The Vast Array of Basing: Part I
by JD Haigler ·
The Title of this should really be “Introduction to Hoarding” because, really, that’s what is about to happen if you want to build bases.
I assume that if you’ve clicked on this article, you’re already pretty interested in basing your models, and I don’t have to preach up how much it completes a nice paintjob, or brings a nice atmosphere to the models on the table. I will tell you that it can be pretty simple, or it can be far more complicated than the actual paintjob. It’s up to you how complex you want to be. If you just want to not have black plastic bases, it’s relatively easy to put ok bases together. We’ll get past that pretty quick though and start looking at a variety of options. I have 11 Guilds, have had 2 Warhammer Armies and 4 or 5 Warmachine armies. I’ve built a lot of bases, and I really like going all in on Guildball ones because I only need a dozen or so per guild. Basing Warhammer or even Warmachine where you need 10 per unit, and you own a dozen units before solos, basing gets pretty tedious. As some point, you’re spreading PVA glue around and dumping it in sand before calling it a day. That was my first Warhammer army. Sad days.
This article’s viability will fluctuate quite a bit as Steamforged bounces around between plastics and metals. The bases we’re focusing on are the plastic slotted ones that come with metal models. While technically most things here can be applied to the new textured plastic ones, the black slotted ones are cheap enough that if you really want to base your models to an above tabletop standard, you’re better off just ordering a bunch of them instead of finding a way to use or remove the texture on the molded ones. They’re the same bases that Warmachine uses, so I ordered a blister of 30mm, 40mm and 50mm bases from www.miniaturemarket.com . If you’re wanting to use the new textured plastic ones that your models come attached to (E.G., Farmers, Blacksmiths, Lucky, or possible newer guilds), there’s two options.
- A) Find a basing scheme you like that doesn’t have a problem with the texture the base has. I did this for my farmers. I painted the ground brown, drybrushed it a bit and added tufts. Simplest bases I’ve done in a long time and they look great. The only complicated thing I did here was anywhere you see the tallgrass. That’s actually cheap brushes for home interior work. I cut them at the length I needed and hotglued them in. That’s it.
- B) If you don’t like the texture, and it’s more about just not having to order bases (they’re super cheap, most stores that have WMH have them), then disconnect the model from the base and sand it down to a flat surface. Disconnecting the model is a bit of a pain, but you’ll have to do it with the new plastics if you want to base them nicely at all. I’d freeze them to weaken the glue, then drill out the pegs under the base where the model has been attached. This should allow you to break the model loose.
I straight up bandsaw the top 1/8th of an inch off of the base, cutting the model off flush. It’s really quick and easy, but not everyone has access to an industrial shop.
Back to the standard of wargaming though, bare black bases, our focus for today. I’ll have a few lists of supplies here, but the basics are tools. Your actual basing supplies will vary on what you want your bases to be, but your tools will be relatively consistent.
- Tape of some sort to hide the slot in your bases. I like painters tape, and I’ll tell you about it here shortly.
- Exacto Knife. You needed this for model assembly anyways, so I hope you have one for this.
- PVA glue. Just white Elmers or something. This is the cheap glue that doesn’t produce fumes to hurt your eyeballs. It also doesn’t hold stuff like super glue does, but it doubles as a glue and as kind of a paste/base for various scenics. Rocks (ballast), snow, some grass, things like that.
- Super glue. PVA glue is great but you need the super glue for strong points. You should have some of this if you’re doing model assembly but bring it to the basing table too.
- A medium brush you don’t want to save. Walmart brush or old brush of some sort. Spreads out PVA glue and stuff. The reverse end can be use to push stuff around in recesses and such if needed.
- A cutting mat or something. Protect your surface if you care about it at all. I can get away with painting without a mat, but for basing, there’s going to be ballast and flock everywhere no matter what you do.
- Ziplock baggies for the stuff you accrue.
- Disposable cups for mixing things in. Just little ones if possible. Red solo cups are way too big.
- Your normal painting kit. At some point, you’re likely to paint the base a bit, so heads up. This also includes whatever you seal your models in. Testors or Krylon, whichever. If you put any kind of painting work into your base, you ought to seal it too.
