1/ The Family Bore

Maybe some of you saw that very funny-yet-moody totally great 2006 American movie called Bubbah Ho-Tep.

At one point the old man just died and the daughter is there, checking at his stuff.
She falls on his Purple Heart, has a glimpse at it and throws it in the wastebasket.
Now guys, what will happen to our beloved dioramas when we will all be resting in peace?
I am living in such a world that I fear it could be totally alien to other people, that what I am doing and the possible beauty that I can find in my dioramas just could appeal to nobody else than me and the dozen of people that cheer me up every time I post some stuff in a forum.
I have no illusion about what will happen to my dioramas when I pass out, and stupidly, I happen to care about that.
Now I remind my great grand father, a Parisian seller who fancied himself being an artist –and indeed he was a quite gifted porcelain painter. He painted hundreds of them.
So it's been a few years that every Christmas, my mum tries to slip me one or 2 plates alongside more useful stuff in my yearly loot. Why does his stuff is being passed from generation to another while the Purple Heart ends up in the dustbin? Hey that's because great grandpa painted birds, nature, women with red faces and big asses running through fields… timeless stuff, stuff that pleases to women.
So maybe I found a goal with my dioramas, if I were about to disarm them, maybe they will turn me into this century's family bore? maybe I would still be somewhat reminded in 2100?

2/ A walk in the park with Aivazovski.

At the time I started this diorama, I had just finish a very big one of the “A bridge too far” kind.
Even if it ended being quite satisfactory, the amount of time and energy I spent building it was certainly too much I could afford. So I decided that one would be a walk in the park, something very simple, yet a bit new and daring.
First I wanted to do everything by myself in that one –which would have include the figures- and to use all my abilities to create outstanding water.
One evening while checking at my reference books –which include more painter’s monographs than Osprey-like books, I dig out one of my favourite, about Russian painter Ivan Aivazovski, a guy that devoted his life to paint the sea and the boats on it.
Now this XIXth century Russian painter is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion.
His best paints (“The Seventh Wave”, “The Black Sea”) certainly reach Turner’s kneecap, but a lot of his work is just a bit too much affected for my own tastes.
But then there’s a big Something about his work. This guy knows the sea. He paints them with colour and movement. Man he’s been there… But then a lot of his colours are the powerful ones that you get at dawn or sunset and there is supposed to be no way that you can reproduce that in a diorama as you can’t display any background unless you build a shadow box around.
And it’s by thinking about this problem with the help of very good music that I decided that I would simply bypass it. I would make a sea shore –probably complete with a boat- but still I would use the warm colours that you get on summer’s evenings...

3/About a diorama being first an idea and then finding a suitable vehicle to go with it and not the opposite

Wanting to use a kid that would be at the middle of the scene, I needed a very special kind of boat, it had to be *thin* like an arrow so that my main character would not be crushed visually by a lumpy sloop.
Then in remembered the very first page on my book about Russian Torpedo boats, which shows a couple of very thin wooden boats with some kind of pole at the front.. After some enquiries in a forum, a nice modeller sent me very tight looking plans taken from a Russian magazine showing this really fine XIXth century boat called the Folly which I immediately visualized as a very handsome wreck.
Doing the plans for the diorama afterwards was a walk in the park because everything had to be done scale wise according to the kid that would be at the middle.
So that would not be a big diorama because, however empty it could be, the eye would be invariably attracted with some other details otherwise. So I set up for a 22cmx16 base which would be perfect. I then used my desktop printer to get a few top views of the Folly which I cut with some scissors and proceeded to arrange the scene so that the whole could look okay. 

My first idea was to do some kind of first plan/middle plan/ background kind of diorama. Here it would have been sea /kid and boat/ sand as a background.
But then I already had done a diorama with the same shapes some 10 years ago, and remembered the reasons why I wasn’t totally happy with it.
First a diorama is not a painting; it’s a 360° object which should be viewable from every angle without any effort, so the idea to put a background would be certainly very bad because it would have close the view of the spectator from one side (maybe 3 if I wouldn’t be careful), and it was something I totally wanted to avoid.
So I choose to arrange the totality of the elements, sea, bits of boats and sand so that those could kind of revolve around the kid, just like he was at the middle of a semi-chaotic scene.
Then as I wanted to create a special light effect, I choose a colour setting –the waves would be deep blue with the tip of the waves being of a much lighter shade –with maybe a little bit of red. As the sun would be setting, the bottom of the landscape would have rose-purple shades while the higher ground would have a nice yellow-orange sand tint.
The boat would be clearer on the top than on the bottom, while the light would be coming from the sea. The kid’s shirt would have to be white so that this colour could stand up near darker shades, especially the blue of the sea.

