Tutorial: Plants & Vegetation

Adding Foliage, Grass, & Assorted Plantlife
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abits are odd things, often easy to start and difficult to break. One of the most common habits that miniature enthusiasts fall into is treating every base the same. I do it, and I've seen photos of other folks' work which shows that they do it, too. Glue sand to the base, prime it, paint it twice with Scorched Brown (or Dark Angels Green), drybrush with Graveyard Earth (or Goblin Green), drybrush with Bleached Bone. Bang. Done.

Honestly that isn't a bad way to finish a base, but with just a few more additions such as static grass, fallen leaves, and perhaps even a mushroom or two, we'll have a base that really looks great under the feet of most armies or adventuring parties.

Time to learn how to add some different visually interesting things to our bases. We know how to add rocks to a base, so let's look at plantlife. Plants are perfect because they're A) useful across many sorts of bases, B) scalable to different sized bases, and C) varied enough that we can use just a small touch of it or create a heavily themed base.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to assume that etched brass foliage is too expensive for your project or too difficult to find in your area. Nope, we'll be doing all of this with nothing more than the materials listed under the first photo; all very cheap and easy.

We'll start with the basics such as static grass, leaf clutter and field grass, move on to more involved plant life such as elephant grass, then cattails, bamboo, and lilypads, and finally move on to advanced foliage like leafy plants and flowers. If you're already familiar with static grass and fallen leaves, feel free to skip ahead to the next page.

Static Grass
Examples of static grass in place.
The combination of small elements such as static grass, leaves, and mushrooms combine to make a more interesting base.
Static grass is a product comprised of small fibers that tend to carry a charge of static electricity. This charge causes the strands to stand upright when glued to a base. Static grass is one of the easiest things to add to a base, and the process is very simple. Put a small dab of glue on the base and heavily cover it with a pile of static grass. Still, there are a few tips that will help optimize the effect.

Before using your static grass, give the container a quick shake. This will help generate static, which in turn helps the grass stand up. Put a dab of Zap-A-Gap is an excellent super glue used for miniatures and modeling. For particularly small parts, put some Zap-A-Gap on a space piece of plastic and, using tweezers, dip the small part into the glue -- it's a lot more accurate than using the tip of the bottle.Zap-A-Gap on the base, set the mini into a box lid, and drop a pile of static grass onto the glue. Make a bigger pile of static grass than you think you'd need; you'll be catching the excess grass in the box lid.

Let the glue dry for ten to fifteen minutes. Tap the miniature on the side of its base to knock off the pile of static grass, then turn the miniature over and gently blow on the base to make the strands stand up. If you don't wait long enough for the glue to dry, the previous two steps may knock off more static grass than you intended -- say 'NO' to wimpy static grass!

Some people prefer to drybrush a light shade of yellow, green, or cream onto the strands after the clump is fully dry. You could also carry this effect a step further, drybrushing a deep brown or black for a "burnt grass" appearance.

Leaf Clutter
Just about any time of year, one can find all sorts of clutter mixed in with the grass. Leaves, small branches, and natural detritus litter the ground. In the miniature scale, we have a host of ways of representing this.

Kep's Footnotes
Static grass placement. Where can I find static grass and leaf clutter?

Static grass is available from at least three companies: Games Workshop, Verlinden, and Woodland Scenics. All can be found in your local hobby stores (either Michael's or a store that carries GW product).

Hudson & Allen do not have a website, but sites that semi-regularly get new stock of their leaf clutter include CoolMiniOrNot and Fantization. You can also try eBay. The easiest and cheapest way to find leaf clutter is to visit the spice racks of your local grocer.
The material I most highly recommend is also unfortunately the hardest to find: Hudson & Allen Studio ground foliage. It's in high demand, so just about everywhere is sold out of it! Luckily, one bag and you're pretty much set for a lifetime's worth of miniatures. Essentially pre-sorted birch seeds, the particles make perfect leaves for 25mm-60mm scales. If you live in an area with plenty of birch trees, you may still be in luck.

