Convert or Be Darned to Heck #2: Forests and Exotica
In Part 2 of our miniature painting series, we touch on forests and other exotic bases that can make your miniatures more vibrant. I've covered several dry outdoor terrains, but not some of the more important ones: muck and water. Muck adds appeal to any adventure, and the same handy rule of thumb applies to miniatures. We'll cover these and more in Part 2...
Forests make up a pretty popular adventuring area, and a couple more techniques can add good bases for those regions. Here's another example mini: Gragg Elfslayer from Reaper Miniatures. His last name is Elfslayer, so we'll assume most of his daily work takes place in a nice wooded area. Again, one good way to approach this is to figure out what's on a real forest floor and then modify this for your fantasy (or sci-fi) ends.
His base is plain, so it could be altered in place just by gluing on basing elements. Removing it is possible with a pair of heavy clippers, a Dremel, a set of files, a jewelry saw, or any other appropriate tools at hand, followed by tacking him to a flat plastic base.
Forest litter is one good way to represent the environment. Just as with the rocks above, try and work the base elements into the base rather than just tacking them on. I'm thinking that a nice fresh fallen log would help get across Gragg's frustration with elves and nature, and how he has learned to express those feelings. And as with the rock above, a good source of to-scale logs is nature. I'd find a tiny little stick that would work well for a log, something with an interesting shape and texture. I'd work on one end a bit with a craft knife to show hack-marks from Gragg's nasty-looking sword. I'd sink that into the rest of the base material, which ought to be loose leaves or some such. This is fairly tricky. Some hobby places sell photo-etched brass, which looks great but costs quite a bit. Tea leaves make a good substitute. I'd take used tea leaves, dry them thoroughly, and glue them down. I'd paint the log in grays for the bark and very light brown-yellows for the fresh wood, working up the leaves from dark brown to medium but earthy browns and yellows. Again, I'm envisioning a recently-fallen log so it won't be too deep into the leaves. If it were older, I might add some putty mushrooms to the stick and split it in half to make it look as though it had sunk more deeply into the ground.
I've covered several dry outdoor terrains, but not some of the more important ones: muck and water. Muck adds appeal to any adventure, and the same handy rule of thumb applies to miniatures.
How about a good ol' swamp zombie, just like Grandma used to make? The Games Workshop zombie sprues are a hell of a lot of fun to play around with. Conversion isn't just optional on these, it's just about imperative. (That's an upcoming article.) They've got some advantages in basing, since they're flat-footed, flat-based loose pieces - no slots in the base, no preprogrammed configuration for the figs, just sweet exhilarating free free freedom.
There are a few ways to successfully simulate mucky swamp-style gunk. The best is 2-part liquid epoxy of some kind, JB Weld or a similar brand. We'll assume I've assembled a zombie from the sprue (the head with the one googly eye, a fairly intact torso, the stiff arm, one skeleton arm for kicks, and a Mordheim set of legs, with one foot removed and a skeleton foot in its place, but that's another article). I'd apply the mixed epoxy to the base and sink the figure in. As the epoxy dried, I'd take a damp non-cherished paintbrush and gently work ripples into the surface of the muck. A loose rotten branch or cypress knee might add character, so I could plunk down a thin tiny twig or a short knobby one. If he's a marsh zombie, maybe some long static grass applied in a small clump and a tiny seashell (to represent an evil sentient flesh-eating mussel). Swamp goo is generally black, but some nice dark browns work well and add character. After I matte-coated the finished paint job, I'd apply some gloss sealer to the base for a sticky wet look.
The last substance for this week is water, specifically oceanside or riverside bases, appropriate for pirates, mermaids, nereids, spring-nymphs, hippopotami, and aquatic lawyers. This one's a little different, in that the modeling and painting have got to be done together. First off, I'd paint the base a dark rich blue-green with just a little yellow-brown mixed in. I'd tack down sand across about half the base, as described in the first article. After that dried, I'd carefully brush down a thin layer of clear epoxy or clear-drying white glue, letting it lap just over the edge of the flocked sand. I'd keep alternating layers of paint and epoxy until it looked reasonably deep, but not physically deep. A wall of water hanging over the sand would look a bit silly. I'd throw in a little white-painted sand for bubbles at the top, finishing with a layer of epoxy for shine and durability.
Again, this sort of modification is easy to do and adds a lot of character. The way I'm imagining basing these minis gives me a couple adventure hooks - maybe Gragg doesn't like trees. Maybe the orc in the last article is fond of high places, unlike his acrophobic brethren. Maybe the zombie is a sentient swamp-dwelling hermit. Maybe some better ideas would come up in the course of painting the miniatures...
I'd like to add a quick note on style. The easy objection to this sort of strategy is that it's distracting: "Why is my character always standing on a rock?"
This doesn't hold up for me any better than would the following: "Why is my character an inch high and permanently fixed into a half-crouch, and why does the blue of his clothing run onto his arm a little bit?" A miniature is just a representation, and as such it's going to be imperfect. Might as well have fun with it.
Next article: manmade surfaces, indoors and out (or This Old Dungeon).