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.


Tip-top river model

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.


Picture of wonderful wargame river

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.


Superb rapids model

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.


Unbelievably good pond model      


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.



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