When I wake I'm still in a dream

In most men dreams I suppose you will find dolls running through fields late at night after men like in those films from the 70's. I suppose this is the case for me too, but the dolls tend to be ghosts from my past, who take many shapes and befriend the creatures that haunt the rusty landscapes of my dioramas.

Generally speaking I would say that wherever the man built and destroyed, left and came back you will find a part of me and a fertile ground for my imagination. 

But then throughout this rusty mess some big light burst came in and terrorised my pet ghosts: my wife and I got a baby!!

So here came the tiny thing and there went our sleep as fast as light. From as far as I remember I always had some troubles to make a difference between dream and reality it really got worse since that moment. So almost daily at sunset this spring and summer I put the laundry on the wire between the two old rusty poles that separates our small garden and the one of the neighbours listening to calm music at loud volume in my headphones –with the sun in the eye too- and one day both my worlds collided and I saw myself putting the laundry on the gun cradle of a boat, with both rusty poles being replaced one way by a funnel and the other one by a rusty boat mast. 

And I fell like I had no choice than doing a diorama out of this.

Sokol diorama


The idea was just so clear it didn't take me much time to come with decent plans. The same evening those were drawn. They showed the upper structure of a boat, and some groundcover just like if the boat had stranded and broke underwater in some marshes.

But then I didn't know at first where to set up the action nor which boat to use.

Since 2 years i show my stuff on internet I have been asking many questions, received many answers, was pointed to many links which allowed me to build a comfortable stash of reference concerning early Russian XXth century material in which I set up to find the right boat. 

The main issue I had to take care of was the funnel. It shouldn't be as big as it would dwarf the figure standing near it. This alone limited my choices to some kind of torpedo boat as destroyers' funnels were certainly too big. Then i remember last year meeting a Finnish modeller who was into immerse into his country's naval history. He sent me some pictures of his work –but also a great picture he owned showing the close up of the gun cradle of a torpedo boat of the Sokol class. Now searching a bit deeper, I managed to find some book about Sokols which was of help when it came to plans but which only showed some general view of the boat. Those would be certainly enough to create a 1/700 model but a bit bad for bigger scales. Nonetheless I set up for a Sokol thanks to that one and great close up picture I was given.

Furthermore, some profiles in the book as well as a picture I was sent showed a particular ship of the class which was painted green which could prove useful as I never showed any enthusiasm towards the  XXth century mostly grey colour of ships. 

So what were Sokols? The name means "falcon" in a lot of eastern European languages. The real Sokol was built in England for the tsar by Yarrow, and was later copied more or less brilliantly by Russian arsenals. A good dozen (?) were built, a few sank during the Russo-Japanese war, some others were used as minesweepers during World War One –the Finns managed to pick up a few for their own navy when they gained their independence in 1920, and the rest was finally scrapped during the 1920's. 

This is one of those, dragged from the sea coast to a marsh and let rusted. It could almost be an accurate scene.

The challenge

I just can't start a new diorama if there is no real challenge for me to start with. 

But this proved not really hard to find. 

You know what's pretty hard to model when you want to scratchbuild those kind of early XXth century warships? The main guns a well as the rear one stand on some large metal surface pierced with hundreds of holes.

I remembered gloomily of the pictures my Finn friend sent me of his own handsome 1/48 Sokol model and had a look at his pierced gun cradle only to realize he did all the holes by himself using a drill. 

I don't have the patience to work like this so i had to think of an easier way which would guarantee some even holing scheme.

Then I wanted to create a marsh and got to remind a childhood memory I am very fond of. Some flooded old Gaul quarry near my hometown where we used to bath, whose water was so pure we could have a look at the fish way below our feet. 

So I decided the water would be see through and that yet, when we would have a look to the diorama from its side, the water would be of a nice blue/green shade just like it would be in a normal bit of still water.

Last but not least, i wanted to work further idea that a diorama should show the direction of the light. I set up against for those warm colours you get at sunset. Here the light would come almost horizontally and bath most of vertical surfaces. I was aware right since the start that the diorama would work best viewed from one specific angle, but yet the point would be that different colours schemes would be available if the viewer chooses to have a look from unexpected angles.

The guns

I was afraid that I were about to start the holed gun cradle, I would trash the whole project at the first downside if things would turn nasty. 

So i had to begin the diorama with something easy enough to build and yet challenging enough to sustain my motivation in harder times.

I decided I would start with the guns.

The small one would be a 37 mm Hotchkiss single barrelled gun. It was built by the French society Hotchkiss around 1890 and sold throughout the world as both a land gun and a naval piece of artillery (used by the British as the One Pounder). 

It was of course sold to Russia around 1890 so that it could be mounted on most of their ships. After the Russo-Japanese war, this close combat gun was removed from the larger ships and stayed only on River monitors as well as PT boats. I really wanted to model this one because I sensed it was pretty easy to make and then I had a ton of good quality plans at disposal.

