Of course, we don’t play with dolls, right? BUT… we have been known to browse the doll house and miniature aisles in the hunt for scale furniture and accessories. Every time I see a doll house, I wonder what it would look like with proper lighting and an action figure fight scene composed inside. Mental Floss has posted an article showcasing some incredible doll houses from around the world that will surely give you some inspiration for your creations. Check it out!
Creating a stone or rock wall for your diorama utilizes many of the same steps as making a brick wall, but a stone wall is much more forgiving since the lines don’t need to be precise. In fact, it’s almost impossible to screw this one up!
Start with a piece of 1″ thick insulation foam board. I primed mine with a grey color first, but you don’t need to paint it before carving. Figure out what scale rocks you want for your diorama, and start carving. I used a manicurist’s tool, but anything with a sharp tip would work. Draw out the rock shapes, being sure to vary their size and proportions. The process can take a bit of time, and I found that I needed to break up the rock carving into several sessions.
Whew, that was a lot of work!
The next step is to rough up the surface of the wall, using any irregularly shaped object in your toolbox. I used a rock that had several interesting edges. Rotate the object and the wall, so you don’t get any repetitive shapes.
Punch in the edges of random stones using a paintbrush handle or flathead screwdriver. This step creates some really nice interest and shadows to the wall surface.
All that distressing really paid off — this wall is starting to look good!
Nature isn’t monochromatic, so I added some diluted warm yellows and browns…
…and then I added some diluted grey and blacks to random stones, dabbing at the paint with a paper towel while it was still wet to make sure there weren’t any brush marks.
This step always looks scary, but the results are worth it. Coat the whole wall with diluted back wash. The black paint flows into the cracks and crevices and makes them stand out visually.
The stone wall is almost done! The black wash really added visual depth to the surface.
The last step is to dry brush the whole wall with white paint. I also went in with a fine tipped brush and added white mortar lines randomly across the surface. This step truly puts the icing on the cake. Now, it’s time to take some pictures!
This stone wall will be a great backdrop for action figure photography. It’s versatile enough to be a wall in Wayne Manor, an ancient castle, or any number of other scenes. This project is great for the beginner or seasoned builder–it can take a bit of time to carve all the stones, but Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Is your house overrun with diorama projects? Well, maybe you can reduce some of that clutter by disguising everyday itms with your dioramas? Check out these awesome Lord of the Rings inspired projects by Super Fan Builds: The Hobbit Hole Litter Box and the Tower of Sauron scratching post.
There are plenty of tutorials online about how to create brick walls for your diorama, but I found that I wanted a more realistic result for my action figure photography. Most of the examples I’ve seen have bricks that are way too large and are the size of cinder blocks or larger. A standard brick measures 2.25″ x 8″ so when you shrink that down to the 1/12 scale, you get a brick size that is 0.1875″ x 0.67″. For simplicity’s sake, I opted for a brick size of 0.25″ x 0.75″ since that was much easier to measure out with the ruler.
I started with a 1″ piece of foam insulation board. I primed it with grey paint, but I could have waited to paint it until a later stage. After measuring out every quarter inch, I scribed the horizontal lines using the tip of a mechanical pencil. Using the pencil rather than an X-Acto knife gives a rough line, like what you would see on old crumbling mortar lines.
All the horizontal lines are done! You can see in this photo how the bricks will be accurately sized for 6-7″ action figures.
Using the ruler and mechanical pencil again, the short vertical edges of the bricks are scribed every 3/4″. Cutting across the grain of the insulation board results in a much rougher line, which was fine for this application, but a blade should be used if you want cleaner lines.
All done! Scribing all those lines may have been a chore, but the results are definitely worth the effort.
Since I wanted an old, crumbly wall, the surface needed to be roughed up. My tools of choice: 40 grit sandpaper, a rubber mallet, and a rock. There’s no secret to this, just scratch the surface and beat it up — just be careful not to go too far. Rotate the foam board so that the distressing is not repetitive.
Here is what the wall looks like after a bit of distressing — not bad, but it needs more!
I used a flat head screwdriver to press in random bricks. This step made a huge difference and really made the wall start to look like it was old and weather-beaten.
The wall looks different depending on the light source, which will add a great deal of interest to the photos I plan to take with this backdrop.
Now, it’s time to paint! I used several layers of dry brushed reds and browns, building up the color more in some parts than others.
After the painted bricks dried, I applied a liberal amount of black wash, which is just black paint mixed with water.
After the wash was applied, I scrubbed it with a paper towel, which results in some interesting mottled effects as some of the red colored paint was removed.
After the black wash dried completely, I went over the whole wall with a white wash (diluted white paint), and while it was wet, removed most of it with a crumpled up paper towel.
It was tempting to leave the walls like this, but I felt like they could use some more painting.
With a square brush, I went in and colored random bricks with a variety of diluted browns, blacks, and oranges. I also used a fine tipped brush and added grayish white mortar. This step really brought the wall to life.
All done! The finished result looks like a brick wall that you might find in the old part of town that’s starting to crumble and show its age. The bricks don’t have perfect edges and smooth faces, they’ve been around a while, and have seen plenty of weather. Some of the bricks are crumbling and cracked, and calcium deposits have built up over time to give a whitewash look to portions of the walls.
The walls look pretty good on their own, but the magic happens when you add some props. Place a figure in the scene and then adjust the lighting and it all comes together nicely.
Despite how great this wall looks, it was a fairly easy project and I would highly recommend it to even a beginner diorama builder. If you don’t want to carve hundreds of bricks, go ahead and make them bigger. The steps remain the same, and I think you’ll be happy with the result!
Takanori Aiba is a Japanese artist with an imagination rivaled by none. His drawings and paintings come to life in three-dimensional creations, and are filled with wonder and imagination. While these might not exactly be dioramas, they are excellent examples of creativity and craftsmanship.
One of the best things you can take away from these creations is the number of stories that can be told in every nook and cranny of the building. Model railroad builders have embedded humorous vignettes in their layouts for years, and these “Easter eggs” are always a crowd pleaser. Every time you look at one of these models, you see something new and if it brings a smile to your face, that’s even better. When you build a diorama, don’t be afraid to sneak in a bit of humor.
View more of Takanori Aiba’s work on his website.
If you want to paint an old, rusted vehicle or metal siding for your diorama, you might want to try the hairspray technique. Basically, you paint a base color, spray it with hairspray, and then paint the object with another color. Once the paint has dried, you use water and a short-bristled brush to remove some of the top layer of paint, revealing the base color. The results can be very satisfying, as you will see in this video.
Painting old and distressed vehicles can be a lot of fun. There are a variety of techniques to achieve a weather-beaten look, but have you ever used kitchen salt in your painting? Once you watch this video, you will definitely want to add a dash of salt to your painting toolkit.