So, into the basing. Before we do anything, seal the top. You’ll notice a lot of your models are casted with a piece that kind of fits into that slot. Kind of. Or doesn’t at all. Cut that nonsense off. On the base, we want to hide that slot so it’s A) Not visible and B) Stuff isn’t falling through it. My favorite is painters tape. It’s got a bit of a dry texture compared to like, ducktape, or electric tape, or scotch tape which are all relatively smooth and hard to adhere glue to sometimes. They’ll do in a pinch, but I like painters tape. Tear a square, set it in the base. Now run your thumbnail around the edge of it and press the tape down into that recess.
Now just seat the tip of your exacto knife in that corner and run it around the edge, carefully. Make like a boyscout and think about where the knife is pointed. A slip here could go bad. Luckily, there’s superglue nearby, but other options are likely better.
Now we can start basing.
As I got going on this article, it occurred to me how crazy this could get. I eventually conceded and broke it into two parts. I’ve been writing it in my head for six months, and collecting photos and material for about six weeks. There’s a lot of ways you can go. There’s the basics, like, flock, rocks, some ballast and PVA. Then you get into some custom work, like greenstuff sculpting, casting, or some shop work. We’ll see how far we get but the difference between what you have on hand vs. taking it to a workbench is probably where I’ll draw the line between Parts I and II.
Let’s talk setting first. It’s important you know what you want to do, probably before you even paint the model. It’s not quite as critical as that, but it’s worth having chambered in your brain somewhere before you get going. I’ve got 5 active painting projects right now that require basing. One is my Morticians, including Bonesaw you see in the header. I did a rocky fall look for a friend’s ratcatcher, shamelessly using his model as the test for what I was considering for my own guild, and I really liked it.
The second is my Farmers, who I’m straight up dropping into my home turf on the plains of Kansas. Tall grasses and flock variety. Prairie stuff. It’s really simple, looks great.
Third is a 75mm kit from Black Sun Miniatures called The Guardian. It’s a display piece and definitely not for Guildball. However, I’m doing a style similar to my Morticians for it’s plinth, just far larger. We’ll look at that in some more detail.
Fourth is my Blacksmiths, who I am doing on a shop floor. Stained, abused and damaged wood surfaces.
Fifth, and least active, is my Hunters who have been slowly accruing paint, basing an dust for about two years now. They’re in a winter scheme, with snow and woods.
Inactive is a slew of Union, Brewer, Mason and Fish models that all get models here and there so I have to delve into that particular art set again. Happily, all of those guys use materials that I cast, so they’re relatively simple.
When you’re figuring out where to put your guys, consider a few things. When I started basing, I wanted every base, or set of bases, to tell a story about the model. That’s way too ambitious, and leads to very complicated bases that most people won’t look at but once or twice. Worry about telling a story in a competition or display piece. On your game bases, if people are like “Oh, hey, they’re on a dock.” you did great.
Secondly, worry about storage. I’ve seen super awesome bases that took up way too much room. I’m even guilty of this one. It’s not as bad in guildball where the largest base is 50mm, but just keep it in mind. I’ve seen some reeeeaaaally tall bases out there for such small models and you’ve just quadrupled the area you need to kit that around in your bag, in the custom foam you had to make because nothing out there fits it.
So where are your models at? Most people like to put their guilds in areas relative to the guild. Fishermen are on docks, or ships. Masons are on stonework, etc. That’s fine, no worries. You don’t always have to do that, but it’s a pretty common theme. I’ve seen so many Morticians in graveyards. It looks great, do what you think will look cool.
But then look at references. Look at landscapes. Go for a walk if you can and get pics. I moved to Arkansas last year, and it immediately reflected in my bases. I went for a 20 mile hike with some friends and came back with like, 300 pictures. My Mortician bases and my display plinth are a direct result of that hike. Compare this to where I came from, in Nebraska, and there’s next to nothing inspiring to do for bases. Cornstalks on everything I guess.
So get some pictures. Google it at least once. Then we can kind of start accruing supplies. I’m a fan of using what’s out there, so sticks and rocks. You have to find pretty small rocks, and you usually want them somewhat flat since just regular gravel is fairly round and smooth. I worked on a site that was 80% gravel and just kept an eye out. In Arkansas, this is less of a problem and a quick trip to the woods nets me everything I want.