The first step was the barrel that I cut from a brass tube I bought in a RC shop. I glued an evergreen cylinder of a larger section at the big end of the tube, put some Magic Sculp on the tube and rolled gently the mastic covered brass on a very flat surface .

Then I modelled the bore of the gun out of Magic Sculp: I did a square shape and let it dry. Then I carved a depression with a cutter on the top of the bore and drilled the opening. 

The trigger was created out of some old photoetch set that I bent around a needle. I then added the grip and some further detailing under the gun with small plasticard bits.

Once this was done, I started with the gun mount. First I cut a hole in a thin plasticard sheet to create this opening in the mount whose usefulness escapes me (maybe an ashtray of sorts?)

I cut 2 circles of plastic at the right size -one of the top, one for the bottom of the mount- and a bit of plastic tubing of the size of the height of the mount. Then I glued the whole while bending the soft plasticard. If the handle was easily done by cutting plasticard at the right dimension, the barrel handling was more difficult to figure out. 

First I let dry completely a Magic Sculp strip, then I glued 2 small bits of evergreen tubing. I fixed on the top of the whole 2 other strips of semi-hardened Magic Sculp. Keep in mind that the difficulty is to keep all the angles straight which means the mastic must be dry enough to do that -and yet smooth enough to be bent.  (pic 2 – 3 -4)

Hotchkiss 37 mm gun for the Sokol Diorama


Hotchkiss 37 mm gun for the Sokol Diorama Hotchkiss 37 mm gun for the Sokol Diorama finished

The big gun is the 75mm Canet naval gun, another French export that you can see as main gun on most Russian torpedo boats and destroyers towards the beginning of the XXth century. 

Now if I had no problem to find at least 4 different plans, the trouble was they all showed a different gun and gun mount, and that none really recoup any of the pictures I got. 

There is one which i really wanted to make which bore a very complicated sighting system –that particular model is on display at the St Petersburg Artillery Museum but there was too few pictures available on internet  for me to really understand the weak quality corresponding plans I got. (btw, if someone from Russia/St Petersburg reads this, I still want several other pictures of the Canet gun on display there for further projects!). 

Finally after some enquiry in a forum I was sent some good pictures taken on the Russian cruiser Rossia which show a rather squat mount which wasn't corresponding to the thin and round mount I could make out from my small Sokol picture library. But on one picture I found I could bet that the mount was the same as Rossia's, so as I also had a corresponding plan, I decided to go for it.

It looks kind of hard like that, but really, most of the job in those bigger guns is to cut the brass and plastic tubes at the right dimensions. (pic 5)

Canet 75mm gun for the Sokol Diorama

I first built the tube by putting a small bit of aluminium tube of the right diameter at the end of the plastic tube –the respective thickness of both material proved ideal here for the construction. Then again, I applied some Magic Sculp and rolled the tube on a glass surface. When the whole dried, I sanded thoroughly so that no joint would be visible. (pic 6) 

Canet 75mm gun for the Sokol Diorama

Most of the lower part of the gun was done using the same technique. The mount was fairly easy to do too, using mostly bent length of plastic and cutting out some thicker evergreen sheets to create all the contact surfaces between every element. The wheels were done out of cut plastic tubing. (pic 7 - 8).

Canet 75mm gun for the Sokol Diorama the base

One special note here concerns the strips that often circle many parts of the guns (especially the 37mm that I wrote about earlier but also some special parts of the 75mm). It's been a lot of time I gave up cutting them out of plastic. First i never enjoyed to have to sand the stuff after cutting it because the action of cutting would produce a thin line of extra material around the cut as anyone knows. And then, when you glue the plastic around a round piece, you better be careful or you glue your own fingers as the elasticity of the plastic leads your part to straighten. So now when Ii have such job to do I use semi hardened Magic Sculp. It's very easy to cut when half dry, it retains its straight angles and doesn't have the plastic's elasticity which makes it a lot easier to glue.

Of course to seal the different parts together, I use some Tamiya mastic.

Now it was time to add the last details -mostly stuff picked on some old photoetch sets as well as some lead foil cut from a wine bottle top. I choose to ignore the sighting system because I couldn't understand any of my plans at this particular place. 

No problem. As the boat is a wreck I guess the priciest stuff would have been scavenged. I also liked the look of the gun like it was, just some tube with some stuff underneath.  The riveting was done by using some Grant line like rivets which were offered to me as a gift which is certainly something i won't forget tomorrow. (pic 9)

Canet 75mm gun for the Sokol Diorama finished

The model making nerd 

I work as a programmer, internet caretaker on daytime, and sometimes at nightfall when I reach my pliers and brushes and do a somewhat rough action on my dioramas I scream "Ctrl+ Z, Ctrl+ Z!!" that's it, there is no undo commands when you do dioramas.

On the top of this I always wondered how my knowledge in computer graphics could help me doing those things. 

