Model Miniatures - Home
-- MAKING SCENERY --
-- WORLD WAR TWO VEHICLES --
Painting plastic figures
Converting polystyrene figures
Painting darkskinned figures
German WW2 infantry
Painting swords and axes
Dark age shield patterns
Painting 25mm faces
Basing 25mm figures
2mm scale figures
Useful modelling tools
How to waste money
I can't tell you everything at once, so you'll have to specify what you want to know.
Making scenery: MONUMENTS
I saw some Dapol (ex-Airfix , I think) figures in my local model shop, and had an idea. I wanted monuments which would pass for either fascist or communist 1930/40s, and these figures were suitable for the job. In that period, both the fascists and the communists were setting up monuments to their glorious regimes, which consisted largely of heroic workers toiling for the good of all, and staring with determination at the horizon of the future.
A block of wood has Milliput putty all around its edges, and into this are set the figures of railway workers. Some tools have been added to their hands with metal wire, and some things for them to shovel have been sculpted with Milliput. The base is three layers of thick card, glued together. The top has been scored with lines which suggest that the main part of the monument is made up of several blocks of stone, rather than one impossibly huge piece. The frieze of sculpted figures has been painted black and then dry-brushed with bronze paint. To be placed in the centre of a town, or perhaps in a walled cemetery.
Next to this, is an older statue of a local dignitary in a bowler hat. He has been painted black, and then dry-brushed with a couple of shades of green. A green patina forms on bronze statues after a while, so this statue is older than the main monument. A few tiny streaks of black and white, suggesting bird droppings, complete the paint job. His plinth is a short length of copper pipe, topped with the lid of a tube of pills (Tyrozets if memory serves).
Making scenery: HAY RICKS
These are not the modern machine-baled stacks, but the old-fashioned sort.
The central pole is just a twig. Around the base of this, I glued polystyrene packing material - the sort which comes in little bits, which look a bit like puffed up wheat snacks. Around these, I wrapped strips of cloth (from an old pair of underpants, actually), soaked in glue. With these cheesy-puffs and underpants, I built up the basic shape of the ricks. When all the PVA holding that lot together had dried, I then covered it with a thin layer of air-drying Das clay. With a dental tool, which was a lot like a scalpel, I sculpted the hay/straw texture into the clay, with a dabbing action.
The hay rick is kept clear of the ground and damp by building it on a raft of logs (twigs, of course). The hay is kept in place by logs, roped to the central pole, and weighted with rocks. The ropes are thread, the logs are tiny twigs, and the rocks are cat litter.
The hay is painted brown, dry-brushed golden brown, and then varnished with some dark brown paint mixed into the varnish. The pigment settles in the recesses, and stays there, enhancing the look of the hay.
For variety, I made one stack fairly big, and the other fairly depleted.
Making scenery: PERISCOPE
This is just the thing for one-up-manship over one's wargaming rivals.
The method of construction is the same as for the foam-board buildings (see buildings). This has been covered with blotting paper. The beam is veneer. The shutters are louvre-texture plastic card, with strips of card for the frames. I am thinking of adding a cloth awning, with cocktail stick supports, to cover the bottom aperture a bit more. I hate it when I have gone to a lot of trouble to paint my figures and scenery nicely, and some git puts a fast-play sheet and Coca Cola can on the table and leaves them there, spoiling the look of the table. In recognition of this, I have taken the trouble to disguise my periscope as a building, to make it less offensive to the eye.
The design of the periscope is not mine, though the design of its disguise is. To find the details of the measurements and angles of the workings of the periscope, visit Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames Page.
What is the use of this periscope? This photograph should tell you.
Can those Frenchies be seen between the two hay-ricks? They can! Open fire!
Yes, the periscope is a toy, but a nice one. It affords someone standing at a wargame table, an easy model-soldier's-eye view of the table top. It can be used to settle line-of-sight disputes, and it makes the table look far better than the usual helicopter-view of it we normally get.
