Archive crafting terrain

Published on September 10th, 2016 | by Nicole Jekich


Crafting: Building Your Own Terrain

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Now Luke and I are traditionally trained artists and we love any opportunity to use our skills and experience with fine art media to build cool things for the games we play. With the long swaths of time available on the weekend, Luke and I like to set aside this time for more creative projects. These projects have ranged from painting miniatures, building characters out of sculpey and most recently building terrain for our upcoming Warhammer 40K. I hope you enjoy this Saturday post of what I learned while building my first piece of terrain.

terrain pax 2016

“But when can I build a castle?!” -seen at PAXWest

Start Small

I easily get excited about arts and crafts projects and it is all too common for me to pick an ambitious project as my first build. Picking a small project like a cottage, grove of trees or maybe a graveyard or farm is a good first-time piece of terrain because a) you can more easily complete the project in a short time and b) if you do mess up the small project on your first try–well at least you can easily start over of try a different approach.

I knew I wanted to finish my terrain piece in a day so I started with a round base of hard plastic about 3″ in diameter. There was a recessed area in the plastic that would be a perfect lake or stream. Surrounding the stream I could easily put in some rocks, fake moss and glue in some rock structures from a pocket-sized Stonehenge replica my friend had in his collection. I was ready to begin!

terrain pax 2016

Warhammer and terrain at PAXWest 2016

Pretty Yet Practical

Before gluing any pieces down, I needed to remember that my friends and I would be using this terrain in our Warhammer game. It would be a good idea to make the terrain accessible for a 1-inch based figure to comfortably sit on it and possibly use the stone structures as cover. I recommend building around a figure that you will use in your miniature game or at least have one next to your crafting projects to reference for scale.

Speaking of reference, if you don’t know how something looks in real life–grab some photo reference! Most artists use reference because it is difficult to build realistic terrain based solely on memory. There are likely details that you may overlook if you rely just on memory. One common issue I’ve seen in terrain builds were landscapes and houses that looked too clean. To build something realistic that would fit the gritty world of Warhammer, you will need to think about adding dirt, grime and other touches that make the piece looked “lived in” or used.

crafting terrain crafting terrain

Have Patience and Add in Layers

In addition to having the basic tools and materials of terrain building like super glue, primers, a hot glue gun, paints, moss and other, I found that spackle was a great method to build uneven, realistic ground on a perfectly smooth base. The rough texture worked great for imitating mud and dirt and is a great way to have purposeful indentations in the ground like runes or pressing in bones.

I built my first piece of terrain (the Stonehenge-inspired piece shown above) while at a friend’s house in just 8 hours. A majority of that time was spent waiting for the spackle, primer and paint to dry. While waiting for the terrain to try, I had plenty of time to think about the details that would fill in the gaps.

Using fake moss is a staple in terrain building but I realized you can all too easily cover your creation under a heap of moss and ruin the details. Use moss sparingly and in the crevices that it would likes grow out of in real life. I recommend adding moss, grass and other tiny details in small doses and place it across the entire terrain. Having smaller spots of moss and used frequently across the entire piece unifies the terrain piece. Also adding the details slowly, in passes or layers will give you time to take a step back and review the terrain at each pass to prevent overcrowding. You can always add more to your base but it is very difficult to remove excess especially if you’re using super glue.

terrain trash

“Nooooo! What a waste of cardboard!”

Trash Becomes Treasure

What I love most about building your own terrain is using up the leftover art supplies, random plastic bits and curious found objects in our tool box. Suddenly those 500 hex keys from IKEA look a lot less like garbage and more like rebar sticking out of a collapsed building. Those empty medicine bottles, once scrubbed clean of sticker residue, could be shattered plexiglass or a half buried space pod. I suddenly feel silly wasting all those empty token sheets that I could have used as debris or glued together and painted to resemble wood planks. The varieties of terrain you can build from random trash in your house is astounding.

Have you built terrain for your miniature or roleplaying games? I would love to see what you have created for your games. Share your comments and terrain pictures with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Do you want to see more creative content like this on AtBG? Consider supporting us on Patreon or sharing our Patreon with you friends and telling us what creative content you want to see. Thanks for your support!

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About the Author

Nicole Jekich

came from humble beginnings as a Boise suburbanite with a love of Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. She attended an open board game day three years ago and is now an avid gamer and fantasy artist. Her interests are primarily in Dungeons & Dragons, dice placement and Roman-themed tabletop games. Nicole is also a fan of playing games that let her release her inner barbarian. Her favorite game currently is Far Space Foundry.

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