It’s been quite a long hiatus. But I’m happy to finally be able to show you the results yielded from my extended absence!
In this entry, prepare yourself for a long journey through making a diorama. This is the first one I have ever made, so I didn’t seek to make anything professional. I decided to amalgamate what I learned in my design classes at college (some four or five years ago!) with some trial-and-error and various internet sources to create a display for my cars that is simple, quite spacious and pleasing to the eye.
Some of the materials I have used are a bit unconventional, as like most collectors and modellers I have to work with a tight budget. If you intend to follow my process, I’ve suggested alternative materials that may cost more but may make life easier.
Materials and Tools Used
- Base board – I used some old shelves (800mm x 300mm x 10mm). There are many alternatives including MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) extruded foam, styrofoam and the likes. The foam materials are better if you intend to cut trenches and craters into your base, but I prefer the safety of a material that won’t bend or warp when you apply glue, paints and clay to it.
- Wooden blocks – I used these to create a raised surface, but you would probably be better using extruded foam for this. The use of wood resulted in the board becoming very heavy, but it worked for what I needed it. (Unfortunately it was coated in Creosote, so it did have a bit of an odour to it!)
- Tape measure
- Bench saw and Jigsaw (or regular saw) if you’re using wood.
- Rotary power tool (power drill)
- Gorilla glue
- Water Squirter
- Pencil (2H recommended)
- ModRoc (or any other Plaster of Paris type material)
- Cereal box, or other flexible card
- Ruler (straightedge)
- Brushes in varying sizes
- Acrylic paints
- Utility/crafting knife
- Masking tape
- Lengths of dowel rods – varying shapes/grades/thicknesses.
- PVA glue
- Super Glue/clear drying glue
- Disposable cups
- Modelling Sand/grass/gravel/dirt
- “Wet Water” (use 97-99% water, 1-3% liquid detergent in a very fine mist sprayer.)
- Card, printer, PC, design software (Word works, but it can be inaccurate)
- Thin, easy to cut wood (I used a small divider from a wooden wine case – the wine was good)
- Ipod, with a dock (or headphones) and some really bangin’ tunes.
Step 1: Planning
Every diorama begins as a sketch, either on a piece of paper or on the board which serves as its base. I already had an idea in mind, which started out as scribbles on the back of some law revision.
I decided to create a coast road, using elements from the Great Ocean Road, the coast road where I live (including the small petrol station a few miles north) and an alternative future/reality mixing French and American road styles.
Set upon two 800mm x 300mm boards, it will include a single-carriageway running parallel to a beach, a parking lot at either end and a service station in the centre. The parking lot on the left is going to be raised to provide more interest to the diorama, as well as some variety in terrain.
The first step was to accurately map out the key features of the board using a pencil. I made the road as accurate as possible, seeing as I’d be painting around it afterwards, but for the overlook and the service station, I roughly made them big enough to hold half a dozen cars or so.
This is also a good time to roughly mark out where any road signs, billboards or buildings are going to go.
Step 2: Raised area
One of the main features of my diorama is going to be the raised parking lot that will serve as a seaview or “makeout” point, if you’re so inclined. To do so, the options are to use extruded foam, or some similar material. I didn’t have anything like that, and had pretty much capped my budget, so instead I used some wood my dad had in his garage. I used a bench saw to cut it to shape, but equally I could have used a regular saw, though it would have taken much longer, and been far less accurate.
The raised area will cover less than an area 1sq foot in size, so I cut four lengths of wood to one square foot using a tape measure, then used a jigsaw to alter the shapes so that they curved around the road I marked on. Again, you could use a regular saw for this, but it would be less accurate and take longer.
Next we need to stick the wood together, so for that, I’m using Gorilla glue. As per the instructions, I dampened the area with water, applied the glue, then weighed down the wood (as the glue expands as it dries). It takes roughly an hour to seal.
When the glue has set, it’s time to start making the hill. For this I used something called ModRoc, which is kind of like Plaster of Paris, except it comes in a roll like bandage.