Making scenery: RIVERS and PONDS
There are some great discoveries a person has to make on the way to making good scenery and the like. I remember discovering PVA glue, and soon was wondering how I ever managed without it. Milliput and cork were similar world-changing discoveries. My latest discovery, which leaves me feeling a fool for not having been using it for years, is brown acrylic mastic.
There are many types of mastic. The type you want for making rivers (and roads, and craters, and a fair few other things) is brown, not white, and very definitely acrylic, not silicone. If you try this with silicone, you will soon discover that paint will not adhere to silicone. Acrylic mastic takes paint very nicely. It comes typically in a cylinder designed to be loaded into a sort of gun, so that it can be squirted out in a controlled manner. It dries flexible. I'm told that in North America, this rubbery stuff, which is sold for sealing baths and windows, is called "caulking", while in France they simply call it "silicone", which could be confusing, since you want acrylic silicone, which seems a contradiction in terms. The brand I tried first was Vallance "All weather door and window frame sealant. V3*** performance. Brown." This cost me a mere £2.99 (Vallance 27 Trading Estate, Morley, Leeds LS27 0LL Tel 0113 201 2060 http://catalogue.vallance.co.uk). I have since found that Wilko does the same sort of stuff for £1.79, and it is a less reddish shade of brown, more earthy (Wilko Frame Sealant, from Wilkinson, P.O. Box 20, Roebuck Way, Manton Road, Worksop, Nottinghamshire S80 3YY 09109-505505). An Australian correspondent tells me that he found that "Caulk in Colours" gap filling sealant by Fuller was pretty much the same stuff. This apparently comes in several colours, and "Almond Ivory" is recommended, costing about A$6.50.
For the base of these river sections, I have used the rubbery stuff from which the drive belts of conveyor belts of postal sorting machines are made. A fellow wargamer who works as a postman got hold of some for me. It is ideal. It has a fair bit of weight to it, and is nice and flexible, strong, yet easy to cut. You could use thick cloth, or linoleum, or some other similar material.
Pipe the mastic onto the section of river you have cut, and smear it to a thin covering over the main part of the section. Next, pipe beading down the edges of the sections, to form raised edges which will represent the banks of the river. When you first pipe the mastic out, it is very sticky and difficult to work, so you may want to let is partially set before carrying on. Add a small amount of sculpted detail in the area which is to be open water, and as much as you can be bothered with for the banks. I have added cat-litter rocks, twig logs, sisal string reeds, bark lumps, foam shrubs, and rubber lichen bushes, to the banks of my rivers. It may seem to you that the stickiness alone of the mastic will hold these things in place for ever. Actually, when the mastic sets, you will find that many of these things will fall off, especially the cat litter. The cure for this is to make sure, when the mastic is still wet, that it hugs the thing you want to stay there, perhaps even comes right over it in places, and joins back to itself.
When this is dry, paint the sections. I used an earthy brown wash and sand dry-brush for the banks. The river itself I painted with mid green near the edges, where the water is slow and green stuff may grow; then had a band of pale brown and pale green for the shallows; then in the centre, more mid green, lots of dark green, and streaks of very dark brown, to represent the deeper faster moving water. All of these colours I painted on quickly, with watery paint, and I was happy to see them mingle while still wet. After these colours were dry, I dry-brushed the river with white paint, very gently indeed, to pick up the texture of the water - the ripples. The whole of the river (not the banks) then got a coat of gloss varnish. Some wargamers seeing the finished result have praised it for its realism, though more have commented that rivers should be blue. There's no pleasing some people.
The finished sections are durable, largely because they are flexible. They will not chip or crack. They lie fairly flat, even on undulating surfaces, and I think they are spiffy. I have made long straight sections, like the above, curves of several steepnesses, a fork, s-bends, and some short sections. I have also made bridge sections, and one rapids section.
Here we see the way I have solved the bridge problem. I have cut pieces of base material to fit under my wargaming bridges (the one shown is a Bellona vacuum-formed polystyrene one (which is a nice example of my technique of mixing dark enamel paint with varnish, such that it picks out the detail of stonework etc.). Simple.