4/A little bit of history and the whereabouts of the “Folly”

For years I have been seeing Aivazovski’s sunken boats with heaps of people wearing red turbans on rafts and wondered why he didn’t like turbans up to that point. But then I discovered that there has been no love lost between Russia and Turkey for the whole XIXth century.
Now if there are very few clever wars, some leave some kind of weird taste in the mouth when you read about them. The Russo-Turkish war of 1876-1877 belongs to those ones.
It has been described by some historians as being “the war between the One Eyed and the Blind”.
The One Eyed won, after huge amount of blood spent in the mountains, victorious Russian troops entered deep inside Turkey –only to be spoiled of the benefits of the victory by hungry France and Great Britain that didn’t want Russia to be able to go as far south.
The only benefits Russia got from that war was to find a few more ideas to name their boats: Izmail and Makarov between others.
Stepan Makarov is indeed a man worth of interest.  The Russian Black Sea fleet was away in the Mediterranean Sea when the war started and was forbidden under threat by the English and French to go back to the Black Sea where it could take action against a sizable Turkish float. Staying in the Black Sea were a few coastal boats along with Stepan Makarov with his homemade torpedoboat tender –with improvised torpedo boats equipped with long poles with mines attached to one end, he managed to damage several Turkish ships on some night strikes.
From what I could translate from Russian, or even check, the Folly attacked and damaged the Turkish steamer/Ironclad Fethi Bulend. Not a major victory but the threat from Makarov’s handful of small ships got the Turkish fleet to stay out of action during the whole war.
The Folly is a very interesting ship also because of its former history: built in England by Thornycroft for the crown prince, future emperor Alexander III for his Black Sea residence at Livadia, the boat was handed over to the fleet shortly before the beginning of that war as there was a large need for fast mine boats to fight Turks.
Now like told me one friend in a forum “Russians, like most eastern Europeans, fix up stuff until the molecular structure breaks down and falls apart to dust.” So it is not impossible that the boat would have keep on floating for a good half of a century, only to be left rusting in the 1910’s. Now we are in the early nineteen-twenties, and there’s a kid at the middle of its decaying hull, near the Koktebel bay in Crimea.

5/ Building the Folly.

When I was a kid I remember stopping in the hobby shop at some boat models made out of balsa and wondering at the many intricate details that had to be cut out of very thin balsa wood.
But then my mum wisely said “You will screw up this one in no time”, and there she bought a small HMS Hood model that I also screwed -but not after having torturing the bits of plastic for many hours before.
But then I always thought I had some revenge to take on balsa wood and this diorama proved to be a nice occasion.
Indeed as the boat had to be cut in 2, I had no other choice than to build an empty hull.
I first thought of doing a full hull out of wood and mastic, and then to vacu-form the plastic hull with a homemade machine. But then I am crap at doing any other machines than the miniature ones that actually are on my dioramas. So I had to find another way.
First I printed the side and top view of my plans and proceeded to number all the different cross sections I would need. (step 4/ 1)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:More cross sections for the Pt Boat Koktebel diorama:]]

Second, I printed all the sections of the boat as they were present on the plan numbering them as well. And cut them out with scissors.
Third, I took 2 medium sized glass sheets and put my bits of papers on one of them.
Fourth, I made a Magic Sculp lump and flattened it against each of the cross sections using the curve as a direction. (step 4/2)
Fifth, I greased the second glass sheet with errr, olive oil from the kitchen –I pray for my wife never reading this- and pressed the glass sheet against the Magic Sculp so that all the lumps would be taken in sandwich and flattened without them to adhere on the glass.
Now the great thing with magic Sculp is that you are doing a different use of it depending of the degree of dryness. I then waited maybe for 1 hour, 1hour and the half, for the Magic Sculp to still be cutable and bendable but not deformable with fingers anymore.
I turned the paper+Magic Sculp cross sections and helping myself with the transparency of the paper, I drew back all the curved shapes with a pen (step 4/ 3).
When it was done, I proceeded to cut all the cross sections with an X-Acto knife and then used an indelible pen to numerate them. (step 4/4)
I then cut a keel out of strong plastic, made some notches on the cross sections and fixed them in their final position 

the Folly PT boat cross sections for the Koktebel diorama

 I then glued a ridge made out of balsa wood (after failing to succeed one out of Magic Sculp using the same technique as before), and here it was, I had an okay looking boat skeleton in no time –of course it was not perfect as you can see on the pics, but it is enough if you consider most of it would end up being hidden

