Gremlins in the Garage!


Getting Started With Foam

Creating Realistic Dioramas

by Phil Lister

One of the most interesting aspects of figure modeling, is creating a diorama or realistic setting for them. While there are many different techniques and materials to use, I have found that Styrofoam insulating material works great. Itís easy to cut into different sizes and shapes and even comes in different thicknesses. I go to my neighborhood home improvement center and buy the long 24" X 8' X 3/4" sections and that usually will last me for several good size projects. The stuff I buy is pink, but sometimes itís blue. This corresponds to the "R" or insulating value, and it does come in different densities. The denser the better. Foam works great for stone walls and floors. Itís also ideal for rocky terrain and cave walls. You simply cut the foam to whatever size you may need and using a hot wire cutter, Dremel tool or soldering iron carve or cut irregular patterns, grooves or mortar lines into it.

Say you want to create a stone wall and floor for your latest Dracula figure:

STEP 1: First, determine the size and shape of your base. Then, cut the foam to the desired size.

STEP 2: Using 5 minute epoxy or Elmerís white glue, attach both the floor and wall section together.

STEP 3: When the glue is dry, begin by first carving or cutting the horizontal mortar lines. This is the easiest way to start, since the line pattern is consistent. Next, carve or cut the vertical lines, but stagger or alternate them into a stone pattern.

STEP 4: Next, take a ball of aluminum foil and roll this all over the "stone". I also use a Dremel fitted with sanding drum or a cone-shaped grinding bit and bounce it all over the foam to create irregularities in the surface. Make these irregularities rather deep.

STEP 5: Now for the messy part! Youíre going to need some DURHAMíS WATER PUTTY. This stuff is sold at most home centers and hardware stores. It comes in a 1lb can, a 5lb can and a 55 gallon drum! No kidding! Itís a fine yellowish powder that when mixed with water, hardens into a kind of plastic which is as the label says "Rock Hard"! Youíll find it where they have the plaster and joint compound. Mix according to directions, except, I will usually mix it a little on the thin side, but not too thin! This makes it easier to brush it on.

STEP 6: Using a 1 Ĺ" or 2" paintbrush, apply the mixture over the stone. Cover the entire area thoroughly. Now this stuff sets up fast, so work carefully but work as fast as you can! If it starts to thicken in the bowl, I will wash it out in the toilet bowl to make sure I donít clog the narrow sink drains! Be sure to mix plenty of water with it to dilute it good! You donít want a clogged toilet drain! While the coating on the foam is still damp, sprinkle some powdered Durhamís onto the stone surface for texture. Before the Durhamís sets up completely, go back and re-carve any mortar lines that may have been filled in when you applied the mixture. Let the whole thing dry good overnight.

STEP 7: Determine your color choices and go nuts painting!

As I said, while there are many different ways of creating stone or rock, this method provides you with a very convincing look. Best of all, itís very lightweight yet rather strong!




1. When cutting, rub some paraffin wax onto the saw or knife blade. This keeps the foam from jamming and crumbling.

2. For gray stone, begin by basing it in black or dark gray. Then dry-brush using a lighter shade of gray working up to an off white. Air-brush some dark lines tracing the mortar lines. This adds a very interesting look and makes the mortar lines look darker.

3. If you canít find DURHAMíS WATER PUTTY, you can use gesso, or acrylic modeling paste. Both items are available at most art and craft stores.

4. I use a Dremel machining bit or a soldering iron to cut mortar lines. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation when melting it with a soldering iron. DONíT BREATHE THE FUMES!


5. When assembling sections of foam together, use round toothpicks. These work great to reinforce the joints and help hold the parts together until dry.


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