This is the finest of my fluvial creations. It can be used to represent a ford, perhaps, but it is really a section of rapids - an unnavigable section. Twigs and large pieces of cat litter have been deeply embedded in the mastic. The mastic, representing water, is surging up over the twigs and cat litter, breaking in small waves, and running over the obstructions, and thus holding them fast to the base. The white paint on the raised bits of water is particularly effective here. When the mastic is in the process of drying, it gets to a state which makes it easy to sculpt these little waves. Dip a matchstick in the mastic and lift it and flick it to one side. The mastic comes up with the matchstick, and forms a little peak like a breaking wave. Hours of fun.
A pond. The base is a floppy plastic flooring tile, cut into a blob shape. The water and banks are constructed in much the same way as the river. The surface of the water is much smoother, and I have used different colours to represent still water. You can see how the wet paints have mixed a bit. In Crossfire, I count this as impassable terrain which doesn't block sight.
CUTTINGS, EMBANKMENTS, RIDGES and CRESTS
For these, I have used cork tiles. Cork is fairly cheap (mine was free - I found it in a skip), durable, light, and looks fine.
Here we see a curving section of cutting, shaped to match the curve of my sections of Hornby railway track. The outer slopes were cut quite simply with a big kitchen knife. The sort of thing Norman Bates killed the guests with in Psycho, not that I run a motel, mind you.
The edges were flocked with a very patchy pattern of flock. I quite like the look this gives - as though the cutting is quite a new construction, and grass is yet to colonise the slopes fully. The tops of the slopes have been left pretty bare of flock. This is because these same pieces of cork are railway embankments. I just close the gap between them to nothing, and place the track on top. To aid in this, I have painted the heads of a few mapping pins in mottled grey, to look like inconspicuous stones, and I pin the track down to the cork tile beneath, if necessary (which usually it isn't). I took a photograph of embankment to illustrate this, complete with the disguised pins, but it didn't come out. I'm sure you can imagine what I mean.
At the ends of the cutting, you can see end pieces for finishing off the raised area, which slope down in two directions. You won't need many of these. The picture shows them placed with a slight gap between them and the main piece of cutting. This is so that you can see the separate pieces. Placed flush, the join doesn't show much.
If you have some railway on an embankment in your scenario, then you will probably want to bring this down to the table top at some point. For this, you will need to build a ramp. This is the only tricky part of this cutting/embankment business, as the ramp has to be very shallow, and a kitchen knife won't give you the angle. I based my ramp on some thin card from a breakfast cereal packet, and glued several pieces of cork to this, carved down to various heights, and then smoothed over the transitions with a mixture of flock, sawdust and PVA. I had to place weights on it carefully, to get it to dry flat.
Cork and a psycho knife can also be used to create crest lines and ridges/crags. The crest lines slope down in all directions, and two examples can be seen in the middle of this photograph. The ridges/crags have one long rough broken edge, which is approximately vertical, one long sloping edge, and sloped ends. I've used lots of flock on these, covering almost all the cork. Part of the joy of cork, though, is that if the cork ever peeps through, it still looks fine.
Making scenery: CLIMBING PLANTS
This is a model of an overgrown ruin. I wanted the walls to look as though they had been prized apart by growing plants. Creepers could also be used to hide faults in the model. This is meant to be a ruin in ancient Egypt, so I wanted something that looked like a dry dead twisted woody old gnarled creeper. I used wool, the sort that you might knit a sweater out of. I put loads of PVA glue on the wool, and pressed it onto the model. I splayed out the end of the lengths of wool and pressed them down onto the surface of the stone. It dried stiff and hard, and could be painted brown and dry brushed a very pale sand colour, and this is the result.
For a less dead-looking version, you could add some flock. One of my model houses developed a crack on its pantiled roof, so I piped a length of brown acrylic mastic down the crack, and added a couple of lines branching off from this, and then added green leafy flock. Small lines of greenery don't need a mastic core. The “ivy” hid the crack nicely. I remembered to add a thick streak of mastic on the building's wall, representing the lower trunk leading to the roof.
