Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Ok, so it's not that exciting, but every little soldier you paint needs a base. A few people (ok, 3) have asked me about my basing techniques, its not particulary revolutionary, in fact, it's incredibly simple, which is actually the entire point; If you have an army of 100 figures, then you might well go for something more complex, but if you want to base lots of figures, quickly and easily, then this is as good a method as any. So here goes:

All you need:
Basing is pretty important, over the years I've done it all; those first Airfix plastics stuck on beermats painted gloss green, the radical move to neat mounting board, Tetrion, Basetex, green paint, brown paint, Miliput, Flock, static grass, pre-cut alluminium, you name it, I've done it....In the end its all bollocks...like everything else, if only I'd known, I could have saved myself a lot of time and grief and rung up Peter Gilder and he would have pointed me in the right direction from the word go.

The secret is 1.5mm plywood.
Basing has come a long way, most folk these days make a decent fist of basing their kit, but I'm still staggered by how many people dick about with all manner of bizarre materials which look bloody awful! Or who embark on incredibly complicated processes and make their life unbearable with unnecessary nonesense to little effect.
What I've learned is keep it simple.

First off...Thickness. A toy soldier on a piece of 4 or 6mm thick card, MDF (or the most hienous of crimes: The "Slotta base"), whatever, does not look good.
The base shouldn't overshadow the figure. I spent a lot of my working life in theatre and opera, and when a critic said the set was really impressive you knew he felt the show was crap, its a bit like that with bases, when someone says "Nice Basing!" you always think: " Why didn't he say nice painting?"
I've seen SO MANY figures on absurdly thick bases, just....don't.... do... it...1.5mm ply can be bought from a woodyard, £20 will buy you a 5' by 5' sheet which will base A LOT of figures (or you can nick it from the workshop where you work like I do). It can be cut easily with a Stanley knife and won't warp, curl, chip,..the corners won't look rubbish 6 months later. It's simply brilliant, and if you use anything else, frankly, you are a plonker.

So, get your little men and super-glue them onto a bit of 1.5mm ply. Super-glue is fine, you don't NEED to araldite or weld them to the base, super-glue will do the business.

Then, smear PVA wood glue over the base and up to the bases of the figure. Don't water it down, bung it on thick, (it's not expensive, for God's sake!) it will take out the height difference between the wood and the base of the figure, it will do the job just as well as laboriously building up the surface with Milliput, Tetrion or Green Stuff, the only difference is it takes a fraction of the time.

Next, dip the base into a tray of a mix of fine sand and something coarser, I tend to steal my sand either from the fire bucket in the garage up the road, or get it from the beach (Warbleswick has some lovely dunes where there is amazingly fine, dry sand). Fine sand isn't enough, however. It looks very boring. Pet shops sell "Budgie Grit" which I believe is made of crushed sea shells, this stuff is brilliant, and adds some nice "big bits" to the sand. Mix this in with the fine sand to taste, experimentation is everything here, so you are on your own. Then press in a few bigger bits of small stone, some folk use cat litter, but I always feel this looks like...well...cat litter...the stuff above is Railway modelling ballast, slightly rounded rocks in pale brown. I'm still quite fond of bits of carved cork bark, but anything that looks like big rock is fine. Again, personal taste in the end.

The PVA then needs a few hours to go off and set hard, and it does set hard. It helps stick the figures down, which is why you don't need Araldite etc. The water in the glue reacts with the super-glue and strengthens its bond even further. I must have based somewhere up to 10,000 figures like this and I could count those who have come unstuck on one hand. The first bit of colouring I use is an oil wash. "Burnt Umber" well thinned down with white spirit is sloshed over the base, including the exposed edges of the plywood, it soaks in. It just needs to colour it, no need at all to get a solid colour, you just need to tint the sand and grit with the dark brown.
This needs an hour or so to dry, if it needs more than an hour then you are putting on too much paint and not enough thinners, next step is easy, a nice big softish brush and dry brush on a tan acrylic onto the sand, highlighting all the texture you've put on. Currently I'm using Vallejo "Green Ochre" but any tan paint will do

Straight away, you can do the last paint touch, dry brush on white acrylic.... Yes, WHITE...pure white. It took me a while to believe that this wouldn't look pants... but it works, if its slightly off-white thats ok, but the brightness picks out the texture.