Building the Folly Pt Boat hull

Finally I cut some thin balsa wood stripes and proceeded to do the planking. As this kind of wood is soft enough, I had no difficulty in doing the fine bending. I glued the whole with superglue and proceeded to sand very carefully the edges that would tend to appear here and there.
Then I had to do the boilers. That one was a fine internet story where I posted a good half a dozen questions on at least 3 forums so that somebody explains me why I had 2 different entries of coal on my plans as well as other issues. I was helped handsomely, and proceeded to build the boiler out of rolled plasticard, plastic tubing for the bars inside the boiler, and a bit of brass tube for the chimney (step 7/8).
The Folly's bioler

The back of the boat was doing the old way -first cutting out the fine windows with a X-Acto knife before cutting out all the different parts (step 8/9).
The rear of the Folly PT boat for the 1/35 diorama called Koktebel

 To do the bending of the roof, I “softened” the balsa part with the back of the knife by crushing the wood according to the supposed places where the planks would have been (step 8/10 & 8/11).
The details of the boat were first done by making an interior out of balsa 

then gluing it in place. (step 9/13). I proceeded to glue some small planks falling from the inside of the boat near the place where it broke. I added some of my last Grant Line plastic nails to add a bit of detail near those half falling planks (step 9/14) .

detailing the Folly PT Boat

While I was working, I came to meet a Mechanical Genius thanks to the forums, who explained me in 5 minutes what I was struggling to understand since a good month. Most particularly I learned about asbestos being shaped as a rope and then fixed on the boilers with some kind of plaster –the whole being tighten on the boat’s hull with some very light bricks.
So I encircled the boiler with some model ship rigging rope and coated it with plaster (step 10/16). 
When the plaster was set, I ripped it out with a cutter so that it could look a bit scruffy, (step 10/17) I then glued back some of the plaster scraps to create a broken appearance. Finally I added some photoetch screws from an old Royal Models set as well as a front device which was adapted from a truck model’s engine which was lying in my “never to be finished” box.
I ended up by putting some plating above the “asbestos”. (step 10/15)
The bricks were simply done by gluing some evergreen strips to some plastic base, then pouring some plaster in them, waiting for it to set, and then cutting out some bricks.. (step 11/8)

According to my plans, I fixed a metal rigging to the back part of the boat, (step 11/19) and sculpted out of thick balsa wood the big device at the front of the boat whose purpose was to store the pole mines, as well as one or 2 details in Magic Sculp (step 11/20).
More details on the PT Boat for the diorama
The painting was quite a straightforward affair. Last summer I was tramping in the marches you have near the Arcachon bay in western France when I discovered some very well hidden fishing boats wrecks. I took a couple of pictures and noticed the very light colours of the wood being attacked by the salt and the sun.
I then put at each side of my palette some white, sand, green and brown acrylic paints and proceeded to paint the boat plank by plank, every time using a different mix so that the boat could appear like it would collapse at any minute. I added some darker shades under the boat as well as below the side planking as well as some rusty run offs on the wood. I finished the wood itself with a slight white drybrush.
The rust was painted in my usual fashion –though this time I tried to make it more red than usual. So on each side of my palette I poured some red, Van Dyk Brown , Burnt Sienna and black Windsor and Newton pigments, and some watered down brown paint at the middle of the palette. Then picking in each of the little pigment heaps and mixing it with the paint, I half painted, half poured the mix on the metal; after a good half an hour it looks like what you have on the picture (step 12/21).

the Folly PT Boat as painted

The kid

As a New Year resolution for 2007, I had stated that I “wanted to sculpt some kids”.
Now what a stupid statement, sculpting that kid has got to be the hardest thing I ever did. And it seems it’s the same for basically everyone as that need for kid sculpting came from the fact I just couldn’t find any, even in the best aftermarket companies, that could have suit my needs.
They either look like caricatures, or like young rascals. And I didn’t want my kid to be either of that.
Years ago I had bought Hornet’s Little drummer boy, which is certainly the worse (and only from what I saw) sculpting in Mr Saunders complete career. He just looks beefy and moronic. But then that special figure proved very useful to get an idea of the right proportions to use, and the level of details I could obtain if I was really ready to pay a lot of attention in the sculpting process.
Modestly I started with the body, using some roughly shaped Magic Sculp as well as some paper clips cut at the right size for the arms and legs (pic 13). I then coated the shape with some more Magic Sculp to have roughly the right “weight” of the kid.
The wrists and ankles are thinned at this stage which will be easier afterwards to fix some legs and hands (pic13 ).

