Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Building City Ruins pt 2

In my last post I walked through the steps of cutting up white and pink foam and building out the shapes of walls and debris. I glued the foam pieces in place and let the glue set for 24 hours. In this post I am going to show you how to bring your city walls and ruins to life.

Items needed:
Broken up shale/stone (or wood chips)
Play sand
Black Paint
White Paint
Wide Brush
Small Brush
Wood Glue

Step 1:
Gather up the supplies for stage 2. Here I have my boards, glue, shale, sand, and a cup with a little bit of water.

What I am looking to do in this step is to glue down a layer of broken shale. I do this for two reasons. First, it allows me to hide gaps and rounded corners that you would not normally see in a real building.

Secondly, the broken shale represents chunks of walls that may have fallen during a bombardment. Without the shale it wouldn't look as good.
No shale = sad board

The shale I am using for this project is some left over stone from when I was putting in new tile for my fireplace. I just broke it up into pieces by hitting it with a hammer a few times.

You can find shale tiles at any tile shop or DIY store. You can also use garden chips (cedar bark) for this as well if you don't want to use shale. I like the heft that shale gives plus it will last longer.

Step 2:
Take some wood glue and add it to the cup with water. I don't use a lot of water, the trick is to make the glue fluid enough so that you can apply it with a brush but you don't want it too runny. I generally use 3 parts of glue to 1 part water. Just eyeball it and when you mix it with a stick you should be able to get a feel for how thick or runny it is. Apply the glue to the edges of where the foam meets the board.

I usually do it in small sections rather than all at once. Notice I also put it up on the foam to fill in some cracks.

Then I take a handful of broken slate and pour it into the glued areas.

Here is the entire board with shale

Once I am done with both boards, I dip the brush into the glue and then I'll place the drops of glue in the middle of some chunks of larger shale. This helps to bond the pieces of shale on top with the pieces on the bottom so that it gives a heaped look. Then I let the glue sit for 24 hours.

Step 3:
After the glue has set for 24 hours, shake off the loose shale into a box or bin for another project. This is how the boards should look now.

Now take your glue, sand and water cup. Mix the glue and water to the same consistency as we did for the shale.

Apply the glue around the edges of where the shale and the board meet. You can also apply some to areas where the shale and foam meet but you don't want to cover the shale too much, otherwise you'll just have sand piles on your board.

 Also be sure to add sand into any cracks or gaps that did not get covered by the shale. Lightly pour the sand onto the glue.

You will also notice that I applied the sand onto the sides of the foam where I broke it off.

I do this for two reasons. First it gives it a "concrete" look and feel. Secondly, and more importantly, when the glue and sand dries, it will protect the jagged and rough pieces of foam. I'm sure many of you have seen foam buildings that start to fray along the edges or corners over time. This will help mitigate that issue and look good as well. Then with my left over glue mixture I "paint" the glue onto any bare areas of foam. This will help to add a layer of protection for the foam. Let the glue set overnight.
Step 4:

Once the glue has set, shake off the excess sand.

Now it's time to paint. For the paints I just use the big bottles of black and white acrylic paint that you can pick up at any craft store for about 4-5 dollars. I also bought a new pack of cheap brushes for 4 dollars.

 Just make sure you have a wide brush for the main application and a small brush to reach the cracks and tight places. For the first coat just use black paint, a little water, and a small amount of glue. I throw the glue in just to help seal the foam and the help adhere the sand and shale together.

With the wide brush, gently start painting all of the surfaces. Use the small brush to get into tight spaces. Feel free to let the paint soak down into the cracks to fill it in. Just don't over do it, otherwise it will take longer to dry.

The paint dries pretty quickly. When I finished the second board the first one was already pretty much dried. Take this time and go back in and get any areas you missed. Now that the wet sheen is gone you should be able to easily spot any areas you missed.

Step 5:

Once the base coat has dried, add some white paint to your left over black paint. Don't add too much as we are going to gradually add more white after each coat. When adding the lighter colors I generally do it by dry brushing. For those of you who have not dry brushed before, basically you put paint on the bristles and then wipe off most of the paint until this is hardly any left on the bristles.

Here you will see that I wipe off the excess paint on a piece of wood.

When I am ready for more paint I just swipe the brush through the paint on the wood. You can use card board or tile if you want instead of wood.

Then ever so gently, drag the brush over the surface of the foam and sand. If you do it right then only the higher points will have the paint on it.

Repeat this process until the board is done. Note that I do not dry brush everything, I just brush the raised areas so that the black layer still shows through, giving the feeling of shadows and depth.

Add a little more white paint to the grey mixture and repeat the process.

The flash from the camera shows the highlights better

This board is cat approved

When I am just about done, I take an almost pure white paint mixture and lightly dry brush a few edges and corners to make them pop.

Once the paint dries you are ready to play.
The Word Bearers pick their way through the rubble.

Plenty of blocking line of sight
Multiple layers add realism.

While the steps involved in part 2 took many days due to the glue drying, the overall amount of hours was about 5-6 hours. Combined with the hours from part 1 this project took about 10-11 hours. Once you get the hang for working with foam you can cut this down a couple of hours.

I hope you enjoyed the two part series on making city ruins. Next week I'll be posting my battle reports from this past weekend's team event at Millennium Games. The week after that I will post another terrain article on how to make small area terrain pieces of debris that you can use to enhance your table-top battle field. Until then, have fun gaming!


  1. Bravo! Can't wait to play on them.

    My DE are based on greyscale city rubble also. Something I discovered is adding some warm tones really helps break up the greys. You can do a brown wash on the ground levels to look like dirt/mud. You can also scrape a fine dust off pastel chalks to use like weathering pigments. Reds and oranges make great rusts to add to your pipes.

    I would sign up for a few pieces if you were willing to do a terrain trade or commission. All my sets are alien worlds. I don't have any ruined cities yet.

  2. I was thinking that those who have airbrushes could probably save a lot of time during the painting process than those of us just using brushes. I'll get a couple of new boards built in the next couple of weeks and let you air brush them and then we can do a photo comparison on the blog. Sound good?

  3. Those look very nice. I don't get much a chance to make buildings as the other folks in our gaming group bought an entire city of death sector. I usually end up making small terrain pieces like emplacements and barricades instead of a whole board. On the glue you use, I would recommend trying out Elmer's Wood Glue MAX. It dries a lot faster than any of the other glues I have tried and holds on much better. When I am basing models I am able to paint an hour after gluing, if it's a little colder or if I added too much water then maybe an hour and a half. For Larger areas I let it dry for 2 hours. Just a thought, it's saved me a lot of waiting.

  4. I'll check that out next time i need glue. In upcoming articles I'll be doing tangle wire emplacements, rubble, tank traps, craters, and vehicle wreckage markers; all which sound like things you would be making to go with your city board. Its items like these that enhance your boards.