Saturday, October 24, 2015

Armies On Parade: Trench Board in 24 Hours Challenge

Long post: Brew some coffee

So my local GW had their Armies on Parade for this year today. I was not going to enter, as if my lack of posts over the last month has been any indication, I haven't had time for modeling really.

In the store yesterday I was challenged to use existing fully painted models, but to construct from scratch a 2'x2' tile and paint it in less than 24 hours. Given that I had to sleep at some point, and my preschool boys with me today, I had significantly less time than the full 24.

But, I decided to give it a shot. More than anything, to use it as a learning experience - one of my biggest weaknesses is taking WAY too long to complete projects. Inevitably, I will always use as much time as I have. I'm a professional procrastinator and perfectionist. I also have been wanting to learn how to create miniature trench lines for a diorama for a while now. Seemed a perfect alignment to force myself to learn with only a minimal time commitment.

I'll have to only use supplies I have around my house, but given my borderline unhealthy obsession with construction, hobbies, and modeling, that's luckily a rather generous amount.

Friday Night: 10PM - 19 Hours to Competition

I start with a 2'x2' MDF board.

I would not recommend this for most projects - the board will warp and cause issues (note: foreshadowing) if you apply too much paint or other mediums to it. If you can get your hands on a 2'x2' piece of at least 1/4 inch plywood, that's WAY better. But, I didn't have plywood around.

Next, I know I want a trench line for my Imperial Guard... And no I didn't mean to say Astra Militarum. Unfortunately my regiment is in a corner of dark space that is severed off from Terra due to warp storms, and that particular change in nomenclature hasn't been able to be defined by my astropaths yet. So we are still called Imperial Guard. And yes I tell that same story every time someone corrects me in a GW, but I digress. 

A trench line takes a deep cut into the surface of the tile. Instead of cutting into a single 2x2 piece, I decide to use some floral green foam I have to 'build up' the terrain, leaving the MDF board as the base of the trench. This takes a little planning, as you are now building the trenches exactly the opposite way they are built in real life. 

I also decide that I want a focal point for the board. All winning Armies on Parade boards usually have that a theme or main model that make them stand out. I decide that I'm going to tear apart an old, unpainted basilisk I have and try to scratch build a Heavy Artillery Carriage with Earthshaker cannon on it. Foolhardy? Yes. Stupid? Definitely. Was I thinking ahead to the fact I only have 17 hours? Of course not. But I'll let my idiot self 10 hours from now deal with that error. 

So, I cut the foam to give me a large, central pit for the gun, and reuse the cut sections to form the trench headed off in each direction. ALWAYS DRY FIT THINGS FIRST. Learn from me people. 

After dry fitting everything, I smother the bottom of each piece with PVC glue, then stick them back down. This really needs about 1-2 hours to dry, but I don't have that time. Instead, as they slide around while I continue to work I simply drag them back into place. Ideally, I would have used a slightly stronger foam, and used a hot glue gun as well. On MDF this gluewill warp to high heaven, but on plywood hot glue is just fine. 

10:30PM - 16.5 Hours to Go

I try to seal up that gap between the foam pieces. 

The great thing about this foam, while it is embarrassingly weak and can't hold weight at all, it is incredibly easy to shape, cut, and work with even with a simple X-acto knit. So as the base shape for plaster, it is honestly ideal in my opinion. I cut the top of the trench walls to round them out at 45 degrees, then begin dragging the blade and gouging the foam to create the uneven terrain. You can see in the last photo one of the craters I sculpted. 

Digression: Crater Creation- The trick to doing this without any building up (just cutting out) is to dig down a bit around the crater, lowering the height of the surrounding ground. This makes it look like the crater 'rises' out of the ground, but allows you to keep the single piece of foam. To make the hole itself, stick your blade in at a 45 degree angle from the outside top of the hole, and get the point as close to the center of the crater as you can, then, leaving that center point as still as possible, cut a circular cone out of the foam. And don't worry at all if you rip the roam or have rough edges - That's what your going for!

Also, I didn't worry that the cuts in the foam were so evident. Because the foam is so brittle I have to cover the whole thing in plaster, and that will easily smooth over the cuts. 

11PM - 16 Hours left

I began splattering on the plaster, just applying it by hand. I wish I had modeling plaster, but all I had around was a sheetrock patch plaster. It would have to do, but it's drying time and brittle nature would become my two new biggest headaches. 

This step was a lot like applying icing to a cake. I noticed my fingers were leaving streaks, and hated it at first, then decided to use it for something. 

By globbing on the plaster and dragging my fingers through it, I was able to sort of simulate tracks and trenches. I decided the bottom of the trench should be muddy, while the top dirt outside the trench will be rocky. This will save me some time, and some supplies. It also allows me to be sloppy while applying the plaster, which helps on the time too. 

At this point I have to wait. Nothing I can do until the plaster dries, which I know will take a bunch of hours. 

7AM - 10 hours to Go

Not good....

I've made this mistake before, and should have known better. The unequal amounts of plaster and glue applied to the MDF board have caused it to warp as they dry, creating some rather large cracks where the foam edges are. While another coat might cover up these blemishes, I just don't have time. 

On top of this, I'm on Dad duty from 9-2pm while my wife is at work and have to watch my 5 month old and 3 year old. I have to be ready to set up the board at 5PM. I still think I can make it, but I'm realizing some dreams for this board need to die, now. 

