Sunday, October 25, 2015

Halloween Terrain: Cornfield

This project grew out of a discussion with my friend Chris Walton about different ways to model plowed fields. While corrugated cardboard with one side peeled away produces great results, I've never been able to consistently peel off the cardboard covering without ripping it to shreds. I thought of the serrated trowels used to spread tile adhesive, and wondered if the technique could be used to create rows of plowed earth for wargaming terrain.

Cornfields and corn mazes are distinctly Halloween-themed, so I decided to try out the new technique for this year's Halloween terrain tutorial. This project will focus on the plowed earth, making stone walls, and using fake plants to create cornstalks.



Materials and tools that you will need:

1-inch thick insulation foam

1/8-inch thick PVC card

1.5-mm thick styrene plastic strips

0.5-mm thick styrene plastic sheet

1/4-inch styrene plastic L-strip

1/8-inch OR 1/4-inch thick MDF hardboard

Square basswood strips

22-gauge floral wire

Wood filler putty

Putty knife

Fine grit sandpaper

Liquid Nails construction adhesive

Super glue

Epoxy modeling putty (Brown Stuff or Green Stuff)

1/4-inch square notch trowel

Extendable snap-off knife

Steel ruler

Hobby knife


Flat nose no-teeth pliers

Rotary hand sewing punch

Hole punch

Pin vise and pins (brass rod or paperclips)

Jeweler's saw

Power drill

Wood pencil and eraser

Bamboo skewers

Plastic floral arrangement plants

Assorted detail accessories (shield icons, spear heads, zombie parts, birds)

Sand or ballast

Static grass

Waterproof wood glue

Paint and brushes

*Use extreme caution when working with sharp objects. Follow all safety precautions and use all recommended safety equipment.



Step 1. Making the Base

MDF board is great for terrain basing. It's nice and sturdy, and resists bending or chipping. A single piece of 1/4-inch thick MDF is ideal, but if (like me) you only have 1/8-inch thick MDF, you can double it up. Cut the board to the desired size– anywhere between eight to twelve inches is fine for a small field. I've made mine 10 x 12 inches.



If you use two layers of thinner MDF, attach them with Liquid Nails. Let them sit under a weight overnight to the bond is secure and the boards are completely flat. Then, sand the edges to create a smooth finish.



Cover the edges with wood filler putty to conceal the seam between the two boards. Sand the putty smooth once dry.



Step 2: Making the Stone Wall

Begin by using an extendable snap-off knife cut 5/16-inch thick slices off of the 1-inch insulation foam. Use a new, sharp blade so it cuts cleanly without tearing the foam. Each of these slices will be a section of wall; cut as many as you need to fit around the perimeter of your field.



Next, use a hobby knife to cut the stonework. Again, make sure that the blade is new so it cuts the foam cleanly. To make the stonework, first make some horizontal cuts along the length of the wall. The cuts should be about 1/16-inch deep.



After the horizontal cuts, make some vertical cuts to create the individual stones.



By doing this along the length of the wall, you can make stone blocks of varying sizes.



Once the stones are all cut, use a wood pencil to trace over the cuts and create grooves along the lines.



Press an actual stone from the garden on the foam to create a realistic rough stone texture.


The final touch is to break up the level surface by using a pencil eraser to press in some of the stones. This will vary the depth of each stone to create an uneven surface that will really stand out when painting the wall.



If you need to make a longer section of wall, you can join two pieces by cutting one side along the stones. Trace along this edge with a pencil on the other wall section.



Cut the second wall section along this line, and add the stone texture. You now have two sections of wall that will fit together seamlessly like puzzle pieces.



To create a broken section of wall, simply cut the wall along the edges of the stones, and rough up some of their corners so they appear broken.



Once all the stonework is complete, paint each section of wall with a layer of wood glue. This will help protect the foam from the super glue used in later steps.



Step 3: Modeling the Base Edge

Cut a length of 1.5-mm thick styrene card into 1/2-inch sections.



Super glue these to the corners of the base. They will form the foundations of the wall's corner posts.



Use clippers to trim the tops of the card flush with the base.



Because the pieces overlap at the corner, one side will be a little long. Measure and cut off the excess so both sides of the corner are 1/2-inch long.



Use modeling putty to fill any gaps at the corner join, and between the card and the MDF base. Distress the edges of the plastic by cutting a few notches.



The edge of the base will form the bottom row of stones in the wall. Use a jeweler's saw to cut vertical notches in the edge with varied spacing to create different sized stones.



Here you can see how the finished stones will match up between the foam wall and the base:



Use a hobby knife to distress the edges and corners of the stones.



For the opening in the wall, mark off a three-inch area in the center of one side. Use the extendable knife to slice a bevel in the MDF base, about halfway down.



Super glue a matching length of styrene plastic L-stripping to the bevel.



Trim the top of the L-strip to meet the bevel height, and cut the bottom edge into a rounded, organic shape. This little protrusion will be the slope from the table surface up to the level of the field. Glue a 1/2-inch section of styrene strip on either side of the opening, the same way you did for the corners.



