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How to do an effective small base for your model

I put this step by step together in 2005 but I think it still works. I still do my bases the same way.
A lot of modellers tend to have trouble with making their bases look as good as their vehicles and so steer away from creating a small base for their latest work. A base can be as much fun to create as the model itself and if done properly, will allow the model to come to life without overpowering it. I always add a base as it puts the model and it's weathering in context.
The next stage up is the vignette diorama which then expands the scene to a small story. The diffrerence being, a display is just that, and does not try to do anything but place the model in a setting and enhance it.
The following is a step by step guide that can be used as a ref. for anyone frustrated with their display bases and wish's to set their model in an urban setting. The principles are the same for any scenary.




No paint, no nothing. plaster ,glue and bricks etc. The base is ready to go. The creation stage can make or break the look to the whole piece, so get into it and get a feel for the scene
, this is the only way you will be successful with this stage. You know what you want from the display and this is where you get to portray as much detail as is fitting. Forget about everything else and just think about texture. Once the base color is put down it will all pop out. The hard part here is balance and an eye for natural chaos - experience will bring you this part. The structures here have been cast up or scrounged from bits. The inner wall has had a coating with Mr Surfacer to give it a nice plaster texture. Don't be afraid to 'bust-up' a building kit. I have a lot of these and I hardly ever use them as a whole piece. There are always small parts or even walls that can be shortened or reshaped quite easily and used in a different way. Other bits used are crushed brick[real], small stones, accessory bricks and some plastic slate Tile scribed sheet from a railway shop. All this is glued down with a mix of white glue and water .
Tip - add a touch of Detergent to break up the water tension over the rubble [most important] this will allow the mixture to flow easily. Also make sure the base you chose is a hard wood or has been made water resistent with a sealant otherwise when this all dries the base will warp!


Acrylic base coat, I use Tamiya and for this scene - for this it was Dark Earth [xf - 52] plus a touch of Black. Make sure that you mask off your wooden edge and spray the base from every angle. Airbrush's are a must for base painting but one of the traps is sides of rubble that do not get paint. The base is multi-faceted and can easily leave you with unpainted sides. It is very important that the base is totally covered at this stage so that it will allow you to miss areas at the later stages.
Tip- try picking one side of the square and paint out everything, then move in a clockwise direction around the base until you get back where you started.
Also, I do not put the finishing touches on the wood until the end, I find it better to leave this as the final touch in case of accidents - you might need to do some sanding.


At this point you will be able to see any areas of your base that do not look right, much like you would after the base coat on your model.On the picture I have fixed the areas where the edges of the slate sheet were still showing as sharp, as well as some areas that I felt needed to be a bit more ' built -up'. Add the desired amount of rubble to cover the sunken area/ sharp edge and apply the W.Glue mix as above.
Tip - I use a eye dropper, it gives the most control.


Now we go about adding the various shades to the base with the airbrush. The colors you choose depend on what you wish to depict . This is based on experience, so I can't tell you that much here. This is were the whole color theme is won or lost, so think about your tank/ vehicle and its setting , go to your ref's and decide on your ultimate colors.
The main thing to do here, once you have chosen colors, is to lay down darker shades of what the end colors will be. Just like a good paint job on a tank you need to build from this point. These will be the last solid colors you will need to spray. Pick out the base color subjects and carefully spray them, trying to get as little overspray as possible. The end result of this procedure is a variated color to every surface on the dispaly. This is more realistic than a single flat color drybrushed, as the colors in life on any surface are visually created by many variations.


At this stage we are interested in airbrushing the colors on the base that are not considered BASE colors but detail colors. The color and tones come down to your choice, so I will just explain what I did....... firstly the Grey cobbles were given depth with a lighter shade of (Pale
) Grey acrylic.This involves a technique called ghosting that is done with the airbrush. Some of you probably already use this method. It follows a similar process to filters but is sprayed on rather than washed on. The lighter color is ghosted over the top to allow the dark aspect of the base color to 'peer through and give depth. This is usually only done once but can be done with a second coat in very light patch's. A second coat can also be used in dirt and mud colors to achieve a dirty shade. Just be careful with either and do not give an even coat - it must be light, patchy and inconsistent.
Next was the Teracotta colors for the tiles, I picked these out carefully with the airbrush set to a very low apeture. I did the same with the rubble, picking out the large pieces and spraying them in a lighter shade of the wall color.I also added a second, much lighter shade to the cobbles [very patchy though] and some patchs were added to selected parts of the rubble but only a few, as this color can easily get overpowering.
TIP - Be very careful with the lightest colors because they are the highlights and can easily wash everything out to one color - you WANT contrast and varied color, it's what makes it look real and interesting.
You can also add the darker streaks to the inner wall at this stage though I did add them at the last one - it doesn't really matter ,as long as they are done by this point.


