Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Scenery tutorial - Making heavy foliage

I thought I'd share with you a tutorial that I've posted recently over on From The Warp on making heavy foliage terrain pieces.I want to make it clear that this tutorial isn't a masterclasses, more simple guide to making effective scenery both in looks and playability for the least amount of time, effort and money. If you're looking for masterclasses, then the net has plenty to offer.


Much like collecting an army, building scenery requires you to build up a set of tools and materials. Quite a lot of these things, you'll find that you already have as scenery building often requires some of the same tools and materials as building an army, some you'll find around the house like tools and scratch building materials, and some you're just going to have to buy.

Much like building an army, over time you'll build up a collection of tools and materials, so don't worry if you don't have something right now, if you're serious about building scenery, you'll get these things over time. For this project, there a few things that are essential.
  • Cake bases for the area terrain pieces.
  • Small bases for the foliage pieces
  • Modelling gravel for the bases 
  • Finally, your actual foliage. (We'll be looking at the different types of foliage you can use later in the tutorial)


First off, we're going to make up some area terrain bases. I have a ton of these as they make defining area terrain really easy. My main material I use for making these are cake bases. Yep, that's right, those silver things you see wedding cakes on. Cake bases come in many different shapes and sizes, virtually all supermarkets stock them and they're really easy to work with. They're basically a rough fibre board, so it's important you wear a mask when working with them.

First, peel off the silver foil, don't worry about the odd bit of white paper left on, but it's important to get all the silver off. If you get a stubborn bit, just use a bit of sand paper to sand it off. Once that's done, mark out your basic shape with marker pen. For this project, I'm doing two corner pieces as I have quite a few round and oval shapes already.

Next, cut your pieces out, and remember to wear that mask as this stuff produces lots of little fibres that you don't want in your lungs. I use a coping saw to cut mine but you can use a hobby saw or even a steak knife. You'll see that cake bases are really easy to work with.

Then you need to bevel the edges so they look right on the tabletop and don't end up looking like step. I actually use a steak knife to make the initial cuts and then sandpaper to smooth it down. Once you're done, it should look like the one on the right.

Next, cover the whole top of the piece with pva glue and then modelling gravel. Leave it to dry for a couple of hours and once it is, shake off the excess.

Once you're sure there's no excess gravel, coat the piece in watered down pva. I use a mix of 1 pva to 4 water, which looks a bit like milk once it's mixed. I find sitting the pieces on top of some paint pots on a piece of cardboard works well for stopping to pieces getting glued to your working surface as well as soaking up any excess watered down pva.

Leave it overnight to dry completely and once it is, paint it up. I normally paint my pieces with chaos black (best to use a spray can), then an overbrush of scorched brown, then a drybrush of graveyard earth and then a final drybrush of bleached bone.

Once you've got it painted up, flock it as you would your models making sure that you use a flock that'll match your gaming table.

That's the bases done, and as you can see, it's really easy to tell where the borders of the area terrain are.

Next up, we've actually got to do the terrain pieces to put on our area bases. I tend to make lots of little round terrain pieces that I can move about as I need to rather than one big one. I find it gives me flexibility on the tabletop and makes it easier to store them after the game. In the rest of this tutorial, I'm going to show you how I make jungle, woodland and alien pieces.


There's nothing more evocative than the image of soldiers moving through thick jungle, much like the photo at the start of this tutorial. You don't really see much jungle terrain on the tabletop which is a shame as it's really easy to put together.

First off, start with some 60mm flat bases, or any sort of base really, I've used large flying bases and even cut my own out of plasticard in the past. Avoid cardboard at all costs as it's prone to warping. In this example, I've added some milliput so that my bases don't look flat but this isn't essential.

Next gravel and seal them in exactly the same way as the area terrain pieces and leave them to dry overnight.

Once they're completely dry, paint them up in the same way as well.

Then, brush glue around the edges of the bases and then cover them in static grass. Make sure you put something underneath them to catch the overspill so you can put it back into the tub once they're dry.

When they've completely dried, you'll be left with something like these.

Next up, you're going to need some jungle plants. You can buy these from GW but I highly suggest you head down to your local pet shop. Pet shops stock all sorts of handy stuff for hobbyists, from various types of gravel to plastic plants, which is what we need for this project. These are a few packets of plastic plants I picked up from my local pet shop, I got quite a lot for a lot less than the GW plants.

Get your plastic plants and then cut them up into individual plants.

Then, simply glue the individual plastic plants onto your bases and leave them to dry. Once dry, you'll have something like this.

Once you've got your area terrain pieces and foliage bases together, throw them down on the table, add some models and you're ready to go.


By far the most common foliage feature on the tabletop is the wood, whether it's the GW plastic woods or ones made from various hobby trees, or even scratch built ones. I'll be covering how to build your own trees in the future, for this tutorial we'll look at how to base hobby trees as GW plastic ones already come with their own bases.

First off, simply glue the tree to a round base, in this case a 60mm sentinel base, using some pva glue.

Then simply cover the base in gravel and paint it up in the same way as we did the jungle bases.