Sculpting the 1/35 kid for the Koktebel 1/35 diorama

I started adding details from the bottom on. First I modelled some kneecaps and then the shorts. I carved the various folds around the middle of the shorts while the Magic Sculp was hardening, and ended up these with a bit of carving with a modelling knife once the mastic completely set. I also sanded both legs and shorts at this time. (pic 13).
I sculpted the boots in 2 steps: first I did the shoes sole while cutting out some semi hardened Magic Sculp which allowed me to still be able to bend it around the talon once glued. And then I put 2 strips of Magic Sculp above to create the upper part of the shoes. I blended up the front and the back of the shoes and let gap the opening –he’s a kid so he is not suppose to have the laces put on. I voluntarily put him some shoes that are way too big for him in case anyone wonders.
Then the hard part started –which means the hands and the face. The hands were done in 2 times. First time I used my magnifying glass to disjoin all fingers from a Magic Sculp strip while this one was still unset. When set i carefully sanded each extremity so that it really could look like fingers. But then i managed to break most fingers during the following weeks while working on other parts of the diorama!
So I have been fixing some new fingers –this time using some very fine Green Stuff strips all glued/ tied to the main hand. The Green Stuff is a mess to work with in my opinion, but then it’s also way more flexible once set than Magic Sculp which means it can sustain rougher handling which suits my pretty violent behaviours towards my own dioramas quite well. Some people might say that Green Stuff also adheres much better to other surfaces than Magic Sculp which is true, but then you have to handle a lot the stuff while you shape parts as tiny as the fingers, and then too much handling just kills the stickiness which is a bad thing when you want to start fixing them. (pic 14)

More sculpting on the 1:35 kid for the Koktebel diorama

More green Stuff was used to model a collar over a sculpted shirt.
The head was just another story, and it took me 3 different attempts to finally come up with something really worth my own expectations. Sculpting the head of the kid for the Koktebel diorama

First I was to realize that you need readily at hand some really good reference. So I choose one readily available kid, which was the one on some DVD cover. Browsing through the movie, I managed to get enough screenshots so that i could cover most angles of the kid’s head.
Then I modelled roughly a head shaped ball of Magic Sculp while leaving enough stuff below the head itself so that i could actually handle it and put in on a table without actually touching the sculpted part. Once this ball has set, I roughly carved the neck and the jaws on the ball. And proceeded to add cautiously with a modelling knife some very tiny Magic Sculp bits at the right places –forehead, eyebrows bones, cheeks and lips. The nose proved particularly difficult to come with as I realized i didn’t have any sculpting tool that could be tiny enough to model the delicate nose cheeks as well as keeping the cheeks themselves in a good shape –same thing for the lips.
I let the whole dry overnight and added details for the eyes and ears the following day.

So now what lessons did I learn from this experience? First no sculpting knife available from hobby stores is thin enough to sculpt such tiny details that are the ones of a kid’s features (pic 16). 

Finishing the sculting of the kid

Next time I am doing a kid i will first build an array of very fine sculpting tools –i think of using some sculpted and superglued covered toothpicks but also some flexible metal ones that i would cut and sand from a Beer can!

I painted the kid with oils over acrylics –and as usual i fell the pain of painting my own compositions as every defect be it as small as you want proves to be a nightmare to deal with.

7/ The groundcover,

Now obviously if there is a domain in the diorama world that can really put some apart from the diorama maker lot, is the way one handles the ground cover.

For years I have been bypassing that step by simply not showing any groundwork at all.
I model seas, beaches etc, but ground cover always was kept in the more rudimentary form.
The main reason is that I believe in displaying it accurately, I simply cannot understand people that will make a difference between Ausf Cs and Ausf Ds and yet model generic trees in their dioramas.
Most people can’t name vehicles in dioramas, but they are able to tell the difference between a cypress and a pine tree, between an oak and an apple tree.
So here I started my long quest for accurate ground cover by modelling simple beach ferns.

When i was a kid I was spending most of my holidays on the Atlantic sea shore, places crushed by the sun, with very clear sand and also itchy and sometimes tall ground cover –which has got an advantage as it is relatively easy to make.
Looking at some pics of the real Koktebel bay, it seems this ground cover is present there too. As it’s supposed to be only in one corner of the diorama, this is not too important if I only display one particular kind –which is another way to bypass this particular step.  

In a lot of dioramas that picture tall grass, it looks like somebody cut some hair from a broom and just glues it on the base. Well this is what you must do basically but there are some variations worth to consider (pic 17).