Earlier, I'd mentioned that etched brass was too difficult to find, yet here I am recommending a product that remains sold out just about everywhere! Never fear, for I have plenty of very cheap and plentiful alternatives.

For starters, let's move to the kitchen and raid the spice rack. Basil leaves make excellent ground cover. Though the individual pieces aren't necessarily leaf-shaped, there's an assortment of varying colours, sizes, and shapes. You can pick out appropriate pieces with a pair of tweezers, but scattered sparingly onto a base works quite well. Some brands of basil leaves may require a bit of crushing to get leaf clutter of the right size.

Another spice rack treasure is thyme. In 25mm scale, these are more like oversized pine droppings, but like basil, can be quite convincing when spread on a base. If you drink a lot of tea, you can probably afford to slice open one of the tea bags and get a wonderfully convincing black earth or mulch. Don't worry overly much about the spices decaying; I've got about fifteen of the original Citadel plastic skeletons that were based with various spices and these are close to twenty years old with no signs of rot. Still, if you're going to use spices on your bases, I'd recommend clear coating after applying.

If you're still cautious about using spices or teas on your bases, head outside and pluck a few leaves off a nearby tree. Set them in a box somewhere and forget about them for a week or two. When well and truly dry, you can crush the brittle leaves with a dowel or the bottom of a paint bottle.

Applying leaves one at a time.
Top row, from left to right: Basil, Thyme, and Black Tea.
Bottom row: Placement of leaf clutter onto a base.
Whatever the material, you have two basic options for applying it to a base: individual pieces added one at a time, and blanketing the base. Individually placed pieces are better for your average base in my opinion, while blanketing the base is more suited to thick forest dioramas or autumn scenes.

In both cases, you want to use white glue; super glue just doesn't create the best bond for this stuff and doesn't allow much time for correct placement. For individual placement, I pour a small amount of white glue on a scrap piece of plastic or cardboard and use a toothpick to place small dots of glue on the base. With a pair of tweezers, I apply a single piece directly onto the glue and press down. It's not nearly as fiddly as you might expect, and moves quite quickly on your average 25mm sized base.

The blanket method is essentially the same as adding sand to the base, only you do not cover the entire base. With an old brush, create small "blankets" of glue. Place the base in a box lid and cover the base with your selected leaf clutter material. Let it dry, then tap the base sideways to remove the excess.

Field Grass
Fieldgrass examples.
It's easier to plant(haha, pun) field grass if you glue the strands together beforehand.
Before moving onto scratch built foliage in the next section, let's talk about Woodland Scenics Field Grass. This is simultaneously useful and frustrating stuff. Packaged loose in a plastic bag, it consists of individual strands of dyed natural hair - and a figure-it-out-for-yourself method of attaching it! Hopefully this tutorial will help.

There are two ways I've found best for attaching the field grass, depending on the material used to make the base. If you've used some type of styrofoam, such as you might do with a model train railroad layout or the ever popular hills used in most wargaming, you may have an easier time of it. Using the end of a small paintbrush or pencil, push a small dent into the area you want the field grass. Remove a pinch from the package and lay the strands over this dent (the dent should be directly underneath the middle of the strands). Use a pair of tweezers to push the strands into the foam at the bottom of the dent, then glue them in place.

Another method, and the one I prefer, is to prepare the strands for insertion into a base. First, use a scrap piece of plastic and put a liberal amount of Zap-a-Gap on it (or even Available in your local WalMart, this comes in a dual tube of smelly goo. Ensure that you have good ventilation -- this stuff stinks but it makes an excellent permanent bond.Devcon 5 Minute Epoxy, but white glue won't work for this). Take a pinch of the field grass and roll the center between your fingers, twisting it if necessary. While still holding the strands together, slide your fingers apart and dip the center into the glue, saturate it, and then pull it out. Hold the strands until they no longer try to pull apart, then set it aside to dry. After the field grass has dried, snip it in two with scissors or a sharp hobby knife. You should now have two clumps of grass that are ready to be inserted into a pre-drilled hole.

If you can handle that, you're ready to move onto more fiddly types of greenery.

If you found this tutorial helpful, why not donate to Necrotales to let me know?
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