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1) Get Blue Bulders/Insulation Styrofoam at Lowes/Home Depot. Comes in large sheet which will last a life time. Cut with large Xacto knife to make your base. Cut and sand the base you just made to make contours/hills, fox holes etc.(don't worry if it is not perfectly smooth-it will be covered up later). You can build a wooden picture frame box and inset the styofoam into it or buy a wooden frame. Stain and varnish looks great or just paint it black. Or glue the styrofoam to a unfinished precut/presanded wooden plaque you can buy at Micheals or Hobby Lobby. With this option or if you just want to use the styrofoam as the base, you can later apply plaster of Paris with a spatula, sand it down, and paint it with well thinned flat black (with enamels: ModelMaster or Humbrol). If the plaster of Paris is still a little rough after sanding, apply some Spackle (wall repair compound-I use 3M Spakfast)with a very precise, smooth and sharp spatula-for example on small base border fo a 1/4" to 1/2" high, I use a flat Xacto Blade as a spatula. Paint black as above. Remember it is important you tape of the base and base boarders(when the paint is completely dry!) so you won't get your groundwork(and latter paint) on these borders. Use a low tack masking tape such as Tamiya's yellow tape.
2) I use Sculptamold or Das Pronto air drying clay (or both!)With Sculptamold it drys must faster than celluclay and much slower than Plaster. Mix Sculptamold with water to get a lumpy oatmeal like consistancy. Then add Elmers or wood workers glue (PVA). Exact amount is not important, but I usually add about a 1/6 to a 1/4 of the Sculptamold mix. After adding the glue, make sure the mix still has the consistancy of lumpy oatmeal-not to wet. Make sure it is not runny and that is has the lumpy oatmeal texture-if not-add more Sculptamold. You can add some cat litter, sand and sifted "garage dirt" at this point, but I like a more controlled approach and add it later. The beauty of scuptamold plain without adding the above dirt is that if left "plain" it looks like packed/real earth. Spread the sculptamold out with a Spatula on the styrofoam in a thin layer (about a 1/4" thick). After speading, use your fingers to push it around-this gives it the earth texture. Remember-spread it out-don't build it up. You can now add cat litter for larger "rocks"-press 'em in. I also usually add some dryed "twigs" and pulled apart Scothbrite sanding pads for roots(where appropriate). Planning is the key-where do you want smooth earth (roads, packed earth), earth with a lot of debris (roots, scotchbrite) and rocky earth (cat litter). Always remember you will be adding grass, trees, bushes etc. You can put the grass over any of these options, but I like to keep a few open just to show of some rocks/roots with the earth. At this point put in vehicle traks or foot prints if you wish. Use plastic wrap between the groundwork and your model.
3) Let the base dry. Get some Matt Medium at the Art Store or Michaels-dilute with a little water. Decide if or where you want fine grain dirt (sifted garage dirt). Use a small brush, apply the Matt Medium-sprinkle on the dirt-blow off the excess. Do small areas at a time and build of the effect if you wish. Planning and experimentation are the keys. Let dry again and you may want to add one more thin layer of Matt Medium.
4) Paint the earth (dry earth) with an airbrush-the whole base. Acrylic Tamiya Flat Earth (70%) and Desert Yellow (30%) is a good starting point. Next paint the individual rocks with differnet grays, sand colors and or redish browns-or leave in the Tamiya earth base coat. Let dry. Add thin washes of Oil paints-burnt umber, raw umber and black. Use thin washes and build up the effect. Use a sap green (mixed with yellow ochre) wash on some rocks or twigs(in the earth to simulate moss)Let dry completely. Drybrush with Humbrol flat earth mixed with desert yellow. Add more desert yellow until you get the effect you want. Also try mixing Humbrol dark earth with brown yellow, khaki drill or pale stone to get different effects. Drybush your painted stones (cat litter) in lighter grays or reddish browns (what ever color you paint them). Optional:You can apply a very light misting (and I mean light) with an airbrush of Tamiya Buff to blend it all together. Also works good for a dusty road.
5) Plan ahead of time where the grass grows. Many different options for grass. For Heki wildgrass or static grass use matt medium for the glue-glue it down over your painted groudwork. Plan where you want it before-this is key. Work in small areas.The tall Heki grass bordered by static grass looks good-irregularity is very important. After this grass is attached and dry, try adding some scotch brite grass (what you made your roots from), some Sweetwater Railroad scenery natural tree fibers (looks somewhat like Heki but is more irregular-can be glued like Heki-but takes patience), coconut grass, sisal twine (unraveled), hemp twine/rope (unraveled) long grasses (paint brush bristles or Woodland Scenics), dryed bedding ferns, Ming fern and your favorite dryed assortment form Micheals. I usually add this randomly in with the heki or static grass holding a clump with twissers and dipping into the matt medium. Just stick it into the Heki-it will stay! Photo etched fern fronds also look cool. Let dry and base coat all grasses Tamiya yellow green with an airbrush. Overspray with Tamiya deep green until you get the green hue you want and spray some of your individual grass clumps different greens such as Tamiya olive green,JA Green and Flat green. Mix in a little flat yellow or yellow green to get different hues. Experiment painting individual grasses or plants with Vallejo US Uniform green, Lime green and Wehrmact camo medium green (and mixes of these colors).
Dry brush your grasses with yellow green or a humbrol mix of green and trainer yellow. Add more yellow to the mix until you get the effect you want. Make sure you drybrush the static grass. Some dryed palnts can be added now and left unpainted. Find ones at Micheal's that meet your needs. Also chopped up Sweetwater natural tree fibers look good unpainted as dead grass.(Cuisenart!)
6) Use some Mig powders to make your road dusty and to blend the border between earth and grass (or drybrush). If you use the Tamiya earth mix above, Mig Normandy dust mixed with light dust will give you just the right color. Use sparingly and "grind" it into the boarder areas (between grass on earth) with an old brush. Put it very randomly and sparingly everywhere else on the earth areas-you don't want to cover up your drybrushed/painted earth.
Insert your figures (brass rod drilled into boot)coated with elmers-hole drilled in base. Plan this out way before this step!
7) Print out a sign for your diorama on your computer with a publishing program. Use thicker photo paper. I like black signs with white lettering. (it matches the black border around my groundwork) Cut out with a Xacto blade and straight edge. The nice thing about black is the cut edges are easily touched up with a black 'Sharpie" magic marker. Attach with a very thin/dry mix of white glue. Or use transparent paper, print black lettering and spray the back with whatever acrylic color you want.