Step 4: Cutting the Corner Posts

From the 1-inch foam, cut a 1/2-inch thick section.



Slice the finished surface off of one end and then measure in 1/2-inch.



Cut again at the 1/2-inch mark to create a half-inch square length of foam.



Cut that into six 1 1/8-inch sections, and you have your corner posts and end posts for the wall.



Attach each post to a bamboo skewer so you have something to hold while working on them. Coat each of the foam posts with a thin layer of Liquid Nails.



To get rid of blobs of excess Liquid Nails, and to create a rough texture, gently roll the post on a paper towel. Once dry, the coating of Liquid Nails will allow you to super glue pieces to the foam without it dissolving.



Step 5: Detailing the Top of the Wall

Adding a row of flat slate stones along the top of the wall will help protect the foam, and it will create another level of detail finishing off the edge of the foam. Use 1/8-inch thick PVC card to make the slate toppers. Measure out and mark a series of 1/2-inch strips. Use a steel ruler to cut the strips, but don't cut all the way through just yet so the strips stay attached for now.



Next, make a series of perpendicular "V" cuts to create separations between the individual stones.



Vary the size of the stones. By keeping the strips attached, you can cut them all at once, rather than having to do each strip individually.



Once the "V" cuts are finished, separate the strips by cutting the rest of the way through lengthwise.



Finish them off by distressing the edges and corners with your knife and continuing the notches between each stone around the sides.


Now you should have enough wall sections, tops, and posts to go around the field. Paint the foam pieces with black latex paint to add another layer of protection, and to prepare them for painting.



Step 6: Detailing the Tops of the Corner Posts

Cut squares of 1/8-inch PVC card to make the stone topper for the corner posts. Make the squares 5/8-inch, and cut a smaller square 3/8-inch to fit in the center of it. Use a selection of shield icons and spearheads to decorate the corner posts and create the spike on top.



Distress the squares with your hobby knife. Then, glue the smaller square in the center of the larger square.


For the base of the spike, use a hole punch to punch circles out of thin sheet styrene. Use a rotary hand sewing punch to press rivets around the perimeter of the circle.


Super glue the circles in the center of the stone tops and drill a hole in the middle with your pin vise and a 0.85mm bit. Cut the heads off of some spears, and pin them on top of each circle.


Use super glue to attach the tops of the posts and to add shield icons on the sides. Plan which post will be on each corner so the spear heads and icons will be oriented properly. Use two icons on the corner posts and only one for the posts on either side of the front entrance.


Step 7: Plowing the Field

For me, this is where the whole project really began– This trowel can be used to create rows of plowed earth in wood filler putty. The tool is only $3.00 at Home Depot, practically a steal.



The notches are square, and my first attempt resulted in rows that were a little too angular and precise. To remedy that, I clipped the corners of the trowel to round them off. If you're doing this, make sure you use an older pair of clippers, because cutting metal isn't good for them. If you have a pair that's notched from cutting too many steel paperclips, that would be best. A pair of metal sheers would probably be better.


For the field itself, start by spreading wood filler putty over the entire surface of the base.


Cover the slope and smooth over the L-strip as well.


Next, use the notched trowel to pull grooves through the putty.


To eliminate any squared edges in the grooves and add a bit more texture, use a 1-inch brush cut flat, and stipple the putty. To keep the putty from sticking to your brush, and to add a layer of glue to attach some sand, dip the brush in a mix of wood glue thinned with water.


While everything is still wet, sprinkle a little sand over the surface.


Then, use one of the walls to push in the putty around the edges, making room for the walls.


Once you know where the walls will fit, scrape the excess putty off the edge of the base so the walls can glue cleanly to the board.

*Note: At this stage, if you plan to include a section of broken wall, add some loose, scattered stones by pressing a few pieces of pink foam into the wood putty where the break will be. I forgot this step, and had to add the stones prior to painting (below).



If necessary, add some sand or ballast to touch up the ground texture.


Step 8: The Cornstalks

Plastic floral arrangement plants are scaled nicely for use as the crops. The exact brand I used is Ashland Floral Essentials. The bunch was about $6.00 at Michael's Arts and Crafts. One of these yields a little over 100 cornstalks, which is enough to fill a 10" x 12" field.



Pull the individual parts of the stem. Cornstalks are a few feet taller than a man, so each leaf bunch can be cut into two stalks, each with four leaves at the top. Make sure you leave a little stem at the bottom so the stalks can plug into the base of the field.


Like any molded plastic, the plants have a mold line and some flash. Use a hobby knife to clean up the most obvious areas of flash.


Then, use a pair of flat nose no-teeth pliers to fold and crimp the leaves, so they all wilt over like the leaves of a dead cornstalk.


The finished cornstalk:


If you're making a field of live plants, you can leave them green. But if, like me, you are making dead cornstalks, you will need to paint them. Use a paint stick or scrap of wood to hold the plants. Drill holes along each side and push the stems into the stick.


