Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Terrain making - River

I purchased some river sections through The Combat Company which were made by Amera Plastic Mouldings. These are great pieces and very inexpensive. They are vacuum formed mouldings, so they do not come on a sprue and are not hard plastic. Being vacuum formed they have straight edges, but these are easy cut back and shape as you wish.

The reason I didn't simply build up the sections myself using plaster or modelling clay or similar is two-fold. First, this is a time consuming process and second, the measurements of the Amera sections are done for you. That is, you can line up any section with any other section and it will match. If I was to do this myself, I guarantee I would have measurements slightly out here and there and when I went to put two sections together they wouldn't match.

So, the materials used here were:

Amera Plastic Mouldings river sections - (4 straight, 4 curved)
Italeri plastic stone bridge
Thick cardboard
Noch Spring Meadow static grass
Vallejo Still Water
Vallejo Water Effects
Woodland Scenics clump foliage and lichen

I use thick card to base my scenery on as I can cut it easily with a Stanley knife (a box cutter to my American friends). One step that isn't in the photos below is sealing the cardboard. I use watered down PVA glue and brush it on quite thickly on both sides of the cardboard. The cardboard absorbs the liquid and when it dries you get a nice, hard surface. It is still a little flexible, but much less prone to warping, and is slightly waterproof too. As the glue is drying you will notice the cardboard bending. Not to worry, usually it levels out once fully dry, but if you are worried about this, you can weigh the pieces down by putting some heavy objects such as books on top. Make sure you put a piece of baking paper down on the surface first, and layer baking paper between each cardboard piece, and finish with a piece of baking paper. This means nothing will stick to your surface or your books!

Okay, so onto the actual river building.

I started by gluing the sections to card, then cutting these to shape.

Next, I sanded them back to rough up the surface. You must do this, it is essential. The plastic is super smooth so nothing will take to it if you don't roughen up the surface - paint or glue will simply slide off the plastic. Use a fine grade sandpaper - don't mangle the plastic, you just want the surface to be grainy.

Once this was done I added some stones. I used a white silicone and applied it with a caulking gun. This gives you some nice variance in the ground as it builds up the surface around the stones. You could just as easily use plaster, putty or modelling clay.

One this was dry I added sand to the banks, then undercoated the sections in black.

I used craft acrylic paint to paint the sand. I started with a burnt umber colour and drybrushed a few successive highlights up to a yellow oxide colour. In the picture, it looks *very* yellow, this is just because it is wet. When dry it has a nice yellow/brown natural earth colour.

Next, I painted the river itself. I'm not a fan of bright blue or green rivers on wargaming tables. They look a little too fake to my eye. If you look at a river you notice that the river itself is a sort of indeterminate colour - grey/black almost. This doesn't really scale down very well, so I decided on a very dark blue with some sandy banks just visible under the water. I was happy with this colour, but I would probably experiment even further if I was making another one. I actually started painting this with a brush, but I was unhappy with the finish so I used my airbrush. If you are going to use a brush, I would suggest maybe even using inks over a white undercoat and building up the layers. This way you won't get visible brushstrokes.

With the painting done I then flocked the banks with my favourite blend of static grass: Spring Meadow by Noch.

So now the river was ready to have some water effects added! I stopped up the ends of the sections with baking paper and cardboard offcuts, then poured some still water on to the sections. After about 48 hours, it set. The effect was okay, and the reflective properties were amazing, but I was a little unhappy about two things.

1) The water looked too static. Like glass.

2) An interesting little problem had arisen...You will notice that on the river bed I have drawn an arrow to remind me which way the water is flowing for that section. After I painted the river bed and put still water effects over the paint, the arrow bled through. Some kind of reaction between the chemicals of the texta, the paint and the water effects! There was no way to fix it. My river sections all had big ugly arrows under the water, and they were really obvious.

So, I pulled up the water, and the paint came with it. I sanded the beds back, then repainted them, then SEALED THEM WITH MATT SEALER. Haha!

When it came to add the water effects again, I decided on something different.

Adding still water is a pain. You have stop up the ends of the river sections, pour the water effects, keep it level for days, then remove the stops. It's time consuming, and as I said earlier, I don't really like the finished effect. The reflective properties are awesome, but the water looks too static. To counter this, I bought some vallejo paste that you can use a pallet knife or similar to form water effects. I put this around rocks etc on my original sections.

I thought "why not do the whole section with this stuff?" I googled around and found a guy who had done this using a popsicle stick. So I used a large popsicle stick and formed the water directly onto the river bed, no liquid water effects were used - this was the paste straight onto the river bed. I am much happier with this effect. 

Lastly, I needed a bridge, and I thought Italeri's stone bridge was perfect. It's designed with 20mm scale in mind, but works fine for 28mm and 15mm. I simply airbrushed this with some greys and then washed it with black ink in some areas. I used one river straight section for the bridge and permanently fixed it in place. I added the beginnings of a dirt road at the end of the bridge so that my dirt roads would align with it on the table. I finished this off by weathering the bridge with some MIG pigments.

Last, I added some Woodland Scenics clump foliage and Lichen in various spots on the banks to give it some extra visual appeal.

That's it! Not a difficult process, but a very effective finish.

Okay, so this is the water effects using liquid still water. This was just before it dried and the arrows bled through. So onto how I fixed the problem:


  1. Excellent masterclass on prepping our rivers, love the finish

    Jane www.amera.co.uk

  2. Thanks Jane! You guys make a terrific product.

  3. Hope OK to use a pic on the website with credit? And getting a lot of love on our Fb page too!

  4. Absolutely, please use as many pics as you like! Thank you for sharing and your kind words :)

  5. Late to the party, but that watery effect looks great!

  6. Heya, your Photobucket account needs updating or image host changing.