Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Q&A Time!

As I was working on the Wrath of Kings table, questions were popping up in the comments section that I wasn't able to get to. I mentioned a few weeks back that I'd address them in a Q&A post, so here we go. Feel free to add to the questions in the comments section at the end, and I'll get to them as well.

Questions and Answers

Neil Hubbard asks: "Could you explain how you get a nice finish with the static grass please?"

The trick to getting a consistent finish is thinning the wood glue just a little with water. It should be the consistency of melted ice cream. Then paint it on evenly, thick enough to not have any dry spots, but not so thick that it runs or drips. Then pour the grass overtop. Pile it on so it completely covers the glue. (I'll use an entire shaker of grass on a table but once dry, most of it gets collected back up.)

Then gently press the grass down with your hand. This ensures that the grass really gets into the glue, and isn't just sitting on top. Let it dry overnight, and then dump off the excess. If you've got a vacuum it will help get any stray grass fibers out of the nooks and crannies.

I'll mix a few colors to get some variation, like on the Wrath of Kings table, or apply a layer of flock, let that dry and then add patches of grass in the center for a more layered appearance. Most of the terrain I made at Privateer Press used the latter technique.

Anonymous wants to know: "Where do you buy your pink foam at?"

My pink foam comes from Home Depot. Funny story about it: Not too long ago Owens Corning sold insulation foam boards that were a lighter shade of pink. Now all I can find is the darker pink foam, the one with the big picture of the Pink Panther on it. This foam seems denser than the old stuff, and it doesn't model as well in my opinion. But it's got the same serial number, so maybe it's a change in formula to save costs and we're all out of luck. I can't find the light blue foam anywhere. I've been to every Home Depot and Lowes in my area and no one has it. 

There are also different styles of the boards, some have a flat edge, some have a tongue-and-groove edge. One store only carries boards with a 2-inch alternating lip cut out of each side, useless for making modular tables! Lowes only seems to carry its own brand of awful foam, covered with a peel-away film and only in a 1-inch thickness.

If anyone has a line on where to find the blue foam, I'd be very grateful.

Mananarepublic asks: "What did you make the "walls" for that mold in and do you have to coat the mold with something before you cast it?"

Luka pretty much covered it in the comments, but I'll just clarify– The mold box is made out of PVC card. It's a little lighter than styrene, but still thick enough that it doesn't bow under the RTV. It glues pretty well with super glue (in fact so well I had to destroy the walls to get the box apart).

I don't coat the mold with any release agent; the RTV pulls out pretty smoothly. When we made molds like this at GW, I believe we sprayed a release agent on the part just to be safe. When the piece I'm casting has foam or wood parts, I will coat them with a thinned layer of wood glue to seal them so the RTV doesn't bond to the porous surface.

Something else I learned: Make sure your rubber spatula is actually plastic, and not silicone, or the RTV will bond to it. Usually I just peel the excess RTV right out of the mixing bucket, and off the stir stick and spatula. Now my spatula has a blue skin hanging off of it!

Luka added: "It certainly looks like there's tape on the outside, but the inside corners appear shiny. I can't tell whether that's tape as well, or if he's glued them to prevent the silicone from escaping between the strips."

Both, actually. I super glued the walls together, and then put packing tape around the outside to make sure nothing popped apart under the pressure of the RTV or leaked out of a tiny crack. If you look closely, you'll see that I started to add a bead of hot glue around the inside, but quit because it was difficult to get the glue gun in there, and it was overkill anyway.

I don't use Legos to build the walls mainly because I'd be afraid of the RTV leaking through the tiny cracks between bricks. I think Legos might be more expensive than the card, as well.

On July 15, redmanphill asked: "How long did it take you to make this much progress?"

That was after "Part 2" so this was two weeks into the build, probably close to 80 hours. Most of the first week was spent gathering supplies, planning, and building the crate, with minimal time spent on actual table construction. 

The entire project (including the miniature painting) took around 200 hours. The blog posts were up to date with the construction each week, so you were watching this get built in (sort of) real time.

TheBugKing asks: "A question on the commission process: How do you decide on cost? I've done a few pieces where I tried to estimate each section of a board and it got prohibitively complex." 

I estimate the cost of the materials and supplies and how much time it will take to complete the piece. I try to work out a quote so I'll earn a respectable "doller-per-hour" rate after deducting the material costs.

For me this works better than billing at an hourly rate that could wind up costing the client more than they were expecting if a project runs long. They get the piece at the price quoted and the responsibility is then on me to work efficiently to keep my time and budget in check. 

I went a little long on this project, but I kept track of the expenses and time involved, so I'll have a better analog for next time. The more work you do, the better you get at estimating time and costs.

Mr Saturday ased: "Maybe I missed it in the post, but how did you do the foam stones? Are they individual bits?!"

