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Scratchbuilding walls and houses - Tutorial I
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Écrit par Leonardo Torricini   

One of the most important parts in the dioramas are the buildings and the brick works.

There are many different alternatives within both the commercial and the hand made models.

The construction kits and the already made models are very well done but quite expensive, especially the good quality ones, some cheap models unfortunately have a nice effect only frontally, the too thin walls and the lack of interiors make them look inconsistent and flat like the backgrounds of the old movies.

There are also tridimensional models to be build with real micro bricks, but the assembly is a pharaonic work that require very much time and patience...
The advertisings shows them as Lego bricks, but in the time you can assembly an entire Lego house you would just glue perhaps ten of those micro bricks, and the walls probably will look too straight or too crooked.
Perhaps those bricks may be good for very tiny buildings or small walls, but an entire house or big walls... A complete fortress would take months of work, if you think to spend less than one year forget the entire castles and palaces proposed by some commercial companies!
The only useful thing perhaps are the bricks to be used as rubbles, but also for this there are cheaper alternatives.
Same about small pebbles... or even worst, parform that they don't cost nothing.

Another possible way is to make the models with wood as for the ships but it's difficult and takes a lot of time and high skills.

In the hand made there are many different techniques and it's easy to find many tutorials on internet, there are very nice card models to print, cut, bend and glue. With a bit of practice you can create your own models, but is not an easy job, working on 1/72 scale the space for cuts, bends, and gluing are very restricted and is difficult to be precise.
A good variation of this technique is to find or make a simplified shape of the building with cardboard, cut the doors and windows, and cover the model with squared cardboard bits to simulate bricks and roof tiles.
These are both cheap techniques but they require some time and patience, and unless to integrate them with higher skilled methods to increase the thicknesses, the look will be flat as mentioned for the plastic construction kits due to the thin walls.

Cardboard models

It is possible to sculpt buildings with plasticine or similar, after cutting a piece of the right shape you can mould and carve the building details.
A very good variation of this technique is to use the clay for pottery.
In one of my first diorama I used majolica clay for the walls of a fortress, once cut the parallelepipeds of the sections, I cut away the balconies the battlements and the doors, I left to dry the blocks, and once dried I engraved the gaps between the stones, working on dry, or wetting a little the hardened surface, finally I paint the pieces without to burn them and they're still perfect (despite the wrong choices to made them gloss etc.) after about 20 years.
A friend of mine made some similar models (better than mine) and burned them in a pottery stove, that's not strictly necessary, unless you mean to make a house or tower shaped tea-pot... After painted there's no visible differences, anyway in that case the pieces become hard as any pottery, but there's the risk to break some pieces during the burning.
This technique is quite simple and allow to obtain very realistic models with some skill and practice, is also quick in the working times, a little less for the wait of the hardening, necessary for the blocks to become hard enough to be worked easily on the surface without the risk to bruise it, and for the eventual but not strictly necessary burning.

Majolica walls painted

I think that the best, quicker and easier alternative are the isolating thermo-acoustic foam panels.
It's available in panels of many dimensions and thickness, it is not expensive and anyway is possible to find scrap parts usually for free, because rarely we need large pieces, I think the best kind is the hardest and thickest, with the finest cells in the internal structure, but is possible also to use the food trays instead, or packing and similar things.
Otherwise there's the isolating polyurethane spray foam, that is good also to create hills and mountains in the dioramas, but it has to be cut in the needed shapes with a good blade, so it's difficult to cut large pieces with precision.
It help to have steady hand, very delicate touch and precision to work on this material, but these are things commonly requested in modelling, someone cleaver will get to create wonderful models, but I believe that anyone can get easy, quick and always more than decent results at least.

Foam panels and trays

I had already made some simple walls this way, one also recently in the Diogenes Diorama published on this website, now I discover an improvement of this technique and a way to get a better effect, that make possible to create more complicate models. I tried to make some walls, a small house I also started to make the walls for a fortress.

The only problem with this material is that it may get corroded easily, you must use only vinilic glue and acrylics or water based glues and colours on it.
Absolutely to be avoided enamels, turpentine and solvent based paint, glues, primers etc. those products corrodes and melts this material, as always I suggest to make a test on a scrap part in case of doubt before to work on your masterpieces.
With the particular care of the case, there's an application of these corrosives anyway, if you want to create a hole with the melting look on a surface of your model, as a laser burn, or where "alien" spitted on the floor...

The models obtained are very light in weight and this may be a good thing on the dioramas that sometimes are very heavy. If this is a problem (as in wargaming) is easy to glue the model on a heavy base, otherwise is possible to apply weights inside or under the model, or even better directly assembling the model over a heavy block.

Obviously as in all models the thin walls, the small and thin parts and details are particularly delicate.

In some old dioramas and for wargames I used the common polystyrene packing to made rough buildings, it had to be painted or covered due to the big cells of the it's structure, that didn't allowed neither the cut of good details.
Then more recently I tried this thicker and harder foam that is much better, it's less delicate and with very fine cells in the internal structure, that allows precise incisions and cuts, and therefore a good level of fine details.
Depending by the various kinds and their thickness, with straight cuts, or sanded, it simulates perfectly the wall plasters; with rough cuts, bruises, scraps and broken pieces simulates well the rocks; with incisions and more or less large cuts is possible to "draw" the bricks and stones of a wall, the cracking, holes etc.
As the polystyrene it may be flatten and carved with a flame and it's easy to be cut with a good blade, it can be also sanded.

Therefore it's the perfect material to make quickly especially walls, with some skills and practice is possible also to make complete buildings (as this first little house that I made in just a couple of days).

1/72 house

Small and big fortress walls are very easy and quick to be made, but surely is possible to make also towers, castles and modern buildings too, and perhaps even some tank bodies and many other things.

Now let's see step to step how to make some 1/72 accessories working just with a basic cutter. Using better cutters, scalpels etc. or working on a bigger scale surely is possible to improve and get even better results... Considered that I made only about ten pieces with this material I'm still just a beginner in this technique, and having seen these quick and easy results, that modestly seem very good to me, I think it's worth to practice and divulgate, who knows how many other tricks and ways to work this material will come out with the time.



I cut a squared piece of the right dimension and thickness for the wall I need.

I cut the shape of the wall that in this case is partly demolished.

I make an incision about 1 millimetre deep, it is roughly parallel to the superior profile, it will become the limit of the plastered part of the wall.

WARNING - In this and other similar cases is necessary a particular care to avoid too deep cuts, otherwise there's the risk to weaken too much the model, or even to cut it completely in two, especially when there's a cut in the same position on the other side.

I cut off a fine layer from the surface, till the line already engraved, so I create the different levels between the uncovered bricks and the plastered wall.

With the cutter's point I break off some little pieces from the step to make it look rougher, than I make some small irregular cuts (still about 1 mm deep) to simulate some cracking.

Now the bricks, like for the cracks, first I cut all the horizontal lines, than the vertical ones.
In this case I made straight cuts with a scale to simulate a squared bricks wall, to make a wall of rough stones I'll have to engrave freehand, and work a little more to scrap off the surface of the stones.

Now the wall is ready for the paint.

How it appears with just a simple black undercover and a white drybrush.

And here's the acrylic painted wall, in this case I painted it normally, but is possible to use washings and drybrushings, or both, depending by the effect wanted.

In the next article we will learn how to build a whole house using these tecniques...