Thursday, 20 June 2013

Testing the Waters (Part 1/2) - Laying the groundwork for making water in a diorama

One vivid childhood memory I have was of me walking into a small hobby shop and being awe struck by the many World War II dioramas on display. One particular diorama grabbed my attention and just wouldn't let go because the modeller had constructed realistic looking water as part of the scene. To a little kid with no knowledge whatsoever of the hobby, the thought that something like that could be done was simply mind blowing. Now three decades later, I am having a go at simulating a still water scene for a mini diorama which might be used for some miniature projects in the future.

IKEA Heat - Pot stands made from cork, which form an ideal base for the mini diorama

Firstly, I cut out a section from IKEA's cork pot stand for use as the base for my mini water diorama. Using a pencil, I then outlined the fringes of what will be a small pool of water (more of a pond or hot spring) before carving out a shallow hole with a hobby knife, up to a depth of about 5 mm.  

A section of the cork was cut off and then a shallow hole was outlined before being dug out using a hobby knife

Following this, I added some bits and pieces of scenery comprising smooth pebbles into the floor of the pond/hot spring while laying more jagged edge rocks on the edges. I also used pieces of the cork to create two rock bases on either side of the pond/hot spring as well as add sand on the flat areas.

With all the pieces glued on, it was ready for paint
For the basecoat, I used a mixture of Chaos Black:Adeptus Battlegrey on the rocks and surrounding land area while Skull White was applied on the pond/hot spring. Both the rocks and land area were then given two coats of drybrush i.e. Codex Grey followed by Fortress Grey. Meanwhile, an additional step consisting of a Devlan Mud wash was applied to the land area.

Aiming for a huge contrast in the basecoat application
A combination of drybrushing and washing techniques

Next up was the colour scheme for the water. There was a lot of experimenting done before I finally decided to opt for greenish looking water to stimulate either a still pond or hot spring with algae. To achieve this effect, I mainly used three Citadel colours namely Dark Angel Green, Hawk Turquoise and Scorpion Green. A couple of layers comprising a mixture of Hawk Turquoise with a little bit of Scorpion Green was then applied on top of the Skull White in the water section.

Possible acrylic paint colours for depicting water in a miniature diorama
Basecoat for water

What I was trying to achieve was a hot spring water effect in which geothermally warmed water was seeping out from the deeper end on the right side, and flowing towards the shallower end on the left side. Hence, I painted a transition of darker to lighter colours from right to left. Hawk Turquoise was the main colour with Scorpion Green added to stimulate the shallow end while Dark Angle Green was added to stimulate the deeper end.

Paint job completed and mini diorama is ready for the next step - epoxy resin

In hindsight, I should have added more green to the overall colour scheme. Definitely something to consider for future attempts at painting realistic water. With the paint job completed, the next step involves the use of chemicals to stimulate the actual body of water. That will be covered in Part 2.

Click on this link to go to Part 2.


  1. I call dibs on your left over epoxy resin!

  2. Oh ya..another nifty trick I picked up lately from Syamael is : when dealing with cork, cover the cork surface with superglue first before you apply basecoat/color on it, I'm not sure about you, but I faced some situation that when I color the cork using slightly thinned down paint, the cork actually absorb the paint and it was damp and took forever to dry... by applying superglue before you base coat/color, it provide a harden surface and prevent the cork to absorb the moisture in paint, thus speed up the process =D

    1. Thanks for the tip! =) Surprisingly, I didn't have any problems with painting the cork. It dried fairly quickly too. More importantly, the epoxy resin did not seep through the cork.


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