Making a diorama from scratch is a long process that allows you to exercise your creativity through the creation of everything from grass and trees to river beds and man-made structures. Before creating a full scenery, however, it’s vital to have a sturdy, stable and realistic base. Apart from holding everything in place, a good diorama base functions as a miniature geographic surface where everything else stands on. For that reason, it’s important to make this base as realistic as possible. With that in mind, this guide will show you how to make a diorama base step by step.
What You Will Need to Correctly Follow This Tutorial
In order to follow this step by step tutorial, you will need to use these diorama building materials:
- Wooden frame.
- Polyurethane foam.
- Stiletto blade.
- High-strength polyurethane adhesive.
- Silicone glue.
- Shredded paper.
- Sculpting tools.
- Small trowel.
- Acrylic paints.
- Dried sifted dirt.
- Light brown fine grout.
- Standard white glue.
- Isopropyl alcohol.
- Scenic Glue.
Step by Step Instructions For Making Diorama Trees
By following these instructions, you will be able to create a stable base for your diorama:
1. Get a Wooden Frame for the Base
First, you need to get a suitable frame for your base. If you don’t have the right one, you can get it made. Alternatively, you can make it yourself. Whatever you do, however, make sure that the frame has the right proportions. In terms of length and width, your base can adapt to your particular needs. In terms of height, though, it should be about 2 or 3 inches high. Make sure the frame is stable and resistant before moving forward onto the next step.
2. Cut a Large Piece of Polyurithane
Using your stiletto blade, cut a large piece of polyurethane. This piece of foam should fit precisely inside the frame, so make sure that its proportions are just right. At first, try cutting it precisely according to the proportions of the frame. Remember that it’s better to have the foam be too large than too small.
3. Insert the Polyurethane in the Frame
At this point, you are ready to insert the block of polyurethane foam inside the wooden frame. If the foam does not fit inside the frame, use the sandpaper to reduce its size little by little until it fits perfectly inside the frame. Keep reducing the block by shaving off its sides until it fits with a little pressure.
4. Secure the Foam
Once you have reduced the size of the polyurethane foam enough for it to fit in the frame, it’s time to secure it in position. To do this, use some polyurethane glue. First, take out the foam. Apply the glue to the interior of the frame and spread it as much as you can. Do the same on the sides of the block of foam. After that, simply insert the piece of foam back inside the frame.
5. Wight Down and Let Dry
To prevent the base to become deformed as the glue dries and curates, you need to weight the foam down. If available, use a few small weights. Alternatively, though, you can use anything that is solid and heavy enough to keep the foam pressed down in place while the glue dries.
6. Make a Rough Sketch
While your base dries, make a rough sketch of its topography. To do this, simply take a piece of paper with similar proportions to those of your base. Without adding too much detail, draw the areas where you want elevation, rocks and any other topographic accidents.
7. Transfer the Rough Sketch to the Base
After the base has dried, transfer your sketch to the foam as faithfully as you possibly can. To do this, you can use a fine point Sharpie or any similar tool that you feel comfortable with. Do not worry about leaving marks on the foam as it will be fully covered later on.
8. Add Elevation and Countouring
Following your sketch, start adding elevation and contouring to your diorama base. To do this, first, take a large piece of polyurethane. Then, hold it above your base and compare it to the sketch you previously made. After that, use a pencil or marker to draw cut lines on it according to the sketch.
Using your stiletto blade, cut the extra piece of a polyurethane foam according to the shape you desire to make. You will get a rough piece of foam that will require additional work in order to look more natural. Cut and hack pieces of foam until you get a shape that is less geometric and more natural-looking.
You can also use rough sandpaper to eliminate noticeable edges and provide a rougher look to your foam shapes. Remember to save all the small foam offcuts as you will need them later on. Once you have your shapes, simply glue them onto your base as you see fit.
9. Weigh Down and Let Dry
As you did previously, weigh down the new additions to your base using heavy objects of any kind. Make sure that all the hills and elevations are pressed down entirely to prevent loose sections. Let everything dry for about four hours.