Next, you're going to need some scenic material such as static grass and clump foliage. Clump foliage comes in various colours and I find a mix of colours works best.

Glue the static grass around the edges of the bases like we did with the jungle pieces. Once it's dry, add some clump foliage at the base of the trees using pva.

Once it's dry, you'll have some very simple but very effective tree bases to use to make woodland area terrain for your games. Once on the table, they'll give you a great looking woodland scene.


It's quite common to see woodlands on tabletops and even jungles but the one rarity is alien terrain which is quite strange considering 40k is a science fiction game. Making alien terrain pieces isn't that hard, you just need to find the right materials.

As a starting point, I highly recommend pot pourri, yep, that smelly stuff the women folk like to scatter around the house, it's perfect for alien terrain.

First, pick out some interesting pieces that you think would work well together. It's best to get more than you need, so you've plenty to experiment with when putting together the terrain bases.

Once you've got a good selection, dip them in your watered down pva and then leave them to dry. This will give them a protective coating, stop them smelling and help with any painting you want to do.

Once they're dry, gravel some bases as described with the jungle pieces and then glue them on.

Once they're completely dry, paint up the bases and add some static grass. You'll also find that since they were dipped in pva, you can quite easily paint the pot pourri if you like.

As you can see, even on the typical green grass tabletop, they do have a real alien feel to them.

And there you have it, a simple guide to creating heavy foliage terrain for your tabletop. I hope you've found this tutorial useful and I hope it inspires you to create some of your own.


J.R. Vosovic said...

great post man, thanks.

Wargame News and Terrain Blog said...

Sweet stuff! Really love the alien flora!


Magilla Gurilla said...

As always excellent work.
From an extremely selfish standpoint: would it be possible to include a few desert terrain tutorials?

Dverning said...

a few desert terrain tutorials?
What, aren't all deserts just flat sand and more sand? :-p

@Corbane: Okay, I think I'm going home and working on terrain tonight. This is eminently inspirational!

Col. Hessler said...

Soo glad you are doing some terrain tutorials. Ideas along these lines should never be overlooked. You have offered up a bunch, mate.


Von Muller said...

nice one dude, Might have a go at some of them

jabberjabber said...

I hadn't thought about pot pourri for alien terrain before -- this is an excellent suggestion! Thanks for sharing all these tips!

Frag_Dad said...

They're some really effective techniques! I don't have a table to play on at the moment, but when I do I reckon I'll have a crack at this. I particularly like the alien flora!

Diadochoi said...

This was how I was taught to make to terrain way back when I was a nipper in the 90's. Glad to see you are keeping up the "artform". I like a a good MDF scatter piece that you can take the trees off of, so your models fit on, but you still know the defined edges of the terrian. And you used to be able to buy the hobby trees from GW in 5 to a bag until about 2006, when they introduced the single warped plastic tree for £10, which does look cool but.... ah, well I'm sounding like a Grumpy Old Man, when what I intened to say was, great post and spread the knowledge.

Blitzspear said...

So tyring these out one rainy sunday afternoon, looks like something the kids could help with, especially the bizzar alien terrain.
Nice work Colonel.

Zzzzzz said...

The sheer volume of your output is amazing. And its all good as well.

Col. Corbane said...

Thanks guys, glad you all liked them.

@Diadochoi - I remember those trees matey, times have changed greatly ... Grumpy old men together.

@Blitzspear - They're great projects to do with the kids mate, I do all my scenery projects with the kids.

Green Stuff Sculpting said...

Well, dude, those look amazing. despite they aren't my cup of tea, the pot-pourri alien scenery is really novel and just shows anything can me made into something it wasn't originally designed for. The wonders of the human artist ability, eh?

There are no surprises why the club have been getting you to build and make the gaming terrain.

You'll have to bring some of this to the club so I can have a closer look.

Unknown said...


Now can you do urban just for me please :)

Grot Orderly said...

That's amazing tutorial mate! I love it :D

Col. Corbane said...

@GSS - Cheers mate, I'll bring a scenery set down to the club one night. It'll make a difference to playing over the typical club stuff.

@Mercer - Cheers mate, what do you mean by urban exactly?

@Zigmunth - Thanks mate

Deserter said...

Great tutorial there! As always, a great blogpost, had been thinking about making some similar terrain recently so this is a really nice inspiration!

Sholto said...

It's all good, but I love the simplicity of the trees and bushes. I've been meaning to base my trees for a while, and might just order up a bunch of 50mm bases to do it properly. Thanks :)

Unknown said...

Col - I like Cities of Death style boards. So probably area terrain with building debris etc etc.

Col. Corbane said...

@Chris - Thanks, hope it helps mate.

@Sholto - No worries mate, sometimes it's the simplest of things that are the best.

@Mercer - I'll see what I can do mate, although I just normal use broken up sprue, gravel, wire and cod pieces.

iu_maddog said...

I do a similar sort of thing, but with Wooden nickels instead of 60mm bases. You can get a whole bag of them real cheap at any hobby store.

Thanks for the Alien Terrain ideas though!

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