A few years ago, I tried to use a graphic software to draw plans, and even 3d softwares to simulate some proportions, but I quickly realized I was spending way too much time in doing this, and that cutting bits of cardboard and maintaining them with blue tack was an easier option. 

But I always kept in a corner of my mind that there must be a way to apply that knowledge to my dioramas especially because I am that kind of scratchbuilder that I don't really like cutting plastic, and the idea of letting some devices doing this tedious job for me was certainly appealing. And then I found it!

Last year when doing my Izmail torpedoboat, I was pissed to have to spend quite a few euros to buy a small photoetch grid so that I could do the gun cradle. Then i realized that the pattern of the holes was not the right one and on the top of this, the grid was not big enough and I had to cobble up the whole with leftovers so that I could cover the entire surface.

After a few hours spent on this I took an oath never being swindled this way anymore and that as long as I was ready to build by myself every element in my dioramas, photoetch should be included in that oath.

So I basically spent the following year looking on and of at "how to do homemade photoetch". 

I discovered that the main difficulty was indeed to design the fret. 

Once everything is drawn, the rest is either a question of big bucks if you want to buy some good quality material, or if you want to play it cheapo a question of being very wise. I tried to comply with the second option with more or less success because wise I ain't.

I used to have a teacher at high school that made a big difference between succeeding his failings and failing his failings. I can say my first attempts at homemade photoetch where of the latter. 

Last June saw me trying to succeed my fret almost every day and failing every time miserably to the point of not believing in it anymore until I tried something new which then succeeded. So I will try in the following lines to tell roughly what you should do and the different pits in which I fell down.

First, I had to understand the whole thing of homemade photoetching. You have to find a way to print a black scheme on some copper, dip the tinted copper in some FeCL3 bath, and the acid will basically attack the metal where it wasn't tainted. 

Most of the material can be found at okay prices in electronic shops as this method is also used to create printed circuits.

The first step was not really hard to do as far as I was concerned. I used some graphic software to draw all the pieces I were about to need. (pic 10)

Homemade photoetch for the Sokol diorama

Those included the holed plate under the gun but also the side plates, stanchion supports, supports for the gun cradle, funnel's parts, access ladders etc. 

The thing you have to remind is that the less metal the acid will have to bite, the less your acid will be clogged. Which means you will be able to use it several times afterwards. 

So I absolutely crammed the drawing of the fret with various wheels and stuff I could need for later. 

Of course I used some pen kind of instruments available in the software to tie each piece to every one in order for these not to fall in the acid when they would be etched enough. I then put some big side borders because you have to be able to handle the fret between the different operations.

When it was done, I used a laser black and white printer to print the future fret and went to a photocopy shop to get 2 exes done on transparent celluloid (I know there is some special transparent paper available directly for the printer too but those don't come any cheaper).

Now the thing you are supposed to do is to spray a small metal fret (copper or brass, 0,02 inch thick) with a photoresistant spray on both sides and then to expose the metal covered with your celluloid sheet to the rays of the sun for a few minutes each side. Then to go in a dark room to dip the metal fret in a revelant bath until the pattern you want to revel comes in.

That's the bloody theory, the very same as if you were about to develop your films by yourself. It certainly works for printed circuits maybe because you can afford getting a dirty job but not when it comes to model making.

I just couldn't manage to spray evenly the metal –and then as the photoresistant  takes several hours to get dry, the single grain of dust falling on the fret would attract the liquid and therefore completely spoil the whole job. 

I tried several weeks like this, getting more or less bad results, which led invariably to some Frankenstein like bits once I dipped them into the acid until I took the decision to buy some special recto verso photoresistant brass that is sold on railroad modelling mail-order shops. 

The stuff comes as a fret covered on each side by an opaque plastic film and is not so cheap.

The following step would then to expose the fret under the light of the sun with your pattern as a screen for a few minutes so that the photoresistant material is getting activated. I used the simple trick as to take the fret in sandwich between my 2 celluloid sheets and to actually use superglue to attach the fret to the celluloid –this way I was pretty sure that the 2 sides of the fret would be corresponding. Now the problem is "How many exposition time"? I have been reading 2,30mn under full sun. 

Duh and what about winter sun?! 

I let 4 minutes each side under French June sun and it worked, up to you to work this out.. (pic 10)

Homemade photoetch for the Sokol diorama

Well, the problem is that there is no sign your fret is supposed to be ready until you developed the stuff... (pic 11)

Homemade photoetch for the Sokol diorama

Anyway, you have to go in a dark room (because your fret will still be sensible to light until it's being fully developed!) to use a plastic container (I used the kind of things you put under plants) and then to mix the right amount of water and developer (refer to the documentation). The problem is that the mix should be at a temperature of 25°C to really work, and be constantly agitated. Once I used a too hot mix and I saw the pattern develop extremely fast and then dissolve completely. So you have to be careful and find a way to use the right temperature. 

Just agitate the liquid gently and then you will see your pattern appear. When it does, just wash the fret under clear water to stop the developing process.