To start making the hill, I use card from an old cereal box to make the edge.
From here, I use more strips of card and masking tape to create a structure under which is stuffed screwed up newspapers. I made sure it was nice and compact to make it as strong as possible.
When that’s done, it’s time to apply the ModRoc.
ModRoc works by hardening when it is soaked in water. As per the instructions, I cut it into strips and applied it to the raised area to make a nice texture finished. I decided that I would only use the ModRoc on the raised area as the wood was course and would be difficult to paint on, but the main base was nice and smooth, so wouldn’t pose problems for painting and adding texture. Also, I wanted the base to be nice and flat, so ModRoc would have spoiled that.
Fill a tub with water and soak the ModRoc for a few seconds and it is ready to be applied. I plastered the whole raised area with it.
Once the ModRoc has been given enough time to harden (I left it for about a day) it gives a great canvas from which we can begin to build our scenery.
Step 4: Painting
Before applying any texture, the diorama needs to be painted. This ensures that no white or brown will show up underneath the textures if anything doesn’t quite cover or comes loose. It’s best to use Acrylic paints for this, as they dry faster and stick better in my experience.
It’s best to start with lighter colours first, then move onto black. I painted the sand, dirt and grass colours first, let them dry, then used masking tape to mark out the edge of the road surface, as I wanted it to be as crisp and straight as possible.
At this point, it’s a good idea to make sure your sizes are looking good – check if any buildings you are going to make will look suitable for the scale you’ve picked.
Now we’re ready to start adding some texture!
Step 6: Planning ahead
Before we jump in and start adding dirt and grass, I had to consider how everything would fit together later. For example, my parking lot on the right needed some barriers. Applying grass first would make it difficult for the barrier to stick, and gluing after the grass had been put down would result in gaps between the barrier and the grass. So the first thing I did was create the barrier, so the grass would sit nicely around it when it was applied.
I cut some lengths of dowel and sandpapered the edges for a nice fit around the parking lot. To give a nice weathered appearance, I mix some black acrylic paint with water at about 1:3 and apply it to the dowel.
It’s a good idea, also, to check your buildings again, to make sure you know for sure where the texture is going to go, and what will look best. (I printed off some mock-up buildings)
Now we can apply the texture for real!
Step 7: Applying texture
In order to apply grass, sand, and dirt, I mixed PVA glue with water at around 1:3, then used a brush to spread it over the area for each respective material – Grass first, then sand, then dirt.
I’ve chosen to use some low contrast green and yellow by Countryside Scenics. I chose three shades of light green to blend, some yellow for the beach and gravel for the overlook. I want these colours to look pleasing to the eye, rather than them being overly realistic. (I know some modellers love manly, muddy colours as it looks real – and that’s good, but I prefer bright, happy colours. Decide yourself what you like!)
We need to create an even coating of material on the board. It’s possible to use your fingers to do this, but I made use of a disposable plastic cup (useful things!) and a pair of tights (also useful) to use as an applicator. Use a rubber band to keep the tights sealed to the cup. Shaking this makes the grass and sand come out much more evenly.
Once that’s done, tip the board, or brush/gently blow away the excess.
Afterwards, use a fine mist spray to apply wet water to the material (wet water makes the glue soak through better) and then spray a mixture of PVA and water onto it again. It will take a while to dry.
There are options to apply static grass, but with me being focused on this being turf where I can display automobiles in large quantities, I didn’t see the point in shelling out money for something that isn’t going to be a key feature. Maybe in the future.
I did the same process for the sand, without worrying too much whether it mixed with the grass – the low contrast of the green and yellow meant it blended nicely.
When it came to the overlook, I used my fingers to apply the gravel as it was a bit too chunky for my tights to work properly.
Once again, use wet water and spray glue onto the material to fix everything in place. I actually used the brush to drip the glue onto the material in order to fix particularly loose areas.
Step 8: Road markings
While it is possible to buy road surfaces from hobby shops, I wanted to make my own road markings to suit the environment I was making. I also decided I quite liked the colour of the black acrylic I used so I thought it would look good in photographs.
