Making a Diorama – Building the Base

Building the base is the essential part of every diorama. It will hold the entire diorama and as such has to be strong.

It also has to be easy to work with as most dioramas feature several different objects and materials. So how to choose the base and how to build it? Let’s find out.

We will assume that you’ve already chosen your theme and have a basic idea of what to build and feature in your diorama. This is essential as it will help you decide the dimensions of the base.

A good base usually is made out of at least two basic layers. The first one can be something quite hard like ply-wood. The second one is glued on the wood and has to be both sturdy and easy to modify.

Good materials for that are fiberboards or other composite wall boards and insulation materials. They are usually very easy to cut and shape yet are strong enough to support heavy models and buildings. Styrofoam usually is not that good of a choice as it is too soft and crumbles easily.

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After you’ve glued the two bases together it is time to start the actual building of the diorama. First and foremost start with laying the composition of the future diorama on the plate.

For this you can use anything, even small boxes, cans and etc. The goal here is to see how and where the various items of the scenery will pan out. Make all the changes you want now as it will be much difficult to do later.

After you’ve got your floor plan so to speak it is time to lay the groundwork. Even if your diorama will feature both a house and an open part it is best to cover the entire base with the same groundcover. The exception is if you will feature an opened building like a barn or a garage.

Sounds good but how to apply the groundcover? Simple. Apply white glue to the base and smear it with a soft brush so that it covers everything evenly. Then pour a pile of fine sand in the middle and spread it around with a soft brush. Just glance the brush on top of the sand, don’t press at all.

Wait for the glue to dry and then pick up the base and tilt it to drop the excess sand. The goal here is to make a nice ground layer for the other layers to stick so don’t fret if it isn’t spread well.

Now comes the precision part in building the base. The laying of the actual ground cover that will be visible to everyone. You can use almost anything for it. Some collectors use actual dirt but most use the scenic materials offered in hobby shops. Both will do equally well as long as you chose the right grain and material for the diorama in question.

The best way to spread the material is by sifting it with a strainer. Start with the lighter colors first. Then sift the darker ones. This is done to add the ground discrepancy often seen everywhere. The way to do it is by sifting the darker color gently just on and around the areas you want to look a bit different.

As you’ve probably noticed, we never mentioned the use of glue while spreading the groundcover layers. The gluing part is to be done only after you’ve spread all the layers. Otherwise you risk a big mess.

How to glue the ground layers? Easy. Well, sort of. First you must presoak the entire diorama with Isopropyl Alcohol or to create a mix of a couple of drops of liquid detergent into 200-250 ml water.

Then put the mix (or Isopropyl) into a spray bottle and spray the mix onto the diorama base. Be sure to put the spray nozzle on making as fine mist as possible and keep your distance from the base. This way you won’t blow away the scenery and will soak it well. Make it very wet but avoid puddles.

Now mix 2 parts white glue and 2 parts water (some collectors use 75% water, 25% glue as well) and put the mix into a bottle with an eye-drop nozzle and start applying the glue to the entire cover one drop at a time. Sounds like a chore but put some extra work in building the base and it will repay with a great diorama later.

Larger piles of material will take a few drops of glue, while some will only need one. At some point the presoak might start to dry out. Don’t worry just resoak it again and then glue it up. You can resoak even after you’ve added glue to that particular area but have realized that the glue doesn’t go all the way through. Building the base takes patience.

At this point the diorama base will look quite scary like a swamp of glue and water. Don’t worry it is normal. Just wait for it to dry completely before adding anything else. You've basically done with building the base at this point.

This completes the first part of Making a Diorama. After Building the Base, we will continue with part two – adding rocks, plants, trees, fences and other objects.

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