Then dip the fret in your acid. 

And be very patient. I know there are some way to speed the process using very aggressive chemicals but those may be very dangerous so I won't cover them. Just let a few hours and try to agitate the acid regularly so that it bites the metal okay and there it will work..

I suceeded the first fret on my first try once I had buy this already photoresistant brass sheet.

I tried to do another fret a week later and somehow did one failure or two but those proved fantastic to model some rusted parts. 

Building the Sokol underwater and over water.

Compared to what I went through, building the rest of the Sokol looked like dumb modelmaking as most of the important parts where already done. 

You may notice that I built as different parts both the emerged and underwater parts of the Sokol and there is a good reason why: polyester resin –or actually most of the stuff you may use to create water- actually retracts while drying which produces some completely unrealistic effects if the water is supposed to be still. So I thought that if I were about to actually embed the parts of the boat that are supposed to be underwater inside a mould, I would just have to glue the emerged parts on some perfectly smooth surface. I choose to embed 3cm of boat underwater.

The Sokol's plastic parts the funnel

So here I was again, gluing and cutting some plastic, sanding and applying mastic. I bent the photoetch sides of the gun cradle, glued the different stanchions holders, and made the ladders by gluing all the different parts I had created on the photoetch fret. The funnel was created out of very thin plasticard so that it could deform easily under the fingers which would lead the whole to look pretty worn out. (pic 14 -15 -17)

The Sokol's plastic parts

The Sokol's plastic parts

The stanchions are always a problem because I take the risk of breaking them with each manipulation with the technique I use: glass beads for necklaces glued on some 0.7 mm thick brass tubing. I sanded each of the wire's extremities so that they would offer more adherence when I glue those. In order for the whole to be stronger, I added a very tiny drop of 2 components epoxy glue at each joints, but even with all those precautions I had to glue them back every 5 minutes after handling. (pic 16)

The Sokol's plastic parts some photeotch on the gun's craddle

The last tricky thing to build was the big air intake that lies on one of the sides of the gun cradle. I had no other way than to vacu-form it as it would be completely empty. So I created a master in Magic Sculp using some plastic circles and a cross section as some guides.

I tried different ways of heating the plastic -under the lit oven I only managed to burn myself while holding the thick (1,5mm ) plastic sheet, under one single candle flame, I couldn't manage to get enough plastic melting.

So I finally got round this stupid problem by holding the sheet of plastic under *4* different candles. When the plastic began to sink, I pressed it over the shape. I tried several times and got half a dozen different halves and choose the 2 best ones. On one of the halves you can see some stretched holes which were done because the plastic actually began to burn. But then this proved to be ideal to create some extremely rusted part.

When I got my 2 halves, I glued them together and used a ton of mastic to make the joint disappear. Then in used some half moon shaped evergreen length to create the borders of the intake. (pic 18)

The vents on the Sokol

I must confess this method is really appalling –it certainly works really well for small parts like for instance Sokol's bell, but an especially designed vacu-form device would have work a lot better. (pic 19)

the final Sokol model

Doing the groundwork.

I repeat this article after article, I have got nothing against rivet counters as long as they count the rivets of their groundwork as well as they count those of their panzers. 

The genius of man is that he was able to name the things that surround us, and I want to be also able to more or less name the different ferns I use in my dioramas. 

Here is a sort of swamp so I set up for water lilies, reeds, and water hyacinth. Only 3 species, but those would be reproduced the more accurately I could. And then, less than 6cm2 of the final diorama would end up being covered with groundwork. Which would still do a large number of individual ferns to create, as a realistic effect can only be achieved through the sheer mass of plants.

You could maybe say that I could have chosen some ready made photoetch fret to create those but then I would reply that as far as I am concerned, using photoetch to create ground cover is one of the diorama making worse capital sins.

This is nothing to do with the vast amount of money you have to spend in it, it's just that the stuff looks totally crap and unrealistic: I never see any straight borders to a plant; I never see some flat twigs in nature. 

My method is to simply use some dumb superglue covered paper and cutting out the leaves from it.

So the trick is simple: you just cover some piece of normal paper with superglue (take care of the fumes) and you let it dry for a dozen of minutes. The good thing is that when you cut some fine bits from that special material, those tend to twist naturally which is ideal for leaves. 

I first did the reeds, using a variety of material for the stem: all with their different advantages.

First I did 4 of them while using some rolled up Duro. The good thing is that I had a perfect shape which means thinner on the top, thicker at ground level. But then the stuff is just too soft for an easy gluing process of the leaves, and then proves to be a nightmare to paint.

Then I built a good number out of stretched plastic under a flame. Those were not too bad because I also could get those to be thinner at the top if I was careful. But then the stuff was still pretty soft which led to be rather complicated to paint.

Then I built another good number using some brass tubing which proved very easy to glue some leaves on, very easy to paint. But the paint tended to peel to reveal the brass background every time I touched the stem and then there was no way I could get the stem thinner at the top.

