Terrain Building Masterclass from @Joe_Wargamer

Joe's work on Twitter has been a huge inspiration over the previous months, working wonders with PVA and MDF to produce fantastic scenery & tabletops which just ooze authenticity and displaying amazing attention to detail. This is Joe's first blog post and I am absolutely stoked that it's here on Firepowergaming.com. Over to Joe.....

Who am I?

Andrew got in touch and asked if I’d write a little about my wargame terrain building, and I thought I’d start by introducing myself since I’m a relative newcomer to the wargame community.

I’ve always been interested in military history (especially WW2), and 2 years ago I happened to see some pictures of Bolt Action being played and thought ‘wow, that looks like fun’. And so I jumped in with both feet and got stuck in. Over that time I’ve amassed many armies (maybe 15+), countless tanks and rather a lot of terrain. And it seems I’m always adding more of each!

My day job is making printable or online battlemaps for RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. I used to be a science teacher but in 2018, after 12 years of teaching, I left and went full time self-employed as an RPG mapmaker, working from home. I know I’m very lucky to be able to do this, and it also gives me plenty of time to work on wargaming. I also think that my job as a digital artist making fantasy environments and locations helps with my terrain modelling, as I spend a lot of time looking at architecture and weathering, and this directly feeds into my approach to wargaming terrain.

My current project

My main areas of focus, in terms of WW2 theatres, are NW Europe/France and the Eastern Front. Not that I don’t want to tackle other areas too – I just wanted to focus for a bit first (although Italy and the Pacific are on the radar…).

Anyway, I recently picked up a copy of the Pint Sized Campaign ‘Operation Martlet’ from TooFatLardies. It’s a great looking campaign, and I wanted to make sure I could put together each table as accurately as possible. After an audit to see what I had and what I needed to make it became apparent that whilst I had plenty of French houses for villages and towns, I was lacking a suitable number of agricultural buildings. And so I set out to remedy that!

I picked up a number of kits – a couple of large buildings from Sarissa Precision, a set of basic farm buildings from John Banks (a seller on eBay) and some buildings from Empires at War. These were all mdf kits, of varying levels of detail.

Building the buildings

I’ve established a pretty consistent and effective method for building and detailing mdf kits. What I love about mdf kits is the possibility. You can build them just as they are, or really go to town with additional details.

The first thing I do is look through the kit and work out what I need to build pre-texturing, and what goes on afterwards. I always texture my buildings with quick-drying filler (more on that later), and so there are certain features that I put on afterwards, otherwise the filler can destroy detail. As a general rule I put features like doors, windows, shutters and trims on afterwards.

Once I’ve built the core structure of the kit, I crack open the filler. I use a small pointed trowel and carefully apply a 3-5mm coat all over. If I’ve covered any openings I use the trowel to clear them before it sets.

If your intention is to go with a stucco/rendered look then consider the finish as you apply it. However, for these Normandy agricultural buildings I wanted them to be made from stone blocks, so I used a textured roller. I bought my roller from GreenStuffWorld, and if you haven’t seen them before, they are an acrylic rolling pin with a brick or cobble texture. Once I’m happy with the filler, I wet the roller (to prevent it sticking) and roll it over the surface. Imperfections and variation is fine – things look more real when they’re not perfect. Once that’s done leave it to dry – and wash your tools before the filler sets!

The next task is detailing, and this is where you can really make the model shine. Little aspects of detail really help to increase the implied realism. I use pieces of card or coffee stirrers to add things like lintels, corner stones, shutters, trims etc. Once they’re glued on I make a filler-slurry; essentially it’s a scoop of filler and a few drops of water stirred in. It should have the consistency of butter.

I use an old paintbrush to paint this slurry onto anything I want to depict as stone, remembering to blend the edges for a nice transition. Whilst this is drying I move onto the roof (not physically..) and use either strips of cereal card, or laser cut rooftiles, and apply them. A key idea is consistency in the levels of texture. A detailed and textured wall will look less effective next to a smooth mdf roof. When everything is done I spray the entire model with a grey primer. This serves to seal the filler, and also visually ties everything together.

Painting the Buildings

I generally use emulsions for painting the bulk of the buildings. I pick up cheap tester pots from DIY shops (I’m especially keen on the paints from Wilko) and use those. For painting Normandy stone, I wanted a mix of greys and browns. I painted them on messily, with patchy areas of different colours. A quick drybrush in a light grey and then when it was dry it was washed in very dilute Agrax Earthshade. This was enough to give a nice warm realistic colour, with suitable levels of depth. Details like doors and shutters were painted and weathered. The weathering of the building includes shading washes of Nuln Oil beneath the eaves, under sills and inside doorframes. A wash of Athonian Camoshade (a muddy green) was applied around the base of the building, as well as a drybrush of light mud, to better ‘set’ the building into it’s environment.

And that’s it, really! I’ve not had a chance to have a game yet, but I did take them outside for a few photo (taking them in minutes before a thunderstorm!). Hopefully they convey the sense of Normandy and look fun to play on.

I hope that this rather brief summary has given you some insight into how I go about building and painting my terrain. If you have any questions I’m happy to answer them – I’m on Twitter as @Joe_Wargamer, where I post pictures of what I’m working on and share tips etc.

Enjoy the pictures, and I hope it’s given you some ideas that you can take into your own wargame modelling.


(Click to see the slideshow)

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