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Basing Your Miniatures

By Anthony Karl Erdelji


Basing is just as important as every other step of painting your miniature. Unfortunately, some choose to ignore the base and just paint it green and leave it at that. The base is like the frame around a picture. It can complete the figure or detract from it.

I like my bases to have a rough texture to them and my preferred basing medium it either Basetex or Coat d'arms Brushscape. Both products are basically the same thing: Sand mixed with paint. If you can't get a hold of either one, you can make your own by mixing Woodland Scenic ballast or fine sand with paint or artist's gel medium.

Both Basetex and Brushscape come in several colors. While the color doesn't matter if it's going to be painted, its a good idea to use a color that is similar to whatever the final color will be. This way if you miss any areas when painting the base, it won't be as obvious. Color is more important if your looking to get your bases done quick. Brushscape Dark Earth drybrushed with a lighter brown, or Grass Green with a drybrush of yellow can be very effective and extremely quick way to base an army.

This Black Templar sergeant's base was textured with Brushscape Grass Green and giving a light green ink wash. Simple, but effective.

After priming the miniature, I apply the base texture with a hobby knife or an old brush. Once the base is covered take an old brush and move it around the base to get an irregular pattern by forming small lumps or flat patches. Don't go overboard applying texture. Too much and your base will look like oatmeal instead of dirt. Let the texture dry a few hours before painting.

Now let's paint some dirt! First, pick out a nice dirt color. This is harder than you may think. There is a wider range of dirt colors on this earth than you may think. Most think of dirt as a medium brown color, but this color can vary a great deal. Very dry earth can take on almost a grayish-brown hue, while moist earth can be a dark brown. Moist earth may even have a slight greenish hue to it due to algae or mold growth. Dirt can also be red-brown in color like that found in Vietnam. Plus lets not forget about sand. If your painting a science fiction alien army you could paint the bases any color. No one can say that dirt on another planet must be brown.

For the sake of argument lets say your looking for a "regular" earth colored base. I am constantly trying out new earth tone colors, but at the moment I've been using Coat d'arms Barbarian Leather. This needs to be thinned slightly to get into all the nooks and crannies on the base. Next comes a brown ink wash. Then follow up with a light drybrushing of dun or yellow ochre.

A basecoat of Barbarian Leather, a wash of Ral Partha Brown Ink, and a drybrushing of Festering Brown and the base is complete. However, it could use a bit more detailing.

Static Grass

A bit of vegetation helps to bring the base to life. Static grass is a synthetic fiber material when applied to the base of a figure appears like clumps of grass or weeds. You could also use static grass over the entire base if you wanted your super human warriors to appear as if they are fighting on their front lawn. Static grass is available is several colors, from greens to browns. For general application a dark or medium green color works best.

Static grass should be the final step when finishing a miniature. It must be applied after the figure is painted and sealed with flat lacquer. If you apply lacquer after applying static grass, two very bad things may happen. First, the static grass may absorb the lacquer and tiny white beads may form onto the grass ruining the realistic look you were trying to achieve. Second, not matter how much loose grass you try to blow or brush away, there will always seem to be a few strands that like to hide in the folds of the figure. If you spray your mini with a lacquer or flat varnish during this time you may end up with a miniature permanently covered with grass!

To apply static grass we'll need some ordinary white glue (PVA or Elmer's), and an old brush. Thin the glue with some water and spread it into irregular patterns about the base. Dip the figure into the static grass. A pair of tweezers is useful for getting the grass into hard to reach areas. Leave the mini in the static grass for about one minute. Then take it out and blow gently on the base. Blowing on the static grass not only removes any loose strands, but also helps it to stand. Set the mini aside for a few hours to let the glue dry, then take a dry brush and rake it gently across the grass to remove any loose strands.

A light drybrushing of yellow or yellow ochre, provided your using green static grass, and the base is done. Alternately, static grass can be completely painted to represent different colors of grass or dead grass. It can also be painted any other unusual colors to represent alien shrubbery.

Rocks

Some rocks can also be added to the base to improve the looks. You can use two materials to represent rocks for a 30mm figure: Kitty litter or broken bits of clay. The smallest bag of kitty litter available at your local supermarket is enough rock material to last for a lifetime of painting ten times over. Alternatively, you can ask a friend or neighbor who owns a cat for a cup of litter for your little guys, just be prepared for some strange looks. 

Clay is good for larger rocks. Get a pound of regular red or white clay from you local crafts store. Take a fist size piece of clay and form it into a pancake and let it harden. Then take it outside and smash it repeatedly with a hammer. Once you're done taking out your frustrations out on the poor clay you'll have enough rock for hundreds of figures.

Attach the rocks to the base with some thinned white glue, just like with static grass. Kitty litter could do with a coat of thinned white glue brushed over the top to hold it in place.

Almost any shade of gray, brown, or gray-brown works well to replicate rock. A wash of dark brown ink with just a touch of black ink helps to give the rock a well-worn appearance. A couple drybrushings with white added to your base color and your done. This earth elemental's base is an effective combination of clay, kitty litter, and static grass.

More Complex Bases

At times you may to be a bit more creative with your bases. There should be plenty of bits in your bits box that can be used to decorate your bases. Broken weapons, shields, armor, and severed heads are just a few things that would be lying about a battlefield and would fit onto a figure base. Hudson & Allen make a variety of products for use on figure bases such as leaves, ivy, pine boughs, and snow. You local craft store is also a good source for base decorations. Check out the dry flowers section.

An army general or wizard can more impressive and stand out of the rest of the army if they are on a risen base. Epoxy putty such as Magic Sculpt or A+B Putty works well for this. 

The base for my vampire general on a dragon was built up with epoxy putty in a rocky outcrop shape. Grooves were scribed in with a pencil and texture was added by pressing a real rock over the surface. Realistic vegetation was added using a variety of Hudson & Allen products. The addition of a tombstone visually reminds the viewer that this is the base of an Undead character.

Basetex and Brushscape are available through Brookhurst Hobbies in Garden Grove, California.