So I cut an average of 8 leaves per stem and glued them on the opposite direction one to another.

 To add the fluffy bit on the top of the reeds, I put a bit of superglue on the stem and dipped some cotton wool. When I took back the cotton wool, some stayed attach on the stem, I then sealed the whole with yet another coat of superglue. (pic 20)

Some vegetation for the Sokol diorama

The problem with reeds is that they don't really cover the ground much. On examination of marshes pictures, there is some growth of always the same kind which is composed of water hyacinths according to my books. 

I set up to build a large quantity of those.

To create those I started to cut out some leaves while leaving a bit of paper underneath for them not to come out individually like for the reeds leaves. Those cutting were always done starting from the edge of the paper (for the next one, just cut out a new a new edge!). Remember to try and cut thin leaves. Once it's done roll the paper between your fingers -but try that the bigger leaves face *inwards*'  'Roll a length of cotton wool inside the "tube" that you did while rolling the paper fern. Cut the cottonwool in excess. Now with the tip of the blade, try to make the fern to take shape by bending some of the leaves unevenly. Cotonwool is very responsive to superglue, and that's it that will bind and produce some strength to the whole -so just drop a bit of superglue in the "tube" and try not to touch it afterwards because you will glue your fingers and ruin your work. I have done some 40 of them in 2/3 days, how boring. (pic 21 -22)

Cigarette paper plants

cigarette paper plants for the Sokol diorama

Now on for some water lilies. I must admit one of the reason I made them was that i foreseen  there could  be eventually problems to join the underwater and emerged parts of the Sokol and was kind of counting on water lilies to be able to cover the mess. 

My method to create those is in 5 steps

First, take a flat surface and grease it (I have been using some table oil!). Then make some small Green Stuff balls.

Then use the bottom of your X Acto knife and press your ball flat on the greased glass surface using some bit of greased plastic bit of plastic bag to avoid direct contact between the metal of the knife and the green stuff -otherwise it will glue to the metal of course.

Then use a modelling knife and still through the bit of plastic bag, scribe some of the leaves veins.

Let dry overnight, cut out a V shape form at the base of the leaf and detach the stuff from the glass with a blade et voilà.

As the green stuff always stays kind of elastic, you won't break anything while cutting them out from the glass surface. 

The water lilies produced this way are very thin and certainly better than you could find anywhere else -even if using some laser cut paper, and I don't even mention bloody photoetch. (pic 23)

water lillies  for the Sokol diorama

There are 2 kind of underwater plants in this diorama: the first are the water lilies roots which were done out of Duro thin rolls. The rest was either twigs or mosses that I dig from the garden. The stuff is pretty rough but it looks very realistic as some unclear underwater plants.

Finally, I noticed that strawberry roots are perfect to create trees that look like willows, so i dig one and let it dry several weeks as I noticed the diorama could use a bit of extra detail behind the funnel.

The fig,

For some nextish project of mine, I will have to really outstretched my sculpting talents, so this time, though I could probably have convert an existing figure, I preferred to sculpt it almost entirely for training. 

The problem is, I am a diorama maker, which means not particularly good at sculpting stuff, nor do I get a lot of training as the figures amount to maaybe 1/10 of the building time. But then I took the risk of ending up with a bad figure in a good diorama.

As my diorama was settled in the early 1920's,  I had to find a right figure wearing some clothes that would be either Intervention armies, Red or White Russians. That's a lot of choice, but then as I wanted to use a lot of green in the diorama, i thought it would really be best if I could find a red uniform. 

And there i found it, the ideal uniform, the one of Red Hungarian Hussar. 

Now I don't like to model either the good or the bad ones. I really like to model the loosers, the brighter those loosers are the better they are in my book, and those Hussars where bright loosers according to my book.

During World War One, a lot of Austro-Hungarian soldiers got prisonners from the Russians, and got freed during the revolution. Those were offered to fight either for the Red or the Whites. Most Hungarians choose to fight for the Reds but didn't have anything to wear. So they broke into an old wardrobe and found those red trousers they choose to wear. At first they didn't have any horses and paraded carrying their saddles. 

After The Communists took power, some special arrangement were made between USSR and Hungary so that those Hussars could come back, but some stayed in their new country. 

So here I went. First: bits of paper clips and a Magic Sculp lump for the body. Then I let it dry overnight. I started with the shoes using the tip of some Dragon ones, then the trousers. I added the complicated scheme with Duro as you can stretch it thinner than Magic Sculp. 

Now as this diorama is my own story and that I had to get some reference, I simply took my own self as a model. After I got 2 weeks worth of evenings spent on this figure, i couldn't be convinced of sculpting the hands by myself and took those out of a Nemrod set. So in the end my wife agrees that the guy is me, except that I am taller, look less nasty, and especially that she never saw me washing my own shirts.

The first time I ever sculpted a figure on my own was less than a year back and painting it proved horrible. At one point I remember seeing myself not really painting, but pushing the oily pigments in crevices. 

