When it comes to school projects, there’s nothing more fun than building a diorama. However, it can be difficult for kids to design and build one from scratch, especially if they don’t understand the materials. While macaroni art and model volcanoes have their place in the science world, a diorama can teach wonderful lessons about different materials, architecture, chemical elements, and ecosystems.
If you are creating a diorama with a water element, then you already know of the struggles. For one, you can’t just use liquids with paper, as it could destroy the whole experiment. There are some ways that dioramas can use “water” elements without any issue, creating a wonderful presentation for any wildlife or water ecosystem diorama.
The following tutorials give you some ideas on ways that water has been used successfully in dioramas in the past. For any questions or further tips, leave a comment below or email the author!
Use “Realistic Water” to Build Your Diorama
There are some incredible products out there that look and act like real water. One of them is “Woodland Scenics Realistic Glue” This is a bottle of realistic water that isn’t actually your typical H2O. These bottles contain 16 fl oz of water used in model-building. It’s the perfect solution for any diorama that needs a water element, such as a pond, lake, river, or so forth.
However, you will need to prep the diorama and pour carefully in order to keep the rest of your diorama in tact.
Step 1. Prep Your Diorama for Water
In order to start preparation, you should have already built out all the other parts of your world with styrofoam or wood soluble materials. You don’t want any cracks in the diorama floor or around the perimeter of the model.
The best way to create a good floor and perimeter is with stock cards, cardboard, or plastic sheeting. You also want to make sure that any cracks or holes are filled in with glue first.
If you are using styrofoam or just want to make sure that it is going to be spill-proof and leak-proof, you can follow these steps before adding water to your diorama:
- Add a thin coat of plaster to all areas that the water will come in contact with
- Use a primer to protect your diorama
- Paint all the other areas of your diorama first
- Add realistic water once paint has dried
Prepping your diorama is the most important step. Any cracks or porous surfaces that aren’t plastered will likely cause spillage. Also I recommend to use Hot Knife to make different surfaces of your future model.
Step 2. Add a Border to Wall in Water
Realistic water will continue to spread into every porous area, so you’ll need to add a border if you plan on having water that extends to the edges of your diorama. If you have a small pool in the center, you also want to make sure that it’s completely walled in and protected from leaking. Thick stock cards are a great way to great this border around the edges of your diorama.
Glue guns are also helpful to fill in any cracks and add these borders so that you have a sturdy surface that won’t leak.
Step 3. Pour in Realistic Water on Level Surface
You should place your primed and prepped diorama on a level surface before getting the realistic water ready. You can pour straight from the bottle or you can use a funnel if you want to be more precise and careful. Unlike water, realistic water is a bit thicker and stickier, so you want to be careful about not getting the water onto anything else in your diorama.
Once you have finished pouring, allow the water to rest and dry. You can use a fan on low setting if you want to speed up the process. However, if you want to add in small rocks, fish, plants, and other miniature figures to the water, you should do so before it dries.
The water will look crystal clear so it’s best if you paint the bottom with any type of rocky bottom or coral look that you want your model to have.
Once the first layer has dried, you can pour on another lay as needed. This is helpful if you want to show multiple types of ecosystems in your water diorama, from bottom floor fish all the way up to the surface.
Step 4. Add Realistic Waves and Other Surface Effects
You can use other products to modify the look of your water, making it look more like ocean waves or lake ripples. The mediums typically used for this include gloss gels and glazes. You can find them alongside acrylic paints in any arts and crafts store.
We recommend to use Woodland Scenics-Water Effects.
Gels and glazes are painted on using paint brushes just like you did with other paints in your diorama. However, these paints create a 3-dimensional shape that holds well to any structure. Liquitex is the top brand to use for these mediums as it holds well and dries consistently.
The gloss gels and glazes are transparent and will also adapt to the color of your realistic water. Once dried, you can add paint to create waterfalls and lagoons. It all depends on how you want to create these water effects.
Woodland Scenics also makes another product called “Woodland Scenics-Water Effects” that can also help you build realistic lake ripples, waterfalls, rapids, and other waves. It takes a bit longer to dry, but when it does, it will dry clear.
To create these effects, you simply use a paint brush to tease and swirl the gel around, lifting up to get waves or letting it drip down off your diorama to create a waterfall. You can even use the gel to create concentric circles, creating small ripples or even a dramatic finish to your waterfall area.
How to Make Fake Water with Glue – Using Blue Elmers Glue for Water in Dioramas
If realistic water is too much or you want something simpler for a smaller diorama, then you can also use blue glue. Elmers has the perfect brand called Liquid Gel School Glue in light blue. In addition, you’ll probably want to get clear school glue as well.
The most important thing to remember when using glue is that you need a border so that the gel doesn’t leak all over the place. You can use wood, stock cards, or cardboard to create borders around your diorama.
In addition, you want to paint your diorama with the base colors before you begin adding the glue. For example, wherever you want water to appear, you should color in acrylic blue paint. If you want coral bottoms or rocks, then you should use the appropriate acrylics to create those scenes. Once you start pouring in the glue, you won’t have a chance to make your scenes underwater any more colorful.
Step 1. Block Out Your Water Areas
Let’s say you are creating a diorama with two levels so that you have a waterfall going into a stream. At the top of the diorama, you’ll have to create a little pool or pond where the water starts, then draw out how the water will flow down into the bottom of the diorama, blocking out all areas where water will go with your pencil.
Once you have designed the water areas, you should paint in any effects and colors before you add the glue.
Step 2. Add the Glue
You can keep the top on the glue and squeeze it into the blocked out areas carefully, or you can pour it in. Either way, you’ll want to keep a brush or popsicle stick nearby to guide the glue into areas, creating any wave shapes by pulling up on the glue until it forms the right ripples and shapes.
Before the glue dries, you should add any other figures, plants, rocks, stones, or other diorama elements. The glue typically starts to dry as soon as it meets the air, so you don’t want to wait too long to start adding in your different water creatures.
Once finished, let the glue dry, being careful to watch for any leaks.
Step 3. Add More Layers
Once the glue has dried, you can add on more paint or add a second layer of glue. This is beneficial if you are going from deep sea ecosystems to the surface, and you want to showcase different creatures or sediments in the diorama.
Videos on Water in Dioramas
Here are some specific videos you can use to create water in your diorama that showcase expert ways to build water effects using these tools, as well as some other techniques that may be more advanced.
Creating Waterfall Effects
Perhaps you want to create a multi-layered model diorama with a waterfall that drops down from a grotto. Creating these effects is actually easy with the right tools and liquids.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Wax paper
- Caulking gun
- Crystal clear caulk
You’ll use the caulking gun to create streams down from the second level to the bottom. You should add realistic water or the Elmers glue before you create the waterfall.