You still need flock though, snow, and etc. Hobby Stores that support model trains are generally the best resource for basing supplies. Some of it is out of scale or just won’t work, but there’s still a lot of things there that you can use. Ballast, which is super small rock. Like gravel on a miniature scale. I’ve got three sizes of it, and then one bag where I’ve mixed a variety and that’s all I use now.
From left to right. Left is a bunch of flocks. Army Painter is by far my favorite. Widest variety, the most bang for your buck. The box under that is Games Workshop, and they were given to me, so I use them for variety. They’re ok, but I really like the Army Painter.
PVA glue, for all your needs.
Top and Center is my ballast bag, and then a box of fine sand from Games Workshop, that again, I was given. They’re both great for filler when I’m building up a base, or just texture.
Top and Right is my snow. The box underneath was also given to me and I despise it. It’s suppose to be snow, but it’s actually a flocking material of teeny short strands so it fails to give that texture at all. The stuff on top of it, I got at a hobby store and it’s a much better texture. A little bit of pva glue, some water and I can mix it around and add it to bases just fine.
Bottom Center is my rock pile. I’ve got all sizes, but you can see that they’re largely flat. These can be built into a granite or slate kind of look pretty easily. Also in that box is left over tree bark. The right tree bark has a great layered rock texture to it, and I actually used some on Bonesaw’s base. It absorbs paint a bit more so you have to hit it a few times but it’s nearly perfect. I don’t usually get it off of trees, but rather out of wood chips for gardens and such.
Bottom Right is my Hirst Arts collection. The entire thing. Just one mold. That Mold is the Ruined Fieldstone Mold from Hirst Arts. Every piece in the mold can be flipped over and glued to a copy of itself to create one whole unbroken piece. This allows me to build jagged ruins or completed structures. The plaster is Merlin’s Magic from Clint’s Manufacturing, but really any dental plaster is fine. Plaster of Paris is not, it’s too weak, but Merlin’s Magic is some legit hard stuff.
So let’s base. I’m going to go with this Arkansas style rock stuff. My references are from the Northern edge of the state.
The bulk of this will be done from my rock box. Down in the bottom, I’ve got a bunch of crushed smaller ones that are perfect. Plus the tree bark I talked about.
So here, I’ve got Brainpan and Memory. Brainpan has a real flowy cloak on with no detail under it, so I want to keep him low like he’s walking through some grassier area, but we’re still in that rough terrain so I’m going to have some rocks peeking out.
Memory is really cool though. He’s a lot smaller, and honestly, some basing that raises him up will make him easier to grab. You’ll notice that with most of my ball markers, they’re relatively high off the ground.
So here, I’ve gotten a bigger rock. I’ve supported it with some of the smaller stuff wedged underneath it to try for that layered look.
Here I’ll test it.
Now I glue it all together. I’ll hold it sideways and dribble a little bit of superglue down in there to get everything secured, even as I glued it a bit while I built it. I’ll also drop some sand or ballast down in there to fill gaps up. Then I prime, and make sure I get under it with some black to create those dark shadows. A light grey to white overspray, then a quick brown on the ground.
Then I take a dark grey and hit the visible edges, try and break up the stack some.
My light is really bright here, so it’s hard to show but I painted some white in there. Just blended it in from the top down and did a drybrush over it to catch all the edges and pop them.
When I hit this point the other day, I couldn’t decide what I was missing and I gambled on some green. It looked great, and I’m very pleased with it on Bonesaw, so it’s a staple here. You can see in the pictures that there’s moss and things growing, so I’m carrying it to the model. I do a really dark green and feather it in there, building up in lower areas where water would be.
Here, I’ve pretty much got the base where I want it, paint wise. You can still see the brown though, and that’s fine. The brown isn’t a final aspect though, it’s just a backdrop to the grass rather than easily seen blue tape or a reflective plastic black base.
I’m going to target those gaps. I like to leave this step to the end. I don’t usually plan grass at all, but rather set it areas where it would fit at the end. Here, the gap directly in front where I’m going to try to tuck the grass under that edge and then the gap to the left where I’ll just drop a tuft on top.
