Tutorial: Rock Bases

Crafting a Rock Base
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here are many different materials that are useful for creating rocks. The most obvious is rock itself, though there are a few problems with that. To start, there's no practical method for drilling rock at such a small scale. If you want your miniature to be standing atop, you'll have to use two-part epoxy to glue it in place. Pinning is always more stable, however, so luckily we have other options.

In this case, we're using pine bark, harvested by taking a hammer to a few trees. The hammer was really unnecessary, but I rarely turn down an opportunity to whack something with a hammer. We'll talk about cork bases later on.

The first thing I did was break the bark into a much more manageable section. This actually took several tries before I broke it into a piece that made me happy. I used two-part epoxy to glue it to the base then dotted it in a few areas with superglue to help secure the layers to one another.

When this was dry, I clipped a pin down to size, drilled a small hole in the base, and affixed the pin to the base with Zap-a-gap superglue. This will become a mushroom to add visual interest to the base (see my mushroom tutorial). When all things were dry, I once again used white glue -- this time not watered down -- to add some Woodland Scenics basing material to the non-rock portions of the base.

Bark can be very fragile as it dries, so it's better suited for display pieces rather than gaming ones. To help combat this weakness, you can break the bark into its component layers and then glue it back together with two-part epoxy, or you can add dabs of superglue at the joins and let it seep into the cracks. You can also add beads of white glue and basing material.

Glued and primed.
Primed and ready for rock-coloured paint. Note the two holes where I pinned the bark for extra sturdiness.
If you want real security, drill a hole down the middle and pin it, then cover the top of the hole with a small touch of fine texture. I've done that here as well.

To help disguise the obvious bark-like layers of the faux rock, I applied Liquitex natural sand texture gel to various areas. This is great, easy-to-apply stuff that I highly recommend for fine, gritty textures, but you could also use powdery dirt as a cheap alternative.

The entire thing was primed with several light coats of Decrolon flat white. You'll note the two holes I drilled so that I can later install a miniature.

The next stage was to begin painting. For your basic slate or grey granite sort of rock, start with thinned down GW Chaos Black. I've had excellent results with the Vallejo colours SS Camo Black #822 and German Grey #995 as well. It's important that we use a very dark base colour since we'll be working our way up towards lighter colours, eventually ending with a very pale grey or white.

Base coat of black.
Thinning down your base colour is an absolute necessity when painting rock. You want the minute crevices and pits to be dark since the raised edges will become lighter by progressive layers of drybrushing.
The most important thing when painting stone is the object's texture. It needs to be rough, with plenty of small ridges, bumps, grit, and cracks. At the scale that we're working, there are many things that give this to us -- just look closely at the texture of a paper towel. If used properly, even THAT can give us the texture we need.

I know that I've said before that your painting will improve if you stop drybrushing. Painting stone is the exception to that rule. You want to highlight the texture, and painting each of those tiny little texture bits individually is simply not efficient. Drybrushing is the way to go.

Kep's Footnotes
An example of a good drybrush Drybrushing is the technique of dipping your brush into paint and then wiping off most of it on a paper towel. What remains on the brush is used to quickly but carefully whisk across the surface of your target object, touching only the raised areas and leaving a highlight behind. Bear in mind that this can easily ruin a good brush. In fact, it's better to use OLD brushes for this because frayed bristles tend to better for the technique. The picture shows some brushes I use for this: An old Loew Cornell 434B, a Sargent size 4 series 9065, and the Loew-Cornell 1/4 270 Maxine's Mop.
Real rock is dusty and dirty from untold years hidden in the earth. Thus each layer needs to alternate between greys and browns while also slowly increasing in lightness until only highlights -- perhaps even up to pure white -- are added. Naturally, the more layers you use, the better the rock will look.

One reason rocks work so well for miniature bases is due to their inherent neutral colours. By layering browns (an essentially yellow or orange-based set of colours) with shades like GW Shadow Grey (a blue-purple tinted grey), we have effectively muted both colours, increase the rock's neutrality. We've also simultaneously enriched both colours. A little colour theory here: opposing colours form contrasts when not mixed, and mute each other when mixed. To dull down a red, add a small bit of green to it. In the case of a texture like rock, we are doing both. The layers still have some transparency so to our eyes "mix," while the nature of drybrushing ensures that each layer is visible through upper layers.

But enough of that. Let's move on to the actual step-by-step of your basic slate-based rock.

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