First, the ordinance gun is gone. Not happening. Second, I love to add small details and character to a board like this, be it ladders, dropped equipment, graffiti, etc. but none of that will work either. I have time for some texture, paint, and maybe some glue elements. Hopefully it will dry by 5PM. 

8AM - 9 Hours til Competition:

I've decided that I have to get all the texture and dirt done before my boys go nuts, then let it all dry during the day (hopefully) and paint from 2-4PM. I start by spreading a moderately thick layer of PVA glue on 6"x6" sections so I can get the ballast down before any of it dries. I use 4 different sizes of railroad ballast (fancy name for expensive rocks), random bits, and timber pieces from my mulch our front. I start with the largest pieces in each section, then next place the second larges pieces, slowly working my way out to the smallest sand which I just scatter over all the other areas. 

When done, it works pretty well. If you base paint your terrain before this step, and use rocks that match your color scheme, many people can stop here. I am going for a much darker and dirty world though to match the bases I have on my painted IG army. Some black primer will be needed. 

Crater Update: Back on the topic of craters, use your larges debris to line the ring of the hole. Again, work down to your smallest rocks outward, but make sure to leave the center very clean unless you want it to be an old and weathered crater. New craters are bare and burned. Make sure to not place too much debris. Think about the size of the foam you cut out to make the crater. If you put all your rocks you're using into that shape, they can't be more than maybe 75% of it's size (since some stuff if just vaporized). The burned tree by the crater above is just a piece of garden mulch shoved into the plaster and foam. 

Hopefully all the glue will dry by the time my wife gets home. 

Break for Daddy Duty: 9AM-2PM

Painting time: 2PM - 3 hours to competition

So I notice right away that the glue in some spots seems a little plastic-y still, and I put the plaster on so unevenly is also starting to chip and crack more. No time for 'should haves', I have to push on. 

I only show these photos because I actually loved the way the board looked here, it just wasn't at all what I was going for. (Mud isn't white, for example). But, it did give me great inspiration for future projects, as using the black spray primer to create shadows and burned edges I think would be great. 
One thing I WOULD do if I pursued this, is paint the plaster before I added the rocks and sand. You can kind of tell from the crater pic, but the underside on some terrain is white, and really jolts the eye as it's just not realistic. If I had primed this a darker color, then applied the ballast, I might be tempted to stop here. Live and learn. 

Black priming is done, and I go back with a brush to touch up the little spots that the can missed. And again, my plaster fails on me. The highest edges are extremely brittle, and break off showing the white below. Some people will dye their plaster for this reason. I should have just given the whole model a rough 'brushing' with a regular painters brush before I started priming to break these loose pieces off. Damn. We'll no time to stop now. 

2:30PM - 2.5 Hours to go

I place the tile under 2 fans, and pray that the primer dries fast. I should wait an hour, I wait 15 mins. 

I go ahead and give the top rocks a dry brush with Steel Legion Drab, then a dry brush with BaneBlade Brown. The mud I spray with Rhynox Hide, then Khaki, and the rocks I hit with Dawnstone then Adamantium. I leave the corners the darker color, and make sure to focus highlights on the top edges of the trenches. It's coming together now, I might just make it. Side note: I love dry brushing. Probably saved me on this endeavor. 

3:30PM - 1.5 Hours to Armies on Parade (drive time to store 15mins in case you're wondering)

The lighting in these photos is bad, and they're blurry, but I begin to now try and add some flock, moss, and other metal debris to the field. 

To apply my flock the method I use is a big blotch on first..

Followed by spreading it out using a 'stipling' technique. Essentially you want the center of your glue spot to be the thickest, and you want to almost blend your glue edges into the paint. This helps give a smooth transition from thick to thin on your flock. 

I try to put big puffs of flock in the center, then build to a thin drizzle on the outside edges. The clue dries clear and matted, so it's fine if you don't get 100% coverage.

3:45PM - Home Stretch

While I'm not happy about the many errors and issues on the board, I'm happy with where it stands at this point. I decide to add one fine set of steel fencing around the trench walls. I do this by breaking BBQ skewers to size, then wrapping them with the edges of the thin steel mesh I have. I then glue these to the walls. While they add a great detail (and no trench walls would be finished without some sort of support) I'm really not happy with them overall. The wood skewers are WAY too bright of wood, and the metal fencing just doesn't make sense - that's not holding back that much rock and dirt. If I had time, I'd try to model some metal or concrete looking walls using particle board and sprue arms. 

I throw a quick agrax earth shade on the toothpicks and the mud trenches to try to darken them and add a final touch, then it's packing this thing and getting it to the store. There is a lot of chipped plaster, and by no means would I call this done, but it is by most GW Store standards, table top ready. 

I literally didn't have time to take finished shots of the board. I'll post those tomorrow once I have time to set up the board and get good lighting. It will also show the areas I messed up better so you can see my mistakes and hopefully avoid them. 

Final "completion" time: 4:15PM... Phew. 

At the store, there we lots of great entries for Armies on Parade. I was lucky enough to bring home first, but I think some others deserved it more. I also think my placement was more due to my models than the board, but who knows. 

If you actually were able to stay with me all the way to this point, bravo! I'll set up the board with models and without them at home and take lots more shots tomorrow so everyone can critique and comment more fully. Today was more about the process, pitfalls, and joy of getting it done. Thanks for reading.