Diorama: A Tutorial, Part 2 of 4

This is the second of a four-post series that covers the making of a simple diorama. The goal of the diorama is to make a brick wall so the Silent Bob action figure I recently acquired can stand in front of it. I’m basing the wall on this movie still:

Jay And Silent Bob Movie Still
Silent Bob (left) and Jay in Clerks.

In the first post I covered the concept and scaling and the tools and material required, and I started the first steps of the build, which was creating a rough brick wall.

Choice of paints

At this point we have a brick pattern pressed into foam as the basis for our wall. Visually it is a mess of that ugly foam pattern, and the printing the manufacturer put on the foam, as well as random inks from the pens used to create the brick patterns.

Choosing the right paint to use on foam must be done carefully. The easiest way to cover a large area is with spray paint. However if not used properly, spray paint can melt the foam, which will undo all of our hard work up to this point. So I avoid spray paint when it comes to foam. (Note: We also use white glues instead of super glues for the same reason—super glue melts foam.)

My paint of choice is acrylic craft paint. First of all, it’s cheap. Second, it is water soluble and easy to work with. It also dries quickly and doesn’t require a primer on foam, which is nice.

Foam is still soft though, and doesn’t wear well. It is also an ugly green colour. To overcome this, I use a two-part process to seal and paint foam.

Mod Podge and black paint

The first step is to apply a mixture of Mod Podge and black paint.

Mod Podge is, basically, white glue (also called PVA glue), with a bit of epoxy in it. This will act as a barrier to our foam and make it more resistant to getting marked up with bangs and scratches.

Mod Podge dries clear, so I add black paint to it. This both covers the ugly foam colour and prevents it from leaking through the lighter paint colours that will go over top of it.

The basic concept of painting dioramas is to start with the darkest colour first, and work up to the lightest. This allows for all sorts of effects to be added in, but another important feature is that the darker colours act like shadows in the areas that are hard for finer brushes to reach.

Since I will want to start painting the wall with a black base anyway, adding the black paint to the Mod Podge simply saves a step in the process.

Technically Mod Podge is optional. You can either just use black paint, or mix in some white glue with your black paint. However I like the protection Mod Podge gives, so I use it.

Start by making a mix of 50% Mod Podge and 50% matte black paint. Then coat the entire front of the wall evenly. Don’t worry about the sides, as they won’t appear on camera. Just give the front a nice, even coat. You want to apply enough to ensure all of the foam is covered, but not so much that the details of the bricks are lost.

Be sure to push the brush into those cracks left in the brick pattern. While the rest of the paint job can be a little lackadaisical, you really don’t want the foam colour coming through.

Then set it aside to dry.

Grey paints

Once the base layer is dry, the actual wall colours can be applied.

If you look at the base image it looks like the line between the light and dark grey happens at the ninth brick, where the horizontal block exists. The light grey starts at the 11th brick. However, our bricks are slightly bigger, so I am going to make the line start at the seventh brick.

I start by using the dark grey paint and painting the entire wall up to the eighth brick. I then paint the rest of the wall with a lighter grey, which I created by adding a bit of white to the dark grey.

The place where the colours meet will be covered up by a horizontal line, so it is not important to make the line where the colours meet overly precise.

Once done, set the wall aside and allow the paint to dry. In the meantime, we can move right on to the next step.

The horizontal bar

In the original source photo, that bar is actually two bricks tall, and runs the entire width of the wall. It is hard to see what the depth is from the image, so I am just going to guess it’s 4mm at scale.

Start by cutting a strip of foam 2cm by 32cm, and 4mm thick. I actually used scrap foam lying around which wasn’t 32cm long, so I put two together. It will create a seam, but as I mentioned in the previous post, old buildings have their own character and stories, and little things like this just add story to your diorama

Raw foam looks too smooth to my eye, so I like to add some texture to make it look more like concrete. I do this by balling up some tin foil and pressing it into the foam, leaving a textured impression.

Then I paint up the strips using the exact same method above. The Mod Podge and black paint base coat, and a top coat of the dark grey.

Once dry, I put some tacky glue on the back, and add it to the wall. Ensuring it sits right above the seventh row of bricks.

Conclusions and next steps

So now we have a completed wall for our diorama. It looks pretty good so far, and seems to scale well with Silent Bob.

Diorama in progress.

We can actually stop right here with our diorama. If you have a place that works as a ground you can use this right away. The wall is also still very generic so it has lots of potential for reuse.

However I want to make my own ground, so the next post will cover how to make the ground, which in this case is the asphalt from a parking lot.

[dave]

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