For this one I made an effort to sand correctly at least the visible body parts, but that was not really enough, and it proved another nightmare to come through. As usual I painted it first using acrylics and then oils. Of course I tried to get the same light direction effect as the rest of the diorama. So the trousers are of a lighter shade on the top right side of the figure, and the skin is darker on the left side for instance.

To reassure myself, I kept telling myself that after 10 years of feeling the pain of painting my own figures, the day I am given an Alpine figure you can call me Bill Horan. (pic 24)

The red Hungarian Hussar  for the Sokol diorama

The shirts.

Now the main idea of the diorama is still that there are actually some shirts drying on a piece of string set between one mast and a funnel. I think the genesis of the idea may come from a totally surrealistic picture I saw of the Cesarevicth battleship after one battle against the Japanese fleet, with her funnels holed by shellfire, and yet the sailors let their clothes dry near the shell holes. The problem was –in what material should I create those shirts? I wiped out from my head the idea of doing them out of magic Sculp as those would appear too thick, and then, very naturally, i ended up doing them out of cigarette paper.

I was indeed a smoker during most of my youth. Throughout the years I got to be an expert at rolling fags with 2 or 3 different sheet at a time, or rolling them with one hand etc. I was naturally using the material a lot at the time because of its unexpected qualities for the modeller. 

First it's very thin, then it doesn't break so easily which are the 2 qualities you need if you want to create some books or newspapers in scale.. of course you have to seal the whole which is very easy using superglue. All my early dioramas are littered with objects done out of cigarette paper.

But then clothes I nether tried. So here I was, turning into a tailor.

The first step is to create a kind of jerkin without the sleeves. I cut one piece which should be long enough to do both sides of the shirt. I glued it together (the joint being of course the tiniest possible and inside the shirt) both on the side and on the top with some kind of kids paper glue that I apply with some sort of pencil. I let dry overnight while inserting some matches between the 2 sides to be sure that the 2 sides don't glue together. I then proceeded to cut out openings for the collar and the sleeves. I prepared the sleeves using more or less the same technique before gluing them through the hole of the shirt using again matches so that neither of the 2 sides of the shirt glue together. The thing is always to remember using very few glue, but applying it evenly on the whole contact surface. Then I cut out the front opening of the shirt and added various lapels on the sleeves, collars and on the place where you close the shirt.

If you worked with a minimum of care and followed the right proportions you should have a perfect flat shirt, straight from the dry cleaner but then nothing too dynamic. 

This is where the smoker's experience pops through as the trick for success is to carefully roll the shirt between the fingers so that you basically break the paper's structure and especially the folds you have been creating either on the jerkin or the lapels of the sleeves. When the job is done you should have a paper shirt which has got the feeling of a very thin cloth.

Now just shape it the way you want and on with the last part of the method.

Just put some superglue on a surface and proceed to paint the shirt with a small modelling knife dipped into it. 

You have to be really very careful when doing this because if you touch anything while the superglue didn't set, you will just ripped of the shirt and destroy the job. 

The best way to avoid permanent damage is to hold the paper with one hand, "paint" what you can without gluing your fingers, then stay with the shirt in hand for the glue to set, and when it does, just paint the rest while holding the shirt. When the shirt is done and the glue set, you can drop the shirt on the working surface and it will do a ''ting'' king of sound, just like it's a bit of plastic. (pic 2( 26-27-28-29-30)

Cigarette paper clothes  for the Sokol diorama

Cigarette paper clothes  for the Sokol diorama Cigarette paper clothes  for the Sokol diorama

What's pretty cool with this method is that I doubt any aftermarket leech will ever propose this kind of stuff.


Now all the different bits were prepared, time for painting according to the direction of the light I previously set.  To train a bit I started to paint the underwater parts of the funnel, the air intake and the gun cradle. I made 2 kind of rusty paint while mixing various dark shades of acrylics. Those underwater parts were supposed to be completely rusted so I added a bit of Windsor & Newton Black and Red pigments in the mix to get a very thick paint whose texture I could work in order to get a rough texture of rusted metal.

When those were done, I sprayed the upper parts of the Sokol with some tints of various greens: something like Dark Olive Drab in the parts where the light was not supposed to shine, a much clearer shade of green –almost yellow- in the high highlight  areas, in order to get the warm tints you get at sundown. (pic 31)

Painting the hull -here the vents  for the Sokol diorama

Now those colours really looked a bit weird so I started a very strong weathering.