Do's and don't for the ground cover on dioramas
Issue 1:  there is often not enough DISTANCE between each leave and indeed when looking at the diorama it looks like if somebody just glued a broom to the base
Issue 2: usually the leaves are all of the same size
Issue 3: the broom hairs’ tip is square –because it has been cut that way.
Issue 4: the way it is glued to the floor is often too even and also doesn’t follow some of Mother Nature’s basic rules.
Issue 5: it still bloody looks like one glued a broom to a base!
So well the first thing I am doing when wanting to display some groundwork is to find some reference pics and to print them so that I may have the reference near me when I model.
In the particular matter of tall grasses, I choose a broom –usually a bit more expensive than a regular one and made of silk so that I am pretty sure the tip of each hair will be pointy –the 2 other advantages of this kind of broom whose hair tip was not cut is
-they come in different shade ranging from black to white which is a fantastic base for painting.
-the length of each hair is uneven –but then all is in the way you cut them.
So I press a bunch of hair between 2 fingers and cut below with a pair of scissors –hairdresser style- trying to cut at least a length which will be 2 times bigger than what I will eventually be using (pic 18).

More groundwork for the Koktebel diorama

Then I roll a medium-thin cylinder of Magic Sculp and apply the hair using all the length of the lump and try to make the size of each hair vary. Then I cover this first magic Sculp cylinder with another one and flatten the whole. Then I roll the MS+hair which produce some lump with hair coming out of it at random –and not just from some hole at the middle of the bundle.
Then this particular kind of beach fern also has some main branch to them with a bit of tuft at the end.
To do these is pretty straightforward; just do some stretched plastic by handling some sprue above a flame, then dip one end in some acrylic modelling gel –the kind of those you would use to do foam on the sea. Then stick the branch in the hairy lump and  let it dry. Once it is cut all the hair in excess on the downside.
 for the Koktebel diorama
Once I had a good dozen of those ones, I cut a big hole in the canvas so that the huge lumps that hold the hair could fit and then glued all the lumps together, trying to join them with a bit of my sandy special mix in the process (pic 19).


ferns, plants and bricks for the Koktebel diorama

Of course, as I modelled a shore that is supposed to be battered by sea and wind, I mostly put the ground cover in the most sheltered area of the diorama which means behind the boulder. The ferns that appear on the boulder as smaller too. Same thing for the disposition of each fern –the most huge are in the most sheltered areas etc.. (pic 20)

8/ Le sable

Now I really wanted that all the elements present on the ground –boat bits, ground cover would appear to just emerge from the sand. The sand had to look like real beach sand: a flowing matter that leaks on the ground, that penetrates and engulfs every element (especially the windows of the back part of the boat) until the sea stops it.
Then as such a matter would have been lacking in details, I would have need some extra stuff that would balance this flow: first the zone near the sea would be flatter and covered with some footsteps done by the kid, and maybe a few shells or small rocks that would have been brought by the sea. Then as I needed a hillock for my own tastes and also for the balance of the diorama, maybe something more rockish, just like compact sand or maybe an eroded boulder as both would have work.
I first bought some feather cardboard and proceeded to cut it at the right dimensions, then I cut bits of it to roughly make the surface. I dry-fitted the different boat elements according to the plans before cutting in the cardboard the right emplacements (pic 21).

 ground sculpting for the Koktebel diorama

Then I started doing the solid stuff. I mixed not so thoroughly some black paint in some Plaster of Paris and let it dry. After one day I broke it with a hammer so that I could get lots of little bits. Then I mixed some plaster with a rosy kind of paint and applied it very roughly with my fingers on the hillock. The point with tinting the plaster is that I couldn’t afford some white spots anywhere on the hillock if my paint work on it would have missed a small area.

When the plaster started to set I switched from fingers to modelling knife and kept on modelling its shape. I can now unveil one of my strongest theories about creating natural shapes.
When your fingers stop obeying to your mind anymore or simply when you forget about what you are doing, when you don’t THINK about the shapes you are creating then you really begin to create some interesting and natural shapes. Don’t think too much, you will get the stuff wrong, it will look calculated and Nature doesn’t.

I then make a mix between some heavy acrylic gel a darker shade of rosy acrylic paint and some sand. I then applied a part of this heavy paste around the shore and pressed the plaster stones in it. The other part I reserved to tie the vegetation with the ground.
I then proceeded to apply different rosy –yellowy shades here and there on the hillock to add some variations –not too much as most of the final aspect would be given by using some paint pigments (pic 22) .

painting the ground  for the Koktebel diorama

Those pigments I use are regular Windsor and Newton pigments I bought more than 10 years ago, nothing exotic or “modeller-proof”. I have most basic tints and a couple more specialized ones when it comes to the brown shades –and I mix them together as I work so that I really never use the same colour.
So the base I used there was black, I added some Van Dyk Brown, red and yellow, and also some beige/rose tint I found once in an art shop.
I first applied some dark mixes to do the dark Shadows –as the hillock as got some big crevasses, I really needed the bottom of these to be very dark, and then I covered the upper parts with some clearer mixes (pic 23) .

