The Basics

Getting Started

So exactly how do they make those, cool looking castles and stuff?

How can you do it without having to invest hundreds of hours into the project? Exceptional detailing still takes time, (and practise), but if just the basic structures take too long to make, by the time you get at the detailing you are now impatient or worse yet tired of the project.

I intend to show you the way (or at least a way) to get started.

When I approach a new project, I usually start the same way; questions and answers. Then I sketch out what has been envisioned. Here is an outline for you:

  1. What do you envision? (What do you want as an end result?)
  2. What is it's purpose?
    • Diorama display.
    • Complete gaming table
    • Permanent, one large piece, or several sections
    • Sectional and rearrangable
    • Central theme but as stand-a-lone individual pieces
    • As an add-on section or piece for existing pieces you have
  3. What scale is it in? How big are your playing or display pieces?
  4. How fragile can it be? Is it for display or playing with?
  5. How much money do you have to spend on building it?
  6. What supplies do I have?
  7. How much time do you have?

Next, comes the decisions on the main components of the piece you are making. I like to sketch out the ideas on scrap paper. I've tried computer programs, but a pencil is still the best. If you can find photos or pictures to work from, this will help out lots. I start with a two-dimensional overhead view. Draw out the base and make circles and squares where the trees and buildings are going to go. If you have a photo great, if not, sketch the side views or a three-dimensional view of it.




How, What, Where to Start

So..., get the idea?

Basically, you are going to gather up some recyclables, get some glue, plaster-ish type stuff, and some paint. Keeping in mind what it is you want to build.

Look in the junk store for broken toys that you could raid pieces off of too. Don't spend much more than 50 cents on stuff like that though.

The Main Steps

  1. figure out what you want to build
  2. cut the base out of something sturdy
  3. add ground, buildings, and scenery
  4. goop, paint, flock, add water effects
  5. detail
  6. clearcoat


BuildingsDepending on what you are making the ground will come next or at least some of it may. If you are putting a building in the scene you will need to figure out where it is going to be situated now. I draw its shape on the base board with a felt pen. I use mainly high-density foam for building walls, but different scales and projects call for different materials sometimes.

Most buildings just progress into the final product. Unless you are trying to duplicate something and have pictures or detailed drawings to work from. Quite often you will have to change tactics or designs as you progress; ''sometimes it just won't work the way you want it to.''

>> MORE >> Buildings

Ground Terrain and Scenery

SceneryI use mainly high-density foam and a plaster-fiber mixture for my ground terrain. Larger natural additions like rocks, bark chips, and twigs are also added at this early stage.

Glue a piece of HD-foam (High Density Foam) to the base, I use the spray glue for this because it dries fast. Then using your wood rasps or wood shaver contour the foam into ground. TIP: Always think of how water would flow down on it and erode the ground.

>> MORE >> On Scenery

Water effects

WaterIf you are going to be adding water into the scene make especial note of how the water is going to flow; down. Is it going to pool anywhere, and where is the source and exit points as you carve your ground terrain piece.

There are several methods of acheiving good looking water.

Trees and Bushes


A little naturalizing; the rougher the trees look the better the effect.

There are many, many types of trees. So depending on what type of terrain you are building and/or what part of the country the scene is suppose to be taking place, choosing what type of vegetation and what scale is very important.

There are many excellent resources for pictures and descriptions of various trees in your library. Taking a walk is excellent too, bringing back a specimen can be hard, but you can usually find some excellent small pieces of dead fall to use and for colour reference, (pick up a dozen pieces the size of your little finger and smaller, you just saved $6.00). Ridiculous yes but that's what they charge for deadfall. Some of this natural material, with a little help, makes for very good looking trees.

So anyway, research a bit what the tree should look like.

I like conifers, always have, must be from Christmas tree hunting as a kid. Anybody who has done this, (or even has gone to a lot in search of one), knows that it takes a heck of a lot of searching to find a perfectly shaped tree; unlike store purchased trees where they are all perfectly symmetrical trees. Making better-looking ones by yourself is quite easy and far less expensive, plus they all won't be identical trees. Mind you, to make them you need a workshop area where as the deciduous ones can be made at the table (with newspaper down of course; moms and wives tend to have a hard time with paint and glue on their kitchen tables).
>> MORE >> On Making Trees