10. Make Rock Molds
While your diorama base dries, make various rock molds using plaster. To do this, simply pour the plaster onto a flat surface in small amounts (approximately 2 or 3 inches per side). As the plaster dries, using a sculpting tool or a similar object, model the blob according to your personal preferences. Remember that, being rocks, these molds should not be too smooth or rounded. Instead, they should be rough and jagged.
11. Test Fit the Rock Molds
Once everything is dry, test fit the rock molds by holding them against the edges of the elevations you created for your base. Try to decide where each mold should go before going any further. If needed, you can break a mold into various pieces in order to make it fit better in a particular spot.
12. Perfect the Edges of the Rock Molds
Using the sandpaper and a small knife, carve out and reduce the edges of the rock molds in order for them to fit perfectly against the contours of the base. Try to cover all the noticeable edges of foam in order to eliminate unnaturally smooth surfaces.
13. Secure the Rock Molds to the Base
Once the rock molds fit perfectly against the foam, it is time to secure them. Use silicone glue to hold them in place. Do not worry, however, if they do not seem too secure. This part of the process is only meant to keep the molds in place while you fill in the gaps and cover everything with Sculptamold.
14. Fill In the Gaps
When you are finished securing the molds to the base, you should have several spots where gaps have been formed. Fill these gaps in using the leftover pieces of polyurethane foam from before. After that, you should still have some smaller gaps between scrap pieces of foam. Fill those in using shredded pieces of paper. Make sure that everything is tightly filled before moving on to the next step.
15. Cover the Base
Finally, the time has come to cover the base. First, prepare the Sculptamold by adding some water to it and mixing well. Then, use a small trowel to apply the Sculptamold to the base. Make sure to cover every bit of it. This includes the edges of the wooden frame. Once everything is covered, even it out and smooth it using the trowel. Let the Sculptamold dry for a couple of minutes.
16. Create Details
As it dries, create details on the Sculptamold using your sculpting tools. Try to imitate the texture of rocks and soil by producing jagged edges, indentions and other similar effects.
17. Paint the Base
After the Sculptamold has fully dried, it is time to begin painting the base. To do this, use Earth-like tones of brown and grey. You can choose the colors you want but try to make the combination between them look natural. Furthermore, try to use tones of brown that are similar to the tone of your artificial dirt texture.
18. Make Dirt Texture
In a small recipient, make a 50/50 mix of dried sift dirt and light brown fine grout. Add equal amounts of both materials and mix everything together with a few vigorous moves.
19. Apply Dirt Texture
Next, apply your newly-made dirty texture to your base. To do this, first, use a brush to coat the entire surface of the base with glue. Spread the glue well using the brush, preventing poodles from being formed. After that, sprinkle a generous amount of dirt texture over the entire surface of the base. Try to be as even as possible. Let it dry for 10 to 20 minutes.
20. Remove Excess Dirt
Once the dirt texture has dried, remove its excess. You can do this with a small vacuum that is operating in its lowest setting. If you do not have a suitable vacuum, however, you can simply blow on the base until all the excess dirt has been removed.
21. Stabilize and Secure the Dirt Texture
At the point, your diorama base is almost finished. The final step is to stabilize and secure the dirt texture. To do this, first, spray isopropyl alcohol on the entire surface of the base. This substance will enable the glue to penetrate into the dirt instead of the dirt forming a crust around blobs of glue.
After that, spray a good amount of scenic glue over the whole thing. If you do not have scenic glue, do not worry as it is easy to make. In a small bowl or container, mix one part white glue with three parts water. After some mixing, add a few drops of dish detergent. Mix everything together and transfer it to a spray applicator. Spray a generous amount over your diorama base. Make sure that everything is fully covered with scenic glue. After that, let the whole thing dry overnight.
Did you enjoy reading this tutorial? As I previously mentioned, having a durable, stable and realistic base is an essential requirement for making a good diorama. By following these instructions, you will be able to produce a base that’s not only optimal but also completely unique. Of course you can use it for making mountain diorama hangar base build (see this guide).
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