Back to my basing materials, I’m pulling from my GW stash and my dead grass from Army Painters. This fits the fall aesthetic in my Morticians. The Army Painter tufts are perfectly round, but the GW tufts have some variation.
So, I’ll tuck one of the larger GW tufts under the rock in that larger gap. Then I’ll use one of the medium tuft from AP on the other space.
Looks nice, I think.. Completes it just fine. Dirge here, I did earlier and I used more treebark for his rocks, then some ballast around his post. I can put the grass on these two since the bulk of the painting is above the grass, but normally I add the grass after I’ve sealed the model.
Let’s try this on a larger scale. This is my display plinth for my 75mm kit. I’ve cut back the wood a bit to give me some edges to work with and I’m slowly building it up, filling in with smaller rocks.
Here, I’ve gotten it pretty much where I want it. It’s supported, and I’ve used that ballast as filler plus spread some out for a texture.
Now I’ll tape the wood for priming.
Same idea as earlier. Prime black, make sure to get in the recesses and shadows. Then overspray with grey, then white. Hit it at an angle to push your lighting angle a bit.
The grey/white overspray has washed pretty much everything out, so I’m going to swing back through all of the edges and hit them with a watered down dark grey.
And again. Trying to drive the contrast home here.
Now that my undertones are good, I’ll start bringing the white in. I’m blending a watered down white into the high spots here.
Pretty much gotten the contrast I want. Some final white edging along the starker edges before we go into some actual color.
So, I’m sticking with the green. I lay out a dark green, feathering it into low spots and edges where lichens and such can grab hold. Then I’ll pop it with some regular green, then lay some thinned chocolate brown around the area for some dirt working it’s way into the scene.
Then the final touch is the grasses. I’m going for the fall sort of look, so mostly browns and tans. I’ve thrown then in mainly the areas where water could have collected and built up sediments enough to get roots down. So the low spots in the center, I’ve got a lot of grass, then out through the edges and such.
This isn’t a golden demon winner by any stretch, but it’s the same concept and process I’ve used on a lot of bases that have brought a model well beyond tabletop quality. You wouldn’t think you have to paint rocks, but to get the consistency you want, you kind of need to.
The below is some older stuff. Same concept though. Build a stable rock base, contrast them and pop them with flock. These bases tell a bit more of a story, but not so much that it makes them non transportable or ridiculous. These models are also the figurehead of the lists they go in so it’s just fine to make them fancy.
I wouldn’t call this the basics of basing. The basics are what I did for my first 40k army, nearly 10 years ago where I spread PVA glue over the base and dipped them in sand. I was still ahead of most of the meta but it’s not something I would do again.
Let’s hit one more and call it on this one. I’m trying to keep the basing here at a point where you’re not in a workshop building or casting. This is just materials you can grab at a hobby shop or your backyard. Let’s look at my Hunters. In the two years I’ve owned these guys, I have exactly 2 models finished.
These start with just sticks. Here’s just that on Hearne2, who I have yet to finish painting.
Just sticks I’ve broken up from the yard. You can leave them the way they are or you can paint them. I usually drybrush them a bit and try to pop them some more. Hit them with some light tans and apply washes to the underneath to shade them. Here’s some of this going into step 2 with the snow.
The snow is bleeding in my camera real bad, so I apologize there. Jaecar doesn’t have anything on his base, there’s still some painting to be done there. The ball is done though and Seenah isn’t far off.
The snow is the stuff in the bags from Hobby Lobby. It comes in tiny plastic pebble sort of things like really fine ballast. I mix them with water and pva glue into a paste and then spread it out. The GW snow is actually flock, and when it settles out it just looks like bleached shredded newspaper everywhere after a flood and I really disliked it.
I also mix a little bit of white acrylic into the Snow mix and will drybrush it somewhat around where I apply the snow to give some snowblown texture.
That’s where we’re going to step back at. These are things available in your hobby store or online without getting into some fairly extensive stuff. A lot of this you can collect outside too and the bulk of my basing materials are just that. Fine, flat rocks are like a treasure trove to me.
In Part II, we’ll get into the essentials of casting, water resins and accomplishing some other looks out there. Thanks for reading!
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