If you mean the rocky cliff on the back side, yeah I sort of glossed over that. Here's a little more explanation on how the stones stones shaped up:

The trick to making effective rocks, cliffs, and such is in hiding the separation between individual chunks of foam. Each "boulder" is not a separate piece (that would take forever), rather the rocks are cut into a piece of 2-inch foam. They are built up in layers, and each piece of foam is angled or turned so there's no recognizable "stair-stepping" effect.

These are colored photos from the previous blogs. Each colored section is a single piece of foam, to give you an idea of how the pieces layer and jigsaw-puzzle fit together. The blue rocks are single stones that I glue in to fill gaps and break up any straight lines.

I cut away the layers of base foam and replaced them with chunks of sculpted 2-inch foam.

And finally, Rob Akins asks: "So, when can we expect to see your own line of resin scenery hitting your online store?"

Someday, Rob. Someday. Who'd buy it?

That's all for now.  I've got some commission models to work on, and a weekend of Blood Bowl coming up. Got to re-read those rules because I haven't played in years. The last time I rolled a block die was in 2004!

Thanks to everyone for the questions and for following along!

'Til next time!


  1. Thanks so much for answering all these, especially mine!

  2. I came onto your blog to email you a question and found this entry instead, brilliant! Ok off topic from the wrath of kings table, can you share tips/tricks for water effects? Also any tips for a "frozen" river? P.s. id buy resin terrain from you!

    1. Thanks, Jon! For water effects, I use EnviroTex Lite. It/s a 2-part epoxy compound that uses a simple 50/50 mix, and dries clear overnight. You can tint it with a little paint (only a drop or two; a little goes a long way).

      Before pouring on the EnviroTex, paint the ground and add any grass or foliage so the water effect can form around it. Make sure there's no exposed foam on the table, because the EnviroTex will seep into it and either leak or end up more shallow than you poured it.

      I've never done a frozen river with EnviroTex, but I think if you were to pour it and then add some thick pieces of frosted styrene on top, maybe sprayed with a little white to make them a bit more opaque, that would do the trick. The styrene chunks of "ice" would probably stay afloat on the thick liquid until it dried. Then you could add a little snow flock.

    2. I'll second that. EnviroTex Lite is the best water effects product I've used by a good distance.

  3. I've used envirotex before and definately prefer it to woodland scenics realistic water. Thanks for the tips Rob. Any idea where I could source frosted styrene? I'm in the US.

    1. Yeah, EnviroTex is the only way to go. I wouldn't recommend any of the water effects out there that don't require any mixing because they don't "cure" properly. I've seen Woodland Scenics water projects that stayed tacky or bubbled in the heat. Not good.

  4. Awesome. Appreciate the feedback. Any ideas where to source frosted styrene? Also Rob, how do you seal/protect your terrain?

    1. I've Dull Coated a few small pieces (mainly to remove the shine from inking some parts), but generally don't do it on larger projects because it would take about 10 cans to cover a table. So, the short answer is that I really don't seal terrain.

    2. Oh, and on the frosted styrene– Maybe try Plastruct? I know there are clear sheets with a ripple texture, and probably frosted ones as well. There's a local hobby shop nearby that doubles as a distributor, so they have a HUGE selection of products. If I see anything there I'll pick some up and post pics.

  5. Thanks Rob. Ill check my local hobby shop. I know they carry plastruct so maybe ill get lucky. If I cant find anything ill cut up blisters and frost them myself.

  6. Got another one for ya. Your a huge inspiration for me and many other aspiring terrain makers out there. Who inspires you? Are they're any artists or tables out there that get your creative juices flowing?

    1. A lot of my initial inspiration came from seeing the spectacular tables GW had in its publications, and at Games Days.

  7. Mr. Hawkins,

    (Apologies if this is a double or triple post. I'm having odd login problems right now...)

    I have admired your work for some time now. Your hobby blogs from your Privateer Press days really inspired me in a number of ways -- chiefly, I have started actually building nice terrain instead of just fantasizing about having nice terrain!

    I am trying to duplicate the Minefields and Gun Emplacements you built at Privateer. I'm still fairly inexperienced at building terrain. I can do the mechanical work easily; it's the "make it look pretty" part that gets me.

    I have been having a very difficult time getting the grass colors to match. Did you use Woodland Scenics grass on those pieces? If so, can you tell me which colors of grass you used for each layer?

    Thank you very much for any advice you can offer!


  8. The grass is all Woodland Scenics. I start with a layer of Burnt Grass fine turf (flock). When that's dry I apply patches of static grass. Each patch incorporates two colors: Medium Green in the center and Burnt Grass around the outside. After the grass is dry, I'll sometimes drybrush P3 'Jack Bone to diffuse the color separation a little.

    I hope that helps!

    1. Thank you, thank you, a hundred times thank you! I would never have guessed those were the colors!

      I picked up some Burnt Grass flock and static grass tonight and I'm waiting for the gravel to dry on some new templates. I shall test soon!

