We're joined on the blog today by Michael, the Hobby Sepcialist at Steamforged Games who is currently building a Mason's Guild Demo Board for GenCon 50. He's here to discuss the processes and methods of building large terrain pieces, with the main focus of this article being on the concept phase.
To start with I find reference materials and styles to use as a visual aid, and draw conceptual images from, in tandem with this I also start to work on a 3d mock up done in Google Sketchup to better get an idea of the space and what details will fit. Once I have these concepts down I start 'the Build'. I knew the masons were going to be the focus of this piece, so I wanted to make sure there was some cool stone architecture. So, I went looking for reference and was inspired by these drawings of archways that I found. The image that popped into my head was one of a repair job taking place alongside a market scene. The Masons working the job would break for a game of Guild Ball with the Market shoppers forming a makeshift crowd and the stall owners making a nice profit selling refreshments to the on lookers. (click the image to expand)
With a frame built from pine 1x2’s and 1/8” plywood I start to rough out shapes for the archways. I use a hotwire foam table and circle cutting jig attachment to cut nice straight lines and close to perfect circles. Figuring out the angled cuts was one of the trickiest parts of this build. I wanted the archways at a slight angle to add to the visual interest of the finished piece, but doing this proved to be a little harder than expected. Each foam stack had to be cut so it would line up with the one above it and I would need to hide the line with a facade that would also have to be squared with the edges of the board. Long story short angles suck. My main solution to this problem was to make an angled jig, cut from foam. This allowed me to cut each piece at a fairly consistent angle.
Once I had these base pieces cut I then began the carving process. When working with expand insulation foam it always to helps to have a fresh blade on your hobby knife, it helps to avoid annoying tares in the foam. I use a flag stone pattern taken one step further. I use the knife at an extreme angle to cut roughhewn marks into the stone. This adds character to the stone work and will be a nice texture for paint to pick up later. I also use Expanded PVC sheets 3mm thick (any white stone work you see) This stuff is great because it can be carved easily and is a little more durable so can be used for smaller details or to hide the seams of an understructure.
To make my life a little easier and to add some nice textures without having to carve thousands of cobblestones and flagstones I used plaster cast in sheets to carve cobble and flagstone patterns in. I used Hydrocal plaster because it cures a little harder than plaster of Paris, and is good for carving into. When working with plaster it is best to do the brunt of your carving when the plaster still has some moisture in it. It is easier to remove material at this stage and you don’t want to breath in the dry dust as it can irritate your nose and throat. You can always rewet it a little if it starts to dry out while you’re still carving but just lightly, don’t soak it. I use a hobby knife and some metal wax sculpting tools to do my stone carving. I try and go for a random pattern and I try and avoid obvious markings which will catch the eye and make people realize the same cobble stone pattern has been used multiple times.
Once I have carved my master I then made a silicon mold using Smoothon Rebound 25 Silicon. I used this silicon because it has some rigidity to it, while still being flexible. I then use Smoothon 305 resin with a little black pigment added to turn the resin grey when it is cured. Grey resin is perfect for stone work cause if it chips after it is painted it will be less noticeable. The 305 resin also cures fairly slowly so for top pour molds like these there is plenty of time for all the air bubbles to rise to the top as it cures. Whenever working with resins make sure to wear gloves, take other proper safety precautions, and work on a leveled surface. I also made some stone lines that will be to help separate each sheet of resin stone work. With these stone dividers, I won’t have to worry as much about blending all the cobble stone sheets together where their edges meet.
That’s all for today. In the next blog, I will get more into the detail work (scratch built market stalls and scaffolding) and talk about tiling my resin stone work patterns to make a nice uniform surface that will be durable and have lots of character.