Pigments for the groundwork  for the Koktebel diorama

Then I had to do the best part of the groundwork which means the flowing sand.
My last diorama before that one included some work with snow and I add used some microballons and instantly loved the stuff. But I got some dramatic results when I started to mix them with some paint to do some shadows on my snow. However those results were dramatic in the context of building some *snow*.
Here I mixed the stuff with some paints to create some *sand* and it worked fantastically.
First I could use 4 different coloured mixes at one time and make it blend one in another while the stuff wasn’t set. Then the setting time of the stuff –roughly 1 hour- makes it an ideal component to use. Then it produces a slightly grainy texture which is absolutely ideal to represent sand in scale and lastly, as the stuff is semi—liquid, you can pour it anywhere you want and it will gently flow according to gravity –and especially through the different openings of the wreck (pic 24) .


So I just did that basically, I poured in my trusty Sake glasses some microballons (the Signifier brand which is not as shiny as the Andrea one is the real deal here), some acrylic binder and some paint –some yellowy- lighter shade near the bottom of the wreck, some darker and rosier near the front of the boat and especially between the wreck and the hillock according to the general sense of the light (pic 25).

Applying the microballons  for the Koktebel diorama

I recalled suddenly the amount of troubles I went through when I started to add stuff on microballons when I was doing some snow. But here I choose to create some shadows using some pigments and it worked really well –so I applied some Van Dyk Brown and black under the back of the boat between other places.
Attempts at creating some highlights using the same technique went awfully wrong though as the pigments goes in all the holes and between each microballon and it really doesn’t look any realistic.
Further attempts at doing some light dry brushing proved to be completely lousy too –let’s face it guys, you just can’t do much with microballons once it is set. But otherwise what a fantastic stuff! I even had enough time to press in the mix some shoe-shaped bit of Magic Sculp I had previously sculpted so that the kid didn’t seem to come out of the blue (pic 26) .

groundwork finished  for the Koktebel diorama

9/“The sea had to be rough” or how to spend 4 months on a project while I could have get away with it in 2. (How being a stingy diorama builder costs you some time as well as some money part 1)

I had the idea since quite a lot of time to create the sea this way: first doing a master, then moulding it, then pouring some polyester resin in the mould and then adding some waves with my usual tinted acrylic gels.
No problem with the first step, I first spent a lot of time on internet typing “wave”, “seashore” and stuff like that in Google’s image search engine until I had a good idea of what I wanted to do. When I did, I sat at my table and proceeded to roughly sculpt some feather cardboard like the sea I wanted to create. Then as the feather cardboard is rather soft, I covered it with plaster. I applied some magic Sculp to create some extra details like the tip of the waves. (pic 27)

Sea sculpting in 1/35

I had some latex left from my iceberg making experience, so I proceeded to use the same moulding technique but it went awfully wrong as the surface to mould was too large and I couldn’t have any rigidity whatever technique I used. I even tried to set a 2 parts plaster mould to rigidify the whole and it just failed miserably. (pic 28)

Sea modelling fails

Then I tried simply with plaster and it went even worse –even if the mould appeared to be okay at first, when I poured the resin in it I simply couldn’t detached it even though I had liberally greased the mould previously –when attacking it with a hammer I simply destroyed the whole. (pic 29)

Setting the table for resin and water modeling

Then, with a rather clear vision of the death of my wallet, I proceeded to cross half of the town to go and buy some silicon rubber. I built some walls around my master using some leftover bits of feather cardboard and poured the silicon. It went like heaven and in no time I had a perfect mould and a phone call from the bank.

Now using some polyester resin is all a question of attention, nerves and timing –I love and dread doing the water this way because in no time you can ruin 3 months of efforts and it kinda looks like my life. (pic 30)

Sea in silicon forms, modelling the sea

I poured three carefully coloured different layers of resin and no more.