      In the meantime, I was wondering: about how much mileage do you get out of the ~50 cu. inch containers of flock and static grass? The flock seems to go quite a long distance, but I feel like I'm eating up the static grass at a rapid pace.

      Also, you mentioned above that one should use a vaccuum to pick up any stray static grass. Do you have a preferred make/model you'd recommend?

      Thank you again! I tremendously appreciate advice!


    2. You're welcome, Michael!

      The grass goes pretty far. I can cover most of a 4x6 table with an entire shaker or two. When I collect the excess, it's like I only used about a quarter of a container. The trick is to collect up as much as you can. Once the glue dries, shake off the excess onto a clean sheet of paper or plastic and put that back in the container. Try not to dump it on the floor or table and sweep it up because it will inevitably get bits of dust, plastic shavings, and whatever else in it.

      Any vacuum with a hose attachment will do. Just be sure not to scrape the hard plastic hose nozzle over the piece or you may damage all your hard work.

    3. Thank you again, sir! The paper trick is nice and simple; I will definitely use that!

      On a somewhat related topic: I'm giving terrain to my LGS and I would like to label the terrain that I make. I just want to put basic info, such as "Minefield", my name, the date, "number x of y", and so forth. I have done a lot of searching but I can't find the right stencils for the job. I would not look forward to neatly printing/painting all of that info by hand on 50+ terrain pieces...

      (I'm starting to believe that I'll have to buy some thin plasticard, pull out the x-acto and make my own stencils...I was hoping there was another way, though.)

      Do you sign your work in such a manner? And if so, what tools do you use to do it? And if not, can you think of a simple way to do this?

      Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the help!

      This'll be my last question for a while--I promise! :)


    4. Most of the signs I've done have been freehand, painted with a brush. When adding my signature to the work, I just use a sharpie marker on the bottom of the base.

  9. Michael, I recently used stencils on some Infinity buildings I did. Hobby lobby sells lots of different stencils. I found great ones that each letter is an individual piece of cardboard letting u make words very easily. They only cost like $2.

  10. Thanks so much for these, I follow your blog avidly for tips and inspiration and your comments are really helpful. You asked where you can get blue foam, where are you based? I live in Vancouver, Canada, and it is widely available so if you are on the west coast of North America you could consider getting it ordered.
    Also, if you do get any resin scenery produced I would consider purchasing from you :)

  11. Mr. Hawkins,

    (Actually, would you prefer "Rob" instead?)

    Hopefully you'll see this post; I know it's running a bit late for this thread. However, if you can offer answers to my last few questions, you'd be doing me a wonderful favor! I've been putting your advice to good use. I feel like I've greatly improved my terrain building skills over the last two months.

    I'm still trying to make my "layered grass" turn out like yours. I'm using the colors you recommended -- Burnt Grass fine turf as the base, Medium Green static grass as the large patch, and Burnt Grass static grass as an accent patch.

    1) Can you explain how you create each area of grass?

    2) What is a good rule of thumb when sizing and shaping the static grass areas? What is a good rule of thumb or design idea when sizing/shaping the Medium Green and Burnt Grass static grass areas? (I have been attempting to copy what I see in your Privateer terrain pictures, but I am lacking the guiding principle, it seems. You always have a very natural sort of "fractal" feeling to your pieces; I haven't figured out how to do that yet!)

    3) After the Burnt Grass turf has been applied and dried, do you place the Medium Green static grass or the Burnt Grass static grass first?

    4) Do you use a particular technique or some sort of trick to apply static grass? Dumping works great for turf, but I can't seem to get it right with static grass.

    I've tried adding the grass in the following method, but it never seems quite right. I'll apply a thin layer of wood glue (thinned with water) and wait until the Burnt Grass turf has dried overnight. I then apply another thin layer of glue and shake out the Medium Green static grass. I've tried both pressing the over-generous lump of static grass into place and then shaking off the excess, and simply dumping a copious amount of static grass into place and shaking off the excess without touching it. Neither method seems to work well; the grass always came out very flat and rigid.

    Okay; that's enough from me. I will thank you many times if you can offer me any advice!


    1. Each area is made by painting a patch of wood glue. Go for an organic shape, and drybrush the glue a little at the edges to avoid a "hard edge" to the grass patch. The size depends on the terrain in question and whether you prefer to have more earth showing or a more grassy area. Spread the flock on first and let it dry completely.

      Collect up the excess and then add another, smaller patch of wood glue in the center of the flocked area. I'll leave anywhere from 1/2-inch to a full inch or more of the flock showing around the edge. Vary the new glue patches to keep it looking organic and varied. I'll usually sprinkle the burnt grass around the edges first, and then cover everything with the green grass.

      I spread the static grass on top of the glue pretty heavily (no glue or "wet spots" should be visible). Then I gently pat it down (to make sure it's penetrated into the glue and not just floating on top) and let it dry before dumping off the excess.

      When I eventually get a Youtube channel going this will be among the first videos I make.


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