Thursday, 23 January 2020

Modular Terrain - Basic Tiles

Equipment and Materials:
1/4" thick board
2" thick polystyrene
2" wide black Duck Tape
PVA glue
Scenic Sprayer
Static Grass Mat
Various Woodland Scenics Flocks
Various Woodland Scenics Static Grasses
Various Woodland Scenics Tall Grasses
Various Woodland Scenics Course Turf
Various Woodland Scenics Clump Foliage
Various Green Lichen


In this article will explore how to make your terrain look more realistic. In the article Inspiration, we looked at getting out into the real world and getting some inspiration, in this article we look at taking that inspiration and using it to create some basic modular tiles that will look more dramatic. Most gamers have boards that look something like:

There is nothing wrong with that and they do the job well, but when you look at nature:

You can see that nature isn't perfectly smooth and single toned. It is rough and bumpy with multiple colours making up overall look.

Making Basic Tiles
To save repeating myself the first part will go over making a base tile, then in later parts I shall refer back to this.

Take the board and cut a 2' by 2' square.

Cut the polystyrene to be 2' by 2' too and glue to the board.

Tape around all the edges with black Duck Tape.

This is the base for all the tiles that will be made in this article. You will need a total of six base tiles.

Blank Tiles

This tile has no features such as hills, paths or rivers on it. These are the simplest to make and will be good starting points to practice on.

Pure some water in the bucket and add PVA glue. You want about a 50/50 mix. Tear into shreds some newspaper and add that to the bucket. Now its time to get your hands mucky as you need to mix up the contents until the paper has become a pulp.

Take bits of the paper mache and put onto the base tile sculpting mounds and bumps to break up the flatness of the tile. You do not need to cover the whole tile, just add enough to break up the flat surface.

Allow the tile to completely dry before continuing. This can take, depending on how wet the paper mache mixture was up to a couple of days.

Cut a piece of Static Grass Matt that is slightly bigger than 2' by 2'. This is to allow for working it into the lumps and bumps created earlier.

Cover the entire back of it in PVA and glue onto the top of the tile, careful smoothing out any creases.

Let this dry completely, this is the blank tile completed for now.

Path Tiles

The next basic tile we will look at is those with a pathway on it. The wide of this pathway is up to you. The one I made here is 2" wide. The thing to remember is to make sure that when you put any two tiles next to each other that the pathways on each meet up correctly.

Draw you pathway onto a base tile, taking note of the meet up point. The easiest way is to mark the centre of a tile on an edge and then measure an inch either side, repeat on the opposite edge and just make sure you pathway starts and ends on these points. As long as you do this on each pathway tile you shouldn't have any problems. You can also mark out where any small hills will go.

Carefully cut out the pathway so that there is now a groove in the tile. Using paper mache bumps the flat parts of the tile and mould any small hills you planned out above.

Apply PVA glue to the groove and cover with GW sand. Allow to completely dry and then shake off the excess sand.

When it comes to paint the pathway I did not use GW paints as it would turn out too expensive. Instead I used bottles of poster paint that is sometimes used in schools.

Undercoat the path in black.

The pathway was then drybrushed with a dark brown and then more and more drybrushes where applied with a lighter brown. The final colour is up to you.

Applying the static grass mat becomes a little more trickier as you have to cut around the pathway. With a little care this shouldn't prove too much of a problem. The way I did it was to lay the mat over the tile and using a pen draw a line where the pathway run and then cut this out using scissors.

Hill Tiles

These are the most complex of all the basic tiles to make. Start of with a base tile. Take another 2' by 2' piece of polystyrene and mark out a rough outline for your hill base. This will then need to be cut out.

Once it has been cut out angle the sides so that they slope inwards towards the top. Don't worry too much about a stepped hill effect look at this stage as it will be smoothed out using paper mache later.

Taking some smaller pieces of polystyrene make some smaller tiers, again not worrying too much about the apparent stepped look of the hill.

Taking a lot of paper mache mixture begin covering the hill with it molding in gentle hill slopes that you miniatures will be able to stand on without falling over. Look at your inspiration photos to see how hill slopes look like in nature. They are very rarely perfectly even.

This can take many days to dry (mine took a week), so put to one side for now and go outside and enjoy yourselves. Once it has dried you will need to cover it in a grass mat, this is even more trickier than the pathway tile. I found it easier to cover it in smaller bits of grass mat. Don't worry about join lines too much as these can be covered up using the various grasses and foliage in techniques outlined below.

That is the basic tiles construction but they still do not look natural. The Wimbledon lawns people would be proud of the lovely lush green look of the tiles:

In nature grass is never uniformly green and of the same height. Looking at the inspiration pictures we will need to emulate nature as best we can. This means using many different types of flock, static grass and foliage as we can. There are three different types of coverage we need to apply: low, medium and high. Low is the earth and low lying grasses and plants, medium are the tall grasses and shrubs and bushes and high are the trees. Trees shall be covered in a later article so that leaves us to concentrate on low and medium coverage.

Low Ground Coverage

Low ground coverage is the base colouring of the boards and the smallest grasses, plants and weeds. One method would be to paint of stain the boards a suitable earth colour and flock over the top with various grasses. The method I used above uses a static grass mat as the base of the coverage. This is fine as it is but it too uniform to simulate nature. Over the top of this various flocks need to be applied. Woodland Scenics produce a vast range of flocks suitable to use. Using a Scenic Sprayer (Available from Woodland Scenics), apply some watered down PVA (or even Scenic Cement also from Woodland Scenics) to an area. It is best to work in small areas at a time rather than whole tiles. Using a sprinkle pot you will need to blend to different types of turf flock to create realistic looking colours. You can either purchase a canister from Woodland Scenics or make form from a jar with holes punched in the lids (which is what I did). Starting with flocks in the middle of the colour range (going from dark earth to light grass) I used Earth and Burnt Grass flocks with smidges of Yellow Grass. Apply the flocks in patches and then apply the next colour blending them together to create different areas of colour and not have any large patches of one colour. Apply lightly and build up interesting areas of grass. If you feel you have made a mistake such as applying too much of one flock in an area, don't worry, just apply some more spray and blend over. Keep going until you have covered all your tiles in such a manner. Apply a final coverage of the spray glue to hold the turf in place. Next Apply patches of static grass in places. Again there is no real right or wrong here. Look at what nature does and try to mimic that.

The picture above shows the initial stages of turf blending.

The picture above shows a more advanced stage.

Medium Ground Coverage

The next stage in ground coverage is the medium coverage. This represents such things as underbush, larger plants and weeds and shrubs and bushes. Once again Woodland Scenics produce a massive range of course turfs, clump foliage and lichen that we can use for the job.

Using a sprinkler and Spray glue once more work in small areas and place Course Turf in various sections. Look at the colours already available from the low ground cover and work with that. Of course sometimes it is interesting to have contrasting colours. The course turf will represent the patches of weeds and plants that you find in nature. Whilst you are working if you have any areas of joins on the grass mat try to cover it with the medium ground cover.

The picture above shows how the course turf covers the grass mat join marks on the hills.

Apply clump foliage in places to represent the rougher weeds and plants. Use larger clump foliage and lichen to represent bushes. Pay particular attention to the edges of the path way. Woodland Scenics also produce long grasses that can be cut to size and place in various areas. Keep building up until you are happy with the final look.

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