Thursday 24 October 2013

How to make a desert terrain mat

 Being very pleased with my desert terrain mat experiment, I decided to embark upon the real thing as soon as possible.  Luckily a couple of days off work were coming up and I had some partially free weekends so could get going quite quickly.

My desert terrain experiment.
First, the materials:
Leatherette - faux-leather rubberised fabric in a pale creamy colour, £6 for one metre from "Fabric Warehouse" in Norwich (fantastic shop, I've bought quite a few bits of stuff fro model making projects from there)
Brown frame sealant - about £1 a cartridge from the DIY section of several local bargain shops, I used 2 cartridges on this project.  Mine was made by 151 who do a lot of cut price DIY adhesives for very good prices.
Emulsion paint tester pots - various brown/sand colours from Wilkinsons, £1 a pot.
Car washing sponge - £1 for a pack of 3 from the local bargain shop.
Cocktail sticks, paint brushes, pallette, brush cleaning rags and other odds and ends
Old credit card or similar sized plastic card
Coffee stirring stick
Masking tape

The leatherette, approx 3½ x 4½ feet in size.

I started by creating my main road.  A straight road cuts the mat in half lengthways, slightly angled to create a little more interest.  A t-junction will provide a focal point for any settlement or perhaps for game objectives.  For this main road I used a thin layer of frame sealant, smoothed into a uniform surface using an old plastic card.  The width of a standard credit card seems about right for a 2-lane road.

The roadmaker tool.  Wide edge does main roads.
A network of smaller track form a grid that spreads out from the main road.  This is the width of the narrow edge of the card and has tyre-ruts sculpted in by dragging the coffee stick forks of the "roadmaker" tool along the tracks.  All I've done is cut a couple of bits of coffee-stirrer and masking taped it to the card. Remember to check their position against some of your wheeled vehicles so that the tyre-marks are the correct width apart!

Narrow edge does smaller tracks.
The tracks will be painted to match the main desert surface - more on this later...

Coffee-stirrer attachment creates tyre-ruts.
I used the rough tracks to delineate a number of different sized areas into which I can drop my desert buildings.  Those tracks that don't run off the edge of the mat just peter out, they don't end abruptly.

Basic road and track layout completed.
Next task is to create the cracked surface areas of desert, these are salt pans or dried up pools from the last rainy season.  A 2-4 inch diameter area is coated with the frame sealant and the cracks are sculpted in with a cocktail stick, wiping it frequently to remove the build-up of sealant on the tip.  I've found that the key is to create several large curving lines that mark out big areas, then add more curving lines to divide them in half, then divide the smaller areas in half and so on...  This creates a fairly random lot of shapes that are hopefully of similar size and have been formed in the same way that the mud will have dried and cracked in real life.

Parched desert surface - pattern sculpted with a cocktail stick.
The road surface was left to dry for a couple of hours before I added manhole covers.  This allows the surface to skin over so that (with luck) you can press the pin-badge former in without it sticking.

Pin badge back to press into road to make manhole cover.
Once the roads, tracks and cracked areas were done, the rest of the mat was textured.  Working on patches about 1 foot square at a time, a layer of sealant was squirted on, smeared around and smoothed over using fingers, then textured with a sponge.  I used a fairly fine-textured sponge, pressing it (not too hard!) into the sealant then pulling it straight off to leave a pattern of small, rough peaks.  This was repeated several times on each area until the desired appearance had been obtained, blending it into the edges of the tracks, roads and cracked areas.

Additional texturing completed including cracked desert patches.

Detail of cracked desert textureand surrounding rough sponged area.

Manhole cover created using pin badge back.
A medium brown (Wilkinson's "Nutmeg Spice") was sponged over the entire mat, then patches of lighter brown (Wilko "Coffee") dabbed on while it was still damp.  Sponging while the base coat is still damp helps blend the edges of the different shades together so the transition isn't too abrupt.

Main painting and highlighting completed.
The road was brush painted using Wilko "Supernova" black.  It will get a drybrush of dark grey at some point so that it looks more used.  It isn't as shiny as it appears here, that was just the lighting when I took the photograph!

Same cracked desert area as shown above, now with paint!
All of the desert areas were highlighted using Wilko "Safari Sand" which really brings out the texture of the surface, be it tyre-tracks, cracked earth or just rough desert.

Base colour is mid-brown with lighter brown patches sponged on.
Now I'm wondering whether I should have got a more yellow brown colour, the "Safari Sand" is quite a creamy colour rather than a traditional desert yellow!

When base coat has dried, sand colour drybrushed over whole surface.
The dirt tracks have deliberately been painted the same colours as the rest of the desert.  The theory is that they can be used to outline areas into which scenery can be placed - buildings, chemical tanks, supply dumps etc.  When the scenery is in place, it channels the eye along the tracks and they become more obvious to the eye.  If they aren't needed then they just blend in to the overall desert so that you barely notice them.

Sand colour helps pick out the dirt tracks.

Dirt tracks can be used to create urban area if desired.

Large salt pan.

Now I need to finish my palm trees!
The final touch will be to repaint the bases of all my desert buildings (and those palm trees!) so that they match this new games mat, but I'm waiting until I've decided on whether a more yellow desert colour is needed.  I suppose the current colours are quite similar to the dusty brown/yellow/grey that you see in Afghanistan.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

AT-TE walkers up-gunned and repainted

As you may recall from my post back in August, I found these 2 AT-TEs in the local charity chop.

An hour or so with some brass tube and a suitably sized pin-vice drill has substantially improved them!

All the stumpy little guns have been hacked off and replaced with more fearsome, longer-barrelled cannon.  Years ago this would have taken me hours with a hacksaw, sandpaper and probably some swearing.  Fortunately someone showed me how you cut brass tube by simply scoring it with a sharp knife then snapping it off, much easier!

The main gun has a very long barrel (drooping here because it's not glued in place yet) replacing the stubby old barrel.  Upper hull guns have been drilled out and given bigger barrels with sleeves.  The lower hull ball-mount guns have a single piece of very fine tube inserted into the end of the existing gun barrels.

The rear upper hull ball-mounts have sleeved barrels added the same as the front upper hull mounts.  I imagine these rear ball mounts will be used in an anti-aircraft role as well as anti-infantry.  I've posed them pointing in different directions to demonstrate their independent targeting.

After a plain white undercoat, hand painted, they've had a base coat of old GW red gore and Vallejo matt black.  The red areas have been washed with watered down Vallejo sepia ink with some extra lining around some of the more prominent panels. Black areas have been drybrushed with Humbrol 32 dark grey.

The next task will be to work out appropriate markings for them followed by weathering and other detail.  Should it have a cockpit window or is it fully enclosed with only sensor ports visible on the outside?