This is plastic aquarium plant. The plants come in bunches, and are very flexible. They are designed to float upright, and sway in the current. I simply cut a length, put on loads of PVA glue, and pressed it into place and waited for it to dry stiff and hard. It was a bit too strongly green, so I dry-brushed it with a pale green mixed with sand-coloured paint.
Making scenery: ROADS and CRATERS
This is another thing you can make once you have discovered the joy of brown acrylic mastic. See the section of rivers for more on mastic.
Get some cloth. I used thickish plain cotton. Cut it into strips, curves, forks, s-bends and whatever other road shapes you want to make, all of the same width.
Next, pipe a load of mastic onto the cloth, and spread it around to cover all the cloth reasonably evenly. Sprinkle some of the finer particles of cat litter along the roads.
Leave the result to dry for a bit, twenty minutes to half an hour is good. If you don't wait a while, you'll find that sculpting the surface is very tricky, because the mastic is very sticky when it first comes out into the air, and I found it to be near unworkable when in this state.
Once the mastic has calmed down a bit, sculpt/texture the surface. I used a matchstick for most of the work. Make sure that the cat litter dust is worked into the surface, not just lying on it. In the example stretch of road pictured, you can see where a cart has made a two-point turn (on the left of the picture). If you are only going to use the road for modern warfare, then you might want to use tank tracks and the like to make impressions. This kind of road is useful for almost all periods, however, so you may want to refrain from this. Dirt roads were the norm until very recently, and pictures I have seen of metalled roads in wartime often show them to be covered with mud and dust.
Paint the road with a brown acrylic wash, to give some variety to the colour of the brown mastic. Once this wash is dry, dry-brush with a big cheap brush, in a light sandy colour. You may want to trim the edge to be very neat. The mastic will stop the cloth from fraying, so you can do this. I chose not to, however, as I wanted the road to have a bit of a wobbly edge to it. I used dull green cloth, and you can just see in the picture some untrimmed edge to the cloth sticking out, which looks a bit like grass growing on the verges, and it softens the edge of the road.
The final result is a flexible road, which has a pleasant amount of weight to it. It will flop under its own weight to lie properly on the table, despite whatever bumps it is placed over. If it gets a bit scrunched in storage, don't panic. Lie it out flat and it will soon recover its shape.
Quick, easy, transportable, durable, versatile, cheap.
One correspondent told me that he had put grass flock down the centre of his roads, for a "rural" look. A word of caution here. Many people think of roads with grass growing up the centre as an old-fashioned sort. One often sees these used as locations in period films. These are a modern phenomenon. In the days of motor transport, the wheels of cars and lorries go either side of the untrampled middle, where grass grows. In the days of horse and foot transport, the centre of the road was usually the most trampled part. Most vehicles were drawn by a single horse in the centre.
The photograph has not been kind to this. In reality, it looks a fair bit more three-dimensional. The base of this crater is cut from a floppy plastic floor tile - a sort of linoleum. The height of the crater sides is built up from cork and whatever else came to hand. The whole was then covered with lovely brown acrylic mastic, and sculpted into a crater shape. The bottom of the crater was made very flat, by dipping a finger in water and using the tip to smooth this area. Away from this area, the rounded butt of a paint brush was used to create radial lines.
The earthy bits got a brown wash, then dry brushed sand, and flocked with grass flock. The smooth area at the bottom was painted to look like a murky puddle, and given a gloss varnish finish. Viewed from the right angle, the puddle reflects the light like the surface of flat standing water.
I hope that you don't mind my putting roads and craters on one page. This section is getting rather large, and they both use mastic.
Making scenery: WATER TREATMENT PLANT
I was going to put this under "other buildings", but decided that it deserved its own section.
Be honest now, have you ever seen a water treatment works on a wargaming table? I was inspired to make this the moment I saw the lid for the cheese packet I bought. The cheese was a sort of ersatz Boursin (soft cheese with garlic and herbs), and the packet it came in was a little plastic pot with an inset lid. Fortunately for me, I quite liked the cheese, because I needed four packets to make this water treatment works.
