Monday, September 03, 2012

Terrain making the Mark Waddington Way Part II: Rough Terrain

It' been a while since my first post on terrain making, and I've learned some lessons along the way.  When last we left our terrain bits in making they were slathered in spackle waiting to dry.

Lesson Number 1.  Don't slather your bits in spackle.  A couple of different reasons why.
  1. It's not necessary.  Just slather your shaped bits of pink foam, particularly where the foam joins the mdf shapes.  You do have to apply spackle to all the pink foam so it won't melt when you spray primer on it. 
  2. Slathering your mdf with spackle will warp it!!.  Just slightly, not quite pretzel-like.  Just enough to be embarassing.  Doh!
After your spackle is dry you have to sand it relatively smooth.  I just used medium grit sandpaper and that worked fine.  Of course if you haven't covered your shape with spackle it goes much faster.

When your sanding is done make sure you've completely dusted your shape.

Lesson Number 2. If you don't completely dust your shape for spackle debris the primer doesn't stick very well.

For the most part I did this pretty well, but there were still a couple of places I had to go back and fix.  I just used an old surplus house painting brush, but you could also vacuum it with a hand held or shop vac, whatever's handy.
Shapes are spray-primed and ready to go.  I've foolishly glued the rock material and it's awaiting its coat of Ceramcoat Burnt Umber.
The next step is to spray prime your shapes.  I used an inexpensive Rustoleum gray spray primer.  Any primer will do.  You may prefer white or black.  Mark suggested this was to prevent warping as you applied liberal quantities of PVA glue later in the process.  It was a little late for me, but that's okay.

While you're waiting for your primer to dry, it's important to start thinking about what you want to go on your pieces.  All those terrain bits you've been hanging on to for years should salvaged from wherever they've been hiding.  Go on.  Fish them out.  You've got time.  Found it? Good.  Those aquarium and terrarium bits you got from the pet store when it went out of business.  All the Michael's and Jo Ann's pieces you got after Christmas. 

That said, I didn't have as much as I thought I did, or I got rid of it.  (Dopey me.)
My Woodland Scenics rock mold sits in a Tupperware container filled with kitty litter.  This insures the mold will sit level and the bottom of the rocks will be more or less flat.
One thing I did get rid of that I truly regretted was my collection of rock molds from Woodland Scenics.  Mark showed me his while I was working with him at his place.  I'd had poor luck working with the lightweight hydrocal plaster WS sells, and in a fit of dumbness kept the hydrocal and tossed the rock molds.  It turns out there is better plaster, and Mark generously shared a bit with me.  I wish I could tell you exactly what it is, but it works pretty well.  I went back out to a Tacoma train shop and bought one set of molds that made rocks in usable sizes and prepared to cast stuff.There are about five or six different sets of molds.  I chose one that gave me the right mix of large and small rocks. Each mold costs about ten bucks and is re-usable.

After you've gathered up all your Woodland Scenics cool stuff, those rocks you picked out of your lawn because they looked better in your collection rather than flying through your front window when you were mowing and etc., it's time to start thinking.

My first two pieces are rough terrain pieces.  I wanted to use some cast rocks, and a little bit of scrubby vegetation.

My first step was to cast some rocks in the WS mold.  I'd already experimented with casting some with limited success. Part of the problem is making plaster of the right consistency.  Mark suggested something about the same thickness as a milkshake.  My initial response was "McDonalds or Frisko Freeze?" Somehow I didn't think he'd understand and just moved on.  It is tricky mixing the stuff up.  I did it in a small tupperware bowl large enough to supply mixture to all the rocks but not so big I couldn't easily pour it out. I also added the paint color I wanted the rocks to appear in.  I used a base Ceramcoat gray for one set of rocks and Ceramcoat golden brown for the other set. This is definitely worth the effort.

Lesson Number Three: Getting the rock mixture right is really hard.

I used a popsicle stick to stir with, and I was really conscientious about stirring the water and plaster very carefully so I'd get a nice milkshake-like consistency.  Unfortunately it seemed to settle so fast that the liquid was more like water than milkshake and at the end of the day I was left with lots of plaster crud at the bottom of my little tupperware doohicky. I was able to add a little water to my plaster sludge and thicken things up a bit but I wasn't really happy. My first set of rocks game out pretty weak and easily broken.  My second batch was a bit better, but I still had the crud problem. 

