Thursday, August 30, 2012

Land Ho!

In the midst of all the other things I'm doing in my week off, I'm landscaping the sea. More specifically, I'm creating island and shore terrain for my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules. I've had doing this in mind for some time, but with ships (and the rules) still to finish, I've put if off until I had more time to devote to it.

I tend to hover on projects. I never sit and paint for hours. Instead, I paint a bit, do something else, come back and paint a bit more, do something else, etc. This means that over the course of an evening, I may get an hour or so of work done. On a weekend, I may get several hours.

Another factor in my hovering, is that some tasks in a project require long drying time, so there's an interval between, say, a first coat of paint and a second. During a work week, the standard intervals are a) overnight and b) while I'm away at work. These intervals usually mean that I don't get a lot done quickly. Now that I'm home, the intervals can be an hour or two, so I can do in a day what might tale several days during a normal week.

This is how it's been this week so far and I've definitely done something on everything and seen decent progress (except maybe on the cold fusion thing—perpetual motion I've delegated to Maebh, who seems to never stop).

Store-bought stuff

First the stuff that comes ready-made: A short while ago, I was at The Game Matrix in Tacoma to play some Victorian Sci-Fi and I picked up a pack of rubble piles from War Torn Worlds. These are very nice terrain pieces made out of recycled rubber.

The rubble piles are intended for 28mm scale, but when I saw them, I figured instantly that they would be perfect as rock formations poking up out of placid seas: a convenient place for sea birds to poop and an inconvenient place for ships to wreck themselves.

The rubble piles come pre-finished and flocked with mossy bits. War Torn Worlds produces other pieces that may also be useful, but this pack of rubble is the only pre-made terrain I have so far. Everything else is up to me.

Hand-made stuff

I mentioned earlier that I procured a stash of 2" pink foam insulation, which I had to cut down in the Home Depot parking lot to fit in my car. The high-density foam can be shaped to form hills and islands, provided you have the right tools. For our land-based games, we typically use unfinished, rough-cut foam board over which we lay a felt cloth. For naval gaming, you need to go a bit further and actually terrain the foam. I have done this once before when making hills for DBA/DBM.

For this project, I started by creating 2" hex-grid templates in Adobe Illustrator, which I printed on tabloid paper (11 x 17) and glued to the face of the pink board.

After that I cut out the pieces using a keyhole saw, which has a fairly rough blade. I initially imagined that I could cut close to the grid so that the pieces would exactly fit the grid on the mat. However, I found that once I started sawing, the template didn't stay attached. I made do with getting a shape that is approximately aligned to the hex grid.

I first thought that I could rough-shape the foam using a coping saw and some wood-shaping tools. However, the foam tends to chip if the tools used to shape it are too rough. So I bit the bullet and bought an expensive hot-knife foam cutter at The Panzer Depot. I've had my eye on it for some time because it has a nice heavy blade, unlike other heated foam cutters that use a thin wire.

After getting used to the hot-knife—and getting a respirator mask to avoid giving myself brain damage from the fumes—I roughed out the islands. The result is sort of a melty, blob-ish, burnt lump of pink.

I then took a wood rasp and smoothed out the hot-knife cuts followed by more smoothing with medium and fine sand paper.

Once the island pieces are smoothed, I slathered them in Mod Podge  as a sealer. The islands will eventually get sprayed with dullcote, which will eat into the foam if not protected. The sealing also stabilizes the foam and helps prevent chipping. It also serves as a better surface for subsequent coats and painting later.

After the sealer coat is dry, I did another coat of Mod Podge and sprinkled coarse and fine model railroad ballast on it for texture.


I let the Mod Podge and ballast dry on my kitchen island overnight—trusting that the cats won't get to it. By now they're used to my projects taking up space in their home and tend not to molest my works in progress. Although every now and then I'm awakened by a bit of clatter in the night and come downstairs to find three cats looking like they ate the canary as they watch me mitigate whatever disaster has befallen. Little scamps.

In the morning, I applied two thin coats of a brownish Apple Barrel craft paint as a base color.

I discovered that I don't like the larger ballast that I used. It sticks out too much and may only serve as raised bits to get caught by butterfingered gamers (or, more likely, by me) and cause chipping when it tears off. However, they seem to adhere sufficiently and haven't become detached through the process. The use of Mod Podge rather than white glue also helps. Mod Podge retains a great amount of elasticity after it's dry. Bits that are glued on will give a bit before they break off.

I dry-brushed over the base color with the same color lightened by yellow. I also painted the cliff part of one island using Vallejo Iraqi Sand (which is the same color I use for my ship's decks).

Once the dry-brushed color is dry, I started applying the flocking. For the initial flocking I used Woodland Scenics Earth Blend. After that flocking is dry, I watered down the Mod Podge and daubed it over the Earth Blend-flocked areas to apply multiple coats of Woodland Scenics Green Blend. I always use multiple applications of flocking on my miniatures bases and I find that if I try to brush on a second coat of Mod Podge on top of already flocked areas, it brushes away the flocking already there. Daubing watered-down Mod Podge uses the already flocked surface as a catch (so it doesn't run) and puts a lot adhesive down. Watered-down Mod Podge uses capillary action so it actually creates a thicker covering because the adhesive moves up into the flocking that doesn't actually touch the surface.

I've got three pieces done now. These pieces will feature in my Labor Day game. I have templates glued to the foam board for another two larger islands. I'll get started on these, but go slower. I won't use the coarse ballast in the future. I don't like the look and worked to cover it with flocking.

I still have about 6' of foam board, which I can use for hills or for more islands and shoreline. However, I'm worried about storage. The number of galley games I'm going to play over the next years is nothing compared to the number of days these pieces will sit in my garage, which is already full. If only there were storage options outside the normal bounds of time and space...

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