The four sunken tanks are the cheese packet lids. The arms of the water sprinklers are lengths of steel wire cut to length and bent to shape, glued on with super-glue. I made the central pivots for the arms from Milliput. The filtration/precipitation tanks were painted grey, and varnished, then the very finest dust from my supply of cat litter was glued to the bottom of each tank with PVA.
The box on the left is made from thick card, glued to a core of cork. The pipe coming from it is a bendy drinking straw. The man-hole cover in front of the place where the pipe goes into the ground, is made from a ribbon of fibrous plastic which I bought from Ikea for £26. This may seem expensive, but these fibrous strips came wrapped around a shelving unit which came free with the ribbons. The ribbon has a cross-hatched texture on it, which I dry-brushed for emphasis.
The base is foam board (also called kappa board, or foam core), in which circular recesses have been cut for the tanks. The edges have been cut at an angle, and the exposed foam covered with brown acrylic mastic. The rest of the earth is a mixture of wall filler, brown poster paint, and PVA. Flock the base and hey presto - become the envy of all your friends! In my games of Crossfire, I count this as good cover, which does not block sight. I hope that your troops don't object too much to the smell.
Making scenery: GARDENS and HEDGES
These two topics are quickly dealt with, so I saw no need to give each its own page.
This building has a walled garden. The ground has been textured with a mix of Tetrion wall filler powder, mixed with water, PVA glue, and dark brown poster paint. While this was still wet, neat rows of vegetables were added. During World War Two, most gardens were turned into vegetable plots. The plants are: pieces of green foam, pieces of red and yellow rubber lichen, small pieces of dark green flock/foam. A simple idea, which looks rather nice, I think.
The plants along the far wall are: some green towelling, some plastic aquarium plant, some unidentified dried plant matter, some rubberised horse hair painted black (and, after this photograph was taken, flocked with very light green saw dust flock), and rubber lichen.
In the foreground, a short wooden fence, made from card planks and matchstick posts and bracers, contains a pile of coal. The bulk of the pile is polystyrene packaging material, covered in the same mixture used for the earth of the garden, and over this has been glued a thick layer of some black grit I found which looks like miniature coal. Model shops sell miniature coal for modellers of old-fashioned railways. Until very recently, many gardens had piles of coal in them.
Above the back door to the house, is a lamp, painted dark blue. I have used a common manufactured item to make this. It consists of one single piece. The photograph does not show the light-bulb under the shade, but I assure you that there is a light-bulb shaped protuberance under there. If you think that you can guess what I have used to make this lamp, have a guess now, and the first total stranger who sends me the correct answer will win a prize. Foreigners are, I suspect, at a disadvantage, since the item is likely to be far more familiar to we Brits. By crikey, this web site gets more exciting by the minute.
Some simple hedges. These are made from dish-scourer pads. In Britain, these are usually green (I have seen orange ones). I fear that in other countries, they may be made in other colours, and green ones might be difficult to get. I've no idea how to dye or paint them if they are the wrong colour entirely. Anyway, I made a base from thick card, textured with wall-filler, and glued on (good old PVA again) the scourer pad material and lots of little twigs, and then dry-brushed the result with very light green acrylic paint. The result is very sturdy and light.
The top design shows a fairly neatly-kept length of hedge, where I have cut long sections of scourer pad, and then roughed these with small off-cuts of pad glued here and there. The bottom design shows a less kempt design, with lots of smaller bits of pad glued across the width of the base. Since the bits tend to end up a bit square-edged, a lot of trimming is needed to hide this offensive perpendicularity.
Another type of hedge I have made is one using rubberised horse hair. A length of this is cut, sprayed black (optionally), and then flocked. I then put a black-painted length of wire running along the inside, towards the bottom. The idea was that this wire would allow me to bend the hedge into any shape required for a wargame. In truth, however, I must report that this design does not work terribly well. The wire twists within the hedge, and refuses to lie flat much of the time, and the flock comes off the horse hair, no matter how much glue I use.