Spray the entire set of stalks with Testor's Light Earth, and then spray them from the top with Testor's Desert Sand to match the color of dead, dried leaves.


Add a dot of super glue and some static grass in the tops of the stalks. The grass color I'm using is Woodland Scenics Harvest Gold, and it would work just as well if you're making live, green corn stalks.


To plant the stalks, drill holes in the field. You can use a pin vise, but a power drill will help speed things up.


Here you can see how the plants will stand in the field:


Step 9: The Scarecrow

I guess you could use a stuffed dummy to scare pests away from the field, but a thrashing zombie is a bit more convincing, and appropriate for Halloween! Make the stand with square basswood strips. Cut notches in the top and a slot in the stand so the parts can plug together. Build a suitable zombie model, and pose him to fit on the stand.



When making the stand, remember to make it tall enough so the scarecrow will be above the tops of the corn.


Super glue the zombie to the stand, and use some thin wire to "tie" him in place. Wrap the wire around his arms and shoulders. Leave some of the wire hanging so it appears as though one of his arms has broken free.


Use a larger drill bit to drill a hole in the base. Round the bottom of the scarecrow's post so it fits snugly in the hole.


Step 10: Painting and Assembling the Components

Here are all the individual parts, spray primed black:



*One thing I forgot to add before priming is a few stones on the ground where the wall is broken. These are just a few pieces of insulation foam, attached with Liquid Nails and then surrounded with wood glue and sand to help bury them and lock them in place. Ideally, these stones should be added while the wood putty field is still wet, when they can simply be pressed into the putty. 


Start by painting the field. Drybrush it with Formula P3 Battlefield Brown, P3 Gun Corps Brown, and then P3 Menoth White Base.


Paint the insides of the wall sections, and the inside corner of the posts before gluing them in place, so you can get to them easily without messing up the field. The exterior and top of the wall will be painted after everything is attached. (See that step below for the wall color guide.)


Starting with one of the entry posts, scrape away any putty that might be under its footprint, and super glue the post in place. The post should sit perfectly over the added plastic strip on the base edge.


Mark where the wall section will meet the next post and trim it to the appropriate length.


Super glue the wall section down, and then cut a section of the top stones to match the length. Paint any exposed pink foam on the cut end with acrylic paint and allow it to dry so the foam can be super glued to the post.


Work your way around the perimeter, adding each wall section, top, and post in turn. Once the wall is assembled, paint the exterior so the wall sections and bottom edge of the base are all black.


To paint the stone wall, drybrush it with P3 Greatcoat Grey, and then add some Army Painter Ash Grey into the mix and drybrush with successively lighter layers, stopping with a final drybrushing of straight Ash Grey.


Add some variety to the stones by painting some with a thin layer of GW The Fang grey, and others with a wash of brown ink.


Finally, drybrush everything with a light touch of P3 Menoth White Base.


Basecoat the metal spikes with black and then drybrush them with P3 Pig Iron. Wash them using P3 Bloodstone, and paint some rust streaks down the side of the post.


Add a few patches of static grass, and the field is finished!


Paint the scarecrow the same way you would any other model. If you have any spare birds (like this crow from the Garden of Morr), you can add them to the scarecrow or the wall.


Plug the scarecrow's perch into the base and plant all the corn in the holes you drilled, but do not glue them, so they can be removed if models need to move through the cornfield.


Something like this is perfect for representing an area of Mysterious Terrain where the players don't know what's inside until their models enter it. But don't venture in alone... Who knows what walks behind the rows? Thanks for following along, and have a Happy Halloween, everyone!



'Til next time!


  1. That is amazing, great work! I especially loved how you did the walls, thanks for sharing

  2. Beautiful work and a very informative tutorial! /Mattias

  3. Superb landscape Piece and an amazing Tutorial.

  4. Great stuff. There are little touches here that I would have never thought to include without seeing the process in this much detail.

  5. Stunning job, I have to try this one day! Wonderful ideas...

  6. Great tutorial, thanks! Time to build some cornfields :-).

  7. Thanks a lot guys! Glad you liked it!

  8. Rob, this is really great work yet again. I am looking forward to taking a stab at some of these techniques in various manners and hopefully finding time to adapt to other similar circumstances.

  9. That is one of the best things I have seen on this site! I've had a look for the Ashland Floral Essentials (to see if I can find them here in New Zealand) but there seems to be a whole heap of different plants in the range. Is there any specific type of plant in the range that you used? Cheers!

    1. Thanks, McBeth! I looked at the label on the plants and there's no specific name for the style of plant, just the brand. When looking for plants, I would just recommend finding something with leaves that are scaled and spaced appropriately. Aquarium plants are often good, too, but are usually molded in neon colors and are much more expensive.

    2. Thanks Rob, I appreciate the reply :) I'll keep my eye out for the appropriate type of plant. These would look fantastic on my AWI terrain table.

  10. A great piece of terrain and an even BETTER tutorial.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thanks guys, I appreciate the comments!

  12. Excellent and impressive work.
    Thanks for that cool tutorial


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