Tuesday, 3 March 2015

How To Make Your Own Rock Spires - A Rainy Day Activity

I had great plans to start painting my Dreadball Xtreme figures this weekend by blasting them with undercoat..... but Glasgow's famous weather put paid to that.  Even for a rainy island we are the rainiest city in all of the UK, with 170 days per year of various varieties of rain including drizzle, spitting, showers and full-on bucketing it down. If it's raining I can't really spray undercoat as I do that outside in the garden so I was kind of at an empasse

However, I wasn't going to let that stop me from all nerdity, especially as Sister Superior was out for a bit on Sunday and I had time to myself.  No, I figured I would do a little quick project to cleanse the palette after the Chaos Dwarfs...

My love for this book is previously established.  I managed to pick up a copy on eBay of this version for a mighty £2 plus carriage.

...and that project is make some quick and dirty terrain.  My 40K terrain, like my bases, has a red Martiany theme - I was dead set on this when I started planning my Chaos Space Marine army back at Uni and when I actually progressed with it a few years ago I stuck to that plan.  I prefer my sci-fi table to not be a generic green flocked effort but have weird terrain as befits a planet light years from Terra.

Terrain for such figures needs a dusty look - no generic shop brought trees for me, but something more like the vistas of Oregon or Utah. 

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

What I needed, to use a technical term, was Hoodoos - the tall rocky spires you might associate with westerns.  I've made a few of these for my table but could always use more - and that, my friends, is what I did at the weekend.  You can join in too, because the ingredients list is cheap and the process simple.


The key ingredient is polystyrene tiles, sold as a craft product and also for DIY purposes.  You shouldn't struggle to find these for cheap - I got mine at DIY store Homebase many moons ago and one pack could easilly cover a table in rock spires.  The ones I have are 30cm squares, 1cm thick, but you can try different thicknesses for different effects.  The bumpy finish on one side actually helps a lot with carrying through the rock effect.

You'll need a lot of little squares of these tiles, so size them up and cut them out.  In the above picture I cut 3 inch x 3i nch large tiles, and 2 inch by 2 inch smaller tiles. As the picture indicates the smaller size will make spires that infantry can hide behind but the larger size is better for 60mm base models like Dreadnoughts.

Do not worry about making perfect squares - on the contrary, every tile being a different size is kind of a good thing as it helps make your spires look more natural.

You'll end up with lots and lots of squares.  You then get yourself an craft knife you don't might dying, as the next stage is cutting and polystyrene blunts knives quickly.   Cheap stanley knives from the pound shop are ideal for this, I find.  You may also want a dust mask as the particles get everywhere - this is a messy process and while the fumes don't bother me too much, they do bother some people!

Cut a slanted edge to each square.  This bevel does not need to be regular - again, making it wonky adds to the natural rocky look.  They shouldn't all be the same size or shape as nature, not a factory, made them.

Repeat the process on the other side, trying to keep both bevels at least partially there.  You should end up with one layer of your rock spire.

When you have several such layers, try test fitting them together.  Even with just a few layers you'll find it quickly looks promising.  Usually you want to go largest at the bottom, smallest at the top, but varying it up a bit it also cool.

When you're ready to glue, just use bog standard PVA glue.  Cocktail sticks as a simple wooden dowling will help  to hold it in place.

I find about nine to thirteen layers usually does the trick and makes for spires big enough for cover, small enough to store well.

This spire had the larger 3 inch squares as the bottom layers, graduating up to the smaller ones.
With two or three sheets you'll easilly be able to make several rock spires which you can base as either individual spires or clusters; either on flat layers of polystyrene or on hill-like elevated bases.  Today I made two clusters of spires as well as a sort of "archway".

I base these on a larger piece of polystyrene placed onto cardboard.  Cheap pound shop instant filler is places around the edge to cover the join.

Now comes the weird bit.  I water down PVA glue and paint the whole model in it.  Anyone who has worked with polystyrene has probably found it can sometimes "absorb" paint when it's layered on, making it look obviously polystyrene; it also hates being spray painted, dissolving under aerosol.  My intention here is to "seal" with the PVA glue, a sort of cheap and cheerful varnish to give the paint something smoother to stick to.

That's going to take forever to try so this is probably a good time to go read a book, go to sleep or explain to Sister Superior why the room is covered in polystyrene dust.

A black undercoat of some sort is advisable next. 

After this you can paint browny red on and layer on various shades to make texture.  I've dabbled in redder and browner hues - below is a selection of my rocky products.  (And Spectacle Rock, because goddamnit I love Spectacle Rock)  Some of them are based on rock, others have flocked bases to make the rocks pop out of the red dust.

As I hope you have seen this process is cheap, quick and can easilly cover a table in no time.  You need to buy the polystyrene tiles in packs of 10 or 20 so you might as well get your moneys worth and make lots!  A mixture of different types will give you flexibility - I use the long thin runs of spires to run alongside roads so tanks have cover while still letting infantry run through, while my new larger spires are designer more as good hard cover.

So, there you go.  In the words of Neil Buchanan...

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