The sea modelled in 1/35 adding waves

The first layer was done with transparent white with slight touches of transparent red and  phtaloh blue red (another expensive one) oil paints.
I poured my mix of paint and resin in the mould which of course went to rest on the crest of the waves (read: the bottom of the mould). I then waited for the resin to set
As everybody who already worked with resin knows it, after some time when nothing goes on, the resin sets very fast. This is during this very short time that you have to stretch the mix on the upper parts of the waves. This is a crucial step so that it doesn’t look like the resin as been layered but really that some bubbles and foam has been forming below the waves.
No need to wait for this first coat to set completely, just pour another one –this time 2 different layers at a time  -tainted with the same transparent dark blue but mixed with transparent white near the clearer places –according to the direction of the light you have been setting up earlier. The last coat of resin will be of the same kind of dark blue –but the opaque version so that no one can see the wooden base below the waves (how crap if it was about to happen).
I let it dry for 2 whole days so that the resin was not sticky anymore before unfolding the sea and it was already looking real fine even without the foam. (pic 32)

Foam painting on the sea in 1/35

So now I have been quite logically using some white tinted acrylic gel to create the foam. Those gels come in tubes and you buy them in art shops. I use one called “Transparent heavy gel”, the stuff is opaque when you unscrew the tube which leaves you mostly blind when it comes to the right amount of white acrylic paint you have to pour so that you can eventually shape some realistic foam..
First you have to remember that these kind of gels reduce *a lot* while drying which means that you have to use very few paint. I would say the ratio of paint/ gel is no more than 5%
Secondly keep in mind that you really shouldn’t use too big coats of gels because the stuff might dry on the outside but not on the inside which would lead the inner parts of your coat to stay opaque/white.
There’s a trick to know how much paint you should use: you will notice when you stir your mix that if you use too much white paint, it begins to feel like it’s jellified paint or something, when you just have this kind of heavy paint, then you failed, you have to mix more gel.
In fact, the mix must be still appearing more *opaque*, than *white*. Then when you stir the mix, its heavy texture must stay more or less the same –when the texture begins to flow a bit too much, just stop adding paint.
Last thing: you will be using several coats if you want your foam to look okay. This means that you have to mix a bit of a blue kind of colour in your white to do the foam: only the very high highlights, the crest of the waves will have to appear white! Remember when you are doing a diorama that it’s not a matter of shadows/highlights, but of a matter of an infinity of shadow/highlights, ranging from almost black to almost white.
So when I have this gel/paint mix ready, I have several ways of creating the foam. 

My preferred is to dip the finger in the mix and to touch the surface, when you lift your finger, it will look on the water just like a spider web. Just pick of your brushes –that you dipped into water first, and blend all the sides until it looks really good. And then do it again and again. Then I use a stronger mix (with more white paint I mean) to do the crest of the waves –but typically when I build those crests, I prefer “painting” them with a not too loaded brush –and just like the ground cover, put a very loud music in your headphones and just let your guts speak for yourself, and don’t think too much about the places where you apply them…
Actually I look at a lot of pics of foam and sea on Google’s image search engine, tried to forget about the reference, and then recreate the stuff from memory. It certainly works better than if you have one picture near you because you loose some time at checking your references.. and time you don’t have while doing this kind of stuff.
What works for reproducing an accurate panzer or even the shape of the groundwork might not work for the stuff where Mother Nature is involved.
Typically as I am never happy the first time around with the foam, so I coat another lightly blue tinted transparent resin with a brush so that I can bury slightly the first coat of foam. I then  make another coat of foam which means 2 layers of transparency without even counting the first more or less white stretched resin coat I have been applying prior to the foam.
When all is set, I apply a coat of Humbrol Clear Cote to seal the stuff. And THEN one last purely white tinted mix of heavy gel that I apply only at the crest of the waves!
Why do I apply this last coat of gel AFTER the Clear Cote? Hey, that’s because the foam is NOT glossy, but the water IS.. in other words the foam that is buried under water is glossy, and the real splash of the waves is not. And indeed the transparent glossy gel plastic texture is ideal to do the tip of the waves
This method seems complex like that, but really isn’t, you just do the stuff over and over on the top of each coat until you are happy with the result. Typically, the more there is coats the more the sea is good looking.
And then as you have –to work pretty fast because of setting times it’s not even that much time consuming compared to other things.

