Our next terrain article is focusing on another terrain feature that is easily made with polystyrene foam: the rock outcropping. These line-of-sight blockers can be any shape or size depending on whether you would like to model a single boulder or the side of a mountain. They also fit well into almost any type of terrain: woodland, desert, lava field, arctic, etc.
For this article I will be creating a base stone for an arch and a couple of other smaller outcroppings that I have made earlier. The techniques described are the same for creating outcroppings from scratch, just skip the sketching of the bottom of the stones.
Since creating rock outcroppings is a more advanced project than making the basic hill, I would recommend practicing with your selected cutting tool prior to trying to create your real model. If you will be using a hot wire cutter, set the wire on a setting where it does not melt the foam too quickly.
Rock outcroppings also take a bit of artistic talent to come out correctly. To get yourself ready, browse around for some pictures of rock outcroppings on the internet and find some that you would like to mimic in foam.
The technique that I have chosen to paint the finished rock shapes is NOT a realistic one. There are other ways to finish your rock to appear more natural in color, but are much more time consuming and require even more creative aptitude. Sticking to the simple approach allows for the creation of a themed set of terrain that looks good on the tabletop and is easily replicated if you require additional pieces later in your gaming career.
As is the case with all of the terrain articles on this website the step by step pictures show a particular type of terrain, but can be modified to create any terrain you would like to simulate. Just substitute your colors for the colors shown, if you are not sure what colors to use you can leave a comment and we will get back to you with a recommendation.
Step One: Sculpt the Foam Rock
Start by selecting your favorite foam cutting tool. This can either be a serrated knife or a nichrome wire electric cutter. I use the Hot Wire Foam Factory line of cutting tools for hot wire cutting. For knife cutting I use a serrated knife with a 12 inch blade for doing rough cuts and wind-eroded or sandstone formations, and a paring knife with a 3 inch blade for harder stone substances.
The foam being used is two inches thick. This is the same thickness as I have previously used for other rocks I have created.
The next step for the base stone that I am creating is to trace the bottom of the arch that will be sitting on the base stone. This provides the pattern to follow when cutting away the main section of foam so that a flat top surface is left on which to place the arch. For maximum terrain flexibility I will not be gluing the arch to the base stone so that the arch can be used separately if desired for any particular terrain layout.
The picture to the left shows how the two inch foam will be positioned to accept the right hand portion of the arch. I have found that players really like odd terrain features, and the arch is one of the better ones. In this position the arch can accommodate some of the taller walkers. Of course we could always make the arch even taller by duplicating the base stones once again on both sides and making the arch three tiers high. Maybe later…
Back to making the rock…
Think about how large you would like to make your piece. Large rocks have their uses for blocking line-of-sight to vehicles and tend to have a large influence on the flow of the battle, simply due to the fact that it takes so many turns of 6″ movement to walk infantry around them. Small rocks can be placed together to make cover for infantry, but generally cannot make models totally hidden.
I have cut out a chunk of foam large enough to take the arch and a couple of other smaller pieces of rock and still allow some positions to put troops / small vehicles in cover. The largest dimension is about 12 inches (30 cm).
Now that the basic chunk has been created it is time to start whittling away at the foam to create the final rock shape. This is where your artistic capabilities get put to the test. There are many different techniques for creating the stones with the hot wire cutter, and these are different from using a blade to carve out the stone shapes. Needless to say it is difficult to describe these but this is where your earlier practicing should help you.
For this particular example I am trying to continue the shape of the bottom of the arch onto / into the base stone. By placing the arch onto the base stone after each cut I can make sure my cuts are achieving the desired effect. I check the angles and contours of the stone and continue the faces and cracks down to the next level.
I also put miniatures with various base sizes onto the base rock to make sure that they will fit when the stone is completed. This is the hobbyist’s challenge: to make the terrain realistic but still playable. Some realism needs to be sacrificed in order to make flat surfaces so that models can be positioned without falling over.
Eventually you will be satisfied with the amount of chopping, carving, and whittling you have done and can put away the cutting tools to get ready for the next step.
Step Two: Paint
I picked up a “pouncing” brush at the local crafts store to use for terrain basecoating / drybrushing. This is different from the normal cheap 1.5 inch brush that I use for smooth surfaces like hills because there are far more nooks and crannies that need to be coated when painting rocks. The 1.5 inch brush is too large to do a good job. For some of the extremely small cracks I have to resort to my real miniatures brush.
As mentioned in the Sloped Hills article, I use a brown interior latex paint that I had made up years ago for the basecoat. I pour some into a small glass bowl for ease of application, and just go to it. When painting the basecoat you need to constantly rotate your piece around and look at it from all angles to make sure you’ve coated every surface. All of the surfaces need to covered so that they are completely opaque except for the smooth top surfaces which will be completely covered by the first highlight coat.
The last few steps involve applying lighter and lighter brown paint to the model in smaller and smaller amounts. This can be achieved by mixing some flat white paint into your brown paint bowl in small increments. You want the change in color between each step to be noticeable, but not shocking. Again, difficult to describe, you’ll have to play with the mixture until you get what looks right to you.
Before starting the highlighting steps make sure that the basecoat has completely dried. Usually paint tends to pool up in the cracks and takes longer to dry.
Look straight down onto your model and completely paint every top surface you see with your first highlight color. Once this is complete you can heavily drybrush the sides with the same color. Drybrushing helps to make the prominent portions of your rock stand out and helps to showcase all of the details that you carved into your piece with recesses staying the dark basecoat color and the edges becoming progressively lighter with each highlight coat. I drybrush the sides from top to bottom and from side to side, but never from bottom to top.
Add some more white to your brown mixture and apply the next highlight coat. For this step you want to heavily drybrush all of the top surfaces and lightly drybrush the sides. The top surfaces generally are smoother, but you can carve some details into them as long as there is still enough level surface area to allow your models to stand. You can see in the pictures that I carved a few chunks out of some of the top surfaces and also added a bunch of cracks. These make your finished product less boring and gives you some details that can be picked out by the highlighting brushwork. It also stops people from saying, “Wow, look at that perfect 60mm circle designed for your IG heavy weapon team!”
Once again add some more white for the next highlighting step. You want to gently whisk the tip of the brush over all of the sharp edges on the model except the bottom edge that rests on the tabletop. Make sure that there is almost no paint on your brush when you do this step. You should also lightly drybrush all of the top surfaces. This makes the model look like it is being lit overhead by the sun.
The last highlighting step has arrived! Add the final amount of white to your brown mixture and wipe off nearly all of the paint onto your newspaper. Remove even more than in the previous highlighting step. Very gently apply your final highlight only to the edges of the top facing surfaces. This last step really makes your model “pop” (pop = look awesome to your target audience, which may include yourself!)
Once the paint is completely dry (usually in three hours or so, depending on the humidity) you can paint the bottom surface with the basecoat color. This is not required but gives that final professional touch to your terrain, and adds a small amount of extra durability as well.
Step Three: Enjoy Your New Terrain!
That’s it, you’re done! There is no need to seal the rock outcropping because the latex paint is sufficiently durable for the rigors of gaming.
My advice is to make a bunch of rocks at once. There is significant time savings if you can do each step to multiple pieces, and you only have to clean up all of the pink shavings once.
Hopefully you have found this article helpful. Go ahead and experiment, it is surprising what you can create in just a few hours.
Have fun and good gaming!