Finally, blob on a few dots of PVA where you want the grass to go. I gave up painting bases green a long while ago, green paint doesn't look like grass....it looks like green paint. I found this very fancy grass from a German company a while back :
Its a bit pricey but worth the cash, I used to use sisel string pushed in when the base was wet which I could then paint green and highlight but frankly this stuff is much better.
Don't worry about splodging on the PVA, being the wonder material it is, it just disappears.
Then just place the grass clumps onto the PVA...easy...

Hey- Presto! The PVA has dried and vanished, and this is the finished result. Like I said, its not rocket surgery, I've just read so often how people seem to make basing a really complicated exercise, and a chore, which it really doesn't need to be.


Anonymous said...

I use the same technique for most of my collections (although for my Napoleonics I go for a painted green effect). It's easy and looks great.

Your guard pictures look like you used to paint on green -- looks good too.

Enjoy your blog.

RTB said...

I knew you were a genius a I use exactky the same method. I think its superb.

I still like that green. How are you finding the Victrix? I've finished my second Italian battalion and pic's should be on the site later.

Chris Cornwell said...

Those Guard date from about 8 or 9 years ago, in those days I was using a bit of green highlighted in yellow, with sisel string painted green as well.
The Italians are finished! I'll put them up here in a day or 2

john de terre neuve said...

Great job, I agree with using thin bases (I use war hammer 40x20 bases, which are about 1 mm thick, but are quite stiff).

I have to get some of that German grass.


ps the figures look great as well.

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

A fascinating post, Chris. It's always interesting to learn how others achieve their different effects. Very nice work there!

Best Regards,

Stokes Schwartz

johnpreece said...

Very similar to what I do. Looks quite a lot better though. I fear I am still at the green paint stage, you may have a point there.

So much easier to glue the bases and dip in sand than to make up a mix and trowel it on.

The only slight difference is because I paint them I find that paint can bridge a gap then burst leaving a little white 'bubble' so I mix a little brown paint or shed stain with the glue.

I agreee that 1.5mm or 1/16th at my model shop is wonderful stuff. Very easy to cut accurately and doesnt warp. It can be cut with a (very)strong sissors for round bases for those Gilder personality figures.


BFG said...

Nice Grenadiers Christot!!

Why didn't you call me...I would have told you how not to base the figures! You would have got here in quick time!!


Ged Elliott said...

How would you do it if you wanted a grrenish affect rather than brown? (cos Im anal and don't like brown)

Chris Cornwell said...

Dunno Ged, I guess you would just use a green wash instead of brown!..at least on bits of it. The main reason I plumped for this style was that the only green I wanted on the base was the grass stuff. I did used to put green paint on years ago, then I used Humbrol green, but I didn't like the solid colour it gave even when high-lighted..Green artists oil-paint might give an interesting effect, experimentation is probably the answer.

Neil said...

Chris, I thought you were just a pretty face until I tried your basing technique. Fantastic! We don't have Budgie grit. I drove to the local beach and bought a bunch of tacky sea shell souvenirs which I crushed up and added to sand.

I am using this basing technique for everything now. I expect to keep the Bangladesh PVA glue industry afloat during the recession.

Secundus said...

Great stuff, I will have to try the oil paint with white spirits. Cheers for the tips.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. I was moaning about how to base the figures (I've just started in the hobby) -- complicated processes, expensive and arcane materials, blah blah. Had thought about not wargaming and just painting so I could avoid all that. This is how I'm going to do it. Wonderful advice, thanks for your blog and this article.