The  next thing to do is scout out your shapes.  What do you want to have on your pieces and where do you want it?  For rough terrain, start with some loose rock bits.  I decided that I would have some really small stones and some larger ones.  The small ones are like bits of ballast sized.  You can use lots of different items, so there are lots of choices.  I have a mixture of Woodland scenics railroad ballast in different weights.  You could use kitty litter.  I was stupid and chose some planting material my wife has for growing succulents (no don't ask.) I liked it because it had a really nice bunch of bits in it.  I just scooped some out her bag o' stuff.  Unfortunately it also had some dirt in it.  Not good. 

Choose where you want it on your shapes.  You might want one really big area of gravel, or a number of smaller patches.  It's really up to you.  I chose numerous small patches on my pieces.  Don't ask me why.  I also have a box of aquarium gravel, which are small stones, but much larger than ballast.

These are some examples of the material you can use as small stones on your pieces.  The upper left is the planting mix I swiped from my wife.  It wasn't very effective. The right hand box is aquarium gravel.  It's larger and I use them as individual stones. I use a mix of different grades of ballast from the bottom left.
 I glued the small bits and large bit using PVA glue for the aquarium glue, and Woodland Scenics cement for the smaller stuff.  The WS cement is just watered down PVA, and I only use it because I have it.  Let it dry.  

When everything is perfectly dry paint the whole thing using Ceramcoat Burnt Umber.  This is a very dark brown color.  It goes on pretty thick and you're really not trying to paint anything, you're just slopping on the paint. Let this dry.
Two kinds of paint I like to use are Burnt Umber on the left and Light Ivory for dry brushing on the right.
Lesson Number Four: Get some large inexpensive paint brushes just for your terrain making.  JoAnn's and Michaels both sell these.  Loew Cornell makes a bag of twelve brushes called Simply Art that are mostly sizable, round and flat, that cost $6.99.  I bought a smaller bunch of flat brushes from Le Jour that cost $2.99.  Often these are on sale, or if not you can use your weekly coupon for 40% off.

After your burnt umber slop job has tried, dry brush your gravelly bits with Ceramcoat Trail Tan.  I am bad at this.  I rarely dry brush anything and I'm not very comfortable with it, as I know many others are.  I do more washing and highlighting, so it's just not in my paint style. It took me some time to figure it out and I am resisting my tendency to not create a big enough contrast.  You decide. 
These are the types of glue I use.  PVA glue is just another name for white glue, or Elmer's glue.  Tacky glue is thicker and more viscous, great for sticking stuff like clump foliage or lichen.  I also use Woodland Scenics cement which is great, but it's just diluted PVA.  I even have a Woodland

Use a hot glue gun to glue down your cast stones. I just use your garden variety hot glue gun, nothing fancy.  Be sure to let it heat up enough so that it doesn't become a lukewarm glue gun, because that doesn't stick very well to anything.  Use lots of glue, it won't hurt anything.

Lesson Number Five: Your plaster stones are  porous and washing them doesn't help.  I thought my Golden Brown stones were a bit bland and needed some bands of color so I decided to wash them with some nice Autumn Brown.  This has a lot of red in it, and I thought it would add some nice reddish tones.  Wrong.  the stones just sucked that color right up, it didn't run onto the stone anywhere.  After being wrong about washing, I dry-brushed them with Ivory white and that worked better.

What else do you want in your rough terrain?  I have some clump foliage and lichen.  I also have some coarse turf and WS fine deciduous foliage I'll use for wooded pieces.  Mark has some very nice soft plastic pieces for aquariums/terrariums offered by Laura McCoy.  I've ordered some of these.  They are very reasonably priced and will go a long ways.  These should be glued with either the hot glue gun or a "tacky" form of PVA. 
I wanted to keep these pieces fairly desolate looking.  They are fairly two dimensional but that's okay. 
I call this piece my cookie.  I't's about eight inches across.  I used my cast stones as well as the aquarium rocks and fine planting stones. 
When your're finished applying your bits use some thinned PVA and apply your turf.  I chose plain old Earth Blend and dry.  I sprayed the Woodland Scenics to the lot when I was done, but there are some less expensive alternatives.

In the next few weeks I'll be working on my wooded pieces and share those with you too.

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