Here, then is the improved version of the horse-hair hedge. I noticed that I never used the earlier versions, so I removed the wire from them, and cut them into lengths to be mounted on card bases. This way, they don't flex and shed so much flock. These were very quick to make, and so I made a load more.
Get some rubberised horse hair, cut a length of it roughly the size of the finished hedge section, then trim the corner edges off it to get rid of the very square shape. Next, cut a piece of thick card to the right size for a base. Next get a mastic gun, and some brown acrylic mastic (see rivers and ponds article) and cover the base with mastic, thinly at the edges and very thickly in the centre. Next, squish your length of rubberised horse hair down into the mastic. There is no need for glue at this stage, as the thickness of the mastic will hold it in place, and it will dry quite quickly. I found that the card bases warped while the mastic was wet, but went straight again when the mastic had dried. While the mastic is wet, you may like to add extra texture the base, like the little tufts of vegetation you see on the upper of the two hedge sections (green garden twine cut very short). I have also threaded little twigs through the centre of the hedge and down into the mastic, for a ramshackle rustic look.
Paint undiluted PVA glue over the hedge, and sprinkle on flock. The upper hedge is the newer hedge and uses one kind of flock. The lower one was the older type and used flock I considered too dark (it looked fine when I made it, but wargame tables in my experience tend to be badly lit). I therefore decided to add a second, lighter shade of flock, and I rather like the effect. Old hedgerows tend to have more than one species of plant in them, so this is a model of an older section of hedge.
BARBED WIRE and OTHER STUFF
I have one photo' which illustrates several things.
Here we see a white metal Tetrarch glider tank (by MMS Models) in a ploughed field, behind barbed wire, with smoke pouring out from it.
This is made from aluminium mesh, sold in car repair shops for repairing holes in car bodywork. Cut the mesh along the line of the strands which go in one direction, and the snipped remains of the strands which run in the other direction will become the barbs of the wire. These barbs are realistic in two ways. First, they are about the right distance apart for 1/72nd scale barbed wire; second, they are blinking sharp, so be prepared to get a few cuts.
The wire has been put onto bases, with cocktail stick uprights, glued onto card bases textured with wall filler. While these bases dry, they have an annoying tendency to warp such that the middles rise, leaving just the ends on the table. To counter this, you could perhaps wind on the wire before waiting for the base to dry. To do this, you will have to make sure first that the uprights are securely fixed to the base, requiring a two-stage process. The wire then holds the base straight. A coil of wire has been added running down the centre of the posts. This was made by winding a strand around a pen. The wire needs gluing to the posts in a few places only, since it grips the uprights pretty well on its own. A corner section of wire has been made with posts forming a triangular pyramid.
Paint the wire with some rust paint to knock the worst of the shine off.
This is very simple. It is dark brown corduroy cloth, with thick cords. This moulds to the bumps of the table, and is light and easy to store. Do NOT let anyone put down his tea cup on it, though, because the ring left will stay there forever.
Most people use cotton wool, but this makes rather clean white smoke. This dirty smoke is hamster bedding. It is sold in a variety of colours, one being black, another, shown here, grey/black which I think is ideal for smoke. What's more, it is very cheap.
The hill in the background, not I admit very clear, is a flat-topped bump made from several layers of cork wall tile. Cork is light and strong, and doesn't need painting. The slope at the edge of the hill is created by cutting each layer a bit smaller than the one below it, and then gluing all the layers together. I have added some green flock for good measure.
Vacuum formed terrain.
The other thing in the background on the right is a Bellona vacuum-formed anti-tank gun emplacement. The one tip I have about using this sort of stuff, is that one can make it a good deal stronger and less likely to leave the table when a puff of wind comes through the window, by gluing a mixture of saw-dust and PVA to strategic parts of the underside, packing it into the larger crevices.
These are resin moulded models by Hovels. They look good in fields which have some corn still standing, mid-harvest, as here.