In order to make the road lines, apply some masking tape (it’s a good idea to double up) roughly down the centre and then make sure you measure out very carefully and accurately where they’re going to go. I’m doing two solid yellow lines as traffic dividers, so I make five lines in total – one going down the centre of the road, then two at either side of it to mark out where the yellow is going to go.
Use a craft knife to cut away the four lines at either side of the central divider, then carefully remove the thin strips to reveal the two areas where the paint is going to go.
When the paint has dried (I used around three layers) SLOWLY SLOWLY SLOWLY! Remove the masking tape. You should get some lines as crisp as these.
Step 9: The Gas Station
The gas station is going to be the centrepiece of the diorama, so it needs to look pretty good.
There are lots of ways to add buildings to your diorama. You can buy them premade, though I don’t know of any that work with 1:64 scale. You can buy them prefabricated, so you have only to punch out the shapes and glue it together – kind of like Airfix. Or, like me, you can choose to make them yourself, where you have absolutely no boundaries but your imagination – I added advertisements, windows and a custom name to make it unique.
I’m going for the tried and tested “KISS” – Keep It Simple, Sugar! Card is the material of a million uses. I made nets for the buildings I was going to make, added whatever graphics I thought worked, and then printed them out. NB: at the same time, I printed out other details I knew I would be adding – billboards, road signs, etc.
It’s always good to do a practice run first, to make sure your buildings fit with the scale of the vehicles, and decide what looks good and what doesn’t. Don’t forget, we’re also leaving room for some petrol pumps, a price board and a signpost in the forecourt.
When you create your buildings, don’t fold them – I used the craft knife to score a line at the joints. This makes them bend accurately without stretching the material, or risking them bending back to their original position. (remember to cut on the outside if you want them to fold inwards, and vice versa)
Because it would be difficult to stick the cardboard edges down to the board, we have to give the buildings a framework at the base. This will make them easier to stick down, as well as stop the card from warping.
Measure out some dowel pieces, and cut them to fit within the inside of the building’s base. I used PVA to attach them in place.
Once that’s done, add your roof – I used a divider from a wooden wine box, but mount board or any thick material would probably do.
I also added some extra embellishments – the “Tabac” sign is a traditional French touch.
We can add some tyres and other clutter afterwards.
Next for the pumps – for these, I once again cut some pieces of 10mm wide dowel, and coloured them according to the fuel – regular, super, and diesel. I also cut out a base from the same material I used for the garage roof.
I took inspiration from the 1950s, and designed some fronts for them.
I then topped them off with some circular logo signs. I just cut the card into a circle and stuck it to a small piece of dowel.
Finally, I glued the pumps to the base with PVA, and then the base to the forecourt.
The next step was to add a rain cover for the pumps – this would also serve as a support for when I attached the main sign. Make sure if you’re making one that it is as close to the height of the buildings as possible.
I cut out the sign for the service station and stuck it on using some more folded card.
I also added some sandwich boards outside, and a barrier to mark out where the road separates from the forecourt.
For the sign post, drill a pilot hole into the board. (Make sure you test in a piece of scrap wood first, to make sure it fits)
I used the handle of a small paintbrush for the post, and used card for the sign. I also added an extra sign above the service station.
Finally, the last thing to add is a gas prices display. I just used superglue to attach it to the board, as I wasn’t sure PVA would be strong enough.
And with that, the garage and petrol station are finished, minus some exterior detail which can be added later.
Step 10: Overlook and burger shack
I’ve already added the gravel to the overlook, so there’s not much to do here other than add some fencing, the burger shack and some other embellishment.
I did the same process as we saw in step 9 for the building, except I had to cut out a small patch of the turf in order to stick it down. To do this, mark out the area where the building will be, and take your craft knife very carefully to cut out a patch deep enough to bring you down to the painted surface.
Next, I measured out some fencing and I drilled some holes into the turf to hold the fence poles.