This stage is the one that will anoy you the most if you are not a painter. It is quite painstaking but if you are into painting you will love it!
Firstly airbrush a light shade of plaster color for the inner wall. Now get out your best fine brush, or what I call my chipping brush and pick out at random, details around the scene. I started with the Cobblestones in Greys, then the Teracotta in red brown, rubble stones in all different colors [and I'm talking the really small ones especially] and finally grey chips on the plaster wall. How much you need to do comes down to experience, however, with this effect, becuase you are picking out very small bits, it is very hard to overdo and very easy to under do. I spent 5 hours on this base just doing this effect.
TIP - If you airbrush a base color and then ghost a lighter color over the top, you can then brush paint the ghost color over the airbrush coat in patches to achive a worn look. The colors are very close but not the same and the human 'modeller' eye picks it out immediately and likes it very much
Also paint selected bricks in different colors [on the wall and on the ground] but also do some with the effect described in the above tip. Always remember, like with brass, no pain, no gain. Both are at opposite ends of the process but are adding extreme detail, so each is very hardcore in its application.

Looking at the base as finished in the last stage, it is still very dull, dead and boring. It doesn't really grab you yet like your tank does that you wish to put there. The next stages will fix that.


Drybrushing- I think everybody knows what that is , the revolution the 80's (in general though there were a few masters already using this technique) brought to armour modelling and then to the rest of the hobby[as it should be!] Be gentle on your base with the dry brush. Go out and buy a really good set of brushes for this - 'soft and Sable' in varying sizes. I have a brush for my groundwork just for drybrushing, but I never scrub with it and I only drybrush oils with it. I tend to drybrush the large features with enamel model paints and the course rubble with oil mix's. The Oil's allow you to be much gentler and much more subtle, hence the softer brush - much better for your fine groundwork. At this point it is also good to give the base a look over and see if it might need some very light dusty dirt patchs airbrushed. If you do, add them and repeat last stage. Just wait for the oils to dry first. I also added the fallen picture here as well so that I would catch it with the pastels.
You will also need to let the oils dry for at least a day so gather up your excessories and get them ready to go on.
Once they are dry add your accessories that you decided to use when you planned out the base. These are the accessories associated with the base that could not be added earlier due to painting reasons, such as too difficult to mask or the piece might be blocking some other detail that needs painting first etc. Also, sometimes ideas come along during the process due to 'color and feel'as you progress. By adding these here you will capture them in the final weathering step, where they will be 'blended in'. I added a brick and some fine dust to make my 'fallen' picture fit in, then gave this rubble a quick paint [as you can see in the next phase].

STEP 8 : FINISHING - chips, stains, pigments, oils, pastels and wash's

This part is probably the most enjoyable as this is where you get to really play weatherman. Add your final chips to edges of bricks and walls and any other color enhancement you wish, using the tip from stage 6 again. Add pigments in corners, wet or dry, to simulate built up dirt and dust but be careful as pigments are very strong and will come up heavier and brighter than you think. Once this is done add some chalks for dust [as I think they still beat Pigments for simulating very subtle dust effects]. Now add your wash. I use an oil paint mix of Black, Burnt sienna and Burnt Umber. Only run this wash in cracks to highlight, never apply to the whole model base. You can be heavier if you like on some bits of the rubble but what you are trying to get is a highlight effect with the drybrushing as well as an interaction with the pastels and pigments to form darker and lighter dusty shades as you can see if you carefully look at the tiles in the photo's below. Add stains and highlighted colors with artists oils.
Ok, your done. now add your model and blend as required and enjoy the display you have created, it will add so much more to your displayed model.
My model was the new PAK 40 from Dragon and what a great kit.I built it straight from the box as it had a 'turned' barrell, real rubber tyres, both damaged and new, as well as brass shells and nicely done figures. The detail was superb and it went together like a Tamiya kit, especially the shield area where on other pak 40 models, this has not been done so well.












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