This is doormat, cut into little squares. This is a particular type of doormat, which has a rubber layer at the bottom, holding together all the fibres. The field has a rather modern look, since the fibres are all nearly the same height, and there are no weeds growing amongst the wheat. Perhaps one could scatter some red flock on, to represent poppies.
Making scenery: TRENCHES
Trenches are a problem for the wargamer. Tables are flat, and trenches are holes. The portable hole, though one was featured in the film Yellow Submarine, is beyond current technology, and all solutions to the trench problem are imperfect. Some people build a little mound, and then sink the trench into it. I have a Bellona vacuum-formed trench made this way, and I don't like it much because it looks like a hill with a trench in it. Other people build up the entire table with enormous pieces of terrain, and sink trenches into that. This means that you get rather limited terrain, which has to be the same or similar every game, and you need a large vehicle to transport the terrain, and a large room to store it in.
Another approach to the trench problem is to model not the full depth of the trench, but just the top of the trench, and then make cut-down figures to go in the trenches. You buy figures and cut just head and shoulders/arms off them, and use these to represent troops in the trenches. This is nice enough if you can be bothered, but it means that you have to make two versions of all your troops, and life is too short for that.
All solutions to the problem are compromises. Here is mine.
Here you see one stand of Sikhs about to enter a trench, and another already there. The trench piece is reasonably small and durable and easy to transport and store. It does not look like a hill, because it isn't tall enough for that. It appears deeper than it is, because the bottom of it is painted a darker colour, and because imagination helps the illusion along a bit. The raised sides of the trench come up about to knee height on the figures.
The trench section is a piece of thick card, with pieces of cork glued on it to bring the sides up a bit. The outside of the trench has a gentle slope, and the inside a steep one. The same mud mix that I use to base my figures binds everything together and fills the gaps (you could use brown acrylic mastic to do the same job). At one end of the trench, some corrugated iron sheeting (Wills plastic sheeting - actually transparent before painting) acts as a roof from the elements. You could use planking, corrugated iron, or similar to line the inside of the trench. Troops who had the time would often shore up their trenches this way. Sometimes wattle fencing was used.
This trench is a simple shape: a rectangle. Trenches were also U-shaped and L-shaped quite commonly. Larger trenches would always have angles in them, so that shrapnel from a shell landing in the trench would not blast down the full length of it, but would soon meet a corner.
Here we see some British paras (Esci and SHQ) in a trench. The front edge of it has been fortified with sand bags. These are made from Milliput putty. I rolled the putty into a sausage shape, then cut it into lengths with scissors. The cutting action pinched the putty into bag-like ends, and these pieces were simply pressed onto the model and then painted when dry.
Here we see corrugated iron sheeting used to revet the front edge of some trenches. It is made from Wills sheeting. Some of it I have painted green, and some of it blue, to suggest that it has been scavanged from a civilian building. The formation of the trench has little communication trenches linking fighting areas.
Making scenery: TOWELLING
Towelling is not the most realistic or visually impressive of scenery, but it looks fine, and is very useful for the rucksack wargamer (a man who has to be able to put everything he games with in one rucksack). Towelling can be used to pack all manner of other things safely inside a rucksack. It is good for wrapping around a model in a box, to stop it from rattling around. Then, once unpacked, no matter how scrunched up it was, it can always be made to lie flat on any surface. You don't need to hem it or edge it. All you need do is cut it up into a variety of shapes and sizes.
With four different colours, as any mathematician will confirm, it is possible to have any combination of contiguous pieces on a table top, without two neighbouring pieces' being of the same colour. The different colours can be used simply to show borders between terrain pieces, or they can represent different terrain types (bogs, rough ground, depressions, whatever). Also, one can add some marker to each piece of towelling, as shown below. Some sections count as forest (those with trees), and some as rough ground (those with bushes).
The roughness and shagginess of the towelling lends it a natural and terrain-like look, and hides a multitude of sins, such as a slight overlap between two pieces. A slight fraying of the edge look fine with towelling, whereas other cloths draw attention to themselves with a bit of fraying, shouting "I'm just a piece of cloth!"
In an emergency, you could even dry yourself off with it, if it still seems clean enough.