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How to Make Gorgeous Tabletop Terrain for Less than $15
Geek & Sundry Painter's GuildGeek & Sundry Painter's Guild

How to Make Gorgeous Tabletop Terrain for Less than $15

On The Geek & Sundry Painters Guild, host Will Friedle (who is new to the hobby) is joined by veteran hobbyists who show him the ins and outs of painting minis. Join him on his journey this Monday for another episode on Alpha.

There’s something about painted miniatures charging across a custom built table full of scenic terrain that gets the dice clattering in the biological dice cup I call my heart. Miniature wargames are cinematic by their very nature and a well-crafted backdrop elevates the experience. The downside is that scenery can often take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. Fortunately, it doesn’t always have to be that way. For about $15 USD and some painting supplies, you can send your warriors into battle across these stunning stepped hills and mountains. I made these in only two nights!
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Step 1 – Gather your supplies. The base of these hills is pink insulation foam. It’s about $10 for a 4’x8’ board at the local orange-colored home supplies store. You’ll also need some PVA glue, a sharp knife or box cutter, sand, and paint. You can get sand and dirt from the local playground or your backyard; no need to buy the fancy stuff unless you want to. You can also gussy these up with some basing supplies if you have those at hand.

Step 2 – Cut out your hills. Trace irregular shapes onto your board with a pencil and then cut them out with your knife. Long narrow crests, big round hills, or weird irregular shapes are fine. Be creative. If you want to stack pieces like I did, make sure your bases are big and you draw some smaller shapes that will fit on top. You want to make sure there’s room on each level for your miniatures to stand. Note: some brands of foam have a plastic film on each side that you can peel off to make this easier

Step 3 – Form the edges and ridges. Flip your knife over to the back edge and drag it along the sides and edges of your hills. You may have to push hard to get the foam to begin crumbling and flaking off, so take great care around sharp blades. If you have one, I recommend a normal kitchen knife or butter knife for this step. As you push, dig, and drag your tool across the foam it will begin to break and flake off, giving your hills the rough natural edges you want. In the picture below the foam on the right-side of the knife is clean after cutting, on the left I’ve started the ridge-making process. This step is messy so do it somewhere that’s easy to clean up!

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Step 4 – Stack pieces on top of each other and glue them down! Let dry for a few hours.

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Step 5 – Brush PVA glue onto all the flat surfaces and cover with dirt, sand, and tiny pebbles. These are available from any FLGS that sells miniature supplies but can also be collected outside. Take your dog for a walk and pick some up along the way!

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Step 6 – Paint or prime your hills black. Spray primer is much easier, just be careful it doesn’t dissolve the foam. Krylon H2O and Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2x Black Matte Primer are the two brands I know for sure will work. Make sure the paint gets into the deep recesses of your ridges; this will do half the painting work for you!

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Step 7 – It’s drybrushing time! Once the primer has fully dried (about 24 hours) you can start turning these lumps of foam into mountains. If you aren’t familiar with drybrushing, it’s a super simple technique used to lighten up the edges of things. Exactly what you need for this. You can watch Teri do it in her tutorial video here . The basic premise is that you load up a dark grey on your brush and then wipe most of it off on a paper towel. I’d say about 75-80% for this first coat. Then you rapidly flick and drag your brush back and forth along those ridges.

When the dark gray is done, go to a medium-light gray and repeat the process – only this time take about 80-90% of the paint off on the paper towel. When your brush has more paint on it, it will deposit it deeper in the recess, with less paint it stays up on the brighter parts.  When that’s done, do it again with light gray (90-95% paint wiped off). The final pass is done with pure bright white and this time you want to take so much paint off the brush you can’t see any on the paper towel when you rub it. This will deposit white paint only on the highest and brightest ridges of your mountain.

At this point, you could call it a day. Leaving the tops painted black could make for a cool scorched earth terrain. However, with just a few more steps you can diversify your terrain.

 

Step 7 – Drybrush the sand and stones on the top of your terrain. Using the exact same technique as the sides, use reds, beiges, and tans to match any landscape you want.

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Step 8 – Go for gusto with details. Static grass, flock, and little puffs of grass can really make your terrain pop. Use the same materials you use for basing your miniatures!

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A coat of Matte Spray will help these decorate your tablescape for a long time. The great thing about these hills is that they’re light and easy to transport. By using foam that’s 1/2″ thick it’s also easy to measure them for games where it’s important to know vertical distances.

Happy crafting!

Do you enjoy building terrain? Any tips for making your own? Share them in comments!

Image Credits: Raf Cordero

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Raf Cordero writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. Chat with him on Twitter @captainraffi.

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