like what you were going for) Don't like how circular, or square it is? Carve it out! Don't like how flat it is on top? Carve it out! Wanna put an entrance leading into the depths of the earth? Carve it out! (I think I feel a song coming on!)
I am just going to change up the top, as I don't like the super flatness about it but I still want there to be playing space up there. So this is what I did (again, let your own imagination take this places):
Another one of the advantages to using lower density polystyrene is those annoying lines caused by the knife can just be rubbed away with you finger. You do need to suffer through the extremely loud, ear piercing squeaking that this will result in, though... Just warning ya.
Disclaimer: Neither Tavros, the Tell Me A Tale Great Or Small blog, or its founder Tiberius are responsible for any injuries to the ears or any other body part of any person or persons who follow the techniques displayed on this blog. All processes described here are to be attempted at the risk of the attemptee and have no legal connection to this publication whatsoever. Any person attempting to follow these techniques is henceforth doing so with full knowledge of the risks and is thereby taking fault should an accident occur while following this tutorial. Please ponder the fact that ear damage is extremely difficult and expensive to try to repair and that knives are sharp and knife wounds are not good. Always take care when using shining, pointy objects... That is all.
At this point, with the structure and shape complete, it's time for texturing. I like gluing tree bark or wood chips to some of the sides for this. It gives a nice stoney look to it. Also, coarse sand is a good way to go too. I would only say, don't only do this all over it. Break it up a bit with a rock jutting out or something.
Placing glue on the underside of each wood chip, set them up on the side (or top or wherever) kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. Some times stuff will fit nicely, sometimes not. Don't worry about it too much.
When the glue dries, double check all the wood chips to make sure they are all firmly attached. Spritz a little more glue on them if they aren't.
When ready, apply generous amounts of spackling to the gaps between the chips and between the chips and the mound.
When this has hardened and after a little bit of sanding, you can apply coarse sand to most (or all. or none) of the surface. I use a mix of white glue and water to apply stuff like sand and grass. I've found it works pretty well, is rather inexpensive, and can be mixed thinner or thicker, depending on how strong you need the glue to be. Once the sand is glued down, I apply another coating of the mix on top to further cement the sand in place.
After a little bit of paint, that's it! Painting rocks is just about the easiest thing you could be painting. All you need is white paint, black paint, and a separate container to mix in... Oh yeah... and a brush.
Apply a base coat of black or extremely dark grey and allow it to dry.
Then, mix a little white into the container and paint that over the entire thing, leaving only the deepest crevices black.
Keep mixing a lighter and lighter color while, at the same time, leaving more and more of the previous color visible in the deeper areas.
Towards the end you should hardly be putting any paint on your brush and should only be applying paint to the outermost peaks of the textured surface. This technique is known as 'overbrushing'.
Here are a couple pics of some of the finished textures and paint jobs:
If you're going for a grassy look to it, then the painting is a lot easier. That is, unless you're trying to paint grass. But in most cases you will likely just buy some grass in a shaker or a grass mat or something and put it down when painting is done. Because the surface of the model can often still be seen through some of the thinner areas of grass, I recommend painting it dark green before laying down grass. But that may just be me.
This step-by-step processes can be used for small projects or they can be extrapolated into a whole game board, like I did. I am not saying that this is the only way to do it. I'm not even saying this is the right way to do it. But this is how I did it and it turned out pretty well, I think.
I hope this was interesting and helpful.