The first kind of weathering is certainly very straightforward as Ii screened the boat with different kind of washes from green to almost white. Those screens are not just daubs Verlinden way. These are carefully applied with a very few loaded brush and carefully blend one on another. (pic 32)

Painting the hull -here the funnel for the Sokol diorama

Sometimes to get some special effect, I just paint the surface with water, and add some paint on the wet area. I added all the black run offs this way, which allowed them to really blend efficiently with the surrounding colours, and yet to stand out. (pic 33)

Painting the hull -here the rust on the funnel for the Sokol diorama

Then  I added my usual kind of rust: the first is a diluted mix between black and burnt sienna acrylic paint. I paint the rusted areas and then I add some pigments (mixes between red, black, burnt sienna and yellow) on the still wet area. This technique is really great to get a real feeling of rust as the pigments will stay darker if the paint underneath was wet enough to go through the pigments layer, or, on the contrary, if the diluted paint you applied first just acted like some contact glue to the pigments where they retain some grainy texture and their initial colour. (pic 34) 

But now i was a bit worried of something: rust really stands out well on some light colour, but how does it look like on dark colours.

I was precisely thinking of this while walking in the street when my eyes came to rest on a green portal, a very rusted green portal. I noticed that the paint near the places where the rust settles gets discoloured pretty fast. Okay then, I took back all my work and proceeded to add some kind of clear dull transition between normal paint and rusted parts.  (pic 35)

Painting the hull  for the Sokol diorama

The keys to the present are in the past. 

I was recently cursing against some of my friends because they were turning back to childhood (and bloody registered trademarks) by painting some Citadel figs when I reminded something in their range of products which was quite cool indeed.

It was their inks. 

Those are some transparent liquids filled with pigments that you can't wash under a tap like you could do with normal inks. 

All the Citadel figs i ever painted where painted with inks and I remembered loving the stuff. So I bought most of the colours available and proceeded to screen the whole of the high highlight  areas of the Sokol with much diluted yellow ink with a tiny drop of green added in the mix. It works fantastically, adding a slight glow from inside to the whole colour.

Since then, I try not to set ablaze my friends whenever I see them painting Citadel figures anymore.

Now I often notice that whenever diorama makers try to paint groundwork they can be very bad at varying the green shades they use. Take a landscape picture at random and you will see that the groundwork is not only "brown", "grey", "green", but of an infinity of different shades of each of those colours. 

So i tried to make sure that my own groundwork would not be of the same shade of green as the Sokol for starters.

So I sprayed the whole with a dark green kind of colour and proceeded to paint each leaves of each plants individually by ever so slightly changing the colour mix. Of course I used my Citadel inks quite often to get a very fluid screen on some special standout leaves.

Of course I didn't care much about the direction of light at all at this stage, as it would be impossible to specify anything until those numerous ferns were not planted.

The water lilies were painted almost entirely with inks using a mix of brown yellow and green and light green acrylic paint. As for the twigs and dead trees, I had the idea of painting them completely white as it's often the case in marshes where the bark falls out to reveal only the clear tints of the wood. But when I dry fitted the diorama, I observed that the white was standing out too much, so I painted it in a mix of Van Dyk brown pigments and diluted black paint, as well as a mix of Citadel brown and chestnut inks for the upper stems. (pic 36)

painting the groundwork  for the Sokol diorama

Assembling the different bits together –the water.

So now everything was painted, I had to start thinking of building the base that would eventually be drowned in the water.

I fixed the underwater part of the Sokol on a glass sheet of the diorama's dimension, and made a mix of plaster, twigs and moss that I applied on the right corners of the diorama according top the view I thought would be the best. I embedded some further twigs and moss at this stage, and also glued the water lilies roots which started to pop out of the scene, way above the underwater part for a special effect I wanted to create. (pic 37)

arranging what's beneath the resin water on  the Sokol diorama

I built some glass walls to be sure that I would always be able to control the level of transparency of the mix while making sure those walls would be completely waterproof. I started to pour an opaque dark blue green mix on the bottom of the diorama. As every surface of the bottom would be far from being covered with groundwork, this first coat was used as some kind of colour sealer. 

Then I poured several other coats of slightly tinted resin, including a few of them which were more opaque and very blue on the left edges of the diorama, far from the groundcover which would add to a feeling of deepness of the water as you get more far from the river banks and would also lead the whole to be very good looking.

Okay I only had a few millimetres left to end up the water, and this was nowhere close of getting any kind of flat. So I wiped out my glass walls and fixed some light wooden ones which would be stronger and easier to fix with some industrial strength clamps, and I set them up to the level of the top of the immerged part of the Sokol. I then poured one last coat of untainted resin and pressed on the top of the resin covered Sokol a greased glass part. As I had poured a very generous coat of resin, it started to overflow everywhere on the wooden walls. Well, no problem at least the resin wouldn't be able to retract as I managed to fix the glass top with some other clamps until the resin finally set.

The first layers of resin  for the Sokol diorama

Of course all those operations led me to keep my nose very close to the fumes, thankfully I had invest in an efficient gas mask before.

I unmoulded the whole after 2 days of drying and here I had that perfect square of resin with all the underwater parts of the wreck perfectly embedded.

 resin  for the Sokol diorama

Assembling the different bits together –what's above the water.