11/ Throwing Bill Horan’s book out of the window and doing bases. (how being a stingy diorama builder costs you some time as well as some money part 2)

There are a lot of things that makes me smile in the small world of model making, but the bases some painters use to display their figures always made my top 3.
Some don’t seem to realize that by doing some odd choices they distract the attention from their sculpted/painted work.
Some will just screw the colours of the whole thing while displaying a dull tainted soldier on some very brightly coloured wooden base, some simply seem to not be able to cope with the fact that they’re doing some miniatures, so they choose some grossly oversized bases etc..
Generally speaking, it is sometimes sad to feel behind the handsomely painted figure, the very basic lack of taste of the painter.
I even threw up Bill Horan’s book out of the window the day I read his rant about some pricey rose wood he uses as bases.
But then all this made me completely overlook the real problem.
It went like that.
One friend sent me some pics he took by himself at SCAHMS 2007. Amongst those was the piece that won “best of show”. A 54 mm guy posing in his plane’s cockpit, the kind of stuff that moves me one without touching the other.
“But” said that friend “you should have seen this huge great one piece shiny black base”.
I laughed.
But then he insisted quite a couple of times about that particular issue before dropping “anyway, the diorama is the base”.
And here some bell finally rang in my thick skull.
I just turned 90° from my chair to look at my shelves and have a look at the bases I built for my dioramas.
For years I always been using the same golden tinted wood to do them –the kind of stuff you find at 3€ in every Do It Yourself kind of supermarket, and fell strangely inadequate.
Would my obsession of not spending money while doing my dioramas be my downfall? Same thing for the borders of my dioramas that I tend to throw together in 5 minutes because I am in a hurry to start the next project etc.
So I decided to hit hard with Koktebel. The diorama was finished and I already had tested the outcome on several English and Spanish language forums when I got really depressed.
One evening I went to the garden shed where I had store the diorama, fixed some sandpaper to a wooden plank and proceeded to wipe out the crappy balsa frame and to thin the diorama’s border of a few millimetres so that there would be some sharp edges and limits. I then realized that the diorama was standing too high on its base –I wanted to do something quite flat so that the thin lines of the boat and the smallness of the kid would be valued and here I had obviously half an inch of thickness that was not necessary to the final outcome.
So I proceeded to carefully wipe that amount of thickness from the base using some modelling knife –which was mostly easy as the foam I use as a base was soft –but then I had to take a lot of care of not breaking the thin limits between the sea and the sand.
The next week end I proceeded to cut some new borders out of plasticard, I then put some Tamiya mastic and sanded them so that no joint could be seen, and applied one last coat of resin with a brush so that there would be no transition between the sea and the plastic borders. I also applied some last coat of my tainted sandy mix here and there so that the joint could be perfect. After this I eventually went to a nearby carpenter and asked him to do an oak base for the diorama. I then glued the diorama on it and it was finally finished 4 months after I started it.

10/ Conclusion

Often when I read some models SBS, the writer often make it sound like it’s easy. I don’t think so, if you want to create good stuff, the main ingredient you need is complete dedication, you must believe in what you do.
I don’t joke with my dioramas and I don’t take them lightly either, it’s so much more for me than just “having fun” like I read in forums. Indeed, by choosing themes that beyond the appearance of things are very close to my heart, and also by letting the ideas evolve by encapsulating my everyday feelings in my work, I ensure the fact that i will stay in focus for the whole build, that the idea I have in my head at month X will be actually done out of different ingredients some months later.
Now I happen to really like this diorama. First, except for a few Royal models bolts it’s been done entirely by myself with no help by any manufacturer. It is also conform at rule n°7 of my 10 propositions for better dioramas, I mean that it’s a real 360° diorama, that you can turn around it, photograph it under every angle, it will work.
I must say however that I am pretty pissed of at the amount of money I have been spending to build it –the whole clocking at something like 100€ which is more than I have been spending on dioramas the previous year.
If I don’t tolerate anything that has been built by others in my dioramas, I certainly need technical, historical inputs as well as good quality plans because I am totally devoted of any of the aforementioned qualities/stuff. Once more internet saved me on that one, so I wish to thank PetrOs whose plans and translations from the Russian language were a bowl of fresh air in a sea of doubts, MSW’s Wolves, staff and Piers for encouragements and even quotes (thanks Ion), my HF friends, but also Modelwarships, Solodioramas and Steelnavy forum members for their very great support. Special thanks to Charles Reading and Pete “mechanical genius” Vill.
So of course “Koktebel” is not perfect, my lack of nerves shines through a couple of issues: the kid has obviously not being sanded enough, it took me ages to come with a half decent base but I am sorry to say i don’t care much as I always think of my dioramas as being some works in progress, that will probably get updates every two years until I am totally satisfied with them.
Now matter how hard you will check, there is not the tail of one offensive weapon in this diorama. So maybe my son when cleaning my stuff in hopefully 50 years time, will have a look at Koktebel, will *not* find it gloomy* and will *not* throw it in the dustbin –I won’t be there to see anyway.


Setting the light in model making