I cut pieces of dowel to make the fencing, using a slightly wider dowel for the horizontal parts.
I also bought some Metcalfe HO/OO scale benches for the edge of the cliff. Not the correct scale, I know, but I thought they looked nice, and being background elements it doesn’t really matter – I’m certainly not going to fiddle around making 1:64 scale benches when they’re probably not going to be in most shots.
For the burger shack roof, I used some mountboard with a score down the middle so that it fell over the roof nicely, then glued it in place with PVA.
add some rocks with PVA and a discarded piece of corrugated iron for that seedy, food-poisony look.
Step 11: Fixed Billboard
I’ve only made one fixed billboard, as I wanted the others to be portable in case I wanted to use them elsewhere.
The fixed billboard I made using simply a thick length of dowel painted white and glued in place on the board (I cut out a small square so it would stick) and the cardboard billboards glued in place at the top. I used a thick card, so there’s not much flexing or warping of the material.
Step 12: Trees
I ordered some tropical trees off Amazon because they didn’t have any in my local hobby shop. They were nice and cheap, but actually look pretty good.
In order to place them on the board, drill a small hole and apply PVA glue to the small rod on the base of the tree. For the shallower part of the base, I had to cut a bit off the plastic to make sure they fit. PVA will dry and secure them nicely, but make sure the hole is nice and tight.
The board is really coming together now, so it’s time to add the finishing touches.
Step 13: Background
I worked with a tropical style region, so I decided a beautiful tropical sea was what I needed as a backdrop. There are professional backdrops you can buy, but since mine needs to do nothing but serve a purpose, I printed one off using my home printer to test it, then printed off a dozen more so I could pin them behind the rest of the diorama. My printer was running off fumes by the end, so the colour doesn’t quite match up – but you can’t get it right every time can you.
Step 14 – Parking Lot
I almost forgot to do this step! A parking lot is no good without some bays – otherwise those BMW drivers have got no rules to disobey.
Remember when we made the road lines? It’s the same system here, just a lot easier. I think the bays were around 80mm in length, and around 45mm in width – basically, I gave enough room for a good sized matchbox to fit inside them.
Masking tape, cut, paint, then peel away very carefully.
If any of the black paint gets taken off with the tape, I use a sharpie or a black fineliner to fill it back in.
Step 15 – Extra Features
There are lots of things to do to make the diorama look even cooler.
I created some portable billboards using images and artwork I found online. To do this, I used the wood that I used for the garage roof to create a base and two pieces of dowel cut to around 70mm glued to it, with the two pieces of card I printed the advertisement on. I painted the base black and the pillars white. Making your own gives you free reign to design absolutely anything! Because the French love their outrageous advertising (See their Orangina campaign… Warning, VERY suggestive content!) I wanted to keep that theme. I believe I got the image from one of mine by an artist called Chewycuticle .
I made two other billboards in a similar fashion, one of them being an Orangina one.
Now that the billboards are done, the place needs some roadsigns – speed limits, directions, distances, etc.
For the road signs, I used the thinnest pine dowel I could find, painted black. I drilled a hole into the board where each sign went, printed off the sign using card, and glued it in place with PVA. Here are some photos of the signs I made.
And we’re done!
It’s hard to wrap something like this up, since you can work and work and work forever on it and still feel like there’s more you can do – but, for this reason, I’ve made it so that I can extend the road at any time. In fact, I’m already planning on creating a new stretch of road with a motel, a car dealership or a strip club – so stay tuned to find out!
I’ve made this model on a very modest budget, just to prove you can make something that is pleasing to the eye and that doesn’t break the bank.
The purpose of this diorama is to have somewhere to showcase my model cars, and that’s been achieved here I think – it may not be the most fantastically intricate model town out there, but so long as it enhances my ability to display my automobiles on this blog, it has achieved enough to make me happy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, and I hope if you make dioramas or are planning to, you find it just as enjoyable as I found making this one. It’s been real good fun, and it’s nice to see the results of days of hard work.
Good luck with all your own restorations and modelling!