As I sensed earlier, I made a few mistakes. Indeed, to level the underwater parts with the top of the future water, I had to sand thoroughly some pieces like for instance the 37mm base, or the lower part of the funnel which stood too high. And then I was stupid enough not to paint back those plastic parts and there I had some white plastic embedded in my resin, often too deep to be efficiently painted back. 

When I dry fitted the top elements, I noticed those white bits popping out the diorama, as well as some big air bubbles that were trapped when I covered the resin with the glass sheet.

So i had to take my small drill and cutting out some resin parts, paint the white plastic and covering the scar with some Clear Quote or with this Valejo's Still Water pot I bought and whose quality I am not convinced of.

It's been now a few years/months that some companies sell some acrylic mixes of binder and stuff like sand, fine sand etc to help people build their bases –this stuff is currently being seen as the new Holy Grail for building bases. All very well, but it's been more than 15 years that you can buy exactly the same kind of stuff from art shops and all my early dioramas are done using it. The only difference is the name of the brand, and sometimes the price.

Anyway, I would say that the best stuff is the one whose grain is then finest for details. But it doesn't hold its shape very well. So I have an older pot of sand mix that is almost dried out. I added a bit of water in it and pulled out some half dry lump. I then poured some black brown and red paint according to the dark coloured earth I wanted to get and proceeded to half mix, half crush the stuff. 

resin  for the Sokol diorama

I then applied the very heavy mix on some plastic sheet that I had previously cut on the right dimensions for the only reason that I didn't want to put some paint and dirt on the  already done water.

I then proceeded to put all the hyacinths very close to each other, trying the leaves to interpenetrate each others. I also fixed the wood lump that serves as an access to the gun cradle and that I had built and paint earlier.

adding the groundwork to the resin  for the Sokol diorama

The stuff took a night to set and I then proceeded to glue the earth covered plastic lumps at the right place. I fixed the small bit of dead willow and made another quantity of my earth mix to cover all the joints and too hide the small bits of white plastic that were still visible.

Then I tried the best I could to drill some holes in the ground behind the boat so that I could fix the reeds one by one.

Finally I used some solvent free superglue (it's not supposed to fog) to glue the top elements of the Sokol and suddenly, this diorama's future looked quite bright.

Stayed the question of direction of light applied to the groundwork. 

Direction of light for the Sokol diorama

I created some darker mixes of green using once more my inks, and proceeded to overpaint the rear and side places where the sun was not supposed to shine. I also added a fes high highlight  reas using some yellow green mixes on the most exposed of the leaves, which were near the 37mm gun.

I diluted some Future and painted each leaf so that the groundcover could take a satin appearance. Finally, I cut a good 40 extra leaves out of superglue covered paper that I painted in a mix of Chestnut Citadel ink and leather Valejo paint.  I glued those as dead leaves here and there (including some on the gun cradle) which added both colour and variation –even more because those dead leaves were painted in matt colours compared to the satin shades of the green leaves.

When all was ready, I put a very generous coat of Humbrol Clear Quote on the water (to get rid of finger prints, and even small bubbles) and placed my water lilies. What was pretty cool is that those fixed this way seem to be slightly touching the water, producing an effect which I think is very realistic. (pic 44) 

My future is in French steel

9 months after writing my last article I am very happy to say that I still don't have any fun while doing my dioramas. I have some fun with my wife and new born baby, being with friends –but when I am doing my dioramas it's just like I connect myself with something very personal, something that keeps me standing and costs less money than alcoholism or therapists. 


Doing those lightly or out of fun is therefore out of the question. 

Knowing the virtual looks of incredulity I am getting from fellow modellers every time I hint at this, I wish to add that fun is somewhat there in the process: when I am writing those articles I have a tremendous amount of fun! 

But I realize being so openly serious about my dioramas has got only some good sides, I can't allow myself to produce truly bad dioramas so I give myself at 100% in the building process. 

So sure, technically I am still not up there with the great diorama masters. Sokol's idea is not the best I ever had, and then the diorama is pretty small if you consider that 8 months of work was put into it. But I also consider this diorama (like the one I did before) as being some year long exercises where I experimented new techniques. 

Indeed I will use everything I learned from this experience in a next-ish diorama that should really kick ass. But then I don't consider Sokol being too bad for an exercise which still leads me to think that my future as a diorama maker is in French Steel.

I usually fill my dioramas with deep hidden senses, some kind of invisible ink throughout the scene which makes me love my own work more than what meets the eyes. 

Here there is none, it's just some big burst of light chasing the ghosts from the ship. And a weary father pinning some clothes on the wire.

As always, nothing could be much possible accuracy wise without a good bit of help from the friends: so I wish to thank Peppe Giuffrè who saved my neck for the second time in a short amount of time with yet more plans and pics, Mr David O'Meara for bolts and astounding display of comradeship, Edward Pinniger, Jim Baumann, Mark Gunny and everybody at Modelwarships and Kitmaker for support, other kind of thanks to Rudi Richardson for language, Engin Kayral for Turkish galleys, Rusty White for trust.