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Techniques for Diorama Scenery

Article by Joe Gray

GrayDioramas-2156 As everyone knows, I like to do scenery and I like to work with things found around the house. Recently I have been working with styrofoam and spackling compound for buildings and ground-work, and using air plants, skewers, string, and toilet paper for foliage, especially trees.

GrayDioramas-2155 There are several sources of styrofoam -- insulation, coolers, packaging, etc. These differing types yield different density and smoothness of the styrofoam.

Styrofoam can be cut with knives, saws, strings, etc. One can whittle or gouge out pieces and one can also sand it. Warning !! -- a lot of dust and trash is generated.

Once you've carved the basic shape, you can use spackling compound to fill the holes and gaps. I use a plastic spoon and 1/2-inch brush to spread and contour it. The result in many cases gives you something like rock, stone, or even an adobe building.

GrayDioramas-2177 I use common craft acrylic paints. One can spray and/or brush these on as needed.

This picture shows progress on making ground scenery for a winter scene. The tracks are carved deep into the styrofoam and the base will be covered in ground and snow.

Another thing needed in dioramas is foliage -- bushes, trees, etc. I have been making trees using air plants, kitchen skewers, string, toilet paper, and craft paints.

I have a home-made lathe; made from an old electric drill, some other odd parts, and controlled with a speed controller from a sewing machine.

A tree is started by chocking in a wood skewer of the right length. Then common string is wrapped onto the skewer and the lathe started. You just run the string up the lathe & back down until you have the diameter you want. You can use different diameter string depending on the size, scale, or type tree. When done, just CA-glue the end & trim the excess off.

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Next start some toilet paper at the bottom, carefully. Brush on some water, again not much. Then start running the toilet paper onto the stringed-skewer, wetting it every once in a while. This puts a sort of bark on the tree. The amount you use depends on how rough you want the surface. If the toilet paper breaks, just slap it back on and keep going -- makes the surface rougher anyway. If you want a rougher grain, use paper towels instead of toilet paper.

Next, select the colors for the tree and with the lathe turning, run the brush along the trunk, using the colors you want. Suggestions are several browns, and maybe some black highlight. Once you have these on, let them dry. Then go back and run a light wash on the trunk and this will blend the colors.

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Last, I drill small holes in the trunk where I want branches and fronds. The air plant trunks are stuckin those holes. There are many types of air plants so you can get different looks. Air plants are alive, so your tree will change over time.

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