Making scenic bases for miniatures

Some of the most impressive miniatures that you see out there have a highly modeled base. In the case of display pieces, these bases are often as elaborate, and carefully crafted as the miniature that is standing on it. However, if you are creating bases for many miniatures, for an army or collection project for example, this level of detail may be a bit hard to attain.

The great thing about this method is how versatile it is. This method also makes it very easy to pin a miniature to the base as you can drill through cured polymer clay unlike types of rock.

I recently developed a method for making scenic bases in bulk so to speak. In this article I am going to show you how to create base like this…

Here you can see a fully painted miniature that uses a base made this way:

Creating Scenic Bases

This method is great for making slate style rock bases, city ruin bases, or ones that are supposed to represent any sort of rocky, broken terrain.

Here is what you need: A flat surface, some Super Sculpy (or regular Sculpy, Fimo, or whatever oven baked polymer clay you can get your hands on. Most craft, hobby, and art supply stores carry this stuff), some sand, and a sheet of aluminum foil.

Step 1: Use roller to flatten the super sculpy. This stuff will stick to your roller, so either reset it regularly, or use a little water from a sprayer to help keep the sticking down.

Step 2: Apply a small amount of sand to the flattened super sculpy. Spread this around, without pressing too hard and get rid of any excess sand. The point of this is to create a layer where the clay won’t stick to itself entirely. More about that coming up.

At this point I will dangle the clay sheet to help get excess sand off.

Step 3: Fold the clay sheet over on itself. What we are doing is to create a layer of material that will keep the clay from sticking to itself as much as it would normally. As we go on this will create a slate like “shearing” effect.

Step 4: With your fingers, thumb press the two layers together. Use varying pressure to do this, and make sure that variety is spread over the surface of the folded sheet. We don’t want too much sticking or there won’t be much layering later when the bases are done. We also don’t want too little sticking or the layers of the clay will fall apart. This part may take some trial and error to get right.

Here is about what you should end up with when you are done.

Step 5: Add texture. This is the creative part of this whole thing. In this example I am using aluminum foil to add a rocky, desert texture, but you have far more options than that.

  • Use a rough rock to create varying, natural patterns by pressing it into the clay lightly (keep the sticking issue in mind)
  • Draw brick shapes into the clay with a pencil, or scribe for a city ruin effect.
  • You could model in craters, or whatever resulting terrain feature that you want.

Here we are going to use alluminum foil to create a cracked, and dimpled surface. First, wad the foil up into a ball…

Keep in mind that the more pressure that you use to wad the foil, the harder it is going to be to get back into a sheet form, which is the next step. Unwad the foil ball so that you have a sheet of foil that has a lot of bends, and wrinkles in it.

Step 6: Lay this onto the clay sheet and press it down enough to get the texture to imprint into the clay.

Step 7: Bake the clay sheet in the oven. There will be instructions on the polymer clay package that will tell you time, and temperature.

When its baked, pull the sheet out and put it in the freezer to speed up the curing, and make it more brittle.

After it has been in the freezer for a period of time, pull it out. Here is a photo of the cured sheet of clay.

Step 8: Break up the sheet into pieces. Make these somewhat larger than the bases that your miniatures use. I try to get strips for square bases generally. Save any off size pieces as you can use them later on other bases, or projects.

Step 9: Setting up the base. Glue a piece (or several pieces if you want) to the miniatures base. I do a bunch at a time usually, and then let them sit while the glue takes hold.

Glue of choice: Here I use a thick formula of Cyano Acrylate (superglue), but pretty much any CA glue will work. Acetone model glue, and epoxy might work, but they may have trouble bonding to the cured clay. Feel free to try them out if you want. I tend to use a fairly liberal amount of glue. Once the piece of cured clay is placed on the glued base, the glue will spread and give good, even coverage. Let the glue set up well before you move onto the next step.

Step 10: Model the base. Here you want to break off bits of clay, to fit the base, essentially trimming the excess off of the edges. This is where the sand layer will really shine out if its done well. you should have edges that break off in different places, giving the base that nice layered look.

NOTE: You could use whatever substance you want to make up the different layers. This technique is borrowed from a similar one where a modeler used two different types of polymer clay which had different properties, and broke apart differently when cured. You can do more than one layer as well. There is no reason why you couldn’t add multiple layers of sand and clay to make thicker bases.

To really shape the base nicely, I cut the excess with a pair of wire cutters. This allowed me to control where the breaking happened very carefully. I would also use the tip of the cutters to make little divots out of the edge of the clay.

This method serves me pretty well. I recently made bases for about 30 miniatures in just over half an hour.

There you go. These bases that I have made are ready for some sand on the uncovered area of base, maybe some bits for detail, maybe some static grass, and some paint once there is a miniature attached.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

16 thoughts on “Making scenic bases for miniatures”

  1. I’m going to have to try this process. Brush Thralls has a tutorial where they do a smashed city base with a sheet of plaster. Good effect, but I worry about using plaster on a game figure – even the high quality dental plasters will rub down over time.

    With the right object to make the impression, I could see an easy way to make street curbs/gutters and such.

  2. Thanks Warphammer!

    Plaster bases can work if the paint layer on them is pretty thick. Rubbing will be minimized by what is essentially a protective layer over the plaster I think. Impacts would still be a problem with plaster bases however, and this would make them less than perfect for long term use I think. Here is a good test, make a scenic base with plaster and sand, paint it fully, and leave it in your bits box for several months. If it survies that pretty well, than use in gaming may be just fine.

  3. You can also use corkboard or cork stoppers from leftover wine bottles to achieve the same effect, and it’s less effort and cheaper.

    -jedi

    1. Cork is a good way to make bases for sure. The look of this is a bit more like slate, and less like…well, cork. The end result is a bit different. When cork is painted well, it looks a bit like lava rock, which is cool.

  4. Hi, just looking to see if you have any suggestions for painting a 1:285 plane. It’s a Widowmaker and while I have the basic idea on how to paint it up I’ve never done anything that small before and I really don’t want to make a botch of it. If you could help me out with some suggestions I’d really appreciate it.

    thanks,

    Mike

    1. I have only a little bit of experience painting at that scale. I would say that less is more. Try painting the airplane a base color, and then hit it with a darker ink wash (1:1 water/ink). That may be all you need for the basic color. Save the small brush for actual details, metal bits, canopies, squadron markings. The hard part is that highlights, and other fine painting will need to be very small, and thin to keep things in scale, and to not look like a cartoon.

  5. This method sounds quite interesting. As soon as I can track down some of this particular type of clay I’ll give it a shot.

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